Mind the Base

New Orleans   Something smells fishy to me. When George W. Bush’s former strategist, Karl Rove, as well an author on “Truthout” are both saying that the Democrats are wasting time and money in Georgia, I get suspicious. Rove’s advice is go Big Sky, spend your time and money in a statewide Congressional race in Montana, because in his words, “they vote for Democrats there.” Meanwhile despite a better than 48% showing in the first primary for the Democratic candidate, Ossoff, in Georgia, pundits are arguing this is just a hole where you pour money and Democrats have no chance to win, no matter how much they spend. What’s the skinny here?

Reading between the lines, sure, Georgia is an uphill fight. Democrats haven’t won in 40 years since the time of Jimmy Carter. The leading Republican candidate is a former Georgia Secretary of State who hardly polled 20% in the first round. Rove and the traditional bettors are believing, with good cause I’m sure, that at the end of the day the losing Republican candidates will coalesce around her despite her record as a poor fundraiser and someone who has lost one race after another recently.

On the other hand, the Democratic base in reaction to the Trump presidency sees every election as a plebiscite on Trump and his poor performance and reportedly is demanding that all races be contested and that the party once again put on its big boy pants and contend nationally rather than just in the blues. If you are going to build a party, how can you ignore the base, win, lose or draw? Isn’t that a lesson that Hillary Clinton just taught us all in a way we should never forget? We have to always privilege the base!

Furthermore, the notion of a money drain being advanced by Rove seems gratuitous and self-serving. Talking to a newly minted party activist several weeks ago, he described a growing coalition that was mobilizing in Georgia which had not been fighting in the lists previously. He described the amalgamation as having 100 million Twitter followers from Hollywood to Silicon Valley and back to the East Coast. His argument was that this was new money. It was money being activated to respond to the challenge of the moment.

The same activist would argue that the race in Montana is also important. He and some of his co-conspirators believed that the lightly populated Western states from Alaska to Wyoming should be front and center on any plan to turn the country around. He stood up straight when he realized I was born in Wyoming and detailed a plan a multi-year plan to repopulate the state. He felt that if 20,000 or so people, young and more progressive, could be convinced to move to Wyoming it would fall into the blue state column like Humpty-Dumpty coming off the wall.

Ok, maybe that seems a bit like taking people to live on Mars or the moon, but when the base has gone active and wants to fight, organizers need to run as fast as they can to catch up and feed the fire. New money and new support comes in and as even Rove argues, no one has a clue in either party yet about what it might take to win in the midterms in 2018. These early skirmishes might just provide the battle plan for those contests, but only if we mind the base.


The Lights Came On in Georgia for Congressional Race

Ossoff marching next to Rep. John Lewis

New Orleans     Jon Ossoff, a 30-year old documentary filmmaker in Georgia and a former Congressional aide, took a run at winning an election in a suburban Atlanta district so conservative that it had not sent a Democrat to Congress since the days Jimmy Carter, 40 years ago. Ossoff was running as a Democrat to replace arch-conservative Congressman Tom Price, who is wrecking his special brand of havoc in Washington as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. In the heavily funded and much watched primary as one of the early barometers of voters’ feelings about President Trump, Ossoff narrowly missed winning the election without a runoff, polling more than 46% against a field of Republicans and now headed for a runoff.

Certainly, Ossoff’s victory is not assured in June in the runoff, but there is no doubt that this race, as well as a better than expected showing recently in a rock ribbed district in Kansas, narrowly won by a Republican, means that the lights have come on in Georgia, the White House, and everywhere else that Republican strategists and pollsters are burning the midnight oil trying to figure out what these early races could portend for continuing one-party control of Congress and the already tenuous Trump presidency. If nothing else, we are already seeing a financial arms race at work as Republican donors are having to recalculate the likely cost of defending what have been crimson solid Republican-base districts. Ossoff attracted more than $3 million dollars for his campaign, many multiples over the Republican field, but reportedly Republicans have also been forced to dig deep to stay in the battle.

Are these early elections really barometers of opinion on Trump and his presidency? Yes and no. Off-year special elections are always more local than national with their own set of issues, so the results are not definitively about Trump. Saying that doesn’t change the fact that the White House and the Republican Party can’t be happy about any of this. The candidates are first time neophytes and they are running against Trump hard and polling with unexpected strength which will embolden others, including more seasoned political warriors. Furthermore, the lessons for incumbents watching these early contests doesn’t lead any of them to a conclusion that Trump has coattails that will help them win reelection in 2018 or that a warm embrace of the President is part of the path to power now. If there is no such thing as a safe harbor district, then the rats will be jumping off the ship in increasing numbers, and no matter what bragging might be done by the President, the American people will have trouble hearing him while staring at the huge L increasingly being tattooed on his forehead.

At the point that Trump and his people can’t win for losing, it’s all over but the shouting.


Trump’s Taxes Trip Up His Tax Reform

New Orleans    A reported number of 100,000 hit the streets in various cities, not to celebrate Easter, but to continue to demand on the eve of the US tax deadline that President Trump release his tax returns. The President was golfing and preparing for the annual Easter Egg Hunt on the White House lawn, so was nonplused about these latest rallies.

On the other hand, in a rich irony, a steady stream of Republican Congressional representatives are now joining the Democrats in calling for Trump to release his returns as well. Many in Congress are unprepared now to move forward on Trump’s much vaunted campaign promise to achieve significant tax reform until they see Trump’s own returns to make sure that the President and his family are not going to personally benefit from any tax reform proposals. Talk about being hoisted by your own petard!

These are not trivial matters obviously. There is always the risk of a massive giveaway to the rich, because that has been pretty much standard procedure for many tax issues in recent years, and of course whether Trump is just a millionaire or a billionaire, if there’s a giveaway, he would certainly be in line. More tellingly, a number of the proposals being floated out there, including one that would collect an extra billion dollars in revenue would mean eliminating one of the real estate developers favorites which allows them to deduct the price of interest on debt from their taxes, and god knows, Trump the developer loved debt and that deduction. Some of the sticklers in Congress are saying they have to see Trump’s taxes to make sure they are not lining his pockets, which would be hard to explain to voters around the country.

The additional irony in the land of dysfunction that has typified the first 100 days of Trump time is that there still is no tax reform proposal for all the talk and promises. The Ryan plan which would have larded on an export tax at the border, also helping pay for the wall, has come under fire from a host of businesses and the deep-pocketed Koch brothers who have mobilized their troops against any such notion. Trump has also flip flopped back and forth in fits and starts about trying to resuscitate his healthcare mess because of some tax implications they would have achieved by taking away peoples’ insurance.

The bottom line seems to be that there is no tax reform proposal that has jelled sufficiently on the right or left, leaving him once again without a winning coalition or a coalition at all that could win passage. Trump is stuck. Polls are clear that the American people want to see his returns, but it’s not a life or death issue for them. He wants to keep his business on the down low but can’t move without a plan and a dose of transparency. This guy can’t seem to win for losing and tripping over his own tie.


Corporate Takeover of Government Means Trouble for All of Us

New Orleans    The one thing that President Trump has proven thus far is that there is nothing about running a family business that qualifies anyone to believe that they have learned how to manage the government. Any thoughtful person would have to have now realized that the loud and long-winded call for government to be run like a business has now been permanently discredited.

The scariest part of this horror continues to be the corporate takeover of government in the wake of the dysfunctional White House. Lobbyists by the score are moving in kit and caboodle to take over the posts of people they previously were paid to lobby. The Trump waiver of the two year bar from employment at an agency where a lobbyist had been involved means that the turnstile is swinging wide for lobbyist infiltrations. Foxes by the score have come in to watch the chicken coups transferring their payroll from their corporate paymasters to the taxpayers.

Corporate takeovers work best in secret and the Trump White House has moved hard against transparency. The contract with the web company that furnished data on employment and financial disclosures as well as the log of White House visitors has been cancelled. In the future, the public will have no idea who goes in and out and what access or conflicts of interest they might have or that the Trump family might have with them.   All of this is foreboding and depressing as the United States takes on the trappings of developing country run by a kleptocracy.

Work at the department and agency level is stalled by the unfilled vacancies, allowing the operators to flourish in the vacuum. Outside of the glare in places like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it is easy to see the devastation. Immediate rollbacks of Obama Administration signature consumer protections on privacy from the telecommunications went out the window quickly. Threats to net neutrality and the protection of the internet as virtually a public utility are an immediate target to favor legacy telecoms once again.

The pattern seems duplicated from agency to agency as the corporate takeover from companies large and small accelerates behind the fog machine of Trump flip flops and White House daily drama. Battles on so many fronts are impossible for the public to follow or progressives to effectively engage, so such efforts seem diffuse and coalitions uncertain.

No one should make the mistake of watching the Trump polling numbers or his confusion and feeling like we’re winning. All of that is nothing but a stagecraft distraction allowing the corporate takeover to continue behind the curtains.

We’re in huge trouble.


Social Media is Giving Boycotts New Life

New Orleans   Frequently, I’ve quibbled about the role of social media tools in building organizations. I’ve argued such tools are powerful communication tools, rather than organizing tools. They can spread the word to people, lots of people, but they are not a substitute for actual people, participation, meetings, and actions. They might even spark a movement by communicating about actions and work on the ground, but social media does not organize movements. Nonetheless, where social media has carved out a powerful role because of its unique facility at almost instantaneous mass communication is in creating instant impact boycotts of companies and their products.

Look at the quick crash and burn experienced by United Airlines as an example. The impact of a passenger’s video of police forcibly ejecting a passenger from a crowded airplane and dragging him down the aisle was immediately viral. The reactions led to one revised statement after another by the United CEO reckoning with the fact that the reaction was dropping the company’s stock price forcing him to acknowledge that no passenger should ever be treated this way and promising to never use law enforcement to handle such situations in aircraft again. The company became the face of brutality on the internet.   One picture showed passengers inside a United plane with most of them wearing helmets. Another joke circulated that United was now specializing in its role as “first in Chinese takeout.” Corporate apologists commented on how the airline industry had become a kleptocracy where customer service was no longer a factor. Conservative economists asked why the airline didn’t keep raising the price it was offering to passengers to leave the flight until it was successful? Who wants this trouble? No company, and with 44,000 passengers bumped per year for oversold situations, it is the one where social media swarmed that made a difference.

The work of campaigning efforts like Sleeping Giants and #grabyourwallet have been extremely successful in bringing the heat on advertisers for companies with hypersensitive public profiles dependent on consumer purchases.   Breitbart News has lost advertisers from such efforts. Protests have been launched impacting Trump companies and supporter brands. Unquestionably Bill O’Reilly, a longtime Fox News rainmaker, is teetering on the edge of losing his show because the reaction has been so strong that half of his sponsors have pulled out over the paradox of his moralizing versus the $11 million in settlements for sexual harassment claims that he and Fox have paid in recent years.

Admittedly, these are thunderstorms that light up the sky, rather than permanent weather patterns. It is impossible to predict which calls for a boycott will strike lightning and create a social media storm, but the very fact that it is possible and that the clouds can move so quickly from balmy to raging is changing the corporate calculations. The drug companies withdrawal from executions in Arkansas was an example. The hypersensitivity that Trump tweets have brought to corporate America now are also part of the new environment.

Who knows what will last, but for the moment, social media has again weaponized the consumer boycott, and that’s a good thing.


Executions, Drug Companies, and High Drama in Arkansas

Protesters gather outside the state Capitol building on Friday, April 14, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark., to voice their opposition to Arkansas’ seven upcoming executions. (AP Photo/Kelly P. Kissel)

Little Rock       So, if you ask , what’s happening these days in Arkansas, you think you’re being a wit, because what in the world could be happening in Arkansas, now, really?  These days though there is high drama in Arkansas, none of which is heaping credit on the Wonder State.

For months the state has been getting huge publicity as it prepared to execute eight men over coming weeks before its supply of the drug used for the lethal injection expired.  After no executions in the state for years, this was a hurry up and kill move, rare anywhere in the country.  The first executions were scheduled in days.  Not surprisingly lawyers for the prisoners have predictably gone into court on all manner of grounds, but mainly questioning the drugs on offer.  One execution had been stayed, while others were moving forward.

Then, all heck seems to have broken out, and it came from unexpected directions.

Four pharmaceutical companies challenged the state over their stockpile of various lethal drugs and how the Arkansas Corrections Department had gone about getting its hands on the drugs.  One company, McKesson, the 5th largest company on the Fortune 500 in the US and the country’s largest drug supplier put a sharp point on the whole matter by flatly accusing the State of Arkansas of outright deception in how it had come to have the drugs.  Piecing the story together, Arkansas seemed to have made an order through a state physician on what had seemed to be a routine purchase of potassium chloride.  Two weeks after the sale, the company became suspicious that there was a slight of hand involved and demanded the return of the drug, issued a refund of the purchase amount, and sent a self-addressed shipping seal for return of the drugs.  Arkansas didn’t return them though, which led to McKesson going to court.

Needless to say, this is a unique situation in the history of executions in the USA.  Never before have drug companies tried to step in the way, saying they didn’t want to be party to this kind of thing or have any of their products involved.  In public comments, one company made it abundantly clear.  They saw themselves in the business of life-saving, not life-ending and believed there was reputational damage to any of their products being used in executions.  Given how sensitive corporations are of their images, I have to wonder if this might be a turning point in the long fight to end executions in the this country.  Obviously, the drug companies have decided that they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history, and that’s huge.

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Wendell Griffin, also host of a popular show on KABF and a member of the radio station’s board, issued a stay of several days based on the drug company’s pleadings.  In late breaking news a federal judge in Little Rock acted to stay all the executions to sort out the issues, likely making the Arkansas government’s plans for a killing spree moot.  Governor Asa Hutchinson and the State Department of Corrections have thus far said nothing on the charges of duplicity in obtaining the drugs.

Never think Arkansas is boring!