"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“How Dems Can Peel Off GOP Voters”: The Birth Of The Left-Wing Wedge Issue

Here’s a little datum that may have slid by you: Gallup has just found that on social issues, the country is now equally split between liberals and conservatives. The question was: “Thinking about social issues, would you say your views are” very conservative, conservative, liberal, or very liberal?

And the answer came back: Grouping the first two into one category and the last two into another, it was a dead heat at 31 percent each. This is pretty close to seismic. Just five years ago, the conservative edge on social issues was 39 to 22 percent. Now it’s totally wiped out. The implications for our electoral politics are obvious and enormous, and I mean good-enormous.

I’m not sure when people started using the phrase “wedge issue.” But we’re all sure what wedge issues are: They’re cultural politics issues used in elections by the right—and always only the right—to drive a wedge into the liberal coalition. Nixon did it expertly, even though the phrase wasn’t in use back then. Reagan did it well, cleaving so many working-class white ethnics away from the Democratic Party. George H.W. Bush and Jim Baker did it—remember Willie Horton (race was the original wedge issue). And Bush the younger and Karl Rove expanded it out to include guns and gays.

And now, Gallup is suggesting to us, the era of the wedge issue may be over.

But wait! Why should it be over? Maybe it’s time for some liberal wedge issues! I like the sound of that a lot.

Gay marriage was a great wedge issue for Dubya and Rove in 2004, as you’ll recall. They got anti-gay marriage initiatives on the ballot in 11 states, many of them key swing states; studies have tended to find that in Ohio, which Bush carried and which was the difference between victory and defeat in the Electoral College, the initiative did goose evangelical turnout a bit (and remember, Bush won the state by just 118,000 votes out of around 5.6 million cast). It may have also helped him win more African Americans than he would have otherwise, hence the wedge.

Well, in 2016, same-sex marriage can be a wedge issue again, but this time, for our team. The numbers are now so decisive that surely in the key swing states with the bushels of electoral votes, the likely Democratic candidate can cast shame upon the head of her opponent. In Florida, support for gay marriage was 57 percent a year ago, and it’s probably a little higher now. In Ohio, support-to-opposition was 52-37 in 2012, and that’s surely higher now. In Virginia in 2013, support registered at 56 percent. The issue isn’t a loser in any important swing state, with the possible exception of North Carolina, which of course is just icing for the Democrats anyway.

How could Hillary Clinton and her party use this, exactly? That gets a little harder to say. The thing that makes a wedge issue a wedge issue is that, historically anyway, it’s been about fear. The blacks are coming. The gays are coming. The anti-gun nuts are going to be pounding on your door, warrant in hand. As has often been said, it’s the best motivator in politics.

The crucial psychic element of fear-mongering is that you have to persuade the majority that some minority is “taking over” and they, your majority, will soon be the trampled minority unless they act. That’s what gets the blood cooking in the old amygdala. (What?! Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize amygdala?!) Conservatives are much better at this than liberals are, and in any case, if liberals tried this it just wouldn’t make sense or work. Everybody knows that the anti-same-sex-marriage side is losing fast, so fear is a non-starter here.

No, the psychic ingredient of the liberal wedge campaign has to be something else. And of course it has to resonate with people on some level, be in tune with what they’re actually thinking. So, what are people (not just liberals, but average, quasi-informed people) thinking about conservatives right now? I’d suggest it’s that they’re just out of it. Out of touch with the times. Holding us back.

Certainly this is so with respect to same-sex marriage, although the problem is hardly limited to that by a long shot. One issue I’d really love to see Clinton and the Democrats plop down smack in the middle of the table this election is the way conservatism today just strangles opportunity for middle-class people, and for young people in particular, in the name of their messianic tax-cutting.

TPM ran a great piece Friday on how the Republican governors who are running for president are destroying their higher-education systems in the name of cutting state income taxes and never, ever raising another tax of any kind. Bobby Jindal has cut taxes six times in Louisiana, which has produced a $1.6 billion shortfall. To plug the gap, he’s cutting higher-ed funding by as much as $600 million, which is 82 percent of state higher-ed aid. Scott Walker’s half-a-billion dollars in tax cuts in Wisconsin have led to a $2 billion shortfall, so he’s slashing higher ed by $300 million.

These, too, are wedge issues, if you ask me. Republicans send their kids to college too. Yes, they like their tax cuts. But I would assume that they don’t like whopping tuition hikes, or their kids having to drop out of college altogether, any more than Democrats or independents do. If the Democrats can connect these dots in the right way—on this and a whole range of Warrenesque “household economics” issues—they can peel off a decent chunk of voters who have been traditionally Republican.

Republicans will still roll out their wedge issues, but it seems that the pickings are pretty slim. Fear just isn’t selling. To borrow from A.J. Liebling’s nice line about sweet Louisiana corn, fear just doesn’t travel well anymore outside the right-wing base. Muslim-bashing may be the exception to that, but even that won’t work without a triggering event of some kind. Republicans might actually have to talk about issues. Which of course is even worse for them.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 26, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Democrats, Higher Education, Wedge Issues | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Big Trouble In Sheldon Adelson’s Little China”: Sometimes It’s Best To Just Shut Up, Unless You’re Arrogant And Rich

Sheldon Adelson has rarely been shy about sharing his opinion. Whether the topic is Israeli politics, online gambling, or the next GOP presidential nominee, the multibillionaire casino man and Republican Party mega-donor has put his mouth wherever his money is.

But after four days of at times bruising testimony in a volatile wrongful-termination lawsuit that threatens his gambling empire and reputation, the 81-year-old Adelson has talked his way into trouble.

At a time he might have preferred to be jetting off to monitor his Macau casino interests or relaxing at his Las Vegas home with a lapful of panting GOP presidential hopefuls, Adelson found himself giving sworn testimony in a district court hearing designed to establish jurisdiction in the wrongful-termination suit brought against him by former Sands China Ltd. CEO Steve Jacobs. And on Friday, the court ruled that the suit would be heard in the U.S., not Macau, where Adelson wanted the trial to take place.

Adelson is the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, which owns 70 percent of Sands China Ltd. He is the chairman of the board of Sands China, a company registered in the Cayman Islands and traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. Sands China operates the Macau casinos that have helped make Las Vegas resident Adelson one of the world’s richest men.

Among other things, Jacobs accuses Adelson and the company of unethical business practices, bribing public officials, maintaining a relationship with a company tied to a Chinese triad crime boss, and facilitating prostitution. Jacobs says Adelson was involved in all these shady dealings, and that he was fired in part for blowing the whistle on Adelson.

For his part, Adelson calls Jacobs’s accusations the “delusional” fantasies of an incompetent employee bent on revenge and a big payday he didn’t earn. He also accused Jacobs of “squealing like a pig to the government” after his former executive expressed his concerns about the company to the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission.

Any decent litigator will tell his client that on the witness stand brief answers are best. Before Friday’s ruling, it became obvious that Adelson didn’t get that memo. On several occasions last week, Adelson attorney Randall Jones appeared to try to cut his client short, and a few times reminded the loquacious Adelson that no question was pending. But the casino boss insisted on elaborating at most every turn.

In the process, Adelson contradicted the recollections of current and former company executives on pertinent issues, including whether damaging news accounts led to a decision to stop doing business with a casino junket company influenced by triad boss Cheung Chi Tai.

District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez moved the hearing along almost without incident—save for one brief exchange with the defendant to remind him that he was the witness and not the judge.

In a previous deposition, Adelson made it fairly clear that not much of consequence happens in his kingdom without his input. Jacobs’s attorney, James Pisanelli, drew from a September 6, 2012, deposition to remind him of that fact.

“‘Did you perform any duties that would be more typical of a CEO on behalf of SCL?’” Pisanelli asked. In 2012, Adelson had answered, “Look, the responsibilities of different positions, different titles, sometimes get mixed up. It could very well be that I have made recommendations or I’ve given orders for something that—that may have belonged to another title, that for one reason or another the suggestions are not forthcoming or that I see that people make mistakes and they have to be corrected.”

And Adelson was prepared to make those corrections from his Las Vegas headquarters whether it was changing executives or moving the location of a gourmet restaurant inside one of his Macau casinos.

Jacobs says he was let go after he refused to pay a $700,000 fee submitted by well-connected Macau legislator and Sands China outside counsel Leonel Alves, which he worried might break U.S. anti-bribery laws. Adelson overruled his Macau CEO and reinstated the payment, which he said was a bargain considering the exorbitant fees other lawyers were charging to settle casino-licensing issues.

Throughout his testimony, Adelson took swipes at Jacobs, who sat silently in the courtroom, at one point observing, “He was one of the least competent and potentially destructive executives I had in over 50 companies in my 69-year business career. He only worked for the company for one year.”

In that time, however, Jacobs appears to have mightily impressed Adelson’s former No. 2 man, Michael Leven, who cheered in an email, “The Titanic hit the iceberg. [Jacobs] arrived and not only saved the passengers, he saved the ship.”

Clearly nonplussed, Adelson said Leven had been “hypnotized” by Jacobs and then promised, “Mike Leven will come in and say he made a mistake.”

But Jacobs’s attorneys, Pisanelli and Todd Bice, continued to grind away at their argument that, according to a court filing, “Jacobs was not terminated for cause. He was terminated for blowing the whistle on improprieties and placing the interests of shareholders above those of Adelson.”

Adelson, ever pugnacious, countered that he looked forward to the time the merits of the case would be filed, which is intriguing considering how hard his own attorneys have worked to drag out the jurisdiction issue.

Jacobs’s lawsuit contends, “While Sands China publicly holds itself out as being headquartered in Macau, its true headquarters are in Las Vegas, where all principle decisions are made and direction is given by executives acting for Sands China.”

Adelson downplayed that argument and even appeared to shrug off the assertion that his company had been doing business with a major Chinese organized crime figure.

“I keep reading the newspapers that say that Cheung Chi Tai was only a witness in a trial in Hong Kong concerning some wrongdoing,” Adelson said. “He was never accused of any wrongdoing. It’s not—I don’t get involved in those things…We hired the former head of the FBI regulatory division. We hired the former chief operating officer of the U.S. Secret Service. We do everything we can to stay away from the bad guys, and we’re constantly on the lookout for any direct or indirect connection. You’re asking me about documents in languages that I don’t speak or read.”

Pisanelli countered, “So you’re telling us, sir, then that as the chairman of the board you were to learn that a person with whom your company had a business association with was involved in a plot to behead some of your employees, that is not something you would have gotten involved with as the chairman?”

Adelson’s attorney Jones rushed to object.

It’s just such testimony that has helped generate damaging headlines linking Adelson’s company to Chinese organized crime, which could cause a lot of trouble for the casino king now that the case will proceed in a Las Vegas courtroom.

Then again, maybe it’s just the kind of trouble a guy worth nearly $30 billion or so can afford.


By: John L. Smith, The Daily Beast, May 27, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | GOP Campaign Donors, Organized Crime, Sheldon Adelson | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our Current Investments In Justice System Are Unwise”: Criminal Justice Reform Ignores Victims Of Crime. That Makes No Sense

When policymakers think of the people who comprise the victims’ rights movement, young people of color from low-income communities may not be the first group that leaps to mind. But the facts suggest these survivors should be.

My organization conducted two years of research and found that one in five Californians experience crime – but its impact is concentrated and unequal. The majority of crime victims live in lower-income communities and repeat victimization is even more concentrated (echoing research on victimization in the entire US). When it comes to violent crime, those most likely to be repeatedly victimized are young people of color, especially African-American and Latino males.

Two out of three crime survivors reported being victimized more than once in the last five years. Many repeat victims have long histories of suffering multiple types of crimes, such as sexual exploitation, abuse or community violence. Worse still, only a small number of survivors receive any help, despite often experiencing severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of crime.

Young people of color from low-income communities bear an unconscionably disproportionate burden of violence and crime – and are victimized at staggering rates while also the least likely to get help to recover from trauma. Most frequently victimized, least often supported. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

Beyond lacking access to recovery support, most crime victims also disagree with the direction criminal justice policymaking has taken over the last few decades of prison expansion. While the traditional approach to victims’ rights has focused on toughening punishments for people convicted of crime and strengthening the rights of victims during criminal proceedings, our research shows that most survivors of crime think that our current investments in justice system are unwise. Two out of three California victims surveyed believe bloated prisons either make inmates better at committing crimes or have no impact on crime at all. Most survivors want greater investments into rehabilitation, mental health treatment and prevention over bigger prisons and jails.

Listening to crime victims can tell us a lot how we should reform our safety and justice systems. We must embrace survivors as unexpected advocates for justice reform. It’s time to stop pretending that building more prisons protects survivors – it doesn’t.

Procedural rights for victims are critical, and accountability for people who commit crime is an essential component of an effective criminal justice system. Yet, many victims never even get to a courtroom. National statistics reveal that over half of violent crime goes unreported, eliminating any possibility of a prosecution. And even when violent crimes are reported, less than half result in an arrest. So focusing only on criminal proceedings leaves out the experiences and needs of the majority of crime survivors.

Packed prisons and extreme sentencing for the fraction of crimes that result in a conviction also depletes the very resources needed to improve victim protection and community safety. We need to rethink what investments can serve and protect as many victims as possible, including the communities most impacted by crime. We should pay special attention to the needs of those at greatest risk of being repeatedly victimized, such as youth of color.

When victims go without trauma recovery support, they risk being victimized again and falling through the cracks in life: dropping out of school, suffering health problems, self-medicating to the point of addiction and even turning to crime themselves.

David Guizar knows this well: growing up in South Central Los Angeles, his older brother – and father figure – was shot and killed when David was 10. He never learned what happened, nor did his family learn about or access any services that exist for survivors of violent crime.

David felt lost after his was family broken, and he filled the void with alcohol and drugs for decades, finally getting sober in 2006. Then, in 2012, another one of David’s brothers was killed when a stranger tried to enter a family wedding.

“After our family’s losses, we never heard about existing supports for survivors of crime, which would have made a big difference in our ability to recover,” said Guizar. “California clearly has the money – the state spends $10 billion per year on a prison system to respond to crime – but I and other survivors want lawmakers to know that we can invest these resources in smarter ways to help survivors both recover from and prevent crime.”

Instead of continuing to create harsh penalties that, in turn, create more prisons as our response to crime, we should invest in mental health care and trauma-informed services for anyone traumatized by violence, as well as safe places to go when crisis erupts, family support programs and economic recovery assistance for victims. We also need to improve the relationship between police, prosecutors and the communities they serve, so that victims trust – and can safely cooperate with – law enforcement to solve more crimes.

Despite the prevalence of pro-victim rhetoric during the prison-building era, few policymakers have asked themselves who experiences crime, who is most vulnerable to repeat crime or what survivors need to recover and avoid future harm. Most crime victims have never been at the center of attention of criminal justice policies, nor have their experiences and needs been considered as penal codes and prison populations mushroomed over the past three decades.

But the evidence suggests that when you ask the people most affected, survivors are less interested in spending tax dollars to fill more prisons and instead want to prioritize investments that will actually prevent crime in the first place. It is time for policymakers to finally listen – and put the perspectives of those most vulnerable to harm at the center of policies.


By: Lenore Anderson, The Guardian, May 21, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Crime Victims, Criminal Justice System, Mental Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Koch Brothers’ Humiliating Secret”: Why Even Their Billions Can’t Save The GOP From Self-Destruction

Faced with the nightmare of up to 20-something GOP presidential candidates in 2016, Fox News last week announced its bid for sanity: It would limit its debate to the top 10 candidates in national polls. Now David Koch tells Larry Kudlow that he and brother Charles are likely to distribute some of the $900 million they’ve socked away for 2016 to “several” contenders, not just one Republican candidate.

Paul Waldman reads this as an attempt to cull the GOP field, and so do I.  The Kochs can spread the wealth, at least among Republicans, because the entire 2016 roster supports their tax-slashing, regulation-gutting, climate-change accelerating policies. Their real interest is having a limited debate among the “grown-ups” of the party and sending a strong candidate off to face the Democratic nominee, most likely Hillary Clinton.

Charles Koch said something similar last month to USA Today, specifically mentioning Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio.  ”Those are the ones we have talked to the most and who seem to be the possible leaders,” Koch said.

At the time, Charles’s comments were widely interpreted as cleaning up an earlier mess made by brother David, when he told New York GOP donors that the Kochs would only get involved “when the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination.” That was taken as a sign they backed the man who turned Wisconsin into an arm of Koch Industries.

When Charles Koch came out days later and said the brothers would in fact back “several” GOP candidates, I took it as evidence that they recognized that Walker had stumbled early and often in his first forays into national politics, and he shouldn’t be their only bet.

Now I think it’s a sign of many things, none of them good for the GOP.

First, even though the Democrats’ 2014 effort to raise awareness of the Kochs’ control of the GOP was widely perceived as a failure, it succeeded in making the Kochs edgy about their public image. They don’t want anybody IDed as the Kochs’ man.

It’s also a signal they don’t see anyone who’s a slam-dunk winner: Walker and Jeb Bush have matched each other for missteps all year, and the Kochs can’t afford to back a loser.

But it’s also a sign that for all their influence with the GOP field, the Kochs can’t force a change in the top candidates’ political platform.  Despite their claims that they’re still libertarian on abortion rights and marriage equality, and despite evidence they support comprehensive immigration reform, the brothers don’t even pretend to be searching for a candidate who’s moderate on any of those things.

Even the great and powerful Kochs can’t force GOP moderation on those issues — and they don’t really care that much, because their political commitments are all about their bottom line, anyway.

While the Kochs look for a way to prop up “the possible leaders” of the GOP field, Fox will try to stage-manage the clown show. Fox’s decision to use national polls, rather than polling in key primary-state races, has the benefit of wider inclusion. Biographic and demographic curiosities like neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina, two “non-politicians” who don’t have a prayer of running serious, nationwide campaigns, will likely make the cut.

Thus the Fox debate stage will likely feature two Latinos (Cruz and Rubio), plus an African American and a woman, vying to lead a party in which white men make up the majority of voters.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported Friday that the Kochs’ efforts were eclipsing Karl Rove and his American Crossroads empire, which failed spectacularly in the 2012 cycle. Rove is suffering for his ties to the last, spectacularly unsuccessful GOP president, George W. Bush – but he doesn’t particularly get along with Bush’s brother. Not to worry: Crossroads seems to be carving out a role in attacking Hillary Clinton.

But Rove, too, was supposed to be seeking the great GOP moderate after Tea Party extremists hijacked his party and made it unelectable in presidential races. Neither Rove nor the Kochs seem able to steer the field away from demographically destructive policies on gay rights or immigration. Money can’t buy moderation on social issues, at least not yet, so the GOP’s best hopes involve trashing the Democratic nominee in 2016.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 26, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates, Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“I’m Not An ‘Official’ Candidate”: Will Jeb Bush Get Away With His ‘Scheme’ To Skirt Campaign Finance Rules?

With candidates and outside groups already raking in money for the 2016 presidential contest and the Federal Election Commission abdicating its duty to enforce campaign finance laws, watchdog groups are pushing the Department of Justice to fill the void. To start, groups are asking the DOJ to investigate one of the most blatant exploiters of lax enforcement: Jeb Bush.

For months now the former Florida governor has kept up the elaborate charade that he is not quite sure if he will run for the Republican presidential nomination. “No, no. I’m not an official candidate,” he said during an exchange with reporters a few weeks ago—never mind that he’s been crisscrossing the country raising amounts cash unprecedented for an undeclared candidate. Bush himself has struggled to maintain the farce, as he demonstrated minutes later when he accidentally declared, “I’m running for president in 2016.”

The implications of Bush’s protracted non-candidacy are serious. By waiting to announce his bid for the White House, Bush has skirted one of the last remaining campaign finance rules: the ban on coordination between candidates and super PACs. (To be sure, that supposed firewall already looks more like a shower curtain.) Once Bush officially declares his intention to run, his campaign will be bound by that rule and by limits on donations directly to candidates ($2,700 in the primaries). But until then, absent action by regulators, Bush is apparently free to raise money and direct strategy for Right to Rise, the super PAC that is expected to eventually take on many operations normally undertaken by a campaign committee—not just television and online advertising but also direct mail, data collection, and phone banking. And unlike a campaign committee, the Super PAC’s ability to raise money for these activities won’t be hampered by contribution limits.

In a letter sent to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 allege that Bush and Right to Rise are “engaged in a scheme to allow unlimited contributions to be spent directly on behalf of the Bush campaign and thereby violate the candidate contribution limits enacted to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption.” The groups asked the DOJ to appoint a special counsel from outside the department to investigate the allegation, noting that it would look suspicious were a Democrat-appointed Attorney General to go after a Republican candidate.

The letter argues that Bush should be considered a candidate despite his disavowals, because he’s been acting like one “in all pertinent respects.” He’s hired strategists and buttered up local Republican leaders in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa. He’s headlined dozens of events for Right to Rise, many of them fundraisers with a $100,000 ticket price. His advisers are overseeing the super PACs operations. Reportedly Bush has even set the timing of his official campaign announcement—expected mid-June—to leave room for a “cross-country fundraising tour” for Right to Rise before the non-coordination rule kicks in.

Democracy 21 president Fred Wertheimer said that Bush’s association with Right to Rise is “the most blatant example to date” of how super PACs dedicated to a single candidate are being used to circumvent contribution limits. But Wertheimer’s group and the Campaign Legal Center are preparing to ask the DOJ to probe other potential violations by presidential candidates and individual-candidate super PACs.

While the FEC has jurisdiction over civil enforcement of campaign finance laws, the Justice Department can pursue criminal, or “knowing and willful,” violations. The DOJ’s first prosecution involving coordination between a super PAC and a campaign committee was announced in February, in a case involving a campaign manager for a Virginia congressional candidate who coordinated with a super PAC to leverage $325,000 in advertising against a rival. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said at the time that the department “is fully committed to addressing the threat posed to the integrity of federal primary and general elections by coordinated campaign contributions, and will aggressively pursue coordination offenses at every appropriate opportunity.”

“The Justice Department is the only place where we have a chance of getting the laws enforced,” Wertheimer said. “The FEC is useless.” The chairwoman of the commission, which is hamstrung by a three to three split among the commissioners, acknowledged as much recently when she told the New York Times that “the likelihood of the laws being enforced is slim… People think the FEC is dysfunctional. It’s worse than dysfunctional.” If neither enforcer steps up, then according to Wertheimer “We’re going to see the most massive campaign finance violations in the history of the country, done by various presidential candidates.” (A DOJ spokesperson told The Nation that the department would review the letter, but declined to comment further.)

Daniel Weiner, counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and a former FEC staffer, shares Wertheimer’s critique of the commission. “It beggars belief that there hasn’t been a single case worth bringing in the last six years,” he said, noting that the FEC hasn’t pursued any cases related to the coordination rule since the Supreme Court unfettered super PAC spending in Citizens United.

But Weiner doesn’t believe that the DOJ can “substitute for competent and active civil enforcement,” because not all violations that warrant a response from regulators rise to a criminal level. “Sooner or later we need to do something about the FEC. It’s nice to talk about the Justice Department, and I support efforts to get disclosure through other avenues, but as long as we have a completely dysfunctional civil regulator there’s going to be an elephant in the room,” he said.

And if that doesn’t happen before the 2016 contests truly heat up? “We’re going to have the Wild West,” Weiner concluded.


By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, May 27, 2015

May 28, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Federal Election Commission, Jeb Bush, Super PAC's | , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: