Hillary, Lifeline, ACORN, and Me

ACORN Leaders of the early-mid 1970s: Elena Hanggi, Bill Whipple, and Willard Johnson

ACORN Leaders of the early-mid 1970s: Elena Hanggi, Bill Whipple, and Willard Johnson

New Orleans  Everybody has their own reasons for being excited that this election is almost over. Mine are much the same with one difference: I’m tired of telling the story of Hillary Clinton’s role in opposing ACORN’s initiative election victory establishing “lifeline” electricity rates in Little Rock in 1976. Every time Hillary runs for national office it’s just a matter of time before some enterprising reporter, large or small, tracks me down hoping for the real skinny or some trash talking or whatever.

I’ll admit having her as part of the legal team for Arkansas’ First Electric Cooperative was not a happy moment, and is something that sticks in my craw despite the advancing years. She and the white shoe, corporate Rose Law Firm, where she worked, were fronting for the united Little Rock business community in opposing our proposed cap on the cost of 400 kilowatt hours of electricity in order to assure seniors and low-income families juice and put an end to the large, wasteful giveaway user block pricing, encouraging them to use more and stopping many of the poor from having any. The co-op had a dozen or so customers in a small slice of the Little Rock city limits and they argued the co-op was damaged because there was no offset for the newly imposed cap on their rates since they didn’t have any large users where they could balance the adjustment. For the sake of those few, the many lost, and the will of the vast majority of voters was thwarted. So, why would any ACORN member or me, for that matter, ever be happy about such a sad situation?

In 2008, an enterprising young reporter from a New Hampshire paper tracked me down and got me to talk about it before their primary election because she was the daughter of a former ACORN organizer and comrade. How could I say no? And, she did a fair job on it, so enough said.

Eight years passed until now Hillary becomes clearly a big-time favorite and once again there are knocks on my door. A political writer for The Nation calls during the 2016 primaries on a piece about how “the left” looks at Clinton. By this time I had sanded the story down to a smoother sheen, and was using more of a two-handed approach to it all. Yes, our members in Arkansas were livid and unforgiving, but when Clinton was a US Senator from New York, we had no better friend and our members loved Hillary there enough to force three votes of the national board before Obama was endorsed by ACORN in 2008.

Hillary becomes the nominee and the real big leaguers get into the seek-and-find on Clinton’s past. I get a couple of calls from Laura Meckler, a senior reporter at The Wall Street Journal. She’s on the story like a dog on a bone. She even goes to Arkansas and though pursuing other angles even persuades the clerk’s office to pull the old trial records from the warehouse for her to read. Months later, Amy Chozick with The New York Times reaches out also looking at Clinton’s time as a lawyer of sorts in Arkansas.

The Times’ piece came out a week or so before the election. The Journal piece was about a week before that. The Times’ article was sort of puffy by that point in the campaign. I got away with a bland ending quote on the article, saying essentially that we didn’t like seeing her at the table of the opposing counsel on the Lifeline trial. I did learn that Hillary wrote the brief in the case, which is at least of passing interest, though I’ll admit I still find it galling.

Meckler’s piece was more substantial and less fangirl. She managed to sniff out some controversy inside the firm around how seriously Clinton had taken her work there and how much rain she had produced. She scored her service on Walmart and Tyson boards as an income producer since her billable hours were fewer. More interestingly to me, the Journal story started with the lifeline trial and produced a revelatory quote from the lead counsel, Webb Hubbell, now a former Little Rock mayor and Clinton White House staffer with a billing scandal behind him, but telling Meckler point blank that here they were on her first case finding themselves opposing poor people. Straight up, I liked that a bit, because at least it was an admission of some guilt and foreboding on their part. Maybe Hubble and Clinton had lost a couple of hours of sleep and spent some times with their worry beads. Meckler came back to the lifeline story at the end of the article and quoted me as saying essentially “we didn’t win that one.” True that.

At least I didn’t put my foot in my mouth, and forty years had subdued my rage enough to the point that I seemed mature about it or at least calloused. The fights that overturn the will of the people and where justice never feels quite done can’t be forgotten, but there’s also little to forgive. We were on different sides then, but we go on to the next fight.

On that one we were opponents. On this one, Election Day, we are absolutely on the same side.

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At This Point Do Health Records Really Matter?

day2New Orleans   Big news! TV and radio are full of 24 hour commentary on Hillary Clinton feeling the heat and now a doctor’s opinion that maybe her cough is pneumonia, rather than a reaction to allergies, as she has said earlier. Some pundits and editorialists are calling for more disclosures of the candidates’ health records, which in both cases have been somewhat sketchy.

As you recall, Clinton’s were somewhat perfunctory, though they were effusive in comparison to Donald Trump’s letter from one of his doctor’s that seemed like he might have gotten it from a doc-in-a-box with a one-hundred dollar bill in an envelope and essentially said, he was healthy as a horse. But, really, what do we expect. Neither of these candidates are youngsters like Obama. One is 68 and the other is 70. We’re not talking about folks ready for the Olympics. We’re more in the Reagan and Eisenhower demographic. These will be the last candidates to understand that Vietnam was more than a question on a geography quiz.

But, my question is, really, does it matter at this point? Either would have to suddenly have a stroke and then go into a coma to not be on the ballot in less than two months. Be serious. There’s not going to be a do-over at this point. If their hearts are beating and their tongues are wagging, one of these seniors is going to be President.

One reporter suggested that they each provide their health records to a few elite reporters in order to make a report to the public. That almost seems reasonable, but we’re not dealing with very transparent folks. We are already dealing with Trump and Republican forces fabricating ill-health voodoo spells on Clinton in recent months. Trump’s VP candidate, Mike Pence, released his income tax records, but Daddy Warbucks is still gripping his with a tight death grip. We all know about Hillary’s views on privacy versus publicity, and if not, read up on the email server mess. Who is prepared to believe that reporters would get the complete package on something so personal and private? This is a situation where no one is going to believe anything, so it’s likely just destined to be a hot mess.

And, what makes the public think that this is something that the press can handle. Remember the mess with Senator Eagleton as the presumptive running mate for George McGovern in the last century? He was eviscerated for some mental health issues that most now would see as certainly manageable, if not trivial. And, if anything that’s what most of us would like to know about a candidate for President. How stable are they with their fingers near the button? How firmly are their feet anchored to the solid ground? There has already been speculation on Trump and psycho drama, and with Hillary, as a woman, that’s just a common assumption for a whole group of voters. But, friends, no one is talking about sharing any info on mental health.

This is one issue we should let evaporate into back ground noise. There’s no good that can come of it. Our rights to this information are tenuous and our ability to handle healthcare information is nonexistent. We have a long record as a people proving that we don’t understand anything about health. The ongoing conflict about Obamacare is a good case in point.

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Two Campaigns: One Tight Ship and One Full of Leaks

Source: George Herbert AP

Source: George Herbert AP

Vlodrop, Netherlands   Trump and his family have to be walking around his namesake tower in New York City just hopping mad. Everywhere they turn they have to wonder at sieve of a drowning campaign who is leaking to the press.

The latest flood level leak from the top of the campaign to the New York Times detailed a split between the Republican party operatives and the campaign managers quoting the Trump folks right up to the son-in-law and right down to describing his tone in a meeting with a key RNC official as “impervious.” There just simply cannot be that many people in the room when meetings happen at that level. What do you reckon? Five or six, maybe ten, but even ten seems unlikely. Can you imagine the circular firing squad that is lining up to try and pull a confession – and resignation – out of the people spilling these stories to the press of more chaos and dissension? And, with or without confessions, trust has left this campaign.

Furthermore, reading between the lines, you just have to know the Republican National Committee folks who were assigned over to the Tower, had to be the leakers. And, for all of the denials from the Chair of the party, it’s hard not to see him nodding an ascent to the leaks in order to send one last message to the Trump campaign that they have reached their limit after his fiasco around immigration in the short hours between his visit to Mexico City and his speech in Arizona. There’s nothing subtle about any of this. It’s hardball and a pitch to the head.

Meanwhile, not a peep from the Clinton campaign. Testimony from the FBI is released. Thud. Not a sound from the campaign. No lone voices or squeaks of concern. Nothing but the authorized spokesperson rolling out the script for the occasion. One report noted that Clinton has not held an open press conference since December 2015. This is a new strategy. A candidate running for president that doesn’t want press. The Clinton campaign was quickly out with a count of 350 press contacts this year, but these were curated calls from random call-ins to radio DJs to carefully curried reporters in specific, often local outlets.

We have on offer two completely different strategies emanating from the same root source. Neither Trump nor Clinton trust nor care for the press, and they all fly separately this campaign, which is also unusual, but one can’t stop talking and one can’t start. One is leaking information right and left on a sinking ship, while the other is sealed tighter than a drum. From one side we know way, way too much, and from the other, we know way, way too little.

The percentage of undecided voters is at historic levels by some reports. One set of pollsters indicated,

“Undecided voters and professed non-voters are at 29 per cent, seven times higher than in 2012. If these people were to break one way or the other before election day, they could reverse Clinton’s lead and put Trump in the White House.”

When significant percentages of both candidates’ support is based on opposition to the opponent, rather than support of the candidate, how can either of these strategies, win, lose or draw, be persuasive to potential voters, much less good for the American people?

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Rigged Elections and Delegitimized Democracy Increasing Polarization

 A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

A rally last week in Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton said voter registration efforts were the best tactic against Donald J. Trump. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

New Orleans    The early warning signal was a report that 40% of recently surveyed Republicans already believed that ACORN was going to steal the election between Trump and Clinton. Yes, that’s down from the even higher percentages reported on other surveys since 2008 arguing that ACORN stole both elections for President Obama, but it’s still total falsehood and fantasy backed by not one iota of proof, not to mention the fact that ACORN has not operated in the United States since 2010, which seems to trouble none of these conspiratorialists in the least about such a zombie attack on election purity.

Now Trump partnered with the hate mongering, fact-adverse Breitbart bunch is putting out its first television advertisements with the subliminal headline, “Rigged,” flashing across the screen. Trump told his rallies in Pennsylvania that the polls were all corrupt and that the only way he could lose the election in Pennsylvania was if the election was stolen and the whole process was rigged. Normally, these would be tactics only associated with what we would usually call, “sore losers,” except that Trump seems to have virtually trademarked the word “loser,” and may not realize yet, as he undoubtedly will soon, how permanently that moniker will stick to him for the rest of his life, perhaps even in epic, historic terms.

If this were just about Trump, we could easily ignore his attempt to inoculate his fanboys and girls from what is increasingly seeming like the inevitable. The problem, as we have all sadly seen in the eight-year war by the right to delegitimize Obama, is that such a strategy is designed to polarize and erode democracy, which in the vicious circle of our political life, also paved the way for a Trump candidacy. Many will remember from his earliest days in office when President Obama, then a naïve democracy advocate, tried to remind the Congressional Republicans that he “had won the election,” believing that the mandate from the voters came with an understanding that some of his positions should be implemented in policy. We don’t believe any of that nonsense in Washington anymore that somehow the voters will deserves respect. It’s dog-eat-dog period, and the people take the hindmost, which is happening on a state-by-state basis where the rightwing has been able to work their will without restraint.

What does this augur? If Hillary Clinton prevails, will we once again watch her try to be bipartisan, as Obama did, and fail while the right quickly tries to reframe a defeat as not about them but about the flawed Trump candidacy?

Some are advancing the theory that the Senate could change hands if the Trump defeat continues on its current abysmal trajectory. A turnover of four or five seats would make the difference there for four years until 2020 when more Democratic seats are up for grabs, but that wouldn’t break through the logjam, even if it would hedge against our worst nightmares. For the House to flip, thirty or so seats would have to change, and most pundits are estimating only half of that will happen.

It’s depressing when the end of this polarized dysfunction still seems nowhere in sight, even as November’s outcome seems more and more inevitable.

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Candidates Conclude “The Poor Will Always Be With Us” – Good Luck!

Voting Location Rural Alabama 1966

Voting Location Rural Alabama 1966

New Orleans  Both major candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, seem to have concluded that, “What the heck, the poor don’t really vote, and the poor will always be with us, so later for them.” Speeches about the economy are silent on the issue of the richness of America contrasted with our level of poverty compared to other industrialized countries.

Both have kinda, sorta come out for an increase in the federal minimum wage, but don’t start thinking about a “fight for $15,” because this election season that’s more of a “dream for $15.” Trump sometimes says he is for a $10 per hour minimum wage. Clinton has settled on a $12 per hour minimum wage.

Clinton has proposed expanded benefits for child care and health care and some other existing benefits. Trump has said there might should be a deduction from taxes for the average rate of child care payment, but of course you have to have a job where you benefit from such a deduction. Neither seem to say much about the earned income tax credit, nor surprisingly housing, especially affordable housing, which seems to have fallen off either of their lists. Trump obviously knows a bunch about housing, but it’s more in the unaffordable, luxury area.

Yet, as the New York Times noted:

There is not a single state where a full-time worker earning the minimum wage can rent a market-rate one-bedroom apartment for 30 percent or less of their income, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And more than 11 million households spend more than half of their income on rent.

After one federal initiative after another by both Democratic and Republican presidents, I have to wonder whether or not in the post-2007 housing collapse the candidates have lost their moorings. They can no longer stand firmly on the argument that everyone can afford to be a homeowner, and they are unwilling and unable to tackle the reality of a permanent renter-class and how that fits into a “new” sense of the American dream, and god knows no candidate wants to admit the dream is dead.

This abandonment of the poor is most striking of course for the Democratic Party, which many observers are now arguing is being upended by Trump’s success with the working class, especially white, which they have usually claimed. One columnist recently argued for example:

If current trends continue, not only will there be a class inversion among the white supporters of the Democratic Party, but the party will become increasingly dependent on a white upper middle class that has isolated itself from the rest of American society. Instead of serving as the political arm of working and middle class voters seeking to move up the ladder, the Democratic Party faces the prospect of becoming the party of the winners, in collaboration with many of those in the top 20 percent who are determined to protect and secure their economic and social status.

So, who is really going to advocate and represent low-and-moderate income families or in other words, the poor and working class? Seems clear neither Clinton nor Trump is really ready to ride for this brand, and low-and-moderate income families are going to be hard pressed to find comfortable or permanent homes in either of the two major parties.

***

Please enjoy Y La Bamba by Libre.  Thanks to KABF.

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Democrats Making a Left Turn

21ps-hilogoNew Orleans   Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress. He made an interesting argument in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that he took to be obvious to any observer that the Democratic Party, that even its standard bearer, Hillary Clinton, had moved decidedly and determinedly to the left. For many progressives, and count me as one, who judge the party and its candidates by where we want them to be, rather than where we have been, that seemed much less than obvious, but Teixeira makes an interesting and important case which is worth keeping in mind no matter where we stand on this question.

First, he argues, fairly incontestably, that demographics are driving the party leftward, which they should:

Every year there are more minority voters, more unmarried voters, more secular voters, more college-educated women voters, more millennial voters, and so on. It isn’t simply that these groups lean Democratic; they also tend to favor policies that are distinctly to the left and comport well with the Democrats’ new platform….

Secondly, he argues that Democrats have been forced to confront what he calls the “Piketty problem,” which simply put lies in the fact that no one can really continue to argue that without serious intervention the crisis of inequality can be met. Laissez faire is not going to get it. Nothing is trickling down, so the pretense on which the first Clinton presidency was founded has not crashed and burned. Thomas Piketty has famously argued that society tends towards inequality, that growth alone will not produce more equality, that even unequal distribution of economic growth delivers some narrowing of inequality, and that widening inequality itself slows economic growth.

Teixeira argues that even more than Bernie Sanders, this has pushed Hillary and the Democratic platform left, and, furthermore, that all polls indicate this direction is broadly popular with the American public, not just Democrats. To make this work, Hillary has to have a way to prime the pump for more growth. This is where the work gets harder.

The heart of Teixeira’s argument and it’s worth remembering if she becomes President is that we should,

“Expect Mrs. Clinton to move aggressively to strike bargains that advance key parts of her program, especially those that would directly boost growth in the short run. Reflecting this priority, Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly said that during her first 100 days she would call upon Congress to dramatically increase spending on roads, bridges and other public works, including to provide universal broadband and build a clean energy grid. Her $275 billion program, if implemented, would represent the greatest investment in American infrastructure since the development of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Mrs. Clinton probably would also prioritize measures that directly benefit the economically squeezed, like raising the minimum wage and mandating paid family leave.”

T-shirts saying “Build Infrastructure, Vote Hillary” may not seem like a catchy slogan, but it might wrong foot the Republicans and catch them in the bind of their own base, including the angry and entitled white voters, who want to see this kind of economic interference that delivers growth and visible progress.

This will be worth watching way past November.

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