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“The Sky Is Falling!”: The Coming Return Of “Dems In Disarray!”

Be warned: “Dems In Disarray” is on its way back. That phrase is familiar to you if you’re a reader of the political press, because it has appeared in headlines so often it became a cliché long ago. The bitter joke among professional liberals is that political reporters are so predisposed to write about Democratic infighting that it will be applied to anything; if two Democratic members of Congress go to lunch and one orders a hamburger while the other gets a chicken sandwich, the reporter at the next table will start writing his “Dems In Disarray!” story.

Or at least that was the case for as long as anyone could remember, until Republican intra-party conflicts became so intense that they dominated everyone’s attention. And for the last few years, Democrats have been uncharacteristically unified, in both their policy goals and their tactics. But with likely losses in the upcoming midterm elections, followed by the winding down of the Obama presidency, we’re going to be hearing more and more about internal Democratic disagreement.

The stories are just starting to trickle in now. Here’s Politico, writing about how state and local Democratic officials are “going rogue” and taking on the Obama administration over policy. There are the endless stories about the Democrats wishing the President would play less golf, and the stories about Democrats who wish he would invite them along. As we get closer to November, we’ll probably be seeing more and more about Dem candidates “distancing” themselves from Obama, doing what’s best for themselves instead of what’s (supposedly) best for their party.

It isn’t that there’s something inaccurate about these stories in and of themselves. But if there is a change afoot, it has less to do with any sudden increase in Democratic disagreement than it does with some completely predictable political factors.

The first is the midterm election. Democrats could do almost everything right from here to November and still have a terrible night on November 4th. Redistricting and a more efficient distribution of voters have left Republicans with a built-in advantage in the House, so that they can hold on to a comfortable majority even if more people vote for Democrats for Congress, as happened in 2012. In the Senate, Democrats are defending more seats than Republicans this year, many of which are in conservative states. The Democrats running in those states would have to distance themselves from any Democratic president, but particularly one who’s so hated by conservative voters.

Then there’s the fact that the Obama presidency is approaching its final two years. At such a time, every ambitious Democrat is going to look for ways to forge a unique identity and elevate their profile. That means both more disagreement with the White House, and more competition for attention between Democrats, even those who aren’t running for president.

So there may in fact be less Democratic unity than we’ve seen in recent years. At the same time, it’ll be easy to make too much of the supposed disarray. At the moment it doesn’t look like there’s going to be much of a contest for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, a truly remarkable fact. While there are some policy differences within the party, you don’t see organized factions squaring off against each other in any meaningful way. There may be a “fight for the soul of the GOP” going on, but Democrats aren’t doing much soul-fighting.

And while there is some simmering displeasure with the President over issues like government surveillance and immigration, his approval among Democrats actually remains fairly high. His current approval among Democrats — around 80 percent — is where he’s been for significant portions of his presidency. That approval was in the 90s in the initial honeymoon period, then stayed around 80 percent for most of 2010 and 2011, then rose back up in the election year of 2012 as partisan loyalties became more salient, then settled back again. As a point of comparison, George W. Bush’s approval among Republicans fell as low as 55 percent in the final months of his presidency.

So when you see those “Dems In Disarray” headlines, not just this year but in the waning days of the Obama presidency, keep in mind that unless there’s a dramatic change, there won’t actually be anywhere near the level of “disarray” that these accounts suggest.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, August 25, 2014

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Democrats, Media, Midterm Elections | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Two Different Fantasies”: The Coming Conservative Tax Cut Deficits Will Make Bush’s Look Puny

For going on a year now, a group of reform-minded conservatives has been gently coaxing more pious coreligionists into supporting a tax reform plan that would violate the first commandment of supply-side economic theory.

In a broad sense, the two groups share similar goals. Both want to distribute income upward. The difference is that reformicons would like to limit the amount of upward redistribution to preserve some significant spoils for middle-class workers with children. They’ve rallied behind legislation, drafted by Senator Mike Lee (a Tea Party favorite from Utah) that would lower the top marginal tax rate only modestlyfrom about 40 to 35while creating generous new tax credits for families with kids. The supply siders, as you probably guessed, want to ply those spoils into even larger rate cuts for the wealthy. The poor are left almost entirely out of the equation.

Under normal circumstances, the two camps would resolve a policy dispute like this by splitting the baby (the proverbial one; not the human one that comes with a generous tax-subsidy). But as supply-side stalwart Congressman Paul Ryan explained recently, asking rate-cutters like him to check their rate-cutting ambitions would be like asking Lance Armstrong to share his “secret sauce” with mid-tier racersnot much help for them, at the expense of his competitive edge. And on the flip side, the reformicons can’t yield too much to the supply siders, because at some point the political payoff (more money for the middle class) would disappear along with the whatever supposed incentive the credits would create for people to start families.

Enter Ramesh Ponnuru, a high-profile reformicon, with a plan to win Ryan over using clever spin. Just pretend the Lee plan’s child tax subsidies are comparable to tax cuts for investors, except the investors here are parents rescuing the country from a bleak demographic future, and the tax cuts are actually new tax expenditures.

“You can’t draw up a realistic budget with a top tax rate of 25 percent and a large child credit,” Ponnuru writes for Bloomberg. “(You might not be able to draw up a realistic budget with a top rate of 25 percent even without the credit.) You probably can, however, draw up one with a lower top rate than we have today and better treatment for investment including parents’ investment in the next generation. Because that mix of policies would leave many millions of middle-class families ahead, it may well be easier to enact than a plan that concentrates solely on reducing the top rate. Supply-siders, that is, might achieve more of the rate reduction they seek if they embrace the credit.”

This is another way of saying that the politics of the Lee plan are vastly more appealing than the politics of the Ryan plan. The tax blueprint in Ryan’s budget is such a political disaster that it would likelier die in committee than become law in some less radical form, leaving Ryan with no rate reduction at all. Under the circumstances, he’d be better off settling for less-severe rate cuts and plying some of the projected deficits into the pockets of the middle class.

That’s absolutely true. But for supply-sider zeal, it would settle the argument under the prevailing terms. Yet those terms omit something fundamental to both plans: deficits. Neither party to the conversation has used the word deficit even once. And when you introduce the idea that both of these plansnot just Ryan’sare deficit-financed (or financed with implicit tax increases on the poor and middle classes) it becomes hard to fathom why a tug of war between the reformicons and the supply-siders is necessary at all.

Lee offsets his tax cuts by eliminating and reducing a swath of tax expenditures. Nevertheless, they would increase deficits $2.4 trillion over ten years. Ryan’s plan would probably increase them by twice as much (before offsets, which he’s never specified). There isn’t a point along the connecting line where this trespasses into fantasy. These are just two different fantasies. Under the circumstances, the smart play isn’t for the reformicons to out-debate the supply siders, or to negotiate with them, but to buy them off. Give Ryan a big rate cut. Keep the middle-class child subsidies. Don’t bother paying for either, in full.

This, as Ponnuru sort of implies, would be deeply irresponsible. But it would enjoy the dual benefits of papering over the rift and solving the GOP’s miser problem, in much the same way that George W. Bush solved his regressivity problem in 2001 by cutting everyone’s taxes (the wealthy merely got a hefty bonus tax cut).

Instead Lee is teaming up with Senator Marco Rubio to narrow the $2.4 trillion shortfall. Perhaps they’ll succeed. But they’ll also have widened the conservative rift, leaving them a plan that’s intended to forge an alliance between the ruling and working classes, but does less for the former than the supply siders and less for the latter than Democrats. Actually legislating will almost certainly require surrendering to one faction or the other.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, August 26, 2014

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, GOP, Tax Reform | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stop Complaining About Obama’s Golfing”: It’s Not About Optics, It’s About Doing Your Job

Of course, Obama is hardly the first president to vacation – President John Adams took an amazing eight months off in one year in office, and President John F. Kennedy went away almost every single weekend of his presidency. And Obama’s not the first president to get criticized for it either. President Ronald Reagan, who was on vacation for more than 300 days of his presidency, took an incredible amount of heat for not coming rushing back to the White House after the death of two Marines in Lebanon, an attack that would lead to the 1984 bombing of the Marine barracks there. But he blew off the criticism and even campaigned for two days before returning to Washington.

We don’t let our son watch the news anymore. Growing up with parents who are big consumers of news, my boy—at the ripe old age of three—already knows something is amiss if Diane Sawyer is taking a night off. If David Muir is at the anchor desk he has been known to ask, “Is Diane sick?” (We haven’t started explaining the more permanent transition going on at ABC just yet because we don’t know how he will take it.)

But between Ferguson, ISIS, Gaza, Ukraine, Ebola and every other tragic news story happening, there are too many questions that newscasts raise now that a three-year old shouldn’t have to wonder about. Too many sad faces on the screen, and it’s too soon to explain why.

Being president of the United States means engaging on all of those issues every day, often multiple times – whether you’re on vacation or you’re not. And regardless of the location, this president – like every occupant of the Oval Office before him – is making decisions based on the welfare of the nation, far ahead of what his vacation schedule is.

Something unspeakable happened to James Foley, and his grieving family lives with the tragedy created by the ruthless monsters who took him from them. I can’t say how I’d react if someone took my son from me in the same way. No one can know who hasn’t gone through such a horrible thing. But I can guess. My guess is that I’d want the entire world to stop. That I’d want a moment of silence that never ended. I would want people to stop laughing and businesses to close. I have no judgment for the impulse of any American who feels any hint of that sadness at Foley’s loss.

But I have little patience, and our country has little need for, the people who play politics with his life. One mindless commentator tweeted that people who share my view support golfing while Americans are being beheaded. The New York Times wrote that the president was “seemingly able to put the savagery out of his mind,” as he went on to continue his vacation with his family and his friends after addressing the incredible tragedy.

I’m not sure why the New York Times thinks it can read minds, but knowing this president, I know one thing with great clarity: The savagery of those who attack Americans is never far from his mind. This notion that he can detach is mostly wrong. For the man who gave the green light to take out Osama bin Laden and is often first to hear the reports of American servicemen and women who die in missions that he ordered, the savagery of this world is not far from the forefront of his mind at every moment of the day.

I don’t remember, but I assume that I was one of the many Democrats who gleefully took shots at President George W. Bush for the time he spent at Crawford—and if so I regret it. Presidents are better for having time out of Washington, even better for time away with their families.

Whether you’re a partisan or a cynical reporter who has been making the same critique about presidential vacations for decades, I assume you probably agree that human beings function better when they get a little time away. I wouldn’t want my surgeon to be some woman who hasn’t had a break in 4 years. I wouldn’t want to share the road with a truck driver who hasn’t had enough sleep. It doesn’t matter what your occupation is; you will do your job better if you recharge your batteries. And even though the president is never really on vacation, giving him at least a little downtime is good for all of us.

In the end, it’s not about the optics. It’s about doing your job. And if the president is doing his – which he is – we should all be able to appreciate the fact that he is taking the opportunity to be a dad, a husband and even a leader of the free world who can clear his head on the golf course.

 

By: Bill Burton, Executive Vice President at Global Strategy Group; Politico, August 25, 2014

 

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Media, Presidential Vacations, Press | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How The Supreme Court Protects Bad Cops”: How Many More Deaths And Riots Will It Take Before SCOTUS Changes Course?

Last week, a grand jury was convened in St. Louis County, Mo., to examine the evidence against the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and to determine if he should be indicted. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. even showed up to announce a separate federal investigation, and to promise that justice would be done. But if the conclusion is that the officer, Darren Wilson, acted improperly, the ability to hold him or Ferguson, Mo., accountable will be severely restricted by none other than the United States Supreme Court.

In recent years, the court has made it very difficult, and often impossible, to hold police officers and the governments that employ them accountable for civil rights violations. This undermines the ability to deter illegal police behavior and leaves victims without compensation. When the police kill or injure innocent people, the victims rarely have recourse.

The most recent court ruling that favored the police was Plumhoff v. Rickard, decided on May 27, which found that even egregious police conduct is not “excessive force” in violation of the Constitution. Police officers in West Memphis, Ark., pulled over a white Honda Accord because the car had only one operating headlight. Rather than comply with an officer’s request to get out of the car, the driver made the unfortunate decision to speed away. The police chased the car for more than five minutes, reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Eventually, officers fired 15 shots into the car, killing both the driver and a passenger.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and ruled unanimously in favor of the police. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that the driver’s conduct posed a “grave public safety risk” and that the police were justified in shooting at the car to stop it. The court said it “stands to reason that, if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”

This is deeply disturbing. The Supreme Court now has said that whenever there is a high-speed chase that could injure others — and that would seem to be true of virtually all high-speed chases — the police can shoot at the vehicle and keep shooting until the chase ends. Obvious alternatives could include shooting out the car’s tires, or even taking the license plate number and tracking the driver down later.

The court has also weakened accountability by ruling that a local government can be held liable only if it is proved that the city’s or county’s own policy violated the Constitution. In almost every other area of law, an employer can be held liable if its employees, in the scope of their duties, injure others, even negligently. This encourages employers to control the conduct of their employees and ensures that those injured will be compensated.

A 2011 case, Connick v. Thompson, illustrates how difficult the Supreme Court has made it to prove municipal liability. John Thompson was convicted of an armed robbery and a murder and spent 18 years in prison, 14 of them on death row, because of prosecutorial misconduct. Two days before Mr. Thompson’s trial began in New Orleans, the assistant district attorney received the crime lab’s report, which stated that the perpetrator of the armed robbery had a blood type that did not match Mr. Thompson’s. The defense was not told this crucial information.

Through a series of coincidences, Mr. Thompson’s lawyer discovered the blood evidence soon before the scheduled execution. New testing was done and again the blood of the perpetrator didn’t match Mr. Thompson’s DNA or even his blood type. His conviction was overturned, and he was eventually acquitted of all charges.

The district attorney’s office, which had a notorious history of not turning over exculpatory evidence to defendants, conceded that it had violated its constitutional obligation. Mr. Thompson sued the City of New Orleans, which employed the prosecutors, and was awarded $14 million.

But the Supreme Court reversed that decision, in a 5-to-4 vote, and held that the local government was not liable for the prosecutorial misconduct. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said that New Orleans could not be held liable because it could not be proved that its own policies had violated the Constitution. The fact that its prosecutor blatantly violated the Constitution was not enough to make the city liable.

Because it is so difficult to sue government entities, most victims’ only recourse is to sue the officers involved. But here, too, the Supreme Court has created often insurmountable obstacles. The court has held that all government officials sued for monetary damages can raise “immunity” as a defense. Police officers and other law enforcement personnel who commit perjury have absolute immunity and cannot be sued for money, even when it results in the imprisonment of an innocent person. A prosecutor who commits misconduct, as in Mr. Thompson’s case, also has absolute immunity to civil suits.

When there is not absolute immunity, police officers are still protected by “qualified immunity” when sued for monetary damages. The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia in 2011, ruled that a government officer can be held liable only if “every reasonable official” would have known that his conduct was unlawful. For example, the officer who shot Michael Brown can be held liable only if every reasonable officer would have known that the shooting constituted the use of excessive force and was not self-defense.

The Supreme Court has used this doctrine in recent years to deny damages to an eighth-grade girl who was strip-searched by school officials on suspicion that she had prescription-strength ibuprofen. It has also used it to deny damages to a man who, under a material-witness warrant, was held in a maximum-security prison for 16 days and on supervised release for 14 months, even though the government had no intention of using him as a material witness or even probable cause to arrest him. In each instance, the court stressed that the government officer could not be held liable, even though the Constitution had clearly been violated.

Taken together, these rulings have a powerful effect. They mean that the officer who shot Michael Brown and the City of Ferguson will most likely never be held accountable in court. How many more deaths and how many more riots will it take before the Supreme Court changes course?

 

By: Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine: Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, August 26, 2014

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“On Trial, In Absentia”: No Presumption Of Innocence For Michael Brown

It’s not clear how effective the instinctive effort to put Michael Brown posthumously on trial for being an African-American teenager who was “no angel” will turn out to be. It was begun, of course, by the Ferguson police as soon as was humanly possible; their “investigation” of the shooting was from the get-go aimed at justifying it as an act of self-defense, much like George Zimmerman’s, by a man being forced to use his deadly force in an encounter with a demonically powerful (if unarmed) black adolescent.

As one might expect, Ta-Nehisi Coates has said pretty much everything that needs saying about the assumption that Michael Brown deserved to die for his sins:

A large number of American teenagers live exactly like Michael Brown. Very few of them are shot in the head and left to bake on the pavement.

But this isn’t just about how the court of public opinion deals with this case. At some point, unless Darren Wilson just skates, it will be litigated in a court of law, presumably before a jury, in which he will formally enjoy the presumption of innocence so many people would apparently deny Brown.

Something about a parallel case from the distant past kept nagging the back of my mind, and sure enough, I found a 1979 Texas Monthly account account by Gary Cartrwright of the acquittal of two Houston cops for killing a black man, thanks to the skill of their attorney, Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, in putting the victim on trial:

[The] two Houston cops…were accused of kicking a black man to death after arresting him for attempting to “steal” his own car. The cops had already been acquitted by a district court in Houston — now they were being tried in federal court on charges that they had violated the man’s civil rights. For starters, Haynes got the trial moved from Houston to the conservative German American town of New Braunfels. “I knew we had that case won when we seated the last bigot on the jury,” Racehorse remarked later. As the trial progressed, Haynes developed these scenarios: (1) that the prisoner suffered severe internal injuries while trying to escape; (2) that he actually died of an overdose of morphine; (3) that the deep laceration in the victim’s liver was the result of a sloppy autopsy.

Sound familiar? Give a sympathetic jury an alternative theory they can seize on, however implausible, and they just might take it–particularly if the defendant is an officer of the law and the victim–who will be described as a victim of his own excesses–fits the jury’s idea of the people cops are hired to keep under control.

Maybe we’ve made some progress since 1979. But I’m not so sure.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 26, 2014

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Law Enforcement, Michael Brown | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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