The Transactional Democratic Party Revealed

election-image-800x530New Orleans   This has all the makings of one of those shaggy dog stories: 19000 emails hacked from the staff of the Democratic National Committee, dumped on the eve of the convention, maybe by crazy commie Russians and Vladimir Putin for whom Donald Trump is supposedly a current fanboy, all showing a bit of favoritism towards the Demo-establishment’s main candidate, Hillary Clinton, forcing Deborah Wasserman Shultz, Congresswoman and party chair, to dive on the spike of her heels and resign. Finally, this really seems like the kind of chaos and clamor we all associate with a Democratic National Convention! The Republicans were stealing the show with their earlier dramarama, but now the Democrats are catching up. Is anyone really surprised, I mean really?

What interested me much, much more were the crassly cold and calculating emails at the intersection of politics and money and the cashbox transactional demonstration of the inner workings of the party, or as reported in the Times:

the leaked cache also included thousands of emails exchanged by Democratic officials and party fund-raisers, revealing in rarely seen detail the elaborate, ingratiating and often bluntly transactional exchanges necessary to harvest hundreds of millions of dollars from the party’s wealthy donor class.

Ok, none of this was a surprise either, was it? We all knew in our hearts that this was probably the way big time politics worked at the confluence of big, rich donors and party fundraising staff charged with fueling the tank with mega-dollars, but still having it displayed in all of its gory and inescapable details is pretty disgusting.

Reading the emails was a bit like what you imagine life with the “mean girls” is like or any high school popularity contest: who’s in, who’s out, who’s going to be standing closest to the star, and pretty much who’s who and what’s what among the rich and famous in a world usually and thankfully obscured from the view of most of us joe and jane sausage heads out there. More seriously it reminds all of us of the venal nature of money and the rich and Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We might ask what these rich donors get from all of this body rubbing. Is it just access, as some would argue? Perhaps, but even if that’s all that is bartered in the exchange, it also seems undeniable that many, many of these donors hope for more, and undeniably some must get enough of it to make the investment worthwhile in some shape or form.

I’m past mourning Sanders’ loss, but I still rue the fact that he was not able to pivot his amazing grassroots, small donor fundraising machinery in such a way that it would create a new paradigm to replace the seamy, transactional system now put on full display. What a tragic loss that could have re-established the Democratic Party – or at least some party – with an apparatus that guaranteed that the rich and insiders are not calling the shots but regular folks with their hard earned dollars are driving the train.

Even worse, and this is perhaps a confession too jaded by too many years in the vineyard, if any other party might be built in the alternative universe that defines all levels of politics, if it depends on big donors, how many would resist the impulse to respond in the same transactional manner to the beck and call of purchased entitlement no matter the rest of the politics and program? We have to create a new and better way to make sure we are certain of how that question would be answered.

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Fair Housing Assessment Should be an Organizing Handle – Is it?

fhNew Orleans   The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is trying to do something about the continuing polarization of our communities by race, class, and ethnicity, so let’s give them some credit for that. In a new rule last year they tried to put some teeth in the Fair Housing Act of 1968, by requiring all cities that get federal housing money to submit detailed plans on how they are actually going about reducing neighborhood segregation and increasing “access to opportunities” for everyone. No Congressional action was required or I wouldn’t even be writing this. HUD as part of the Obama Administration was simply promulgating rules to try to add some teeth to the original act.

The requirement coming into full force now is the 2016 Assessment of Fair Housing. All cities in the United States receiving federal housing funds are mandated to do the assessment. This includes not only cities with public housing authorities, but also cities getting HOME monies for housing development and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds among others. “Access to opportunities” is not just rhetoric either, because this language includes jobs, transportation, and even access to quality schools. Frankly, this is anti-apartheid language.

Reading old local newspapers from a stack accumulated during my two weeks of meetings in Europe, while jet-lagged at 3 AM in the morning, an item had caught my eye from the rough draft of the New Orleans report comparing a working / middle income neighborhood in New Orleans called Gentilly, that is majority African-American with an upper-middle class, largely white neighborhood called Lakeview. In the majority-black neighborhood, the life expectancy found by the assessment was a little more than 54 years old, while in the overwhelmingly white area the life expectancy was 80, a quarter of a century more. Is that an eye opener or what?

Almost everyone this side of Donald Trump buttressed by scores of research studies understands that if we had full residential integration the gap in education and job networks would be drastically reduced. When we talk about equality and narrowing the every widening gap in America today, forcing cities to have real 5-year plans with annual updates on how they are actually going achieving real diversity across the board would seem to be a huge organizing handle. Real plans that force city and housing authority to justify any reduction of affordable and low income housing should be huge win. And, wow, a real plan that stopped CDBG funds that are supposed to be spent only in ways that upgrade lower income families and their communities rather than being used as a slush fund for local developers and mayoral cronies would be almost a revolutionary reform.

Public hearings are now being held on such assessments in cities all over the country. This would have been ACORN’s moment for local groups in all 600 organized communities to make their demands in more than 100 cities about what really needed to be done. These assessments should be a big handle for a major campaign wherever there is the capacity to launch one.

Yet, talking to some organizers here and there, they were skeptical. The early experience in recent years with this planning process before the new rule has been disappointing. How sharp are the teeth being implanted in the Fair Housing Act? Is a Democratic administration really going to withhold CDBG funds from urban mayors who are overwhelmingly Democratic as well to prod them to do better at achieving diversity in their cities or is this just window dressing?

A real campaign to make this tool a hammer rather than a paintbrush would let us see what might be possible.

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Republicans Dilemma: Can Fear and Hate Alone Win an Election?

Immigrant rights activists hold up a fabric wall to protest against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Wednesday, July 20, 2016, in Cleveland, during the third day of the Republican convention.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Fabric wall to protest against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Wednesday, July 20, 2016, in Cleveland, during the third day of the Republican convention.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

New Orleans   Having just returned from euro-world, I have to admit that I was surprised I wasn’t asked more questions about Donald Trump. During George W’s time, the questions were endless and strident. War does that to people. Folks brought up Trump for sure, but mostly with a smile on their face, not taking him seriously, though that would be a mistake, and in some ways not so much frightened by him as they were by Bush, but more amused at what they saw as America’s embarrassment at the hands of the crazy uncle coming out of the closet after the dignity, regardless of any disappointments, of Obama.

Now that I’m back and parsing the recent Republican National Convention, I have to ask myself, “can fear and hate alone win an election?” The answer is of course, yes, but we’ve never seen ourselves as pre-war Germany or Bosnia or Rwanda or modern Poland or Turkey after the recent coup, so it’s a stretch. Even jaded observers like myself, keep repeating a mantra to ourselves that “it can’t happen here.” But, in some ways that’s channeling our inner-Pollyanna, because it is happening here at the state level in places like Arizona, Kansas, and way too much of Texas. There’s also something that has been in the water in Wisconsin in recent years that makes you wonder what happened to that bastion of liberalism and labor strength?

Hillary Clinton to her credit is still holding the line against hate trying to position her candidacy and the Democratic Party as a more inclusive alternative for a wider demographic in the United States. There is certainly polarity. I can’t remember reading a poll like the recent one by the Wall Street Journal where a presidential candidate – in this case, Trump – literally polled zero among African-Americans. Needless to say all of his talk about building an even bigger wall between the US and Mexico has not helped his numbers get higher among Latinos either.

Talking to Randy Cunningham, a veteran community and tenant organizer and longtime activist in Cleveland, on Wade’s World was inspiring to hear about the success of peoples’ nonviolent attempts to have their voices heard by the Republicans in Cleveland over the last week. The “Wall Off Trump” action put together by unions and progressive organizations from the Working Families’ Party to Chicago’s La Gente and our old friends at the Ruckus Society, he described as very effective and lots of fun. The opening action on Monday that he and a large coalition put together pulled more between 1500 and 2000 and despite the fear mongering by the Trump team that there would be “blood in the streets.” He described the event as the largest action in Cleveland since the late 1970s and early 1980s. More positively, he believed that there may be an unexpected legacy of the RNC hate and fear mongering in Cleveland this week, and that is a resurgence of organizing and action in Cleveland.

Let’s hope that might be the result nationally of this fear-and-hate campaign. Trump thus far has no program other than “vote for me.” Clinton is matching the fear factor reportedly with a vice-presidential partner who will have some credibility there. She is still lacking a bit in what Sarah Palin famously called the “hope-y” thing that for all of the derision actually has been winning recent presidential elections.

The one thing that is certain: this is going to be a frightening several months until November!

abc_mk_rnc_01_jc_160718_31x13_1600 group-of-RNC-protesters-marching-in-Cleveland-jpg protest 1_1468803616833_42589481_ver1.0_640_480 trump_protest_759 Trump protest RNC

Please enjoy Regina Spector’s Bleeding Heart. Thank you KABF!

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Thank You White People for Electing Obama in 2012!

 President Obama at a campaign event in Concord, N.H., shortly before the 2012 election. He performed better among white Northern voters than is generally assumed. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Obama at a campaign event in Concord, N.H., shortly before the 2012 election. He performed better among white Northern voters than is generally assumed. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

New Orleans   In the age of big data, one of the clear lessons, is that we need to be very, very careful about what we think we know, at least until we have asked all the right questions rather than just swallowing the headlines whole without examining the bottom lines. What am I talking about, you might ask? Well, how in the heck with all of the megadomes out there in the political world can we have undercounted white people? White people of all people! What were they? Were they translucent or something, like white walkers, and the quants and bean counters looked right past them because they looked like themselves in the mirror or what?

The New York Times statisticians dropped the bombshell on us that Trump wasn’t looking quite as bad while running a racist campaign, because there are more white people out there in the electorate than any of these folks had been reporting for years. Not only that but the all-important narrative about the Obama victory in 2012 was, well, how can we say this, wrong! Turns out Obama was rocking the white vote better than previously understood.

Here’s the new story, and maybe the true story,

“…new data from the census, voter registration files, polls and the finalized results tells a subtly different story of the 2012 election with potential consequences for the 2016 election. The data implies that Mr. Obama was not as weak among white voters as typically believed. He fared better than his predecessors among white voters outside the South. Demographic shifts weren’t so important: He would have been re-elected even with an electorate as old and white as it was in 2004. Latino voters did not put Mr. Obama over the top, as many argued in the days after Mr. Obama’s re-election. He would have won even if he had done as poorly among Latino voters as John Kerry.”

Of course Latino-based organizations and all of us who support them and work with them had a stake in the story that it was Hispanic votes that propelled Obama to victory in 2012, so spin or substance be damned, someone did a very good job on this for the last four years, and it mattered, true or not. What leverage would we have had talking about doing a big, fat thank you to all of the old, white people stepping up for Obama? Not that we won immigration reform, and not that the story won’t change in the future as demographic trends continue to move towards more, not less, diversity and dilute the white vote, but it wasn’t there in 2012, and it might not be in 2016.

Why did we get the news so late? What’s up, is this the same as Andrew Jackson, Jean Lafitte, and the gang fighting and winning the Battle of New Orleans after peace had already been signed in Paris? Hasn’t communication changed? Well, it seems that most of this incomplete narrative was based on exit polls, and the other data is stronger and better, but it’s not available the night of the election and the day after. We’re so committed to speed and “premature certainty,” that we would rather believe we know it all immediately and go from there, than wait until all of the information is sliced and diced.

What’s the lesson we need to take away for today? Talk to every white person you know! Tell them thanks for 2012, but we need them to do it again in 2016 as well, because if they couldn’t handle Romney then, they sure as heck don’t want to live through four years with King Trump trying to rule the country.

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Haters Going to Hide: The Trump Story Revealed

BN-ND016_IMMIGR_P_20160316182315New Orleans   There’s hardly room in the newspapers and weekly magazines these days for other news between the pulling of hair and rending of clothes by all of the pundits and data dogs about how they miscalculated the odds on the Trump nomination and their fumbling around trying to figure out the “who” of the Trump voter.  Judging by an article in Harper’s as one prominent example, the temptation is going to be to stereotype his voting base as whacko haters. 

Big, big mistake.  You can’t have a demagogue without the demos, the people, boiling with anger, and the candidate ready to meet it and move it forward.

Pew Research has also weighed in with some frightening news:  haters are not just going to hate, they’re going to hide.  Pew found that internet polls compared to telephone polling was finding another 8% or more of Trump support that was not willing to come clean talking to a semi-real person on the blower.  These are the monkey wrench folks everywhere in America who see a chance to flup the stuff up and show all of them, whoever they are, that they want to be heard and not just heard, but heeded.

Even more dangerous to my lights is that they are fired up and aren’t going to take it anymore, while Clinton supporters are on autopilot, snoring through the rallies or playing with their smartphones, while Rome is burning. 

The biggest fantasy is that Trump is going to change.  Not only is that not going to happen, but there’s every indication that behind the scenes, he’s getting high-fives and “git ‘r dones” from Republican politicians right and righter from Speaker Paul Ryan on down.  Whatever the rationale or fairytales they are telling themselves to try and put clothes on the emperor, they are almost universally in kowtow mode. 

Here’s hoping that women save us, and that Hillary actually figures out sooner rather than later how to play that card.  Reading about Trump’s private and personal interactions with women behind the scenes is a muckraker’s view of the slaughterhouse and the meat market.  Objectification is too long and dainty a word to describe the permanent, leering appraisal that seems to be Trump’s default.  This is a dirty old man!  And, he has been that way forever it seems.

Trump defines transactional politics devoid of principles of any sort.  In that sense he is the perfect representative of the modern political moment, almost startlingly transparent about the equation compared to all of the rest of the political class who try to hide the transactional nature of politics behind one artifice or another of pretense or philosophy.  As donors and opponents line up behind him, you can see the hopes for the main chance later, grifting the short game for the long. 

Sadly, there’s probably no better case study than Megyn Kelly, currently the queen of Fox News.  After being insulted in the vilest way by Trump and eviscerated by a boycott, she now props him for bringing her more attention, and exchanged her pride for an exclusive interview she hopes will propel her into the Oprah and Barbara Walters atmosphere.  She could have upped her game, instead she just signed up for the market exchange.

Here’s one thing for certain:  help America conserve water!  Take your daily shower after you read the morning papers, or you’ll have to take another one to wash off this filth before you leave the house. 

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Money Talks and Trump Walks

donationsNew Orleans   Anyone who follows politics closely has been waiting for the Gucci loafers to fall, and now that Trump finds himself as the presumptive nominee this self-funding talk is over and dead, as he realizes the general election is six months away, and it’s dialing for dollars, groveling for grub time for his campaign. The consensus price tag these days is $1 billion, so of course Trump, being a total high-low bargaining guy, says he is going to raise $1.5 billion, “no problem.”

Well, there are some problems with this, and they are the typical problems that Trump has been deriding for months of the campaign trail. The piper wants to be paid. There is no free lunch. Go to Wall Street for money and Wall Street in Trump-talk, “owns” you. In the past he accused both Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz of being bought and sold. What will be the new Trump tune, especially now that we all know his price tag?

All signs are that the big bucks players on the Republican side will want their pound of flesh from Trump before they are willing to come in or they will stay on the sidelines which in these days of big money politics is the final death blow. The Koch Brothers who previously had pledged $900 million this cycle are now dangerously – and for all of us, depressingly — flirting with Hillary. Other big donors are also playing footsie on the issue. Adelson, the big donor from Vegas, is saying “anybody but Hillary,” which will likely be the banner many of them are forced to carry and that some Republican politicians are already belly flopping and crawling behind. Former Louisiana governor, abysmal presidential candidate, and currently unemployed Bobby Jindal, not surprisingly was one of the first to pledge fealty to Trump on the Hillary-will-be-worse caboose.

For all of us little people just trying to keep score it will be interesting to try to watch how far Trump will walk when money talks. He’s been claiming that the superrich, like himself, should pay more taxes? How many days will that position last? He has said he’s against the hedge fund tax dodge called “carried interest” that lets Wall Streeters keep billions from the taxman. How many minutes will that position last? He’s waffled around on the need to increase the minimum wage saying first, let’s go, then, oh no, and most recently as he starts going to his knees to beg for money, he’s saying, let someone else handle this, like the states.

Some signals are pretty powerful as he gets ready to flip the switch from populist disrupter to the new “I’m one of youse” stance with Wall Street and the one-percenters he needs to deliver him money. He has appointed a former Goldman Sachs, Wall Street vet, investment banker, and film financier to head his campaign finance committee to get the game going.

As Trump has said countless times. They won’t give you money for nuthin,’ they’ll all want sumthin.’ Explaining his own contributions to the Clintons’ in the past, he says, politics is “transactional.”

It hasn’t been pretty so far, but this next round will really be ugly.

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