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Foreign Elections — French Edition

Sat, 04/22/2017 - 10:11

On Sunday, French voters will go to the polls in the first round of their presidential election.  There are several key differences between the U.S. and France.  First, the French have more than two main political parties.  Out of the eleven candidates running, at least five represent significant political groupings.  Second, the French president is elected by popular vote.  Third, if no candidate gets a majority of the popular vote (likely based on current polls), there will be a run-off.  Fourth, the center of French politics is significantly further to the left than U.S. politics.  While folks try to put things in U.S. terms, the best way to view it is that the top five is like Donald Trump, John Kasich,  Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and someone to the left of Bernie Sanders, and even the Donald Trump candidate is more liberal on fiscal issues than President Trump.

Of course, what is the same is the existence of the National Front — an organization that Donald Trump loves.  As it’s name implies, the National Front is a xenophobic party opposed to French membership in the European Union and the Islamic influence in France.  It is also pro-Putin.  The National Front typically polls somewhere in the teens.  While this has historically been enough for the National Front to contend for run-off slots (both in Presidential and Parliamentary elections), the National Front is so far out of the mainstream of French politics that it normally loses most of those run-off elections (it only holds two seats in the outgoing French Parliament.)  In this election, the National Front is (again) running Marine Le Pen — daughter of the founder of the National Front and its leader since dear old dad retired.

There are some signs that the far right nationalist views of the National Front are making gains in France.  There is a symbiotic relationship between ultranationalist candidates like Le Pen and Trump on the one side and Islamic fundamentalist terror groups like ISIS.  Each terror attack make the law and order and anti-Islam messages of the ultranationalist sound like the only option that voters have if they want security.  However, that very anti-Islam message feeds into discrimination against Muslims who are native-born citizens.  Young Muslims feeling rejected by their own country then turn to leaders who call for a return to an era when Islam was dominant and promote violence as a means to that end.  When these young people follow through on that call and engage in acts of terror, the cycle begins again.   Given a spate of terror incidents on the eve of the election, the National Front may pick up an extra couple of percent in the first round of the election.

Fortunately, the French run-off system is likely to protect us from the global disaster that a Le Pen presidency is unlikely to happen.  Her polling is around 5-10 percent higher than the norm for the National Front in the past.  In a five-way race that might be good enough for a top two finish, but right now the fifth place candidate is starting to slip back, and there may be four candidates (including Le Pen) who finish between 20 percent and 25 percent.  Any two of the four could make the run-off.

The best chance for Le Pen to win, surprisingly, comes if the moderate-conservative candidate makes the run-off against her.  And the reason is the same as one of the reasons why Trump is in the White House.  The current candidate of the conservatives — Francois Fillon — has been the subject of an ongoing investigation.  In his case, the allegations is he hired his wife to “work” in his legislative office.  Allegedly, his wife didn’t really do any work in the office and this was merely a means to get a second paycheck from his legislative position.  At times, polling about potential runoffs have shown a close race between Le Pen and Fillon.  As in the Clinton-Trump race, those numbers are just close enough that Le Pen could theoretically close the gap in the two weeks between the first round and the run-off.  (Against the other candidates, Le Pen trails by about 30 percent.)

The French elections (which besides the presidential run-off will also include two rounds of legislative elections) is the second European election this year that will see how strong the ultra-right nationalists are around the globe.  Earlier, the Dutch elections ended in a good showing but still not a win for their equivalent of Donald Trump.  Later this year, Germany will also hold elections and the German equivalent of Trump and Le Pen is hoping to win seats in the German Bundestag for the first time ever.  Fortunately, the Brexit vote last year seems to mark the highwater mark for this wave in the UK.  With the issue in the UK now being how to leave — rather than whether to leave — the European Union, the surprise election called by the current government, while potentially seeing more mainstream conservatives in Parliament, is unlikely to result in any substantial seat for the far right.

Categories: Political Action

Why Vote? Seven Reasons

Tue, 04/18/2017 - 17:51

Why vote? I get asked this a lot.

Especially in an odd year like 2017.

Where to start?

First, voting is mentioned five times in the US Constitution. FIVE. It’s a protected right. Think about it, nowhere in the Constitution does it mention what an individual has a right to, rather only that a right will not be abridged. For example, the Constitution says that you have a right to free speech, but it doesn’t say you have to use it. Once. Everything about rights not being abridged, or impinged, are mentioned once. Except voting. FIVE TIMES. The enabling legislation of the United States of America thought voting was that important.

Second, people have been imprisoned, beaten and killed so that we have the right to vote today.

Third, when fewer people vote, the votes of those who do vote count more. (One out of 10, vs one out of 100.)

Fourth, remember Edmund Burke’s quote?

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

That should especially resonate after the dismal turnout last November.

Fifth, while an odd year election doesn’t have the cachet of a presidential election, the positions to be filled have a direct bearing on your life. The people elected municipally set your taxes. School board members affect what your kids learn. Judges will impact the redistricting map sure to come out of the 2020 Census. The Judge of Elections and Majority and Minority Inspectors determine how fair the election is at your personal polling place.

Sixth, you don’t like the current administration – phone calls may derail some actions, but the permanent answer is to vote them out of office. At all levels.

Seventh, why not? It doesn’t take a lot of time, it’s close to home (if you’ll be out of town there are absentee ballots available) and your voice matters.

So there are seven good reasons to vote. I can’t think of a reason not to…..I’ll be at my polling place. Will you be at yours?

Categories: Political Action

The Democratic Party: Where do we go from here?

Mon, 04/17/2017 - 17:29

In the past week, I had three conversations that all intersect on the issue of the future of the Democratic Party. Three quite different people, and varying subject matters. I have not yet reached a conclusion, but the questions raised fascinate me.

Conversation 1

I belong to a political action group and we had a meeting. While the topic doesn’t matter, this comment still rings in my ears: “I work in a factory, and we make decisions immediately. I hope the rest of you won’t take this wrong, but you are pencil pushers.”

Prior to this conversation, I’d recently read this article which talks about who and what the Democratic Party has left behind over the past 30 years. And here was someone, a man I know, who could have made the same arguments made by the Ohio Democrats in the article.

It stung. I have spent my life as a liberal Democrat: fighting for inclusion, with no true understanding that I knew people who were unheard by a party dedicated to inclusion of all who shared the ideals of the platform.

Conversation 2

A woman, new to politics, is running for a row office this year. I’d heard good things about her from people we know in common, and this conversation was to see if she wanted, and if I would provide, support for her nascent campaign.

When I interview candidates for DCW or other publications, my questions relate to why someone is running, what their background includes, and issue questions to provide the readership with the answers they need to make an independent choice for whom to vote. When I interview candidates to provide support, my first question is always “What’s your number?” It doesn’t matter what the number is, only whether or not the candidate knows it. Candidates who know are able to plan effectively, develop teams that can reach the goal, and have a shot at winning. She knew her number right off.

Part of our ensuing conversation related to her initial interactions with the local party apparatus.

Conversation 3

The third conversation was with an elected member of the party hierarchy. This woman is well-intentioned, conscientious, and committed to the party. She believes that the only way to change the party is from within.

She told me flat out, and early on in the conversation, that the group to which I belonged could never get a Democratic candidate elected, only the party could do that. Huh. It’s been working so well for them…

Putting it all Together

Back in 2009, we spent a lot of “ink” here at DCW discussing what would happen to the GOP. And pretty much, we were correct: they’re completely splintered, the Teabaggers hold the jokers that prevent the moderate and business wings of the party from accomplishing much of anything, and their leader is a no-nothing who has basically invaded two countries and is considering military action against a third, and he STILL can’t fill positions in his government. There’s even a loyalty oath.

We should have done better. What could we, the Democrats, have done to prevent this lunacy? Let’s start with the man representing one wing of the party that cost us the election. Not the only wing, but a big one. The white working class. Back in 1999, with the repeal of Glass-Steagall, both parties signaled their allegiance to Wall Street over Main Street, and laid out a commitment to an overall economy that was corporatist in lieu of capitalist.

While manufacturing had been in decline for a while by 1999, the new formal relationship with Wall Street led to an escalation of globalization to the end of increased profits for shareholders. To be fair, part of the decrease in American manufacturing is due to mechanization. Take semi-conductors, which were invented and grown in America (yes, really, go back to the early 50’s and the history of Texas Instruments). The operations of division of TI employees several hundred thousand people, but the physical manufacturing is subcontracted, and those companies use more robots than humans. The employees tend to have Master’s degrees and work with large scale computer systems. A far cry from twisting tops onto tubes for hand cream, nailing together frames for furniture or any of the other tasks accomplished decades ago in manufacturing plants.

What has the Democratic Party done for these people who used to do this kind of labour? Frankly, nothing. They don’t even talk in terms of kinds of training that might help them transition to other types of employment since those manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Not to America, not anywhere. But it’s not just manufacturing, nor mining (also not coming back) – it’s also the service industries, which as Paul Krugman points out, are also never coming back.  But Krugman also has the answer for this situation, which is something the Democratic Party CAN work towards:

While we can’t stop job losses from happening, however, we can limit the human damage when they do happen. We can guarantee health care and adequate retirement income for all. We can provide aid to the newly unemployed. And we can act to keep the overall economy strong — which means doing things like investing in infrastructure and education, not cutting taxes on rich people and hoping the benefits trickle down.

Which brings me to the Party, and the crop of candidates. What tangible support will the party provide for candidates running this year? Or for Congress next year. Sadly, not much, especially as compared to what other groups offer. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are either running for office this year, or considering a run next year. Some are running for row positions for which they have experience they could bring to bear: for example, lawyers running for judge. Others don’t even understand what’s involved with the positions if they do get elected.

To win, candidates need a number of things: money, infrastructure, strategy, paid teams, kitchen cabinets, and the time and commitment needed to undertake a campaign. They also need training. Being a successful elected official doesn’t just happen. Historically, people started with local offices, built their understanding of governance, worked their way up, and I have to say it — I cannot BELIEVE that President of the United States has become an entry level position….sorry, I digress.

For most situations, however, candidates need training so that they can effectively raise money, spend it wisely, hire the right people for their staffs, assemble a kitchen cabinet of non-beholden advisers, develop their speeches, receive help with messaging, etc. etc. etc. Does the Party provide training? Nope. However, a lot of progressive organizations like Bold Progressives and Move On do. Netroots Nation has classes every year.

Does the party provide tangible support for candidates? That means canvassers and phone bankers tied to an individual candidate? Again, no, that’s on the campaigns. Do they look for ways to integrate campaign events with Voter Drives? Do they hold rallies and invite candidates to attend? You get the idea, and you know the answer.

And let’s talk money. Does the party provide direct funding for candidates? Nope. The local parties will often provide literature mentioning all the candidates in a township or boro and drop them on doorknobs. But it’s rare that the Party makes direct contributions to candidates that the campaigns can spend on what they need.

Even at the Congressional level, the DCCC will sometimes provide some indirect funding, but rarely direct to coffers. Nor does the party raise money on behalf of candidates. Tomorrow is the Jungle Primary for the Georgia 6th. Did the Party provide any tangible support at all? Nope. Nor did they last week in Kansas, when so doing would actually have made the difference in the outcome. They couldn’t be bothered. Jon Ossoff raised more than $8 million dollars for the Georgia race: the vast majority of it via Daily Kos campaigns and Act Blue. The DCCC? Not a buck.

So that brings me back to the question about the future of the Democratic Party. Do I believe it should be disbanded? Not at all: the infrastructure is solid, and there are a lot of people who have put in a lot of work over the years. Does it need an attitude adjustment? You betcha’ as Spunky Palin would say. Can that come from within their ranks? Unlikely. They’re all too entrenched.

The likelihood is that there will be a lot of pain within the Party. They will watch as outside groups actually do elect candidates. Running candidates on the Democratic line who get their training, support, money and volunteers overseen by the groups mostly formed since the last election. Groups that hold rallies, vigils, voter drives and help send people to canvass and phone bank. And those groups will provide data back showing what they did in terms of voter engagement and voting turnout, and the difference will become clear. And then, finally, will come the maintenance of the infrastructure, platforms that harken back to when Democrats were Democrats.

I leave you with an article of mine published 10 years ago.  I’ve posted it before, so many of you may have seen it already. It’s what the party was, and may well be once again. Personally, I’m committed to working for that party, but from the outside.

When she died last year at the age of 107, my grandmother was a proud Democrat who had never missed an election. I was born into a family that valued not only the Party and its principles, but the political process. In my extended family, if you were old enough to stand on a box and reach a table, you were old enough to stuff envelopes. I worked my first election at the age of 3.

But “because that’s how I was brought up” is not reason enough to make the choice as an adult as to which party one wishes to belong. I am a proud, liberal, Democrat because of the ideals and principles involved in the Democratic Party platform and its proud history. While I may not always agree with all of the members of the party and what they stand for as individuals, one of the fundamental tenets of the Democratic Party has always been that many voices are better than one.

The Democratic Party is the oldest continuous political party in the US.  The party was founded by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the early 1790’s as a congressional caucus to fight for the Bill of Rights, a strict interpretation of the Constitution, and a weaker Federal government (relative to States Rights). Jefferson was elected as the third President of the US under the banner of the “party of the common man”, officially named the Democratic-Republican Party. The party split in 1824, emerging as the Democratic Party with the election of Andrew Jackson in 1828, Abraham Lincoln later being the first Republican president.

In the 20th Century, the Democratic Party brought great change to America. Things that we take for granted today were codified by Democratic administrations and Congresses; including, but not limited to: the eight-hour work day, Civil Rights Legislation (integrated schools, voting rights, prohibition of discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex and national origin, and prohibition of housing discrimination), affirmative action, the lowering of the voting age to 18, and the repeal of prohibition.

But it is not just the elected officials who make a Party, it is the people who work for the party (formally and informally). The first US party platform was put forth by the Democrats in 1840. To this day, any registered Democrat can apply to be a part of the platform committee, and Democrats can also testify to make their feelings known to the whole platform committee. It is truly a big tent. The platform is the framework of goals and aspirations: what the Party views as imperative to make America better.

The 1840 platform was brief, and was concerned with limiting the powers of the Federal Government, including avoiding chartering a National Bank, and conferring most powers to the individual States, resolving that every citizen had the right to equality of rights and privileges, and to protection from domestic violence and foreign aggression.

The current platform, from 2004, is much longer then the first, and reflects a world which faces challenges inconceivable to the early Democrats. It is entitled “Strong at Home, Respected in the World” and answers not just to making America stronger in terms of reformed health, education  and jobs programs, but also handling terrorism, nuclear weapons, the world-wide AIDS epidemic, renewable energy, and equality for all.

The final words of the 2004 Platform are as follow: “Members of our party have deeply held and differing views on some matters of conscience and faith. We view diversity of views as a source of strength, and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who seek to build a stronger America. We are committed to resolving our differences in a spirit of civility, hope and mutual respect.  That’s the America we believe in.”

That is the America I believe in, and the Party I think has the best chance of getting us to where we need to be in a dangerous and difficult world. Democrats have a long history of being able to set lofty goals and then achieve them: FDR and his Kitchen Cabinet got us out of the Depression, JFK wanted a man on the moon in a decade, and that occurred sooner than expected, Johnson fought for a Great Society, and much was accomplished in those turbulent times. Were these men, and their associates, perfect? No, certainly not. But their intentions were true, and they made great strides.

I leave you with the words of two great Democrats, who espouse better than I ever could, why I am a Democrat. First, JFK, speaking to the Liberal Party of New York in 1960: “What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label “Liberal?” … [I]if by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.””

And finally, his brother Ted, after losing the nomination in 1980: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”


Categories: Political Action

Special Elections — Kansas Edition

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 23:04

As I write this post, the results are coming in for the special election in the Fourth District of Kansas.  While the election has been close all night, it now appears that, by a very narrow majority, the Republicans will keep this seat.   This seat is the first of four special elections to fill vacancies in seats formally held by Republicans who are now serving in the Trump Administration.  (There is also a special election to fill a Democratic seat formerly held by the new Attorney General of California — who was appointed to that office after the previous A.G. won the U.S. Senate seat last fall.  The primary for that seat was held earlier and two Democrats advanced to the runoff.)

It is hard to tell whether this seat was close because of the unpopularity of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback — a stellar example of why the Freedom Caucus’s plan for government is a roadmap for a complete disaster — or the unpopularity of President Trump.  The Republican candidate is the current State Treasurer and as such is unable to avoid association with Governor Brownback’s reckless scheme to bankrupt Kansas.  And Donald Trump will probably claim that his assistance via a last minute robocall saved this seat.

The bigger question is what this close race means going forward.  In the last two elections, the Republicans won this seat by 30%.  This race looks like a final margin between 4-8%.  That type of swing if replicated across the country would lead to a Democratic majority in the next Congress.  In the shorter term, the question is whether this result can be replicated in next week’s special election in Georgia or the upcoming elections in May and June in South Carolina and Montana.  With the exception of the Georgia seat, even if a Democrat wins the special election, these seats are going to be difficult for a Democrat to hold in 2018.  Having a Democratic incumbent in these seats would, however, require the Republicans to devote a significant level of resources to get them back, making it easier for us to pick up seats elsewhere.  More importantly, if the Democrats can keep these races close and even win some, it is going to increase the jitters of Republicans in lean Republican seats.  During the Obama Administration, it was easy for Republicans to just say no and not have to accept responsibility for the gridlock in D.C.  The Republicans are now fully in charge and are responsible for getting things done.  The problem for Republicans in Congress is that the American people do not want what the Republican Party wants — even the voters in Republican seats do not want what the Republican Party wants.  That puts Republican Representatives on the hot seat.  They can either tell their Republican colleagues to slow down and take a second look at things or they can follow Speaker Ryan and President Trump like lemmings to their downfall in the 2018 election.  My hunch is that, like most politicians, the Republican members of Congress are tuned into their own survival.  The warning signs from the 4th district of Kansas this week and the 6th district of Georgia next week is going to make it very difficult for President Trump and Speaker Ryan to get their plans through Congress.

Categories: Political Action

The Supreme Court and the Filibuster

Sun, 04/02/2017 - 17:37

This week has the potential to be a significant week in Senate history.  Over the past two presidencies, there was a rise in the use of the filibuster to block executive branch and lower court nominees.  During the George W. Bush presidency, there were enough Democratic and Republican senators willing to work out a deal in which the Democratic senators agreed to vote for cloture on most nominations and the Republicans agreed not to invoke the “nuclear option” (exempting such nominations from the three-fifth’s rule for cloture by the vote of a majority of the Senate).  During the Barack Obama presidency, there were not enough Republican senators willing to make such a deal and the Democrats were forced to go with the nuclear option on such executive branch and lower court nominees.  However, the normal cloture rules were left in place for Supreme Court nominees.

As a starting point, here is the tentative schedule for the week.  First, on Monday, the Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nomination of Neal Gorsuch.  Right now, it appears likely that the committee will approve that nomination by a majority vote.  Assuming that the Committee sends its report on that nomination to the Senate on Monday, that would trigger Rule XXXI which provides that (except by unanimous consent which will not be given) the Senate may not vote on a nomination on the same day that the nomination is reported to the full Senate.   The Republicans will then attempt to call the matter up for a vote by unanimous consent on Tuesday.  At least one Democrat will object, and the Republicans will file a cloture motion.  Under Rule XXII, that motion will probably come up for a vote on Thursday and would take sixty votes to pass.  Based on current whip counts, those sixty votes will not be there.  If somehow, the Republicans get the sixty vote or invoke the nuclear option, Rule XXII would permit thirty more hours of debate resulting in a vote between Friday and Monday the 10th.  (Technically, the Easter state work session is currently scheduled to start on the 10th and go through the 21st.  The last two weeks of argument in this year’s Supreme Court term are the weeks of April 17 and April 24.  So if Judge Gorsuch is confirmed this week, he could sit on the last thirteen arguments of this term.  If the final vote takes place after April 21, Judge Gorsuch will not sit on any argument until the next term beginning in October.)

Assuming that the cloture vote goes as currently anticipated, the Republicans will have three options.  Option number one would be to use the Easter recess to put pressure on vulnerable Democratic senators.  Right now, the two most vulnerable Democratic senators (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota) seem likely to vote for cloture, but there are other Democratic senators from other states that Trump won by wide margins.    While there are ten Democratic senators on the 2018 ballot from states that Trump won (and Maine’s independent Senator is not necessarily going to join the Democrats on this issue), half of those senators are from swing states.  The only two other Senators who come from states that were not too close to call in 2016 are Senator McCaskill from Missouri and Senator Donnelly from Indiana.  Unless the Democratic senators hear from party activists that party activists do not really care about this issue, the vote is unlikely to change much after the recess.  On the other hand, the Republican leadership would be in a stronger position to invoke the nuclear option after the recess.  (The more moderate members of the Republican caucus might believe that the Democrats should at least be given some time to debate and make their case before the nuclear option is invoked.)

Option number two would be for the Trump administration to decide to make Judge Gorsuch a sacrificial lamb.  The last two times that the nuclear option was on the table, the argument in favor of invoking the nuclear option was a pattern of obstruction.  If Trump were to withdraw Judge Gorsuch and nominate a slightly more moderate candidate, continued resistance from the Democratic caucus could be painted as “obstruction.”  That circumstance would make it easier for Republicans to claim that they had no choice but to invoke the nuclear option to keep the Supreme Court functioning.  (Of course, a combination of both option one and option two is a possibility — having a second vote on cloture after the recess followed by a replacement nominee.)  Option two would give the Republican senators more coverage, but my own opinion is that President Trump does not care about helping Republican senators.

Option number three (and what most expect to happen) would be the Republicans immediately invoking the nuclear option after the cloture vote.  What the nuclear option involves is appealing the ruling of the chair that sixty votes are need for the cloture motion to pass.  A 51-49 majority of the Senate (or 50-50 if Vice-president Pence breaks the tie) could overrule the decision of the chair and find that the cloture motion passed even though it only got 54 or 55 votes.

Reaching this crisis this early in a new President’s term reflects how divided our politics have become.  My belief is that there is a significant segment of the population that believes that senators should not filibuster a president’s nominees without a very good reason.  (For example, Justice Thomas who, more than any justice in U.S. history, deserved a filibuster got an up-down vote on confirmation.)  On the other hand, I believe that a significant segment of the population would agree that the Senate minority should be able to block a Supreme Court nominee in an exceptional case.  At least, as of now, the Democratic caucus has not made a convincing case that Judge Gorsuch is such an exceptional case.

While this center represents a significant segment of voters in American politics, the center has unfortunately allowed itself to become less relevant.  Too few people vote in party primaries, giving less moderate groups control over the nomination process.   It is hard to motivate people by being sensible.  It is hard to motivate people with complex solutions to complex problems.  While the Republican Party has effectively been taken over by the alt-right, the Democratic Party  has not been entirely exempt from attempts to primary challenge incumbent Democrats for being too willing to compromise and find bipartisan solutions.  Even in general elections, split ticket voting has declined (as it should) and voters tend to vote on overall impressions on how things are doing (with limited exceptions for single issue voters who tend toward the extremes anyhow) with limited focus on individual issues.  Because individual issues no longer matter, there is no incentive to find a compromise solution on those individual issues.  Instead, the goal of American politics has unfortunately become to convince centrist voters that the blame for the failure to solve problems rests with the other party.  And this blame game has resulted in the center splitting in a predictable factor making turnout of the base (rather than winning over the center) the key to winning elections.

So we are facing a critical moment in Senate history.  While what happens next may be (in the long term) the “right” approach to judicial nominations, the decisions are likely to be made for all the wrong reasons.  It would be nice if everybody could take a step back and think about the way out of this mess, but Senator McConnell cares about power and President Trump hates being told “no.”

Categories: Political Action