Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Killing the Florida Gerrymanders: September 2015 Edition

The slower-than-it-needs-to-be struggle over fixing the Congressional districts and eliminating those damned gerrymanders is circling the last leg of this twisted marathon, as per the Tampa Bay Times:

...Judge Terry Lewis will decide which of the seven maps proposed to him by the GOP-controlled House and Senate, or the variations on those maps drawn by the challengers, will emerge as the final political boundaries voters will see in the November 2016 elections...
...When lawmakers tried and failed to resolve their differences in an August special session, the court threw it back to Lewis, who had been supervising the case that has cost taxpayers more than $8 million for the last 3½ years.
The challengers, a coalition of League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals, told the court in closing arguments that they agree with 20 of the 27 districts proposed in a staff-drawn base map but want the court to adopt their changes to the remaining districts.
Also changed is the fact that because lawmakers erred, they now have the burden of proof to show that the maps they have drawn do not violate the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and comply with the guidelines set by the Supreme Court...

That last paragraph tells me that we may still see another round of bickering, this time from the Republican side of things who'll try to use the amendments to their advantage by nitpicking as much as possible to prolong and delay well into the 2016 election cycle, making it less likely we'll see better districts by that election cycle.

The desire to see the courts just f-ck with district drawings and just change the whole damn thing to Proportional seating would be sweet... but it would bring up the problem of actual judicial activism and legislating from the bench.  Then again, our actual legislators are not doing a damn thing.

I hope instead Judge Lewis dumps the Florida Republican Legislature maps into the nearest dumpster and go with a straight-out, easy-to-read map with streamlined, geographically sane, density-based districts we're supposed to have.

And thus endeth September.  Who's up for October to be any crazier?

Friday, September 25, 2015

HOLY SH... This Is It Kids We Are In Crazy Times Mode 24/7/365

(Edit: good morning this Saturday, kids.  Big hello to the Crooks & Liars audience coming over to visit from Mike's Blog Round-Up.  You were promised a rundown of potential Speaker candidates, but um the article is originally about how the Republicans are now too crazy that they are scalping their own leadership in broad daylight.  But hey, if you want a list of potential Speakers, I can give you that.  I'll have an update further down the article.  Thanks!)

This kind of came out of nowhere.

John Boehner will resign as speaker of the House at the end of October and leave Congress, choosing to end his tumultuous tenure rather than fight a conservative revolt against his leadership.
Boehner had battled conservatives aligned with the Tea Party for most of his nearly five years as speaker, and in recent weeks they had threatened to try to oust him from power if did not pursue a strategy of defunding Planned Parenthood that would have likely led to a government shutdown. Conservatives said that if Boehner failed to fight on the government spending bill, they would call up a procedural motion to “vacate the chair” and demand the election of a new speaker. Facing the likelihood that he would need Democrats to save him, Boehner instead chose to step down. In one of his last acts as speaker, Boehner is now expected to defy conservatives by bringing up a funding bill that would prevent a government shutdown beginning next week but that would not cut money from Planned Parenthood.

I had the expectation that the coming push by the Far Right in Congress - especially the House - to force a shutdown over Planned Parenthood would go one of two ways: Boehner fighting back to retain contol of a fractured House, or Boehner losing his position to the wingnuts who would then go on a Shutdown rampage.  This is Option Three: Boehner resigns and lets the Republican Party run wild after the shattering of the conch shell.

Should have seen this coming, though.  Boehner isn't... wasn't exactly known for his fortitude.

I've been, by the by, reading up on the history of the Speakerships, and so far I haven't found a single case of where a Speaker lost his control of his own House while his party remained in majority.  The closest I can come is Speaker Joseph Cannon in 1910 losing some of his powers (and control of the Rules Committee) but even then he retained his Speaker post.  I think Boehner was facing the embarrassing possibility of being the first ever Speaker removed by his own party's Vote of No Confidence...

Boehner is still technically the Speaker until the end of October, which means that the coming Shutdown over Planned Parenthood starts on his watch.  I am - I'm not the only one either - convinced that his stepping down is because he knew he would not be able to form some alternative to the looming shutdown threat.

(Update: I am reading that Boehner's resignation is giving him leeway to pass a continuance on the budget for another month or two, meaning we won't get a shutdown this October.  We're now gonna get a shutdown for Christmas.  Io Saturnalia, everybody!)

This is now going to play out much like Option Two on my Either/Or list.  The Far Right in the House are going to get into a quick flurry over which horse to back - either someone hard-right on everything, or someone completely OFF THE CLIFF - and then we'll likely see a series of confrontations between the House and everyone else over how much destruction the nation is going to have to endure for a few months.

This is going to be messy.  Earlier this year, Boehner faced a challenge like this but easily won re-election to the Speakership because the Far Right faction didn't have a specific anti-Boehner candidate to be their bannerman.  This time, this can be a free-for-all.  Without Boehner as the obvious choice for a majority of Republicans to back, they can splinter much the same way the candidates for the Presidency - now around 15 names - have splintered that choice.  There's going to be six, ten, fifteen Congresscritters putting their name in the bucket, all of them claiming to be the Purist, the Chosen One destined to save the Reagan Legacy.  If they can get it done in one vote, I'll be stunned.  If they can do it without devolving into the megabrawls half the global parliaments get into during heated situations like this one, I'll be doubly impressed.

This is, again, an example of how the purity purge within the GOP has eliminated the party discipline needed to remain a functioning political party.

And the Far Right is seeing this as a Win-Win for them.  Of course they are cheering Boehner's departure.  Even with his dedication to the Republican Agenda of "Stop Obama", Boehner still did such things as, well, his job to pass laws that could get through the Senate and across the President's desk.  That meant the occasional compromise and back-room deal or help from Democrats.  And the Far Right HATED that.

Remember: Boehner's leaving because he didn't push the Far Right agenda hard ENOUGH.  They want to go further.  All the hassles we've had up to now - the obstruction, the denials, the refusal to work, the shutdowns - are going to get worse.

The likelihood that the next Speaker is going to be an Absolutist when it comes to the job title is a near certainty.  It's just a question of which one: Louie Gohmert, Steven Scalise, Jim Jordan, Jeb Hensarling, Steve King...  I've heard Paul Ryan's name mentioned as a "serious" push for "fiscal conservatism" all because Ryan's still got that death budget on his USB drive somewhere.  I've seen Tim Huelskamp's name mentioned on Twitter, but he's too "new" to the scene and he's alienated a good number of fellow Republicans - he got booted off committees by his own party leadership! - to where he won't get more than twenty or so backers.  Still, nearly every name I've seen out there are extremists, utter denialists.  I dare not call them idealists because they really don't believe in anything except the destruction of others, and making sure they have a spot reserved on Fox Not-News.

I doubt it's going to be the current Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (no, the other one) as the Speaker because he's proven incapable of keeping the hard-liners under control as much as Boehner.  Having Boehner - unloved, unmourned by his own party - vouch for him makes it worse.

The hard-liners are going to want one of their own in charge.  It's just a question which one.

And then it'll be war.  It's what they want.

Eager to go to war at long last, eager to defund Planned Parenthood, giddy about banning abortion and gay marriage, desperate to kill off Obamacare, thrilled to shred treaties, all of that.

Welcome to Crazytown. Population 317 Million.  Because the Far Right lives in that world and they're imposing it on the rest of us.  We are all going among mad people now.  Hope you don't mind.

P.S. I won't envy whoever gets the Speakership.  That guy may think he's in charge but he won't be: this overthrow of Boehner - a Speaker resigning not under threat of scandal or poor health, but of intra-party obsession - is just going to make it easier for the next challenger to get the new Speaker's scalp.  The new Speaker is either going to hit a brick wall of getting none of the Far Right ideology passed or forced into making his own compromises.  And he's going to figure out real quick where Boehner hid the secret stash of Jack Daniels...

Update: So anyway, if you want a rundown of who that new Speaker is gonna be, play on Don.

Kevin McCarthy (CA) - currently the Majority Leader and the heir designate to Boehner, which likely means the wingnuts will never accept him.  Doomed.
Louie Gohmert (TX) - put himself up as a challenger back in January but dropped out when he realized the job actually meant he'd have to wake up before 9 A.M.  He's the more prominent of the wingnuts due to his having a permanent parking spot over at the Fox Not-News cafeteria.  We're Doomed.
Sean Hannity (Fantasyland) - oddly enough, ANYONE can be voted Speaker.  This could happen, although the outrage across the planet would be unavoidable.  I'm just testing to see if you're reading this.
Daniel Webster (FL) - something of a dark horse guy, but he garnered a couple of votes back in January.  He's one of the Republicans (10th district) who profits from the massive gerrymandering that's destroying MY state of Florida.  And he's practically next door to me on the map.  Damn him.
Jim Jordon (OH) - also won some votes back in January.  He's one of the shutdown architects from 2013 and a major critic of health care reform.  Basically he's one of the guys who would willingly drive the car over the cliff.  We're Doomed As Doomed Could Be.
Steve Scalise (LA) - currently the House Whip.  Let's just point out how this guy has connections to white supremacist groups and wonder how well the GOP outreach to minority voters is going to work with him in that office.  Never.
Steve King (IA) - one of the more senior Congressmen in the House and also a major anti-immigration leader.  Also a major critic of Obama.  Also a major pain in the ass for the nation.  One of the biggest Know-Nothings the U.S. has seen since the 1850s.  Of course the Republicans would consider him for the Speakership.  Headdesk.
Tim Huelskamp (KS) - one of the newest Congressmen in the House, yet a major pain in the ass for his own party (how else does he lose his seats in committees?).  He is part of the group of wingnuts that has been trying to push Boehner out since 2013... and succeeded this week.  However, he's more of a backer to the others in his group - Jim Jordon, Justin Amash, et al - so it's likely he's backing Jordon in this move.  If his name does come up - while Jordon's also comes up - then it's a free-for-all for real.
Ted Yoho (FL) - I heard his name come up somewhere, probably in a fevered nightmare.  Just, no.  NO.
Nancy Pelosi (CA) - it's not that the Republicans would vote for her as a Democrat, it's that there's a likelihood due to how the voting is done that a fractured Republican House would break into too many caucuses.  All she would need is a majority of voting Congress members: if enough Republicans just refuse to vote (by going "present") and drop the majority requirement down to where a united Democratic caucus (around 188 votes) would vote for her, she could pull that off.  However, it would certainly lead to a metaphorical bloodbath in the aisles.  Unlikely.

Did I miss anyone?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Just For Fun: A Republican Dead Pool


And no, not the Clint Eastwood Dead Pool (although that has association with the concept):

Look, a Dead Pool is a grisly parlor game where people write down a list of famous people and then bet on which of those famous people die first.  And it has to happen within a set time period.  For tougher rules, the pool requires a specific type of death for it to count.  It's a very macabre concept.

So naturally when Rick Perry and Scott Walker fled the stage of the 2016 "OH GOD TRUMP IS DRIVING THE CLOWN CAR" Republican Primary cycle, people started their guessing games about whose campaign was going to "die" next.

This is a tempting "what if" game to play, in a way.  It measures your skill of judgment - being able to tell who's going to rust first - balanced against your personal bias and the realities of political campaigning.  For one thing, the rules of the post-Citizens United world are NOT helping the big-name candidates one bit...

So, if I had to put my skills to use, my own caustic criticism standing on the sidelines over here, how would I predict which campaigns end before the others?  Who are going to be the last ten standing?  The last six?  The last three?  Who's going to dine on the bones of their enemies in Cleveland as the last candidate standing?

In order of departures, I'd have to go with:


This is all pure guessing, I'll admit.  The biggest factor right now for someone to drop out is more external than internal woes of a campaign.  We are still waiting for the next quarterly report to the FEC (Federal Elections Commission) that would show how the campaigns are managing their funds and expenditures.  That may yet show which campaigns are in the red or bleeding money, which would be the reasons to drop out.

That's essentially the reasons Rick Perry and Scott Walker quit: Perry's campaign was getting to where they couldn't pay staffers, and Walker's group were under rumors about questionable spending habits.  This is odd to report in this day of post-Citizens United limitless fund-raising, but the actual campaigns still have to play by certain rules, and it's possible some candidates and their managers mis-read the situation.

There is of course the likelihood that Jeb? Bush vacuumed up all the SuperPAC money already leaving the other normal candidates few sugar daddies to corral.

Past that, the thing to look for are the candidates coping with scandals.  Perry may have been having difficulties raising money because he's got a federal felony charge waiting for him back in Texas.  Walker may have shaken off the John Doe investigation but there were whispers of more scandals on the way.

This does not bode well for Rand Paul and Chris Christie.  Rand's campaign was hit by arrests over his staffers' alleged involvement in vote-buying back in 2011 for his dad's campaign.  Christie still has BridgeGate hanging over him: he's currently not directly linked but new evidence can always come out.  He's also got investigations into his mishandling of various state projects including Sandy relief funds.

While it's possible any candidate can drop at any time, you have to look at one other thing: egos.  The majority of remaining candidates are known for their ambition and self-indulgences.  Each of them are going to wait as long as possible and let the others drop out in shame.

Because the ones who get into the primary season next year with most of their pride intact are going to have opportunities to win enough delegates to make it all the way to Cleveland.

I've been stating for the record that both Gilmore and Pataki are hopeless.  They've never broken into the main debates, they're not bringing anything to the table that's different than most of the other candidates.  They're not household names and I doubt anyone from their own states could point them out in a lineup.  Of the remaining candidates, they're the ones most likely to drop and so should sit in the early tier.

I've got Santorum there because while he'd done well in 2012 this is four years later and for 2016 the Social Conservative candidate title has gone elsewhere (between Jindal, Cruz and Huckabee).  He may have been the last Not-Mitt standing then, but now he's not even standing in the polls.

I've got Paul and Christie early as well because of the thing I mentioned already: the potential of scandal wiping them out.  Otherwise their egos would keep them in it as far as they can go.

I've got Graham dropping relatively early because he's not getting very far as the Foreign Policy candidate and he's not wowing anyone on the other issues.

Fiorina may be the rising star this month, but by next debate all of her faults - bad business management, the flurry of lying that even Republicans can't stomach - is going to have her slide back down below the five percent she'd been at before September.

When we get to the final eight - from Jindal to Bush on that list - we can likely see all of them struggle to stay in it well into July at Cleveland.  After the first two or three primaries when the delegate counts are starting to line up, at which point the ones not winning - Jindal in particular - will have to drop out because the money will dry up.  Nobody's gonna send checks to a losing operation.

I have Carson leaving at this point because while he's hot now - like Fiorina - he's not experienced enough to keep himself in a political wrestling match.  He's bound to slip down, especially by the major primary rounds in March.

The remaining six are experienced campaigners... or in the case of Cruz and Trump, massive egotists looking to trash the entire game to satisfy themselves.  Cruz is the likeliest to drop however if he fails to garner enough primary results, which is likely because he's running in Trump's shadow.  If Trump stays in, Cruz won't find many voters.

In the case of Rubio, Kasich and Jeb*, they are the Establishment candidates most likely to keep their cash flows rolling in.  Dropping out would be foolish, especially as these candidates have solid shots to wrap up the actual party's support.  However, each of them are flawed.  Kasich is currently polling low much like all the other professional candidates.  Rubio is not the savior the pundits want him to be.  Jeb>< is one of the weakest, under-performing top-billed candidates in ages.  The last time a party-approved, top-funded candidate did this poorly was 2008 with Mitt.  And Mitt actually campaigned compared to the flat tone Bush the Third has performed.

The only real thing keeping Jeb& in this race is his pride: he's running on the legacy of the Bush name, even as he's trying his hardest (he's really not) to avoid running on that name.  He's seen his dad become President and his older brother (with whom there was a sibling rivalry) become President, and dammit now it's his turn.  He wants what was promised him, that golden crown.  Jeb? has the money to keep going, but not the actual love of campaigning.  He's at once the most likely to drop out if his pride gives out, and at the same time the most likely to keep at the race all the way to Cleveland.  Even if he's still polling at eight percent, and getting barely enough delegates to even justify waking up in the morning.

This leaves Trump as the true wildcard.  Overperforming at a level no-one saw coming, the banner-carrier for a disaffected voter base tired of the Establishment wing's abuse.  Money is no deterrent.  Scandal won't embarrass him.  He's in this until a major screw-up he can't run away from kicks himself off the list... or else the RNC leadership can't take it anymore.  I have no idea when or how Trump would drop out.  If he's pushed out - the likeliest scenario right now - he's guaranteed to break his pledge and run as an Independent as he would have every reason to seek revenge.

The way things are, I'm expecting at least eight of the candidates to stick it out as far as possible.  After the FEC filings coming up soon, we'll likely get four of the lowest names to drop out.  We should well have ten names on the ballot come New Hampshire.

I'm predicting - doom upon me for saying this, the Gods Old and New will not save me - a brokered convention come July with Trump, Rubio, Kasich, Jeb? in fourth place, Cruz, Huckabee, and Carson with delegates.  The fight's going to be between Rubio Kasich and Jeb over who gets the RNC back-room controllers to tap them as the anti-Trump.

Past that, I'm not saying any more.  I don't want karma to mess this up.

I'm likely going to be wrong as hell anyway.  This is the most chaotic race I've ever witnessed in my adult life.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

For the Horde! TNC Is Gonna Be a Comic Book Writer

And the fandom rejoiced.

Local hero Ta-Nehisi Coates has been tapped by Marvel Comics to write a year-long (12 issue) story for the Black Panther superhero series.

From io9:

The news was unveiled by the New York Times in a new interview with the writer, who’s known for his two nonfiction books The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood and Between the World and Me, as well as a vast number of contributions as a journalist for The Atlantic, Time and many other outlets. Coates is widely held to be one of the most respected commentators on cultural and social issues regarding the plight of African American citizens in the U.S. today, and paired with an amazing artist like Brian Stelfreeze, it’s hard not to be excited about what the author will do with T’Challa—especially as its his first foray into writing comics.

There's a good number of comic book fans among the Open Thread Horde - AKA the Lost Battalion - so they were pretty much geeking out on Facebook all afternoon.

This is huge (per Vulture):

...A bit of background on Black Panther: He’s a king from a fictional, extremely technologically advanced African nation called Wakanda. He has some slightly mystical powers but mostly relies on his blinding intellect and high-end weaponry. He was co-created in 1966 by comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby — oddly enough, before the founding of the Black Panther party just a few months later. He’s remained a staple in Marvel stories ever since, and will be first appearing in cinematic form in next year’s Captain America: Civil War, with a solo movie in 2018.
And a bit of background on Coates: He's a giant superhero geek. I spoke with him about caped crusaders for more than two hours earlier this year, and I’ve never encountered an ostensible comics-industry outsider who was so intelligent and insightful about the subject. As of then, he’d never written a comic (though he vaguely alluded to overtures from people within the industry about such a project)...
...Which leads us to today’s news about the Coates-penned Black Panther. We don’t know how long the series was in development, but it’s certainly a major reversal for Marvel’s optics. Indeed, although other leading publishers like DC and Image have their own laudable pushes on diversity, none of them have the kind of momentousness and crossover potential of this hiring. This isn’t just bringing a writer of color onto a book about a character of color — it’s bringing the leading voice on race in America onto a book about one of the most important characters of color to ever appear in comics. There have been politically charged and progressive stories about the character in the past (most notably, the incredible turn-of-the-millennium run from African-American writer and outspoken anti-racist activist Christopher Priest), but this is a period in superhero history where, more than ever, diversity is a clarion call for fans. Coates is answering the call, and it will be fascinating to see what he has to say.

I am envious.  The man is gonna get a series published for a comic book due to have a movie release for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  He's gonna get all the attention, some of the love, some of the nit-picking (sad but true, geek fans are obsessive with this), and it's gonna be one of the crowning moments of his whole geek life.

Meanwhile I'm sitting here banging my head against the keyboard trying to get two more sections of my own superhero novella to make more sense in the overall narrative, wondering if DC Comics is ever gonna call me back on getting a one-shot of Brother Power the Geek scripted (I kid, I don't think they're bringing Brother Power back for anything).  Sigh... le sigh.

The Beltway Keeps Looking for a Savior To Rise From These Republican Streets

The political corpse of Scott Walker's Presidential ambitions is barely cold and already the pundit class in DC/NYC are anointing a replacement "he's got The Touch" candidate to fawn over:

Scott Walker just exited the Republican presidential race, so who gains? The only other solid conservative with a serious claim to electability: Marco Rubio.

Someone might wanna tell Vox's Dylan Matthews there's about five or ten other "solid conservatives" with a serious claim to electability.  (well, not really, because none of them are electable /rimshot)

It's too early to declare that Rubio has sewn up the Republican establishment. Jeb Bush is still kicking, and Chris Christie has a very low but ultimately nonzero chance of catching on. But at the moment, Rubio is the dark horse — and if insiders unite behind him, he may have a shot at beating Donald Trump.

Considering that Trump has pretty much cornered the market on the anti-immigrant voting base of the Republican Party, Rubio does not have much of a shot beating Teh Don.  The only real argument Matthews has about backing Rubio is that Marco is the only "traditional" candidate whose post-debate polling numbers have gone up, even though Rubio's polling still doesn't break over ten percent support.

And where Matthews is promoting the positive spin, we have Matt Yglesias (also at Vox) pitching the idea in another direction by trying to convince Jeb? Bush to drop out for the good of the party:

It would, of course, be totally ridiculous for Jeb Bush to drop out of the 2016 Republican primary this week. He's got a ton of money in the bank, a ton more money in his super PAC's bank, he's ahead of all the real politicians in national primary polling, and he leads the field in endorsements. If he sticks it out, Donald Trump will probably fade. The Ben Carson boomlet will probably vanish. The nascent Carly Fiorina boomlet will keep going for a while and then she'll come back down to earth too. Bush has the cash to gut it out and try to prevail against all comers and the odds of it working are at least decent.
But if he cares about his family legacy, the good of the Republican Party and the ideological principles he espouses, he should drop out as soon as possible and endorse Marco Rubio...

The sane argument for talking Jeb* out of the campaign is the simple fact he's messing up and being miserable about it.  Telling him to do it so someone else gets to be on the stage is gonna be like a shiv to the gut: when you look at his biography of coping in Dubya's and Poppy's shadows, trying to win the Presidency on his own terms is all his ego's got left to look forward to.

So why Rubio, Mr. Yglesias?  Why not Kasich - as much an Establishment figure with a more impressive resume - or even Lindsey Graham - okay, I'm pulling your leg there - to back?

Marco Rubio, by contrast, is a dynamic public speaker and gutsy political risk-taker (recall that he got to the Senate by beating a sitting governor in a primary) who impresses staffers on both sides of the aisle who've worked with him. Rubio performs better than Bush in head-to-head polling against Clinton.

Okay, I dunno if  you paid attention to the 2010 election, but the thing is Rubio won because A) Crist jumped out of the Republican Party that no longer loved him to run as an Independent, B) Crist and the Democratic challenger Greene kind of split their vote making it easier for Rubio to win, and C) in that Tea Party driven election cycle even a dead dog running for the Republican ticket would have won.  Don't go giving Rubio props for a skill he don't have.

If you're talking about political risk-taking, Rubio was tasked to give the Republicans an immigration reform package in 2013 so they could begin work post-2012 to build outreach to Latino voters.  When the Far Right anti-immigrant actors of the GOP balked, Rubio took the incredible risk... of curling up in a fetal position and letting his own bills get killed.  Not much risk there.

To be fair to Rubio, he's only been on the national stage for five years.  Maybe Yglesias is including Rubio's tenure as a Florida legislator and House Speaker, but even then Rubio doesn't have much of a track record - outside of the failed immigration push, he has gone invisible in the Senate - to crow about.  Calling him "better" at politics than Jeb^ is a bit of a reach.

And of course, David Brooks - wait, all you seven readers of this blog, I am not here to praise him - has to go and say this about Rubio:

...Instead, the party will veer on a course midway between outsider and establishment. It will probably end up with some hybrid candidate — sharp of tongue, gifted in self-expression and yet still anchored in the world of reality.
That’s where Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio come in. So far, Fiorina has looked like the most impressive candidate. She has a genius for creating signature moments. (“If you want to stump a Democrat, ask them to name an accomplishment of Mrs. Clinton’s.”) But her spotty record at Hewlett-Packard probably means she can’t start at the top of the ticket.
Rubio is young and thus uncorrupted...

That's the point where I f-cking choked.  Rubio is about as corrupt as every other Republican candidate on the primary trail.  And this is where the failure of research - the failure of even healthy skepticism - betrays the Beltway elites: Marco Rubio has some pretty scary skeletons in his closet related to his not-so-secret habit of spending other people's money for personal purchases.  There's a reason why Mitt Romney rejected going with Rubio as his Veep choice in 2012, and it has to do with Rubio's vetting uncovering some of those bad habits.

There's still the very real possibility that if Rubio does win the Republican nomination, that sort of scandal is going to go national in a way the party leaders won't like.  It's surprising they're even letting him do this well.

Here's the thing about the Beltway media once again: desperate for a likable politician on the Republican side of things with a dash of charisma and the ability to sell a hard-line Far Right social/tax cut agenda of doom, they are scrambling for the best possible Stepford Smiler left on the stage.  There's that "young" impression Brooks is yearning for, the mirage of "experience" that Yglesias admires, the sheer implausibility of Matthews' "electability".

The echo chamber of the upper echelon of our national news punditry keeps telling itself the same thing, thinking they're doing so with fresh words and excited voices.  They're just reinforcing the same bad ideas and perceptions.  It's not helping them, and it's not really helping inform the people they're sending these messages to.

Francis In America

Holy sh-t kids it's THE POPE!

Pope Francis is in the United States for the next six days to pray for us godless heathens.



Wait, I'm Unitarian.  He doesn't get to judge me.  Whew.

What, NOW he tells us?!  Lighten up, Francis!

Monday, September 21, 2015

A Taste of Schadenfreude Dipped In The Finest Cheddar (Update)

(Updated see below)

The only shocking thing about Scott Walker dropping out tonight from the Republican 2016 Race To Trump is the timing.  Could have sworn the guy would at least try to last until Iowa made it official he wasn't winning.

We're talking about a candidate who started off with a lot of press coverage and cheerleading by the media elites and news channels.  Someone working with a double-digit percentage in the polls near equal to the Establishment front-runner in Jeb! Bush in around March to July.  Someone with an inside line to the deepest pockets in the SuperPAC environments with the Koch Brothers, who had a solid chance to ride free money all the way to Cleveland (even if he was losing).

We're talking about a candidate now who polls somewhere UNDER one percent and was reportedly having problems getting even the Koch Brothers to return his calls.

Part of me is wondering, by the way, if all this Citizens United super-funding isn't working the way people feared it would.  Or are we looking at the wrong numbers...?

Anyway.  Why did Walker fall?

Part of it was that Walker didn't deserve to be ranked so high in the first place.  Kind of like an overrated college football team like the 2007 Michigan Wolverines getting their ass stomped by Appalachian State.

Walker was loved by the punditry.  The likes of Bill Kristol sang his praises.  Larry Sabato's blog ranked him at the top of their candidates for awhile.  A lot of it had to do with how Walker fit their need for an "outsider" candidate - which Governors can be - who was still experienced as an elected official - again, which Governors can be.  Walker won a contested governorship in a Purple state (one that voted twice for Obama and can vote Democratic as well as Republican on how the state's fortunes are going), survived a recall effort that boosted his prestige among the Republican insiders, and fit the desired profile of a Midwestern "straight-talker" that the East Coast elites want in a boyfriend uh President.

However, as the pundits fell in love with Walker's resume, none of them really did the research on the guy to determine if he could win over, you know, the actual voters outside of his own comfort zone.

We're learning now about a weakness regarding Governor candidates in this particular Presidential election cycle.  Most of them benefited from winning Governorships in states and situations that were too easy for Republicans to win.

Let Jeb!? Bush be an example.  He may have won office in Florida in 1998 and 2002, but this was when the state was solidly conservative and likely to vote Republican in local elections no matter who or what was on the ballot.  When he ran a genuine contest against a popular and effective Democrat like Lawton Chiles in 1994, Jeb lost.  Winning in 1998 on the second try was such a gimme that he'd have had to actively campaign against himself to lose: not because he was popular but because Democrats just don't show up for the damn non-Presidential cycles.  We're talking about a state of Florida that freaking voted a goddamn MEDICARE FRAUD into the governor's seat.  Twice.  /headdesk

Okay, I digress.

Thing is, these "popular" governor figures that the Republican-leading media elites think are winners are only doing so in places where it'd have to take real effort to actually lose.  Governors in solid Red states - especially in the Deep South - benefit from skewed turnouts and enough voter support for the party line rather than any actual love by said voters.  Governors from Solid Red States like Louisiana (Hi, Bobby!) and Texas (Hi, Rick!), or Traditional Republican States like Ohio (Hi, Kasich!), or Purple-Toss Up States that they're catching on a rebound from a bad Democratic relationship like Joisey (Hi, Christie!) are finding to their horror that a laid-back campaign style in "safe" states that focus on limited issues does not translate to a more intense campaign style nationwide that requires more extreme pandering to the party base than they even expect at a state level.

And I'm not even mentioning the likes of Gilmore and Pataki who aren't even earning a percent of a percent worth caring about.

These Governors exist in a comfort zone - a bubble of their own at the state capitals - where they get their egos boosted into thinking "oh yeah, I'm good enough to win Florida/Wisconsin/Ohio/Texas/Louisina" that it makes them a winner nationwide.  Getting ego-stroked on the Fox Not-News channel by a punditry eager to find another "star" like Reagan to attach their fortunes to doesn't help.

When you look at how the Governor candidates for the Democrats are doing - Martin O'Malley is polling as bad as Walker was (which is close to zero), and about nobody is talking about Jim Webb or Lincoln Chafee - the same seems to go for them.

This isn't because it's a weak cycle for Governors.  That type of candidate tends to fare well running for President (I count off the top of my head about sixteen Presidents with governor experience).

This is because the candidates that are Governors from our modern political system are weak.  Benefiting from a polarized partisan environment that doesn't teach them such things as genuine office management, attention to details on the issues, and ability to connect with voters.  Those things used to matter at the state level to get voter turnout and good Governors.  Today...

Well today, we're seeing the quality of these Governors when they get outside their comfort zone.  It ain't pretty.

As another thought, the question with Walker departing is "wow, who benefits?"  Considering how few voters Walker is giving up, that part is moot.  What is up for grabs is the media attention from the GOP-friendly pundits: now that their horse is out of the race, which one are they betting on now?

What's really at stake - which remaining Establishment candidate in Jeb?, Rubio, Christie or Kasich can beat the Trump Anti-Establishment momentum - is still so.  Because the polling for Jeb* and Rubio and Christie and Kasich combined cannot put a dent in Trump right now.

Oh, and for Jeb no longer having an ! emphasizing his enthusiasm, until he can actually stump on the road with that level of oomph, he doesn't deserve an exclamation mark for his musical aspirations.

In the meantime, enjoy the schadenfreude.

P.S. It's incredible how the United Kingdom could come up with a single news cycle that could temporarily knock Trump off the news headlines for even a day.  But I guess something like having your Prime Minister get accused of oh I can't even write it here, it's too NSFW even for me would do it.  THAT, my friends, is how you serve the schadenfreude...

UPDATE: Digby's take on Walker's collapse in Salon this morning conveys exactly the problem the Republicans have with their punditry.  This constant desire to resurrect a new Reagan, a Rust Belt Midwestern figure whose genetic code hails from the blue-collar middle class of the mythic 1950s.  Even though that legend about Reagan - an Illinois-born actor whose ideology bore more relation to the West Coast conservatism - wasn't real to begin with.  As Digby notes:

...But while it’s true that the modern electoral map is very daunting for the GOP, they seem peculiarly fixated on this (Great Lakes/Midwest) region. Walker took the early lead in the Midwestern savior race, but for months people were also talking up Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Indiana Governor Mike Pence as similarly excellent choices to lead the GOP out of the wilderness...
The sad fact is that Walker has been the most overrated politician in the country based largely upon the Republicans’ quixotic desire to find a leader who can put a respectable face on its increasingly disreputable base — and the media’s odd willingness to not believe what their eyes were telling them: that Walker was a terrible candidate. Like Pawlenty and Thompson before him, he may have looked good on a Power Point presentation, but in reality he showed few signs of life on the debate stage or on the stump...

And as Digby notes, the Republican elites still have a chance to indulge in this fetish: Kasich out of Ohio is still on the dead pool of non-Trump candidates.

More UPDATE: Gawker's All The Dumb Pundits Who Thought Scott Walker Could Be President

Update to the UPDATE: Going back and re-reading my own analysis of what Walker would be like as a nominee, even I bought into the myth of him being a potentially effective candidate.  I considered he'd be vulnerable on scandal charges, but I honestly thought Walker could appeal to the base as he had been polling near-even or above Jeb? before Trump entered the equation as a serious force.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Game Is Rigged, Continued: It's Likelier Than I Thought

I have written before about the political system and how it's been rigged. (Note: if you're wondering why I'm still so engaged in the idea of reform, it's that I'm optimistic enough that the cheating can be beaten by overwhelming genuine efforts when - not if - enough reformers stand up against it).

I've just written this year how the Republican Party rigged its own Presidential primaries.  And the shocking development that is Donald Trump, using that con job to his advantage:

What's happening here is that the Republican Party leadership - both the organization itself and the media outlets openly associated with them - tried to rig the game after the relatively embarrassing fiasco that was the 2012 primary season.  But they've tried doing this after having rigged everything else: having mounted a massive obstructionist program against Obama and the Democrats by vilifying them as the evil opposition, which enforced a partisan anti-everybody agenda that Trump is easily exploiting; having pushed for more rich-people's money flowing into campaigns via court rulings like Citizens United that Trump can use to basically keep himself afloat and even threatening an independent run if the Republicans reject him; using media outlets like Fox Not-News to script and shape the Republican message to shill to an ever-angered and ever-gullible audience, now attuned to Trump's calls towards hatred and outrage at the Republican leadership itself.  Now they're finding that all the tricks they've used to set this all up are now tripping their own efforts.

But I also wrote how the Republican leadership - the deep-pockets and backstage managers - could still skew the system to their advantage in the end: the nominating convention itself in 2016, where they can shut down any Populist effort (even if such a candidate is a genuine disaster for a general election) and place their Establishment candidate (hi, Jeb!) on the ticket.  While the party leadership may well be horrified by the chaos of this primary season - sixteen candidates! TRUMP AND CARSON AND FIORINA IN THE LEAD! Jeb sucking like a Hoover Vac! Walker stumbling! (I know, it's too easy a shot) Still too many debates muddying the waters! - that very chaos is the only thing giving them hope that this will all go to a brokered convention where THEY can enforce control.

There are witnesses to this possibility.  I have testimony via Steven Rosenfeld at Salon.com:

“I think they will eventually,” said Curly Haugland, a Republican National Committee member from North Dakota and longtime RNC Rules Committee member, in an interview before Wednesday’s presidential debate. “This process was set up for Bush or Walker to win—establishment guys...”
...“Everybody is depending on these primary results, except it is all built on a house of cards, a fabricated reality,” he said. “Everybody wants to have a presumptive nominee. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars at stake to buy votes for primary elections. The votes they are buying are worthless. Nobody wants to hear that story.”
Haugland spent an hour on the phone patiently dissecting the RNC’s 21-page rule book. Delegates are not bound to vote for any candidate once the convention opens, he said, citing various sections. Winner-take-all delegate allocations from the states are prohibited, he said, even though that’s what RNC attorneys want many states to agree to after March 15. The convention is run under Robert’s Rules of Order, not legally bound by state election results. And with so many candidates, it’s likely that no one will reach the RNC’s required threshold to put names officially into nomination, he said, which is a majority of RNC members from 8 states or U.S. territories backing a candidate...
...The RNC would not comment. Meanwhile, longtime primary watchers like Richard E. Berg-Andersson, who runs TheGreenPapers.com, one of the most authoritative blogs on the presidential nominating process, said fantasies about brokered conventions and imagined floor fights always emerge in the summer before the main event, yet never materialize...
...But according to Haugland, the 2016 race is unprecedented in so many ways that all bets are off. “Nobody has been here before,” he said, saying there was no presumptive nominee, no vice-president in waiting, no “remotely obvious” heir apparent, and the RNC establishment was not about to turn over control of its convention to Trump—as they did in 2012 to Mitt Romney before he was nominated.

Haugland is right about the lack of a true standard-bearer for the GOP to rally around, both for the upper party leaders as well as the base primary voters.  There's a genuine split here: the party leaders want Jeb! (or a like-minded equivalent like Walker or Kasich or Rubio) while the primary voters want Trump (or a like-valued equivalent like Ben Carson).

The split is too obvious and too big to overcome.  The base clearly abhors the "Establishment" candidates - Jeb* honestly should not be polling at this point in the early stages in single digits - as they've had such candidates shoved on them the last three election cycles and despised them enough to struggle for alternates.

Look at Romney.  In not only 2012 but also 2008 he was the presumptive heir, the preferred candidate of the deep pocket party Establishment.  The 2012 primaries became an embarrassment because the race became a clear battle of Mitt vs. Not-Mitt, the only reason for Romney's final win was due to him being enough in the lead to outlast every alternate choice - Perry, Cain, eventually Santorum - on the ballots.  In 2008, Romney lost what should have been a slam dunk to John McCain, who still wasn't trusted by the hard-core party base (nor the party Establishment who hated his self-serving grandstanding).

This cycle, the situation is reversed.  The non-Establishment candidates are in the clear lead in polling: Trump and Carson, with Fiorina (a fellow unelected candidate) gaining ground.  It is going to be difficult, if not impossible, for the party at the state primary levels to try and rig results to make it look like the polls were wrong.  If by the time of New Hampshire's primary (Feb. 9th) Trump is still polling above 24 percent while Jeb? is somewhere around 12 percent (he's currently at 9 percent, so I'm making that Jeb's likely ceiling), and yet Jeb wins New Hampshire in a "tight" upset of 15-to-14... nobody outside of the Jeb-loving punditry is gonna believe it.

Granted, the GOP leadership could try to rig the primary votes - there's been a lot of lines they've crossed before messing with results - but the risks of getting caught are too severe: not just the actual criminal charges that would result, but alsp the voter revolt that would happen as well as the likely rejection by the party's media allies (if there's anything the media elites hate, it's the feeling of personal betrayal.  Screwing with their narratives would be a bridge too far to them).  Rigging the polls is equally hard to pull off: there are too many polling groups, and each candidate has their own employed pollsters to ensure the numbers go their way.  Yes, polls are not exact, especially this early: the polls however do not skew too far into Fantasyland.  If the numbers are saying the Establishment candidates are screwed, then the Establishment is screwed.

So the only thing the Republicans have left is that convention in Cleveland.

As long as they can keep more than seven candidates afloat through the entire primary process - likely, thanks to Citizens United and SuperPACs - and they can at least keep Trump from outright winning too many delegates - this is where it gets tricky - the Establishment can wait for the nominating convention in July 2016 and use the rules to put their guy - whichever of the surviving Establishment names made it to second place - on the ballot and leave Trump fuming.

That, of course, runs into other risks as well.

The threat of Trump making an independent third party run remains.  If he can honestly point to a rigged convention blocking him - if he's well in the lead or at least sitting pretty at the second place spot - he will have a legitimate grievance to break his pledge not to run independent.  And if that does happen, if the Establishment does rig the convention against the populist uprising currently fueling this primary chaos, there are going to be a lot of angry Republican voters rejecting the party's move who will stick with their boy Trump.  And that can well have nasty ramifications for other key elections going on (the Senate, state offices, key Congressional seats).

If the GOP party elite thinks their voter base, their Tea Partier faction, or a majority of general voters will back their candidate of a rigged convention just on their say-so, they are deeper into denial than ever before.  A rigged convention will be the move of a desperate group trying to regain control over something they've lost control of ever since they unleashed everything they had to weaken Obama from 2009, and even as far back as cutting into Clinton since 1992.

It's likely, because the Republican elites will get that desperate enough when all their other methods to rig the rules to their favor no longer work.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Clarifying a Question: WHY Are There So Many Candidates Running On the Republican Presidency Ticket?

(Update: hello to the Crooks and Liars visitors from Mike's Blog Round-Up!  Welcome back, hope you enjoy stopping by to read my offerings.  Please stick around, and I wanna mention I just finished writing my take on the likelihood of a rigged GOP convention this coming July 2016...)

Screen-captured from Wednesday night's GOP debate (via Adam Baldwin):

I wrote a little earlier about "why" we have so many candidates - still about 16 even with Rick "Oops" Perry dropping out - on the Republican roster for the 2016 primaries.  I focused on the mechanics of "why": the simple fact that the Citizens United ruling makes it possible for fringe candidates to survive longer during a prolonged campaign than ever before.  I focused on the practicalities of "why": as long as you're a candidate on the list, people are paying attention to you, inviting you to the Talking Head shows, and creating a foundation of keeping yourself on the speaking circuit gravy train for life.  There's also the fact that as long as there's no clear front-runner - or the front-runner is so reviled by the party leadership (Hi, Donald!) that the party will block him from ever winning - it's in everyone's favor to stick in the race (wow Rick Perry did you screw this one up) and vie for the front-runner spot or at least a spoiler spot that guarantees you a seat at the money table.

I didn't really get into the psychology of "why" there are so many candidates this time around.  Or the politics of it.  Let me try here.

So, let's re-ask the question: Why are there so many candidates among the Republicans running for the Presidential nomination for 2016?

It's more than just making a cynical play for prestige, recognition, money.  There has to be even a sliver of belief among the candidates that each of them thinks he/she has a legitimate shot at winning the nomination and thence a shot at winning the biggest job title of all.  Even the ones who aren't doing a good job of it - Hi, Jeb! Hi, Scott - are running because a lot of people within their circle (themselves included) convinced them they had a shot.

It has to do with intra-party discipline.  And how now there is no longer much of it.

A political party forms when enough people of a like-minded persuasion organizes around shared beliefs.  Historically, our two-party system founded around two economic viewpoints - mercantile vs. agrarian - with differing positions on which takes priority - the mercantile/business class preferred a strong federal government, the agrarian class preferred more state/local powers that protected farmers' interests.  Other issues - foreign policy, social policy, technology, theology - coalesced around them as the Democrats and the Federalists/Whigs/Republicans became the two parties we know today.

It helped that our elective system - a winner-takes-all for Congressional districts and an Electoral College for Presidents that answered to winning states over the general population - encourages to this day only two parties to thrive.

Thing is, even within a party there are factions: certain issues that take priority over other issues; or internal debates over how exactly to resolve those issues (in a liberal, moderate, or conservative way).

For Republicans, the factions (up until the 1990s) mostly hewed to:

  • Pro-Business (few regulations, free markets, praise to the allmighty CEO),
  • Foreign Policy (a realist, trade-oriented stance with other nations, albeit with an isolationist - or Monroe Document - bent),
  • Social conservatism (small-c conservatism that viewed a paternalistic status quo based on non-Evangelical Christian beliefs).

What kept these factions in line with the party - both of them - was the overall moderate or centrist viewpoints of the party's leadership that played to the liberal or conservative leanings on certain issues at one time but not another.  Back when both Democrats and Republicans had active liberal and conservative wings, this helped maintain the balance (and it helped with bipartisan legislation over the decades).

Other methods of maintaining party loyalty - doling out favors, controlling who got nominated for offices at state and congressional levels - were also used.  In Congress this used to mean control committee assignments, and of the purse-strings for pet projects/pork barrel spending.

In the Republican Party, at least this modern (post-1992) incarnation, a lot of those rules changed as the power of the factions changed.

With the hunt for "soft" RINOs (AKA Republicans-In-Name-Only) after the end of Bush the Elder's tenure, the conservatives within the GOP removes one half of the balancing act within the factions making up the whole party.  They drove out anyone who didn't agree to cut taxes across the board; they drove out anyone "liberal" or "un-Christian" on social issues like abortion and gay rights; they drove out anyone with a multinational view of diplomacy, in favor of a foreign policy that revolved around an aggressive unilateral stance against foe and ally alike.

A seemingly honest reform effort in the 1990s - by the new Republican leadership that rose in response to Bill Clinton - to end certain acts of favoritism such as committee seating assignments took away a major carrot party leaders in Congress used to control their back-benchers.

The Republican Party no longer handles discipline, in some respects they haven't since 1994: they've given that power over to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.  As a result, the elected officials most likely to stand as party leaders pay allegiance to Roger Ailes and Rush: those two un-elected men - among others - who control the messaging for conservative dogma, and dominate the audiences those elected officials need to garner votes (and keep their cushy jobs).

As a result, the factions that make up the Republican Party tilted exceedingly Right-Wing to the point where there are no ideological differences within the party itself.  Certain figures may speak or act on specific issues disparate from the GOP party line, but it's usually on just that one (pet project) issue.  Everybody toes the party platform because that's how Fox News can sell it every night.

And with the homogenization (unity) of the message, it suddenly made it harder (yes) for one specific person to become a standard-bearer with the factions within the party.

When the factions had to bicker over the issues, it made it easy to rally members around leaders on that issue and allow those leaders - who tended to be charismatic or well-informed - to personalize the debate, make it easier for voters to identify the person to the party.  This method also created a form of meritocracy where seniority of an effective politician translated into leadership.  Someone who'd gotten elected multiple times arguing well on that issue earned that leadership role.

As a result, the Republicans were able to over the years raise significant leaders to control the party both at the podium and behind the scenes.  Sometimes it would boil down to just one person (say, Robert Taft in the 1940s), but often there were several at one time: someone strong on foreign policy, someone strong on domestic issues, someone strong on finance, and often someone else on each topic arguing a different tack to provide honest debate (say, Goldwater vs. Rockefeller in the 1960s and 1970s).

When it came to Presidential primaries, those leaders would be the likely candidates (or a proxy who ran with that leader's blessing): as a result, most of the campaigns would orbit around four to six of them, making it easier to determine which candidate (and which issues) would win that election cycle.  It was rare to see more run in any given election cycle: 1980 was packed up to ten candidates due to incumbent President Carter's weakness and the awareness of the nation's mood shifting to a post-New Deal conservatism.  And even then, it was a clear two-candidate race between Reagan and Bush the Elder.

But today for 2016, lacking any genuine differences between candidates on the issues, it means ANYONE can stand up and declare him/herself a standard-bearer not just on specific issues but for the whole party.

Worse, it means that anyone within the Republican Party itself that's not even an elected official - hi, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson and Donald Trump - can rise to claim the standard-bearer role without ever proving themselves capable of winning any election in the first place.  The entire meaning of merit - of experience and leadership on politics and issues - no longer has value.

And once again to note: the Citizens United ruling about uncontrolled campaign spending by third parties (SuperPACs) made it so that candidates no longer have to rely on the party for financial help: a candidate can rely on a single uber-rich backer who wants his special issues solved his way (which may harm the Republicans' overall popularity with regular voters).  Candidates can also rely on nation-wide fund-raising efforts that don't have to go through the party.  At this point, the RNC is a vestigial organ, much like the earlobe or the appendix: it's only real value is that they allow the candidates the means to get their names on the ballot.

As a result, we've got the most number of candidates running for the Republican ticket that has ever been seen (when Perry was in it, that made seventeen (!) names on the list).  And while some of them are clearly nowhere near an honest chance of winning, as long as they can pay their bills they are in this thing muddying the waters and adding to the noise.

Let's look again at the natural factions that exist within the Republican Party, although now there's four instead of three:

  • Pro-Business (has changed the least, still pushing for deregulation and tax cuts, essentially what passes for the Establishment leadership today)
  • Foreign Policy (now a neo-conservative fringe that seeks an aggressive stance to the point of unilateral wars against "enemy states")
  • Social Conservatism (now a Big-C Conservatism that follows an absolutist evangelical approach to Christianity)
  • National Populism (a mixing of various elements from the other three factions that created its own Nativist and anti-Establishment world-view)

Rather than having one or two prominent figures in each faction, there are several in each.  Making it worse is that as the Republicans merged every issue into a broad conservative agenda, the candidates have to pander across the board like never before: they cannot indulge in being "just" a tax-cut candidate or a "Praise Jesus" candidate (back in 1988 for example there were clear distinctions between George HW Bush and Bob Dole and Pat Robertson) they have to be both (even when those issues really do not blend well).

As a result, nobody can just say that Jeb! Bush is a Pro-Business candidate because he's also deep into the Social Conservatism range (think Terri Schiavo) as well as the Neocon Foreign Policy stance (due to having to defend his brother George W.'s debacles with the War on Terror and an unneeded Iraqi invasion).

And none of these candidates are willing to step down and back a more charismatic figure to ensure their issues hold sway.  (Also because, honestly, few of these jokers are charismatic enough to pull it off)

And this means there is no one true standard-bearer around which the party can rally.  Not even the clear Establishment name in Jeb!, who is right now drowning in the shallow end of the candidate pool in single-digit polling numbers.

If I had to break down the candidates by faction, it wouldn't be a clean break for most:

  • Pro-Business: Jeb! Bush, Scott Walker, John Kasich, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry
  • Foreign Policy: Lindsey Graham, Jeb! Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul (interestingly not as a neocon that dominates this issue nowadays)
  • Social Conservatism: Jeb! Bush, John Kasich, Marco Rubio (except on immigration), Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry
  • National Populism: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz

Not a single stand-out figure for any faction, save for Donald Trump: the only candidate polling in double-digit leads over everyone else.

It is telling that the candidates right now in the Republican lead - Trump, Carson, with Fiorina nearing the top of the pack - are the ones with least experience and merit within the party ranks.  They are the ones pandering best to the primary base, all because the party platform itself - drawn up and marketed by a conservative media more interested in creating outrage to generate ratings over actual governance - ignores and despises such expertise.

This is a problem for the Republicans and not the Democrats by the by because the Democrats did NOT go through any ideology purge like the Republicans did with their RINO hunting.  As a result, there are clear distinctions between factions among the Democrats now to where only a handful of candidates - Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Jim Webb, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and maybe Joe Biden - have a clear reason to run.  And right now the race is clearly a two-choice race between Hillary and Bernie.

For the Republicans, you are not going to see any clear distinctions any time soon.  Not even when the primaries kick in for real and candidates actually start winning and losing votes.  We may see another low-tier candidate fail out due to lack of funds, but none of them really stand out as an obvious to-fail name.  Right now, all of them profit by staying in the race just a little bit longer... and a little bit more...

'Cause the candidates aren't really running for the Presidency.

The candidates are running for the next Fox News hosting gig.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

So What Did We Learn From the September 2015 GOP Debate?

1) That we shouldn't be having these debates more than a year away from the actual election.

Seriously.  I have been harping on this for more than a decade now.  Our election cycles have become non-stop circuses in which these tent shows blur into one another until people can't make heads or tails of anything.  In which the freakshow performances of the candidates - desperate for attention and struggling to establish dominance - disguise the actual issues that need answering.

And yet we are so far away from an actual tangible event - the primaries themselves where people finally put their votes in - that these carnival acts can continue unless the "performers" have to drop out due to lack of funds... which in this Citizens United era is going to be rare.  Just Rick Perry has dropped so far, while low-tier hangers-on barely clinging to three to five percent voter support (hi, Bobby!) are threatening to stick it out until March 2016.

2) That having any debate last longer than 90 minutes should be grounds for the cable network hosting that debate to lose their FCC license.

Having the main event go so long - three hours? - is like putting an endurance test inside of a triathlon.  Whereas people getting smashed using the drinking game rules would have wiped out their livers somewhere around the 45-minute mark, everyone sober would have wiped out from general fatigue around the 60-minute mark.

Granted, it's not entirely CNN's fault (or even Fox Not-News from last month).  It's the fact that there's 11 main candidates - with 4 others stuck to the Kids' Table debate earlier in the afternoon) - each requiring at least a minute to answer, retort, bicker, flail, whimper and moan over the allotted time limits.

The Republicans should have installed a more stringent set of requirements for debates, or at least developed stronger inter-party control to stop half of the candidate wannabes from flooding the market.

Stringing out the debate was that the moderators showed little control of their forum.  Questions led to answers that went off on tangents and dragged in extra arguments from opposing debaters to where the closing words on that argument had no relation to the original question.  What should have taken three minutes to answer spread out to ten minutes of gibberish.  People following the drinking games couldn't keep up with what rule they had to abide by to imbibe.

3) With regards to actual winners and losers...

Right off the bat, we should note that Trump does not lose.  Well, technically he could (and has, hello bankruptcy court!) but in his own mind - and campaign bubble - Trump always wins.  He can come out of a bear pit mauled half to death and claim victory because the bears attacking him finally died from the toxicity of Trump's inhuman blood.

So while the debate watchers may note that Trump got hurt often in this debate - and that he stumbled far too often to impress any "serious" people - we're not going to confirm that he lost - merely "got bloody" - until the polls show a deep slide of support.  Considering that Trump's fanbase despises conventional wisdom, I doubt it.

As for the overall debate, let's ask David Graham at The Atlantic:

First, viewers learned that the presidential contenders are delighted to take swipes at each other all night, if given the opportunity.
Second, they learned that the performance that elevated Carly Fiorina from the happy-hour debate in Cleveland to the main stage at the Reagan Library was no fluke—she’s a skilled speaker.
Third, they learned that the listless performance Jeb Bush delivered last time around was no fluke either. The wounded former frontrunner once again seemed unsure how best to handle the crowded stage or the slugfest the debate became.

Most of last night's Twitter feed seem to reflect that.  Even for the left-center people I follow - and some of the right-center people who peek through due to the hashtags - the consensus was that Fiorina performed like she belonged on the stage and made the most of her time punching the crap out of Trump.

From post-debate reviews, it's clear that pundits have their favorites - those who went in liking Rubio thought he did well, those who went in like Rand Paul thought he did well, those who went in liking Jeb! Bush were crying into their beers - and that for the most part nothing has really changed for them.  The real answer comes with any of the reliable polls this weekend.

Of course, on the policy arguments they made, IMHO all the candidates were shilling snake oil.  So there.

4) That these debates do little to highlight significant difference in policy positions between the candidates.

Oh, granted, on some points one or two of the candidates will speak against the Far Right orthodoxy.  Incredibly enough, Trump speaks out against the standard Republican canard of "flat tax" or mass tax cuts for the rich.  And yet he still does well with the base, which points up how tax cuts matter for the GOP Establishment (AKA the deep pocket rich guys) but they don't matter for the actual voters (most of whom share the American view of taxes as a civic virtue).  Rand Paul spoke well about mass incarceration over the War on Drugs against poor people, and Kasich warned against going after Planned Parenthood.  But for the most part, the candidates were in agreement over most of the issues (or at least most of the candidates were, leaving the lone wolf figures on any particular stance seem lost).

What was really at stake was everybody's egos on the stage.  I won't doubt the Democratic debate in October is going to be the same way, even with the Democratic front-runners Hillary and Bernie taking significant stances on issues.

5) The drinking rules I drew up for the September debate (around 900 views) just didn't catch the fire the way the August one did (6000 views and counting).

What happened I figure is that people Google-searching for drinking games kept getting referred to the August one as a popular page and the September one just couldn't get out of its shadow.  I may have to move everything to a static Page on this site just to keep one set of rules going, and refresh/add to those rules as circumstances warrant.

Did everyone's livers survive last night, by the by?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

About the Constitution: It IS a Feature, It IS a Bug In the System, It ISN'T Fatal

One of the blogger/editors you need to read often (and who doesn't publish often enough) is The Atlantic's Yoni Appelbaum.  When he publishes something, it's a well-researched, citation-backed article delving into a particular issue and breaking down the arguments in a concise, readable way.

Appelbaum's current article is on a topic I hold dear: our nation's history and the founding of the Constitution that makes the United States of America (and its three branches of federal government) what it is.

To Appelbaum, it's a flawed and fragile jewel of sorts, one that the Founding Fathers failed to design as a durable foundation:

The system isn’t working. But even as the two parties agree on little else, both still venerate the Constitution. Politicians sing its praises. Public officials and military officers swear their allegiance. Members of Congress keep miniature copies in their pockets. The growing dysfunction of the government seems only to have increased reverence for the document; leading figures on both sides of the aisle routinely call for a return to constitutional principles.
What if this gridlock is not the result of abandoning the Constitution, but the product of flaws inherent in its design?

He's getting into the Checks And Balances aspect of our government, and primarily into the splitting of power between a President (executive) and Congress (legislative).  (The Judiciary's role as Judge/Arbitrator between the other two branches in this matter is limited)  He focuses on the Presidency in particular, a game-breaking political force that could (and has) wield remarkable unilateral authority when needed.

When, in 1985, a Yale political scientist named Juan Linz compared the records of presidential and parliamentary democracies, the results were decisive. Not every parliamentary system endured, but hardly any presidential ones proved stable. “The only presidential democracy with a long history of constitutional continuity is the United States,” Linz wrote in 1990. This is quite an uncomfortable form of American exceptionalism.
Linz’s findings suggest that presidential systems suffer from a large, potentially fatal flaw. In parliamentary systems, governmental deadlock is relatively rare; when prime ministers can no longer command legislative support, the impasse is generally resolved by new elections. In presidential systems, however, contending parties must eventually strike a deal. Except sometimes, they don’t. Latin America’s presidential democracies have tended to oscillate between authoritarianism and dysfunction...
To Appelbaum, the flaw is that there exists the possibility of deadlock.  The Founders did intend, from what we've read of their arguments on the matter, to use deadlocks as a means of putting the brakes on reckless legislation or executive actions that would otherwise occur in a parliamentary system.  Also, to use the threat (or reality) of deadlocks to enforce compromise between the sides to ensure enough people are satisfied (or dissatisfied, which also works) with the results.

The flaw for Appelbaum is allowing those deadlocks to evolve into outright obstructionism.  Something we're seeing today as one branch of government - the Legislative - collapses in on itself in a wave of obstruction over partisan rancor.

Until recently, American politicians have generally made the compromises necessary to govern. The trouble is that cultures evolve. As American politics grows increasingly polarized, the goodwill that oiled the system and helped it function smoothly disappears. In 2013, fights over the debt ceiling and funding for the Affordable Care Act very nearly produced a constitutional crisis. Congress and the president each refused to yield, and the government shut down for 16 days. In November 2014, claiming that he was “acting where Congress has failed,” President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration. House Republicans denounced him as “threatening to unravel our system of checks and balances” and warned that they would cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security unless Obama’s actions were rolled back. For months, the two sides faced off, pledging fealty to the Constitution even as they exposed its flaws. Only at the 11th hour did the House pull back from the edge.
Strikingly, in these and other recent crises, public opinion has tended to favor the president. As governments deadlock, executives are inclined to act unilaterally, thereby deepening crises...
Appelbaum is correct in that our current political malaise is based on the structural flaws of our Constitution: there are no emergency powers to override one branch of government when one party driven by reactionary dogma controls that branch and abuses the rules into a paralyzing gridlock.

As a side note: It's interesting that Appelbaum is arguing about the disproportionate powers of the Executive branch in times of deadlock, but that the causes of our current deadlock woes are all on a one-party-rule Congress refusing - including excessive vacationing as outright job avoidance - to do its job.  I can see where he's concerned that the President in these circumstances could say "to hell with it" and go into Full Dictator mode like a Caesar of old, but the core problem is still with a lazy and broken Congress... Again, I digress.

However, I disagree with Appelbaum on one point: the flaw in our government's Constitution isn't fatal.  It's a serious weakness, granted, but it's one that can be fixed.

It can be fixed because as much as things change, there is always (except for one exception, hello 1860) some moment or some twist in the ongoing historical narrative that is the present day that breaks the gridlock.  I'm not talking some kind of Deus Ex Machina, but about an external or internal shift of events that "wakes up" the political elites - the patrician class that holds the real power in the nation - into making the necessary reforms to end that crisis and ensure future crises do not return.  I'm thinking back to such moments as the Progressive Era at the start of the 20th Century which was a response to the decades of Gilded Age greed and social inaction on women's rights; back to the New Deal era reforming federal government into a regulator of our fiscal and business needs; back to the Civil Rights reforms in the 1960s to end a century of Jim Crow segregation.

It can be fixed because when this happened before - when the system broke down enough during the Civil War - the majority of Americans still worked for repairing and rebinding the nation back to what it was.  Partly to rub the salt in the wounds of the secessionists who lost, but mostly because Americans saw (still see) America as a whole and unified nation despite the disagreements.

And it can be fixed because our nation's Founders were smart enough and hopeful enough to establish the means to Amend the Constitution itself.  That is a step of Last Resort, of course, and difficult to manage.  However, if the crisis becomes that obvious, our nation has shown in the past it is capable of making the effort to amend the flaw and get government working again.  That the amendment process even exists is an example of faith: the men of power 200-plus years ago trusted future generations to see to making repairs when they were needed.

There will come a moment when the gridlock ends.  The causes of this current crisis - the unresponsive House designed by rampant gerrymandering, a Republican Party consumed by hardening Far Right ideologies against women's health rights and immigration - can't last forever: simple demographics will see to part of that by 2020, and a growing state-level push for election reforms will see an end to gerrymandered "safe" districts sooner rather than later.  The restrictive limits of an obstructionist faction historically have a habit of collapsing on themselves (the purity purges), and we are getting signs of the Far Right Republicans about to implode over their inability to compromise even among themselves.

There is going to come a point when the need for reform is so obvious that every level of society from rich to poor will agree to its passage.  And the ones who refuse to see it either remove themselves from the equation to ensure its passage or else pursue a destructive course that ends up hurting themselves (although others can get hurt in the process).

A lot of this doesn't even involve the Amendment process, although once reformers gain power in Congress and the White House (and enough states) they are likely to codify their reforms with an appropriately-worded amendment to ensure the safety of our nation's well-being to future generations.

Future generations who will likely complain about the deadlocks in government they're facing when it's their turn to question what's broken in the Constitution and what needs to be done about it.  Heh.

I'm not being flippant about what Appelbaum writes: he is correct in that our current political woes are due to failings in the Constitution and that there's a possibility these failings can get worse.  I'm noting we've been able to fix and reform the Constitution before and that we're able to do so again.

I'm just saying there are alternatives to letting it all fail: I'm just saying we need to start fighting to get those fixes in place, and removing the blockage of obstructionism causing damage to our nation.

I am, again, saying we need to stop voting into office the party responsible for all this obstruction in the first place.  Yup.  Please please please, stop voting Republican.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Anniversary for Nine Eleven 2015

It pains me that I can't remember the names of the two ladies I was working with at the Broward Library's technology center that Tuesday morning, going over the new training materials for the Groupwise email system we were deploying for our county library system.  I am lousy with names, and I didn't work with them often enough to retain that knowledge.

I do remember Barbara's name, my former supervisor at North Regional, who was also at the Main Library in downtown Ft. Lauderdale that morning for a different meeting.  I bumped into her on the Second Floor lobby area where they set up a television with lousy antenna reception to broadcast the news about the planes hitting the Twin Towers.

She was the one who told me about the second tower.

The rawness of that day remains with me.  So much has changed since then but I still remember where I stood, how I felt, what it was like to drive back to Northwest Regional to await more bad news, the parking lot of the blood bank at night where a hundred people stood with me waiting our turn to donate blood because there was nothing else we could do but cry and pray.

I feel bad still because this is all I can do, just sit here and repeat the same story, unable to change the past and in no position to fix the present outside of my own meager rants and political activism.  I'd like to be able to take the rage and sorrow I have and convert it into solutions and salvation.  But 9/11 is a reflection of a human sin that both saints and tyrants struggle against with no honest solution in sight...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Syria Refugee Crisis

We as a nation need to do more than offer to take in 10,000 more refugees from the Syrian Civil War.

We need to send more aid.

We need to resolve the fighting and that means getting Russia and Syria and Turkey and Israel and Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Jordan AND Iran to the diplomacy table and stop the goddamn bloodshed.

IT HAS BEEN FOUR YEARS OF BLOODSHED AND IT'S GETTING WORSE.  A majority of Syrians no longer live in Syria because of it.  The refugee centers are now the size of small cities.

We need to isolate ISIL more effectively, cut off their supplies of funding better, cut off their manpower.  By getting every major nation in the region involved, that could work.  But it needs to happen now, and like it or not it means the United States is going to have to commit troops.

This isn't some delusional hunt for imagined WMDs, and it's not some plan to make Dick Cheney richer.  There is a legitimate threat to global security and stability operating in Syria, and the overall instability of Syria threatens the entire Middle East.  A sane, well-planned military operation is needed, with clear goals and strong allied backing among all members.

In the meantime, help the families and children of the Syrian dispossessed.

Because House Republicans Never Paid For Their Sins Of Shutdowns, Here Comes Another Round

It's the autumn season.  Congress is back in session and the annual budget is on the table.  That means we're facing yet another threat of Shutdown by the "Let's Drown Government in Grover's Bathtub" Party, AKA the Republicans.

I mean, why not?  We've had threats of shutdowns and actual shutdowns over the last twenty years - we're facing the 20-year anniversary of a major shutdown in 1995 - by Republicans, and after all few of the people sitting in office today ever paid for a single one of them despite the damage done.

An interesting twist in this year's Shutdown Showdown is that there IS a Republican facing the likelihood of paying for it.  Thing is, the person whose head is under the Sword of Damocles is the Speaker of the House Boehner.  Per Matt Lewis of the Daily Beast:

If Boehner makes even a minor misstep in the next few weeks, he will likely face a challenge—and sources indicate it would be a very close vote. In fact, right now I’d put the odds at about 50-50 that he goes down. That’s because the real goal of House conservatives right now isn’t to defund Planned Parenthood or shut down the government—their goal is to get rid of Boehner.
The rebels are going to wait to see what Boehner does regarding defunding Planned Parenthood in the next continuing resolution. He will have to make a choice between keeping the government open and pleasing House conservatives, and neither of these options are very appealing. Shutting down the government could only hurt the GOP, but Boehner’s own political survival is at stake if he appears to be capitulating to the Democrats.

On that last point, Lewis is wrong: shutting down the government before - in 1995 and 1996, and in 2013 - never hurt the GOP.  It may have cost them prestige among the Beltway media - who nonetheless seemed willing to forgive and forget - but House Republicans in particular have yet to answer for their costly hostage attempts that ended up winning them few tangible gains.

But now there's a simmering backbencher revolt that could - if carried out - cause a massive shift in power in Congress.  Boehner may be unpopular among the Far Right elements of an already Far Right party, but he has his supporters and a power base you shouldn't sneeze at (nobody becomes Speaker in a vacuum: people owe him some huge favors).  If the rebel factions do succeed in No-Confidence voting Boehner out of the Speakership, he's not going to go quietly and his allies are going to figure out ways to make the usurpers suffer.

If the vote against Boehner garners him enough backers... There's a 58 seat difference between Republican and Democratic control.  All Boehner needs are over 30-35 Republicans in personally safe districts (likely Blue/Purple states) to drop out of the GOP (even as Independents) and caucus with the Democrats, effectively ruining the radicals' plans of ruling in the first place.

And that's one scenario, where revenge would be sweet.  There's another scenario where the Republicans implode, although a lot of collateral damage would kick in.  The "You Get What You Wanted And It's a Hell of a Git You Got" scenario.

One of the reasons why the Republicans never paid for their sins of shutdowns was because their House leadership had enough sense and political savvy to work out deals that would allow them to retain some dignity.  The Far Right guys may decry such leadership, but it covered their asses so far.  With that cover gone...

If the Far FAR Right congresscritters succeed in their plan, they are likely to put into the Speakership someone with attitude and anger but no legal skill (Gohmert comes to mind).  Someone who would pursue every fantastical "theory" and "game-changing" act the Far Right desires.  A legislative program that basically goes all-out: A massive anti-immigrant bill that would be a real-world logistical disaster; massive cuts to every social safety net including Medicare and Social Security; massive deregulatory acts; a straight-up abortion ban without exemptions.  Things that would drive real-world moderates and centrists right into the arms of the Democratic Party.

Worse than that, the new Speaker is likely going to go Full Birther/Anti-Obama.  Granted, Boehner has been dissing Obama as a weak and even illegitimate President for years.  The replacement Speaker will prove his bona fides by going into full Impeachment mode.  He'd HAVE to: the Far Right has accused Obama of committing illegal acts - think about that still-pressing lawsuit against Executive Orders - for so long they are now expected to do SOMETHING to stop him.  This is why Boehner loses his control in the first place: he's been seen as "weak" on confronting Obama even with the moves he HAS made.  Impeachment - considering Obama will veto every harsh Republican bill that Congress sends him - is the last major weapon they've got left.

The likelihood of Impeachment increases with the likelihood of Boehner's ouster.  The charges will likely not make any legal or logical sense, nor be based on a genuine scandal or outrage.  The radical Republicans will likely seize on what THEY consider a scandal - Benghazi tops the odds - and simply vote on that.  And when the Senate votes against it, the House will simply issue another Impeachment (there are no limits) charge.  And again.  And again.  For them, it's all win-win: they appease their voting base and they make Obama look weak. See, historians!  He was impeached!  WORST PRESIDENT EVER...

In the meantime, nothing gets done.  All other needed legislation dies because the House's radicalism prevents them from passing sensible bills: anything they do pass will be so extreme Obama can easily veto and give solid argument doing so.

In the meantime, this Congress gains the reputation for being obsessive compulsive maniacs to the point of inaction.  People who take governing seriously - moderates and centrists - will not take any Republican from Congress serious at all.  While this has been said before, and Republicans were able to get away with it, this time around...  This time, their grandstanding will get old real quick.  Some of their media cheerleaders will fall silent, they will have to, unable to stick to the old narrative of "both sides do it" because clearly only Republicans do act like madmen.

In the meantime, the Republican Congresspersons lose whatever meager popular support they have with general voters.  Hint: it's currently around 14 percent, which means in a two-party electorate (50/50) AND in a three-wing ideology (33 percent liberal, 33 percent moderate, 33 percent conservative) this Congress has a lot of fellow Republicans HATING IT.  And they're doing this during an election cycle with a Presidency topping the ballot, something that generates a large enough voter turnout (over 50 percent) to where even gerrymandered "safe" districts run a risk of turnover.  This group of Republicans will be behaving very badly on issues - birth control and women's health, immigration - that hurt them before in 2012.

This Congress - once again one of the WORST EVER - is running into the genuine likelihood - at long last - of paying the price for their obstruction and "destroy the government" mindset.

I don't know which version of the coming insurrection would be more satisfying.  Letting these Republican extremists fall on their own swords would be most pleasing, but a lot of innocent people could get hurt along the way.  Letting whatever sane Republicans are left block the radicals from self-immolation would likely save our government and our Constitution and our citizenry, but will let the Far Right off the hook by letting them play the victim card one more time and blame "traitors" for ruining their gameplan.

Either way, we're heading into another messy September and another Long October.