Monday, May 23, 2016

Austrian Voters Narrowly Decide Not To Revisit Their Country's Nazi Past By Electing Their Version Of Trump


DWT readers weren't taken by surprise by the near win this weekend-- counting 700,000 absentee ballots flipped the final outcome today-- that would have put a neo-Nazi in Austria's presidential race. Sunday it looked as though Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer won 51.9% of the vote in a run-off with an independent backed by the Green Party, Alexander Van der Bellen, the two corrupt mainstream p[arty candidates having been eliminated in April. But after the absentee ballots were counted, the final result was 50.3% for Van der Bellen and 49.7% for Hofer. Voters were sick of the tweedle-dee/tweedle-dum politics of the right of center People's Party and the slightly left of center Social Democrats-- and their corrupt, inept Grand Coalition-- and almost opted for a far right extremist. Instead of comparing him to Hitler though, the European press is calling Hofer Austria's Donald Trump. Exit polls showed that van der Bellen won 81% of voters with college educations and Hofer won 86% of the Austrian working class. In the end, just 31,000 voters, out of 4.6 million votes cast, separated the two candidates.

The Nazis have no intention of giving up. Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom party, wrote on his Facebook page: "This is just the beginning. The start of a new era in our democracy, towards more direct democracy and binding referenda." The Guardian reported that during "the election, Viennese coffee houses set aside separate areas for supporters of the rival candidates over fears of clashes.
During his campaign, Hofer has been compared to Donald Trump for his anti-immigration stance, carried a 9mm glock with him everywhere he goes, and has claimed increases in gun ownership in Austria are linked to immigration.

...Hofer's key message is one of immigration control. Last year, roughly 90,000 migrants settled in Austria, a number Hofer sees as far too high. He has promised to try and curb further migration from outside of Europe and has also reportedly vowed to carry out the deportation of Muslims.

Hofer has also advocated repatriating the Italian territory of South Tyrol, which was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Hofer proposed the idea in a speech in 2015 and has since said that one way of achieving this could be to give people in the area dual Italian and Austrian nationality.

Hofer is a huge advocate for guns, carrying a 9mm Glock pistol around with him on the campaign trail.

He has said that he understands the increase in gun ownership in Austria, "given current uncertainties," and says that gun ownership is a "natural consequence" of immigration. It is reported that Hofer has previously posted images on social media of him at a firing range with his family. Business Insider was unable to find these pictures.

Hofer has been described by some commentators as the "Austrian Donald Trump" for his strong stance on immigration, populist politics, and promises to put "Austria First," a slogan that it has been suggested, draws inspiration from Trump's famous "Make America Great Again" battle cry.

  ...It has been suggested that Hofer would be the first far-right head of state in Europe since the end of World War II. While this is not strictly true because of Spain's Francisco Franco, who ruled the country as a fascist dictator until 1975, Hofer is by far the most right-wing politician to be elected to office in many decades.

Austria's presidency is a ceremonial role, and the most important power held by the president is the ability to dissolve Austria's parliament. But Hofer has already said he would try to extend his powers.

He vowed that once elected, he will go to Brussels to attend European Union meetings, something that is generally reserved for Austria's chancellor, currently Christian Kern. Hofer said he would also refuse to sign the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal, as he believes it would infringe on Austria's sovereignty.

...One of the biggest concerns in some circles about Hofer's potential election is that it could help to galvanise other far-right parties across Europe. Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's Front National is expected to reach the second round of next year's presidential election, while in Germany, Alternative for Deutschland-- an anti-Islamic party-- has also experienced a gain in popularity. The Netherlands has also seen a rise in the popularity of the Party of Freedom, which now tops the polls. The party is headed by Geert Wilders, who was banned from entering the UK for his role in creating anti-Islamic film Fitna.

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How Active Will The Mafia Be In The Presidential Election This Cycle?


John Catsimatidis interviewed two former GOP governors on his radio show yesterday, Jon Huntsman (UT) and George Pataki (NY). Huntsman said he'd support "the party's nominee," but said he has "concerns about some of the things he's said and his stylistic approach, but then I say OK, he has a unique opportunity to bring together constituents under the Republican banner that really have never joined before." So... another Republican putting party over country. Pataki told Catsimatidis he's not prepared to endorse Trump yet. He said he's "not overly concerned about things he’s said during the course of his campaign... I ran for office a lot, I know how easy it is to say something that in retrospect you go 'Woops why did I say that?'" But he doesn't think Trump has shown he's ready for the presidency. "I think he needs to articulate a number of thoughtful positions on the issues for me to be able to endorse him... If he does those things, I’d be happy to support him and help him win the election." I'm not sure what Pataki-- who was governor of New York from 1995-2006-- could do to help Trump win the election, but I suppose he could just keep quiet about everything he knows about Trump's long-standing ties to the Mafia, not a big secret among New York Republican politicians, but one no one talks much about, at least not publicly. Remember, it wasn't just a coincidence that Trump's strongest showing anywhere was in Staten Island-- Mob County, USA-- where he won the primary with a staggering 82.1% of the vote.

Investigative journalist David Cay Johnston has spent nearly 3 decades looking into Trump's relationship with the Mob-- a relationship nurtured by the notorious Mob consigliere for “Fat Tony” Salerno (Genovese crime family) and Paul Castellano (Gambino crime family), McCarthyite and hate-filled closet queen Roy Cohn-- and he wrote about it in his book, Temples of Chance: How America Inc. Bought Out Murder Inc. to Win Control of the Casino Business and for Politico readers yesterday.
In all, I’ve covered Donald Trump off and on for 27 years, and in that time I’ve encountered multiple threads linking Trump to organized crime. Some of Trump’s unsavory connections have been followed by investigators and substantiated in court; some haven’t. And some of those links have continued until recent years, though when confronted with evidence of such associations, Trump has often claimed a faulty memory. In an April 27 phone call to respond to my questions for this story, Trump told me he did not recall many of the events recounted in this article and they “were a long time ago.” He also said that I had “sometimes been fair, sometimes not” in writing about him, adding “if I don’t like what you write, I’ll sue you.”

I’m not the only one who has picked up signals over the years. Wayne Barrett, author of a 1992 investigative biography of Trump’s real-estate dealings, has tied Trump to mob and mob-connected men.

No other candidate for the White House this year has anything close to Trump’s record of repeated social and business dealings with mobsters, swindlers, and other crooks. Professor Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, said the closest historical example would be President Warren G. Harding and Teapot Dome, a bribery and bid-rigging scandal in which the interior secretary went to prison. But even that has a key difference: Harding’s associates were corrupt but otherwise legitimate businessmen, not mobsters and drug dealers.

This is part of the Donald Trump story that few know. As Barrett wrote in his book, Trump didn’t just do business with mobbed-up concrete companies: he also probably met personally with Salerno at the townhouse of notorious New York fixer Roy Cohn, in a meeting recounted by a Cohn staffer who told Barrett she was present. This came at a time when other developers in New York were pleading with the FBI to free them of mob control of the concrete business.

From the public record and published accounts like that one, it’s possible to assemble a clear picture of what we do know. The picture shows that Trump’s career has benefited from a decades-long and largely successful effort to limit and deflect law enforcement investigations into his dealings with top mobsters, organized crime associates, labor fixers, corrupt union leaders, con artists and even a one-time drug trafficker whom Trump retained as the head of his personal helicopter service.

...There was something a little peculiar about the construction of Trump Tower, and subsequent Trump projects in New York. Most skyscrapers are steel girder construction, and that was especially true in the 1980s, says John Cross of the American Iron & Steel Institute. Some use pre-cast concrete. Trump chose a costlier and in many ways riskier method: ready-mix concrete. Ready-mix has some advantages: it can speed up construction, and doesn’t require costly fireproofing. But it must be poured quickly or it will harden in the delivery truck drums, ruining them as well as creating costly problems with the building itself. That leaves developers vulnerable to the unions: the worksite gate is union controlled, so even a brief labor slowdown can turn into an expensive disaster.

Salerno, Castellano and other organized crime figures controlled the ready-mix business in New York, and everyone in construction at the time knew it. So did government investigators trying to break up the mob, urged on by major developers such as the LeFrak and Resnick families. Trump ended up not only using ready-mix concrete, but also paying what a federal indictment of Salerno later concluded were inflated prices for it-- repeatedly-- to S & A Concrete, a firm Salerno and Castellano owned through fronts, and possibly to other mob-controlled firms. As Barrett noted, by choosing to build with ready-mix concrete rather than other materials, Trump put himself “at the mercy of a legion of concrete racketeers.”

Salerno and Castellano and other mob families controlled both the concrete business and the unions involved in delivering and pouring it. The risks this created became clear from testimony later by Irving Fischer, the general contractor who built Trump Tower. Fischer said concrete union “goons” once stormed his offices, holding a knife to throat of his switchboard operator to drive home the seriousness of their demands, which included no-show jobs during construction of Trump Tower.

But with Cohn as his lawyer, Trump apparently had no reason to personally fear Salerno or Castellano-- at least, not once he agreed to pay inflated concrete prices. What Trump appeared to receive in return was union peace. That meant the project would never face costly construction or delivery delays.

The indictment on which Salerno was convicted in 1988 and sent to prison, where he died, listed the nearly $8 million contract for concrete at Trump Plaza, an East Side high-rise apartment building, as one of the acts establishing that S &A was part of a racketeering enterprise. (While the concrete business was central to the case, the trial also proved extortion, narcotics, rigged union elections and murders by the Genovese and Gambino crime families in what Michael Chertoff, the chief prosecutor, called “the largest and most vicious criminal business in the history of the United States.")

FBI agents subpoenaed Trump in 1980 to ask about his dealing with John Cody, a Teamsters official described by law enforcement as a very close associate of the Gambino crime family. The FBI believed that Cody previously had obtained free apartments from other developers. FBI agents suspected that Cody, who controlled the flow of concrete trucks, might get a free Trump Tower apartment. Trump denied it. But a female friend of Cody’s, a woman with no job who attributed her lavish lifestyle to the kindness of friends, bought three Trump Tower apartments right beneath the triplex where Donald lived with his wife Ivana. Cody stayed there on occasion and invested $500,000 in the units. Trump, Barrett reported, helped the woman get a $3 million mortgage without filling out a loan application or showing financials.

In the summer of 1982 Cody, then under indictment, ordered a citywide strike-- but the concrete work continued at Trump Tower. After Cody was convicted of racketeering, imprisoned and lost control of the union, Trump sued the woman for $250,000 for alteration work. She countersued for $20 million and in court papers accused Trump of taking kickbacks from contractors, asserting this could “be the basis of a criminal proceeding requiring an attorney general’s investigation” into Trump. Trump then quickly settled, paying the woman a half-million dollars. Trump said at the time and since then that he hardly knew those involved and there was nothing improper his dealings with Cody or the woman.

There were other irregularities in Trump’s first big construction project. In 1979, when Trump hired a demolition contractor to take down the Bonwit Teller department store to make way for Trump Tower, he hired as many as 200 non-union men to work alongside about 15 members of the House Wreckers Union Local 95. The non-union workers were mostly illegal Polish immigrants paid $4 to $6 per hour with no benefits, far below the union contract. At least some of them did not use power tools but sledgehammers, working 12 hours a day or more and often seven days a week. Known as the “Polish brigade,” many didn’t wear hard hats. Many slept on the construction site.

Normally the use of nonunion workers at a union job site would have guaranteed a picket line. Not at this site, however. Work proceeded because the Genovese family principally controlled the union; this was demonstrated by extensive testimony, documents and convictions in federal trials, as well as a later report by the New York State Organized Crime Task Force.

When the Polish workers and a union dissident sued for their pay and benefits, Trump denied any knowledge that illegal workers without hard hats were taking down Bonwit with sledgehammers. The trial, however, demonstrated otherwise: Testimony showed that Trump panicked when the nonunion Polish men threatened a work stoppage because they had not been paid. Trump turned to Daniel Sullivan, a labor fixer and FBI informant, who told him to fire the Polish workers.

Trump knew the Polish brigade was composed of underpaid illegal immigrants and that S&A was a mob-owned firm, according to Sullivan and others. "Donald told me that he was having his difficulties and he admitted to me that-- seeking my advice-- that he had some illegal Polish employees on the job. I reacted by saying to Donald that 'I think you are nuts,'" Sullivan testified at the time. "I told him to fire them promptly if he had any brains." In an interview later, Sullivan told me the same thing.

In 1991, a federal judge, Charles E. Stewart Jr., ruled that Trump had engaged in a conspiracy to violate a fiduciary duty, or duty of loyalty, to the workers and their union and that the “breach involved fraud and the Trump defendants knowingly participated in his breach.” The judge did not find Trump’s testimony to be sufficiently credible and set damages at $325,000. The case was later settled by negotiation, and the agreement was reportedly sealed.
I bet the Mafia connections won't be brought up by a Clinton campaign that knows very well about people who live in glass houses. Bernie, on the other hand... no Mob connections.
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Do You Want To Be In A Party Debbie Wasserman Schultz Is The Head Of?


My grandfather was a Socialist who loved FDR but distrusted the Democratic Party. He was my political mentor and he taught me how self-serving and corrupt New York's Democratic Party was. He told me they were better than the Republicans but that I should never trust them to do the right thing. Nothing's changed.

A few weeks ago I ran a photo of myself-- age 16-- at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964. It was the cover of the New York Daily News and it shows me leading a pro-LBJ march. Hillary isn't in the photo, of course, since she was campaigning for Barry Goldwater that day. Not much has changed for either of us. She's some kind of conservative Democrat now-- one who told an NPR audience a few years ago that "I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with... I'm very proud that I was a Goldwater Girl." And I'm a progressive whose only substantive connection to the Democratic Party is that I register as one so that I can vote in Democratic primaries in the futile hope I can help pull the party back towards its progressive Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt roots and away from what the Clintons have transmongrified it into.

Shaun King, a former pastor, is a Daily News columnist now, though I'd bet he wasn't born when I was campaigning for LBJ and Hillary was campaign for Goldwater. (I was president of the Young Democrats at Stony Brook; she was the president of the Young Republicans at Wellesley.) Yesterday Shaun told his readers why he's quitting the Democratic Party and re-registering as an independent. "When you find evil in the world," he wrote, "when you find corruption, when you find starvation and exploitation, when you find poverty and despair, when you find drugs, guns, and substandard housing, when you find evil-- if you dig far enough, you will often discover the love of money at the root. Underneath so much of what is wrong in this country is the deep love of money and all that it brings. Sometimes the connection is obvious and undeniable-- other times not so much, but like the huge glacier underneath the still water, it is there."
Right now, the Democratic Party, which I have called home my entire life, is deeply in love with money. Consequently, its leaders have supported and advanced all kinds of evil, big and small, in devotion to this love affair.

My sweet mother, who worked in a scorching hot light bulb factory for over 40 years of her life, introduced me to the party. While I'm not so sure it was ever really true, she taught me that Democrats were for the poor and working class of America. We waffled between those two groups ourselves, so for me, I chose to be a part of the party that represented us.

As a senior in high school, I attended my first political rally in 1996 as President Bill Clinton spoke at the University of Kentucky in his reelection bid. He was amazing.

In 1999, Atlanta's first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, whom I loved and revered, recruited me to campaign for Al Gore and encouraged me to get involved with the party. As student government president at Morehouse College, I spoke at campaign events alongside Vice President Gore and his family and fought hard as hell for him to win. How he lost stung as much as the fact that he lost.

...The optimism, hope and dedication to change that Obama campaigned with was authentic. To prove it, his transition team introduced what were called the "most far reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history."

They effectively banned lobbyists and their money not only from his transition process, but also put in place a 12-month-ban on when they could serve in the administration after serving as a lobbyist.

Because he came into office with such momentum and a clear mandate, Obama also began to enforce similar restrictions on lobbyists with the DNC. If he could first change his administration, then change his party, he could change the entire game, he thought.

Did you know that Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was a co-chair of Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign against Obama, and is now the chair of the DNC, earlier this year did away with all of the restrictions on lobbyists that President Obama put in place?

According to the Washington Post,
"The DNC's recent, more sweeping reversal of the previous ban on donations from lobbyists and political action committees was confirmed by three Democratic lobbyists who said they have already received solicitations from the committee. The lobbyists requested anonymity to speak freely about the committee's decision, which has been otherwise kept quiet."
Unless you are a political insider, it would be hard to know that such a thing had ever happened. No doubt, that was their goal. Why? Are they ashamed? It certainly appears so.

The article continued,
"For the most part, they (the lobbyists) said, the DNC has returned to business as usual, pre-2008. The DNC has even named a finance director specifically for PAC donations who has recently emailed prospective donors to let them know that they can now contribute again, according to an email that was reviewed by the Washington Post."
Campaign watchdog groups were furious. This is a disgusting and unnecessary reversion, but it gives us a real clue into how the Democratic Party sincerely sees money in politics. They love it. They certainly didn't do this for Bernie Sanders. His campaign does not accept donations from SuperPACs or lobbyists and he's won 21 primaries and caucuses without it. The Clinton campaign, on the other hand, is awash in this type of money.

In essence, Hillary Clinton and the DNC each wants us to believe that lobbyists and SuperPACs don't expect anything from them in return for their money. This is the most basic, foolish, offensive lie they could ever tell. Of course they want something in return. That's the business they're in.

On April 18, the Sanders campaign wrote an open letter declaring that Clinton's campaign was violating campaign finance laws through an unethical joint arrangement with the DNC. The Clinton campaign's response was that she was actually raising money for down-ticket Democrats. Two weeks later, though, Politico released an amazing investigative report which found that out of the $61 million the Clinton campaign was raising for state parties, the parties were only allowed to keep 1% of it. You read that correctly. I'll spell it out so that you know a digit wasn't missing. They got to keep one percent of the funds she claimed she raised for them.

It appears to be a money laundering scheme. Do you remember when George Clooney said that Bernie Sanders and his supporters were right to be disgusted by the fact that some seats at the fundraiser cost $353,400 per couple, but that he could live with it because the money was mainly going to help smaller candidates win local elections?

He was wrong.

According to Politico, "The victory fund has transferred $3.8 million to the state parties, but almost all of that cash ($3.3 million, or 88%) was quickly transferred (back) to the DNC, usually within a day or two, by the Clinton staffer who controls the committee, Politico's analysis of the FEC records found."

Who really got the money? The Clinton campaign pocketed almost all of it and state parties were left with one penny on the dollar.

The Politico report continued: "By contrast, the victory fund has transferred $15.4 million to Clinton's campaign and $5.7 million to the DNC, which will work closely with Clinton's campaign if and when she becomes the party's nominee. And most of the $23.3 million spent directly by the victory fund has gone toward expenses that appear to have directly benefited Clinton's campaign, including $2.8 million for ‘salary and overhead’ and $8.6 million for web advertising that mostly looks indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads and that has helped Clinton build a network of small donors who will be critical in a general election expected to cost each side well in excess of $1 billion."

Of course, none of this is happenstance or coincidence. All of this is a well orchestrated plan. The American people are just now beginning to understand this ugliness. It's one of the primary reasons why 10 million people have voted for Bernie Sanders and why he has won 21 contests without even a smidgeon of support from the Democratic Party.

The thing is, though, the Democratic Party isn't really very democratic. It's sincerely just a machine for Hillary Clinton.

Van Jones, a former Obama administration official, said earlier this week on CNN, "Debbie, who should be the umpire, who should be the marriage counselor, is coming in harder for Hillary Clinton than she is for herself. That is malpractice."

"I wish Reince Priebus was my party chair. He did a better job of handling the Trump situation than I've see my party chair handle this situation," Jones said.

"I'm ashamed to say that. Yeah, I said it."

Let that sink in for a minute. A man who has not endorsed a candidate, who worked for Obama, and is an award-winning leader said that he would rather the Republican Party chair be in charge of the DNC than Debbie Wasserman Schultz because of how hard she fights for Hillary Clinton. Forgive me for being repetitive, but please remember that Wasserman Schultz was a co-chair of Clinton's campaign in 2008. None of us should be surprised that she is so biased, but we should be disgusted that she is in charge of the entire party at a time when it required an unbiased presence.

I'll give it to her-- Debbie Wasserman Schultz will say or do anything to get Hillary Clinton elected, even if it means completely ignoring the political reality that nearly half of the people who've voted in this primary have declared that they want to see lobbyists and SuperPACs out of politics. Her words and her deeds throughout this campaign have not only been unethical, but are out of step with the future of the party. Voters under the age of 45 prefer Bernie because they trust him and his principles. Wasserman Schultz and Clinton represent a brand of politics that they know well, but we're simply tired of it. Another op-ed was just released calling on her to be replaced.

Robert Reich, the famed economist who served as Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, went so far on Thursday to suggest that a new party should be formed if Hillary wins the election.

Reich said, “Never, ever give up fighting against the increasing concentration of wealth and power at the top, which is undermining our democracy and distorting our economy. That means, if Hillary Clinton is elected, I urge you to turn Bernie's campaign into a movement-- even a third party-- to influence elections at the state level in 2018 and the presidency in 2020. No movement to change the allocation of power succeeds easily or quickly. We are in this for the long haul.”

Back in February, Michelle Alexander, the law professor and author of The New Jim Crow, made a similar declaration. Her words struck me to my core.

“The biggest problem with Bernie, in the end, is that he's running as a Democrat-- as a member of a political party that not only capitulated to right-wing demagoguery but is now owned and controlled by a relatively small number of millionaires and billionaires,” she said.

“Yes, Sanders has raised millions from small donors, but should he become president, he would also become part of what he has otherwise derided as ‘the establishment.’ Even if Bernie's racial-justice views evolve, I hold little hope that a political revolution will occur within the Democratic Party without a sustained outside movement forcing truly transformational change. I am inclined to believe that it would be easier to build a new party than to save the Democratic Party from itself."

I am in full agreement with both Reich and Alexander. Whatever happens between now and the Democratic Convention-- what's next is that we form a brand new progressive political party from scratch. It has never been more clear to me that millions and millions of us do not belong in the Democratic Party. Their values are not our values. Their priorities are not our priorities. And I'll be honest with you, I think too highly of myself, of my family, of my friends, and of our future, to stick with a party that looks anything like what Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are leading right now.

Clinton's refusal to release the transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. Her indignant and irrational excuses made no sense-- particularly in light of the reports stating that the transcripts would ruin her campaign and made her sound like an executive at the company.

I'll start where I left off-- the root of all of this is the love of money. In this campaign, Bernie Sanders, with a ragtag group of misfits, proved to the world that another way exists. He has created a blueprint for us on how we build a political movement without the money from billionaire class and their special interests.

In my heart, I believe we are on the brink of something very special. It isn't going to be the presidency of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump either. It's going to be what those of us who've seen a better way do next.

Don't believe what anyone tells you-- the ball is in our hand and we have more power than progressive people have had in a very long time in this country. I will fight for Bernie Sanders until he is no longer running for president.

After that, this will be my last election as a Democrat. I'm moving on and hope you do, too.
I'm just guessing but I'd bet that Glenn Greenwald gave up on the Democratic Party long ago. He's closer to my age than to Shaun's. Yesterday he was also writing about how Wasserman Schultz has made the Democratic Party far, far worse and how she deserves to be defeated in the Florida primary at the end of August. "In general," he wrote, "Wasserman Schultz is the living, breathing embodiment of everything rotted and corrupt about the Democratic Party: a corporatist who overwhelmingly relies on corporate money to keep her job, a hawk who supports the most bellicose aspects of U.S. foreign policy, a key member of the “centrist” and “moderate” pro-growth New Democrat coalition, a co-sponsor of the failed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was “heavily backed by D.C. favorites including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the music and motion picture industries” and which, if enacted, would have allowed extreme government and corporate control over the internet... Democrats nationwide, and in her district, have a choice. For the first time in her long congressional career, she faces a primary challenger for the Democratic nomination. He’s Tim Canova, a smart, articulate, sophisticated lawyer with a history of activism both with the Occupy movement (he’s against the Wall Street bailout for which Wasserman Schultz voted and the general excesses of big banks and crony capitalism) as well as a steadfast opponent of the Patriot Act (for which Wasserman Schultz repeatedly voted)."

If you'd like to help Canova replace #DebtTrapDebbie Wasserman Schultz in Congress, please consider giving his campaign a contribution. It's one way to save the Democratic Party. Just tap the thermometer and do what you can:
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Among The Candidates, Who's For War? Who's For Peace? How Can We Even Know? Take South Jersey...


How do you know if a congressional candidate is more or less likely to support war and aggression? Well, generally speaking Republicans, and conservatives in general, are more likely to be willing to rush to war as an immediate option. Democrats often claim they stand for peace, but the claim is often hollow. In the presidential race we have a rabid, neocon hawk on the Democratic side and an unstable, unhinged and impulsive bully on the Republican side.

In Congress, one way to know who stands for war and who stands for peace is by watching how Members vote on amendments brought up and voted on from Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who was the only member of Congress to vote against attacking Afghanistan in 2001. Last week she offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that would repeal the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force that pretty much allows any president to attack anyone anywhere. (Imagine Trump with this power.)

Lee's amendment lost 138-285. Most Democrats (125 of them) voted for it and they're joined by 13 Republicans. But 228 Republicans-- virtually the whole party-- voted against repeal and 57 Democrats joined them, obviously the Republican wing of the Democratic Party: Blue Dogs, New Dems, warmongers, Military Industrial Complex shills, etc. Out of deference to Obama-- with a blind eye to her own shameless hypocrisy-- Pelosi voted with the Republicans, probably not thinking about a President Trump with this blanket authorization she was voting for.

Among the Democratic congressmembers vying for higher office this cycle, two voted with Lee for peace: Alan Grayson (FL) and Chris Van Hollen (MD). And four decided to join the war camp and vote with the Republicans:
Tammy Duckworth (IL)
Ann Kirkpatrick (New Dem-AZ)
Patrick Murphy (New Dem-FL)
Loretta Sanchez (Blue Dog-CA)
This is a hot topic in the congressional race in south Jersey's first congressional district where progressive Alex Law is challenging warmonger Donald Norcross, the Machine candidate. Norcross, who has a clear pro-war record and voted against revoking the blanket authorization in 2001 and again last week, is the only New Jersey Democrat to do so. He's often the only New Jersey Democrat to cross the aisle and vote with the Republicans on a whole array of core values issues. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Frank Palone, Bill Pascrell, Donald Payne and Albio Sires all voted for peace; only Norcross showed the poor judgment to leave Trump (or Clinton) with the blanket approval to attack without congressional approval. We reached Alex Law as he was out knocking on doors in Cherry Hill this morning and he told us "Representative Barbara Lee's anti-war amendment is a necessary addition to our defense bill. I am proud to stand with all New Jersey Democrats in Congress, with the exception of my opponent who yet again voted with Republicans, in my support of this amendment. I firmly believe that our unchecked military incursions into the Middle East with little or no oversight by the American people has fundamentally radicalized many in the region. Our goal in fighting terrorism is to end terrorism, but our policy of endless war at what ever cost is doing the exact opposite. The only way we end terrorism is through bringing opportunity to the Middle East and working through diplomacy-- rather than drones-- to solve problems. We have been lucky with President Obama that he has not abused his nearly unlimited War powers too severely. But, without this amendment and a potential President Trump around the corner, we could see total war waged in the Middle East without authorization of the American people. That is a reality we cannot accept."

Click to get close enough to read the truck

The primary between Norcross and Law will be on June 7. Currently Blue America has the mobile billboard, pictured above, driving around the district 6 days a week, making sure voters are aware that there is a progressive alternative to Norcross. If you'd like to help, you can chip in for gas money here-- or you can contribute directly to Alex Law's campaign here:
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Pensions Are A Promise-- A Promise Republicans Are Always Eager To Break


I was somewhat surprised to see a bunch of fringy right-wing organizations, among them the Institute for Liberty, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, hold Republicans' feet to the fire over Vegas plutocrat and Trumpist Sheldon Adelson over the anti-Internet gambling earmark the GOP gave him in the Appropriations Bill in return for the millions of dollars he's spent on their political campaigns. They sent a letter to crooked Houston Republican John Culberson, chairman of the House Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee that reads, in part, "We, the following free-market, limited-government, and freedom-oriented organizations are asking you to oppose language supporting the 'Restoration of America’s Wire Act' (RAWA) that was inserted into the Senate CJS Appropriations report accompanying the bill. This language benefits a narrow range of special interests and tramples on the Tenth Amendment and the right of states to set their own gambling and lottery laws. If passed, RAWA would potentially affect the ability of millions of Americans to play daily fantasy sports and, perhaps most troubling, opens the door to federal government regulation of guns and ammunition sales-- a long time goal of gun control advocates."

Nice they have something useful, for a change, to occupy themselves with. Progressives, however, always have something useful-- usually a lot more useful-- to occupy themselves with. Let me pick an example out of a Make America Great Again hat. Last year Bernie introduced a bill that Mitch McConnell bottled up in committee, the Keep Our Pension Promises Act (S.1631) and would provide more funding for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), specifically for struggling multi-employer pension plans. Bernie's plan would be paid for by closing a loophole in the estate tax and a tax break on sales of expensive art and other collectibles. McConnell and his Senate leadership team shut that right down.

Their typically high-handed treatment of the legislation and their refusal to even allow it to be debated and voted on, has led to what's developing into an existential crisis for another 400,000 workers, as one of the biggest private pension funds in the country faces imminent insolvency.
The Central States Pension Fund has no new plan to avoid insolvency, fund director Thomas Nyhan said this week. Without government funding, the fund will run out of money in 10 years, he said.

At that time, pension benefits for about 407,000 people could be reduced to "virtually nothing," he told workers and retirees in a letter sent Friday.

In a last-ditch effort, the Central States Pension Plan sought government approval to partially reduce the pensions of 115,000 retirees and the future benefits for 155,000 current workers. The proposed cuts were steep, as much as 60% for some, but it wasn't enough. Earlier this month, the Treasury Department rejected the plan because it found that it would not actually head off insolvency.

The fund could submit a new plan, but decided this week that there's no other way to successfully save the fund and comply with the law. The cuts needed would be too severe.

Normally, when a multi-employer fund like Central States runs out of money, a government insurance fund called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) kicks in so that retirees still receive some kind of benefit.

But that's not a great solution in this case. For one thing, the amount is smaller than what pensioners would have received under the Central States reduction plan, and is based on the number of years a retiree worked. A retiree would receive a maximum $35.75 a month for each year worked, according to the fund's website. (That amounts to $1,072.50 a month for retiree who worked 30 years.)

But there's yet another problem. The PBGC itself is underfunded and isn't expected to be able to cover all the retirees in the Central States Pension Fund.

"The fact that the ... PBGC is also running out of money means our participants may see their pension benefits ultimately reduced to virtually nothing when the fund runs out of money," Nyhan said in his letter.

Only government funding, either to the Central States Fund directly or through the PBGC, can fix the problem, he said.

The Central States Pension Fund covers workers and retirees from more than 1,500 companies across a range of industries, but most of its retirees were truck drivers.

A lot of the fund's companies went bankrupt after the trucking industry was deregulated in the 1980s. That's part of the reason the fund is in trouble now. It's currently paying out $3 for every $1 it takes in.
Bernie's bill has been co-sponsored by both liberals-- Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Al Franken (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Jack Reed (D-RI)-- moderates-- Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Gary Peters (D-MI)-- and even conservaDem Claire McCaskill (MO)... but no Republicans. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) introduced a companion bill in the House (H.R. 2844) which Boehner bottled up in 3 hostile committees. Co-sponsors range from the most progressive House Democrats like Alan Grayson (D-FL), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Judy Chu (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA) to some of the most conservative, like Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN), David Scott (Blue Dog-GA), Filemon Vela (New Dem-TX) and Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA). Again, no Republicans. We reached Ted Lieu yesterday who was adamant that pension obligations must be protected. "Pensions are not only promises," he explained, "they are contracts. Government should not renegade on its promises, and cannot renege on contracts. Same with corporations. The Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution protects contracts and we need to fully fund our pension obligations."

If you'd like to help Ted and some of the other progressives holding the Republicans' feet to the fire on pension obligations, you'll find incumbents worthy of reelection by tapping the thermometer:
Goal Thermometer

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

One Full Century After Sykes-Picot And The Middle East Is In Worse Shape Than Ever


In the Arab world Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot are major historical villains at the heart, most say, of all that troubles the Middle East today. Most Americans would be hard pressed to tell you who either of them is or why their names are historically significant-- and that probably includes Donald Trump, candidate for president of a party that once took foreign policy and national security seriously. It's the 100th anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement and Lebanese Al Arabiya journalist, Hisham Melhem explained it in language even Trump-- if not his followers-- could understand, although not in terms that simplistic interpretations of history tend to embrace.

Short version: the secret agreement between Britain and France during World War I plotted dividing up the crumbling Ottoman Empire was negotiated between 1915 and 1916 and shared with the Tsar's government. When the Communists took over Russia in late 1917, they published it, much to the embarrassment of the imperialists. Ironically, the original agreement awarded Istanbul and the Bosphorus to Russia. It was seen at the time-- and still is-- as the ultimate betrayal of the Arab people by the West, with France gobbling up what is now Syria, Lebanon and part of Iraq and Britain grabbing Palestine, Jordan. Kuwait, most of Iraq and northeastSaudi Arabia, drawing arbitrary boundaries to suit their own needs. To this day, ISIS lists reversing the Agreement as one of its top policy goals. "For my generation of Arabs," wrote Melhem, "the 'Asia Minor Agreement', better known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement, came to symbolize imperial betrayal and treachery... In the collective mind of the peoples living in what used to be called Asia Minor and the Fertile Crescent, Sykes and Picot became names that shall live in infamy, for they imposed an imperial construct by etching arbitrary lines and coloring zones of influence on a map, and establishing artificial entities over these regions that have been inhabited by a rich mosaic of peoples, ethnicities, cultures, and religions over millennia of successive civilizations."
The Sykes-Picot scheme, like the subsequent agreements, deals, declarations, conferences born out of the crucible of the First World War to create a new order in the land then known as the Near East, were predicated on denying the agency of the human beings who called these regions home. In the decades following the agreement, “Sykes-Picot” became a convenient excuse, and an attractive shorthand used by successive Arab autocrats, despots and ruling elites to justify their disastrous failures at providing good governance, and to explain all the political and economic ills of the region for a full century. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault is not in the borders, arbitrary as they may have been, but in what the Arabs have done and not done within the borders.

Huge amount of ink has been shed on the centennial of the map that was born out of the ashes of the First World War and seems to be unraveling now in a crescendo of similar violent upheavals, calamities and disastrous dislocations. But does “Sykes-Picot” deserve this pride of place in the hierarchy of modern Middle Eastern disasters? To begin with, the Sykes-Picot borders and zones of influence have very little in common with the current borders in the Middle East.

But what makes the Sykes-Picot scheme to slice the carcass of the Ottoman Empire stand out is the fact that it was the first of subsequent attempts by Western powers in the decade that followed the war to divide the region. The British issued deceptive and contradictory promises and declarations (the McMahon–Hussein Correspondence and the Balfour Declaration) for the Arabs and the Zionist movement, and in a series of post-war conferences held in locals with strange names for the peoples of the region; The Versailles Peace Conference, The Treaty of Sèvres, the San Remo Conference and the Treaty of Lausanne, most of the current borders of the Middle East were finalized. Again with no regard whatsoever, to the wishes of the peoples whose futures were being shaped by imperial writ.

But the imposition of these maps did not go unchallenged and in fact inspired Arab and Turkish nationalisms. The Turks under the capable leadership of a former Ottoman officer, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) undermined both the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Treaty of Sèvres which sought to dismember Anatolia. However, the Arabs led by Faisal Bin Hussein who established the independent Arab Kingdom in March1920 encompassing modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and parts of Turkey, could not defend their new brittle realm against the onslaught of France’s Army of the Levant at the battle of Maysalun near Damascus four months later. The French sought to weaken the nationalist impulses in Syria, by the creation of sectarian statelets for the Alawites on the Mediterranean coast, and for the Druze in the South as well as around the historic cities of Damascus and Aleppo. But these cynical plans for divide and rule were resisted by most Syrians.

During the last century the legacy of the “artificial” borders spawned by Sikes-Picot was repeatedly assaulted politically and in some places were changed by military force, as was the case following the Arab-Israeli wars, and recently with the rise of the self-declared Islamic State (ISIS) which following its control of large swaths of land in both Iraq and Syrian, bulldozed the earthen berms marking the border and declaring “the end of Sykes-Picot.” But decades of grievances against Sykes-Picot elevated it into a mythical status in the minds of many Arabs, a malignant milestone in their modern history, a scapegoat explaining the perennial question asked by generations of Arabs in the last hundred years: what went wrong?

True, the current borders of the Middle East are “artificial,” but most borders in the world are artificial, they are drawn by agreement or as a result of conflicts and don’t necessarily follow natural boundaries like river basins or mountain ranges; and most midsize and large states are heterogeneous with diverse ethnicities, religions and languages. And while the borders of the modern Middle East were arbitrarily drawn, they were not totally without basis, and in fact some borders were somewhat based on the Ottoman vilāyet (from the Arabic Wilaya) administrative system.

Arab and Syrian Nationalists in Syria and Iraq would always complain that they were living in truncated states; but if mandated Syria had included Northeastern Lebanon, Northern Palestine and Alexandretta (in present day Turkey), areas Syrian Nationalists craved because they were at times ruled by Damascus, does that mean that Syria would have developed a just, modern, viable and better representative polity? If the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq had included the old Trans-Jordan and Kuwait, would it follow that Iraq would have followed a radically different political trajectory? We cannot say for sure. But it is very likely, that a larger Iraq and a larger Syria would have ended up where their truncated versions are today. If the Arab Kingdom was not dismantled by the French, in one fell swoop, chances are that it would have gradually unraveled by Turkish Nationalist opposition, and its rejection by the non-Muslim and non-Arab communities within its “artificial“ borders. Creating countries with diverse communities, particularly in the aftermath of upheavals and wars, is always arbitrary, violent and messy, particularly if the new entities are led by oppressive or non-representative regimes and if the basic political and cultural rights of the various communities are not recognized. This is the modern tale of Syria and Iraq. The Ottoman Empire ruled the region for four centuries, before the return of the European armies to the Middle East for the first time since the Medieval Mamluk dynasty that ruled Egypt and Syria drove the Crusaders from their last coastal outpost in Acre, in 1291, thus ending their long occupation of parts of Anatolia, Syria and Palestine.

The defeated Ottoman Empire left behind a devastated Levant and Mesopotamia as a result of war, and famine where whole communities were uprooted and turned into refugees, while others were subjected to mass killings. During the Ottoman centuries the region was controlled by the Sublime Porte in Istanbul through the vilāyet system centered on the historic cities of Damascus, Mosul, Baghdad, and others. Local communities were left to their own devices as long as they paid taxes and did not undermine order. Some communities like the Druse and Maronites of Mount Lebanon enjoyed considerable local autonomy and sometimes decades would pass without these communities encounter a single Ottoman soldier. The various peoples of the region; Arabs, Kurds, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others did mostly co-exist, although there were occasional spasms of religious and ethnic violence and mass killings particularly during the long decline of the Empire in the 19th century. Local leaders representing powerful, domineering feudal families working on behalf of the Sublime Porte, maintained order with an iron fist, and they showed no mercy when confronting social and political protests.

The demise of Ottoman rule exposed a region bereft of political traditions, modern governing institutions and skilled and experienced political elites capable of immediately taking charge of large and diverse societies still reeling from the horrific ravages of a world war. Although the war ravaged and partitioned Anatolia, the emerging Turkish Republic was able to drive the foreign armies from its territories and establish a modern nation-state in part because it was able to rebuild its state institutions and economy and fostered a strong sense of nationhood and quickly established a strong centralized authority. Most of these attributes were lacking in the fragmented lands of the Levant and Mesopotamia. One cannot but ask an intriguing question in this context. What would have happened, if the British/French mandate system was not imposed on the region following the end of the Ottoman centuries? Would it be a stretch to answer: chaos and violence? We will never know for sure, but given the history of the region, the lack of viable institutions, its breathtaking diversity and its tragic conditions after the war, chaos and violence were likely to ensue in the absence of a dominant power exercising control.

In the last five years, with Syria and Iraq unraveling and spewing epic catastrophes, and Sunni-Shia sectarian bloodletting is covering an arc stretching from Beirut on the Mediterranean to Basra at the mouth of the Gulf (not to mention Yemen), predicting the demise of Sykes-Picot has become the default position of many analysts of the region. And one could easily see why. There are powerful forces on the ground trying to demolish the old borders or establish new ones by fire and iron. In the past Arab and Syrian Nationalists considered the imposed borders as the original sin committed by the Europeans against the Arabs, and in the process called into question the legitimacy of the new fragile nation- states that were trying to forge distinct national identities. But now disparate forces, some with legitimate grievances like the Kurds who constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without a state, and who were denied independence after WWI, and terrorist groups like ISIS, are chipping away at the old borders. One could say with considerable certainty that Iraqi Kurdistan has begun its long journey towards independence in 1991 and it is a question of time when the journey will reach statehood. Vice president Joseph Biden, who proposed a decade ago to divide Iraq into three autonomous regions: Kurdish, Shia and Sunnis, told American diplomats and military personnel in Baghdad recently and without a hint of irony, that the U.S. is trying to keep the peace in “places where, because of history, we’ve drawn artificial lines, creating artificial states made up of totally distinct ethnic, religious, cultural groups, and said: ‘have at it. Live together.’”

Scholars and historians will be writing and speculating about the causes of the current convulsions and the absence of good governance in many Arab lands, not only in the Levant and Iraq, but also in Libya, Yemen and beyond for years to come. What is clear is that borders in themselves, are not the causes of Arab dysfunction, or the reasons why Arab civil societies were stunted and never allowed to develop into vibrancy, even in those countries that had nascent civil societies, a modicum of state institutions and relatively modern educational systems, such as Egypt, Iraq, Syria during the period between the two World Wars. In fact there was in these countries from the 1920’s until the late 1940’s and early 1950’s before the onslaught of the Arab militaries against state and society, a semblance of political life, the beginning of admittedly wobbly parliamentary traditions, vibrant cultural debates, considerable artistic creation, a growing space for free expression with noticeable participation of women and minorities in all of these spheres.

But these fragile societies were not allowed to strengthen their state institutions, allow political parties to fully function as legitimate political forces, and the Judiciary was never allowed by the ruling elites to become truly independent.

Then winter descended on the Arabs in the form of military coups masquerading as revolutions claiming to redress the loss of Palestine, to undo the vestiges of colonialism and imperialism, to revive the glory days of the Arabs of medieval times, to build powerful militarized states, and strong economies. These Arab praetorian forces failed in all endeavors. The leaders of these societies where transformed from autocrats, some of them benign, who would not countenance widespread terror or mass killings, into ruthless and vengeful tyrants more than willing to engage in wanton and gratuitous terror against their own peoples and commit crimes against humanity as we have seen in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

These are the men who waged war on the minorities, some of them with deep roots in the region that predate Arabs and Muslims. In recent decades and long before the season of Arab uprisings, we have witnessed the diminishing of what was left of public spaces, the suffocation of what was left of the basic civil rights of the peoples and even the withering of culture. Those who argue that a different set of borders would have given us different outcomes and good governance should tell us how.

One century after Sykes-Picot we are facing a long nightmare: maintaining the old borders, without a radical rearrangement of the political and social contract in these societies and sawing the seeds of good governance, means perpetual conflict. The paradox is if political solutions are predicated on the reconfigurations of the current borders of Iraq and Syria (the same goes for Libya and Yemen), such change could conceivably spark ethnic and sectarian cleansings, claims and counterclaims and new cycles of violence. The breakup of Sudan is very close to home. Breaking up countries with diverse groups is as messy, violent and uncertain as creating them.
Of course, it could get worse... even much worse.

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The NRA And The Blue Dogs... It's Complicated


Last December I wrote that Ben Ray Luján, Pelosi's pick to head the DCCC-- the guy who would be in charge of recruiting, training and electing House Democrats-- was still one of the conservative Democrats on the payroll of the gun lobbyists. As recently as 2005 there were dozens of House Democrats who routinely sided with the NRA and who solicited NRA contributions, mostly Blue Dogs and New Dems. Almost all of them have, since then, been defeated either in primaries-- gun nut Tim Holden (Blue Dog-PA) is a good example-- or in general elections where Democratic voters just refused in come out and vote for them. Not many Democrats were still taking blood money from the NRA and other gun-nut oganizations in the last cycle. These are still current House members who were still voting with the NRA and still taking money from them and the other gun groups:
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- $84,500
Gene Green (TX)- $46,750
Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)- $47,815
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)- $25,450
Tim Ryan (OH)- $20,996
Ron Kind (New Dem Chairman-WI)- $32,482
Mike Thompson (Blue Dog-CA)- $50,379
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)- $2,900
Tim Walz (MN)- $18,950
Jim Clyburn (SC)- $9,900
Ben Ray Luján (NM, Chairman DCCC)- $5,500
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog Chairman-OR)- $5,000
Loretta Sanchez (Blue Dog-CA)- $1,500
Dan Friedman, writing for The Trace asserts in a provocatively titled piece, Meet the Last NRA Democrat, that this cycle there's just one NRA Democrat left, very right-wing Texas Blue Dog, Henry Cuellar. So far this cycle, gun rights groups have given $1,441,329 to Republican congressional candidates and just $32,951 to Democrats. Their biggest contributions went to Speaker Paul Ryan ($29,285) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy ($26,100), but with most of their Democratic allies defeated, the only House Democrats who have received any money from any of the gun groups so far in the cycle are:
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)- $2,000
Gene Green (TX)- $2,000
Ron Kind (New Dem-WI)- $2,000
Ben Ray Lujan (NM)- $2,000
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- $2,000
Tim Walz (MN- $2,000)

Senators Joe Donnelly (Blue Dog-IN), Martin Heinrich (NM), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) have each taken $2,000 and Joe Manchin (WV) took $1,000.

That $2,000 to Cuellar, who used to brag he was George W. Bush's favorite Democrat, included the $1,000 that the NRA has given to any Democrat in 2016.
In his 11 years in Congress, Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, Texas, has made a habit of vexing his political party. Cuellar, one of eight children born to migrant worker parents, endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, voted against abortion funding, and called for sped-up deportation of undocumented children who cross the Mexican border.

  This year, Cuellar achieved another unusual distinction: He is, at least for now, the lone Democratic congressional candidate, incumbent or otherwise, who has received a campaign donation this election cycle from the National Rifle Association, according to data tracked by the Center for Responsive Politics. (This calculation reflects reporting through March 31.) Cuellar did not respond to a request for comment.

It is not too late for the NRA to back other candidates in the 2016 elections, of course, [and there is no doubt that they will pony up for gun-nut Collin Peterson again] but an analysis of the recent history of the gun group’s election spending suggests that the NRA will donate few, if any, other Democrats.

The NRA has leaned Republican since at least the early 1990s, but as recently as halfway through the first term of President Barack Obama, it still supported many Democrats standing for election to Congress, especially in the South and West.

For the 2010 campaign cycle, the gun group gave more than $350,000 in direct contributions to 65 Democratic House candidates. By 2014, almost all that support had disappeared: The gun group donated just $38,000 to only 12 Democratic campaigns.

Representative Filemon Vela, another Democratic Texan, received his only NRA donation in 2012, $1,000, during his first congressional campaign. In an interview, he said that he didn’t recall the contribution. NRA lobbyists visited him after his election, but, he says, “I never heard from them again.”

NRA giving to Senate Democrats has also disappeared. The last such candidate to receive an NRA donation was West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin in 2012, who received $6,500 from the group. That contribution was made before the Sandy Hook massacre, and before Manchin, along with Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey, introduced legislation to close the so-called background check loophole. (The bill failed in the Senate amid fierce NRA opposition.)

...Of the 30 Democrats who received direct support from the NRA in 2012, a dozen still hold their House seats. They include Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

The plummet in the NRA support for Democrats highlights the group’s increasingly partisan posture, which is at odds with its past attempts to avoid party allegiances. It also highlights bigger political shifts.

Both major political parties have moved into more clearly defined ideological and regional groupings. In the 2010 election, 30 conservative Democrats, many of them members Blue Dog Coalition who tended to oppose gun regulation, lost to Republicans as the Tea Party won congressional seats for the first time.

The result has left fewer Democrats representing voters who put a premium on gun rights, and fewer Republicans whose constituents focus on issues such as abortion rights.

“Most organizations that have an ideological bent have become partisan organizations as the parties have become more homogenous,” David Wasserman, who covers House races for the Cook Political Report, tells The Trace. “It’s not exclusive to the NRA. We see it with Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign. They have become Democratic organizations almost exclusively.”

Manchin says he thinks the gun lobby has erred by not trying to work with him on background check legislation. “You would think the NRA would be reaching out to people like me that really believe staunchly in defending the Second Amendment, but also in trying to find a balance with just some common sense,” he says.

Manchin says the NRA no longer resembles the group he “grew up in … that taught gun safety and responsibility.”

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The Case For Electability-- Or Do You Just Not Care That Much If Trump Becomes President?


Endorsements from Trey Gowdy and Nikki Haley didn't save Marco Rubio in the GOP's crucial South Carolina primary. Trump won the multi-candidate contest comfortably and beat Rubio by ten points. He won all 50 delegates to the Republican Party convention. In fact, in Greenville and Spartanburg counties-- Gowdy's district-- Rubio came in a miserable third. Friday, on Meet The Press Daily, Gowdy, the failed Benghazi Committee extremist, petulantly endorsed Trump. "I was a Rubio guy and Marco lost, but I will enthusiastically support the Republican nominee." That's because Gowdy puts his crackpot party before his country. Gowdy didn't go as far as the unemployed/unemployable Rick Perry-- who once diagnosed Trump as "a cancer on conservatism"-- and is now openly sucking around to be Trump's running mate. Why would anyone want to be the Chief Mate on the Titanic?

Well, it isn't so clear that Trump is going down as some anti-Trumpists predict. In fact, polling shows him generally in a decent position to win in November if the Democrats are stupid enough to nominate a candidate disliked and distrusted by so much of the electorate. Trump is gaining on Hillary. The Washington Post/ABC News poll released this morning reports that "Never in the history of the Post-ABC poll have the two major party nominees been viewed as harshly as Clinton and Trump. Nearly 6 in 10 registered voters say they have negative impressions of both major candidates. Overall, Clinton’s net negative rating among registered voters is minus-16, while Trump’s is minus-17, though Trump’s numbers have improved since March." Overall, Trump is beating her 46-44%. This morning Bernie told George Stephanopoulos that "We need a campaign, an election, coming up which does not have two candidates who are really very, very strongly disliked. I don't want to see the American people voting for the lesser of two evil. I want the American people to be voting for a vision of economic justice, of social justice, of environmental justice, of racial justice." Hillary-campers claim that once the primary is over and the Bernie backers coalesce around the nominee, everything will be fine. I wonder what they're smoking? Bernie's movement isn't a beauty contest about who has a better personality. The issues he raised during the campaign preclude large segments of his coalition from voting for Hillary or Trump. I'm sure many will get hoodwinked into voting for Hillary as "the lesser of two evils," but I suspect many will stay home and many will vote for Jill Stein. I ran this unscientific little twitter poll Friday and Saturday:

Those same Hillary-campers who insist-- don't worry-- everything is going to be fine when Bernie gets out of the primary, don't seem to comprehend the degree of disdain his supporters have for everything Hillary stands for. Sorry, it's not Obama vs Clinton 2008 again. This one's about values.

Saturday, Bernie's campaign released a polling memo from Tulchin Research, one I'm sure Bernie hopes the super-delegates will consider seriously before they nominate a candidate who is so weak that she can be beaten by Trump.

Democrats seeking a presidential nominee to lead their party to victory in November should take notice of the overwhelming preponderance of data demonstrating that Bernie Sanders is the strongest Democratic candidate to defeat Donald Trump. For months, public polling has found Sanders running consistently better than Hillary Clinton against Trump both nationally and in key swing states across the country and that trend remains very much in tact today.

The most recent Real Clear Politics (RCP) polling averages over the past month find Sanders leading Trump by a 11.2 percentage point margin (50.6%-39.4%)-- more than three times the size of Clinton’s 3.3-point average lead (45.8%-42.5%). Here we present some of the most recent national polls which all find Sanders running stronger than Clinton against Trump.

That Sanders runs better than Clinton against Trump is largely due to Sanders’s superior standing with independents as well as his strong base of support among younger voters, who back him in greater numbers against Trump than they do Clinton.

Also driving Sanders’s stronger showing against Trump is that he is by far the most popular candidate for president remaining in the race. According to the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll, Sanders is viewed favorably by voters with 41% favorable to 33% unfavorable for an 8-point margin. This positive profile stands in stark contrast to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who are both deeply unpopular. Clinton’s favorables are 31% to 52% unfavorable (-21) while Trump is slightly more unpopular (26% favorable to 55% unfavorable, -29).

Additionally, Sanders runs markedly better than Clinton against Trump in many key battleground states. In fact, Sanders leads Trump by wider margins than Clinton in all of the public polling that has been conducted in swing states over the past few months.

Krugman's cute Sanders dead-enders phraseology couldn't have been more effective to guarantee there would be inadequate post-convention unity than if Trump invented the term himself. But as everyone knows now, poor ole Paul has deluded himself into believing that Obama has ended inequality and Wall Street excess with (ever so slightly) higher tax rates, (an inadequate, compromised) Dodd-Frank Act and the (fraction of a loaf) Affordable Care Act. He should get out more and, you know... meet real people. Like Krystal Ball who, although she once worked for MSNBC, apparently is listening and hearing and understands that hand-wringing over party unity misses the point; no one cares about your precious parties.
As Hillary Clinton joylessly stumbles her way to the Democratic nomination, calls have increased for Bernie Sanders to either drop out of the race altogether or, at least, to stop fighting so darn hard. We’re told that Bernie should drop out for the good of the party. Bernie should drop out so that Hillary can make her general election “pivot” (which presumably means she can be free of the burden of pretending to be a liberal). Bernie should drop out so that Hillary can focus on Trump. According to this logic, Bernie and his band of loyalists need to get pragmatic, face the music, have a reality check. Hogwash. Doesn’t anyone see what I see? Bernie Sanders is our best chance to beat Donald Trump and to prove to the young voters backing him that the Democratic party actually stands for something.

Hillary dead-enders-- from Biden, Reid, Feinstein and Debbie Wasserman Schultz down the food chain to the corporate media shills at MSNBC-- want you to believe it's all over. It isn't. It never will be. Because of us.
Goal Thermometer

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