Friday, February 24, 2017

What does Joan Didion's 1970 Gulf Coast road trip have to do with Tuesday's episode of "The Real O'Neals"?

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On the day of KENNY's sister SHANNON's confirmation, boyfriend BRETT (Sean Grandillo) approaches KENNY (Noah Galvin) in the hallway of St. Barklay Church, carrying a small gift-wrapped box. (Watch the clip here.)
BRETT: Hey!
KENNY: Hey! [They kiss.]

BRETT: I brought a gift. Is that weird?
KENNY [smiling awkwardly]: No, great wrapping job! [Pause, turns serious] Uh, look, I have to talk to you.
BRETT: Okay.
KENNY: Yesterday, you said, 'I love you.' Which, which was so incredible to hear. And then I said it back. Which wasn't [hesitates] entirely true.
BRETT: Okay.
KENNY: Because, while I feel so many amazing things for you, love just isn't one of them, yet.
BRETT: I knew you were freaking out. I --
KENNY: No, that's -- You're my first boyfriend, and I don't know how I'm supposed to be feeling, or how fast I'm supposed to be feeling it. I, I don't want to screw this up. Can you forgive me?
BRETT: Yeah. Sure. [Pause] Then maybe we should hit the pause button.
KENNY: What? No, Brett that is not --
BRETT [handing gift to KENNY]: Tell Shannon I said congratulations. [Turns around and walks quickly off.]
-- from "The Real Confirmation," Episode 13
of Season 2 of ABC's The Real O'Neals

"Do you ever miss those times when we used to hide all our secrets and swallow our feelings?"
-- Eileen O'Neal (Kenny's mom), in Tuesday's episode

by Ken

Funny how things connect. As I wrote Wednesday, the considerable pleasure I was taking in Tuesday night's episodes of The Middle and especially The Real O'Neals kind of slammed into the New York Review of Books review-essay by Nathaniel Rich, "Joan Didion in the Deep South" (in the March 9 issue; unfortunately only an abstract is available free to nonsubscribers), of a highly unusual new offering from one of the most important writers of our time.

I hadn't known anything about the new Didion book, South and West (scheduled for publication on March 7), which turns out to be different from anything she has published before. It is, if I've got this right, a direct look at her work process: the notes she partly wrote and partly assembled for two writing projects that never came to fruition.

The "South" part is the record of a month-long trip along the Gulf Coast that Didion took in summer 1970. By way of background, Nathaniel Rich notes:
Joan Didion explained her decision to visit the Gulf Coast in a 2006 interview in The Paris Review: “I had a theory that if I could understand the South, I would understand something about California, because a lot of the California settlers came from the Border South.”
Rich goes on to observe:
It is a counterintuitive theory, for the South and the West represent the poles of American experience—the South drowning in its past, the West looking ahead to distant frontiers in a spirit of earnest, eternal optimism. “The future always looks good in the golden land,” Didion wrote in “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” “because no one remembers the past.” In the South no one can forget it.
Understanding her native California has, of course, been a life-long preoccupation for Didion, and the notes that make up the "West" portion of the new book derive from a 1976 visit to San Francisco covering the Patty Hearst trial for Rolling Stone, when she "found that she wanted mainly to write about her own childhood and the West’s conception of history."


SO WHAT ARE THESE "NOTES" OF DIDION'S?

This requires a considerable effort of explanation, but the short answer, as Rich puts it, is that "South and West offers for the first time a glimpse inside the factory walls." Here's his more extended background:
Didion’s notes, which surpass in elegance and clarity the finished prose of most other writers, are a fascinating record of this time. But they are also something more unsettling. Readers today will recognize, with some dismay and even horror, how much is familiar in these long-lost American portraits. Didion saw her era more clearly than anyone else, which is another way of saying that she was able to see the future.

South and West is, in one regard, the most revealing of Didion’s books. This might seem a far-fetched claim to make about an author who has written about her ancestry, her marriage, her health, and, with painful candor, her grief -- Didion’s readers are, after all, on familiar terms with the personal details of her life. But the writing itself -- the cool majesty of her prose, written as if from a great, even empyreal distance, elevating personal experience into universal revelation -- has an immaculacy as intimidating as Chelsea porcelain. South and West offers for the first time a glimpse inside the factory walls.

For each piece she reported, Didion converted pages of loose-leaf notebooks into scrapbooks of material related to her theme. She inserted newspaper articles and other writers’ works, like C. Vann Woodward’s “The Search for Southern Identity,” biographical summaries, lists of suggested themes, and overheard dialogue, which often seems taken from one of her novels. (“I never been anyplace,” says a Biloxi woman, “I wanted to go.”) In her notes we learn of her “reporting tricks,” which are less tricks than an intuitive genius for locating the people in a given community who will best reveal its character: the director of the local College of Cosmetology, the white owner of the black radio station, the bridal consultant of the largest department store.

The notebooks also include transcriptions of her observations, which she typed at the end of each day. These notes represent an intermediate stage of writing, between shorthand and first draft, composed in an uncharacteristically casual, immediate style. There are sentences that are ideas for sentences, paragraphs that are ideas for scenes: “The land looks rich, and many people from Birmingham, etc. (rich people) maintain places here to hunt.” “The country way in which he gave me names.” “The resolutely ‘colorful,’ anecdotal quality of San Francisco history.” “The sense of sports being the opiate of the people.” “The sense of not being up to the landscape.” The effect can be jarring, like seeing Grace Kelly photographed with her hair in rollers or hearing the demo tapes in which Brian Wilson experiments with alternative arrangements of “Good Vibrations.”
"[E]ven in its most casual iteration," Rich notes, "Didion’s voice, with its sensitivity to the grotesqueries and vanities that dance beneath the skim of daily experience, is unmistakable." And he provides lots of description and example.


SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH THOSE ABC SITCOMS?

Well, with The Middle, not so much. In this case it's just that, for a show that I like so much, as I've written here a number of times, I'm surprised to find myself even fonder and more impressed in Season 8, with all three of the Heck children showing fascinating signs of perhaps surprising and yet (for me) totally believable and rather inspirational growing up -- and now even the senior Hecks, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Mike (Neil Flynn) having to roust themselves to catch up. The process has been so smartly and humanly as well as entertainingly executed that I've found myself wondering whether the suits at Disney-ABC have even noticed what's going out over their airwaves. Hey, it is Season 8, after all. The Middle has always, in its wry way, thumbed its nose at the psychotic bullshit of America's own Family-Values Fascists, but in this late flowering it's articulating a vision of how people actually develop which would have the FVFs boycotting ABC if they weren't so savagely obtuse.

Which brings us to The Real O'Neals. You know the network suits are paying close attention here, because the subject matter is potentially so explosive for a sitcom. It's another show built around a family with a mom and dad, Eileen and Pat O'Neal (Martha Plimpton and Jay R. Ferguson), and three offspring (Matthew Shively as Jimmy, Noah Galvin as Kenny, and Bebe Wood as Shannon), all beautifully delineated and with the various interrelationships carefully characterized. But what everyone knows about it is that in last season's pilot episode Kenny O'Neal, then 16, came out to himself and his family as gay.

That by itself would have been sufficient to cause an uproar, and the Christian Right exploded on cue. Not least because the situation wasn't presented as a psychiatric emergency but as a natural development -- and almost the least of the O'Neal family's problems. In fact, as we entered the O'Neals' lives, Eileen and Pat were coming to the realization that the one thing most sorely lacking in their marriage was a divorce (a deficiency that has since been rectified). Even more subversively, in the O'Neals we met a family that -- as rigidly enforced by Eileen -- was so hilariously devoted to maintaining the image of a model Irish-American Catholic family that the family was in danger of falling apart when the image turned out to be just that.

I imagine there was more apoplexy on the Crackpot Right when, after a 13-episode first season, The Real O'Neals was rewarded with a second season. Yet here it is, maybe not the most significant but another of those things that just a few years ago would have been utterly unimaginable. Or maybe the fact that it's now possible to do such a light-hearted sitcom about such once-barely-touchable subject matter is one of the more significant markers of how much the culture has evolved, in some ways almost unrecognizably so.


AND WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH JOAN DIDION?

We have to go back to Nathaniel Rich, and his careful depiction of the play of values Didion encountered in the Deep South of 1970.
There is a long tradition of northern visitors seeing in the Gulf South an atmosphere of perpetual decline, in which “everything seems to go to seed.” Didion quotes Audubon’s line about “the dangerous nature of the ground, its oozing, spongy, and miry disposition,” though you could go back to 1720, when a visiting French official described the territory as “flooded, unhealthy, impracticable.” Didion is on narrower footing, however, when she describes her central thesis:
a sense which struck me now and then, and which I could not explain coherently, that for some years the South and particularly the Gulf Coast had been for America what people were still saying California was, and what California seemed to me not to be: the future, the secret source of malevolent and benevolent energy, the psychic center.
How could the hidebound South, in its perpetual disintegration and defiant decadence, at the same time represent the future? Didion admits the idea seems oxymoronic, but she is onto something. Part of the answer, she suspects, lies in the bluntness with which Southerners confront race, class, and heritage -- “distinctions which the frontier ethic teaches western children to deny and to leave deliberately unmentioned.” In the South such distinctions are visible, rigid, and the subject of frank conversation.
After looking a bit at the nature of that "frank conversation," Rich writes:
This kind of thinking seemed retrograde in the Seventies. From the vantage of New York, California, even New Orleans, it still seems so today. But this southern frame of mind has annexed territory in the last four decades, expanding across the Mason-Dixon Line into the rest of rural America. It has taken root among people -- or at least registered voters -- nostalgic for a more orderly past.
Do you see where Rich is heading? What in fact Joan Didion was already foreseeing in 1970? It's going to take us one more post to get there. That should happen Sunday.
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Overreach Can Be A Two-Way Street

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Two things are likely to kill the House Republicans in the 2018 midterms: Trump and overreach by Ryan and his team. And the worst possible GOP overreach will be-- as you've probably been noticing of you've watched the news on the town halls around the country-- health care. If the far right fringe of the House Rep[ublicans-- and by far right fringe, we mean something between 65% to 80% at this point-- pushes the party to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a satisfactory replacement and tampers with Medicaid and Medicare in the directions Paul Ryan has been pushing for years, they will lose their majority no matter how lame and incompetent-- something everyone takes for granted-- the DCCC is this cycle.

It's already apparent in the grassroots resistance movement. And polling, even in deep red states like South Carolina and Texas looks bad for Trump. This new poll of GA-06 special election voters augers well for Jon Ossoff:



And The Economist/YouGov poll released yesterday is more catastrophric news for the Regime. People don't like the direction Trump and his team are moving the country:
- on the wrong track- 51%
it's everyone for themselves- 60%
US will be less respected internationally after 4 years of Trump- 42%
US will be less safe from terrorism after 4 years of Trump- 31%
uneasy about Trump's ability to handle Russia- 49%
Trump White House in chaos- 49%
Trump is dishonest & untrustworthy- 49%
Trump is unqualified to be president- 50%
Trump will get us into a war- 51%
The same poll also shows that a plurality of Americans are ready to blame the Republicans for whatever Congress does wrong. And the Trump regime's whole "Russia thing" ain't health care but it is something Americans are concerned about. Voters don't like or trust Putin and are concerned with Trump and Trump's team's coziness with him. Democrats have been attempting to get a non-partisan investigation of Trump's ties to Russia, including his business conflicts of interest. Ryan plans to have his Judiciary Committee stooge, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), kill that next week. I wonder what voters in Kenosha and Racine would think of that if they ever found out, which is very unlikely.
Seeking to avoid a full House vote on the so-called “resolution of inquiry”-- a roll call that would be particularly embarrassing and divisive for the right-- Republicans will send proposal by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to the House Judiciary Committee for a panel vote on Tuesday, two Democratic sources said. The GOP-controlled committee is expected to kill the resolution... [T]he Tuesday vote will come just a few hours before Trump will give his first address to Congress. Indeed, Democrats are fuming that Republicans are trying to bury the panel vote by scheduling it on a busy news day.

Resolutions of inquiry are rare in Congress and privileged, meaning lawmakers can circumvent leadership and force action on the floor if they’re ignored for 14 legislative days.

The resolutions can force presidents and agencies to give Congress private records. Nadler’s, for example, demands that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hand over to the Hill “any document, record, memo, correspondence or other communication” pertaining to “criminal or counterintelligence investigations” related to Trump, White House staff or his business.

Democrats have blasted Trump for failing to make a clean break from his real estate empire, accusing him of being vulnerable to conflicts of interest. They also are suspicious of his campaign’s relationship with Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that top Russian officials orchestrated interference into the 2016 presidential election on Trump’s behalf.

The mark-up will likely prove awkward for Judiciary Committee Republicans who will have to block the resolution. Judiciary member and Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) just last week, for instance, faced sharp questions from constituents who accused him of steering the Oversight panel's agenda to protect Trump.

Though Chaffetz pointed to a letter he wrote around that time, calling out Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway for pitching Ivanka Trump’s fashion line during a televised interview at the White House, there’s little doubt Democrats would use the Judiciary vote against him.

Richard Eskow had some very, very cautious advice for progressives dealing with Putin-Gate and the Trump-Russia ties. Acknowledging that Putin and Trump are oligarchs who favor kleptocracy as a form of government and that both Trump and Tillerson have done business in Russia, he sets forth 11 principles about how to talk about the ugliness effectively. Some of it is incontrovertible-- "Whatever you call it, recognize that the 'deep state' is not your friend-- and some of it, alas, is less so. Here's a summary:
1. Don’t get ahead of the facts.

I don’t know yet whether Russia’s government interfered in the U.S. presidential election or not. Neither do you.

2. Don’t Putin-bait.

3. Don’t spread inaccurate or poorly sourced news.

A Clinton campaign official incorrectly said that some of the WikiLeaks emails were forged. That claim was repeated by Reid and several other prominent figures. Another inaccurate story in the Washington Post claimed that Russians had hacked into the U.S. power grid through a Vermont utility’s computer system. (The Post later retracted the report.) And a post-election poll showed that 50 percent of Hillary Clinton voters wrongly believed that Russians had hacked American voting machines.

MTV News correspondent Jamil Smith tweeted that one of Trump’s compliments for Vladimir Putin was “borderline treasonous.” But Article 3, Section 3 of the Constitution defines treason quite clearly. It requires a state of war. Was Trump’s comment disturbing? Yes. Treasonous? No.

Do Democrats really want to start charging their political opponents with treason?

4. Don’t believe everything you’re told.

There are a number of unanswered questions, challenges and technical flaws regarding reports that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee.

5. Be wary of labels slapped on media outlets.

That wouldn’t matter if the report itself was solid, but it isn’t. It’s a surprisingly slipshod piece of work that devolves in places into a thinly disguised attack on the American left, using Russia’s RT network as a springboard for condemning coverage of the Occupy movement, fracking, and “Wall Street greed.”

Those claims are undercut by the fact that RT has been heavily critical of the Republican Party for years. Its most visible political commentators are personalities like Ed Schultz and Thom Hartmann who have worked for progressive media outlets.

6. Don’t be hyperpartisan-- or hypocritical-- regarding national security.

Recently, Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after a series of well-timed leaks showed that he had apparently concealed a conversation with the Russian Ambassador from Vice President Mike Pence.

Flynn was a horrible person, and his bigotry toward Islam would have made us less safe. But unanswered questions remain: Did Flynn break the law? If so, shouldn’t he be prosecuted? Have the leakers held back any information that might have helped him? Why, as Bloomberg national security columnist Eli Lake notes, were so many national security precedents broken in Flynn’s case? You can’t celebrate the leaks that brought Flynn down without also supporting Edward Snowden, who also performed an important public service.

7. Whatever you call it, recognize that the “deep state” is not your friend.

8. Don’t trade long-term harm for short-term political gain.

That’s why it’s shortsighted for Democratic commentators to make comments like this one, from Talking Points Memo founder and blogger Josh Marshall: “Let’s hope there’s a deep state, and if there is that they have their shit together.”

9. Remember, you could be next.

The current leak campaign against Trump offers a glimpse into the playbook that might be used against a future progressive president, if she or he dares to move against the military-industrial complex.

Recent Democratic presidents, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, supported many of the national security state’s ambitious military and budgetary ventures. But a new wave of progressives lacks that enthusiasm.

10. Keep in mind that we need to work with Russia.

Nobody benefits from escalating tensions with Russia (except the aforementioned financial interests). Russia continues to wield considerable influence in the Middle East, and it still commands the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons outside the United States. We will need to keep talking to Russia, come what may.

We can condemn Putin’s tactics and still understand that we need to negotiate with him.

11. Fight oligarchy, not each other.

These Russia claims may turn out to be true or they may turn on the ones who are peddling them. It’s like the saying goes: sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.

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Can Democrats Take Back The Sunbelt-- Starting In Texas?

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A few days ago we looked at why South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford has the political leeway to publicly denigrate Trump. For one thing, his coastal district is npt Trump territory. Rubio beat Trump in the primary there and Hillary won the largest county in the district (Charleston). Yesterday a poll of South Carolina voters showed that Trump's unpopularity nationally in mirrored in South Carolina. "Despite winning South Carolina by a double-digit margin in November's election, President Donald Trump is receiving the same lukewarm approval marks in the Palmetto State as the remainder of the country... A new Winthrop University poll released Thursday found that South Carolinians give Trump a 44 percent approval rating, nearly identical to his latest average of national polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.




One of the most widely discussed thought pieces in political circles this week has been Andrew Cockburn's controversial piece in Harper's, Texas Is The Future-- Can Democrats Reconquer The Lone Star State?. Remember, statewide the Texas Democratic Party has been all but moribund for decades. The last Democratic governor was elected in 1990. And Lloyd Bentsen, he last Democratic senator, was first elected in 1970 (and reelected in through the 80's).

Yesterday a higher up at the DCCC asked me if I thought a Democrat could win Ted Poe's seat (TX-02) in 2018. It's a very white, very gerrymandered suburban district north of Houston, although it includes Rice University and Montrose, the center of Houston's LGBT community. Overall, though, the district is probably the reddest part of Harris County. Harris County went narrowly for Obama in 2012, but TX-02 was landslide territory for Romney. He took the district 62.9% to 35.6%. In November, Hillary's margin over Trump countywide was not narrow. She wiped him out in Texas' biggest county-- 707,914 to 545,955. TX-02, though, isn't quite there yet. True, Trump's number's cratered in comparison to Romney's (Romney's 62.9% turned into a 52.4% win for Trump), but he still beat Hillary in the district by nearly 9 points. So, 2018 is unlikely to be the end of Poe. What I suggested is a clear 2-cycle strategy to build a candidate this cycle and take out Poe in 2020. That kind of thinking has been anathema to the DCCC since Rahm was chairman. I doubt if Ben Ray Lujan has the vision to see it through.

Meanwhile, though, there were 3 Republican-held congressional districts where Hillary did win in November-- TX-07 (John Culberson's Harry County seat), TX-23 (Will Hurd's heavily Hispanic south Texas district where the DCCC blew an easy win by nominating a wretched corrupt conservative), TX-32 (Pete Sessions' uber-gerrymandered district from Highland Park and University Park in north Dallas, up through Richardson and Garland. And there are 5 other districts trending towards the Democrats: TX-24 (Kenny Marchant's in the suburbs north of Dallas/Ft. Worth), TX-22 (Pete Olson's Sugar Land and Pearland district south of Houston), TX-21 (Lamar Smith's Austin/San Antonio corridor district), TX-10 (Mike McCaul's Austin/Houston corridor district) and TX-03 (Sam Johnson's district in the suburbs north of Dallas up through Plano and McKinney). Trump won Texas. A new poll out this week, shows him struggling with voters statewide:



Cockburn kicked off his article on election night in the Heights neighborhood of Houston. "Unlike the rest of the country," he wrote, "Houston Democrats had a full-scale Republican rout to celebrate. The party had swept the polls in Harris County, the vast region encompassing Houston, arguably the nation’s most diverse city (as locals never tire of repeating). With 4.5 million inhabitants, the county is more populous than half the states in America. Now Harris voters had elected a Democratic district attorney-- a very powerful post in Texas law enforcement-- for the first time in thirty-six years. The Democrats had also captured almost every other slot on the ballot, including the tax assessor’s office, which oversees voter registration: a crucial win in an age of Republican voter suppression... Clinton trounced Donald Trump by more than 160,000 votes in a county that Barack Obama had carried by fewer than a thousand in 2012. While others in the defeated party were subsiding into melancholy, hand-wringing, and consolatory tales of Russian hackers, the county’s newly elected sheriff, former Houston police sergeant Ed Gonzalez, was assuring supporters that he would defy any orders to round up undocumented immigrants. Across the street, the new D.A., Kim Ogg, promised her exuberant audience a progressive agenda: 'We’re going to have a system that doesn’t oppress the poor.' Voter endorsement of such progressive positions, well to the left of anything Clinton promoted during her message-lite campaign, was all the more dramatic in this reddest of red states."
Once upon a time, of course, Texas was a one-party Democratic state. It produced and consistently reelected such political giants as Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn, not to mention Wright Patman, the twenty-four-term populist congressman who once enquired of Federal Reserve chairman Arthur Burns at a hearing: “Can you give me any reason why you should not be in the penitentiary?” But those days are long gone, along with the rural and working-class white Democrats who could be relied on to pull the lever for the ruling party. The last governor the Democrats managed to elect, in 1990, was Ann Richards, given to such feisty pronouncements as her reference to the elder George Bush being born “with a silver foot in his mouth.” Richards eked out a slim victory among a coalition that included white suburban voters-- but lost her reelection bid to the younger George Bush in 1994, ushering in an age of darkness for Texas Democrats.

That pall has spread across the country at an accelerating rate, as more and more statehouses and governors’ mansions fall under Republican occupation. Yet Texas, after leading the country in a slide to the right, might now be showing us the way out.

Amid the happy lawyers, journalists, and other movers and shakers at the victory parties, one group of seventy-five men and women, who had arrived on a chartered bus, stood out. Most of them were Latinos, like Petra Vargas, a Mexican-born hotel worker who had spent the day walking her fellow immigrants to the polls. Others were African Americans, such as Rosie McCutcheon, who had campaigned relentlessly for the ticket while raising six grandchildren on a tiny income. All of them wore turquoise T-shirts bearing the logo top. Not only had they made a key contribution to the day’s results-- they represented a new and entirely promising way of doing politics in Texas.

The Texas Organizing Project was launched in 2009 by a small group of veteran community organizers. Michelle Tremillo, a fourth-generation Tejana (a Texan of Mexican descent), grew up in public housing in San Antonio, where her single mother worked as a janitor. Making it to Stanford on a scholarship, she was quickly drawn into politics, beginning with a student walkout in protest of Proposition 187, California’s infamous anti-immigrant ballot measure. By the time she graduated, the elite university had changed her view of the world. “I always knew I was poor growing up, and I even understood that I was poorer than some of my peers that I went to school with,” Tremillo told me. What she eventually came to understand was the sheer accumulation of wealth in America and its leveling effect on the rest of the population: “We were all poor.”

Both Tremillo and her TOP cofounder Ginny Goldman, a Long Island native, had worked for ACORN, the progressive national community organization that enjoyed considerable success-- registering, for example, half a million minority voters in 2008-- before becoming a target of calculated assaults by right-wing operatives. By 2009, the group was foundering, and it was dissolved a year later.

In response, the activists came up with TOP. Goldman, who was its first executive director, told me that TOP was designed to focus on specific Texan needs and realities and thereby avoid the “national cookie-cutter approach.” The organization would work on three levels: doorstep canvassing, intense research on policy and strategy, and mobilizing voter turnout among people customarily neglected by the powers that be.

Despite Houston’s international cachet as the headquarters of the global oil industry, the Johnson Space Center, the Texas Medical Center (which employs more people than the entire United States coal industry), Rice University, and other dynamic manifestations of power and prosperity, many of its neighborhoods are more evocative of the Third World than the moon landings. Open ditches, often choked with garbage, line the streets of poor districts such as the Third Ward, Acres Homes, and Sunnyside. Thanks to Houston’s zealous rejection of zoning in any shape or form, industrial sites, including the huge Valero refinery in the Manchester district and the abandoned CES Environmental Services plant in South Union, a cemetery of toxic chemicals, sit just across backyard fences. It was in these neighborhoods that TOP found its constituency, and its first campaign.

...The problem has been especially acute in Texas, which produced the lowest overall turnout of any state in the 2010 midterm elections. Three million registered African-American and Latino voters stayed home that year, not to mention the 2 million who were unregistered. The result was a state government subservient to the demands and prejudices of Republican primary voters, and unrepresentative of the majority in a state where almost one in four children lived in poverty, 60 percent of public-school students qualified for free or subsidized lunches, and the overall poverty rate was growing faster than the national average. Following the crushing Republican victory in 2010, TOP launched an ambitious project to discover, as Zermeno put it, “who was not voting, and why.”

Digging deep into voter files and other databases, Zermeno confirmed that Texas contained a “wealth of non-voting people of color.” Most of them were registered, but seldom (if ever) turned up at the polls. The problem, she noted, was especially acute with Latinos, only 15 percent of whom were regular voters. In her detailed report, she calculated precisely how many extra voters needed to turn out to elect someone who would represent the interests of all Texans: a minimum of 1.1 million. Fortuitously, these reluctant voters were concentrated in just nine big urban counties, led by Harris.

Ever since the era of Ann Richards, Democrats had been focusing their efforts (without success) on winning back white swing voters outside the big cities. But Zermeno realized that there was no reason “to beat our heads against the wall for that group of people anymore, not when we’ve got a million-voter gap and as many as four million non-voting people of color in the big cities, who are likely Democrats.” By relentlessly appealing to that shadow electorate, and gradually turning them into habitual voters, TOP could whittle down and eliminate the Republican advantage in elections for statewide offices such as governor and lieutenant governor, not to mention the state’s thirty-eight votes in the presidential Electoral College. In other words, since the existing Texas electorate was never going to generate a satisfactory result, TOP was going to have to grow a new one.

There was, however, still another question to answer. Why were those 4 million people declining to vote? TOP embarked on a series of intensive focus groups, which were largely financed by Amber and Steve Mostyn, a pair of progressive Houston claims attorneys... Year after year, the Mostyns had loyally stumped up hefty donations to middle-of-the-road Democrats who doggedly pursued existing voters while ignoring the multitude who sat out elections all or most of the time. When TOP asked these reluctant voters about their abstention, the answer was almost always the same: “When I have voted for Democrats in the past, nothing has changed, so it’s not worth my time.” There was one telling exception: in San Antonio, voters said that the only Texas Democrat they trusted was Julián Castro, who ran for mayor in 2009 on a platform of bringing universal pre-K to the city, and delivered on his promise when he won.

“There’s this misunderstanding that people don’t care, that people are apathetic,” Goldman told me. “It’s so not true. People are mad and they want to do something about it. People want fighters that will deliver real change for them. That’s why year-round community organizing is so critical. People see that you can deliver real impact, and that you need the right candidates in office to do it, and connect it back to the importance of voting. It’s the ongoing cycle. We see winning the election as only the first step toward the real win, which is changing the policies that are going to make people’s lives better.”

Beginning with the 2012 election, TOP canvassers-- volunteers and paid employees working their own neighborhoods-- were trained to open a doorstep interview not with statements about a candidate but with a question: “What issue do you care about?” The answer, whether it was the minimum wage or schools or potholes, shaped the conversation as the canvasser explained that TOP had endorsed a particular candidate (after an intensive screening) because of his or her position on those very issues. These were not hit-and-run encounters. Potential voters were talked to “pretty much nonstop for about eight to ten weeks leading to the election,” according to Goldman. “They got their doors knocked three to five times. They got called five to seven times. They signed a postcard saying, ‘I pledge to vote.’ They circled which day they were going to vote on a little calendar on the postcard, and we mailed those postcards back to them. We offered them free rides to the polls. We answered all of their questions, gave them all the information they needed, until they cast a ballot. And what we saw was that the Latino vote grew by five percentage points in Harris County in 2012.”

Two years later, Texas Democrats nominated Wendy Davis, a state senator, as their candidate for governor following her filibuster against further restrictions on abortion rights. Her stand brought her national attention, a flood of campaign money, and the arrival of out-of-state Obama operatives who vowed to boost minority registration. Yet she lost by 20 percent to Greg Abbott and scored comparatively poorly with Latinos. Meanwhile, in the same election cycle, TOP and its allies blocked a bid by business interests to privatize the public-school system in Dallas. A year later, the organization helped to elect Sylvester Turner, a black Democrat, as mayor of Houston.

...Harris County is by no means the only arena in which TOP and its allies scored convincingly in 2016. East Dallas County, a band of suburbs to the east and south of Dallas, comprises House District 107 in the state legislature. Despite a Latino and African-American majority, Republicans have been carrying the district for years, albeit with narrow margins. This time, however, thanks to an intense registration and organizing drive by TOP and other groups, including labor unions, Victoria Neave, the Democratic candidate, ousted her Republican opponent by 836 votes.

“The interesting thing about that race,” Amber Mostyn told me, “is that the Republicans spent around a million dollars. There was no more than three hundred and fifty thousand dollars spent on our side, and no television-- the Republicans probably spent half a million dollars on TV. Our campaign was focused on getting folks to turn out, and we knew that a lot of them don’t have time to watch a bunch of TV. They’re working two jobs, they’re not engaged in the political process anyway, so if they see a commercial, it means nothing to them. But Victoria Neave was out talking to people, TOP was out talking to people, labor was out talking to people-- it’s the one-on-one engagement that makes the difference.”

It seems fair to say that the strategy deployed in this race (and in others discussed in this article) is the precise opposite of that adopted by Hillary Clinton’s team in 2016. Rather than asking voters what they actually cared about, the Clinton campaign and its associated super PACs spent $1.2 billion, much of it on TV commercials, and relied on Ada, a computer program, for key decisions, while remaining ignorant of what was happening in the real world. For example, around ten days before the election, members of the service-employees’ union in Iowa, where Clinton was clearly a lost cause, set off in a convoy of buses to campaign in Michigan, where the Democratic candidate’s lead appeared to be ebbing. According to Politico, Clinton headquarters in Brooklyn ordered the Iowans to turn around and go home. Their model still showed Clinton winning Michigan by five points. They therefore insisted that the S.E.I.U. foot soldiers would be better employed in Iowa, where they might delude Donald Trump into thinking that he was in trouble and thus force him to divert resources from elsewhere. Yet Michigan was indeed slipping away, a fact that Clinton apparatchiks could easily have discovered had they taken the slightest interest in communicating with anyone who could tell them the truth.

In contrast, TOP devoted energy and resources to ensure immediate feedback from the streets. Senior campaign managers took time to accompany canvassers on their rounds, with the aim of hearing for themselves whether their tactics needed to be tweaked or replaced. Meanwhile, all canvassers carried iPods and instantly entered the data they gleaned from their doorstep interviews. “We’d look at the numbers every evening,” explained Zermeno, “to see if there were any trends. Then, in the morning, when the canvassers all came in, we’d ask the questions. Did we change the rap? Are you guys hearing something? Then we could tweak the message on the spot.”

“Demographics are not destiny,” Craig Varoga remarked to me at the end of a long conversation. “But demographics with hard work and smart decisions are destiny.”

In a post-election memo, Zermeno discussed the various victories and near-victories scored around the state. “In the deep red South,” she wrote, “this election demonstrated what we’ve believed about Texas for many years: Texas is the future. . .  Sí se puede.” Yes we can.
Goal Thermometer Yes, Texas and the Sunbelt are part of the future of the Democratic Party. But giving up on blue collar workers in the Midwest is something only people as stupid and desperate as Pelosi's DCCC would seriously consider. Not to take anything away from Cockburn's analysis, I believe the very first post-Trump local election was for a west Davenport, Iowa state House district. Hillary won that district 52-41%. Monica Kurth, the progressive Democratic candidate who won it a month ago took it in a landslide-- 72% to 27%, an early warning to Iowa-- and national-- Republicans that anger and revulsion towards Trump and his neo-fascist regime, towards enablers like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and GOP-controlled legislatures, are going to spark electoral backlash that the Republicans are utterly unprepared for. I hope by next year the DCCC is. Meanwhile, Blue America has endorsed our first Texas congressional candidate for the 2018 cycle, Tom Wakely, who plans to complete what he started in 2016, replacing anti-science Trump surrogate Lamar Smith. Please consider giving him a hand by tapping on the thermometer on the right.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

New Jersey Town Halls

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Republican Christopher Smith was elected to Congress 37 years ago, in 1980, age 27. He had been a Democrat but switched parties in 2 years earlier and ran against crooked Democrat, Frank Thompson, who had been convicted of taking bribes in the Abscam scandal. The Democrats have coveted taking the district back ever since-- but have been highly unsuccessful in ever getting anywhere near doing so. His reelection bids have attracted over 60% since 1984. Last November, he beat Democrat Lorna Phillipson 206,137 (63.7%) to 108,373 (33.5%), rolling up large margins in all 3 counties that make up the districts-- Monmouth, Ocean and Mercer. He only spent $661,899 on his campaign.

Smith's last public town hall with his constituents was in 1992-- that's a quarter-century ago. When a friend of mine in Trenton Gardens decided to organize an impromptu town hall in front of Smith's house he had to call it off because Smith lives too far from the district-- in Herndon, Virginia. No, really, his family is so-much part of Virginia that Smith was able to request and receive in-state tuition privileges, saving the family $20,000 per year. In 2006 he spent a total of exactly 7 days in New Jersey. He spends more time traveling abroad than he does in New Jersey.

Fact is, the Democrats have lusted after all 3 Republican-held districts in South Jersey for some time. (They hold the 1st district in the Philly 'burbs, but with an extremely corrupt, right-of-center fake-Dem, Donald Norcross, most Democrats would rather not claim political kinship to. The 2nd district (PVI is D+1) is held by Frank LoBiondo, the 3rd (R+1) is held by Tom MacArthur. Neither of them are bothering with town hall constituent meetings either. Yesterday there was a Citizens Townhall for MacArthur at the DeMasi School in Marlton and one for Smith at the Monmouth County Library in Manalapan. Neither MacArthur nor Smith showed up. Saturday there's a demonstration planned for LoBiondo at his district office in relatively remote Mays Landing (population 2,135) at noon. Obama won LoBiondo's and MacArthur's districts both times he ran and lost Smith's district both times. The DCCC has been willing to recruit and finance candidates-- usually terrible ones-- against LoBiondo and MacArthur in the past... but that may not be as automatic in 2018. Trump won all 3 Republican-held South Jersey districts in November.
NJ-02- 50.6% to 46.0%, 5 points better than Romney had done
NJ-03- 51.4% to 45.2%, 4 points better than Romney
NJ-04- 55.8% to 41.0%, a point and a half better than Romney
The DCCC is looking north towards Leonard Lance's 7th district and perhaps even Rodney Frelinghuysen's 11th district instead, districts they never seriously consider. Hillary beat Trump in the 7th CD-- 48.6% to 47.5%-- and almost tied him in the 11th-- 48.8% to 47.9%. Frightened, Lance scheduled 2 town halls this week.

MacArthur’s staff is, repeating alt-fact GOP talking points that paid, out-of-district protesters are the only ones in Burlington and Ocean counties who have a problem with MacArthur carrying Trump’s water on such things as the racist travel ban. Not only is that ridiculous, it's also utterly offensive to the people he purports to represent. All three are cowering in Trump’s corner and steadfastly refusing to do their jobs and absolutely refuse to stand and listen to the fears and concerns of their constituents.

Leonard Lance's town last night at Raritan Valley Community College had the biggest turnout of any public meeting of his political career and was especially interesting because he seemed to have been figuring out in real time that by adopting progressive agenda items he didn't get boo-ed; he got cheered. Watch how he handles the Obamacare replacement question right in the beginning of the clip. He also told the large crowd that he "urges" Trump to release his tax returns.



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Is Señor Trumpanzee As Much The Anti-Semite As He Appears?

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This morning we referred and linked to an interview Ryan Lizza did with Alt-Right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos in the New Yorker. What we didn't get into was Milo's excuse for his anti-Semitism, the old trope that he can't be an anti-Semite because he's partly Jewish.
In one clip, he cavalierly approves of sex with thirteen-year-olds and suggests that he once attended a party at which minors were sexually assaulted. In another, he talks about the “statistical fact” that “Jews own most of the banks” and “completely dominate the media.”

...He also addressed his claim about Jewish control of the media. “My mother is Jewish. I was raised Jewish,” he said. “I said we are proportionally overrepresented in some industries, and I don’t think pointing out that fact is anti-Semitic.”


Trump and Those Darn Jews
-by Michael Wolkowitz


I have heard a fraction of the speculation and detailed analyses of the basis for and confusion about President T’s purported Anti-Semitism. The manipulative use of his Jewish daughter, the ever-sinister Bannon and Breitbart, his relationships with Israel, the alt-right and white nationalist supporters, and a gazillion other things. While those other topics are interesting and may be relevant in ways, this is mostly just like the rest of his many problems: personal insecurity, jealousy, and resentment. Donald grew up in a Major New York Real Estate Family (note initial caps). Based (now-famously) originally in Queens, founded by his father, and well, not the top of the list, and not just when it came to the family fortune part. Check out what follows and then ask yourself if you are still in any way surprised or confused about that strain of Anti-Semitism running through those purported veins of his. The first on the list is just a reminder that Jews are not the only people he feels inferior to.

A Sampler* of Notable New York’s Real Estate Dynasties ranked in order of wealth. These are all privately held fortunes so the numbers are somewhat speculative but well-substantiated.]**
Except the last one.

Overall notes:

1. Each of these families has buildings, wings, and or entire institutions in the areas of Health and Education named after them.
Except for the last one.

2. Each of these families has members who are current Chairs and Members of Boards of organizations including (but not limited to):

American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, Cornell-Weill Medical Center, Memorial-Sloan Kettering, The New School for Social Research, The New Victory Theater, Rockefeller University, Smithsonian Institution, The Trust for Public Land. I could make the list double with no trouble at all.
Except for the last one.

3. Each of these families gives at least $5 million a year in miscellaneous philanthropic grants annually and far more (10x annual or more) for capital projects year after year, decade after decade.
Except for the last one.

Name/History-Ethnicity-Religion/Fortune//Samples of Civic Engagement

ROCKEFELLER

Old-ish Money WASP 
Family private fortune: $10 Billion
Foundation value: $3.5 Billion
Civic Leadership: just walk around NYC for a few hours and read the names on the buildings.

RUDIN

JEWISH Immigrants/Turn of the 19th/20th Century
Private Family Fortune: $5.5 Billion
Civic Leadership: Founded Association for Better NY; sponsored NY Marathon, support for NYPD; developments have focused on accessibility etc.
They have streets named for them in Manhattan-- for good reason.

DURST

JEWISH  Immigrants/Turn of the 19th/20th Century
Private Family Fortune: $5 Billion
Civic Leadership: Several enormous buildings that are the most environmentally-green globally; NYC Job and Work  Center; NY Water Taxi.
Leading environmentalism includes largest organic farm in NY State.

MILLSTEIN

JEWISH Immigrants/Turn of the 19th/20th Century
Private Family Fortune: $4.5 Billion
Civic Leaders: NY Blood Center, NYC Commission on the Homeless, Central Park Conservancy, National September 11th Memorial & Museum.

TRUMP

GERMAN Immigrants/Turn of the 19th/20th Century
Private Family Fortune: Good question. $3 Billion? $4 Billion? Half a $Billion?
Family Foundation: out-of-business, never gave much, used other people’s money for the wrong things
Civic Leadership: Fixed a Skating Rink in Central Park once (sort of).
Substantial Giving: Nope.

* There are a several more, all with with similar profiles with greater net worth, civic participation, and philanthropy when compared with the bottom-most on the list, but this should give you the idea.
** Multiple sources including: The Foundation Center, Guidestar, Federal 990s, Forbes Magazine, etc.



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Another Republican Legislator Is In Prison Today For Selling At Least A Pound Of Meth To Montana Trump Supporting Zombies

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Before Z Nation stepped up its game and started concentrating on character development, it was pretty silly. In one ancient episode, they're traveling through South Dakota on the way to California and they come upon a pharmaceutical storage facility. The zombies have somehow-- makes no sense-- discovered the joys of meth (and other drugs) and are not just behaving like brain-eating zombies but also like annoying speed freaks.

Even visit Jus' Chillin' in Billings, Montana? It used to be the smoothie shop run by right-wing nut Mike Lange. But it wasn't Lange's main occupation-- maybe not even his second most important occupation. He was best known for being Montana's Republican House Majority Leader-- until House Republicans fired him for being too crazy even for them-- and now he's best known for his meth-selling business. The feds say he sold at least a pound of meth in a 6month period between April and October of 2016. He can't attend sessions now because the judge has ordered that he remain in prison without bail.

You know a TV newscast is going to be bad when the anchor warns you to quickly get your children out of the room. That clip up top was the GOP Majority Leader/freak screaming during a GOP caucus meeting that then-Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer should stick his budget proposal up his ass. (As you can see, most Republican legislators encouraged him by applauding... like trained seals. But they fired him as Majority Leader over it anyway.) The following year he tried running for U.S. Senate against Max Baucus and the Montana Republican Party chairman, Chris Wilcox, said the party stands behind Lange. "As far as we’re concerned at the state party office, he’s a Republican officeholder, and we support our Republican officeholders and Republican candidates." He lost the primary.


Not every Trump voter in Montana is a meth-freak. Some prefer oxycodone or fentanyl

Jus' Chillin' was foreclosed on and Lange was forced to refinance his home to pay the bank $77,000 in defaulted loans. That may have been when he decided going into the drug-selling business was a good idea. No one at the Yellowstone County jail will confirm that the judge didn't grant bail because Lange was in a deep dark meth-hole and a danger to himself and everyone around him. Like many Trumpists, Lange needs to look closely and honestly into his relationship to illicit pharmaceuticals.

Mike Lange (56) pleaded not guilty. And state Senator Mike Lang (no "e") pleaded with Montanans to remember that he's not Lange and not a meth-freak and never called Brian Schweitzer a "son of a bitch." Trump beat Hillary in Montana 279,240 (55.6%) to 177,709 (35.4%) and won all but 6 counties in the state, including Lange's Yellowstone County, Montana's most populous, where Trump beat her nearly two to one. The ballot measure to expand medical marijuana in the state got more votes than Trump, winning with 284,531 (57.6%).






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Will Mainstream Democrats Support or Oppose Single-Payer Health Care for California?

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Yes, health care can be this simple. We just have to choose it. Californians will be able to choose it very soon.

by Gaius Publius

As we wrote recently, California has a unique opportunity to both resist the Ryan-Trump destruction of the ACA and establish a state-wide single-payer health care system. Two state senators have introduced legislation to do just that.

Emily Green, writing at the SF Chronicle:
California legislation would create single-payer health care system

A push for a single-payer health care system in California is making a comeback.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens (Los Angeles County) plans to introduce legislation Friday to create a single system that would provide health insurance to every California resident.

“This is our opportunity to put ourselves on the record and be proactive against a Trump administration that is hellbent on eliminating the Affordable Care Act,” Lara said.

The two-page bill contains no specifics. Friday was the deadline for introducing new legislation, and the bill will be fleshed out over the coming month, Lara said. It will first head to the senate Health Committee and then to the senate Appropriations Committee, which Lara chairs.
As Green notes, this is not the first time that single-payer health legislation was introduced in California:
Previous efforts to create a single-payer system have failed. At least eight bills were introduced between 1992 and 2009 that attempted to create one. They failed to get through the Legislature or were vetoed by Republican governors.

Efforts to create a single-payer system in California ended after the passage of the Affordable Care Act under President Obama.
More on those previous attempts in a moment.

Will Democrats Support or Help Defeat This Bill?

The question for California state Democrats is this — Will enough of them support single-payer legislation to get it to the governor's desk?

If they do, the Resistance — the Revolt, really — will take a huge leap forward. It will show the Trump-Republican national government that denying what almost everyone in the country wants is not going to work. It will also embolden other states to likewise resist, both on this issue and many others. If there's to be a fight against the backward-facing federal government, states like California must help lead it, if only for the momentum they will provide.

But there's a catch — Democrats. In particular, money-fed mainstream Democrats, the same people who got us into this Trumpian nightmare to begin with by being far less interested in what people wanted this time around than in what they wanted for themselves, the power to enact more pro-austerity, incrementalist policies. (Remember, the 2016 electoral squeaker should have been a landslide, and not just at the top of the ticket.)

It will do no good for most state Democrats to support this legislation, if they let just a few cross the aisle to defeat it (keeping the rest of their fingerprints off of the kill). The insurance industry hates single-payer, because it would put them out of business. If the Party lets some of its members help defeat this legislation, the Party is responsible for the consequences, which may be momentous.

One more test for the "reborn" Democratic Party. The question: reborn as what? In this newborn Trumpian Age, the entire country is watching.

Why do I worry about Democrats helping kill this attempt at single-payer in California?

Mainstream Democrats Helped Kill Single-Payer in Colorado

Let's look at the last attempt to enact single-payer health care, this time in Colorado as recently as 2016. Ace corruption reporter Lee Fang at The Intercept, wrote this in May 2016 (my emphasis):
Prominent Democratic Consultants Sign Up to Defeat Single Payer in Colorado

INFLUENTIAL DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANTS, some of whom work for the Super PACs backing Hillary Clinton, have signed up to fight a bold initiative to create a state-based single-payer system in Colorado, according to a state filing posted Monday.

Coloradans for Coloradans, an ad-hoc group opposing single payer in Colorado, revealed that it raised $1 million over the first five months of this year. The group was formed to defeat Amendment 69, the ballot measure before voters this year that would change the Colorado constitution and permit a system that would automatically cover every state resident’s health care.

The anti-single-payer effort is funded almost entirely by health care industry interests, including $500,000 from Anthem Inc., the state’s largest health insurance provider; $40,000 from Cigna, another large health insurer that is current in talks to merge with Anthem; $75,000 from Davita, the dialysis company; $25,000 from Delta Dental, the largest dental insurer in the state; and $100,000 from SCL Health, the faith-based hospital chain.
Here's what this sweeping legislation would have done:
Under the new system, there would be no health insurance premiums or deductibles, and all health and dental care would be paid for by the state through a new system called ColoradoCare. The plan calls for raising $25 billion through a mix of payroll taxes, along with bringing down costs through negotiations with providers.
Needless to say, the effect would be sweeping. Here's who to blame for its failure to pass:
The filing reveals that the anti-single-payer group has retained the services of Global Strategy Group, a Democratic consulting firm that has served a variety of congressional candidates and is currently advising Priorities USA Action, one of the Super PACs backing Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

Last month, Global Strategies Group circulated a polling memo that contends that the single-payer ballot measure can be defeated because voters “overwhelmingly reject” the idea.

But, the memo warned, the measure “has some traction with key groups,” including Democrats and millennials, and that the 2016 election year has proven difficult to predict. “[A] sustained campaign pointing out the many flaws in Amendment 69 is essential, especially in such an unpredictable environment,” the memo concluded.
It's not just Global Strategies Group. Other Democratic Party-associated consulting firms were involved:
A number of other Democratic firms have signed up to help defeat single payer, too. Hilltop Public Solutions, a firm managed by former campaign staffers to Barack Obama, was paid $45,000 by the group. Hilltop has also provided consulting services to Ready PAC, another Clinton-supporting Super PAC that eventually folded into the Clinton campaign.

The Trimpa Group, a consulting company run by Democratic strategist Ted Trimpa, also received a payment from Coloradans for Coloradans.

The Democratic consultants are listed alongside several Republican firms, including Brandeberry-McKenna Public Affairs, a GOP company that also lobbies for the drug industry.
Let's be plain. Manistream, health care industry-fed Democratic consulting firms took money from a secretly-funded ad hoc organization to defeat single-payer health care in Colorado. And they succeeded. That effort — Democrats defeating single-payer in Colorado — got some press, but not enough, given the broader public interest in the national campaign for the presidency (and the anti-Trump press's interest in protecting, to the extent it could, the reputation of the Democratic Party and its lead candidate, Hillary Clinton).

They won't get that protection this time, given the visibility of the effort and the press's interest in "the Resistance."

Democrats Have Consistently Helped Kill Single-Payer in California

California has a long history trying to enact single-payer health care. Above we noted the SF Chronicle saying this: "Previous efforts to create a single-payer system have failed. At least eight bills were introduced between 1992 and 2009 that attempted to create one. They failed to get through the Legislature or were vetoed by Republican governors."

Here's some of that detail. Larry Potash in Labor Notes writes this about the 2012 effort (h/t Naked Capitalism for the link; my emphasis):
Why Did Single Payer Health Care Fail in California?

Though it’s passed the legislature twice before, a bill to establish a single-payer universal health insurance system in California failed in the state senate in January.

Not surprisingly, the bill received no Republican votes, but it fell just two votes short of passage when two Democrats voted no and four Democrats failed to vote, despite intense lobbying efforts by community and some labor health care activists.

Angry activists pointed to the fact that five of the six errant Democrats had received money from the insurance industry and Big Pharma, ranging from $100,000 to over $250,000. Three of the six senators had been endorsed by the California Labor Federation which, along with unions such as the Service Employees and AFSCME, was on record supporting the single-payer bill. The California Democratic Party was also on record supporting it.
I'm certain that some (or many) yes-voting Democrats sincerely supported the bill. I'm also certain that some (or many) other yes-voting Democrats were thankful that those six Democrats helped kill it ... so they didn't have to. What percentage of politicians in both parties, do you think, take money from the health insurance and Pharma industries? Most, would be my guess.

Other efforts in California failed because these same Democrats could count on a Republican governor's veto to make their Yes vote meaningless:
Similar bills passed the legislature fairly easily in 2006 and 2008, only to be vetoed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. At a time when premiums were rising and there were few other proposals out there, it was an easy vote for Democrats certain of the governor’s veto.
Then came Obamacare, and the Obama-era effort failed out of "party loyalty":
But when Congress passed federal health reform in 2010, defending that bill, as well as President Obama, became paramount for many Democrats. It became more difficult for legislators to vote for a single-payer bill that might be interpreted as deserting the president, and the Democratic leadership refused to put the bill up for a final vote in the Assembly.
Which led to the 2012 effort, which failed because six Democrats helped kill the bill so the rest wouldn't have to. Again, since 1992, not once were Democrats able to pass single-payer in California. It would break the mold if they succeeded this time. Will they succeed this time?

Will Democrats Support the People or the Money That Pays for Campaigns?

There's more than just single-payer health insurance at stake here. First, if the ACA is gutted or repealed, people will die in every state. It's that simple.

Second, how many more tries will the Democratic Party get to prove they are worth a second look in this new era, the era that sent Trump to the White House instead of Clinton?

Predicting the future is almost has hard as predicting the past, but I will say this: If Democrats don't get on the people's side in an obvious way — by deeds and not just by "messaging" — they may wander the wilderness for a generation. That's far too long, given the nation's actual need for a strong, hard U-turn now.

Support SB 562 in California, starting today. If single-payer health care wins there, it could win in many more places.

Scheduling note: My comments appear regularly here on Monday and Thursday, or Tuesday and Thursday if Monday is a holiday.

GP
 

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Gee, What's So Wrong With Milo That's Not Just As Wrong With Señor Trumpanzee?

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I was skipping around the HBO channels the other night, looking for something to watch before going to sleep. Bill Maher popped up on the screen-- with neo-Nazi publicity hound Milo Yiannopoulos and I quickly moved on to Alien vs. Predator. Until the last few weeks not many Americans knew who Milo Yiannopoulos was. Essentially a social media troll, he tries, tries, tries to be outrageous enough to get famous. It finally worked-- and he was kicked off this year's CPAC program, had his book deal with Simon and Schuster cancelled and was forced to resign as a senior editor from crazy Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer's on-line fascist propaganda sheet, Breibart. I guess he can go back to harassing Brianna Wu full-time now, although he does still have his Trump white House press accreditation.

Some Americans already knew him as the aging-but-flamboyent gay guy who was permanently banned by Twitter for harassing women and blacks-- particularly black women-- under various pseudonyms. But until a film of an interview he did embracing pedophilia and extolling the virtues of the statutory rape of 13 year old boys by old men, he was just another faceless Nazi buzzing around the Trump presidency-- who he refers to as "Daddy," while referring to himself as a "Trump-sexual." Needless to say, he's a close friend of Señor Trumpanzee's Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Ryan Lizza, in the article linked below, noted that "While working for Bannon, Yiannopoulos did more than anyone else at Breitbart to explain and build bridges to the so-called alt-right, the amorphous collection of neo-nationalist activists."

The son of a Greek gangster and thug living in England, Milo was chucked out by his parents' home at an early age-- leaving him an emotional cripple, intensely angry at the world-- and was raised by his Jewish grandmother, something that has been problematic for his Nazi allies. He was exposed for starting a phony charity for Nazi youth and then pocketing all of the money. He's also a serial plagiarizer who was caught using other peoples' work in his books.

As bizarrely obsessed with his own version of outrageous sexuality as he is, he is infamous among normal gay people for insisting that gays "get back in the closet" and assumes his own unhappiness and abhorrent behavior is something he has in common with the LGBT community, which completely rejects him on every level. Much of Milo's money comes from tubby little quasi-billionaire and racist Palmer Luckey (the Trump-crazed founder of Oculus who put up the "too big to jail" billboards with Hillary's picture on them during the election). Yiannopoulos publicly brags about being expert at fellatio. The Nazi movement in Germany started out with certain gay overtones. Milo, who made this video recently, may fancy himself a kind of modern day Ernst Röhm:



Tuesday Ryan Lizza tried making sense out of Yiannopoulos for New Yorker readers:
“Things sometimes tumble out of your mouth on these long late-night live streams, when everyone is spitballing and had a couple of drinks, that are not completely expressed and not exactly what you intend. Obviously, if I had known I was going to have the media profile I have now, I would have been cautious about this stuff. I never imagined that I would become famous,” Yiannopoulos told me. He is usually brash and outrageous, leaning on his partly Jewish background and the fact that he is gay as a shield to justify his insults. A recent short music video [the clip above] that he posted on YouTube showed him and some shirtless men building a wall on what purported to be the Mexican border. But yesterday afternoon he was sorrowful and self-pitying as he tried to explain himself. “Everything I say in there is completely defensible with proper context and explanation. It just takes nuance and close attention to understand what I’m really getting at.”

...[Before CPAC booted Milo] Conservatives scheduled to speak at the event also started to grow uncomfortable. “I’ve always thought Milo was pointlessly provocative and that he added nearly nothing in terms of conservative or libertarian ideas,” Tim Carney, the commentary editor for the Washington Examiner, said. “cpac never should have invited him to give a major speech, because his ‘provocativeness’ is often bigoted or licentious.”

In the face of the growing outrage, Schlapp at first stood by his decision. Then, over the weekend, the videos of Yiannopoulos began to circulate. In one clip, he cavalierly approves of sex with thirteen-year-olds and suggests that he once attended a party at which minors were sexually assaulted. In another, he talks about the “statistical fact” that “Jews own most of the banks” and “completely dominate the media.”

...[T]he damage to the conservative movement had already been done. In a previous era, there was an élite conservative establishment that could police the movement and cast aside its fringe adherents. William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review, famously did this in the early sixties, when he attacked the conspiracists and racists of the John Birch Society, the alt-right of the day.

“The invitation strikes me as more important than the disinvitation,” Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, said of the cpac conference. “The invite said, ‘We are welcoming an alt-right (or alt-right-fellow-travelling) provocateur into the big tent.’ The disinvite said, ‘Well, O.K., since you’ve advocated pederasty, we’ll back off.’ cpac hasn’t set out a principled position here, and absent the tapes presumably would have forged ahead.”

[American Conservative Union head Matt] Schlapp stood by his original decision and dismissed critics like Lowry. “Last year around this time, there was the creation of the Never Trump movement, and there were a lot of these very same journalists who were attacking us for inviting Donald Trump,” he told me. “There are journalists in the conservative world that use cpac as a piñata once a year, and they attack us for inviting, for not inviting. The fact is this: politics is messy and it’s complicated. And we can try to sanitize it for our stage or we can decide to not avoid the controversies, but simply put them on the stage in an appropriate way for our attendees to listen to.”

But even one of Schlapp’s own board members did not buy that argument. “So we were cool with the Anti Semitic, racist, vile stuff, but we drew the line at pedophilia?” Ryun wrote to me via text, echoing Lowry’s complaints. “My argument from the minute I heard about it was to reject the alt-right ASAP.”

As for Yiannopoulos, when I spoke to him at one p.m. yesterday, he said that he was still consulting with his team about what to do next. Asked if he might still show up in Washington this week, he responded, “Probably.”

Whether or not he attends, cpac promises to be a rowdy forum for debate about the future of conservatism and the alt-right. Fans of Yiannopoulos won’t be too disappointed. Yesterday, before announcing that Yiannopoulos was disinvited, cpac organizers revealed that they had a new speaker who was even more beloved by the alt-right: Donald Trump.

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