Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Acting Like Republicans Isn't How You Beat Republicans


Conventional wisdom from the corporate media and from #NeverTrump Republicans who saw their party taken over by a carnival barker and 2 bit charlatan, is constant and unwavering: Democrats need to be more like "moderate" conservative Republicans-- you, know, like Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Marco Rubio... all the clowns the carnival barker and 2 bit charlatan turned to mincemeat. MSNBC, the Washington Post, the New York Times and-- most of all-- the DCCC, DNC and DSCC all agree: the Democratic Party needs to be your father's GOP. And since Bill Clinton was elected they have been pulling it inexorably intuit direction-- the ONE AND ONLY reason Trump is occupying the White House.

John Harris is a former Washington Post reporter and one of the guys who founded Politico so you might reasonably expect to find him expounding exactly that kind of turgid, fear-based centrism. But... his lead-up article for the debates yesterday, took a very different posture: Democrats Are Veering Left, It Just Might Work. He certainly doesn't like it; he terms it "a prevailing Washington media and political class narrative," "going off the rails" and "saddling themselves with unrealistic positions"-- but he does recognize that it may be the formula to beating Trump. "[A]s Democratic contenders gather on the stage again this week," he wrote, "a competing analysis is gaining power: Going a bit off the rails may be an entirely reasonable track to victory." Don't expect Status Quo Joe, let alone Frackenlooper, to start appearing at events dressed as a sans-culotte, but...
“Candidates who look like they are cautious, modulating, have their foot on the brake are missing the moment,” said veteran Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who is coming out later this summer with a book on how both parties have been refashioned in the Trump era.

The moment, according to Greenberg’s polling and focus-group work, has left voters of all stripes clamoring for disruption. Cultural and ideological currents in society-- more profound than any given day’s Trump uproars-- are giving progressives a better opportunity than they have had in decades to play offense.

This interpretation is notable for the source. Greenberg first drew wide notice a generation ago, with landmark work about how Ronald Reagan captured many working-class Democrats who believed their party’s liberalism was out of step with their lives. He is a veteran of the 1992 “war room” of Bill Clinton-- who won two elections precisely by practicing a brand of defensive politics that required regular reassurance to voters that his activism didn’t mean he liked big government, disliked free enterprise or was sympathetic to 1960s-style radicalism.

Notable also are Greenberg‘s friends who disagree with him. Perhaps no one has been more outspoken in warning that Democrats might be blowing their chance to beat President Donald Trump by swerving too gratuitously to the left than former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. In the latest of a series of commentaries and interviews, he complained in a Medium post that he was part of group “shaking our heads” after the Miami debates as candidates “succumbed to chasing plaudits on Twitter” with strident positions on health care and immigration which risk offending “swing voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio.”

Emanuel, too, is a veteran of Clinton’s war room and White House, and won four House elections and two mayoral elections with his own version of centrism. When he was in Congress, he lived in a basement apartment of a Capitol Hill town house-- owned by Greenberg and his spouse, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).

“The country is so far away from where it was under Bill Clinton,” Greenberg said in an interview. “People are desperate for government to show it can do big things.”

Greenberg’s and Emanuel’s worldviews are more in tension than outright opposition. Both are alert to the danger that Democrats project that they are more interested in identity politics than representing a unified national interest. Even Emanuel, who draws scorn from the left, supports robust expansion of government’s role to improve health care and education.

Where they differ-- in ways that echo with a broader intraparty debate Democrats are confronting-- is on how they calibrate risks.

One thing that hasn’t changed from the Clinton years, Emanuel believes, is that Democrats must loudly make the case of who they are (pragmatists obsessed with concrete improvements in voters’ lives) and implicitly make the case who they are not (smug and impractical ideologues who live in a leftist echo chamber). That’s why he cringed at seeing candidates like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders call for the abolition of private health insurance, and even several avowed moderates call for decriminalizing illegal border crossings and providing health insurance for undocumented workers.

Greenberg, by contrast, believes that the urgency voters feel for shaking up the status quo means there’s less risk for candidates and the party in going too far than in not going far enough.

He believes the 2020 election will be decided by a couple big questions which favor Democrats: Do you support or oppose America’s accelerating change toward a more diverse and culturally tolerant society that gives more opportunities to historically excluded groups? Do you believe in the power of government to challenge entrenched financial power, and make average people better off?

His belief that Republicans are placing themselves on the electorally losing side of these questions is the foundation of a forthcoming book, R.I.P G.O.P. It is also why he is generally not joining the bed-wetting of many Democratic operatives over the rhetorical and substantive positioning of many Democrats trying to challenge former Vice President Joe Biden’s frontrunner status (Biden for the most part has avoided these extremes, offering himself as a seasoned incrementalist who can beat Trump).

For one thing, Greenberg said, voters properly see most of the Democratic positioning as about making broad statements of values and ideals-- not millstone-around-the-neck commitments that eliminate their ability to maneuver as general election nominee or president.

What’s more, he said, recent focus groups conducted for the American Federation of Teachers by the Greenberg-linked Democracy Corps suggest that a historically damaging charge-- that Democrats’ plans to expand government amount to “socialism”-- is losing some of its potency.

The focus groups with white working class voters outside metropolitan areas in Maine, Nevada and Wisconsin show that Trump uses partisan insults so promiscuously that his rhetoric may be devalued-- participants didn’t find the socialism allegation compelling.

To be sure, wearing a socialism label from Republicans is not an experiment that most Democrats are ready to run. But if the focus groups are correct it may reflect a broader truth about the cycles of American politics: When the ideological tides are moving in their favor, presidential candidates may not have to worry so much about their language, or pay an especially high cost for laying it on too thick.

Goal ThermometerThe best illustration may come from an earlier swing of the cycle, when Ronald Reagan in 1980 dethroned a half-century of New Deal and Great Society dominance of American politics with a brand of free-market, pro-military conservatism that seemed radical at the time. Reagan, many analysts thought, would be doomed by such provocations as launching his general election campaign in Mississippi with favorable references to “states rights,” doubts about his commitment to Social Security, or disparaging environmental laws by saying trees and the Mt. Saint Helens volcano were causing more pollution than anything man-made. Instead, Reagan was seen as right on big questions about realigning the role of government and won 44 states against incumbent President Jimmy Carter.

Even a Democratic candidate this year who by temperament is among the least inclined to rhetorical bombast, South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, recently suggested there’s a lesson in this history-- that successful candidates need to both listen to the electorate and push it beyond present boundaries.

In a recent interview with Democratic operative David Axelrod’s Axe Files podcast, Buttgieg said ideas about cutting tax rates and shrinking government in the 1970s were considered “preposterous” but conservatives were so successful in “tugging” the country toward them that by the 1990s that even many Democrats agreed. “It’s time for us to work a little harder to tug the country back.“

This year, he told Axelrod, Democrats can’t project that they are simply the party “promising a return to normal” before Trump when this version of normal “wasn’t working” for many voters.

Like Greenberg, Buttigieg said the risks of being a disrupter shouldn’t be exaggerated: “I do think it’s OK to get a little bit ahead of where the American people are on an issue if we really do believe it.”
Just a teensy weensy bit ahead, like they taught Mayo Pete at McKinsey. Just a teensy weensy bit... and incrementally. Medicare is 54 years old. As Paul Waldman opined yesterday, conservatives didn't like it 54 years ago any more than they back Medicare-For-All today.

And as long as we're on the subject... A newly-released poll from HuffPo by YouGov shows that "Democrats are increasingly unified on everything from a preference for stricter gun laws to opposition to the Hyde Amendment to a belief in man-made global warming. The change has been especially stark on topics revolving around immigration and race. In the past six years, the percentage of Democrats who said that immigrants strengthen the U.S. rose from 58% to 83%. Between 2011 and 2016, the share of white Democrats saying that “over the past few years, black people have gotten less than they deserve” roughly doubled, from 27% to 55%... What does the American public think? Some of the progressive policies being championed poll a whole lot better than others: taxing the wealthy, for instance, is consistently popular, while ideas like abolishing the death penalty or providing reparations for slavery remain a much harder sell. Framing also matters a great deal: support for Medicare for All looks a lot skimpier when Americans are told the plan wouldn’t provide for people to stay on their current private insurance" (idiotic framing that confuses people and makes them think they are losing something instead of gaining something).
But beyond the political viability of specific policies, there’s also a broader question: whether Democrats’ growing liberalism, or their increasingly visible debate over progressive issues, has actually redefined Americans’ image of the Democratic Party or their perceptions about how well the party’s values align with the mainstream.

So far, a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds, the answer is no. Views of the Democratic Party, in fact, haven’t really budged in more than four years. The share of Americans calling the Democrats “too extreme,” which stood at 41% in November 2014, now stands at an identical 41%, with only minimal fluctuation in the interim.

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How Does The NRCC Target And Attack?-- Especially Now That The DCCC Has Practically Ceased To Exist


HR-1 was supposed to be Pelosi's big reform legislation to start off her new speakership. No one imagined #MoscowMitch would ever allow a vote in the Senate, so HR-1 will never be enacted until the Democrats take back the Senate-- and the White House. It takes some necessary steps towards reform, but not nearly enough. Lobbyists and Republicans have opposed it with all their might-- and now the NRCC is trying to twist the meaning of the bill is they can use the it to attack Democrats who voted for it. And they can certainly take their pick since every single Democrat voted yes and every single Republican voted no. It passed 234-193, one Democrat and 4 Republicans not voting.

The last desperate attempt of McCarthy and the Republicans to stop the bill in the House was a motion to recommit with instructions to have hearings with the intention "recognizing that allowing illegal immigrants the right to vote devalues and diminishes the voting power of American citizens." It wasn't germane and normal Democrats don't fall for these Republican maneuvers to gum up the works. In 1974 Joe Biden told a reporter from The Washingtonian that "A lot of us sit around thinking up ways to vote conservative just so we don’t come out with a liberal rating. When it comes to civil rights and civil liberties, I’m a liberal but that’s it. I’m really quite conservative on most other issues." That was 45 years ago. These Democrats are still operating the same way today! They voted with the Republicans to sabotage HR-1:
Anthony Brindisi (Blue Dog-NY)
Joe Cunningham (Blue Dog-SC)
Kendra Horn (Blue Dog-OK)
Lucy McBath (New Dem-GA)
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)
Jeff Van Drew (Blue Dog-NJ)
In the end McCarthy's childish scheme failed 197-228.

The non-partisan League of Women voters urged support for HR-1 with this note to its members in nearly 1,000 local chapters across the country:
The League of Women Voters urges you to vote YES for final passage of HR-1, the For the People Act. The League will be paying close attention to debate on this bill and the final vote on the House floor. We implore you to reject any amendments to this legislation that would weaken our democracy.

Throughout our nearly 100-year history, the League of Women Voters has worked to "level the playing field" of our election system by registering new citizens to vote, fighting unfair district maps in court, and advocating in Congress for fair election processes. Key provision in HR1 that should be maintained include:
1.      Break down barriers that prevent Americans from registering to vote. The Act requires states to allow same-day registration, establishes an opt-out system of automatic registration, and includes the establishment of an online voter registration for all eligible voters.
2.      Restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and strengthen our elections by cutting back the obstructive laws that have kept eligible voters from exercising their right at the ballot box.
3.      Establish independent, citizen redistricting commissions at the state level to draw congressional districts allowing voters to pick their politicians not the other way around.
4.      Empower small donors by creating a public financing system to match small contributions to presidential and congressional candidates. It will also close disclosure loopholes that allow outside groups to flood elections with millions of dollars of secret money.
HR-1 is an historic opportunity to put power back into the hands of the people. The League has worked tirelessly over the last few months to support and promote this legislation to all members of Congress.

Vote YES on final passage of HR-1.

Vote NO on weakening amendments and the motion to recommit.
The League of Women Voters didn't release this Ministry video though.

Yesterday the NRCC began a digital ad campaign against a dozen vulnerable Democrats, laughably calling them Socialists!!!! for voting for the mild reform package that would help drain the ever-increasing Trump-Republican Swamp in DC. It's a weak, melodramatic ad that feeds the low-info Republican base but that normal people will laugh at. So who gets called a "Socialist!!!!" in the GOP ad campaign? AOC? No. Rashida? No. Ilhan? No. In fact no left-of-center Democrats at all. The NRCC is targeting a dozen right-leaning DINOs-- a gaggle of Blue Dogs and New Dems, who tend to vote with Republicans out of fear. Like a mad dog, when the NRCC smells fear, they attack. The ad up top targets South Carolina Blue Dog, Joe Cunningham, who literally votes less progressively than some Republicans! All of the targets are right-of-center, fear-based Dems-- mostly Blue Dogs and New Dems-- and all have voting records that are rated "F" by ProgressivePunch. Cunningham's "F," though is even lower (less progressive) than the voting records of NRCC protection priorities Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and John Katko (R-NY), as well as Tom Massie (R-KY). Cunningham's crucial vote score is 20.93%. Former Republican, Justin Amash (I-MI) has score for this session that's more than twice as progressive: 55.81. These are the other 11 NRCC targets for this ad campaign-- in order of most Republican to less Republican:
Kendra Horn (Blue Dog-OK)
Ben McAdams (Blue Dog-UT)
Jared Golden (ME)
Elaine Luria (New Dem-VA)
Xochitl Torres Small (Blue Dog-NM)
Elissa Slotkin (New Dem-MI)
Andy Kim (NJ)
Max Rose (Blue Dog-NY)
Susie Lee (New Dem-NV)
TJ Cox (CA)
Susan Wild (New Dem-PA)
And with the Cheri Bustos have completely wrecked the DCCC already, there is no one to respond to the ridiculous NRCC attacks.

If the NRCC wants a stronger reform package, they should get behind this one that has been ignored by Pelosi and the Democratic establishment

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Who Won Last Night-- And Who Totally Sucked?


Who Will Be The Democratic Nominee? by Nancy Ohanian

Biden's name wasn't mentioned last night-- and the half dozen conservatives who were onstage fared badly, although none of them were boo-ed despite the barrage of Republican talking points that flew out of the mouths of Delaney, Frackenlooper, Ryan and Bullock each time one of them spoke. Each candidate gained twitter followers after the debate and according ti Google Trends, Marianne was the most-searched of the ten candidates during the debate in 49 out of 50 states, Montana being the outlier:
Marianne- 8,005
Liz Warren- 5,772
Mayo Pete- 4,553
Bernie- 2,331
Delaney- 1,135
Bullock- 1,079
Amy Klobuchar 782
Beto- 718
Frackenlooper- 407
Ryan- 372
Ryan, Delaney, Frackenlooper and Bullock were all really and and I hope we never have to hear about any of them again. Tragically, none of them seem to have the vaguest clue of what Medicare is and one is tempted to wish unspeakable healthcare problems on them and their families so that they find out. But that would be so, so wrong. Instead, save your worst thoughts for the person on the stage who really did the worst last night: Jake Tapper. CNN probably pays him handsomely and they could have saved a lot of money and had a more honest performance had they just tasked either Michael McAdams or Chris Pack from the NRCC to be the moderator. I'm sure either would have done it for free. Despite Tapper's best efforts to goad Elizabeth Warren and Bernie into fighting with each other, the two progressive champions seemed prepared to ignore him.

According to Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin at the NY Times this morning, neither took the bait. "On an evening that could have produced explosions in their own political rivalry, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren instead formed something of an ideological tag team to defend their shared agenda, above all on health care. Though each is seen as the other’s chief obstacle in the Democratic race, Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren did not at any point clash directly. Instead, they battled an array of comparatively obscure candidates who used the debate as an opportunity-- and for some of them, likely a last chance-- to express alarm about their party’s embrace of immense liberal policy goals, like the creation of a 'Medicare for all'-style health care system, Mr. Sanders’s No. 1 issue, and a broad liberalization of the immigration system."

I don't know that we're electing a debater-in-chief, but CNN asked Todd Graham, the director of award-winning Southern Illinois University debate team to grade how each candidate did last night.
Elizabeth Warren A+

Warren hit all the right notes with her tone, demeanor, language choices and especially her policy-specific answers. She struck the right balance between progressive and pragmatic while pounding away at corporations, the rigged system, greed by insurance and pharmaceutical companies and more.

...To Delaney: "I don't understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can't do and shouldn't fight for."

Bernie Sanders B+

Sanders was clever to use the word "radical" when reminding us his health care plan isn't as crazy as many make it out to be. It's in fact used successfully by other countries, including Canada. Sanders' rhetoric was also compelling when he reminded everyone that Republicans aren't afraid of big ideas, so Democrats shouldn't be either.

And while he took some hits on removing Americans' choices from health insurance and the potential effects of providing undocumented immigrants with free health care and education, Sanders' defense was generally successful.

Mayo Pete B

Buttigieg's idea that military action needs three-year sunset clauses, forcing Congress to regularly reevaluate our involvement oversees was brilliant-- especially coming from a veteran. And he's getting good at calling out hypocrites in the Republican party who stand for party over country when supporting Trump. His advice that Democrats should not worry about being called socialists was spot-on.

Unfortunately, Buttigieg failed to distinguish his ideas from Warren's or Sanders' on issues such as debt-free college. And he lacked the fire of some of the other candidates.

Beto B

O'Rourke gets "most improved" from his previous debate. Most of his answers were clear and concise. But when asked how to beat Trump, O'Rourke offered nothing more than what we saw from him in his battle for the Texas Senate-- a battle in which he was defeated. Democratic voters must be shaking their heads in disbelief that O'Rourke thinks the same strategy that lost to Ted Cruz can somehow beat Trump.

Amy Klobuchar C+

Klobuchar wasn't as specific, memorable, or personable in this debate. And it began with an opening statement that was all over the place. While she occasionally had good points, like calling out Trump's criticism of Baltimore, she was often missing in the debate (perhaps due to the moderators not calling on her enough).

Steve Bullock C

Bullock's strength was moderation. He successfully criticized "wish-list economics" and was believable when he talked about workers and farmers losing money when Trump tweets about trade. Unfortunately, he failed to defend a clear position on nuclear weapons, with a muddled and confusing answer in which he said, "Never, I hope, certainly in my term or anyone else, would we really even get close to pulling that trigger."

Tim Ryan C-

Ryan was partially successful in his pragmatic approach to answering questions. But some lines seemed forced, as when he said to Bernie Sanders, "You don't have to yell." Heck, Sanders was actually pretty calm (for Bernie) at the time. Plus, Ryan's Ted Talk-esque conclusion about not capturing the left or center lane but instead capturing the viewers' imaginations was so contrived it made me laugh out loud.

John Delaney D+

With a better stage presence than he had in the previous debate, Delaney improved. And he made some sound points about finding realistic climate policies. He was actually holding his own on that issue until attention turned to Elizabeth Warren. Unfortunately, Delaney was outdone by Warren's on-point and number-specific climate response. Nice try for Delaney, but he was upstaged in the end.

Frackenlooper D

He didn't stick to his strongest arguments like he did in the previous debate when he constantly pointed to examples of his successful governorship. Hickenlooper was unfocused in many of his answers, from saying "there is a way of looking at trade that is therapeutic," to mumbling something about "big, you know, noisy hangars" when discussing American military foreign policy. Plus, his lack of energy was noticeable compared to others on stage.

Marianne D-

The problem with Williamson in this debate is that for every legitimate criticism of our government she gave-- and there were several-- she lacked follow-up solutions. She derided the "political insider game and wonkiness and intellectual argument," without offering a clear picture of her practical alternative. And her closing statement was something about emotional and psychological gobbledygook that finished with a crescendo like she was singing the big finale of a Broadway musical.
Two polls, a twitter poll that is still active and may show which candidate was most puke-worthy:

And a slightly more traditional poll that Crooks and Liars is still running today:

And for anyone interested in my own gut reaction to the candidates last night. (Marianne is a personal friend and I can't grade her)
Elizabeth Warren A+
Bernie A
Amy Klobuchar C
Mayo Pete D
Beto D
Bullock F
Ryan F
Frackenlooper F
Delaney F
I'm hoping we never have to hear from any of the F's again. According to the RealClearPolitics polling averages, none of them are remotely qualified to be on the stage since they are all polling between 0.3% and 0.7%.

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How Do Democratic Candidates For Congress Feel About Impeachment?


Mark Putnam is probably best known as Obama's top ad-maker. But remember Told Me for Amy McGrath in Kentucky and Doors for MJ Hegar? Those were two of the most recent ads that are credited for bringing in millions of dollars for unknown candidates he helped. (Listen to that background music on Hegar's video. Sound vaguely familiar?) Anyway, the ad up top was released yesterday and it isn't for any particular candidate, although it was paid for my Tom Steyer.

The 30 second spot features 4 incumbents Jerry Nadler (off camera, D-NY), Val Demings (D-FL), Ken Buck (off camera, R-CO) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), Need to Impeach ran the ad last night on CNN during the debate and will run in again tonight. They're spending around half a million dollars to get it out widely on cable.

Brianna Wu is running for Congress in the other Boston seat (bordering on Ayanna Pressley's district). She watched the video yesterday and said "Robert Mueller, through his report and testimony, has clearly indicated that Trump would be indicted for obstruction if he was not the president, and that the Russians are still interfering with our elections. Why wouldn't they after Trump welcomed them to do so?
There is ample evidence that Trump possibly obstructed justice on ten occasions and invited Russian meddling in our elections. Mueller has given Congress all it needs to immediately begin impeachment proceedings. There are now 109 Democrats in the House who support the commencement of impeachment hearings, including six members from the Massachusetts delegation. But my opponent, Stephen Lynch, thinks Democrats still need to "make the case” and that impeachment would be just Democrats “blowing off steam.” He either isn’t paying attention or is totally missing the point.

This isn’t about politics or what will benefit or harm the Democratic nominee in the next election. This is about the rule of law and preserving our democracy.

The findings of the Mueller report and the Special Counsel’s testimony point toward the real possibility that Donald Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors, and perhaps more blatantly, treason. It is now the responsibility of the House to begin the impeachment process to determine if the evidence warrants articles of impeachment. And, more importantly, to preserve the rule of law and declare that no president, regardless of party, is above the law. That is how Congress “makes the case.”

I’m delivering a petition to the House leadership to begin impeachment proceedings. If you agree with me that the rule of law needs to be preserved, please sign it by going here.
Milwaukie, Oregon progressive mayor Mark Gamba is running for a seat held by a reactionary Blue Dog Kurt Schrader who opposes impeaching Trump. "We pride ourselves as Americans for having a society that lives by the rule of law rather than the tyranny that some other countries suffer under," said Gamba. "The question is: What is our country becoming when a president thumbs his nose at our laws and seemingly breaks them with impunity? We are supposed to have a system of checks and balances so that we can never be ruled by a tyrant. I believe that it is the implicit duty of Congress to protect our constitution by holding the other branches of government to the same standards we are all held to. If I were in Congress, I would be calling for an in depth and thorough Impeachment Inquiry, unlike my opponent who voted against impeachment in July of 2019."

Eva Putzova also watched the ad yesterday. "Special Counsel Robert Mueller's testimony to Congress, along with his report, makes it clear that President Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice and other crimes and could be prosecuted in court if he were not the president. Since he is the president, the remedy under our constitution is impeachment by the House of Representatives. This is the constitutional obligation of Congress and should not be subjected to political calculations as to whether it would be popular or would help one party or another, or the likelihood of him being convicted by the Senate and removed from office. Either we value democracy with balancing powers of its institutions or we don't and we put blind partisanship over the interests of the people.Those are the choices that the Democratic Party leadership has."

Marie Newman is running for the Chicagoland seat held by Blue Dog Dan Lipinski, another reactionary who opposes impeaching Trump. "This is simple. It matters not if the Senate will impeach; what matters is the need for Congress to do its duty, address the overwhelming evidence and begin impeachment inquiries. There should be absolutely no more equivocation, stalling or wringing of hands."

Mike Siegel's Republican opponent, Michael McCaul, is a full-time Trump enabler. McCaul will never back impeachment; it would be like impeaching himself. "I supported starting the impeachment process before Mueller testified. His testimony only confirmed what we know: the House is obligated to take the next step. The Constitution doesn't tell us to start impeachment only when politically convenient. To maintain the balance of powers, to preserve the integrity of our national institutions, the House must begin impeachment now."

And that... regardless of certain anomalies in the system right now, as award-winning political cartoonist Nancy Ohanian has illustrated.

#MoscowMitch by Nancy Ohanian


I Bet No One Asks Biden Tonight About His Role In Creating The Northern Triangle Immigration Disaster


Status Quo Joe With Colombian President Uribe In 2017

Biden doesn't want to play the role of political piñata tonight. His record, though, lends itself to exactly that. Trump will certainly use it against him if he's the nominee and the Democrats on the stage with him tonight should go all in in testing every weak point in the most repulsive record any Democratic candidate has brought to the primary stage since his old ally Joe Lieberman. A couple of days ago, investigative reporter Max Blumenthal tackled a piece of Biden's vile record that he'd prefer to hide and that hasn't been touched by the other candidates yet: How Joe Biden's Privatization Plans Helped Doom Latin America And Fuel The Migration Crisis. I'd love to watch Status Quo Joe squirm while trying to respond to this one!

Blumenthal began by pointing out that Biden has touted the crucial role he played in "designing US mega-development and drug war campaigns that transformed the socio-political landscape of large swaths of Latin America" while he's been campaigning (umm... talking with wealthy donors; there's virtually no campaoigning at all) for the last two month. "'I was one of the architects of Plan Colombia,' Biden boasted in a July 5 interview with CNN, referring to the multi-billion dollar U.S. effort to end Colombia’s civil war with a massive surge of support for the country’s military. According to Biden, the plan was a panacea for Colombia’s problems, from 'crooked cops' to civil strife." But as with almost everything Biden asserts, this was pure bullshit.
Biden’s plan for Colombia has contributed directly to the country’s transformation into a hyper-militarized bastion of right-wing rule, enhancing the power and presence of the notoriously brutal armed forces while failing miserably in its anti-narcotic and reformist objectives.

This year alone, more than 50 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in the first four months of 2019, while coca production is close to record levels. And as Colombian peace activists lamented in interviews with The Grayzone, the US is still in complete control of Bogotá’s failed anti-drug policy, thanks largely to Plan Colombia.

Biden has also pumped up his role in an initiative called the Alliance for Prosperity, which was applied to the Northern Triangle of Central America. The former vice president was so central to the program’s genesis that it was informally known as “Plan Biden.”

Marketed as an answer to the crisis of child migration, Biden’s brainchild channeled $750 million through a right-wing government installed by a US-orchestrated military coup to spur mega-development projects and privatize social services.

The Grayzone visited Honduras in July and documented, through interviews with human rights defenders, students, indigenous activists, and citizens from all walks of life, how the Alliance for Prosperity helped set the stage for a national rebellion.

In recent months, teachers, doctors, students, and rural campesinos have been in the streets protesting the privatization plans imposed on their country under the watch of Biden and his successors.

The gutting of public health services, teacher layoffs, staggering hikes in electricity prices, and environmentally destructive mega-development projects are critical factors in mass migration from Honduras. And indeed, they are immediate byproducts of the so-called “Biden plan.”

“Biden is taking credit for doing something constructive to stop the migration crisis and blaming the concentration camps [on the U.S.-Mexico border] on Trump. But it’s Biden’s policies that are driving more people out of Central America and making human rights defenders lives more precarious by defending entities that have no interest in human rights,” explained Adrienne Pine, a professor of anthropology at American University and leading researcher of the social crisis in Honduras, in an interview with The Grayzone.

“So $750 million US taxpayer dollars that were allocated to supposedly address child migration are actually making things worse,” Pine added. “It started with unaccompanied minors and now you have children in cages. Largely thanks to Biden.”

In an interview with CNN on July 5, Biden was asked if he favored decriminalizing the entry of Latin American migrants to the United States. Responding with a definitive “no,” Joe Biden stated that he would be “surging folks to the border to make those concrete decisions” about who receives asylum.

Biden's fault?

Biden argued that he had the best record of addressing the root causes of the migration crisis, recalling how he imposed a solution on Central America’s migration crisis. “You do the following things to make your country better so people don’t leave, and we will help you do that, just like we did in Colombia,” he said.

“What did we do in Colombia? We went down and said, okay, and I was one of the architects of Plan Colombia,” Biden continued. “I said, here’s the deal. If you have all these crooked cops, all these federal police, we’re sending our FBI down, you let us put them through a lie detector test, let us tell you who you should fire and tell you the kind of people you should hire. They did and began to change. We can do so much if we’re committed.”

With the arrogance of a pith-helmeted high colonial official meting out instructions on who to hire and fire to his docile subjects, Biden presided over a plan that failed miserably in its stated goals, while transforming Colombia into a hyper-militarized bastion of US regional influence.

Plan Colombia was originally conceived by Colombian President Andrés Pastrana in 1999, as an alternative development and conflict resolution plan for his war-torn country. He considered calling it the “Plan for Colombia’s Peace.”

The proposal was quickly hijacked by the Bill Clinton administration, with Joe Biden lobbying in the Senate for an iron-fisted militarization plan. “We have an obligation, in the interests of our children and the interests of the hemisphere, to keep the oldest democracy in place, to give them a fighting chance to keep from becoming a narcostate,” Biden said in a June 2000 floor speech.

When Plan Colombia’s first formal draft was published, it was done so in English, not Spanish. The original spirit of peace-building was completely sapped from the document by Biden, whose vigorous wheeling-and-dealing ensured that almost 80 percent of the $7.5 billion plan went to the Colombian military. 500 US military personnel were promptly dispatched to Bogota to train the country’s military.

“If you read the original Plan Colombia, not the one that was written in Washington but the original Plan Colombia, there’s no mention of military drives against the FARC rebels,” Robert White, the former number two at the U.S. embassy in Bogota, complained in 2000. “Quite the contrary. [Pastrana] says the FARC is part of the history of Colombia and a historical phenomenon, he says, and they must be treated as Colombians.”

White lamented how Washington had abused the trust of the Colombians: “They come and ask for bread, and you give them stones.”

Plan Colombia was largely implemented under the watch of the hardline right-wing President Álvaro Uribe. In 1991, Uribe was placed on a US Drug Enforcement Agency list of “important Colombian narco-traffickers,” in part due to his role in helping drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s obtain licenses for landing strips while Uribe was the head of Colombia’s Civil Aeronautics Department.

Under Uribe’s watch, toxic chemicals were sprayed by military forces across the Colombian countryside, poisoning the crops of impoverished farmers and displacing millions.

Six years after Bill Clinton initiated Plan Colombia, however, even U.S. drug czar John Walters was forced to quietly admit in a letter to the Senate that the price of cocaine in the US had declined, the flow of the drug into the U.S. had risen, and its purity had increased.

Meanwhile, a UN Office of Drugs and Crime report found that coca cultivation reached record levels in Colombia in 2018. In other words, billions of dollars have been squandered, and a society already in turmoil has been laid to waste.

For the military and right-wing paramilitary forces that have shored up the rule of leaders like Uribe and the current ultra-conservative Colombian president, Ivan Duque, Plan Colombia offered a sense of near-total impunity.

The depravity of the country’s military was put on bold display when the so-called “false positives” scandal was exposed in 2008. The incident began when army officers lured 22 rural laborers to a far-away location, massacred them, and then dressed them in uniforms of the leftist FARC guerrillas.

It was an overt attempt to raise the FARC body count and justify the counter-insurgency aid flowing from the U.S. under Plan Colombia. The officers who oversaw the slaughter were paid bounties and given promotions.

Colombian academics Omar Eduardo Rojas Bolaños and Fabián Leonardo Benavides demonstrated in a meticulous study that the “false positives” killings reflected “a systematic practice that implicates the commanders of brigades, battalions and tactical units” in the deaths of more than 10,000 civilians. Indeed, under Plan Colombia, the incident was far from an isolated atrocity.

In an interview in Bogotá this May, The Grayzone’s Ben Norton asked Colombian social leader Santiago Salinas if there was any hope for progressive political transformation since the ratification of Plan Colombia.

An organizer of the peace group Congreso de los Pueblos, Salinas shrugged and exclaimed, “I wish.” He lamented that many of Colombia’s most pivotal decisions were made in Washington.

Salinas pointed to drug policy as an example. “It seems like the drug decisions about what to do with the drugs, it has nothing to do with Colombia.

“There was no sovereign decision on this issue. Colombia does not have a decision,” he continued. It was the Washington that wrote the script for Bogota. And the drug trade is in fact a key part of the global financial system, Salinas pointed out.

But Biden was not finished. After 15 years of human misery and billions of wasted dollars in Colombia, he set out on a personal mission to export his pet program to Central America’s crime and corruption-ravaged Northern Triangle.

In his July sit-down with CNN, Joe Biden trumpeted his Plan Colombia as the inspiration for the Alliance for Prosperity he imposed on Central America. Channeling the spirit of colonial times once again, he bragged of imposing Washington’s policies on the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

“We’ll make a deal with you,” Biden recalled telling the leaders of these countries. “You do the following things to make your country better so people don’t leave, and we will help you do that.”

Biden announced his bold plan on the editorial pages of the New York Times in January 2015. He called it “a joint plan for economic and political reforms, an alliance for prosperity.” Sold by the vice president as a panacea to a worsening migration crisis, the Alliance for Prosperity was a boon for international financial institutions which promised to deepen the economic grief of the region’s poor.

The Alliance for Prosperity “treated the Honduran government as if it were a crystal-clear, pure vessel into which gold could be poured and prosperity would flow outward,” explained Dana Frank, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of the book, The Long Honduran Night.

“In reality, the Plan would further enrich and strengthen the political power of the very same elites whose green, deliberate subversion of the rule of law, and destruction of natural resources and of Indigenous and campesino land rights, were responsible for the dire conditions the proposal ostensibly addressed,” Frank added.

In Honduras, the government had no capacity or will to resist Biden’s plan. That is because the country’s elected president, Juan Manuel Zelaya, had been removed in 2009 in a coup orchestrated by the United States.

As Zelaya told The Grayzone’s Anya Parampil, the Obama administration was infuriated by his participation in ALBA, a regional economic development program put forward by Venezuela’s then-President Hugo Chavez that provided an alternative to neoliberal formulas like the so-called “Biden Plan.”

Following the military coup, a corporate-friendly administration was installed to advance the interests of international financial institutions, and US trainers arrived in town to hone the new regime’s mechanisms of repression.

Under the auspices of the Central American Regional Security Initiative, the FBI was dispatched to oversee the training of FUSINA, the main operational arm of the Honduran army and the base of the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP) that patrols cities like an occupation force.

In an October 2014 cable, the US embassy in Tegucigalpa acknowledged that the PMOP was riven with corruption and prone to abuse, and attempted to distance itself from the outfit, even though it operated under the umbrella of FUSINA.

This June, the PMOP invaded the Autonomous University of Honduras, attacking students protesting the privatization of their school and wounding six.

The creation by the US embassy in Honduras of a special forces unit known as the Tigres has added an additional layer of repressive muscle. Besides arresting activists, the Tigres reportedly helped a drug kingpin escape after he was detained during a US investigation.

While violent crime surged across Honduras, unemployment more than doubled. Extreme poverty surged, and so too did the government’s security spending.

To beef up his military, President Juan Orlando Hernández dipped into the social programs that kept a mostly poor population from tumbling into destitution.

As Alex Rubinstein reported for The Grayzone, the instability of post-coup Honduras has been particularly harsh on LGTTBI (Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Travesti, Bisexual, and Intersex) Hondurans. More than 300 of them have been killed since 2009, a dramatic spike in hate crimes reinforced by the homophobic rhetoric of the right-wing Evangelical Confraternity that represents the civil-society wing of the ultra-conservative Hernandez government.

As the social chaos enveloped Honduran society, migration to the US-Mexico border began to surge to catastrophic levels. Unable to make ends meet, some Hondurans sent their children alone to the border, hoping that they would temporary protective or refugee status.

By 2014, the blowback of the Obama administration’s coup had caused a national emergency. Thousands of Hondurans were winding up in cages in detention camps run by the US Department of Homeland Security, and many of them were not even 16 years old.

That summer, Obama went to Congress for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to ramp up border militarization and deport as many unaccompanied Central American minors as possible.

Biden used the opportunity to rustle up an additional billion dollars, exploiting the crisis to fund a massive neoliberal project that saw Honduras as a base for international financial opportunity. His plan was quickly ratified, and the first phase of the Alliance for Prosperity began.

The implementation of the Alliance for Prosperity was overseen by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), a US-dominated international financial institution based in Washington, DC that supports corporate investment in Latin America and the Caribbean.

A graphic [above] on the IADB’s website outlined the plan’s objectives in anodyne language that concealed its aggressively neoliberal agenda.

For instance, the IADB promised the “fostering [of] regional energy integration.” This was a clear reference to Plan Pueblo Panama, a region-wide neoliberal development blueprint that was conceived as a boon to the energy industry. Under the plan, the IADB would raise money from Latin American taxpayers to pay for the expansion of power lines that would carry electricity from Mexico all the way to Panama.

Honduras, with its rivers and natural resources, provided the project with a major hub of energy production. In order for the country’s energy to be traded and transmitted to other countries, however, the International Monetary Fund mandated that its national electricity company be privatized.

Since the implementation of that component of “Plan Biden,” energy costs have begun to surge for residential Honduran consumers. In a country with a 66 percent poverty rate, electricity privatization has turned life from precarious to practically impossible.

Rather than languish in darkness for long hours with unpaid bills piling up, many desperate citizens have journeyed north towards the U.S. border.

As intended, the Alliance for Prosperity’s regional energy integration plan has spurred an influx of multi-national energy companies to Honduras. Hydro-electric dams and power plants began rising up in the midst of the lush pine forests and winding rivers that define the Honduran biosphere, pushing many rural indigenous communities into a life-and-death struggle.

This July, The Grayzone traveled to Reitoca, a remote farming community located in the heart of the Honduran “dry sector.” The indigenous Lenca residents of this town depend on their local river for fish, recreation, and most importantly, water to irrigate the crops that provide them with a livelihood. But the rush on energy investment brought an Italian-Chilean firm called Progelsa to the area to build a massive hydro-electric dam just upstream.

Wilmer Alonso, a member of the Lenca Indigenous Council of Reitoca, spoke with The Grayzone, shaking with emotion as he described the consequences of the dam for his community.

“The entire village is involved in this struggle,” Alonso said. “Everyone knows the catastrophe that the construction of this hydro-electric plant would create.”

He explained that, like so many foreign multi-nationals in Honduras, Progelsa employs an army of private thugs to intimidate protesters: “The private company uses the army and the police to repress us. They accuse us of being trespassers, but they are the ones trespassing on our land.”

The Alliance for Progress also provided the backdrop for the assassination of the renowned Honduran environmentalist and feminist organizer Berta Cáceres.

On March 3, 2016, Cáceres was gunned down in her home in rural Honduras. A towering figure in her community with a presence on the international stage, Cáceres had been leading the fight against a local dam project overseen by DESA, a powerful Honduran energy company backed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and run by powerful former military officers.

The representative that DESA sent to sign its deal with USAID, Sergio Rodríguez, was later accused of masterminding Cáceres’ murder, alongside military officials and former company employees.

In March 2018, the Honduran police arrested DESA’s executive president, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, accusing him of “providing logistics and other resources to one of the material authors” of the assassination. Castillo was a West Point graduate who worked in the energy industry while serving as a Honduran intelligence officer.

This July, The Grayzone visited the family of Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza, a town nestled in the verdant mountains of Intibucá. Cáceres’ mother, Doña Berta, lives there under 24-hour police guard paid for by human rights groups.

The Cáceres household is bristling with security cameras, and family members get around in armored cars. In her living room, we met Laura Zúñiga Cáceres of the Civic Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the human rights group that her mother Berta founded.

“The violence in Honduras generates migrant caravans, which tears apart society, and it all has to do with all of this extractivism, this violence,” Zúñiga Caceres told The Grayzone. “And the response from the US government is to send more soldiers to our land; it is to reinforce one of the factors that generates violence the most in our society.”

“We are receiving reports from our comrades that there is a US military presence in indigenous Lenca territory,” she added. “For what? Humanitarian aid? With weapons. It’s violence. It’s persecution.”

The Alliance for Prosperity also commissioned the privatization of health services through a deceptively named program called the Social Protection Framework Law, or la Ley Marco de Protección Social.

Promoted by Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández as a needed reform, the scheme was advanced through a classic shock doctrine-style episode: In 2015, close associates of Hernández siphoned some $300 million from the Honduran Institute for Social Services (IHSS) into private businesses, starving hospitals of supplies and causing several thousand excess deaths, mostly among the poor.

With the medical sector in shambles, Hondurans were then forced to seek healthcare from the private companies that were to provide services under Hernandez’s “Social Protection” plan.

“The money that was robbed [in the IHSS scandal] was used to justify the Ley Marco Proteccion Social,” Karen Spring, a researcher and coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network, told The Grayzone. “The hospitals were left in horrible conditions with no human capital and they were left to farm out to private hospitals.” “When Hondurans go to hospitals, they will be told they need to go to a private company, and through the deductions in their jobs they will have to pay a lot out of pocket,” Spring said. “Through the old universal system you would be covered no matter what you had, from a broken arm to cancer. No more.”

In response, Hondurans poured out into the streets, launching the March of Torches-- the first major wave of continuous protests against Hernandez and his corrupt administration.

In March 2015, in the middle of the crisis, Joe Biden rushed down to Guatemala City to embrace Hernández and restore confidence in the Alliance for Prosperity.

“I come from a state that, in fact, is the corporate capital of America. More corporations are headquartered there than anyplace else,” Biden boasted, with Hernández and the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador standing by his side. “They want to come here. Corporate America wants to come.”

Emphasizing the need for more anti-corruption and security measures to attract international financial investment, Biden pointed to Plan Colombia as a shining model-- and to himself as its architect. “Today Colombia is a nation transformed, just as you hope to be 10 to 15 years from now,” the vice president proclaimed.

Following Biden’s visit, the privatization of the Honduran economy continued apace-- and so did the corruption, the repression, and the unflinching support from Washington.

Goal ThermometerBy 2017, the movement in Honduras that had galvanized against the U.S.-orchestrated 2009 coup saw its most immediate opportunity for political transformation at the ballot box. President Hernández was running for re-election, violating a constitutional provision on term limits. His opponent, Salvador Nasrallah, was a popular broadcast personality who provided a centrist consensus choice for the varied elements that opposed the country’s coup regime.

When voting ended on November 26, Nasrallah’s victory appeared certain, with exit polls showing him comfortably ahead by several points. But suddenly, the government announced that a power outage required the suspension of vote counting. Days later, Hernández was declared the victor by about 1 percent.

The fraud was so transparent that the Organization of American States (OAS), normally an arm of US interests in Latin America, declared in a preliminary report that “errors, irregularities and systemic problems,” as well as “extreme statistical improbability,” rendered the election invalid.

But the United States recognized the results anyway, leaving disenfranchised Hondurans with protest as their only recourse.

“Hondurans tried to change what happened in their country through the 2017 elections, not just Hernández but all the implementation of all these policies that the Biden plan had funded and implemented all these years since the coup,” explained Karen Spring, of the Honduras Solidarity Network.

“They tried to change that reality through votes and when the elections turned out to be a fraud, tons of people had no choice but to take to the streets.”

At the front lines of the protests in 2017 was Spring’s longtime partner, the Honduran activist Edwin Espinal. Following a protest in November of that year where property damage took place, Espinal was arrested at gunpoint at his home and accused of setting fire to the front door of a hotel. He fervently denied all charges, accusing the government of persecuting him for his political activism.

In fact, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had placed a protective measure on Espinal in 2010 in response to previous attempts to legally railroad him.

The government placed Espinal in pre-trial detention in La Tolva, a US-style maximum security prison normally reserved for violent criminals and narco-traffickers. Last October, Espinal and Spring were married in the jail while surrounded by masked guards.

“Since the Biden plan, contractors have been coming down to build these US-style maximum security prisons,” Spring said. “That’s where my husband Edwin Espinal is being held.”

“They say the company is Honduran but there’s no way Hondurans could have built that without US architects or US construction firms giving them the plans,” she added. “I’ve been in the prison and it’s like they dumped a US prison in the middle of Honduras.”

Reflecting on her husband’s persecution, Spring explained, “Edwin wanted to stay in his country to change the reality that caused mass migration. He’s one of the people who’s faced consequences because he went to the streets. And he’s faced persecution for years because he’s one of the Hondurans who wanted to change the country by staying and fighting. Berta Caceres was another.”

“Hondurans wanted to use their votes to change the country and now they’re voting with their feet,” she continued. “So if Biden’s plan really addressed the root causes of the migrant crisis, why aren’t people asking why migration is getting worse? Hondurans are voting on the Biden plan by fleeing and saying your plan didn’t work and it made our situation worse by fleeing to the border.”
Now, if Democratic Party primary voters only cared about issues! And their candidates' characters! Trump told reporters yesterday that his dream is going to come true-- the only way he could win reelection is what will happen. "I think right now, it will be Sleepy Joe. I feel he’ll limp across the line. So, what I think doesn’t mean anything, but I know the other people, I know him. I think he’s off his game by a lot, but personally, I think it’s going to be Sleepy Joe."

Who Will Be The Democratic Nominee? by Nancy Ohanian

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