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March 29, 2015 5:43 PM Odds & Ends

In the event that Iran and the members of P5+1 reach a preliminary agreement on Iran’s nuclear program this week, we can expect a release of sound and fury from conservatives about how it sets the world on fire. To prepare yourself for making your own determination about the value of any such agreement, read Jeffrey Goldberg’s list of the five questions you should ask.

During the 1980’s when Iran and Iraq were at war with each other, the Reagan and Bush administrations facilitated the selling of chemical agents and equipment to Iraq. Then during the first Gulf War, the U.S. bombed some of those chemical weapons facilities and more than 200,000 of our troops were exposed to nerve gas and other chemical agents. If you’ve ever questioned why President Obama hesitates to arm factions in the Middle East, you’ll want to read the whole story by Barbara Koeppel.

One of the negative consequences to the delay in a Senate vote to confirm the nomination of Loretta Lynch as our next Attorney General is that it has given rightwing advocacy groups more time to lobby against her. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the NRA is doing just that.

Yesterday when I listed some of the recent accomplishments of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ, I left one out.

Teenagers awaiting trial on adult charges in Baltimore are being kept in solitary confinement for far too long — up to 143 days in one case, according to a highly critical review by the U.S. Justice Department’s Division of Civil Rights.

Federal prosecutors say being isolated for more than a few days can damage a person’s mental health — especially if it’s a teenager whose brain is still developing. But teenagers accused of breaking rules inside the Baltimore City Detention Center are being isolated for 13 days on average, and in some cases, far longer.

Placing children (and yes, teenagers are still children) in solitary confinement is unacceptable. End of story.

On a lighter note, here’s something to look forward to this fall.

Focus Features has slated Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, for an October 23 limited release. Inspired by the early-20th century campaign for women’s right to vote, the film sports potentially awards-friendly subject matter — not to mention a certain 19-time Oscar nominee…

Director Sarah Gavron’s pic centers on Maud (Mulligan), a working wife and mother who decides she must fight for her dignity both at home and in her workplace. Realizing she is not alone, she joins with several other women in becoming an activist. Those early efforts at resistance were passive, but the suffragettes become galvanized — risking it all for the cause of women’s right.

That provides the perfect segue into the next entry in “Nancy’s favorite feminist songs.” This one has a definite 80’s feel to it. But I still love it a lot.

March 29, 2015 4:18 PM What Minnesota and California Have in Common

I’ve probably done enough humble-bragging about my home state of Minnesota and Governor Mark Dayton. But I did appreciate the way this visual summed it up.

I was also reminded that the two states in the country that are getting a lot of attention right now for their robust economic recovery are Minnesota and California.

For years, business lobbyists complained about what they derided as “job killer” laws that drive employers out of California.

Rival state governors, notably former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, made highly publicized visits to the Golden State in hopes of poaching jobs.
But new numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tell a different story. Total jobs created in the 12 months ending Jan. 31 show California leading other states. California gained 498,000 new jobs, almost 30% more than the Lone Star State’s total of 392,900 for the same period.

Of course Minnesota and California have almost nothing in common. But there are a couple of things they share that stand out. Both Governors - Mark Dayton and Jerry Brown - took office in January 2011 following Republicans who had served more than one term. They beat the odds of the 2010 midterm elections that brought in Republican Governors like Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rick Snyder and Sam Brownback.

But what I find even more interesting is that both of these Governors are old white guy political re-treads. Perhaps that’s just a meaningless coincidence. But in an era when there is a lot of focus on young up-and-coming energetic newcomers in politics, it does make me wonder if the old guys who have already been around the block once or twice might not bring something to the table too.

Just a thought…

March 29, 2015 2:26 PM Revisiting Reconstruction

As I wrote about a while ago, there is a growing chorus of people who are suggesting that we are currently re-living many of the issues this country faced in the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. With his current editorial in the NYT, we can now add Columbia University history professor Eric Foner to that group.

The surrender of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, 150 years ago next month, effectively ended the Civil War. Preoccupied with the challenges of our own time, Americans will probably devote little attention to the sesquicentennial of Reconstruction, the turbulent era that followed the conflict. This is unfortunate, for if any historical period deserves the label “relevant,” it is Reconstruction.

Issues that agitate American politics today — access to citizenship and voting rights, the relative powers of the national and state governments, the relationship between political and economic democracy, the proper response to terrorism — all of these are Reconstruction questions. But that era has long been misunderstood.

This article is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the backlash that is being unleashed by the conservative movement today and their Obama Derangement Syndrome. We’re going to keep recycling this one until we have the courage to face up to our past and make the changes necessary to - as President Obama said - “perfect our union.”

For those who are uncomfortable with the idea of black and brown people having power, the road ahead is going to be difficult - but certainly no more difficult than its been for those who have been denied a seat at that table for generations.

March 29, 2015 12:38 PM Paul Glastris on The McLaughlin Group

Paul Glastris, Editor in Chief of the Washington Monthly, was a panelist on the McLaughlin Group this week. The discussion included the major political topics of the day, with an emphasis on foreign affairs.

Afghanistan/Iraq:

Afghan pullout:

China’s AIIB:

Israel:

Ted Cruz:

March 29, 2015 10:39 AM Gov. Pence Feels the Effects of Epistemic Closure

Back in 2010, Julian Sanchez did us all a favor by defining something he called “epistemic closure.”

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!) This epistemic closure can be a source of solidarity and energy, but it also renders the conservative media ecosystem fragile…It’s not just that any particular criticism might have to be taken seriously coming from a fellow conservative. Rather, it’s that anything that breaks down the tacit equivalence between “critic of conservatives” and “wicked liberal smear artist” undermines the effectiveness of the entire information filter.

The only information allowed inside this bubble of epistemic closure conservatives have built is that which confirms what they already believe to be true. Anything that contradicts their beliefs is written off as coming from “wicked liberal smear artists” and so, not only will it be rejected, it must be destroyed for the threat it represents.

As Sanchez points out - that creates a certain vulnerability for conservatives. What happens is that every now and then, the reality outside the bubble is simply too difficult to ignore and/or reject. We all watched as that happened to one conservative commentator after another on election night 2012. Even the Republican candidate himself was finally shaken out of his epistemic closure. Reality stepped in a provided a bitter pill for all to swallow.

But when your whole identity has been built underneath the protection of that bubble of epistemic closure, even moments like that are followed by rationalizations that attempt to repair the fabric that was torn by the intrusion of reality.

What we’re witnessing right now is that Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana is experiencing just such a breach in the bubble of his own epistemic closure. He actually believed that the people of Indiana (and the country) would hail his state’s adoption of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because that’s what everyone inside his bubble believed.

I spoke with Pence on the same day that thousands of people rallied at the Statehouse in opposition to the law. And the same day that Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company will abandon a deal with the state and city to expand the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis because of RFRA’s passage.

Oesterle’s statement is a telling sign that the outrage over RFRA isn’t limited only to the political left. Oesterle directed Republican Mitch Daniels’ 2004 campaign for governor. And it’s a signal that the damage from the RFRA debacle could be extensive…
I asked the governor if he had anticipated the strongly negative reaction set off by the bill’s passage. His response made it clear that he and his team didn’t see it coming.
“I just can’t account for the hostility that’s been directed at our state,” he said.

Of course Gov. Pence is now backtracking on this bill and promising to clear up the “confusion” about its intent. But, just as legislators in Georgia learned this week, it is the intention of supporters of RFRA to discriminate against LGBT people. He’s about to learn precisely what it means to be between a rock and a hard place.

Democrats should take note of this moment. We often give the pronouncements of those who live inside a bubble of epistemic closure too much power. As Stephen Colbert said so many years ago, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Eventually that reality breaks through.

March 29, 2015 8:47 AM The Lack of Consensus on GOP Foreign Policy

Over the last few elections, the centerpiece of Republican campaigns has been to blame President Obama and Democrats for the slow economic recovery from the great recession. But now that Americans are finally feeling the benefits of a stronger economy, that is going to be a tough sell.

For now, it appears that the big issue Republicans want us to all focus on for 2016 is foreign policy. Step one in that process is to convince us all that the “world is on fire” and we are threatened by “Islamic extremists.” Step two is to suggest that this is all President Obama’s fault and he is doing nothing to stop it.

If this were a rational approach to political differences, step three would be to promote an alternative strategy to address the problem. But other than truly deranged people like John Bolton (who actually laid out a plan for war with Iran), we get no specifics. To borrow a popular phrase these days, the GOP is “all hat and no cattle” when it comes to foreign policy.

Unlike Republican attempts to hide their actual economic policies (see budget gimmicks), I would suggest that their lack of specifics on foreign policy has less to do with an awareness that Americans wouldn’t support their proposals and more to do with the fact that there is no consensus about what an alternative strategy would be.

Right now the fear-mongering that is fueled by Obama Derangement Syndrome is playing right into the hands of the neocon interventionists. That is making life difficult for Sen. Rand Paul. As some have noted, it puts him in the position of having to decide whether or not to abandon his father’s non-interventionist libertarianism and contempt for Israel.

But it also puts Jeb Bush in a bit of a bind. Matt Lewis suggests that the pressure he is feeling is whether or not to align himself with his father’s “realists” on foreign policy or his brother’s neocons. Lewis reminds us that it wasn’t just James Baker who parted ways with the latter. Back in 2002, Brent Scowcroft (national security advisor to both President’s Ford and George H.W. Bush) published a prescient op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled: Don’t Attack Saddam.

Over the Bush/Cheney years, this disagreement between the neocons and the realists was mostly kept under wraps. But as I have suggested, it appears that in late 2006 (when Rumsfeld was fired and Cheney sidelined), the realists staged a quiet coup and took over. The idea that Poppy Bush and his friends would sit quietly by and watch Jeb make all the same mistakes brother George did is not likely.

The truth is that, in their modern-day iterations, the lines that separate Republicans and Democrats were more clearly driven by domestic than foreign policy differences. After all, it was Kennedy who got us into the war in Vietnam, Johnson who escalated it, and Nixon who ended it. In a fascinating overview, Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb has written about where there is overlap between President Obama’s foreign policy and that of Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

I’m not sure that in today’s political climate it is possible to have a rational discussion about what a foreign policy for the 21st century should look like. President Obama has clearly outlined his own thoughts on that and we are just now beginning to finally extricate ourselves from the mess the neocons made of things during the Bush/Cheney years. As they ramp up the fear-mongering to suggest we should repeat those mistakes, it will be interesting to watch whether or not the libertarians and realists still have a voice in the Republican Party.

March 29, 2015 7:51 AM Daylight Video

I mentioned yesterday that my focus for these musical selections over the next few months is going to be my favorite feminist songs. So…of course we have to pay homage to the great Aretha.

March 28, 2015 5:38 PM Odds & Ends

Earlier today I wrote about how the Obama administration has strengthened the Civil Rights Division at DOJ. This week they made some big announcements:

*A four-count indictment against Independence, Missouri police officer Timothy Runnels for “violating the constitutional rights of a minor who was in his custody and obstructing the subsequent investigation into the incident.”

*An indictment against Graeme Phillip Harris on “one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African American students because of their race or color” when he hung a noose around the neck of the James Meredith statue on the campus of the University of Mississippi.

*An indictment against Madison, Alabama police officer Eric Sloan Parker who injured an Indian grandfather by slamming him to the ground.

Yesterday Ed Kilgore wrote about the confusion Scott Walker’s pronouncements have created over the use of the word “amnesty” amongst conservatives. Apparently Walker isn’t the only one that has people scratching their heads over this one.

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’s office on Friday indicated the Texas senator remains open to a path to legal status for undocumented workers, putting him at odds with conservatives who deride such a position as unacceptable “amnesty.”…

The idea anyone could get to the right of Cruz on immigration, who has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government to defund Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” might come as a surprise. But by the terms of the immigration debate set out so far, his bona fides could absolutely come into question. Many conservatives, including the leading anti-immigration groups, consider any policy that falls short of deportation “amnesty.”…
This lack of an clear definition of amnesty, beyond “thing conservatives don’t like,” can create a lot of confusion in trying to tease out candidate’s positions.

As we look toward the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris later this year, Mexico is the latest country to get on board with a plan to cap greenhouse emissions.

Astronauts Scott Kelly, Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka made it to the space station for their #YearInSpace.

The crew will support several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science — research that impacts life on Earth. Data and samples will be collected throughout the year from a series of studies involving Scott and his twin brother, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly [Gabby Gifford’s husband]. The studies will compare data from the genetically-identical Kelly brothers to identify any subtle changes caused by spaceflight.

Finally, I’ve decided to adopt a focus for my musical postings. Over the next few months I’m going to highlight some of my favorite feminist songs. Of course there will be a few obvious choices. But stick around…some may surprise you (like my song choice this morning). Also, feel free to suggest what you think I should include.

For today, here is a brand new cover of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” by Grace (featuring G-Eazy). It’s good to know that the young folks still respect this feminist anthem.

March 28, 2015 4:17 PM Free Eric Holder

This one’s good for a smile.

A new fashion trend is sweeping the halls of the Justice Department for spring - “Free Eric Holder’’ wristbands, an inside joke among Attorney General Eric Holder‘s top aides and supporters about the months-long political standoff over his successor.

The black rubber bracelets were the idea of Molly Moran, a senior Justice Department official, according to people who have received them. The wristbands, like the kind people wear to support various charities or causes, started appearing on staffers’ wrists a couple weeks ago, when it became clear there was no end in sight to the standoff over the nomination of Loretta Lynch…
Staffers have paid for the bracelets with their own money - not taxpayer funds - and have talked about making Free Eric Holder T-shirts as well.
“We’re hoping for a day we don’t have to wear these bracelets anymore, even if it takes a charity album,’’ joked one.

One of the best ways to deal with the kind of insanity we’re seeing from Congressional Republicans over things like the Loretta Lynch nomination is to simply point and laugh. Good job on that front Molly!

March 28, 2015 2:41 PM The GOP’s Repudiation of Bipartisan Precedents

If you’re like me, you probably grew up occasionally hearing the phrase “politics stops at the water’s edge” when it was time for American politicians to put their differences aside on the global stage and show a united front. It set a precedent for not airing our dirty laundry in public.

But I never knew the history behind that phrase. So I decided to look it up. In 1948, the Truman administration was working on what would become the North Atlantic Treaty at a time when the Senate was controlled by Republicans. Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI) worked with Truman’s State Department to craft the Vandenberg Resolution, which paved the way for the United States to negotiate an agreement with our European allies.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he [Vandenberg] asserted that “politics stops at the water’s edge” and cooperated with the Truman administration in forging bipartisan support.

I am reminded that our current Senate Majority Leader has a different view about the value of bipartisan support.

“We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” McConnell says. “Because we thought—correctly, I think—that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan.”

That was Senator McConnell’s rationale back in 2009 for his strategy of total obstruction to any domestic proposals from President Obama and Democrats. It was a complete rejection of what David Frum suggested would be a more productive approach. Much like Senator Vandenberg, Frum thought Republicans should work with Democrats to produce bipartisan legislation that at least incorporated conservative ideas. That path was rejected by McConnell.

Now, with Speaker Boehner’s move to go behind the President’s back to invite Netanyahu to address Congress and Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran undermining his negotiations, we see that same approach to foreign affairs. It is a complete repudiation of Vandenberg’s principle that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

This is one of many bipartisan precedents Republicans have repudiated. Others include things like requiring a super-majority to pass most any bill through the Senate, using a vote on the debt ceiling as a hostage, and now - using the Social Security Disability Fund as a hostage.

A top adviser to President Barack Obama on Friday slammed a House Republican maneuver aimed at forcing a showdown on Social Security as early as next year, signaling that it won’t fly with the White House.

“The House provision was un-constructive and at odds with how this issue has been addressed time and time again in a bipartisan manner,” Brian Deese, senior advisor to the president, told reporters at a breakfast downtown hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “It is just not tenable to walk away from what has been a very clear bipartisan approach to addressing the [disability fund] issue.”…
The remarks set up a potential battle if Republicans seek to pass binding spending bills that forbid a reallocation. Congress has transferred funds between the program’s retirement and disability funds 11 times, most recently in 1994.

These precedents are not written into the Constitution, so there is nothing illegal about recent Republican moves to abandon them. On occasion, it is probably a good thing to review historical precedents to determine if they continue to be useful and/or productive.

But the precedents the GOP has abandoned all have to do with guidelines our elected officials have established to work together - despite their differences - for the good of this country. Regardless of who is right or wrong on those differences, their approach is hurting us all.

March 28, 2015 12:39 PM A President and a Prophet

For years now I’ve been saying that David Simon is the most powerful prophet of our time. As a former beat reporter for the Baltimore Sun, he has gone on to show us a face of America that many of us want to ignore, through the medium of a television series called “The Wire.”

Here is how Simon described the message of that show back in 2007.

I am wholly pessimistic about American society. I believe The Wire is a show about the end of the American Empire. We are going to live that event. How we end up and survive, and on what terms, is going to be the open question.

We are in the postindustrial age. We do not need as many of us as we once did. We don’t need us to generate capital, to secure wealth. We are in a transitive period where human beings have lost some of their value. Now, whether or not we can figure out a way to validate the humanity of the individual, I have great doubts…
As for the characters on the program, their lives are less and less necessary. They are more and more expendable. The institutions in which they serve are indifferent to their existence…
The Wire is certainly an angry show. It’s about the idea that we are worth less. And that is an unreasonable thing to contemplate for all of us. It is unacceptable. And none of us wants to be part of a world that is going to do that to human beings. If we don’t exert on behalf of human dignity at the expense of profit and capitalism and greed, which are inevitabilities, and if we can’t modulate them in some way that is a framework for an intelligent society, we are doomed. It is going to happen sooner than we think. I don’t know what form it will take. But I know that every year America is going to be a more brutish and cynical and divided place.

Following President Obama’s re-election in 2012, Simon sounded a bit more optimistic in his predictions.

America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions. The America in which it was otherwise is dying, thank god, and those who relied on entitlement and division to command power will either be obliged to accept the changes, or retreat to the gated communities from which they wish to wax nostalgic and brood on political irrelevance…

Hard times are still to come for all of us. Rear guard actions will be fought at every political crossroad. But make no mistake: Change is a motherfucker when you run from it. And right now, the conservative movement in America is fleeing from dramatic change that is certain and immutable. A man of color is president for the second time, and this happened despite a struggling economic climate and a national spirit of general discontent. He has been returned to office over the specific objections of the mass of white men. He has instead been re-elected by women, by people of color, by homosexuals, by people of varying religions or no religion whatsoever. Behold the New Jerusalem.

Now…imagine if the President of the United States sat down with such a prophet and started off by saying that he was a “huge fan of The Wire” and that it was “one of the greatest pieces of art in the last couple of decades.”

Yeah, that happened.

I would have loved for this interview to go on another hour or two. But the fact that it happened at all is profound. Ultimately, it raised a question for me: Why would President Obama choose to do it now? I suspect that he’s setting the stage and laying the groundwork…somethin’s up.

March 28, 2015 10:41 AM Congress Has Abdicated Its Role on Foreign Policy

I have to admit to a fair amount of eye-rolling when liberals insisted that Congress get involved in approving a new Authorization For the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS or when they take a stand against fast-tracking trade authority on things like the Trans Pacific Partnership. Of course I have the same reaction to conservatives who insist that Congress weigh in if/when a deal is negotiated on Iran’s nuclear program.

In a world where Congress can actually function, those demands would make sense. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we currently live in. Case in point: the ISIS AUMF.

More than a month after the White House sought Congress’ blessing for the expanding war against the terrorist group, congressional action has gotten bogged down in partisan rancor and divergent viewpoints over what the war should try to accomplish, how long the administration should be authorized to wage it, and what level of force will be required. Some say that the liberals who insisted the White House include extra conditions, such as a deadline and limits on ground troops, overplayed their hand, undercutting potential Republican support.

“I just don’t hear many people standing up for what the president has proposed, so I think we’re kind of moving beyond that,” the panel’s chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), told reporters Wednesday.

Neither side gets a pass here. The Republicans insisted that President Obama’s proposal wasn’t “tough enough.” But Thronberry is right - a lot of Democrats didn’t like it either. As Steve Benen put it:

…some lawmakers believe the draft resolution sent to Congress by President Obama goes too far, while some believe it doesn’t go far enough.

I don’t mean to suggest that I take this lightly, but the first thing I thought of when I read that was the story about Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Essentially what we have is a group of people playing small-ball with their ideologies and special interests. And its nothing but a food fight. Meanwhile, someone has to be an adult and take charge. That task has been left to President Obama.

Over the long term, that’s a pretty big problem for our democratic institutions. But right now I don’t see a reasonable alternative.

March 28, 2015 8:38 AM The Power of the Executive Branch to Bring Change

A comment someone made on Facebook after President Obama’s speech in Selma has been rolling around in the back of my mind for a while now. I’m not going to link to it because my purpose is not to call out the individual. But it captured some things we’ve heard before.

Basically this person was criticizing the President for not talking more specifically about how racial issues manifest themselves today or proposing policies that address them. Here’s just a bit of it:

On such a stage as he had yesterday, I feel it would have been prudent for him to address the particular issues that we face. To detail the real world problems that the “long shadow” of racism has created and to bring to the table real policy positions that could address our present reality.

Instead, I feel, he offered only hopeful language and dazzling rhetoric.

Regardless of whether you think the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Selma was the place for such specifics (I don’t), that comment points to the way in which too many of us assume that change only happens in this country via Congress or the Courts. The reason I say that is because this person obviously has not paid attention to how the actions of the Executive branch of government have addressed those issues.

Just one example I would point to is what has happened at the Department of Justice - specifically with the Civil Rights Division (created in 1957 to enforce Civil Rights laws). Some people might remember how that division was corrupted during the Bush/Cheney administration. Everything about the division became politicized - including hirings, firings and prosecutions. Here’s how Joseph Rich, chief of the Voting Rights section from 1999 to 2005, described it in 2007:

Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.

It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.

But it wasn’t just voting rights. Stephen Rushin, a professor at the University of Illinois Law School, has studied the implementation of the portion of the 1991 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that gave the Civil Rights Division of DOJ the authority to investigate systemic problems within law enforcement departments and implement reforms. He found that - rather suddenly in 2005 (when Gonzales became Attorney General) - the number of investigations declined sharply. His research found that, at that time, the division quit working with civil rights organizations (who often initiated the investigations) and instead simply offered voluntary technical assistance to law enforcement units.

What we see is that on at least two issues that are of primary importance in maintaining civil rights in this country - voting rights and investigating police misconduct - the Executive branch of our government purposefully dropped the ball.

All of that changed with the Obama administration. At a speech in 2010, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division Tom Perez, said this:

In case you haven’t heard, the Civil Rights Division is once again open for business. Our job is to enforce the civil rights laws - all of the laws - and to do so fairly, thoroughly and independently.

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have made the restoration and transformation of the Civil Rights Division a top priority. The Attorney General has called the Division the “crown jewel” of the Justice Department. As a result of the President and Attorney General’s leadership, and the support of Congress, the Division has received one of the largest infusions of resources in its history.

That talk was backed up by plenty of walk. It all began with the Civil Rights Division hiring attorneys with actual civil rights experience. The Division has been aggressive in defending voting rights and investigating police misconduct. On the latter:

The Obama administration has used its power aggressively to take on widespread problems of police brutality, discrimination and other abuse in local jurisdictions, negotiating more settlement agreements than either the Clinton or George W. Bush administrations.

I would simply note that the Civil Rights Division of DOJ started an investigation of the Cleveland Police Department more than a year before Tamir Rice was killed.

That summarizes the importance of leadership in the Executive branch of our government by looking at just one department. We could note similar changes in, for example, the fact that under Bush the Department of Education stopped collecting racial data from public schools. When the practice was re-instituted in the Obama administration, the information provided the impetus for investigations and disciplinary reforms that disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

By focusing only on Congress and the Courts, we completely neglect the power of the Executive branch to implement change (either good or bad). It’s true that with his “pen and phone strategy,” President Obama is beginning to open our eyes to this oversight. But really…its been happening all along.

March 28, 2015 7:52 AM Daylight Video

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox has taken Meghan Trainor’s fun song, “All About That Bass” and made it even more fun. Enjoy!

March 27, 2015 5:00 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

My church is having a “Silent Retreat” tomorrow where attendees “fast from speaking” for eight hours. Don’t know if I’ll make it this year. After a week in front of the computer, the doctor would probably order some social interaction.

Here are some remains of the day:

* At long last, White House documents on Dick Cheney’s shooting of Texas lawyer Harry Whittington are about to be released. Maybe it will keep him from snarling about terrorism.

* Greg Sargent expands on the vagueness of GOP positioning on “amnesty” that’s causing so much confusion right now.

* At Religion Dispatches Patricia Miller notes that Jeb Bush hasn’t traditionally been the kind of Catholic prone to widespread culture warfare, despite Terri Schiavo.

* At Ten Miles Square, Seth Masket argues Ted Cruz would have a better chance of winning a polarized general election than of winning the GOP nomination.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer says it’s hard to prove Jeb Bush did or didn’t have a lot to do with school improvements in Florida, but they did happen.

That’s it for Friday. Nancy LeTourneau will be in for Weekend Blogging tomorrow. On this, the penultimate Friday of Lent, let’s close with a traditional Palm Sunday piece, Allegri’s “Miserere,” as performed by the choir of that incomparable choral chamber, King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Selah.

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