Tag Archives: barack obama

Remaking LGBT America: by the numbers

Trigger warning: heterosexism, cissexism

Social media went abuzz yesterday with the announcement that the 2020 census will not ask respondents whether they are LGBT. Many reported the news in a somewhat sensationalist way, mistakenly implying that the census would not count LGBT people at all.

Rather than an overt tool of anti-LGBT policy, this decision to continue to not ask for LGBT people to self identify echoes a more quietly delivered executive order Trump made on Monday. The order focused on data collection rather than LGBT people themselves – leaving intact Obama-era protections of certain LGBT workers while completely dismantling the regulatory process designed to document and thus prevent discrimination.

The issue here is deceptively simple. Many took the census announcement as a declaration that LGBT lives are too unseemly or undesirable to discuss on the census. Rather than that kind of cold sneer or haughty disgust, the explanation offered by the census’ director is tepid, measured, and legalistic. As he put it, “there must be a clear statutory or regulatory need for data collection” which he and others did not see as merited on this issue. In the history of both of these data collection projects, critics have asked for observation and study. The purpose of that is to demonstrate that anti-LGBT sentiments and practices exist and therefore understand how to challenge them. Thompson made quite clear that that’s simply not a consideration for the Trump administration.

Frankly, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Trump branded himself throughout the Republican primary as atypically amicable with LGBT people, even as he held us at arm’s length. What many cisgender and straight observers of that often seemed to miss was the expectation of what he would receive in return for that – not only did he assume we would be desperate to support him for the slightest tolerance but he expected us to curtail our experiences with anti-LGBT policies and attitudes to what he needed.

In his hands, anti-LGBT animus became not a common experience in this country, but a marker of foreignness. The reality that most LGBT Americans experience bigotry more regularly and acutely from other Americans is an inconvenience to the grand narrative Trump wanted to paint. Now, in the halls of power, he is doing what he can to disarm LGBT people of the overwhelming data that shows that.

lgbt-population.png
The Movement Advance Project constructs maps like this above one of the estimated overall LGBT population in different states without census data, as it has never been collected as part of the survey, from here.

Beyond his quixotic bid to build LGBT support, there’s an implicit threat buried in all of this. There is, as of now, supposedly no need to collect that data. What that admits is that the facts on the ground could change. If LGBT people become understood as not a group to hide the data from, but to gather it on, then perhaps they would put it back on the census. Or, failing that, let slip the dogs of war – Republicans in state government are already pushing to reinstate pre-Lawrence laws or similarly invasive and hostile measures, especially against transgender people.

The choice the administration is giving LGBT people is a simple one – obey or become reacquainted with survellir et punir. The self-styled deal-maker is offering LGBT people one: accept the quiet and private anti-LGBT bigotry that pervades the country or prepare to feel the heat turn up again.

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Sanders’ lost opportunity in appealing to California

As Hillary Clinton’s delegate count creeps towards a hard fought win, Bernie Sanders’ campaign has increasingly hung their hopes on one state alone – California. It might seem like a curious choice. Racially diverse and a part of the Democrats “blue wall,” California seems more comparable to Illinois, New York, or Pennsylvania – all states Hillary Clinton won. Sanders’ support has largely come from more predominantly White states, both within and outside of typical “blue states” with his wins admittedly coming from places as socially different as Oregon and West Virginia.

In spite of breaking the pattern so far, there’s a certain logic to it, particularly if Sanders returned to the rhetoric he used when first launching his campaign. California was initially touted by many as a success story for the implementation of Obamacare, but the longer term frustrations with putting it in place have created an untapped political market in the state that could be decisive if addressed well.

Like all states, California’s experience with Obama-era health care reform boils down to effectively three big picture changes:

  • Health care providers and health insurance companies face greater obligations to their patients and customers, but in exchange those customers are required to have coverage.
  • In order to help people who would have trouble paying for that coverage, medicaid and other assistance programs are given greater resources and more people are deemed to qualify for their assistance.
  • In order to make accessing and assessing insurance plans easier for everyone who can pay for that coverage, those plans will be helpfully listed on online-accessible exchanges.

That seems simple enough, right? At first, California avoided most of the pitfalls and hangups that other states experienced with putting together those initiatives – the state didn’t drag its feet to expand Medi-Cal or leave it to the federal government to build the online exchange’s website. The system worked. The public health care available was enough of a carrot and the threat of a tax penalty for lacking coverage was enough of a stick, and so in 2014’s open enrollment alone 1.9 million people applied for coverage through Medi-Cal and 1.3 million people purchased insurance through the exchanges.

Hopefully you noticed the discrepancy there. People too poor to afford insurance asked the state to provide it for them, and waited a decision. People with enough wealth to buy it bought and had it, end of story. This wasn’t an abstract demonstration of class inequality. This was about access to health insurance, at times to cover chronic or vital health problems. People died from lack of care while the wait list ballooned into the thousands.

Worse yet, the exchanges and Medi-Cal application system – although tied together into one system – would permit people to apply for Medi-Cal, and only that program, if they met the income standards to do so (see answer 9). Lower income people were literally obligated to wait, and denied access to expensive care in the name of protecting them from the cost. Meanwhile, the question of whether they would be liable under the tax penalties for lacking coverage while waiting for an answer from the state remained hanging in the air.

For all its horrifying flaws, with court rulings and administrative decisions this privatized public health insurance model has seen some improvement. Many Californians do, at the end of the day, want to retain the Covered California system, but there is a sizable chunk of the electorate that could stand to hear some talk about how to shake up the system for the better. Looking at the numbers of applicants and enrolled, as a raw number it’s probably a bigger one that is open to criticism of it, even while wanting the system to exist in some form. That’s a tricky place to articulate, where we need this public system but with different ideas underpinning it, but whoever describes it first could become surprisingly popular in California.

Bernie Sanders seemed prepared to be that candidate and speak in that way towards the beginning of the primary campaign. His messages on how he envisions health care policy still speak to many of the fundamental problems a “success story” like California has seen under Obamacare. Health care, under the PPACA, has not become an essential human right that the state must guarantee, but only a public good it will guarantee you if you demonstrate adequate need. The practical application of that – that by the thousands people have to wait for that assessment to occur – is a nightmarish reversal of any talk about inalienable rights, which the Sanders campaign continues to use. In short, the implication in some of Sanders’ statements, that he would reduce or even dismantle the application process for publically-provided health care, taps into the precise flaws and frustrations with the system as is in a place like California.

But, as of now, those have stayed just implications. To be frank, it’s unclear how much any president can or would be able to shape a redesigned ACA that would address that problem. Sanders might actually have a greater ability to champion that within the legislature, and to the extent that he has, could rely on replaying clips of that in a last minute ad blitz in California. He has less than a fortnight for that now. Can he pivot back to that discussion and articulate this nuanced point about a flaw within a means-tested public health care system? It might already be too little and too late.

The featured image for this article is of the California State Senate Chamber in Sacramento, California.

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In the News: Black lives within the political process

Between the on-going water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the dramatic swing in the presidential primary towards the South, all eyes have been on the ways that anti-Black racism continues to affect the lives of all people in the United States in myriad ways.

Flint as unnatural disaster

ThinkProgress has put together a more than century-long timeline of the demographics, budgeting, and general economic health of Flint to create a more contextual view of the city. After decades of growth and success, Flint is now grappling with several health problems as a result of under-investment in water infrastructure. To make the long story short, complex community investment decisions have been decided in ways to prioritize resources for predominantly White communities and to undermine particularly largely Black communities’ expectations of communal responsibility and a democratic process.

flint_river_better.png(The Flint River, from here.)

The results are expensive public amenities that offer virtually nothing of use or provide actively dangerous “resources” like toxic water. The surrounding economics are – perhaps deliberately – complicated, but the ultimate effect is that greater costs are extracted from communities like Flint for dramatically inferior products. It’s a racket, and the greatest beneficiaries of it are the wealthy White communities essentially absolved of any social expectations while places like Flint are asked to pay twice if not more – once for water and again for medical care.

Who isn’t accountable?

Faced with catastrophes like that, Black community organizers and #BLM activists have minced no words in describing how they will hold the entire system responsible. Chicago-based Aislinn Pulley drew directly on the situation in Flint itself when describing why she was dissatisfied with the meeting offered by the Obama administration:

We must ask what is criminal justice when children, the elderly, the disabled and everyday working people in the city of Flint, Michigan, cannot safely drink their water due to lead contamination which has occurred because the local government switched the city’s water sources in 2014 in order to allegedly save money.

That was only one of the calamities befalling Black communities that she covered, however, as she also describing among others the on-going problems unique to Chicago (namely Rahm Emmanuel’s shutdowns of public schools and potential involvement in covering up police violence). The list of unaddressed disasters, which Pulley describes the Obama administration and other powerful actors in our society as failing to adequately acknowledge let alone treat, makes clear the scope of the problem for Black communities – one that exists on an inescapably society-wide level.

New leaders, old problems

With the presidential primaries beginning to take up even larger shares of the national discussion and President Obama as one of the institutional figures who is viewed as having failed to tackle this issue, who will replace him has become a charged question.

With Donald Trump remaining for the most part in the lead in the Republican primary, more detailed attention is being paid to his background. The racially-charged elements of his business experience as a land developer in the New York area have garnered some attention, but the past couple days have specifically seen a remembrance of his volatile comments on a 1989 rape case. Trump was among the prominent New York voices that effectively lobbied for the reinstatement of the death penalty because of that case, in which five men of color were wrongly convicted as the police and state courts later admitted. Luckily none of them were actually put to death, but their years in prison cannot be undone. For many, Trump’s role in this was a testament to how second nature racist dynamics may be for him.

At the same time, Sanders caught many commenters’ eyes with a speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. He was essentially endorsed by nearby Clarkston’s Mayor Ted Terry, who is White, which came in the form of an upbeat comparison of him to Martin Luther King Jr. Statements and interactions like that by White participants at such a culturally significant location for many Black Americans seems to have struck a dissonant chord for many others. As one Black twitter user responding to a video of largely White supporters at the event noted-

Recent news on Hillary Clinton, alternatively, has focused positively on her speech on racism at Harlem. This bodes positively for her campaign, as she seems to be counting on a racial gap in support between her and Sanders. That said, her current success seems less like she has become a favorite among Black voters so much as that she hasn’t yet done anything to illicit the types of responses Sanders has gotten. As someone positioning her potential presidency as in many ways an extension of Obama’s, many of the more nuanced critiques of him and many more will likely be applied to her as well.

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Legacies

Antonin Scalia – the justice who gave us so much unnecessary contempt while handing down dismissive and even capricious decisions – died on Saturday. While many have focused on the astounding kerfuffle that’s developed, in which Senate Republicans apparently are going to avoid confirming a Supreme Court Justice for eleven months, I’m more interested in taking a moment to remember Scalia before his prominence in this “originalist” era begins to gather dust.

Justice Scalia was a man that’s easy to dismiss as a motley of contradictions. He demanded that LGBT people remain a criminalized class in the name of preventing governmental tyranny. He argued that Black people should receive lesser educational opportunities in the name of their own well being. He cheerfully supported the limits to election spending being the size of your donors’ pocketbooks in the name of free speech. Underneath these baffling justifications, so easily torn down – often delightfully by Ruth Bader Ginsburg – is a kind of stunningly consistent judicial logic. His guiding principle seems to have been that the powerful could define how things were and should be, and that he was very glad to hold an appointed life-long position of power.

At times it’s been presented as a bastardization of his own claims to “textualism” that he supported such a deeply anti-democratic view of politics and the world. That of course involves a certain rosey look at the past that Scalia elevated into an all-encompassing justification. The writings he, and for that matter his colleagues on the court, pour over and cite either were written by or derived from the works of slave owners engaged in genocidal campaigns of colonization. Might makes right isn’t that much of an importation really. What set Scalia apart, even from other conservatives on the court, was his dogmatic insistence that the framers were literally never wrong.

Scalia was a product of an often forgotten era – of Reagan’s shining city upon a hill. The 1980s saw the sudden emergence of an almost mythic devotion to a historically murky period, drawing phrases from a 1630 sermon and connecting them to institutions born from a 1787 political convention. Reagan gave a voice to a conservative backlash to what for some was a frightening new world of LGBT liberation and the Civil Rights Movement. It didn’t matter if they were nonsensical appeals to an inconsistent and complex past as long as they served those suddenly on the defensive as a source of comfort. Scalia’s constitutionalism was to some degree little more than an intellectually buttressed version of the same argument from historical authority in the name of authority itself.

The term-less appointment to the Supreme Court let Antonin Scalia sit as a reminder of that time period even while Reagan gave way to Bush, then Clinton, and ultimately Obama. Anthony Kennedy, a centrist alternative put forward after Robert Bork had made it too clear what power for power’s sake looked like, never so fully encapsulated what that Reagan-era moment in history looked like, and has had a judicial career that lived beyond it. Scalia was there alongside him of course, writing more dissents and opinions than almost any other justice in history, but his judicial outlook seemed frozen in time compared to Kennedy’s. At the end of the day, he could only shout at the slow but steady advancement past that Reagan-era reaction or align himself with the positively Macchiavellian rightwing adaptations to that new climate.

Even as people politically opposed to him – again there’s always Ginsberg – mourn him, there is some recognition in liberal circles that what has passed is not just this man but the era that produced him. Far more than former Chief Justice Rehnquist’s passing of his position to current Chief Justice Roberts, Scalia’s death portends a new structural alignment on the court. Any nominee from Obama, even a comparatively centrist one, is going to tip the fragile balance further to the left on most issues.

A Republican blockade against sitting any appointee from the president is the perfect procedural issue to fire up the liberal vote in the 2016 races, and an almost guarantee that another Democratic president would issue their nominations to a more friendly Senate in 2017. Insisting that no one be seated is a complaint with essentially no point, since the anger is that an era is over. Republicans might as well direct those complaints at the demographic shifts in the country, at the transformation of their social wedge issues into liabilities, at the failure of their promised prosperity to manifest for most.

Much like how liberal appointments in the 1930s and 1940s paved the way for the Warren Court of the 1950s and 1960s, the growing liberal bloc on the Supreme Court is a reflection of what has followed Reagan – Clinton’s and Obama’s two-term administrations. The Supreme Court serves as a sort of record of what came before, softly echoing the presidency and to a lesser extent congress. Part of what died on Saturday was the tangible impact of Ronald Reagan, and the political party which still holds debates at his presidential library doesn’t seem to be taking it well.

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In the aftermath

Trigger warning: terrorism, abortion, sexism, war, racism, police violence, violence against protesters

In the past couple of months, almost every region in the world has been rocked by a shocking and violent event. When writing about those, it feels like an easy trap to fall into where almost all coverage is about the immediate happenings, and the wake they have left behind is swept under the rug. Here’s a Friday Let-Me-Link-You rundown of some shocking and interesting observations that might otherwise have fallen through the cracks.

Making abortion a visible part of life

Following the Black Friday shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, many have asked how that might affect the public discussions on abortion and the on-going debates about various new restrictions on access to abortion and other reproductive health services. On Tuesday’s episode of Podcast for America, Rebecca Traister appeared as a guest, and highlighted recent and more long term coverage she has done on how the changing types of participants in public office has begun to alter the way these medical procedures are talked about.

At its core, she noted that not only are more (cisgender) women in prominent political positions, but that they are increasingly women of color and women from more difficult economic backgrounds. Able to raise their personal experiences in debates, they have helped transform abortion in public consciousness from a “dirty” thing “those people” do into a messy thing that many do.

Assad: the greatest threat in Syria?

Just as that shooting in Colorado has brought abortion rights and anti-abortion violence to the fore in the US, the attacks in Paris reignited predominantly Western interests in resolving Syria, as a hypothetical means of preventing further attacks in their part of the world. In light of that, President Obama’s staunchly anti-Assad policy has come under criticism, with a number of political powers all but declaring that they prefer Assad’s dictatorial regime to the violent start-up of Da’esh.

An image put together by the anti-Da’esh and anti-Assad Syria Campaign and shared on Facebook this week by the German activist group Zentrum für Politische Schönheit (ZPS) clarifies that anti-Assad policies’ roots. As it shows, a vast majority of deaths in Syria have been from Assad’s forces:

deaths assad daesh(From here.)

Like many Obama administration policies, there is a very logical political and moral calculus behind the choice. In this case, all lost lives – Syrian and Western – are understood as tragic, and when tallied up it’s recognized that one of the greatest threats to life in general isn’t necessarily the flashiest or even the ones terrorists deliberately designed to shock.

South Africa Internet Availability: closing the floodgates

Meanwhile, international and local media in South Africa continue to pick apart what exactly happened at an October student protest in Cape Town that caught a lot of attention for its White participants’ attempt to shield protesters of color from the police. The underlying motivations behind the protest highlight familiar problems in higher education throughout the world – that tuition hikes are particularly affecting the poor and Black and particularly poor and Black, that the children of non-academic university staff are no longer guaranteed certain tuition benefits reinforcing class inequalities, and that the campus and curriculum valorize a colonial past.

That said, the history of Apartheid weighs heavily, and gravely concerns the many protesters who were born after the overtly legally-sanctioned racial hierarchy in South Africa was dismantled.

The Washington Post noted recently that this student protest was particularly innovative for South Africa in how it used modern social media to create discussion spaces, organize, and articulate activist goals. More than simply an importation of a global protest model, that also showed a reversal in terms of which parts of South African society could most easily use an online medium in political activity:

Social media has been a growing influence in South African politics for a while: think of how former opposition party leader Helen Zille (of the opposition party Democratic Alliance, or DA) has become known for tweeting from the hip, and landed her in trouble for unguarded remarks. Zille’s twitter dominance of course reflected racial disparities (then still largely skewed to the small white minority) in Internet access and use in South Africa. Not for long, though. Zille and the DA were gradually deposed by the Economic Freedom Front’s (EFF) Twitter smarts (especially that of its young MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and its leader Julius Malema) and what passes for#BlackTwitter in South Africa.

The government of South Africa appears to be rallying against these changes, according to an assessment of proposed legal changes published by Access Now earlier this week. The increasingly diverse twitter landscape in South Africa has motivated the creation of a “a series of new crimes for unlawful activity online” which just on the heels of this major protest would “pose a risk to freedom of expression”.

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Anti-refugee Democrats: the other third party

Trigger warning: terrorism, islamophobia, racism

As I noted earlier this week, Republicans and other conservatives have essentially fallen over each other to trot out different versions of the same reaction to the attacks on Paris. They’ve prescribed more war, more hostility towards people of differing backgrounds, and more authoritarian state surveillance and controls. It’s basically a parade of what they have been pushing since the 9/11 attacks if not earlier, with the major shifts overt that time having just being about how overt or subtle they are with the policies they have in mind.

Within the US, the Democrats on the other hand, as a kind of quasi-left-ish coalition, have been inharmonious with one another. In New Hampshire, Governor Maggie Hassan was the only Democratic governor to join the rush to declare refugees would not be welcome in their state. A series of Senators – Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Manchin, and Harry Reid – publicly called for greater oversight and potentially even a moratorium on accepting asylum-seekers from Syria and other affected countries. As with more issues than many want to admit, there is a wing within the Democratic Party that differs from the Republicans not much on policy and more on volume and style.

2015-11-17_1342

(Modified from here, more information on the Mayors here.)

Of course, the loose coalition that makes up the Democratic Party in the US has plenty of other circles, some of which have made it quite clear that they are not going to sit quietly on this issue. Among other moved by that was President Obama himself, but he was joined recently by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Tammy Duckworth.

This brings to light a more mild version of the divisions within the Democratic Party which former presidential candidate Jim Webb made obvious earlier this year. There is a quite clear split here within the Party, and it’s not just the comparatively rural and White voters of Appalachia who have maintained a different Democratic Party with different responses to racially-charged issues. For every Webb, Manchin, and Reid, there is a Feinstein, a Schumer, or another Democrat from a comparatively urban and diverse state.

Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 win is enlightening on this. Beyond her indigenous ancestry, it explains why she falls into a group more commonly filled with people like Obama and Duckworth who have more constant and direct experiences with being racialized and profiled. It also explains how her opponent, Scott Brown, was even able to win in Massachusetts in the first place – because he appealed to the same type of constituencies that continue to empower Feinstein, Schumer, and others in “blue states”.

Courtesy of the Election StatSheet, here’s how her win in 2012 was distributed across the state of Massachusetts:

Massachusetts 2012 county results

The bulk of her support came from the core of the Boston area (9.0 percent and 23.8 percent margins), with a smaller bump from the Springfield area in the western part of the state (6.3). Since this is New England, she also picked up slim margins in some of the comparatively rural parts of the state. Massachusetts residents have already picked up at this point on who that means drove her win to success: in the urban centers, people of color and the poor; in the rural west, the younger and more academic-minded.

What’s more remarkable is that Brown received a large amount of support in spite of the blue tilt felt across the state. It was concentrated, as the map shows, in the immediate environs of Boston.

The nearby suburbs of the state’s largest city are known for their wealthy and White demographics, but are by and large understood as still quintessentially “Massachusetts”. Whatever local preference towards Democrats, they pulled the lever for Brown to the tune of a more than ten point advantage. That part of the electorate, no matter their liberal bona fides, votes in the name of their personal bottom line. That can prop up a unique Brown-type Republican that goes a bit less directly on social issues and emphasizes economics, as well as the Schumer or Feinstein style of Democrat, who prioritizes security and spending over reforms or even moments of basic charity towards refugees.

Brown’s initially successful election (in 2010) primarily with the support of this group is not as much as a fluke as one might think. With the Republican base increasingly hostile towards a moderate wing seen as Republicans “in name only,” many Republicans have sought to triangulate between appealing adequately to the radicals and this constituency. This has been woven into the rhetoric and policies of Scott Walker and John Kasich among others – with the intent to create a smooth passage through both the base-driven primary and the general election (which tends to call for a broader coalition).

In some ways that echoes the efforts of many Democrats during the Clinton years, when the progressive base was labeled as electorally inadequate to win, but also indispensable. A certain portion of the Democratic Party never stopped doing that, even as the “Warren wing” emerged as a viable alternative to that somewhat convoluted centrism.

One question this leaves is whether these moderates are viable in the long term. That’s often presented as a party-unique question, but with increasingly viable constituencies outside of this group, few prominent politicians necessarily need their vote. Typically well-off but not necessarily wealthy on the scale of those who bankroll modern campaigns (and tend to have more eccentric political ideas), they’re also not financially necessary to the electoral process. What’s more, if a centrist Democratic wing and a centrist Republican wing will compete over their votes, it’s unclear that any useful collection of votes could coalesce around their specific interests.

That circumstance might lead many to expect a breakout third party, motivated by a kind of economics-light libertarianism. So far, that political bloc has been able to maintain a shocking amount of power without forming a third party. Instead they play kingmaker with their ability to deliver the votes necessary to enact their policies with shifting group of situationally-aligned co-supporters. They can rely on more radical Republicans to support them on most tax policies. They can rely on more radical Democrats to begrudgingly bail out banks or other industries to keep the country’s metaphorical lights on.

In terms of a vision of what different parts of politics or the economy could look like, they can’t lead, but they can still get most of what they want and leave everything else to die out in a committee as a “partisan” or “extremist” idea with inadequate support. For that matter, since they’re representing people who are, more or less, comfortable with things as they are, they don’t really need an idea of how to change the country. Intermingled with that comfort is a certain concern though: someone could muck everything up. So, this a political group that while somewhat ambivalent on social policies is more than happy to hear out extremely conservative views on race, religion, and civil liberties the moment security becomes the focal issue for any number of voters.

So, the Democrats who already have fallen in line with the majority of Republican governors or are speaking the same way as many conservative commentators have revealed a lot about themselves. Their willingness to act so cavalierly on security issues speaks to the interests they seek to protect and the ways in which those targeted by security systems don’t look like their constituents. They’re a unique class of Democrats, motivated by underlying economic and racial factors, that may make their politics incompatible with the broader Democratic Party’s in this era of the ascendant Senator Warren and President Obama.

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Unalike in nature

If you don’t already give Podcast for America the periodic listen, allow me to recommend it. It’s exactly the biting, often satirical look at US politics from Mark Leibovich, Annie Lowrey, and Alex Wagner that you wish you could simply switch on the television or open a newspaper and read from them and others. Instead, if thrives in the wilds of soundcloud and iTunes where you little differences (like swearing) can add up to more than just a change of tone, but also a entirely different type of discussion.

Of course, like most media that I cover on here, there’s a criticism that I have. It’s a particular one that grows out of something Alex Wagner said in the most recent episode:

I actually was thinking as we were talking about Trump’s infrastructure how nobody has- Everyone questions the seriousness of Biden’s potential bid because there is like, ‘Does he have the money or does he have the support? Does he have the network?’ Nobody questions it when it’s Donald Trump! Certainly the money isn’t an issue for Trump, but you know, neither one- they basically have the same amount of campaign infrastructure at this point, which is to say, none at all. And yet, that seems to be a liability for Biden in a way that it is not at all for Trump.

The issue I have with this is that there’s an assumption that a presidential campaign is going to have the same relationship to traditional campaigning regardless of which major party is running it. Increasingly, people have recognized that there isn’t a “pivot” faction in US politics, or at least as much of one as most people believe there is. Voters for the most part don’t suddenly vote against the party they had favored two years before. Instead, there are two radically different electorates – one of which votes in most elections and broader one usually only mobilized in years with presidential contests. Voters are fairly consistent, it’s turnout that’s not.

The two major parties increasingly represent factions that skew towards one of those ends of the same spectrum of voting behavior. That leaves us with conditions where Democratic candidates have won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, but both the House and Senate are increasingly dominated by Republican elected officials. In both of those bodies, there’s a Democratic minority largely sustained by “coattails” that might be entirely their own earned votes, just only in the years when their types of voter turns out.

Of course, these diverging interests in what type of electorate votes impact policy as well. The Democrats have slowly but steadily come out in favor of increasing accessibility for voters transparency within the voting process, and seem poised in the coming years to question certain on-going forms of disenfranchisement – namely for convicted felons and the incarcerated. The Republicans have at the same time begun pushing tighter restrictions on voters to prevent voter fraud and sought to limit the number of hours in which votes can be cast. Both are seeking to make the elections that have a harder time winning more like the ones that they find easier, by broadening or shrinking voter turnout.

More than diverging takes on electoral regulation, there are also increasingly distinct approaches within campaigns themselves. Within both parties, large numbers of supporters are anxious over the potentially biasing effects of large political donations, now enabled by the Supreme Court. The Republican front-runner, Donald Trump, has emphasized that he doesn’t need those donations because he can fund himself, while surging Democratic contender Bernie Sanders has instead highlighted how many of his contributions come from smaller donors.

That perpetuates the same divide seen in 2012 between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – with smaller donations largely going to Obama and sizable ones largely to Romney. Those donations are made in a broader campaign context. Large donations come with capturing the attention of specific donors, usually in highly specialized events. Smaller donations come from more general appearances, often while delivering iconic stump speeches. Think of Obama’s rallies versus Romney’s behind-closed-doors meetings. A similar divide is already rearing its head in the primaries this year, as Sanders calls for more primary debates – highly public moments in which he can make his case to a large audience – while Trump for a significant amount of time was basically just doing phone interviews from his own apartment.

Joe Biden might not hit the same populist note as Sanders, if he does run, but he would need to compete with that type of a campaign, tailored to a general audience that needs to directly support you for you to succeed in the election. In short, as a Democrat, he would need a ground game, a popular campaign, and other hallmarks that are being asked of his (for now) hypothetical run. Alex Wagner goes on from the part I quoted to note that Trump’s front-runner status proves that at least for now he may not need the typical campaign apparatus, and that’s because of what the Republican Party has, permitted by the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act and ruling on Citizens United, evolved into an electoral entity that doesn’t seek out popular support, but the financial and political endorsement of a small minority.

To be fully fair to Wagner, I doubt that this is the reasoning behind asking different questions of Trump’s current and Biden’s possible campaign. Still, when it comes to the general election, there should be different standards applied to Biden because he would run an utterly different type of campaign from Trump or any other Republican.

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Onwards and upwards, but not for all

Trigger warning: gun violence, racism

Yesterday, ten people died and seven were injured in a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Motivated by the public outcry, President Obama gave a speech on the event and the issues it raises yesterday which still dominates my newsfeed and in all likelihood yours as well. He laid out a basic argument for gun control and against a hypervigilance for over-regulation of firearms and related weapons:

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston.  It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation.  Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out:  We need more guns, they’ll argue.  Fewer gun safety laws.

Does anybody really believe that?  There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country –they know that’s not true.  We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws — including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

That is understandably deeply moving. It taps into one of the great beliefs in the United States about this country – that we are an evolving country, tethered by traditions but not ensnared by them. We can – and do – blaze forward, the story goes, changing ourselves in order to make life better. This story is sometimes about this type of regulation on a product, but can also come in the form of appeals to how the franchise has expanded, widening the voting population towards something today considered to be an approximation of universal suffrage. Obama is, I suspect, quite consciously marrying those two tales together, crediting the ostensibly safer and healthier life of the average US citizen to the theoretically democratic achievements of this country. We can literally vote ourselves to safety.

Unfortunately, it’s increasingly unclear that any part of this narrative is true. Past regulations on firearms and present day regulations on cars and other products Obama later mentions were opposed at almost every step by a major industry if not several. Those two are some of the most successful campaigns for that matter. Even as cars have reduced the dangers in an accident, they’ve gotten better at concealing their emissions, disguising the threat they pose to a stable and useful climate for us and ultimately everyone else in the world. Almost all of these improvements are rooted in economic bottom lines. It’s better to make a product that doesn’t easily and regularly kill your customers – that’s just basic business sense. But longer term damage to its consumers, to their descendants, and to the broader world can just be “externalities“, at least for much longer than that other kind of threat.

When it comes to more general issues of social and economic security that same statistics crop up repeatedly showing that many problems have lingered or even worsened. Food insecurity remains prevalent in the US. Union membership – long a bulwark for lower and middle classes to protect their interests – has drastically declined, as has (for that and other reasons) the political effectiveness of unions. Fear of poverty, of want, and of homelessness are barely considerations in the economic and political system in which we live, and so have at best been allowed, and at worst encouraged as “motivation“. The idea that we have become safer than those before us downplays these concerns and denies the observable reality that sometimes things actually have gotten worse.

Suffrage, still full of historical holes like felon disenfranchisement, has recently taken a hit from the dismantling of the pre-clearance system. Already, Alabama appears to be coordinating mass suppression of voters of color in advance of the 2016 election with no effective federal oversight. Other states are likely to follow suit. Even before that structural link in US democracy crumbled, we were already facing an effective plutocratic check on at the very least national elections, and by one study’s standards, were no longer a democracy, but rather an oligarchy. A majority of people in this country – citizens or not – might want basic regulations on weapons, but does that mean anything? For years, in spite of popular outcry, it hasn’t.

katrinaNew Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, from here.

Further along in his speech, Obama presented what he viewed as a few analogues to what he hopes we could accomplish on gun control, saying among other things, “When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.” One needs only point to Katrina as an example of how limited those improvements often can be. Over a thousand died, and over a million were displaced. More valued populations threatened by later hurricanes have been better protected, so perhaps the government learned something from that disaster. But those lessons learned in catastrophe haven’t been applied to repair the still hurting (and specifically Black) communities in New Orleans, but to preserve the business centers of Houston and the greater New York area. In fact, as the devastation of Hurricane Katrina created the opportunity for a wealthier and Whiter demographic to move in and replace dead or displaced residents, parts of New Orleans seem poised to attain a similar status, only without the people who originally lived there.

Progress appears to be a privilege, increasingly reserved only for some in this society. It seems vital that we ask who gets left behind, and not only when the answer is “almost everyone.”

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Trump doubles down

Trigger warning: islamophobia, racism, genocide

By this point you’ve hopefully seen the brief clip of Donald Trump in New Hampshire being asked a somewhat rambling question, which to make matters worse he interrupted. What was asked went something like this:

“We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one. You know he’s not even American. Birth certificates, man. But anyway, we have training camps [of Muslims] growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question – when can we get rid of them?”

Many others besides me immediately flashed back to a similarly confused question that then presidential nominee John McCain had to field about the very same Barack Obama, in which he was called an Arab and implied to be a Muslim. There are so many familiar parts of this – the use of Muslim as an inherent signifier of lesser or no value, the casual implication of genocidal mass killing, and the paranoid fixation on Obama apparently at the heart of a vast conspiracy. Donald Trump knows how to capture a Zeitgeist, but there is something this statement and the reactions to it will reveal.

In the coming reaction to his statements, something of a nation-wide test is going to be unknowingly conducted. When McCain haltingly rejected the fears of the woman who had approached him there were dual reactions among his supporters. For some, this signaled that what had attracted them to the McCain-Palin cause was not necessarily going to be entirely backed by its future administration. For others, this signaled worryingly about who their political camp had let inside the gate and, as Sarah Palin demonstrated, hold increasingly prominent and powerful positions within the party.

After that, the Republican fold actually lost a lot of supporters, who decided the conservative outfit no longer represented what they thought it did if a woman asked a question like that. Alternatively, the continued campaigns of people like Donald Trump meant that very few of those disappointed that McCain didn’t agree actually left the party. They might not have voted for McCain, but they remained active Republicans in other arenas.

What Trump has presented here is in part the fallout of that. When a sizable percentage of a major party leaves because of racist rhetoric, you’re only left with the racists (and also, only the racists to appeal to, as Trump’s broader primary success shows). We’re not just before the general so any straggling defectors won’t be from the party, but will be most likely to other candidates. The real question is, what are their numbers? How many people are left in the Republican Party that neither tolerate nor personally endorse these ideas about people of color, Muslims, and a score of other marginalized groups? Are they significant enough – numerically or otherwise – in the Republican Party to affect the nomination process?

The reality is that the answer to that is probably no, because of the process that has occurred to a large extent since the most recent Bush Administration. The Republican Party has bled supporters since then, alienated at times not just but socially unaccepted language about vulnerable groups, but because they themselves are members of the groups attacked. Muslim communities themselves in the US once leaned towards Republicans. The reality that has left Republican candidates with is to go big, like The Donald himself, or go home. There’s virtually no other constituency left within the party, at least one which can meaningfully challenge its power or numerically best it. The Republican Party can only turn out candidates who act this way because those are the candidates it wants.

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Whose protest is driving the conversation on climate change?

Trigger Warning: colonialism, climate change

Recently, many activist spaces and organizations in wealthy, early-to-industrialize nations have been prioritizing action on global climate change, and have even seen some response from among others, the Obama Administration itself. As I’ve noted before, both colonized people living within those parts of the world and people living with the fallout of centuries of colonialism and other policies in other areas have much more at stake in this warming world, have done much less to create the current situation, and unfortunately have significantly less international power to influence the developing crisis. That doesn’t mean they aren’t trying, however.

Hurricane Danny's projected path into the Lesser Antilles this weekend or MondayHurricane Danny is expected to make landfall in the Lesser Antilles before this coming Monday, from here. More info here.

Most visibly, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, famous for his anti-Apartheid activism in his home country and more recent HIV/AIDS activism, has publicly called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama to set even more ambitious targets for declining greenhouse gas output – specifically a total cut of emissions by 2050. His open letter to those two officials is not only being circulated but presented as something that any interested person can also sign in support. Public protest actions within the countries most responsible for the global warming are important, but it’s important to also center the voices of people in the broader world who have a different language to describe the nature of the problem.

The featured image is of some of the indigenous participants in the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, from here.

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Balmy congressional climes

Trigger Warning: racism, colonialism, climate change

President Obama began this month with a coordinated political message about climate change. Over the course of his presidency, he has emphasized the need for action on that environmental issue among others and been criticized for it. Until this point, however, he has had difficulty directly confronting the US’s responsibility for the warming climate. Instead, his most visible policy action has been inaction – his mild mannered blocking of the Keystone Pipeline. More quietly, his administration has dramatically increased federal investment in environmentally friendly power sources, but that seems like a mild alteration of policy rather than a concrete effort to change the environmental impact of the United States.

The newly released climate plan builds on the expected returns from that increased federal funding of wind, solar, and other more or less carbon-neutral energy sources. The expected fruits of those investments are to be harvested with a reduction in electricity producers’ carbon outputs to just over two thirds of 2005’s levels by 2030. The regulatory system is merely an expansion of existing limits on other chemical pollutants, namely Mercury, Sulfur, and Arsenic. It also incorporates guidelines in public planning, anticipating increasingly destructive climate conditions to existing infrastructure, which will be implemented with a task force of state, local, and tribal leaders. In short, it avoids almost every major pitfall to the Republican statements on climate change during the 2012 election from the bafflingly unrealistic expectations to open disregard for indigenous communities and other specific populations particularly at risk of existing climate change impacts.

Is that enough though? The pragmatic nature of the climate plan sets distant goals, deliberately to provide the private industries significant time to comply with the announced regulations. There is a history of that sort of long term program ending up derailed, as the US’s backing out of the Kyoto Protocol (and that plan’s other failures) demonstrates. Careful, meditated action has its strengths, but on this particular issue it has a history of justifying apathy and further kicking the can down the road. While something of a defining characteristic of Obama’s technocratic style, as with other issues (such as health care reform), his measured reforms fail to damper Republican and conservative hostility to solutions on this and other problems.

Almost immediately after Obama’s announcement, former congressional representative Bob Inglis critically stated his regulation-minded program was anathema for Republicans. Instead, he floated a vague “fix” of the economics, which he finally specified would mean a carbon tax matched with a corresponding tax cut would be what Republicans could support, or at least not vote block. Alex Wagner, hosting the program he was a guest on, called him out on the duplicity almost immediately – “If we’re talking about you know poison-pills or language that is just kryptonite, do you think this President would have more success saying the word ‘tax’? Or Republicans for that matter would have more success pushing for a tax, rather than regulation?”

Inglis, who has been out of office since 2011, didn’t skip a beat and immediately had an alternative for Wagner, Obama, and anyone else motivated to address climate change. He offered, “How about this deal. [Obama or another democratic leader should say] we’ll give you the votes for pricing carbon dioxide, and you, Speaker Boehner, choose the corresponding tax cut.” Shifting the discussion from regulations to direct taxation doesn’t really make sense, especially since a commodity tax is difficult to predict the revenue of, so creating a predicted counter-revenue tax cut will actually be near impossible. Of course, that’s not the point, which is gaining leverage. In essence, what can the demand for action on climate change do for congressional Republicans?

Residents of Kiribati piling stones and sandbags to stave off rising ocean waters, from January 2015Kiribati residents have taken as of the past year to piling stones and sandbags to stave off rising ocean waters in the low-lying nation of islands in the Pacific, from here.

It’s fitting that the wealthy in the industrial world can not only economically profit from the putting of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere but also reap political capital from almost any and every plan to reduce that output. The rhetorical context that makes that possible has its own history. Any and all responses to the looming threats of climate change have to responsible, reasonable, and essentially adult. They have to emphasize, as Obama’s announcement did, that they will act on that problem while also “lowering energy bills, ensuring reliable service, and paving the way for new job-creating innovations”. There has to be no objectionable element, no cost, no difficulty, no discomfort. Even when that is promised, it won’t be believed, and another, new, slightly tweaked version of the same sort of policies can be held up as the actually feasible policy.

Inglis’ new idea is to push for other policy desires (for more tax cuts, in this case) to be fulfilled at the cost of each and every action on the threat of climate change, but expect to see that bog standard congressional Republican tactic (recall the government shutdown) increasingly applied to desperately necessary action on climate change.

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The threat of the executive order

If you’re on the Howard Dean-affiliated Democracy for American email list, you’ve probably already seen this image, which they sent out seemingly yesterday to their thousands (if not million plus) of subscribers:


(Literally anything?)

Huh. Now if that isn’t a symbol for our times. Not in that executive orders are more common (they aren’t), but that they’ve become necessary for basic political functions. In the 1980s and 1990s (and even the often called dysfunctional Bush years), the United States paid its bills, kept the lights on, and even updated the image of who was working and living in the United States. The legislature had it’s moments of inane or counter-productive behavior (Clinton’s impeachment seems like it shouldn’t be forgotten), but on the hold, governance was shared between a presidency, a congress, a high court, and numerous other functional elements to a political system.

That no longer exists. The threat of a executive order has been one of the sticks shown off in attempt to force congressional action on the debt ceiling, and similar attempts have now been made with regards to policy on indefinite detention, immigration, and now even the minimum wage. In a twisted way, the president has come to rely on (among other persuasion techniques) threatening to do everything himself in order to goad Republicans in Congress into action, which unfortunately only convinces them to dig in their feet harder (the better to oppose his “radical” policies!).

We’ve lost any semblance of a consensus that we as a country are viable in our current form, mostly because of rising conservative alternative theories. The resurfacing popularity among many Republicans of establishing a golden standard, of dismantling the Federal Reserve, of reversing Civil Rights victories, of overturning Roe, and of letting the US default on its debts and watch its federally-insurance banks go belly up in order to cleanse the economic system do not exist in isolation from each other. They tell a story of a long-negotiated political consensus about how the US economy and political system can and should be set up suddenly finding itself under attack in innumerable ways. It is likewise not an accident that secession is suddenly on the table again.

Within the context, it’s not just a useful threat to say that the President will keep those previously agreed-upon systems running. It’s also comforting to the people who would be protected by them. And it becomes unfortunately necessary to note that, comforting or not, executive orders have largely remained an overly polite bully pulpit for Obama, rather than an actual tool used to maintain (or even broaden) basic equalities and freedoms. Detainees are still waiting for their freedom in Guantánamo. Employees of anyone other than government contractors are still waiting for a raise. And the debt ceiling fight is threatening to come back again.

Systems are self-reinforcing, but only to a point. After a while, they need more than just a gentle nudge to keep them going. They need to be invested in and supported. How much longer will “good enough” be good enough?

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State of the Union 2014

As usual, please follow along with my comments on twitter to President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight, at 9 pm Eastern / 6 pm Pacific.

There’s been a few hints as to what we can expect tonight, but the most solid are coming from the think tank Demos, which released this informational graphic today (warning it’s large):

Continue reading

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The year that class apparently stopped mattering

TW: classism, racism, nativism

2012 was a fascinating year, especially from a perspective within the United States. There’s a long history of residents of this country telling ourselves that we’re a classless society, or failing that a country where opportunity is ubiquitous and untainted by social and political biases. Last year, and particularly the presidential election over the course of it, seemed like something of an abrupt end to that, with Romney’s 47 percent video solidifying class as inevitably one of the salient identities and the post-election analysis often becoming fixed on how rapidly support for the Democrat Obama transformed into support for the Republican Romney at around $50,000 per year per household in most states.

romney in a pile of money

(It was also a golden age of photoshopped images of Mitt Romney, for obvious reasons, from here.)

This past year something else happened, however, particularly in how the media analyzed issues. In short, class completely disappeared from the conversation. In some cases, the absence of class in how representative sets of groups were selected was appalling obvious, with Ron Fournier’s perceived look into the heads of current students he expects to lead the country in the future being a particularly vivid example. That the class of those he talked to (never even directly about the issue, it seems important to add) was a force that could bias them to a certain view on government was something Fournier never broached in his article. While he could obliquely reference their class status as easing their launch into “public service”, he couldn’t imagine it as something that shaped their opinions, their experiences, and ultimately their politics. It’s not that the economic system is invisible, just people’s status (that is, class) that apparently was to his eyes and ears. Likewise, the result was that the differing positions held by poorer young people weren’t considered.

Fournier was just an undeniable example of this phenomenon. Earlier in the year, in fact, Obama’s State of the Union address reflected a similar disrecognition of how his language divided immigrants into those that worked desired jobs and hence were imagined to be “highly-skilled” and even “entrepreneurs” and those that, ostensibly, are neither of those things as a result of them being unwanted. The reality that many undocumented immigrants are badly wanted as laborers by US-based businesses, but precisely because they can be exploited economically and socially, wasn’t acknowledged in the slightest. Much like the high school students with less affluent backgrounds, their reality (and hence, their political interests and needs) were outside of the discussion.

This failure to consider how class intersects with nearly all political issues didn’t merely erase poor people from the discussion, but actively distorted a number of historical figures records while they were remembered this year. From Nelson Mandela to Martin Luther King Jr, the class politics of a number of Black political figures were totally removed from public political memory, often as a part of otherwise remaking them into figures useful to White commentators. The former was done an additional disservice before his death, by BBC reporting that disregarded the economic reality of historical and modern South Africa, largely again by means of erasing the poorest residents of that country (who remain the indigenous Black communities) in order to make a political point that seemed stolen from White nationalists.

In a lot of formal and official discussions, 2013 was a year of class needlessly receding from the discussion, which often took any type of look at the beliefs, ideas, and even existence of the poorest people with it.

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This is a GOP shutdown

Between the Tea Party affiliated (and Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz inclusive) protest in front of the White House yesterday and the various online efforts to label this as “Obama’s shutdown”, it’s understandable that people may begin (or have already begun) to be somewhat confused about who precisely is causing the current shutdown. Let’s make it clear – it’s the Republicans. They created this shutdown. They urged this shutdown. They’re maintaining this shutdown.


(The barricades from the WWII Memorial, which protesters removed and then proceeded to throw at the fence surrounding the White House, from here.)

We could start that discussion with how it was a group of House Republicans in addition to Senator Ted Cruz who popularized in their political circles the idea of refusing to fund the government for the (then-coming, now-here) fiscal year, but that’s been known and that should be known. What’s less commonly recognized however, is that Republicans not only took that course of action, but in the process of that metaphorically locked the door behind them so that it’s near impossible for Democrats to resolve this issue by an up-or-down vote on the House floor. Instead, any such measure has to be brought forward by either House Majority Leader Eric Cantor or a designee of his choice, as per a rule resolution (specifically applied to this legislation, and some argue, in violation of House rules) passed right after the government shutdown.

That’s, unfortunately, a risky proposition since Cantor has in his nearly thirteen years in the Senate only sponsored 76 bills – just over five year. The last time he introduced a bill was April 9, 2013 – a date after which almost every other sitting member of the House has proposed at least one if not several prospective bills. Obviously, this renders the Democrats negotiations with comparatively moderate Republicans moot, since they could sway any number of representatives and fail to bring any bill to the floor without Cantor’s approval.

Ironically enough, the math suggests that several Republican House members voted in favor of giving away their ability to bring forward a modified budget before swinging in favor of Democratic proposals. The rule resolution passed with only nine Republicans voting against it and one failing to vote, meaning that at best ten Republicans now regret their vote (assuming that Nancy Pelosi’s claims of small but significant Republican support aren’t exaggerated).

Perhaps instead of throwing barricades at the White House in anger at President Obama, Republicans who want the WWII Memorial reopened should take up their quarrel with Eric Cantor, on whom this entire shutdown hinges?

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