Keeping Politics Weird

17keepaustinweirdtshirtLondon   Going to Austin, Texas from time to time, you still see bumper stickers and window signs in this huge, boomtown that still say, “Keep Austin Weird.” At least with politics there’s no need for a bumper sticker, because these days it seems all about making sure politics is weird.

In the United Kingdom, the Conservative ruling party is claiming there is a constitutional crisis because the largely honorific, unelected House of Lords rather than being content with their sinecures and titles actually straightened their backs for the first time in 100 years and refused to go along with tax credit cuts for the working poor which would have hit millions for a loss of about $1200 per year. Lords are not just to the manor borne but include Labor lords and Liberal-Democrat lords and they teamed up for a bit of pushback getting headlines for something other than spending their expense money at massage parlors and the like. The Conservatives may modify the cuts or delay them somewhat and also may just back the House of Lords with more Lords to fatten their majority and put off another faux crisis like this for another century.

Meanwhile on the other side of the pond we have Donald Trump reduced to begging the crowd in Iowa to push his polling numbers back to the top and pretending he went to public high school with the rest of us by shouting in the Republican debate that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio really don’t like each other. The one thing that Trump has contributed to the Republican primaries thus far is total admission that political primaries are in fact exactly the same as high school student council popularity contests. It was a surprise to find that Governor Chris Christie from New Jersey is still running for president. Same for Senator Rand Paul and Governor Bobby Jindal, but hey, let’s keep politics weird.

Meanwhile over here, I will fly out of Heathrow and leave the discussion of the splits in the Labour Party and its civil war over the election of Jeremy Corbyn, a harder left leader than many expected after a drubbing of the party’s former leader in the recent election that has left the party reeling. Somehow the former leader, Ed Milliband, turned up at a training of sorts offered by a UK community organizing group, and US-based Industrial Areas Foundation community organizer, Arnie Graf, was quoted in the New Statesman crowing about the fact that Milliband would have done better to have gone to the training before he was blown away in a curious exercise of kicking sand in his face after having claimed to help him previously. Arnie then took shots at Corbyn and his supporters, Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, and progressives in general proving mainly that he was either having a very bad day and was caught by a reporter in the middle of it or has suddenly become even older and crankier than Bernie himself.

And, then to make sure Hillary is anointed by Democrats rather than loved by them and isolating progressives’ hopes for the future even more, she made it clear she was still committed capital punishment come hell or high water, just wanted a kinder and gentler path to the electric chair. Soon there will be a bumper sticker on her car saying, Keep Politics Weird, as well.

James O’Keefe, Video-Scammer, Provokes Giant National Yawn and Smirk

ct-okeefe-jpg-20150902Little Rock    You know the Bob Dylan song with the famous line, “Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?” Well, watching James O’Keefe latest episode of political absurdity and chicanery fall crashing to the ground with a giant thud brings that line to mind, and you know how it is, now I can’t stop humming it.

O’Keefe was the video scammer who set the stage for rightwing agitprop videos with a highly edited sting of bits off conversation in ACORN’s housing affiliate as part of a coordinated conservative attempt to attack and defund the organization in the United States. Some of his antics led he and his confederate, who posed as a hooker, to pay $100,000 to people abused, but he critically damaged ACORN. Since then he has continued to try to reclaim some space as a press hog in one stunt after another, including one at the federal building in New Orleans which led to his arrest and lengthy probation. Most recently he was hanging around Texas trying to play gotcha with Affordable Care Act navigators enrolling eligible families, but that was pretty much a dud.

It’s another political season, so like a nightmare, “he’s back!” Or, at least he wanted be back when he summoned the media to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. likely with the aim of trying to bring down Hillary Clinton this time. According to Dana Milbank a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post, there was a full house of reporters who attended on a slow news day out of boredom and likely looking for free food. As he writes, O’Keefe was there to…

…unveil evidence of “illegal activity conducted by high-level employees within Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.” He then rolled tape of … a Canadian woman attempting to buy a T-shirt and some campaign pins at a Clinton rally. To O’Keefe, this was evidence of foreign contributions being made to Clinton — an “illegal activity” with a total value of $75. Many of the 50 reporters who showed up at the National Press Club for this unveiling felt as if they had been punked. “My first reaction is this is about buying a T-shirt,” said one. “It doesn’t seem like much of a bombshell.” “Is this the best thing you have?” I asked O’Keefe. “Is this a joke?” inquired Olivia Nuzzi of the Daily Beast. “This feels like a prank. … We’re talking about buying campaign swag.” But O’Keefe was serious: “This is just the beginning! We’ve got more!” Next installment: O’Keefe catches a Mexican national buying a Clinton sweatshirt?

Ouch, not only did he crash and burn, he got ridiculed, but he earned it.

This is too rich for me not to share more as Milbank goes on:

“It was a conduit donation, which was a crime,” O’Keefe proclaimed to his press club audience. Umm. So if it was a crime for the Clinton campaign to receive this “contribution,” wasn’t it also a crime for O’Keefe’s “journalist” to take a foreigner’s cash and hand it over to the campaign? I put the question to O’Keefe, who called his lawyer to the microphone. “It’s a technical violation of the law,” the lawyer, Benjamin Barr, admitted. “It’s akin to jaywalking.” (O’Keefe’s methods have been in doubt before: He paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit by an ACORN worker years after that expose.) It’s unclear whether a purchase of campaign swag by a foreign national would violate campaign-finance laws under any circumstance. But it’s absolutely clear that the sort of violation alleged by O’Keefe would never be enforced. Nor could it be, because O’Keefe’s shirt-gate case unraveled quickly under questioning at his news conference. He didn’t know the identity of the Canadian, he said, or even if she really was Canadian. His “journalist” who facilitated the transaction gave the Clinton campaign a fake name, and O’Keefe wouldn’t identify the videographer. He also had no plans to report the supposed violation by the Clinton campaign to the Federal Election Commission.

This is what is known as a takedown. Who shows up for his dog-and-pony show the next time? Oh, Mama, can this really be the end?

As Milbank finishes it feels like it:

But O’Keefe had achieved his purpose. “It’s going viral,” he said, noting that “it’s in the Washington Post right now.” It was, under this headline at that time: “New James O’Keefe video sting catches Clinton campaign being kind to a Canadian.”


Bob Dylan’s Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again

Buzz for Bernie on the Left Coast

lowwagerally520San Francisco   I’m not totally shocked, but I didn’t see all of this coming.  Meeting with random associates, comrades, and friends from diverse fields and directions, everyone on the Left Coast is buzzing about Bernie Sanders and his race for President.

Running a union, there’s no way to miss the fact that several thousand union activists have signed a letter of support for Sanders’ campaign. That kind of news is flooding my email “in-box.”  The Vermont and South Carolina AFL-CIO councils have issued resolutions of support, worrying AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka enough that he has already had to issue an alert to state and local bodies to stand down and leave it to the Executive Council and the national unions to make these decisions.  Larry Cohen after ten years at the helm of the Communications Workers resigned one day and the next day announced that he was going to work as a volunteer for Sanders campaign in part because of Sanders’ longtime voting record with labor in Congress and in his home state, but also in protest of Hillary Clinton’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.

In California though his beachhead among progressives is extensive and much wider than labor activists.  For example, in meeting with community, political, and labor activists in Contra Costa County in the East Bay, it was startling to hear how often the conversation migrated to Sanders and his prospects.  Importantly, this interest was deeper than simply speculation about how far Sanders might make it in the Democratic Presidential sweepstakes.  The substantive discussion – and hope – was whether or not a strong run could ignite more movement and support for independent politics at every level, including the prospects for an effective and national alternative party. There was a feeling that support building for Sanders was not an “anybody but Hillary” drive, but a reward and real excitement over a candidate deeply committed and bravely progressive on positions one  after another.

Unspoken, but undoubtedly felt, was the feeling that a card carrying Socialist and avowed independent, building a significant vote total and campaign effort, could create a real Left willing to embrace the opportunity to lead and contend for power, rather than still facing the PTSD of the Cold War.

Many desperately wanted a California campaign.  They want the chance to pile up the votes and use the campaign to build their own infrastructure for now and the future.  Others speculated that the Working Families Party or other nascent national efforts might be able to grow in the slipstream of a Sanders campaign.

Having lunch in Oakland with a longtime supporter of ACORN, I did a double take when she also turned the conversation to Sanders.  Her argument was both personal and political.  Family members including a young nephew were planning at this point to sit the election out in 2016, feeling no enthusiasm and a pox on both their houses kind of attitude.  She felt she had moved the twenty-something towards Sanders as someone different.  Perhaps the buzz for Bernie can go deeper than white, elderly, and rural where he is finding more than enough of his Vermont-type base in his early forays in New Hampshire and Iowa.  Another comrade argued that Sanders might be able to double-down with younger voters from an equally solid place based on his longstanding work with veterans and his advocacy and effectiveness on the Veterans Committee of the Senate.

Grasping straws?  Building dream castles in the sky?  Hard to tell, but if this kind of excitement about Sanders starts to catch fire more broadly around the country, maybe what Sarah Palin famously called this “hope-y thing” might find a cozy home in the Sanders’ campaign with long term results.

Hillary Rodham as an Intern in the Summer of ‘71

angeladavisprotestMontreal    The final brick that far right conservatives and the blogsphere try to build in the Hillary Clinton, “girl radical,” wall is her 1971 summer internship with the Oakland-based “movement” law firm Treuhaft, Walker, and Burnstein that specialized in civil liberties, civil rights, labor, and the gamut of whatever was needed by the Bay Area left at the time.  Every piece of available evidence seems to indicate that whatever might have been happening in that firm, Hillary Rodham was a diligent and hard worker according to Malcolm Burnstein, one of the partners, and the experience all flowed over her like water on a duck’s back.

It is easy to see the attraction of spending a few months there.  First, compared to the dreariness of New Haven where she was attending Yale Law School, she would be living in the bounty of the bay area with an apartment in Berkeley at 22 years old.  Heaven at the time, no doubt!  Burnstein has reported no memory of the cases she might have worked on.  Perhaps child support, he thought or possibly landlord-tenant cases, because the firm was dealing with a lot of that as well. Nothing major, he recalls.

Nonetheless Treuhaft, Walker, and Burnstein must have been an exciting place just to hear about what was going on at the water cooler, because the three partners were in the thick of the action.

Robert Treuhaft was a long time labor and civil rights lawyer in the Bay Area, perhaps equally famous as the second husband of Jessica Mitford, one of the even more famous Mitford sisters.  He was reportedly the unacknowledged co-author of Mitford’s well-known expose of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death, which he inspired and researched with a year’s sabbatical from the firm.  Hillary would have also no doubt heard about Mitford’s book published in 1969, only two years before she was internship, concerning the losing anti-draft trail for Dr. Spock, Marcus Raskin, and others.  Both Mitford and Treuhaft were former Communists, but that was many long years before Hillary walked through their door.  Mal Burnstein was no slouch as well and handled many of the arrests and legal proceedings involving the Berkeley Free Speech Movement.  He also was a natural lawyer-of-choice for Vietnam War protestors and many of those protests cases and draft resistance beefs would have no doubt still been on the docket while she was passing through that summer.

Even more interesting to Hillary might have been watching the whirlwind of Doris Walker, the third partner in the firm.   Walker had long stood up for and battled back against discrimination based on her longtime membership in the Communist Party, but that would have been of no moment in 1971 to an intern.  On the other hand, the fact that Walker was one of the lawyers for Angela Davis and the lead counsel in her trial being conducted during that period would have been like a ringside seat to history.  Davis, an embattled professor at the University of California both for her Communist membership and her fiery speeches, had been arrested in 1969 as an accomplice in the killing of a Marin County judge and others in the jailbreak at the trial of Jonathan Jackson, younger brother of George Jackson of the Soledad Brothers. During the summer of 1971,  the support for Davis was at fever pitch.  There were sixty support committees around the country.  There were a half-dozen lawyers involved in her defense that was estimated to cost a half-million at the time and involved, reportedly for the first time, psychological profiling and consulting for jury selection. Hillary would have had to have been unconscious throughout the summer not to know from the lawyers and the associates of the firm, all of the drama and details of the preparation for Davis’ defense.  On top of all of that, during Hillary’s internship, Walker was also head of the National Lawyers’ Guild and is widely credited with reviving the organization during that time.  The law firm was action central!

All of which proves absolutely nothing other than the fact that Hillary’s youth had a good measure of spice and chili powder before she hunkered down and chose the corporate track after graduation with the white shoe, corporate practice of the Rose firm in Little Rock once she landed there.  She was alive in the sixties and early seventies, and she got to “see action,” but clearly no matter how close she was to the flame, she flew as far away as she could possibly get.

Association and acquaintances mean nothing.Action and allegiance mean everything. Hillary had a choice in the summer of ’71.  She absolutely did NOT choose our side. She was no fellow traveler.  She was just passing through.


Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People

Finally, A Full-Throated Call for Universal Voter Registration

electiondayvoting_getty011213New Orleans   Well, now we’re talking!  Finally, we may see find some politicians speaking up and taking a chance on more democracy, rather than just hoping for more rich people and campaign donations.

In a speech at Texas Southern University, a largely African-American institution in Houston, where she was getting an award of some kind, Hillary Clinton, in the current pole position for the Democratic nomination for President called for universal voter registration.  Simple as that, just like Selective Service and a million other big data intrusions, when someone turns 18-years old, bam, they are registered to vote.

As we’ve advocated here, there, and everywhere for years, there’s only one real reform that will cure all of the problems of voter registration and the mishmash and mayhem that states and local jurisdictions have made out of the process, and that’s automatic registration.  I’m sure it’s too much to acknowledge the irony that we both claim to be a democracy in the USA, yet then seem to do everything possible to keep people from being able to register and from being able to vote.  Oregon took the smaller step of registering people when they got their driver’s licenses and, whoops, added 300,000 voters.

Clinton also called for some action on that front from all reports of her remarks.  She advocated a 20-day early voting period, including nights and weekends for goodness sakes.  In those states where it’s allowed, 40% or more of the votes are coming in early.  For good measure she even threw in some remarks about finally allowing former felons to vote after they had paid their debt to society, but I’m sure that’s a bridge too far at this point, so I won’t spend a whole lot of time on it. Truth is, we need universal registration and compulsory voting, and if not compulsory, something that is so easy that it would be inescapable and unavoidable.

But, here’s the rub.  Even though it is great news that big dog democrats might finally be coming out for making it easier to register and vote, as long as they are half-stepping and the other party wants to do the exact opposite and that party happens to control both houses of Congress, we’re just pitching words at a wall.  The Republicans want to hold onto what they have, and they understand full well that even though economic trends have been going their way, demographic trends are moving against them, so a day of reckoning is coming.  Their interest is expressed clearly:  put up barriers, restrict access to voting, discourage new voters, and make registration more cumbersome and difficult.

Maybe some states will get the message and open up the rolls and the voting booths, if there’s enough shouting, but otherwise it’s going to take picks, shovels, and dynamite to dig out the opposition to more democratic access to voting in America, and not some speeches every blue moon when some politicians remember that votes are actually counted every four years or so.


Please enjoy Alive in that Sound by Lace & Lead.  Thanks to KABF.

Could Sanders Be Trouble for Hillary?

abc_bernie_sanders_generic_drugs_mt_141121_16x9_992New Orleans   There was a “gee-whiz” report from Iowa that Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, running for President as a Democrat, was drawing huge crowds in this early primary state, out pacing all other candidates from either party.   He saw 700 in Davenport, one of the larger cities in Iowa.   He drew 300 to a rally in a small town with a total population of about 250 people.  The message of the story was encapsulated in a report of an Iowa Democratic Party official calling the Clinton campaign and telling them they needed to get their candidate on the ground as fast as possible.

There was another recent “gosh-darn” report that the Clinton campaign and its super-Pac buddies were having trouble firing up the enthusiasm from their own Daddy Warbucks types to write $100 million checks to go toe-to-toe with the willingness of Republican billionaires to do so.  The message of that tale was that Hillary didn’t have the new car shine, the “wow-factor” that a fresher faced Obama-type candidate had inhabited in Hollywood and elsewhere.

So what do we have here more than a year away from the convention?  A real horse race to the finish?  A warning notice that no matter what the general election is going to be a greenwashing disaster?  Or, just the usual early manipulative hype?

A colleague astutely warns that Sanders will give Clinton some severe headaches in Iowa and New Hampshire, noting that decades of experience running statewide in Vermont, another rural, overwhelmingly white state with an older demographer, had given him the chops and expertise in rural and agricultural issues that would she would underestimate at her peril.  My in-box is also flooded with messages from labor activists believing Sanders’ record for workers and unions has earned support that others might only dream of.   The so-called experts argue that if Clinton wins in Iowa by a margin less than 20%, she’s damaged, so who knows.  If I were a handicapper, I would argue that Sanders could be a fast starter, but a longshot to finish in the money.

More soberly, my bet would be that Clinton is delighted to have Sanders in the race so that the left can be defined, both directly and indirectly by her campaign, more marginally and more determinedly as anyone but Hillary.  The notion that Sanders is going to be able to pull Clinton to the left is wish-dreaming in my view.  Polls on same-sex, Latino positions on immigration, and inequality have pulled her as little “p” populist as we’re going to hear.  The free ride she’s getting
from what’s left of “big” labor on her non-position on fast track and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations is a good example of the slight pressure for her to stand up and stand out.  Hillary wants to be fat and sassy in the middle of the road which is where she believes victory will lie in November 2016, and liberal institutions seems committed to helping her do that.    I was surprised to hear recently that Service Employees International Union, one of the biggest still in the field, was pressing their board for an early endorsement for Hillary in
their June meeting.

The rush to the general election though is not going to excite the voting public though and a “ho-hum for Hillary” campaign means a depressed turnout in general which has an unshakeable smell of death about it.  That’s a real worry even for the political pros and professional donation bundlers.  If Sanders can light a spark, while Clinton slogs through the motions, lightning could strike and shake the system enough to either light a fire under Clinton finally and force her to finally change gears and move off the middle or open the way for him or someone to break the ground to win, rather than continue on the current path to defeat.

This is still politics where stranger things have happened.   And, despite all the money and punditry, there will be times coming soon where real people cast real ballots and finally have a say about all of these shenanigans.