Not O’Keefe Again!

organic-spies-spookNew Orleans    James O’Keefe, the infamous video scammer, showed up on my ACORN Google Alerts a couple of days ago, threatening once again to release daily videos that would overturn the election. Yawn. Really? He has been so thoroughly discredited so frequently in recent years that I have to admit I didn’t even open the alert and see what it was about. Just more self-promotion promoting a candidate whose entire platform and program is nothing but self-promotion.

Then a colleague mentioned a problem in their battleground state and the fact that there was a kerfuffle about videos having been mentioned by Trump in the debate. I replied that it was obviously minor since I hadn’t seen anything in local or national papers yet. Well, that was then, and this is now, since a story finally ran in the middle of the New York Times with comments indirectly alluded to elsewhere about “dirty tricks” for Hillary and troubling comparisons about the accuracy of the major candidates’ moral compasses.

It turned out this time that the O’Keefe video burned a couple of tangential operatives that may or may not have been obliquely involved in low levels of the Clinton campaign. The discussion ostensibly was about planting provocateurs in Trump rallies who might or might not provoke Trumpeteers into random acts of violence. Yes, you’re wondering, why bother, isn’t this an organic and natural part of Trump rallies anyway? Well, perhaps but the operatives were trying to entice O’Keefe’s pretend “donors” and may, or may not, have been gilding the lily for the bucks. One of the operatives who was off-camera reportedly was an old friend and colleague, Bob Creamer, a native of Shreveport and former community organizer with Illinois Public Action in the 1980s, who used to stop by and visit during Christmas when he was visiting his family, and in later life, now married to Congresswomen Jan Shaklowsky of Chicago, has made his career as a political consultant and organizer. In short, I’m biased. I like Bob. I detest O’Keefe.

All of which is neither here, nor there, because my real problem is not this tempest in a teapot, because I have to admit how jaded I am since all I see is small potatoes, but how is it still possible that any and everyone involved at any level of political, activist, or organizing life has not learned the lessons from the ACORN-O’Keefe attack to thoroughly vet any and every one that they do not know well when they are doing any business whatsoever. Ok, you may say I’m not a trusting person, but that’s OK, because I’ll freely admit, I’m not a trusting person, but why would anyone fall for O’Keefe’s ridiculous ploys anymore?

Is it possible on the right or the left that part of the standard interview process and contractor terms don’t require a guarantee against loose lips and sinking ships mandating vetting or permissions before any discussions in or away from the office with random folks? How can it be that the lessons of the slanderous ACORN takedown are not tattooed on the arms or worn like an amulet by every political organizer and campaign employee from high to low? I don’t get it.

Somehow memory is fleeting from cycle to cycle and 2009 is so yesterday, but geez can’t we get our act together finally and do right on this? O’Keefe continues to be a bad penny who keeps popping up, simply because we allow his shtick to survive.


Issues Missing in Presidential Campaign

20160711_election_issues_2New Orleans    Not long ago there was an op-ed piece that ran in the papers about the fact that poverty and what to really do about the equity gap was missing as an issue in the campaign. More recently, others have noted that climate change has also been raised, but not engaged as a campaign issue. When you think about it, we’ve definitely seen issues around race and gender as centerpieces of the campaign, but when it really comes down to hard-and-firm debates about policy choices and decisions that we might face once we live through this campaign, there’s not much there, there.

We can infer that Trump would reboot our foreign policy with a Russian warmup of some kind. We know that Clinton traveled to a host of countries while Secretary of State, but I’m not sure if we know exactly what she would do on foreign policy as President, other than more of the same. If we grab at straws there are contradictory readings of some of the WikiLeaks email dumps that indicate that Clinton might – or might not – be tougher on Wall Street. Immigrants may have to learn to crawl the wall with Trump, but we’re guessing that Hillary would continue to push forward with Obama-lite programs in this area. We know Trump would appoint highly conservative nominees to the Supreme Court, and, we can guess that Clinton would not, but she has not committed to pushing forward on Obama’s stalled nomination or been clear where she might look in this regard.

It’s kind of amazing how little we know about what either candidate would really do as President, given the nature of this campaign. It has been so bitter and so divisive that it has drowned out any but the most strident messages of the candidates.

We can gather that something might happen on daycare, but Trump’s initiative here was tactical, rather than profound, so it’s not like we could take it to the bank. And, speaking of the bank, for all of the controversy about Trump’s non-payment of taxes, if a gun were pressed up against my head, I would still be hard-pressed to repeat exactly what Clinton has said that she would commit to doing to change the tax rate and how it favors corporations and the rich, even if we can be confident from Trump’s remarks that he thinks it’s fine and dandy, and even smart to not pay taxes. I’d say about the same on trade and jobs, which have surprisingly been clearer issues for Trump, than Clinton.

Maybe this is just real-politick. Perhaps we are seeing all of these sideshows from both candidates because neither are sure that they can get anything through Congress? The increasingly confident Clinton is putting more money into Arizona, Indiana, and Missouri to try and influence Senate races to switch control, but meanwhile polls are also indicating that people are tuning out and tired of the back-and-forth, particularly African-Americans and younger voters which could lead to lower turnout.

One thing that was clear in the Sanders campaign and his constant one-note repetition: voters knew where he stood. The only thing clear about this campaign as we come down to the wire is that voters know who they don’t like – not what they can expect to see over the next four years.


Rigged Elections and Sore Losers

Supporters carrying side arms wait for the start of a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Supporters carrying side arms wait for the start of a rally for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

New Orleans   Polls are showing a consolidated lead for Hillary Clinton with three weeks to go and many states already beginning early voting. Republican strategists are warning that it may be too late for a Trump turnaround. The cascade of issues from racism to tax dodging to misogyny and sexual harassment and abuse seem to be baking all of the negatives into Trump’s prospects. Republicans from Speaker Paul Ryan on down the ballot and outsiders, including influential and deep-pocketed donors, have either deserted Trump or are actively arguing that he must be abandoned in order not to inflect permanent damage on the party.

Trump’s response has been to question the very validity of the election and raise the specter of refusing to accept the results of the voters in a direct threat to long and deeply held democratic traditions. Governor Pence, the VP on Trump’s ticket, has said in essence, of course we will accept the results, but Trump has pulled his Twitter-finger and seemingly backed off that pledge, so who knows.

None of this is new. In fact, this has been the Republican tradition in all of the recent elections they have lost and part of their concerted effort over the last eight years to deny President Obama the legitimacy of his two victories. The Atlantic magazine quoted a study in a recent issue saying,

“Backing a losing candidate can also damage voters’ trust in the political system. An analysis of surveys from 1964 to 2004 found that over time, voters who supported losers were less likely than others to see the electoral process as fair. They also tended to be less satisfied with democracy generally.”

It seems that what we are witnessing now is something on the order of “pre-emptive sore losing.” Preparing for a humiliating defeat for a candidate enamored of calling everyone but himself a “loser,” it was predictable that he would whine that he couldn’t win because the election was “rigged” against him and everyone ganged up against “poor little me.”

But, this has been a recurring Republican theme from the very base of the party for years. How else could we explain the fact that the majority of Republicans surveyed without a shred of evidence continued to believe for close to seven years that ACORN had stolen both Obama elections? Or the fact that almost a majority of Texas Republican voters already believe that ACORN is stealing the election for Clinton this time around.

The commitment to democracy of many Republican leaders and much of their hardcore base seems extremely weak. The finger pointing about rigged elections at large cities with minority populations like Philadelphia and others seems totally racist. Inventing excuses for losing elections so that no one has to face the consequences of politics and program seems to argue that party leaders do not want to either learn from their errors or listen to the voters.

It will be interesting once this campaign is over to see how we rebuild a semblance of democratic practice from the thin soup we’re being served in this election. Perhaps I should say “if” we can rebuild a semblance of democratic practice after this election.


Shutting Down the Locker Room Forever

old-dominion-fraternity-photoJuneau    The Trump defense for groping and sexual assault seems to be, “hey, that’s what men do.” His rationale for the taped clips that have emerged is equally offensive. There was no apology, simply a rationalization, where he is essentially arguing that what he was caught saying a decade ago is simply “locker room” talk or, worse, that everyone does it. All men and women should be horrified to hear that lame defense, because it demeans all women and indicts all men by claiming that it is normal or, worse, that Trump is trying to pretend that’s just the way all men are.

Let’s be clear: it is NOT the way all men are.

Let’s also be honest. It may have been the way most men were.

It may have been the way many men were raised, but that was 50 or 60 years ago in this country. It should never have been, and it is not the way most men are raised now. It is also why we have seen a women’s movement rise up in this country and around the world. That cultural and systemic stain is why many men have risen to the challenge and tried to leech out the misogyny embedded in the dominant culture, which is not to claim the job has been done or even done well. Dealing with gender, like dealing with race, is a lifetime project and must be a constant concern.

We have to ask, where has Trump been that he still believes that this kind of talk and behavior is somehow defensible? Times have been changing, even if they haven’t changed enough, and women – and men – should never stand for this behavior.

A social media star and author, Kelly Oxford, tweeted last week:

“Women: tweet me your first assaults. They aren’t just stats. I’ll go first: Old man on city bus grabs my ‘pussy’ and smiles at me, I’m 12.”

The New York Times reported that…

“she was getting as many as 50 responses per minute: often-explicit, first-person accounts of molestation. A hashtag had materialized: “#notokay.” The Twitter posts continued to pour in through the weekend. And by Monday afternoon, nearly 27 million people had responded or visited Ms. Oxford’s Twitter page.”

How can that not make everyone want to weep? Reading some of the tweets was horrifying, but the hope embedded in this reaction is the swelling of a mass protest by women ready to not accept that this is somehow okay and pledging to stop the acceptance of “rape culture” that is so ubiquitous and that Trump now symbolizes. The pushback is everywhere from the disgust at athletes’ abuse of women to the implicit boycott of the new film, “Birth of a Nation,” because of the star and director’s involvement in a rape incident 15 years ago.

Times are changing, but they have obviously not changed enough.

Boys can’t be boys like they were 50 years ago. Boys have to be the men that treat women as equals and condemn and shun any men who do not. Men can’t hide in the way Republican congressman are now doing by pedestaling their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters and still say they support Donald Trump, because that demeans their wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters and stops change.

The reporter on the Times story editorially wonders if Bill Clinton could have been elected today, rather that almost 25 years ago when the charges of his sexual misconduct were being made. The answer is pretty clear for many, that he would not be elected now, and we can see that answer in end of one political career after another in the 21st century. The answer also has to be that Trump’s behavior and attitude towards women means that he also cannot be elected today.

This notion of a “locker room” culture has to be bolted shut forever. This has to end now and forever.


Calling All Mugwumps to Desert Trump

Songs Grover Cleveland's Presidential Election 1888

Songs Grover Cleveland’s Presidential Election 1888

Seattle    The day’s papers told the story of Donald Trump’s self-inflected political barn burning pretty well. Here’s a sampling:

  • From Steven Law, a Mitch McConnell acolyte now running Crossroads America PAC: “The Republican Party is caught in a theater fire; people are running to different exits as fast as they can.”
  • From comedian Jena Friedman: “If only we could gauge American misogyny what percentage of American democracy would rather have a tweeting asteroid crash into American democracy than a woman leading.”

And, that’s about as nice as it gets. A Republican strategist, Steve Schmidt, commenting on MSNBC before the debates mourned the fact that we have never had a debate where there has to be a warning that the content was not going to be acceptable for children because it was going to be so X-rated. All reports indicate it was, if anything, worse.

Republican elected officials deserted Trump in droves over the weekend. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who has led the two-handed vacillator caucus in Congress as he chides Trump for bad behavior and then still “stands by his man,” found himself having to withdraw an invitation to Trump to campaign with him in his home district in Wisconsin. Senator McCain was finally clear that Trump would not have his vote. Women Republican Senators from New Hampshire and Nebraska jumped off the train. Utah legislators were calling for Mike Pence, the VP running mate, to step into the first chair.

None of that is going to happen. Trump is going down with this ship, and might take the whole Republican ship to the bottom of the sea. It seems like it is time for a revival of the Mugwumps.

In 1884, Republicans elites, moralists, and businessmen, calling themselves Mugwumps, deserted the Republican nominee in that contest, James G. Blaine of Maine, the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, to support Grover Cleveland, the Governor of New York, for election. The reasons they did so were concerns about reports of Blaine’s corruption and his ambition. Let me know when anything sounds familiar? Cleveland went on to win the 1884 election, lose the 1888 election, and in a rare and little remembered comeback, win both the 1892 election and a second term in the 1896 election, being one of the few three term Presidents ever, and the only one in history to win non-consecutive terms. None of which is to say that he was great shakes, since he also was famous for intervention in the Pullman Strike, had some questionable moral issues of his own, and presided over a dismantling of much of the Populist movement, but we’re talking about the Mugwumps, and now should be their time.

With so many Republicans running for the exits, how could it be so hard for some Republican so-called leaders to jump to the front of that line, if for no other reason to try and save some of their gang with some late efforts at a kind of courage even as most still hide in fear of offending Trump and what’s left of his base.


Tax Records Show that Trump is a Promoter, not a Businessman

A line from one of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax returns obtained by The New York Times.

A line from one of Mr. Trump’s 1995 tax returns obtained by The New York Times.

New Orleans    The poor New York Times. They have the scoop of the election campaign when a little birdie drops in the mail a copy of much of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns, and because of the speed of the internet and our digital world, it doesn’t really even get in the newspaper itself. At least not the one delivered around the country and the world. They have to release it on Saturday night, so it ends up not in their Sunday paper, but in local papers who subscribe to their news service. Their own editions talk about the story without ever having run it. To me that’s a good example of how the internet and media have made this campaign different than any other, but that’s just me.

All of us have our mouths wide open when we imagine how anyone can declare a loss of almost a billion dollars on their tax returns and still be allowed to sign a payroll check, much less be in business, or for that matter a potential President of the United States. Oh, and of course ask someone to vote for him because he’s such a good businessmen and employer so that he can be in charge of the federal budget which it turns out you and I likely contribute more to than he does.

Reading the analysis of what was revealed the Times quotes “Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office and is now president of the American Action Forum, a conservative pro-growth advocacy group, commenting on Trump’s taxes, said, ‘It’s either a unique combination of bad luck or he’s a terrible businessman or both. I don’t understand how you can lose a billion dollars and stay in business.’”

Here’s the mistake people have been making. Trump’s claims that he is a businessman are another piece of flim-flam. He’s a promoter, a salesman, and a brand, not a businessman. In the same way a model advertises fashion, Trump is an empty suit advertising what people think a businessman is. But, that’s really what real estate developers always are to some degree. They are dream weavers who work the press and the public for subsidies and sales, and, when they get lucky, actually see something built, and then sell out as quickly as they can.

Turns out the tax code is fantastic, if you’re rich and in the real estate game. On some of these losses you have to understand he may have been able to take this 20-year federal tax holiday and didn’t even have his own money or any money at risk. He’s wheeling and dealing, and bankrupting this and that, and still coming out roses. Casinos are coming and going, and he’s still playing the odds, because he’s the “house,” and the house is his.

The tax records conclusively prove that he is a wretched businessman, but a supreme hustler. Politics was a natural place for him to go. There’s no bigger pile anywhere for a gambler to play.

It’s hard to believe though that any of that qualifies him for President in anyone’s mind.