Political Animal


November 27, 2014 1:48 PM Holiday Roundup

Only someone as universally respected as E.J. Dionne could get away with a column expressing gratitude for politicians. I’m grateful for E.J. And I also want to note gratitude for the people who have to work today to take care of the rest of us.

Here are some other news and views items for your holiday consumption:

* At TNR, Brian Beutler looks at the sunny side of a Republican-controlled Congress, in terms of journalistic fun but also increasing ultimate accountability for the damage the GOP is doing to the country.

* Southern Democrats survey damage but look forward to 2016.

* Harold Meyerson notes apropos of Ferguson that when justice breaks down, so does “the law.”

* Pew polling on Ferguson diverges by a large degree according to race, as you might imagine.

* Digby reminds us that Thanksgiving made a national holiday at one of the country’s lowest points, in 1863. So cheer up!

And in non-political news:

* One person’s list of the “five worst places to drive in the United States.” Lord knows I wasted a big chunk of my live on #5, I-95 going into Washington.

That’s it for Thanksgiving Day. We’ll close with a reminder of the thing in life for which we should all be most grateful—people who love us. Here’s Blood, Sweat & Tears performing “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” in Stockholm in 1971. As the disc jockey would say: “This one goes out to Dawn!”


November 27, 2014 11:03 AM Gratitude Open Thread

Yeah, I know, I complain too much from time to time about how hard I work at an age when I should (according to the expectations of my generation) be gearing down to retirement, and sure, I feel foolish for conducting a late-career transfer into a rapidly shrinking (and some would say dying) industry. But you know what? The last time I can remember being bored at work was in 1985, and I am very grateful to be able to do work I love and that is at least marginally useful to society.

So on this Ultra-Lite Major Holiday Blogging morning, let’s do an open thread to allow for expressions of gratitude for whatever you want, dear readers, for whom I am very grateful as well.

November 27, 2014 9:05 AM Bankers, Immigrants, Darren Wilson and the Injustices of Prosecutorial Discretion

One of the more obscure but important issues in this country’s law enforcement policies has gradually but unavoidably grabbed our attention of late: the practice of prosecutors exercising broad discretion in which laws to enforce with criminal sanctions.

The Republican Party is in full and angry rebellion against the president’s efforts to reduce prosecutorial discretion in the enforcement of immigration laws. They are divided between those who want the indeterminate threat of random, arbitrary power to serve as a spur to “self-deportation” (not to mention passive acceptance of bad working conditions) and those who at least say they want to deport all eleven million undocumented people. But their practical common position is to insist on systemic inconsistency in law enforcement behavior, with all the guaranteed injustices that involves.

In Missouri, we have just witnessed one of the more bizarre and public exercises of prosecutorial discretion, as a district attorney has simultaneously abdicated his responsibilities to a grand jury, but then guided that grand jury through a secret, shadow trial with a largely predetermined outcome.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of one of the largest and most controversial programs of deliberate non-prosecution in U.S. history: the decision not to pursue criminal sanctions against those in the financial sector who not only violated various laws but wrecked much of the economy and damaged the lives of many millions of people.

In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, Bailey Miller reviews Brandon Garret’s book on this phenomenon, with the predictable but accurate title Too Big to Jail. The book casts a harsh spotlight on the decisions made over two administrations to give a pass to corporate criminals, rationalized in part as a way to encourage “cooperation” with real or imagined reforms, and in part by the collateral damage anticipated if bankers started going to jail.

The real turning point for the enshrined policy of corporate leniency came after the implosion of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. Thousands of innocent workers lost their jobs for the sins of a few who helped Enron cook its books. In the aftermath of that mess, President George W. Bush created a new task force to study corporate fraud, out of which emerged the strategy of delaying prosecution on the promise of reform—a sort of carrot-based approach, replacing the stick. “By 2003, the overriding goal of corporate prosecutions was to try to rehabilitate a firm’s culture, not to punish,” Garrett writes.
Notably, the strategy was based on a 1930s Brooklyn program that offered some young offenders leniency on the theory that jail time did more harm than good and the criminal system should focus on the most serious offenders. “The new approach suggested that corporations were more like juveniles—not entirely innocent, but mainly in need of guidance,” Garrett adds.

The sad joke is that “young offenders” are a lot more likely to face the full wrath of the law than wealthy graduates of Ivy League schools handling billions of dollars of other people’s money—or law officers sworn to serve the cause of justice taking the law into their own hands. Some prosecutorial discretion is necessary, and some is simply useful. But the question of who benefits and suffers from it is a reflection of the privileges and prejudices too many Americans continue to deny. Don’t know about you, but I’d be thankful for more discussion of this issue across the many topics in which it seems to be arising.

November 27, 2014 7:54 AM Daylight Video

Happy Thanksgiving Day. Here’s my favorite song for this day, and for most any day: Fairport Convention with “Now Be Thankful.”

November 26, 2014 3:49 PM Obama Pardons Turkey, Mocks Republicans

Pardoning turkeys is stupid. So, why not have fun with it?

President Obama joked Wednesday about his executive actions giving legal status to as many as five million undocumented immigrants, saying his Thanksgiving pardon of a turkey would doubtlessly be criticized as “amnesty.”
Obama said the pardon of a turkey named Cheese would be the “most talked about executive action this month” and one that’s “fully within my legal authority.”
“I know some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there is plenty of turkey to go around,” he said.

Maybe Trey Gowdy can form a investigative committee to subpoena everyone involved in this blatant power grab.

November 26, 2014 1:06 PM Lunch Buffet

Sen. Elizabeth Warren is making trouble for the administration by opposing Anthony Weiss, their nominee to be Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance.

National Review editor Rich “Starbursts” Lowry wants Congress to prevent President Obama from delivering the State of the Union address.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a stent installed after feeling discomfort while exercising today.

If your Facebook feed is filled with people saying racist crap about Michael Brown and Ferguson, you should do some personal housecleaning of your social networks.

Too bad this is satire.

Am I the only one who can successfully fill in a map of the United States?

When I see the name ‘King,’ something stupid, and a headline, I never know if it’s going to be Pete or Steve. This time it’s Pete.

At College Guide, Sarah Butrymowicz wants to know if Detroit can ever attract middle class people without improving its schools.

At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys explains how to apply the lessons of poker to everyday life.

I still can’t believe that Tina Turner is 75 today.

What’s on your mind?

November 26, 2014 11:03 AM Opposing Immigration is a New Mold

Jonathan Chait makes an observation that is probably kind of obvious to political junkies but that is, nonetheless, the explanation for both why the Republicans haven’t been punished for their obstruction and why they’re floundering on the immigration issue.

“The GOP has withheld cooperation from every major element of President Obama’s agenda, beginning with the stimulus, through health-care reform, financial regulation, the environment, long-term debt reduction, and so on. That stance has worked extremely well as a political strategy. Most people pay little attention to politics and tend to hold the president responsible for outcomes. If Republicans turn every issue into an intractable partisan scrum, people get frustrated with the status quo and take out their frustration on the president’s party. It’s a formula, but it works.”

“The formula only fails to work if the president happens to have an easy and legal way to act on the issue in question without Congress. Obama can’t do that on infrastructure, or the grand bargain, and he couldn’t do it on health care. But he could do it on immigration. So Republicans were stuck carrying out a strategy whose endgame would normally be ‘bill fails, public blames Obama’ that instead wound up ‘Obama acts unilaterally, claims credit, forces Republicans to take poisonous stance in opposition.’ They had grown so accustomed to holding all the legislative leverage, they couldn’t adapt to a circumstance where they had none.”

I’m not certain that the Republicans won’t wind up getting away with being wrong on immigration, too, but at least it doesn’t fit into the same old of making government suck in order to prove to the electorate that the government sucks and should be stripped down to its studs.

November 26, 2014 9:51 AM White House and Harry Reid at Odds

It appears that the White House and Senate Majority Leader (for now) Harry Reid are not at all on the same page regarding the tax deal that Reid is negotiating with House Republicans. Ever since yesterday afternoon, the White House has been sending one signal after another to indicate that they think that Reid has negotiated a horrible deal for the middle class and a giant giveaway to corporate America. Now they’ve explicitly promised to veto the compromise package of tax extenders.

Jennifer Friedman, a White House spokeswoman, said the deal being hashed out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) gave far too much to business interests, and far too little to the middle-class.
“The president would veto the proposed deal because it would provide permanent tax breaks to help well-connected corporations while neglecting working families,” Friedman said, just hours after reports emerged that a $450 billion deal on the tax breaks was close at hand and that negotiators hoped to wrap it up by Tuesday.

It’s not clear that there is any way to get a better deal, and the Republicans will completely control Congress next year and will surely insist on an even rawer deal for the middle class in next year’s budget. But, at least this time around, the White House is willing to fight and must have some hope of extracting some further concessions.

What’s most interesting about this is the rift that has opened up between Reid and the administration.

November 26, 2014 7:48 AM Daylight Video

Tina Turner is 75 today.

She’d probably ask, “What’s age got to do with it?”

November 25, 2014 5:48 PM Getting the News Out of Yemen

In the November/December issue of the Washington Monthly, Kelly McEvers has a review of Laura Kasinof’s new book: Don’t Be Afraid of the Bullets: An Accidental War Correspondent in Yemen. McEvers was stationed in Saudi Arabia when the Arab Spring broke out, and Kasinof was a 25 year old stringer for the New York Times stationed in Yemen.

The review looks back at the early, hopeful days of the Arab Spring and traces developments in Yemen as that hope dissipated, briefly revived, and ended in chaos. It also focuses on the diligence and bravery of a small handful or reporters, including Kasinof, who tried to get the news out of Yemen to the wider world.

…in some places, namely Yemen, the ruling elite did everything in its power to keep the storytellers out. Correspondents like myself were turned away at the airport or even kicked out of the country with no notice. This left the job of telling Yemen’s story to Yemeni activists and citizen journalists, and to the few intrepid Western freelancers who spoke the language, lived like locals, and managed to stay in the country.
Here was a country that was considered to be a U.S. ally, a place where the United States launched drone strikes against a menacing al-Qaeda affiliate and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to combat terrorism—and the only information we could get was from a few men and women in their twenties who in most cases had never been foreign correspondents. Still, they not only pulled it off, but they brought us the story in a way I would argue we—overworked, overcommitted correspondents at major news outlets—would not have been able to do.
If it’s not obvious, I’ll just say it: I’m biased. I befriended some of these reporters while I was stationed in Saudi Arabia in 2009, and got to know more of them later, in 2011 and 2012, the few times I did manage to get into Yemen and file reports for National Public Radio. They were collegial, professional, ambitious, dogged, and, most important, fluent in a place that was not always easy to understand. They did a good job, and it was fun to watch them do it.
One standout was Laura Kasinof, who, like so many of these young reporters, came to Yemen to study Arabic and try her hand at freelance journalism.

You can read the whole review here.

November 25, 2014 4:18 PM Odds & Ends

Dr. Grist explains our problems in 36 tweets.

It looks like we will not have our first female Secretary of Defense, as Michele Flournoy has taken herself out of the running for the post.

The White House doesn’t seem happy about a proposed tax-cut deal Harry Reid is making with the House Republicans. Will they veto it or just send out emails complaining about it?

When a Christian home-schooler visits the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago the results are hilarious.

Texas should go ahead and add the U.S. Constitution as a bona fide book in the Old Testament. But the question is: “Is our children learning?”

Very cool when your friend’s father gets a writeup in the Scientific American. But I am not a scientist, so I guess I can’t read it.

Philly’s City Paper has no patience for sanctimony about Ferguson from Mayor Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams.

Ted Cruz can’t even handle questioning from Chris Wallace. How is he going to negotiate with Vladimir Putin?

Maybe Chuck Hagel was just bad at his job.

Here’s some more Bob Marley:

What’s on your mind?

November 25, 2014 2:16 PM “The Most Intense, Aggressive Face I’ve Ever Seen” (i.e., Black)

From Darren Wilson’s testimony, after the altercation in the car was over and Michael Brown had started to run away, he says this:

When he stopped, he turned, looked at me, made like a grunting noise and had the most intense, aggressive face I’ve ever seen on a person. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon. That’s how angry he looked.

According to Wilson’s testimony, that’s when he started shooting.

It sounds an awful lot like South Carolina State Trooper Sean Groubert’s initial testimony about why he started shooting at Levar Jones after pulling him over for a seat belt violation.

Before I could even get out of my car he jumped out, stared at me, and as I jumped out of my car and identified myself, as I approached him, he jumped head-first back into his car … he jumped out of the car. I saw something black in his hands.

The only problem for Groubert is that in that case, there was an actual video of what happened.

In the case of the murder of Jordan Davis, Michael Dunn’s basic defense was pretty much the same: Davis made him fear for his life. At least there was a jury trial on that one and Dunn was convicted of first degree murder (even though it took them two tries to do it).

In discussing the Groubert shooting, Leonard Pitts sums up what’s going on in all three of these situations…at minimum.

So let us accord him the benefit of the doubt because in situations like this, people always want to make it a question of character. And the shooter’s friends always feel obliged to defend him with the same tired words: “He is not a racist.”
He probably isn’t, at least not in the way they understand the term.
But what he is, is a citizen of a country where the fear of black men is downright viral. That doesn’t mean he burns crosses on the weekend. It means he’s watched television, seen a movie, used a computer, read a newspaper or magazine. It means he is alive and aware in a nation where one is taught from birth that thug equals black, suspect equals black, danger equals black…
The Groubert video offers an unusually stark image of that fear in action. Viewing it, it seems clear the trooper is not reacting to anything Jones does. In a very real sense, he doesn’t even see him. No, he is reacting to a primal fear of what Jones is, to outsized expectations of what Jones might do, to terrors buried so deep in his breast, he probably doesn’t even know they’re there.

When I read Darren Wilson’s words, it seemed obvious to me that he was also reacting to that primal fear buried deep in his breast. That’s what most racism looks like these days. And that’s why so many unarmed black boys are dying.

November 25, 2014 12:50 PM Chuck Schumer is Wrong About Health Care

I frequently lose patience with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Perhaps his comments wouldn’t look so bad in their full context but he sounds like he values middle class voters more than the underclass and the medically uninsured:

Democrats made a mistake by passing President Barack Obama’s health-care law in 2010 instead of focusing more directly on helping the middle class, third-ranking U.S. Senate Democrat Charles Schumer said today.

“Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them” in electing Obama and a Democratic Congress in 2008 amid a recession, Schumer of New York said in a speech in Washington. “We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.”

Schumer said Democrats should have addressed issues aiding the middle class to build confidence among voters before turning to revamping the health-care system. He said he opposed the timing of the health-care vote and was overruled by other party members.

I’d be more willing to forgive these remarks as Monday morning quarterbacking about political strategy if the analysis was worth a damn. Had the Democrats not pursued health care reform in 2009, they surely would not have enacted it in late 2010. In truth, 2009 was the only “opportunity the American people gave them” to get it done.

We don’t live in a magical world where the Democrats could have passed immigration reform in 2009 and health care reform on the eve of the 2010 midterms. Some things couldn’t wait and other things had to wait, and still other things never got done because the opportunity to do them was crowded out by the economic crisis.

I wish we didn’t have to trade people’s lives to have a better political strategy, but that was the choice we faced, and I’m glad we didn’t follow Schumer’s horrible advice and make the wrong decision.

If you want to know why the Democratic brand isn’t better, take a look at their message man, Chuck Schumer.

November 25, 2014 8:23 AM A Grave Injustice

Rodney King died too young on June 17, 2012. He was beaten nearly to death by Los Angeles police officers on March 4, 1991. He lived over 21 years after his beating. Michael Brown did not survive his encounter with Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Which outcome was more outrageous?

Once the nation’s eyes were trained on the LAPD, it wasn’t long before we learned that it was an embarrassingly corrupt organization. The same has proven true for St. Louis County, which runs “a system that raises money for itself by deluging a largely-black population with fines and tickets for minor civic infractions, then punishes them again and again with arrests and imprisonment for not being able to navigate a convoluted judicial system.”

They run a system where the prosecutor acts as the police departments’ defense attorney, which is a highly anomalous scenario:

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

The authorities didn’t even want to have a grand jury in this case. When the threat of civil unrest compelled them to convene one, the prosecutor threw the case, blaming the 24-hour news cycle and social media for creating the expectation that justice might be done in the broad daylight murder of Michael Brown. After the prosecutor announced the grand jury’s decision, Michael Brown’s mother Lesley McSpadden said, simply, “They still don’t care. They ain’t never gon’ care.”

As Jamelle Bouie puts it:

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a society that gives dignity and respect to people like Michael Brown and John Crawford and Rekia Boyd. Instead, we’ve organized our country to deny it wherever possible, through negative stereotypes of criminality, through segregation and neglect, and through the spectacle we see in Ferguson and the greater St. Louis area, where police are empowered to terrorize without consequence, and residents are condemned and attacked when they try to resist.

It should come as no surprise that black leaders in this country are expressing exasperation:

“This decision seems to underscore an unwritten rule that Black lives hold no value; that you may kill Black men in this country without consequences or repercussions. This is a frightening narrative for every parent and guardian of Black and brown children, and another setback for race relations in America,” Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) said in a statement.
The congresswoman called it a “slap in the face to Americans nationwide who continue to hope and believe that justice will prevail” and expressed solidarity with “the loved ones of all the Michael Browns we have buried in this country.”

Despite glaring racial disparities in the attitude to this case, there are no shortage of white people who are disappointed, saddened, or outraged by the “legality” of Michael Brown’s murder. But they will never feel what it is like to have their children threatened and devalued like this. They won’t know the fear and uncertainty this causes even for our president, First Lady, and Attorney General, all of whom have children who could one day be guilty of walking down the middle of the street when a man in a patrol car rolls up and tells them to “get the f*ck on the sidewalk.” And then guns them down in cold blood, collects a half million dollars from racist fans, and walks off scot-free to an early retirement.

You’ll hear all manner of justification for this outcome. You’ll hear that the evidence was inconsistent. You’ll hear that Michael Brown was a thug who looked like a demon. But he was an 18 year old boy who was minding his own business one minute and was left dead in the street the next. He was left there in a pool of blood for hours. There was no incident report. The victim was smeared. Grand jury testimony was selectively leaked.

Officer Darren Wilson should have been given the opportunity to defend his actions in a court of law. He could well have won an acquittal. But what’s clear is that the moment after he ended Michael Brown’s life, the system went into overdrive to protect him and to justify what he had done. They made sure that killing Michael Brown was not a crime. It wasn’t even maybe a crime. It was just what police officers do in America without having to worry that they might have to answer for it in court.

Americans can debate this all they want, but unless they know firsthand how this system feels to those who have to live their lives in terror, their opinions aren’t worth much.

November 25, 2014 8:02 AM Daylight Video

Offered without comment.

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