Saturday, November 22, 2014

Progressives Should Stop Confirming Wall Street Hacks Nominated By Obama


Elizabeth Warren relentlessly grilled a hapless Federal Housing Finance Agency Director, Mel Watt Thursday. Watch the questioning above. Clearly he was the wrong guy for the job and Obama should never have made this pathetic, political appointment-- and the Senate shouldn't have approved it. They did it as they were rushing to get home for Christmas along with half a dozen judges, the Secretary of Homeland Security, an Assistant Secretary of the State, a Deputy Secretary of State and a bunch of other administrators the Republicans had kept bottled up for partisan reasons. The Republicans filibustered Watt, for no particular reason, and two of his Republican political pals-- home state Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Rob Portman (R-OH)-- joined every Democrat in passing cloture. Warren voted for cloture. In the end he was confirmed 57-41. Is Warren sorry now she voted for him? If you're asking, you haven't watched the video.

A few days ago Warren wrote a piece about a new Obama nominee, multimillionaire Antonio Weiss-- net worth somewhere between $55 million and $200 million, but who's counting?-- as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department, a position that oversees Dodd-Frank implementation and a wide range of banking and economic policymaking issues, including consumer protection. Something tells me this isn't going to be one Warren votes for-- nor should she... and neither should anyone else. As she said, enough is enough. "Who," she asked, "is Antonio Weiss?" Well, besides a generous donor to the Democratic Party, here's how Elizabeth Warren describes him:
He's the head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard. He has spent the last 20 years of his career at Lazard-- most of it advising on international mergers and acquisitions.

That raises the first issue. Weiss has spent most of his career working on international transactions-- from 2001 to 2009 he lived and worked in Paris-- and now he's being asked to run domestic finance at Treasury. Neither his background nor his professional experience makes him qualified to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury. As someone who has spent my career focused on domestic economic issues, including a stint of my own at the Treasury Department, I know how important these issues are and how much the people in Treasury can shape policies. I also know that there are a lot of people who have spent their careers focused on these issues, and Weiss isn't one of them.

The second issue is corporate inversions. Basically, a bunch of companies have decided that all the regular tax loopholes they get to exploit aren't enough, so they have begun taking advantage of an even bigger loophole that allows them to maintain their operations in America but claim foreign citizenship and cut their U.S. taxes even more. No one is fooled by the bland words "corporate inversion." These companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits.

One of the biggest and most public corporate inversions last summer was the deal cut by Burger King to slash its tax bill by purchasing the Canadian company Tim Hortons and then "inverting" the American company to Canadian ownership. And Weiss was right there, working on Burger King's tax deal. Weiss' work wasn't unusual for Lazard. That firm has helped put together three of the last four major corporate inversions that have been announced in the U.S. And like those old Hair Club commercials used to say, Lazard isn't just the President of the Corporate Loopholes Club-- it's also a client. Lazard moved its own headquarters from the United States to Bermuda in 2005 to take advantage of a particularly slimy tax loophole that was closed shortly afterwards. Even the Treasury Department under the Bush administration found Lazard's practices objectionable.

The White House and Treasury have strongly denounced inversions, and rightly so. But they undercut their own position by advancing Mr. Weiss. Already Senator Grassley has denounced the move as hypocritical, and Senator Durbin has expressed his opposition to the nomination over the inversion issue. The Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents smaller banks from across the country, has opposed the nomination as well-- only the second time in thirty years that they have publicly opposed a presidential nomination.

The response from the White House to these concerns has been two-fold. First, they say that Mr. Weiss was not involved in the tax side of the Burger King deal. But let's speak plainly: This was a tax deal, plain and simple. It was designed to reduce Burger King's tax burden, and Weiss was an important and highly-paid part of the team. Second, the White House claims that Mr. Weiss is personally opposed to inversions. Really? Did he work under protest, forced to assist this deal against his will? Did he speak out against tax inversions? Did he call out his company for profiting so handsomely from its tax loophole work? The claim of personal distaste is convenient, but irrelevant.

Third, there's the larger, more general issue of Wall Street executives dominating the Obama administration, as well as the Democratic Party's, overall economic policymaking apparatus. I wrote about this problem a couple of months ago on The Huffington Post in more detail.

Here is what I wrote then:
Just look at the influence of one mega-bank-- Citigroup-- on our government. Starting with former Citigroup CEO Robert Rubin, three of the last four Treasury secretaries under Democratic presidents held high-paying jobs at Citigroup either before or after serving at Treasury-- and the fourth was offered, but declined, Citigroup's CEO position. Directors of the National Economic Council and Office of Management and Budget, the current Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. trade representative, also pulled in millions from Citigroup.

That's what the revolving door looks like at just one Too Big to Fail Bank. What about others? The influence of Goldman Sachs in Washington has been much documented, including here at The Huffington Post. JPMorgan? Shortly before the [Eric] Cantor episode, another former member of Congress -- Democrat Melissa Bean -- took the same senior job at JPMorgan Chase previously held by Democrat Bill Daley before his recent service as White House Chief of Staff. Yes-- this is just a single position at JPMorgan Chase, evidently reserved for the latest politician ready to cash in on Wall Street.

I could go on-- and I will. Soon after they crashed the economy and got tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts, the biggest Wall Street banks started lobbying Congress to head off any serious financial regulation. Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics found that in 2009 alone, the financial services sector employed 1,447 former federal employees to carry out their lobbying efforts, swarming all over Congress. And who were their top lobbyists? Members of Congress-- in fact, 73 former Members of Congress.

According to a report by the Institute for America's Future, by the following year, the six biggest banks employed 243 lobbyists who once worked in the federal government, including 33 who had worked as chiefs of staff for members of Congress and 54 who had worked as staffers for the banking oversight committees in the Senate or the House.
In recent years, President Obama has repeatedly turned to nominees with close Wall Street ties for high-level economic positions. Jack Lew, who was a top Citigroup official, now serves as Treasury Secretary. The President's choice for Treasury's highest international position, Nathan Sheets, also comes from Citi. For the number two spot at the Federal Reserve, the President tapped Stanley Fischer, another former Citigroup executive. A Bank of America executive, Stefan Selig, was put in charge of international trade at the Commerce Department. The President's two recent picks for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission-- including his choice for Chairman-- are lawyers who have spent their careers representing big financial institutions.

There's plenty of financial expertise in this country. People with banking experience haven't all flocked to the biggest banks; community banks and regional banks, along with smaller trading houses and credit unions, have some very talented people. Nor must every government official come from the financial sector; executives from other business areas, lawyers who have practiced in a wide range of fields, academics, financial advisers, non-profit employees, think-tank researchers, and people with experience elsewhere in government have deep wells of knowledge-- and perspectives that sometimes differ from those who run Wall Street banks.

The over-representation of Wall Street banks in senior government positions sends a bad message. It tells people that one-- and only one-- point of view will dominate economic policymaking. It tells people that whatever goes wrong in this economy, the Wall Street banks will be protected first. That's yet another advantage that Wall Street just doesn't need.

I have voted against only one of President Obama's nominees: Michael Froman, a Citigroup alumnus who is currently storming the halls of Congress as U.S. Trade Representative pushing trade deals that threaten to undermine financial regulation, workers' rights, and environmental protections. Enough is enough.

It's time for the Obama administration to loosen the hold that Wall Street banks have over economic policy making. Sure, big banks are important, but running this economy for American families is a lot more important.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

TV Watch: AMC's "Better Call Saul" premiere is now scheduled as a two-night affair, February 8-9


by Ken

Don't get too excited -- there's not much to it, but come on, it's been two full weeks since we passed on news of the Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul. I realize we're being manipulated shamelessly by the AMC publicity machine, dribbling out snitches 'n' snatches of not much, but what're ya gonna do? Anyway, here is the "Tingle Fingers" promo:

As to the breaking news about the Better Call Saul rollout, the deal now is that Episode 1 will air Sunday night, February 8, in what I take to be the show's regular time slot, and Episode 2 has been slotted in for a special Monday-night airing.

Meanwhile, here's a clip we haven't passed along before called "Better Call Saul: The Song," described as "an exclusive video featuring an original song performed by Junior Brown, with lyrics by show creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould."


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Just for the record, we all know that the Ooh That Damn Obama Party was never going to play nice with the president, don't we?


Yeah, theze guyz wuz really gonna do a heapa cooperatin' with Ooh That Damn Obama.

"[Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell's conciliatory statements are encouraging, but he's about to discover that he cannot persuade Republican Senators and Congressmen to cooperate on anything constructive. We're about to get two years of intense, horrifying stupidity. If you thought Benghazi was a legitimate scandal that reveals Obama's real plans for America then you're an idiot, but these next two years will be a (briefly) happy period for you."
-- "GOPlifer" blogger Chris Ladd, in a November 10
"The missing story of the 2014 election"

"We have constitutional authority to do a string of things. [Impeachment] would be the very last option, but I would not rule it out.”
-- Rep. Steve "The Stupe" King (R-IA), on CNN yesterday

"The fact that there were no rape gaffes from Republican candidates this year doesn’t mean that the Party has moved toward the center. Instead, it has learned how to muffle its extremism. . . . But building a Republican Party that can entertain ideas and pass laws with far-reaching answers to the country's problems is harder than winning an election."
-- George Packer, in his November 24 New Yorker
"Comment" piece,
"The Harder Part"
by Ken

If the story of the GOP response to the president's immigration initiative were accounted for honestly, it would go something like this: Republicans who felt obliged to pretend that they hoped to cooperate with President Obama have been gifted with an excuse why they don't hafta.

When I had my brief say Wednesday night about the announcement of last night's address ("As the president prepares to make his big announcement, we ponder what it means to be an American"), I made fun -- or at least tried to -- of the anti-immigration zealotry of a natio of immigrants. I intentionally avoided wading into what would obviously be the No. 1 story, which was not immigration but That Damn Obama.

I didn't go into it because it was both preordained and obvious. You don't get a lot of surprises these days from people (and I use the term in the most inclusive sense possible, covering all life forms that can be shown to be genetically human) whose political agenda begins and almost ends with Ooh That Damn Obama. Well, there's also the business of freeing the predatory oligarchs to rape and pillage the economy and re-creating the social agenda of the Inquisition. But that's all wrapped up in Ooh That Damn Obama.

Naturally it has all played as we could have written it up Wednesday, or the week before, or the week before that. The only (mild) surprise is that, as the Washington Post's Robert Costa reports today: "GOP hopes backlash doesn't backfire." Of course we can tell easily enough that our Robert has apparently spent too much time hobnobbing with Village types:
Just two weeks ago, Republicans handed President Obama a humiliating defeat at the polls, winning full control of Congress. But already, party leaders fear that the conservative uproar over the president’s immigration actions will doom any hopes for a stable period of GOP governance.

The moves announced Thursday night by Obama — which will protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation — have sparked an immediate and widening rebellion among tea party lawmakers that top Republicans are struggling to contain.

Despite expanded powers and some new titles, soon-to-be Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) remain sharply limited in their ability to persuade their most conservative members. The duo has been thrust back into the same cycle of intraparty warfare that has largely defined the GOP during the Obama years and that has hurt the party’s brand among the broader electorate.
Chief among these mysterious people who are reputed to have been fantasizing about "a stable period of GOP governance," presumably, is the soon-to-be Senate majority leader, the lovely "Miss Mitch" McConnell. Why is why I've plunked the quote from "GOPlifer" blogger Chris Ladd atop this post, with the note that it dates from November 10, and thus really isn't connected to the current immigration follies. Already Chris was pointing out that our Miss Mitch is "about to discover that he cannot persuade Republican Senators and Congressmen to cooperate on anything constructive."

(I should note that Chris's post on "GOPlifer" -- which appears on the Houston Chronicle's website -- is called "This missing story of the 2014 election," and insists that "this was a dark week for Republicans," arguing at some length and in considerable detail that his party, far from broadening its appeal, merely deepened it, winning in places that seem already well served by the Republican congressional clowns who have provided a steady diet of "Climate denial, theocracy, thinly veiled racism, paranoia, and Benghazi hearings. Lots and lots of hearings on Benghazi" -- definitely worth a look. Daily Kos's murphthesurf3 has written a swell piece about Chris's post.)

Have we already forgotten how much time (which is to say every minute of every working day) those glorious "leaders" Miss Mitch and "Sunny John" Boehner have devoted to destroying the Obama presidency? And gotten away scotfree? Did nobody notice that Sunny John already had no effective control over the House majority caucus in the last session of Congress? And that his new Class of '14 warriors are going to be even more wildly out of control?

Just for laughs, and perhaps a touch of nostalgia, I've put that new humdinger of a Steve "The Stupe" King quote at the top of this post. We've got incoming freshman Republican congresscreeps who may make The Stupe look like a statesman. Okay, maybe not like a statesman, but you get the idea.

Ditto the new crop of GOP senators -- you know, the life forms who are putting Miss Mitch at the helm of the Senate majority.

Now how long do you think it would have taken these people to find a reason to rise in righteous dudgeon against the source of all evil, Ooh That Damn Obama.

At this point I'm going to turn the floor over to The New Yorker's George Packer. In his "Comment" piece, "The Hard Part," in the November 24 issue, the tizzy Republicans were thrown into in 2012 by President Obama's reelection. Much as the Democrats did after their midterm congressional whupping in 2010, George writes, Republicans in 2010 "ask[ed] themselves what went wrong."
They wrote earnest opinion pieces, organized soul-searching retreats, formed high-minded study groups, and launched reformist efforts such as the Growth and Opportunity Project, which published a scathing report about the dire state of the Party.

On November 4th, it all seemed to pay off. Political offices around the country, from governorships and state legislatures to Congress, are now decisively red. Even given the Republicans’ advantages in electoral geography and turnout, their sweep should be more chilling to Democrats than the Tea Party triumphs of 2010, because it came in a period of partial economic sunshine, with Republicans statistically less popular than Democrats. The Party that has spent the past six years doing everything in its power to prevent the President from stimulating growth, boosting wages, improving infrastructure, controlling health-care costs, and regulating Wall Street was rewarded with clear majorities in both houses. The only prize left is the big one in 2016.

Republican leaders, determined to prove that they can build as well as destroy, have made a mighty effort not to seem high on victory. “There will be no government shutdowns,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader-elect, promised. Cory Gardner, the Senator-elect from Colorado, warned, “If Republicans don’t prove that we can govern with maturity, that we can govern with competence, we’ll see the same kind of results two years from now, except it will be a wave going back a different direction.” Senator Rand Paul, a potential candidate for the Presidency, said, “You know, I think the gridlock is going to end.” He sounded like a patient trying to talk his way out of rehab.

There are reasons to be skeptical that the Party has really turned a corner on its chronic obstructionism. Within ten days of the election, McConnell was sounding like himself again. After China and the United States announced common goals for reducing greenhouse gases, he accused Obama of sending “a signal that he has no intention of moving toward the middle”—a place, apparently, where the two parties agree on limitless carbon emissions from coal plants, like the ones in McConnell’s home state, Kentucky. The House Speaker, John Boehner, concurred: “The President intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact.”

The recent, utterly alarming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change got through to the Chinese leadership, but not to the G.O.P.’s. The probable next chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is James Inhofe, of Oklahoma, who has called global warming a “hoax.” He’s joined in ignorance by Senator Ted Cruz, the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Science and Space, and Senator Jeff Sessions, who will likely chair the Budget Committee. The Republican leadership is determined to prevent or undo any executive action by Obama on greenhouse gases, as well as on immigration reform.

When the Republicans talk about proving that they can govern, they don’t mean that they intend to solve the country’s core problems. The bills that the leadership has vowed to bring to the floor include corporate tax reform, fast-track trade agreements, construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and a repeal of the tax on medical devices. Most of these proposals are marginal enough to betray a tactical mind-set: the purpose is not to address important issues but to corner the President with bipartisan votes and improve the G.O.P.’s image ahead of 2016.

In a post-election editorial, the conservative National Review dismissed the whole idea that congressional Republicans need to mature, arguing that the “desire to prove Republicans can govern” will only divide the Party between its establishment and its extremists, play into the hands of opponents in the Democratic Party and the media, and perhaps even persuade voters to keep government divided by electing a Democratic President in 2016. The editorial urged the Republican leadership to dedicate itself to one goal: winning the White House—an extension of McConnell’s stated determination in 2010 to make Obama a one-term President. In both cases, the main objective is power. You can hear the voice of the Party’s enablers: why sober up now that the bad behavior is paying off?

A party that dedicated itself to extreme policy positions and a strategy of legislative intransigence won’t find reform easy. Some moderate Republicans studied the résumés of the midterm candidates and decided that the Party was returning to its respectable self of the Eisenhower years—the party of Rotarians, prudent business owners, patriotic veterans. This is wishful thinking. That party no longer exists, and neither does the political consensus of the postwar years. It was based on a wide distribution of economic rewards, a high degree of civic participation, and respected national institutions, including the federal government, which the modern Republican Party has done everything it can to discredit (with help from feckless Democratic ideas and actions, not least the rollout of Obamacare).

The fact that there were no rape gaffes from Republican candidates this year doesn’t mean that the Party has moved toward the center. Instead, it has learned how to muffle its extremism. The Growth and Opportunity Project’s withering assessment had no new policies to propose—it seemed wary of the very notion of ideological debate. The report was a strategy plan—a guide to using messaging, polling, technology, fund-raising, and other “campaign mechanics,” in order to reverse the Party’s growing isolation as a bastion of the older, rural, white electorate.

By the standard of the midterms, the report was a success. But building a Republican Party that can entertain ideas and pass laws with far-reaching answers to the country’s problems is harder than winning an election. It might even take losing another one.

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Dead Armadillos? An Analysis Of The 2014 South Dakota Senate Race By Peter Stavrianos


Just so you know, Peter Stavrianos served as Chief of Staff for South Dakota Senators George McGovern, Jim Abourezk and Tom Daschle from 1962-1995. Stavrianos holds a BA and MA in political science from Harvard and UC Berkeley respectively. He's been retired since 2005 but served as an occasional adviser to Rick Weiland's campaign. This is his analysis:

Most Democrats ran hard toward the muddled middle in the 2014 elections. Once there they quickly discovered the truth of the old Texas observation that the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead armadillos.

But in one red state, South Dakota, Rick Weiland ran progressive from wire to wire. He openly channeled Elizabeth Warren. He even said publicly that his campaign was a laboratory for experimentation with ways to deliver the Massachusetts progressive's message with a Midwestern twang.

Middle of the roaders, smarting from criticism their strategy was a colorless pablum that led to double digit defeats, have pointed out that Weiland also lost by double digits. Their claim-- it was just a mid- term election in the 6th year of an unpopular presidency, so all Democrats suffered regardless of their message.

But observers who know South Dakota would beg to differ. The reason is the independent candidacy of former South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler.

Yes, Weiland lost 50-30 to two term former Governor Mike Rounds. But did his progressive, anti-big money politics message really lose by 20%?


In fact it lost by just 2%, an astonishingly close result in a state where the Democratic candidates for Governor and House, on the same ballot as Weiland, lost by 45% and 33% respectively.

This conclusion is not wishful progressive thinking. It is based on a PPP tracking poll completed just two days before the election.

That astonishing survey showed Weiland trailed Rounds by just 2% in a race without Pressler, and was the second choice of the overwhelming majority of Pressler voters.

This was hardly surprising since the independent Pressler ran as a liberal reform candidate, loudly proclaiming he had voted for Obama twice, supported Obamacare, gay marriage, and had marched with Martin Luther King.

In a race without Pressler, Weiland and his message were 30-40% closer to victory than his ballot mate Democratic candidates for Governor and Congress.

Weiland's message was also closer to winning than were the candidacies of big name incumbents in states far friendlier to Democrats than South Dakota.

In Kentucky, for example, where national Democrats spent tens of millions of dollars on a race so timid the previously popular statewide officeholder was not even allowed to say whether or not she had voted for Obama, that unfortunate middle of the roader took her big bankroll, and her timid message, and turned a tight race into a 15% loss.

In South Dakota, by way of contrast, Weiland, an unknown, two time political loser, took an old car, and a new populist message on the road. With less than zero help from his national party he turned a 30% deficit into what would have been a very narrow loss, or conceivably even a win, had independent Pressler not grabbed 17% of his vote.

Rick Weiland and his Take it Back campaign against big money control of both national political parties struck real sparks in South Dakota. The sparks Weiland generated speaking Warrenese in a red state way may have been obscured by the effect of an aging ex- Senators back in the day windmill tilt, but close observers know what really happened in South Dakota in 2014.

If you don't believe it, just watch 2016 and see how many savvy seekers of public office copy Grimes, and how many copy Weiland.

Those numbers, like those from South Dakota in 2014, may surprise you.

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Don't Blame The Defeat Of The Ossified Beltway Democrats On Young Voters Not Showing Up


Mostly old and in the way

Yesterday NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released a poll, from which the sclerotic Beltway Democrats, who are utterly steeped in denial about their own national rejection, will take solace. These are the 5 top priorities respondents gave the pollsters:
82% support Congress providing access to lower the costs of student loans;
75% support increasing spending on infrastructure, roads and highways;
65% support Congress raising the minimum wage;
60% support approving emergency funding to deal with Ebola in West Africa;
59% support addressing climate change by limiting carbon emissions
These are all Democratic Party initiatives being pushed aggressively by progressives like Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Alan Grayson (D-FL). Conversely most of the conservative ideas that the Koch brothers have been pushing through their puppet politicians like Paul Ryan (R-WI), John Boehner (R-OH) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not find majority support:
34% support gradually raising Social Security's retirement age to 69
41% support cutting federal funding for the Affordable Care Act
44% support TPP/NAFTA-like trade agreements with Asian countries
44% support reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits for wealthier retirees
49% support authorizing the use of U.S. troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria
The only Republican Party position with actual majority support is for building the Keystone XL pipeline (54%)-- something that seems to be at odds with the even greater support to address climate change by limiting carbon emissions.

Nancy Pelosi replaced her failed Blue Dog head of the DCCC, Steve Israel, with someone, Ben Ray Lujan, who was once part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and who can't help but be an improvement over Israel. But Israel was given a leadership position-- in messaging no less, his biggest single failure-- and Lujan has already announced he's not changing anything at the dysfunctional, corrupt and utterly incompetent DCCC. The Beltway Democrats, lead by a pathetically geriatric cadre of over-the-hill politicians, would rather blame the voters than look inward. That's not going to do anyone any good... except the Republicans.

Andy Bernstein of HeadCount and Ashley Spillane of Rock the Vote, dispute the narrative being pushed by hacks like DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, eager only to deflect blame from herself, that it was the fault of young people not showing up at the polls. Even beyond what it would take to ask oneself why young people were discouraged from voting, the whole premise isn't even based in fact.
A week after the midterm election, you can hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without seeing a headline about disappointing turnout among Millennials this election cycle. We’d like to take this opportunity to say to all the Millennials out there-- and to their critics-- shake it off and take another look at the data.

In a horrendous political climate that left the majority of voters in the country opting out of this election, young voters didn’t succumb to this trend. According to data published by CIRCLE, Millennials comprised 13 percent of voters this year, up 2 percent from 2010, when youth voters counted for 11 percent of the electorate. They cast 9.9 million votes, up from 9 million four years before-- a modest increase of 0.6 percent.

Meanwhile, overall turnout was down to its lowest levels since WWII.

We aren’t declaring victory. When barely one-in-four young people voted in this year’s election, we know there is so much more work to do. But the bottom line is: young people are actually bucking the national trend.

They turned out in spite of growing up in an era of complete dysfunction in Washington, when approval ratings for Congress and party affiliations are at an all-time low. They turned out despite the lack of attention being paid to the issues they care most about. They turned out despite of the challenges erected to their participation through new voting laws all over the country.

Over the past two years alone, 10 states have passed restrictive voting laws purposefully intended to limit young people’s ability to register to vote and cast their ballots. This in spite of evidence that states with a photo voter ID law saw, on average, a 4.4 percent lower turnout than those that did not.

In North Carolina, early voting was curtailed and same-day registration was eliminated. In Arizona and Kansas, efforts included requiring voters to provide proof of citizenship upon registering. In Tennessee, college professors could use their university IDs to vote, but students were barred from doing the same. And perhaps most absurdly: voters in Texas could use a gun license to vote, but not a student ID.

...As a part of our coalition with civic engagement organizations, tech companies, and cultural leaders, our organizations registered nearly 700,000 voters this year-- critical considering that 12,000 young people turn 18 each day.

The increase in youth voter turnout in 2014 sends a powerful message that many seem to be missing: even with so much working against them, Millennials are on the precipice of becoming the most influential voting bloc in the United States. This is the country’s largest and most diverse generation-- over 90 million strong, with more than 43% identifying as non-white. Close to 90% say they gave to charity last year and close to 50% volunteer for causes they believe in.

Young people are the future, and this generation in particular wields incredible influence. Politicians and pundits should sit up and take notice; after all, Election Day 2016 is only 728 days away.

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Mark Pocan Can Show House Democrats The Way Out Of The Darkness Created By The Current Timid, Fractured, Sclerotic Leadership


Wednesday the Congressional Progressive Caucus elected-- mostly reelected-- it's caucus officers. With no opposition, Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) were again voted caucus co-chairs and Barbara Lee (D-CA) was reelected whip. Freshman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) was made a vice chair/liaison to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Matt Cartright was also named a vice chair/liaison for new members. But the biggest news was that the CPC amended its rules to create an important new post-- First Vice Chair, the third-ranking position in the Caucus. And they elected Mark Pocan (D-WI).

Mark's a terrific choice-- an organizer, a dynamic, savvy go-getter with a solid vision for Congress and the country... and, the single best voting record in the whole House. According to ProgressivePunch, his lifetime crucial vote score was 98.68. In way of comparison, Grijalva has a 96.43, Ellison a 95.47 and Barbara Lee a 94.86, all impeccable scores. Of the 3 worst Democrats-- Pete Gallego (34.22), John Barrow (35.70) and Kyrsten Sinema (36.36), only Sinema managed to avoid Great Blue Dog Apocalypse II.

Yesterday, one of the important newspapers in Pocan's district, the Cap Times took a careful look into their congressman's first successful term in Washington-- and the huge reelection numbers he got two weeks ago.
During his first two years as the congressman representing southern Wisconsin’s 2nd District, Mark Pocan has served as a bold progressive. And voters seem to like that. On Nov. 4, Pocan swept to re-election with 224,548 votes. Though there is still a bit of counting going on around the country, it appears that Pocan’s vote total will be the highest for any Democratic House candidate in any contested race anywhere in the country.

Pocan won almost 75,000 more votes than House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was re-elected in a progressive San Francisco-based district. He won 85,000 more votes than House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who was running in a very Democratic Maryland district. Pocan also won a lot more votes than top Republicans. The Wisconsin Democrat secured 100,000 more votes than House Speaker John Boehner, who was running in an overwhelmingly Republican district. While he did not quite rival veteran Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner’s total in Wisconsin’s uber-Republican 5th District, Pocan got 42,000 more votes than Republican superstar Paul Ryan.

Why, in a year that saw Democrats struggling just about everywhere, did Mark Pocan run so strongly?

Howie Klein, a national activist who follows congressional races closely, suggested that Pocan’s appeal might have something to do with his unblinking progressivism-- a progressivism that extends beyond lines of partisanship and that contrasts with the drab political “messaging” of most Democrats. We think Klein may be on to something. After all:
A year ago, Pocan was the only member of the Wisconsin congressional delegation to oppose the bipartisan budget deal, on the grounds that it locked in austerity policies and would “continue to do needless harm to our families, our students and our economy in the coming year and for years to come.”

Again and again, Pocan has broken not just with Republican hawks but with President Obama to question military interventions that threaten to cost lives and resources-- and that do not hold out the promise of resolutions to long-standing conflicts.

When workers struck fast-food restaurants in Madison and across the country to demand higher wages, Pocan took their grievances to the floor of the U.S. House, reminding Congress, "The myth of a minimum wage worker is a teenager living with their parents while working part-time after school. In fact, the minimum wage worker is a very real person who has had a stagnant wage while the rest of the economy has prospered."

When postal workers rallied to keep rural offices and urban sorting centers open, Pocan did not just endorse their efforts. He rallied with them, as he has with activists on behalf of labor rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights and a host of other issues.

After an activist majority on the U.S. Supreme Court undermined the Voting Rights Act, Pocan and Congressman Keith Ellison mounted the boldest response, proposing a Right to Vote Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in order to guarantee all Americans an affirmative right to vote and empower Congress to protect that right.

After the judicial activists on the Supreme Court knocked down barriers to corporate and billionaire dominance of U.S. elections, Pocan worked with grass-roots “Move to Amend” activists and Congressman Rick Nolan, D-Minn., to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring: "Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings only, and not to government-created artificial legal entities such as corporations and limited liability companies; and political campaign spending is not a form of speech protected under the First Amendment."
Nothing about Pocan’s first term was cautious. The former Wisconsin state representative did not go to Washington to fit in; he went to be heard. That’s rare for a new representative of a diverse urban and rural district that includes farm country, factory towns and a state capital-- and that in recent decades has sent both a Republican (Scott Klug) and a Democrat (Tammy Baldwin) to Congress. But Pocan is a rare figure in our politics, locally and nationally. Voters recognize this, and they rewarded Pocan for standing strong as a true progressive.

Democrats in Wisconsin and nationally are trying to figure out how to reposition and renew the party after a rough 2014. They would be wise to follow Mark Pocan’s example.
Perhaps Pocan's new gig as the CPC First Vice Chair is going to be about helping his Democratic colleagues in Congress understand that, instead of just taking Blue Dog advice from Nancy Pelosi's new czar of messaging, the abysmally failed, perpetually in denial Steve Israel, who has wrecked the House Democratic Party after his 4 catastrophic years running the DCCC. With his replacement's announcement yesterday that he'll keep excruciatingly ineffective and incompetent DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward in place, it's clear nothing constructive will change there.

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

John McCain-- Always And Forever The Manchurian Candidate?


The CIA was trying-- and trying hard-- to further its own goals in the 2014 elections. Replacing Senate Intelligence Committee civil liberties hawk Mark Udall (D-CO) with a hapless national security state sieve may have been their top goal but electing freshmen members to climb into committee positions to control CIA over site was another goal. It met with mixed results. The DCCC failed to slip several CIA agent-House candidates into Congress-- at least Kevin Strouse (PA-08), Bobby McKenzie (MI-11) and Jerry Cannon (MI-01)-- but the Republicans were able to beat hapless Blue Dog Pete Gallego in south Texas with the CIA's William Hurd.

Hurd's unlikely primary victory over former GOP Congressman Quico Canseco in a low-turn-out runoff 8,699 (59.5%) to 5,930 (40.5%), was largely financed by CIA employees and operatives and national security neocon freaks like Allen West and John Bolton ($10,000 each). His own campaign website describes him as "a Senior Advisor with the cybersecurity firm FusionX, which he joined following a decade of federal service and a run for public office in Texas. As a member of the FusionX team Will helps tackle a wide range of complex cybersecurity challenges facing large manufacturers, financial institutions, major retailers and critical infrastructure providers. Additionally, from 2010 to 2013, Will was a partner with a strategic advisory firm, Crumpton Group LLC, where he provided leadership across the full range of Crumpton Group’s service offerings—helping companies capture opportunities in international markets while managing risks to their physical assets, intellectual property and human resources. Prior to returning to Texas in 2010, Will served for almost a decade as an undercover officer at the Central Intelligence Agency. At the CIA, he worked at the nexus of some of America’s most important national security issues leading intelligence operations on counterterrorism, cybersecurity and other critical threats. The majority of his career was spent overseas in South Asia and the Middle East where his primary mission was the recruitment of foreign assets, collection and dissemination of intelligence in support of the President and senior government policymaker’s national security decision making." And now he'll be ascending the ladder that will allow him to help cover up illegal CIA activities from within Congress. Just what we need!

So what's all this got to do with John McCain and The Manchurian Candidate? Is the CIA the clandestine operation who's ever successfully slipped an operative into the U.S. Congress? Uh... no. Let me introduce you to Thierry Meyssan, founder and chairman of Voltaire Network. He charges that McCain is conducting covert operations in the Middle East and claims he's working for Obama. He could be working for anyone. This'll be a hard one to ever unravel. Meyssan:
When I was in Libya during the "Western"attack, I was able to view a report of the foreign intelligence services. It stated that, on February 4, 2011 in Cairo, NATO organized a meeting to launch the "Arab Spring" in Libya and Syria. According to this document, the meeting was chaired by John McCain. The report detailed the list of Libyan participants, whose delegation was led by the No. 2 man of the government of the day, Mahmoud Jibril, who abruptly switched sides at the entrance of the meeting to become the opposition leader in exile. I remember that, among the French delegates present, the report quoted Bernard-Henry Lévy, although officially he had never exercised functions within the French government. Many other personalities attended the symposium, including a large delegation of Syrians living abroad.

Emerging from the meeting, the mysterious Syrian Revolution 2011 Facebook account called for demonstrations outside the People’s Council (National Assembly) in Damascus on February 11. Although this Facebook account at the time claimed to have more than 40,000 followers, only a dozen people responded to its call before the flashes of photographers and hundreds of police. The demonstration dispersed peacefully and clashes only began more than a month later in Deraa.

  On February 16, 2011, a demonstration underway in Benghazi, in memory of members of the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya massacred in 1996 in the Abu Selim prison, degenerated into shooting. The next day, a second event, this time in memory of those who died by attacking the Danish consulate during the Muhammad cartoons affair, also degenerated into shooting. At the same time, members of the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya ,coming from Egypt and coordinated by unidentified, hooded individuals, simultaneously attacked four military bases in four different cities. After three days of fighting and atrocities, the rebels launched the uprising of Cyrenaica against Tripolitania; a terrorist attack that the western press falsely presented as a "democratic revolution" against "the regime" of Muammar el-Qaddafi.

On February 22nd, John McCain was in Lebanon. He met members of the Future Movement (the party of Saad Hariri) whom he charged to oversee the transfer of arms to Syria around the MP Okab Sakr. Then, leaving Beirut, he inspected the Syrian border and the selected villages including Ersal, which were used as a basis to back mercenaries in the war to come.

The meetings chaired by John McCain were clearly the trigger point for a long-prepared Washington plan; the plan that would have the UK and France attack Libya and Syria simultaneously, following the doctrine of "leadership from behind" and the annex of the Treaty of Lancaster House of November 2010.

  In May 2013, Senator John McCain made his way illegally to near Idleb in Syria via Turkey to meet with leaders of the "armed opposition". His trip was not made public until his return to Washington.

This movement was organized by the Syrian Emergency Task Force, which, contrary to its title, is a Zionist Organization led by a Palestinian employee of AIPAC.

In photographs released at that time, one noticed the presence of Mohammad Nour, a spokesman for the Northern Storm Brigade (of the Al-Nosra Front, that is to say, al-Qaeda in Syria), who kidnapped and held 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in Azaz. Asked about his proximity to al-Qaeda kidnappers, the Senator claimed not to know Mohammad Nour who would have invited himself into this photo.

The affair made a great noise and the families of the abducted pilgrims lodged a complaint before the Lebanese judiciary against Senator McCain for complicity in kidnapping. Ultimately, an agreement was reached and the pilgrims were released.

Let’s suppose that Senator McCain had told the truth and that he was abused by Mohammad Nour. The object of his illegal trip to Syria was to meet the chiefs of staff of the Free Syrian Army. According to him, the organization was composed "exclusively of Syrians" fighting for "their freedom" against the "Alouite dictatorship” (sic). The tour organizers published this photograph to attest to the meeting.

If we can see Brigadier General Idriss Salem, head of the Free Syrian Army, one can also see Ibrahim al-Badri (foreground on the left) with whom the senator is talking. Back from the surprise trip, John McCain claimed that all those responsible for the Free Syrian Army were "moderates who can be trusted" (sic).

However, since October 4, 2011, Ibrahim al-Badri (also known as Abu Du’a) was on the list of the five terrorists most wanted by the United States (Rewards for Justice). A premium of up to $ 10 million was offered to anyone who would assist in his capture. The next day, October 5, 2011, Ibrahim al-Badri was included in the list of the Sanctions Committee of the UN as a member of Al Qaeda.

In addition, a month before receiving Senator McCain, Ibrahim al-Badri, known under his nom de guerre as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, created the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ÉIIL)-- all the while still belonging to the staff of the very "moderate" Free Syrian Army. He claimed as his own the attack on the Taj and Abu Ghraib prisons in Iraq, from which he helped between 500 and 1,000 jihadists escape who then joined his organization. This attack was coordinated with other almost simultaneous operations in eight other countries. Each time, the escapees joined the jihadist organizations fighting in Syria. This case is so strange that Interpol issued a note and requested the assistance of the 190 member countries.

For my part, I have always said that there was no difference on the ground between the Free Syrian Army, Al-Nosra Front, the Islamic Emirate etc... All these organizations are composed of the same individuals who continuously change flag. When they pose as the Free Syrian Army, they fly the flag of French colonization and speak only of overthrowing the "dog Bashar." When they say they belong to Al-Nosra Front, they carry the flag of al Qaeda and declare their intention to spread Islam in the world. Finally when they say they are the Islamic Emirate, they brandish the flag of the Caliphate and announce that they will clean the area of all infidels. But whatever the label, they proceed to the same abuses: rape, torture, beheadings, crucifixions.

Yet neither Senator McCain nor his companions of the Syrian Emergency Task Force provided the information in their possession on Ibrahim al-Badri to the State Department, nor have they asked for the reward. Nor have they informed the anti-terrorism Committee of the UN.

In no country in the world, regardless of their political system, would one accept that the opposition leader be in direct contact, and publicly friendly, with a very dangerous wanted terrorist.

But John McCain is not just the leader of the political opposition to President Obama, he is also one of his senior officials!

He is in fact President of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the republican branch of NED / CIA, since January 1993. This so-called "NGO" was officially established by President Ronald Reagan to extend certain activities of the CIA, in connection with the British, Canadian and Australian secret services. Contrary to its claims, it is indeed an inter-governmental agency. Its budget is approved by Congress in a budget line dependent of the Secretary of State.

It is also because it is a joint agency of the Anglo-Saxon secret services that several states in the world prohibit it from any activity on their territory.

The list of interventions by John McCain on behalf of the State Department is impressive. He participated in all the color revolutions of the last twenty years.

To take only a few examples, ever in the name of "democracy", he prepared the failed coup against constitutional president Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the overthrow of constitutionally elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, the attempt to overthrow the constitutional President Mwai Kibaki in Kenya and, more recently, the ousting of the constitutional president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych.

In any state in the world, when a citizen takes initiative to topple the regime of another State, he may be appreciated if successful and the new regime proves an ally, but he will be severely condemned when his initiatives have negative consequences for his own country. Now, Senator McCain never was harassed because of his anti-democratic actions in states where it has failed and who have turned against Washington. In Venezuela, for example. That is because, for the United States, John McCain is not a traitor, but an agent.

And an agent that has the best coverage imaginable: he is the official opponent of Barack Obama. As such, he can travel anywhere in the world (he is the most traveled US senator) and meet whoever he wants without fear. If his interlocutors approve Washington policy, he promised them to continue it, if they fight it, he hands over the responsibility to President Obama.

John McCain is known to have been a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years, where he was tortured. He was involved in a program designed not to extract information but to instill speech. This was to transform his personality in order that he make statements against his own country. This program, studied based on the Korean experience for the Rand Corporation by Professor Albert D. Biderman, served as the basis for research at Guantánamo and elsewhere by Dr. Martin Seligman. Applied under George W. Bush to more than 80,000 prisoners, it has transformed many of them into real fighters serving Washington. John McCain, who had cracked in Vietnam, therefore understands. He knows how to unscrupulously manipulate jihadists.

In 1990, the United States decided to destroy its former Iraqi ally. Having suggested to President Saddam Hussein that they would consider the attack of Kuwait as an Iraqi internal affair, they used this attack as an excuse to mobilize a broad coalition against Iraq. However, because of the opposition of the USSR, they did not overthrow the regime, but were content to administer a no-fly zone.

In 2003, France’s opposition was not enough to offset the influence of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. The United States attacked the country again and this time overthrew President Hussein. Of course, John McCain was a major contributor to the Committee. After handing to a private company the care of plundering the country for a year, they tried to partition Iraq into three separate states, but had to give it up due to the resistance of the population. They tried again in 2007, around the Biden-Brownback resolution, but again failed. Hence the current strategy that attempts to achieve this by means of a non-state actor: the Islamic Emirate.

...In January of 2014, the Congress of the United States held a secret meeting at which it voted, in violation of international law, to approve funding for the Al-Nosra Front (Al-Qaeda) and the Islamic emirate in Iraq and the Levant until September 2014. Although it is unclear precisely what was really agreed to during this meeting revealed by the British Reuters news agency, and no media US media dared bypass censorship, it is highly probable that the law includes a section on arming and training jihadists.

Proud of this US funding, Saudi Arabia has claimed on its public television channel, Al-Arabiya, that the Islamic Emirate was headed by Prince Abdul Rahman al-Faisal, brother of Prince Saud al Faisal (Foreign Minister) and Prince Turki al-Faisal (Saudi ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom).

The Islamic Emirate represents a new step in the world of mercenaries. Unlike jihadi groups who fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Chechnya around Osama bin Laden, it does not constitute a residual force but actually an army in itself. Unlike previous groups in Iraq, Libya and Syria, around Prince Bandar bin Sultan, they have sophisticated communication services at their disposal for recruitment and civilian officials trained in large western schools capable of instantly taking over the administration of a territory.

Brand new Ukrainian weapons were purchased by Saudi Arabia and conveyed by the Turkish secret services who gave them to the Islamic Emirate. Final details were coordinated with the Barzani family at a meeting of jihadist groups in Amman on 1 June 2014. The joint attack on Iraq by the Islamic Emirate and the Kurdistan Regional Government began four days later. The Islamic Emirate seized the Sunni part of the country, while the Kurdistan Regional Government increased its territory by over 40%. Fleeing the atrocities of jihadists, religious minorities left the Sunni area, paving the way for the three-way partition of the country.

Violating the Iraqi-US Defense agreement, the Pentagon did not intervene and allowed the Islamic Emirate to continue its conquest and massacres. A month later, while the Kurdish Peshmerga Regional Government had retreated without a fight, and when the emotions of world public opinion became too strong, President Obama gave the order to bomb some positions of the Islamic Emirate. However, according to General William Mayville, director of operations at the headquarters, "These bombings are unlikely to affect the overall capacity of the Islamic Emirate and its activities in other areas of Iraq or Syria." Obviously, they are not meant to destroy the jihadist army, but only to ensure that each player does not overlap the territory that has been assigned. Moreover, for the moment, they are symbolic and have destroyed only a handful of vehicles. It was ultimately the intervention of the Kurds of the Turkish and Syrian Kurdish PKK which halted the progress of the Islamic Emirate and opened a corridor to allow civilians to escape the massacre.

Much disinformation is circulating about the Islamic Emirate and its caliph. The Gulf Daily News newspaper claimed that Edward Snowden had made revelations about it. However, after verification, the former US spy published nothing about it. Gulf Daily News is published in Bahrain, a state occupied by Saudi troops. The article aims to clear only Saudi Arabia and Prince Abdul Rahman al-Faisal of their responsibilities.

The Islamic Emirate is comparable to the mercenary armies of the European sixteenth century. They were conducting religious wars on behalf of the lords who paid them, sometimes in one camp, sometimes in another. Caliph Ibrahim is a modern condottiere. Although he is under the orders of Prince Abdul Rahman (Member of Sudeiris clan), it would not be surprising if he continued his epic in Saudi Arabia (after a brief detour in Lebanon or Kuwait) and determine the Royal succession favoring the Sudeiris clan over Prince Mithab (son, not brother of King Abdullah).

In the latest issue of its magazine, the Islamic Emirate devoted two pages to denounce Senator John McCain as "the enemy" and "double-crosser", recalling his support for the US invasion of Iraq. Lest this accusation remain unknown in the United States, Senator immediately issued a statement calling the Emirate the "most dangerous Islamist terrorist group in the world."

Ibrahim al-Badri, also known as Abu Du’a, also known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, mercenary of Prince Abdul Rahman al-Faisal, funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States. He can commit all the horrors that are forbidden to states by the Geneva Conventions.

This controversy is there only to distract the gallery. One would like to believe it... if it were’t for this photograph from May 2013.

UPDATE: Primary Challenge

Many Republicans are sick of McCain's song and dance. If he doesn't retire right-wing extremist Rep. David Schweikert is likely to primary him.
McCain has said he will likely seek a sixth term. Asked about the possibility of a member of the Arizona delegation challenging him in a primary, McCain said he expected it.

“I think many people are not ruling it out,” McCain said. “I’d certainly expect a primary. I always have had a primary.”

In the 2010 primary, McCain crushed former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, 56 percent to 32 percent.

In January, McCain was censured by the Maricopa County Republican Party, which accused him of campaigning as a “conservative” only to “flip-flop on those promises.”

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Breaking news: Bob Mankoff sheds light on the age-old "New Yorker" Question of Québec


If you really want to, you can watch Episode 5 of The Cartoon Lounge here.

"Any legal resident of the United States or Canada (except residents of the province of Quebec), Australia, United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, age eighteen or over can enter, except employees, agents, or representatives of Sponsor or any other party associated with the development or administration of the Contest, or any member of their immediate family."
-- from The New Yorker's "Caption Contest Rules"

by Ken

Confidential to New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff: Wherever you got the idea that You Oughtta Be in Pictures, the idea is nuts. Possibly it's your Web people pressuring staffers to generate more video content, for reasons that would be plain to a Web person but escape me. Whatever the reason, as excellent an idea as your weekly blogposts were, The Cartoon Lounge kind of sucks. It kind of sucked back at Episode 1, and it's still kind of sucking at Episode 5, "Technophilia."

And not just because most of the time when I try to watch these videos, I don't get video, I get a still image that lasts until (assuming I'm lucky) it's replaced by another still image a couple of minutes later. I would assume that this negates whatever point there was thought to be in doing these videos. Of course I can't confirm this because I don't know that point that might have been, except the peeps want videos, dude. This peep will, with reluctance, watch a video if it holds out some plausible promise of even minimally enhancing his life experience. Otherwise this peep's position is: If you've got something to tell me, ferchrissakes tell me and let's get on with it. If you succeed in conning me into watching a video that turns out to be a waste of my time, I promise to hold it against you.

As to this week's Cartoon Lounge, yes, we know that technology excites you and you're a long-confirmed early adopter. Goodness knows we know this. And if we didn't, or if you thought there was some new angle on this worth sharing with us, then the accompanying post at the same link is a viable way to do it. Having a camera roll while you display a bunch of gadgets on your desk and telling us that most of them are obsolete (as I gather you do in Episode 5) -- this is not compelling video. I gather that you also show us some of the cartoons you've done on technology issues, which I might have enjoyed seeing, but didn't. You know how you used to post cartoons with your blogposts? I always enjoyed that.

As to the subject of the posted post, your infatuation with Google Glass, or rather the hard time you're having with the hard time Google Glass seems to be having ("Rumors that it's on life support abound, and everyone seems to be either bad-mouthing it or giving it the evil eye, or both"), well, this is at least a topic. It's not a topic that much interests me, in the same way that Google Glass itself doesn't much interest me, but that could just be me. However, among the reasons you offer for your persistence in your infatuation, there's one that strikes a chord: "I don’t waste this much money on something without wasting lots of time on it as well." As much as I try to exercise care regarding the things I waste large amounts of money on, I often miscalculate too, and have a similiar response. I may never get my money's worth, but I will damn well get, well, something, even if it's just a proportionate waste of time as well.


At the end of each Cartoon Lounge, Bob answers a reader question. Again, it's not exactly mind-altering video, but this week's question is pretty much the question:

Why are Québecois readers specifically barred from entering the celebrated New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest?

The question happens to come from a Québecois reader who is bitter about not being allowed to enter the contest, and therefore has an obvious interest, but as a non-Québecois reader, I've been gripped by this question every time I've read this seemingly peculiar contest stipulation. I mean, that's a pretty specific exclusion: If you're 18 and a legal resident of the United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, or the Republic of Ireland, you're good to enter -- unless, poor soul, you happen to be a resident of (shudder) Quebec. (I sometimes wonder about other exclusions among the world's English-speaking populations, like New Zealanders, but at least they don't have to suffer the stigma of being singled out week in and week out.)

I'll leave it to DWT readers to judge their level of interest in Bob's presumed "comical" answers and jump to the actual one, which not surprisingly comes from the lawyers. Québec, it seems, has a whole set of regulations about contests, and apparently they apply even to one that offers no greater prize than a signed copy of the cartoon. Some of the regulations, not surprisingly, have to do with the provinces legally mandated bilingualism (everything about the contest would have to be posted bilingually), but there are also specifications like al

l contests having to be registered with some Québecois authority or other. The obvious and inevitable result is to bar all citizens of the province from participating. Apparently they're legally permitted to read the feature, though this may just be a problem of the difficulty of enforcement.


Thinking I would want to quote Bob's actual explanation of the above, I made one more attempt to watch the video, and had more success. I decided it wasn't going to be worth the possible trouble involved in stopping and restarting the clip enought to transcribe the portion I wanted. But this time I did at least get to the old technology-themed cartoons of his that Bob displays. He says this one from 1984 sums up his relationship to technology (or something like that):

"All my gadgets are old. I'd like some new gadgets."

Okay, noted.

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Who Will Save Atlantic City? Certainly Not Carl Icahn And Chris Christie


New Jersey voters reelected Chris Christie with their eyes open; after a first term of breathtaking-- even for New Jersey-- corruption and non-stop, unabashed catering to Big Bucks special interests, they knew exactly what they were getting. And now the chickens are coming home to roost. New Jersey's economy is in turmoil as their governor spends his time jockeying for position inside his crazy right-wing ideological political party. This is falling hard on working families all over New Jersey, but right now it is absolutely devastating Atlantic City, whose vibrant gaming and tourism industry Christie had pledged to protect and make prosper.

Carl Icahn is just the kind of billionaire vulture capitalist who Christie gravitates to; working with predators like Icahan to disadvantage unions is his vision-- his only vision-- of building an economy. Today Icahn is threatening to shut down one of the major Atlantic City hotels unless he gets huge tax breaks from the state. "Carl Icahn is not the savior Atlantic City so desperately needs," editorialized the Courier-Post yesterday.
The billionaire investor, who controls the Taj Mahal, has offered to rescue the struggling casino. He’s willing to invest $100 million-- but only if owner Trump Entertainment Resorts can get $175 million in aid from New Jersey and Atlantic City and if the company can get out of paying into workers’ pensions and health insurance to the tune of $14.6 million a year.

The state said no. The city said no. And the workers said no. But while Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Mayor Don Guardian have held firm in refusing to throw good money after bad, the 2,953 people who keep the casino running have far less power. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross ruled last month that Trump Entertainment could cancel its collective bargaining agreement with UNITE HERE Local 54, eliminating the company-sponsored pension and health plan.

Instead, workers will get a 401(k) and an extra $2,000 to buy insurance through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act health exchanges. Generous, isn’t Icahn, to allow taxpayers to share the honor of subsidizing compensation for rank-and-file workers while scaling back the company’s investment in them?

...In an open letter to the members of Local 54, he cast himself as a perpetual underdog who is the casino’s only hope... As a man who is not afraid to stand up to low-paid workers in order to maximize shareholders’ profits.

Rather than present the concessions he seeks as an investment in a more prosperous company that will benefit workers and Atlantic City in the long run, Icahn uses threats and speculation to cow them into giving him what he wants. Unfortunately, his plan to turn workers against their union and government against government seems to be working.

On Monday, Taj Mahal employees begged Mayor Don Guardian to reconsider. Guardian declined, noting that the company had already received massive tax breaks before it stopped paying its taxes. Yet while he’s drawn the line at giving any more of his suffering city’s money to a foundering company, he’s still trying to get the state to step in with a solution.

Given what Atlantic City has been through this year-- losing four of its 12 casinos and shedding some 8,000 employees-- no one wants to be standing near the next domino when it falls.
State Senator Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) is a Jersey reformer who's battled the transactional, transpartisan political bosses for his entire career. He's probably best known for his pioneering environmental bills like the Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Pesticide Control Act and for an across-the-board progressive vision for the state, from marriage equality to abolishing the death penalty. But Lesniak, who won his last reelection battle 75.5- 24.5% and is the chairman of the Senate's Economic Growth Committee, has been the force behind a plan to legalize (and regulate) sports betting in Atlantic City casinos-- the same way it works in Las Vegas.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney has taken on Icahn and says he's working tp prevent Atlantic City from becoming "another Detroit." Last week he said he's introducing legislation that would redirect casino tax revenue to keep the city and schools running, and require casino operators to provide health benefits for their employees as a condition of holding a state license.
Highlights of the proposed legislation include:

Requiring casinos to pay $150 million in lieu of property taxes for two years so city officials would know how much they could count on to pay the bills, with future payments tied to gaming revenues instead of property taxes.

Redirecting about $25 million to $30 million a year from the investment alternative tax to pay down the city’s debt. Casinos pay a 1.25 percent on gross gaming revenues and 2.5 percent on internet gaming revenues to pay for economic development programs. About $30-$40 million is sitting in an account unspent.

Finding $72 million in “cost savings” from the cost of running city government and the board of education.

Amending casino licenses to require operators “provide a baseline health care and retirement package” for their workers, in response to the judge’s decision last month to allow Taj Mahal billionaire investor Carl Icahn to void its contract with the union.
Icahn says if he doesn't get his way, he'll shut down the casino on December 12, laying off a thousand workers and delivering another ghastly blow to Atlantic City's and New Jersey's struggling economy. To much power for the one percent? For decades, Icahn has built his immense fortune using the bankruptcy process to hurt workers and destroy companies. Workers say the current crisis in Atlantic City is the latest one that Icahn has created and profited from. But to Chris Christie, he's... a job creator.

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What's The Matter With White Folks Today?


No, not a new Bennelton ad

Just as Boehner announced his roster of all white male committee chairs (plus a gal to take care of the cafeteria and bathrooms), Bernie Sanders was on NPR with Steve Inskeep talking about, among other things, how the Democrats have been losing white working class voters to the anti-working family rightists. He worries, as do most progressives, that the Democratic Beltway insiders have decided to throw their lot in with the Big Business and Wall Street interests and abandon the FDR coalition of working class Americans.

When contemptible party apparachik Debbie Wasserman Schultz's says she's leading an investigation into why the Democrats failed so miserably November 4 so that she can prove it wasn't her fault, clearly saner minds are needed if the Democrats are going to more than just muddle through. Bernie's ideas about why the part failed 2 weeks ago probably don't have much in common with the view from Wasserman Schultz, Steve Israel and the Beltway Dems. "To see where the Democratic Party is, I think, it's important to understand where America is," he began. "And where America is, is that today we are seeing the collapse, the continued collapse, of the American middle class. You have working-class families who have given up the dream of sending their kids to college. My family never had any money. My father came ... from Poland without a nickel in his pocket. He was able to send two of his kids to college. That dream is now not a reality for a whole lot of folks in this country.

And then people look out and they say, 'Gee, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well.' And where are the Democrats? Do people see the Democratic Party standing up to Wall Street? Any of these guys going to jail? Not really. The average person is working longer hours, lower wages, and they do not see any political party standing up and fighting for their rights. What they see is a Republican Party becoming extremely right wing, controlled by folks like the Koch brothers. But they do not see a party representing the working class of this country." White working class voters, desperate, confused and rightfully pissed off, are falling into the arms of their class enemies. Bernie:
I am focusing on the fact that whether you're white or black or Hispanic or Asian, if you are in the working class, you are struggling to keep your heads above water. You're worried about your kids. What should the Democratic Party be talking about, Steve? What they should be talking about is a massive federal jobs program. There was once a time when our nation's infrastructure-- roads, bridges, water systems, rail-- were the envy of the world. Today that's no longer the case.

I would say if you go out on the street and you talk to people and say, "Which is the party of the American working class?" People would look to you like you were a little bit crazy, they wouldn't know what you were talking about, and they certainly wouldn't identify the Democrats.
People have been talking about Dana Milbank's opinion piece in Tuesday's Washington Post in which he tries to delineate the limits to populism. It's not encouraging.
Warren’s populism is appealing-- not fiery or vengeful but compassionate and grounded in fairness. She also has the virtue of being correct: People don’t feel improvement in the economy because the gains haven’t been shared evenly, income inequality has widened and wages haven’t increased along with stock prices and corporate profits.

Yet there’s a limit to how far Warren, and the Democrats, can go with their little-guy theme, for one simple reason: They can’t afford it.

More than ever in America, elections are purchased, not won. And that money comes from corporate and wealthy interests. Run against corporations and you lose that money-- and the election.

...This leaves Warren well-qualified to ask what she calls a “fundamental question”: “Who does the government work for?”

The answer is easy: The people who bought it.
Responding to all this in Slate, Jamelle Bouie goes off in a way different direction from Milbank's defeatism. He correctly identifies the problem for the Beltway careerist Democrats as not really embracing populism to bring the party any credibility with the working class Americans-- regardless of how the Republicans try to divide them up-- Bernie Sanders is talking about. "The Democratic Party," he reminds us, "styles itself a fighter for the working class. But a substantial part of that class-- the white part-- wants nothing to do with it." Democratic politicians didn't get their votes-- didn't get their votes hugely.
The recurring debate of how to win these voters, or at least a portion of them. In a recent feature for the Washington Monthly, for example, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin argue that Democrats can capitalize on the generational divide in the white working class. The key fact is that “white working class” is a big category with a large number of different kinds of voters, including millennials, who fall to the left on most national issues. “Today’s young white working-class voters are notably more liberal on issues concerning the role of government” than their older counterparts note Teixeira and Halpin. And significantly these young whites are “significantly more open to rising diversity than the white working class as a whole.”

The conclusion is straightforward. Democrats don’t have to worry about alienating these voters with their cosmopolitanism. If they can just embrace a populist, forward thinking agenda-- in which they tackle stagnation and explicitly attack the wealthy engineers of extreme income inequality—they can win these younger whites who are comfortable with diversity and want a more level society. As Noam Scheiber writes for the New Republic, commenting on Teixeira and Halpin’s piece, “The politics of this approach work not just because populism is a ‘message’ that a majority of voters want to hear. But because, unlike the status quo, it can actually improve their economic prospects.”

Implicit in all of this is the assumption voters will believe the pitch. That they’ll hear the case for stronger programs, higher minimum wages, and higher taxes on the rich, and believe Democrats are advocating for them, and not some other group.

The problem is I don’t think we can make that assumption.

After all, working-class whites didn’t leave the Democratic Party over insufficiently populist policy and rhetoric. The liberal economic reforms of 1960s-- and Medicare in particular-- paid benefits to white working-class families throughout the 1970s and ’80s, even as the group moved to a decisive break with the Democrats. No, the proximate cause of the break was the Democratic Party’s close identification with black Americans, who-- after the riots of the late ’60s and ’70s-- became identified with urban disorder and welfare.

Specifically, whites were bewildered and infuriated with liberals who defended rioting communities-- correctly noting the decades of deprivation and abuse that led to those violent outbursts—and pushed anti-poverty programs to address the underlying conditions. Black incomes rose while at the same time, many white incomes were beginning to stagnate or even fall. Why was the government spending our tax dollars on them, working-class whites asked, when they destroy their neighborhoods and refuse to work, and we’re losing our jobs and our homes? In Nixonland, historian Rick Perlstein captures the basic attitude by relaying this comment from a white construction worker, directed at George McGovern, “They’re payin’ people who are on welfare today doin’ nothin’! They’re laughin’ at our society! And we’re all hardworkin’ people and we’re gettin’ laughed at for workin’ every day!”

Part of this was just racism. For most of the post-war era, whites were empowered by the federal government to separate themselves and their lives from black Americans. For the white middle class, federal aid built white suburbs and white schools, and for the white working-class, it built segregated housing projects and cities. The civil rights revolution brought blacks and black demands to their doorsteps, and for the white working class-- which couldn’t just leave for the suburbs-- it fueled a backlash.

But part of it was something broader. After all, there wasn’t a backlash to government programs writ large. Then, as now, working-class whites are ardent supporters of Social Security and Medicare. But to them, our retirement programs came with an implicit social contract: If you work and contribute to society, society will care for you into your old age. By contrast, you didn’t have to work to benefit from anti-poverty programs, in fact, you could riot and still receive government benefits. To these whites, the New Deal and its successor programs rewarded self-reliance and independence. The War on Poverty didn’t. And they hated it.

...Working-class whites are physically closer to the poor. And to them, as Kevin Drum notes, the poor are often “folks next door who don’t do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars.” It doesn’t matter that working-class tax rates are relatively low, and that anti-poverty programs are a small part of the federal budget. What matters is that they pay taxes but don’t get the same kind of benefits.

...Democrats can adopt populist rhetoric, but there’s no guarantee working-class whites will buy it. Indeed, in parts of the country-- like the Deep South-- it’s a lost cause. The Democratic Party is too associated with blacks and too associated with welfare to win over enough whites to make a difference.

Put another way, for a new rhetoric of populism to work-- or at least, attract the winnable whites identified by Teixeira and Halpin-- it needs to come with a commitment to universal policies that working-class whites like and support. (It’s no coincidence that the most liberal working-class whites belong to private and public sector unions.)

But the United States doesn’t have a political party to support that kind of social democracy. Instead, it has the Democratic Party, a collection of disparate interests which-- at its best-- is nervous about economic liberalism and hesitant to push anything outside the mainstream. And worse, it has a presidential frontrunner who-- more than anyone else-- is connected to the kinds of elites and the kinds of policies that would push the party away from the muscular liberalism it needs.

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