Saturday, July 11, 2015

Winner Lose, Loser Win - Feeling the Bern

Bernie Sanders can't win the Democratic nomination, and he knows it, but by losing he's really winning.

The surest sign yet that Bernie Sanders isn't running to win the nomination is his staffing. Bernie has only 8 full time staffers in Iowa and New Hampshire put together. He has no staff or offices in South Carolina, the third primary state, or any of the other primary states. If the run for the nomination was a poker game, this would be a tell. Bernie doesn't plan to be around after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Despite closing the gap in New Hampshire, which he considers home turf, to 8 points and picking up some ground in Iowa, where he still trails Clinton by 20 points, the "surge" hasn't translated into a groundswell of national support. A month ago Bernie was polling around 12%. Now he's polling around 14%, about even with Joe Biden, who hasn't said anything about running. Overall, he still trails Hillary Clinton by close to 50 points.

For the most part Bernie Sanders hasn't been able to expand his base of support. Master prognosticator and statistical guru Nate Silver has done the math. Sanders does very well with progressive white voters, but fares poorly with other demographic groups, and particularity with minority voters. He's not doing well with the coalition of voters that Barack Obama was able to put together for wins in 2008 and again in 2012.

The latest CNN poll pegs Bernie's support among non-white Democrats at just 9%, while the latest Fox poll shows only 5% support among African-Americans. This suggests that while Sanders could do very well, and possibly even win, in Iowa, where 93% of caucus voters in 2008 were white, and New Hampshire, where 95% of 2008 primary voters were white, he's not likely to fare well in South Carolina or anywhere else. Iowa and New Hampshire are the only states where more than 50% of 2008 primary voters were white liberals. In South Carolina, the third primary, only 43% of 2008 primary voters were white and only 19% identified as liberal. Next up is Nevada, with a strong Hispanic vote, and then Super Tuesday, where the minority vote is a major factor in 8 of the 12 states.

These numbers aren't good, but there's another number that's worse for Bernie. A recent Gallup poll asked voters what kind of presidential candidate they'd consider voting for. In every demographic, regardless of party affiliation, "socialist" came in dead last, behind "atheist" and Muslim." Even among Democrats, only 59% say they would consider voting for a socialist. There's no way to win the nomination of a party when 41% say they wouldn't even consider voting for you. The general election math is worse. Much worse.

In the current political environment, polarization is the keyword. Around 47% of voters will vote for the Democratic candidate, no matter what. This is the 47% Mitt Romney famously dismissed. About the same percentage will vote for the Republican, no matter what. It's the voters in the middle, voters whose votes can be swayed, that will decide this election. Moderates will not vote for a socialist. There's no math where 59% of 47% gets a candidate to 50% overall.

Math aside, there's an even more basic reason that Bernie Sanders can't win the nomination. Rule 1: The Democratic nominee must be a Democrat. A lot people believe Bernie is running as a Democrat. He's not. He's running for the Democratic nomination as an independent. There's only one segment of the party that supports Bernie, unions, and even that is more or less a 50/50 split. The rest of the party machinery is solidly lined up behind Hillary. Superdelegates, made up of senior elected officials and Democratic Party power players, are going to back the Democrat. Primaries, caucus and debate rules are all controlled by the party. It's simply not possible to win the nomination of a party that doesn't want you as the nominee.

Despite all of this Bernie Sanders is still winning, because he knows he can't win. He can and is doing two very important things. After decades of moving to the right, Bernie is succeeding at moving the political conversation to the left. Even trickle down, never met a corporation they didn't like, stash the cash in Caymans and incorporate overseas to avoid taxes Republicans are talking about the vast and growing gap between the 1% and everyone else. Their policies would make inequality worse, but at least they're talking about it.

The other way he's winning is to take some of the sting out of the word "socialist," a label that is political death in American politics. Bernie proudly calls himself a "democratic socialist," While some take pains to point out that this is different from the political ideology of socialism, in practice all socialist nations practice democratic socialism. There are no more autocratic socialist nations. The Gallup poll shows Americans still fear the term, but a likable, avuncular guy like Bernie Sanders makes it a lot less scary. Bernie is channeling the anger and frustration many Americans feel, but he manages to do it in a non-threatening way.

Bernie Sanders' campaign may not last beyond New Hampshire, but his influence will last. He's not a Democrat, but his campaign is good for the Democratic Party. It's also good for the country. In the end Bernie will continue to be a powerful progressive voice in the Senate, where along with other progressive like Elizabeth Warren, he will be at the vanguard of a long overdue progressive sea change of American politics, and that's the biggest win of all. Bernie Sanders is a winner.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Nikki Haley's Tasteless Victory Lap

Nikki Haley tried to grab credit for the Confederate battle flag coming down as Republicans in the House insisted the flag be allowed to fly on federal land.

Am I the only one who was put off by Nikki Haley making the signing of the bill to remove the flag a giant media circus with her center ring? Is it naive to think that a quiet, dignified, closed ceremony with only the families present would have been appropriate? I don't mind her taking a victory lap, though it was primarily the pressure from corporate America and the RNC, not Nikki Haley, that led to this, but to do it at the signing of the bill was tasteless.

It's particularly inappropriate considering that less than a year ago, when she was running for reelection, Haley vigorously defended the presence of the flag at the Statehouse. Her idea of a fix was to sugar coat the reality with  peppy phone greeting.
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”
“But we really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor. When we appointed the first African-American U.S. senator, that sent a huge message.”
Haley said that she had tried to improve the perception of the state by ordering employees to answer the phone with the phrase “it’s a great day in South Carolina.”
It was also a bit weird that she referred to the "actions" of the people massacred at the Mother Emanuel Church multiple times. To my mind it was the actions of the families of the 9 at Dylann Roof's arraignment, expressing forgiveness, not anger, that led to South Carolina finally being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and being forced to do what it should have done long ago.

“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you,” a daughter of one victim said. “We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive,” said the sister of another. “I pray God on your soul."
I'm glad they've taken down that rag of bigotry, hate and treason, but Nikki Haley and the government of South Carolina should be apologizing, not celebrating. It's everyone who has had to walk past that flag to do any official business with their state government and everyone everywhere who has chaffed under this symbol of hate who have the right to celebrate. Does the bully deserve a victory lap for finally ceasing to beat on his bloodied victim?

This certainly has symbolic meaning in the long struggle for civil rights, but corporate pressure can't end bigotry. Legislation can't force attitudes to change. Changing the status quo, however, does lead to real changes over time. Succeeding generations grow up in a South Carolina where official displays of bigotry and oppression are no longer the norm.

State troopers remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds
Sadly, at the same time Nikki Haley was signing the bill to remove the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds, Republicans in the House of Representatives were refusing to do the same for federal grounds. A full blown fracas ensued in Congress, once again exposing deep divisions in the Republican party.
The battle was joined Tuesday night, when Democrats offered a series of amendments to prohibit Confederate flags from being displayed at federal cemeteries, and to stop the U.S. Park Service from doing business with enterprises that sell the flags. These flags are typically displayed alongside the centuries-old tombstones of deceased confederate soldiers.
“This House now has an opportunity to add its voice to end the promotion of the cruel, racist legacy of the Confederacy,” California Rep. Jared Huffman said in a floor speech before his initial amendment was adopted Tuesday.
The measures passed by voice vote.
Outraged Southern Republicans shouted their opposition to the voice vote and chaos ensued on the House floor. All or most of the congressional delegations from Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, as well as majorities of the delegations from other Southern states, demanded that leadership include language protecting the display of the flag. A representative from California, of all places, Rep. Ken Calvert, R-CA, introduced an amendment to overturn the voice vote and allow the display of the flag on federal grounds, specifically federal cemeteries. Stung by immediate and harsh criticism, Calvert, issued a statement that blamed GOP leadership, and, of course, President Obama.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-CA
The amendment offered last night to the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill was brought to me by Leadership at the request of some southern Members of the Republican Caucus. The Leadership amendment would have codified existing National Park Service policy set by the Obama administration. Those Obama administration policies prohibit the sale and display of the Confederate flag on National Park Service properties, except when displayed in a historical or educational context. To be clear, I wholeheartedly support the Park Service's prohibitions regarding the Confederate flag and the amendment did nothing to change these prohibitions.
Looking back, I regret not conferring with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, especially my Ranking Member Betty McCollum, prior to offering the Leadership's amendment and fully explaining its intent given the strong feelings Members of the House feel regarding this important and sensitive issue.
It was yet another embarrassing fiasco for a completely dysfunctional GOP House that can't even control its worst, most extreme members. The Confederate battle flag has been taken down in South Carolina, but it's still being waved by Southern Republicans in Congress.

In South Carolina, Republicans had used procedural tricks to stop the bill calling for the removal of the flag before finally capitulating and allowing the bill to proceed. There are two Republicans in South Carolina who deserve credit for removing the flag, and neither of them is Nikki Haley. The son of segregationist Strom Thurmond, Senator Paul Thurmond, R-SC, called for the flag to be removed in a moving speech just days after the Charleston massacre.

“For the life of me, I will never understand how anyone could fight a Civil War based in part on the desire to continue the practice of slavery,” Thurmond said. “Think about it for just a second. Our ancestors were literally fighting to continue to keep human beings as slaves, and continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of that heritage.”
“Now we have these hate groups and the symbols that they use to remind African-Americans that things haven’t changed and that they are still viewed as less than equal human beings,” Thurmond continued. “Well, let me tell you, things have changed. Overwhelmingly, people are not being raised to hate or to believe that they are superior to others based on the color of their skin.”
“I am proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the Statehouse,” Paul Thurmond said on Tuesday. “But let us not be satisfied to stop there. Justice by halves is not justice. We must take down the Confederate flag and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state.”
Despite Thurmond's plea it looked like Republican effort to stop the South Carolina bill, led by  Rep. Rick Quinn and Rep. Michael Pitts, the latter adding dozens of amendments to the bill to stymie any possible progress, would succeed. They might have succeeded, had it not been for the amazing, impassioned, emotional speech from Republican Jenny Horne, that finally shamed Republicans into allowing the bill to proceed.

Many people deserve credit for the flag finally being taken down, including Republicans who called for the flags removal and voted for the bill, but Nikki Haley, who only reversed her support for flying the flag when political pressure mounted, isn't one of them.

Friday, June 19, 2015

NRA Board Member Blames Pastor for Charleston Terror Attack!

I wrote at length earlier about the blame the domestic terror attack at the Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston on everything but racism, domestic terrorism and American gun culture. I hope you'll read that post. But this response is even worse than those I documented and discussed earlier. The word that comes to mind is appalling. Appalling and disgusting. Appalling, disgusting and ghoulish. Even for the NRA this is truly appalling, disgusting and ghoulish.

MediaMatters caught a screenshot of a since deleted post from NRA board member Charles L. Cotten on a message board for Texas gun nuts. Cotton blames Pastor Clementa Pickney for the nine deaths at the hands of white supremacist domestic terrorist Dylann Roof. Speaking about Pinckney, who was also South Carolina State Senator, Cotton wrote...

And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.
Screenshot of Cotten's post

 At the bottom of Cotten's post was an image promoting NRA membership. This isn't the first time Cotten has posted something truly appalling. This is the same shitbag who wrote in favor of corporal punishment in public schools...
"I'm sick of this woman and her 'don't touch my kid regardless what he/she did or will do again' attitude, Perhaps a good paddling in school may keep me from having to put a bullet in him later," he added."
 Cotten has been a NRA board member for a decade. His current term expires in 2017. It's bad enough that these are the sick bastards that make it impossible for America to enact sane gun laws. This kind of rhetoric simply has no place in any civilized society. Sadly, it's the norm for the NRA.

Right Wing Media Machine, GOP Politicians, Rush To Use Charleston Domestic Terrorism for Partisan Political Gain

Never underestimate the lack of class or the pure ghoulishness of the right wing. In the wake of the race-based domestic terrorism attack at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina that left nine dead, right wing media and politicians rushed to use this terrible tragedy for partisan political gain. There are some common threads to these efforts. Nowhere is a motive mentioned. There’s no mention of race. The word “terrorism” is never used. Even the phrase “hate crime” is carefully avoided. Instead, the attack is blamed on gun free zones, not enough religion, mental illness and even speculation about psychiatric drugs. And this isn't just the fringe.

Just hours after the attack assumed presidential candidate Rand Paul tried to pander to a group of Evangelicals by blaming it on, "...people not understanding where salvation comesfrom."
“We had a shooting this morning in South Carolina,” Paul said (the shooting happened last night). “What kind of person goes into church and shoots nine people? There’s a sickness in our country, there’s something terribly wrong, but it isn’t going to be fixed by your government. It’s people straying away, it’s people not understanding where salvation comes from. And I think that if we understand that, we’ll understand and have better expectations of what we get from our government.”
Rand Paul, opportunist jackass
Paul’s unabashed opportunism was both clumsy and tasteless, but it also was also far removed from reality. The vast majority of white supremacist terrorists like Dylann Roof are devout evangelical Christians.

Kerry Picket, a reporter for Tucker Carlson’s ‘Daily Caller,’ was quick to try to link the attack to Sandy Hook and the Aurora movie theater shooting by chanting the gun nut mantra that the attack occurred in a gun free zone.
The Charleston, S.C., church massacre is already drawing comparisons to the tragedies at the Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. because it happened in a gun-free zone.
The only thing the Charleston attack has in common with Sandy Hook or Aurora is the use of a gun, but gun nuts blame anything and everything but America’s gun fetish. Conservatives talk about mental health and lone wolves, even when it’s obviously not the case. This attack wasn’t the work of some random nut going on a rampage. Dylann Roof is a white supremacist who had a clear motive to terrorize the African-American community. The attack was well planned. The target was carefully chosen. Even the pastor,  Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator and a rising star in South Carolina Democratic politics, was specifically targeted.

This isn’t the first race based attack on this church. The iconic Mother Emmanuel, as the church is known locally, was founded in 1816. It’s the oldest AME church in the South, with a long history of racial struggle. In 1822, one of the church’s founders, Denmark Vessey, helped plan what would have been the largest slave revolt in US history, had it not been discovered beforehand. Vessey and five co-conspirators were hanged and the church was burned to the ground by an angry mob of whites. Charleston later passed a law banning black churches, because they were hotbeds of abolitionist activism. Members of Mother Emmanuel met in secret until the church could be rebuilt after the Civil War. Booker T. Washington spoke at Mother Emmanuel, as did Martin Luther King. The church was at the forefront of the fight against slavery and later the struggle for civil rights, and is still a focal point for the African-American community in Charleston and beyond.  But to hear conservative politicians and the right wing media machine tell it, this was anything but a well planned terrorist attack by a white supremacist.
Breitbart chose to quote current GOP Rep. and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, claiming that this attack is just an“outlier,” and out of character for Charleston and South Carolina.
"This is out of character for Charleston, for South Carolina. It does not make sense. It is an outlier."
 Here in the real world this is completely in character for Charleston and South Carolina, but Sanford is infamous for having only a loose connection to the real world. He’s best known for disappearing from office for five days without a word, then  lying about “hiking the Appalachian trail” when he was actually holed up in South America with a woman not his wife.

Dylann Roof posing with his "Confederate States" license plate
Charleston is a city with a long and troubled history of racial strife in a state that has always been a flash point for virulent racism. Specifically citing protection for the institution of slavery as the primary motive, South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. The first shots of the Civil War were fired by Confederate troops on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The Confederate battle flag, the same symbol of racial hate emblazoned on Dylann Roof’s “Confederate States” license plates), which still flies today at the Confederate Soldier Monument, directly in front of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia.  South Carolina today is at the very heart of the white supremacist movement in the United States.

The Confederate battle flag and Soldier Monument at the South Carolina Capitol
It’s a poignant irony that the Confederate battle flag, alongside the seven star flag of the Confederacy still flies from very near to Mother Emmanuel at Castle Pickney, a Civil War era fort in Charleston Harbor close to Fort Sumpter. Castle Pickney was named for Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a slave holder and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Clementa Pinckney was a descendant of those slaves.

Confederate flags flying alongside the American flag at Castle Pickney
For its part, leader of the right wing media machine Fox News has avoided any mention of domestic terrorism and has struggled mightily to avoid “hate crime” and “racism” as much as is possible, only briefly mentioning that the Justice Department has opened a hate crime investigation. Fox and Friends set the spin machine in motion the morning after the shooting by claiming it wasn’t a hate crime (no mention of terrorism), but an attack on Christianity. Co-host Steve Doocy stated, “It's extraordinary that Charlestonchurch shooting is being called a hate crime.” What’s extraordinary is that a man this stupid can anchor a show on a supposed leading news network. 

Strangely, on his radio show Rush Limbaugh was one of the few voices on the right to clearly label the attack as terrorism. On his radio show he said, "Keep in mind, there are more people dead, this church in Charleston, South Carolina, than in the Boston bombing.  I'm just trying to draw a comparison here.  It's real terrorism, if you want to look at it."

Rush’s moment of clarity didn’t last long. He quickly pivoted to blaming Barack Obama for supposedly politicizing the tragedy by pointing out the fact that these kinds of mass killing killings don’t happen in other advanced nations, where not any nut can walk into a store at any time and buy as many guns as he wants. In the Wingnutosphere, mentioning gun violence after yet another incidence of gun violence is unseemly and inappropriate, because, as Saint Ronald of Reagan said, “Facts are stupid things.”

Out of all of the opportunistic attempts in the Wingnutosphere to use a tragedy to try to score political points, perhaps the most tasteless, most tone deaf effort comes from the National Review, the publication once considered to be the intellectual foundation of conservatism.  Mona Charen attacks Democrats for politicizing this tragedy by pre-emptively politicizing this tragedy. She only briefly mentions the facts of the case before spending the bulk of her column attacking Democrats, Al Gore, the NAACP, the daughter of James Byrd, who wasdragged to death in Jasper, Texas, and, of course, Hillary Clinton. Presumably she simply forgot to include the ACLU, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Martin Luther King.
Democrats have often used attacks on African Americans not just as opportunities to express their horror at racism or violence, but also to imply that Republicans secretly approve of racism. Al Gore did this in 2000.
But in 2000, to support Al Gore’s campaign, the NAACP ran ads featuring the voice of Renee Mullins, James Byrd’s daughter.
The point of the ad was not to argue the merits or demerits of hate crime laws, it was to reach down into voters’ psyches and squeeze the chords of resentment and rage.
Hillary Clinton has already dealt this card with her announcement speech urging that Republicans are trying to prevent African Americans from voting. I very much fear that in short order, last night’s horrible massacre in Charleston will be deployed for the lowest kind of divisive politics.

The sheer scope of the irony here is truly stunning. What, if not deploying the lowest kind of divisive politics, is Charen doing with this post? She’s not responding to anything anyone has actually said about this tragedy. She’s just trotting some favorite conservative shibboleths to attack liberals for something no one has done. This post perfectly sums up the very heart of modern conservatism. It’s no longer about ideology. The defining characteristic of American conservatism is paranoia. Fear, real or imagined, has become the driving force. Fear of Muslims. Fear of Hispanics. Fear of African-Americans, and especially young African-American males. Fear of gays. Fear of Ebola. Fear that “their” country is changing and there’s nothing they can do about it. Invading Iraq, a country that had neither attacked the United States in the past nor had the capability to attack us, is the multi-trillion dollar proof of this fear made manifest. Bush and the neo-cons chose to believe the lies fed to them by a single source with no credibility because those lies fit their fears. This justified in their own minds telling even larger lies to the American people, who they needed to be as afraid as they were.

Irrational conservative fear on display
It is this underlying fear that causes conservatives to so often lash out in ways that are breathtakingly inappropriate, even in the face of a terrible tragedy like what happened at the Mother Emmanuel church. The people who were inside that church when Dylann Roof opened fire know the real meaning of fear. Even in the face of that fear, the kind of sheer terror most of us will never know, Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor, a state senator carrying the name of a man who signed the Declaration of Independence, a forty-one year old married man with two children, tried to calmly talk Roof out of it right up to the moment he was shot dead. Conservatives could learn a thing or two about true fear, and true courage in the face of fear from Clementa Pinckney. We all could.

Rev. Clementa Pickney
The nine killed inside Mother Emmanuel

Saturday, May 2, 2015

One Night With B.B. King Cost Me $14,000, and Was Worth Every Penny

UPDATE: Since I posted this a short while ago B.B. King has passed away. I first met B.B. King almost 30 years ago. Here's the story of one night I got to spend with the man...

There's been some confusion, so to set the record straight, no, B.B. King is not dead. Soul legend Ben E. King died at 76 on the same day that 89 year old blues legend B.B. King announced on his website that he was in Hospice care at his home in Las Vegas.
Soul legend Ben E. King
B, as his friends and family know Riley B. King, was first diagnosed with Type II diabetes almost three decades ago, after he was found in his Rolls on the side of the road in Vegas in a coma. There were premature reports of his death then, too. I know all too well. I co-promoted his very first show back after recovering, 'Love Comes to Town: A Blues Benefit for the Homeless' at Michigan State University in East Lansing. It was also the first show in 40 years of touring where he sat down. Sitting down, talking to the audience and playing a few songs without his fantastic orchestra became a regular part of his show from then on. It was a brilliant show. B.B. never sounded better. Everything that night went off without a hitch, but that was far from the case for everything that had come before.

Me with Kenny Kinsey, Ralph Kinsey, BB King,Lester"Big Daddy" Kinsey, Donald Kinsey and Ron Prince
From the beginning we had problems. The first problem was the university missed the ticket release date by almost two weeks. It was during this delay that we encountered the second problem: B.B. King's health problems. Because he was initially hospitalized in a coma, premature reports of his death were flying. Some newspapers ran their canned B.B. King obits and radio stations paid homage with special B.B. King programming. Early ticket sales were disappointing, to say the least. Who buys a relatively high dollar ticket to see a dead guy? It didn't help that his management cancelled six weeks worth of shows, every single show right up to ours.

B.B. King with U2 at Sun Studio during the recording of 'When Love Comes to Town'
Traditionally blues shows do bigger walk-up business than other genres, so we were still optimistic that with a strong promotional effort we could sell out the house. B.B was touring on the strength of, ‘When Love Comes to Town,’ recorded at Sun Studios with U2. The single hit number 2 on the US charts. Plus, B.B. King had always done well in Lansing. With the right promotion we hoped we could get his long-time fans to drive the few miles to East Lansing. We hit the barbershops, community papers and community radio stations in the African-American neighborhoods of Lansing and also promoted heavily on classic rock radio, around East Lansing and on campus. Then we were hit with the knockout punch.

Magic Johnson drives on Isaiah Thomas 
 There was no way to know it in advance, but show night turned out to be the same night as Game 7 of the NBA Finals between the Detroit Pistons and the Los Angeles. The Pistons, only 75 miles down the road, had a rabid local following. Compounding the problem, the Lakers were led by Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who was not only a Lansing native, he had taken Michigan State to the NCAA Finals, where MSU beat Indiana State, led by another future Hall of Famer, Larry Bird. Magic was more than just a local sports hero. He was THE sports hero.

Magic John and Larry Bird, 1979 NCAA Final
The crossover between our audience and the audience of the game was too much to overcome. We sold about half of the tickets we had expected to sell. Any one of the problems we could have overcome. Maybe even two. But this was a perfect storm of promoter's nightmares. After expenses, including a guaranteed donation to a homeless services agency, we lost just over $14,000 on the show.

Shortly before he went on B.B. sought me out backstage. There was no way to hide the fact that half of the seats were empty. Or to hide my disappointment. He put an arm around me and pulled me in close for a hug and said, “Sometimes things just don’t work out. Don’t let it get you down. This isn't your fault. It’s just one of those things. What you’re doing here is a beautiful thing. Keep the faith.” It mean the world to me at the time and still does.

I've known B.B. King for many years. We aren't friends; we had a business relationship, but he treats everyone he meets as a friend and I’ll always think of him as a friend. He’s a very humble man. He always has a kind word. He is one of the most giving artists I've ever met, and one of the most giving human beings. He played 150 or more shows every year for nearly seven decades, a touring career unmatched by any other artist. Even in his senior years he would stay after a two hour show for hours more to talk with fans and sign autographs, despite being physically exhausted and often having a show hundreds of miles away by bus the next night.

B.B. King greeting fans and signing autographs after a show
I'll cherish every moment I was lucky enough to spend with this great man. He's far outlived any expectations, and he's lived a life as full as full can be doing the thing he loves the most and bringing joy to millions doing it. B.B King is not going to recover this time. He hasn't left us yet, but this is the last chapter of an amazing life. That's what Hospice care means. But instead of being sad about this, celebrate the life, the art and the humanity of Riley "Blues Boy" King, the true King of the Blues. I guarantee you, that's how B would want it.

Bernie's Run Is Good for Democrats and Good for Hillary Clinton

Bernie Sanders has officially announced his candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. What chance does he have to actually win the nomination? None, and he knows it. So, why is he running and is it ultimately good for the Democratic Party?

The only other announced candidate so far, Hillary Clinton, begins her 2016 campaign with $229 million in cash left over from her 2008 campaign. There are no FEC reports on 2016 fundraising yet, but she's projected to raise an additional $30 million in the weeks after her announcement. Unlike 2008, where she asked large donors to max out their contributions during the brutal race for the Democratic presidential nomination against Barack Obama, this time she's asking donors to hold back half of the legal maximum to be spent on the general election. Democratic super PACs, most expected to back Clinton, have half a billion dollars to spend, and this is just the cash on hand. The Clinton campaign and Democratic super PACs together are projected to raise as much a staggering $2 billion during the long campaign season.

Bernie Sanders has no banked campaign cash to spend. In an appearance on MSNBC today Sanders told Ed Shultz that he's raised around $500,000 via his website. Put in perspective, Hillary Clinton has 458 times as much cash on hand as does Bernie Sanders, and that's not counting super PAC money that’s likely to flow in her direction. While Bernie Sanders has run successful campaigns on a shoestring before, first for mayor of Burlington, Vermont, then for the House and finally for the Senate, each time besting a well funded opponent with strong major party support, a national campaign is a very different animal. Vermont is one of the smallest sates in the country. It's possible to drive anywhere in the state in no more than a couple of hours and on less than one tank of gas.  With a small population in a small state, what a candidate lacks in cash can be made up by grass-roots organization and pressing the flesh. Put simply, Bernie Sanders does not now and will not have the cash to mount a serious challenge, and he said as much today.

The other problem Bernie faces is meeting the bar for entry to the Democratic presidential debates. The DNC has yet to announce the criteria for candidates to make the cut this cycle, but it generally involves being on the ballot in enough states to mathematically win the nomination as well as having a specific percentage of support according to an average of the polling. Because Hillary Clinton is far ahead in terms of cash and support, and because the DNC has lined up behind Hillary, it's likely she will have quite a bit of influence over the ultimate form of the debates. Another problem for Bernie Sanders is that unlike 2008, when the debates began in the Spring, this time around the DNC plans on waiting until mid-September to mount the first debate. Given his lack of cash and relatively weak support, it’s likely that Bernie Sanders will not be able to last until the Fall.

All of this puts the DNC into something of a debate quandary. If there's only one serious candidate, there may be no contested debates at all. This would not be good for the party or for Hillary Clinton. Debates provide for a way to inject important and controversial issues into the political discussion which might otherwise be avoided. They also provide an important way for voters to get to know the candidates as human beings. This is particularly important for Hillary Clinton, who's running a campaign that's more personal, stressing that she's a mother and a grandmother, and well to the left of her 2008 campaign.

Bernie Sanders knows full well that he has no chance at the nomination, or, for that matter, a spot on the ticket. For one thing, he's not really a Democrat. He's officially an independent, though he caucuses with Democrats in the Senate. He describes himself as a "democratic socialist." America is not ready to elect a self declared socialist now and may never be. No candidate can win a national election without winning a majority of moderate voters, and to the voters in the "squishy middle, just the term "socialism" is anathema, even though they may support policies that are essentially socialist.

Bernie Sanders is running to move the party discussion to the left. He wants to make sure his the issues most important to him - economic fairness, reigning in corporations and reducing the influence of the ultra-rich, addressing climate change and a building a better social safety net - are taken seriously. With almost no money to travel or buy TV ads, the debates would provide the best way for him to do this, but if there are no debates, or he's gone by debate time, he can't achieve this goal. It's a problem for the candidates and the party.

One solution would be to allow Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, as well other high profile Democrats who may wish to participate, to champion their issues in a casual open forum format rather than a formal debate, with Hillary listening and then responding to all of them. This kind of soft debate would go a long way in bringing progressives disaffected by Hillary Clinton on board and energizing them to work on her behalf and ultimately to turn out and vote.

Something along these lines would not only solve the DNC's dliemma, it would give Bernie Sanders a high profile platform to speak about the issues most important to him without having to raise impossibly high mountains of money. Inviting Elizabeth Warren, who's repeatedly said she’s not running, to participate as well would also go a long way towards wooing disaffected progressives back into the Democratic fold by showing that Hillary is sympathetic to progressive issues and has the support of progressive champions. Other candidates of high profile Democrats could participate as well, even if Hillary has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room in terms of fund-raising and popular support. The progressive vote and the youth vote were both vital to Barack Obama's wins in 2008 and 2012 and it will be vital again in 2016.

The biggest strategic concern about a Sanders run is that it will fragment the party. We're already seeing signs of this on social media, where there's been much unfriending and unfollowing. There have been strident, passionate clashes between progressives supporting Sanders and liberals supporting Hillary. Hillary Clinton graciously welcomed Bernie Sanders to the race after his announcement. Bernie Sanders has nothing but nice things to say about Hillary Clinton. It does not appear likely that we will see a repeat of the kind of knock-down, drag-out primary season we saw in 2008. If the two campaigns maintain a positive tone towards each other, the rifts can be healed by November of 2016. In the end, the presence of Bernie Sanders in the race is a good thing for the small "D" democratic process as well as the Democratic Party and its ultimate nominee, whoever she may be.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hillary Clinton Should Pick One of the Castro Brothers as a Running Mate and Do It Now (Plus which one she should pick)

Joaquín Castro, Hillary Clinton and Julián Castro
Candidates typically don't announce their choice of running mate until just before or at the party convention, but here are six reasons Hillary Clinton should pick one of the Castro brothers and do it now. Let's game this out, but first, a little background on the Castro brothers.

Joaquín and Julián Castro are 41 year old twin brothers from San Antonio, Texas and rising stars in the Democratic Party. They are both highly accomplished and have compelling stories. The twins were raised by their mother, Rosie Castro, who was active in the Chicano Movement and helped to found the La Raza Unida political party. They credit their mother for inspiring their interest in political careers.

The twins attended Stanford together, where they both served in the student senate, tying for the most votes of any candidate. Both earned B.S. degrees in two majors, political science and communications. Both went to Harvard Law School, where they both earned Juris Doctorate degrees. After Harvard both joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a prestigious international law firm anchored in Washington D.C with offices all over the country and around the world. They left Akin Gump to form their own law firm. Both then entered into politics.

Joaquín and Julián Castro 

Joaquín Castro is currently a member of the U.S House of Representatives, where he represents Texas' 20th Congressional District. He serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Before that he spent ten years in the Texas House of Representatives, where he co-chaired the Committee on Higher Education and served on the committees for County Affairs, Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence and Oversight of Higher Education Governance & Transparency. 

Julián Castro is currently serving in Barack Obama’s Cabinet as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In 2001 he was elected to the San Antonio City Council, at 26 the youngest person ever elected to the Council. In 2009 he was elected Mayor of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States with a population of about 1.5 million. In 2013 he won his third term as Mayor. In July of 2014 he resigned as Mayor to take his current position in the Cabinet.

Julián Castro throws a first pitch strike at a Texas Rangers game
The brothers came to the attention of a national audience in 2012, when Joaquín introduced his brother at the Democratic National Convention. Julián delivered the keynote address at the convention, an honor reserved for the best and brightest rising stars in the party. In 2004 a little known first term Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, delivered the keynote address.

So, why should Hillary Clinton pick one of these brothers, why should she do it now and which one should she pick?

1. Picking one of the Castro brothers as her running mate and announcing it now would essentially put an end to the race for the Democratic nomination.

Yes, the primary process is an excellent way to season a candidate and a campaign, but Hillary Clinton has been here before. The beginning of her 2016 race shows she learned a great deal from her unsuccessful run in 2008 and from her two successful Senate campaigns in New York.

In 2008 Clinton’s campaign tried to exude an air of inevitability, but the party was badly fractured. Most of the power players in the party lined up behind Clinton, but the Democratic National Committee, headed by Howard Dean, who made a splash in the 2004 primaries, supported Barack Obama. Obama had adopted Dean’s 50 state strategy of contesting every race in every state. He implemented this strategy by focusing on the ground game, especially in smaller states the higher profile campaigns mostly ignored. He concentrated on generating interest with younger voters and used his ground game to push them to participate in primaries and caucuses, which they did in record numbers.

Howard Dean announcing his run for the 2004 Democratic nomination
It wasn't just the party that was fractured. Deep divisions existed inside of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. These divisions began to leak into the press in the form of bad mouthing and back stabbing, always on background. Clinton herself shifted from trying to remain above the fray to aggressively attacking Obama, who was steadily gaining ground. What was supposed to be a coronation turned into a death match. The deciding factor turned out to be the overall message of the two campaigns. While Clinton emphasized experience and expertise, Barack Obama’s message was hope and change. After eight years of George Bush, Obama’s message resonated with the party base and the electorate in general.

The other common argument in favor of an extended primary process is it allows issues important to the base that might not otherwise get a hearing to come out. The first few days of Hillary Clinton’s campaign show that not only has she learned from her campaign missteps in 2008, she’s also moved to the left with a much more populist, progressive message. In 2008 she delivered anodyne, centrist speeches. She didn't take chances. She never veered from the centrist path.

In her fist day on the trail in this time around she lamented the CEO/worker pay gap and crushing student debt, echoing Obama’s call for free community college for everyone. She called for an end to “unaccountable money” in the political system, even if it took a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. She also called on the Supreme Court to give constitutional protection to same sex marriages. Someone just reading the transcripts might think it was Elizabeth Warren speaking.

Nowhere is the difference in Hillary 2008 and Hillary 2016 more readily apparent than in the video announcements of her candidacy.  The 2008 announcement video was all Hillary Clinton speaking straight into the camera while delivering the kind of inoffensive fodder that all but screamed, “It’s my time!”

We don’t even see Hillary in her 2016 announcement until a minute and a half into the two minute video. Instead, we see a diverse group of people, young, old, singles, couples, white black, Asian, Hispanic, same sex couples, all talking about transitions in their own lives.  Hillary hits some populist notes then says she’s getting ready to do something, too. She’s running for president, “Because it’s your time.” The contrast from the 2008 video couldn't be more stark.

Hillary Clinton is as seasoned a campaigner as she’ll ever be. On the issues she was always well to the left of Bill, and now she’s not afraid to show it. She obviously took her meeting with Elizabeth Warren seriously, and she’s carrying populist, progressive messages into this race. Speaking of progressives, right now many on the left flank are not happy with the prospect of Hillary Clinton as the nominee. The sooner she can essentially end the race, the sooner she can begin to work on party unity and work to win over progressive voters, with the help of progressive standard bearers like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are sure to support her in the end.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren
From a logistical point of view, the race is already over. The days of raising a few million dollars and hand-shaking through the primaries hoping to catch fire and attract donors are over.  In a post Citizens United world, it takes huge piles of cash to compete. Hillary Clinton campaign projects raising $2 billion. No other prospective candidate can come close to this staggering figure. In the post Citizen’s United days, any candidate can stick it out if they have their own billionaire, but so far none of the other Democratic hopefuls have landed a whale. From a purely monetary point of view, no one else can last beyond Iowa and New Hampshire in late January or at the longest, South Carolina in mid-February.

This raises a problem. With the race all but over now, and almost surely over by mid-February, there will be no one left for Hillary to debate. My suggestion would be to do debates, but focus them on the issues, not the candidates. Allow Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and any other high profile Democrat who wishes to participate, to champion their issues in a casual open forum format, rather than a formal debate format, with Hillary listening and then responding to all of them. This kind of soft debate would go a long way in bringing disaffected progressives on board and energizing them to participate.

2. The GOP is already saying, “She’s old.” She can blunt this attack with someone young on the ticket.

In Marco Rubio’s speech announcing his campaign for the GOP nomination, he made references to Hillary Clinton’s age more than a dozen times. Even the theme of his campaign, A New American Century, (this despite the fact that the new American century began 15 years ago) was a jibe at Hillary Clinton.  Because subtlety is often lost on Republican voters, he came right out and said, “Just yesterday a leader from yesterday began a campaign for president by promising to take us back to yesterday.”

Marco Rubio's infamous water bottle moment while,delivering the GOP Response to Barack Obama's State of the Union speech
Rubio was the first candidate to embrace what has so far been a smear campaign championed mostly by the right wing noise machine. Obviously one of the major lines of attack against Hillary Clinton will be, “She’s old,” but only because, “She has a vagina,” sounds worse. This line of attack might seem strange coming from the party that elected Reagan, who was also 68, and nominated John McCain, who was 72, but consistency, like subtlety, has never been a conservative strong point.

Photoshopped images of Hillary Clinton abound in the Wingnutosphere-  "She's Old" has now leaked into mainstream GOP candidate talking points
The easiest way to blunt this attack is to balance the ticket with someone young. The GOP did it in 2008, though the VP nominee they picked had the qualifications of a boiled cabbage. But at 44, she was young and attractive and it did at least temporarily revive a campaign that was covered in cobwebs. Not only are the Castros young and attractive, unlike Sarah Palin they’re also highly intelligent and highly accomplished and they can speak in complete sentences

3. The Hispanic vote.

Barack Obama won 63% of the Hispanic vote in the last election. The GOP knows they need to increase their share of this important demographic if they are to have a chance to win in 2016. Marco Rubio may not be able to win the nomination, but he does have a very good chance of landing the second spot on the ticket, even if Jeb Bush, also from Florida, is the nominee. Under normal circumstance you’d never see both nominees come from the same state, but the only other Hispanic the GOP has on tap is Ted Cruz, and it’s highly unlikely that Jeb Bush, or anyone else but Ted Cruz, would run with Ted Cruz. Also, polls show that Jeb might not be able to deliver Florida on his own. Rubio would go a long way towards winning a big state that has been a linchpin of recent elections.

A Bush/Rubio ticket is a real possibility
Putting Joaquín or Julián Castro on the ticket would assure Democrats not only getting at least the 63% of the Hispanic vote they got last time, and probably more, it would increase turnout among Hispanics, meaning more Hispanic votes overall. This would make the math for a GOP path to the White House very difficult. It would also accomplish something else, which may be the best reason of all, especially for those of us who live in Texas and long for the day the Lone Star State turns blue.

4. It would put Texas in play. Yes, Texas.

No Democratic presidential candidate has won Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. No Democrat has been elected to a state-wide office in Texas since 1994. This is the longest Democratic dry spell in any state, ever. The latest polls in the state show Hillary Clinton doing surprisingly well. In head to head match-ups against the top GOP contenders she gets 40-44% of the vote. Add one of the Castro brothers to the ticket and it might provide enough of a spark for Hillary Clinton to win Texas, and with it 38 electoral votes the GOP simply cannot afford to lose.

Adding Joaquín or Julián Castro to the ticket would energize Texas Hispanics to register and vote in record numbers. It would also pry away some older, more conservative Hispanics who have been voting Republican. Finally, it would energize younger voters to register and turn out in record numbers. The combination of these three factors just might be enough to get Hillary Clinton over the hump. Winning Texas would be a stunning achievement, but with the help of the Castro brothers she just might be able to pull it off. At the very least, it would force the GOP to use precious resources in the form of candidate time and mountains of money to defend turf they consider to be their own.

5. It would energize the youth vote.

Not only would putting Joaquín or Julián Castro on the ticket help fight off the negative “She’s old” argument, it would have the positive effect of energizing younger voters. We know younger voters skew heavily liberal on the issues. We also know they are the most difficult demographic to get to the polls. Compare 2008 and 2012, when the youth vote turned out in record numbers and Democrats won from top to bottom, to 2010 and 2014, when young voters stayed home and Democrats suffered record losses. Arguably the single biggest factor in Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 wins was his success in getting young voters to turn out. If Hillary can turn out younger voters in similar numbers, she wins, period.

The youth vote that propelled Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012 is vital to Hillary Clinton's chances in 2016
6. The female vote.

This one is almost taken for granted, but it shouldn't be. In recent national elections women have skewed heavily Democratic. This demographic is likely to skew even more heavily Democratic with the historic prospect of the first female president. This doesn't mean Democrats should take women for granted.

Hillary Clinton will almost certainly win the majority of votes cast by women, but she also needs to increase turnout among women. The way to do that is to address the issues most important to women, including equal pay, glass ceiling discrimination, family issues, social justice issues, reproductive rights and education. It can sound a bit creepy when older men talk about these issues, but a young, fresh face, someone who’s spoken to these issues for their entire political career, someone with a compelling story to tell of being raised by a strong, political single mother, that’s an entirely different matter. Joaquín or Julián Castro would be a net positive with women far more so than anyone else in the running.

Bonus Reasons

There are bonus reasons why picking one of the Castros would be a smart move for the Clinton campaign. Both of them are squeaky clean. There’s never been so much as a hint of scandal around either of them. One of the roles of the VP nominee is to play attack dog and take it to the opposition more aggressively than the presidential nominee can. Someone with a spotless reputation, like the Castros, will come in handy to rebut the screams of, “Benghazi! Benghazi! Benghazi!” that are sure to come from the GOP camp.

Finally, picking one of the Castro twins brings one more advantage no other VP pick can deliver. After the convention the two nominees usually campaign separately to maximize precious time. There are a few major campaign events where both nominees appear, but most of the time they appear at different events on the same day. Picking one of the Castro twins is like having an extra VP nominee. It's as close as you can get to a two-for-one pick.

Which one should Hillary pick?

Joaquín and Julián Castro are identical twins with almost identical qualifications and achievements. Either would make a great choice, but there is one area where one of these brothers has an edge when it comes to anchoring a national ticket. While Joaquín is engaged to his long time sweetheart, Ana Flores, his brother Julián is already a family man, with an attractive wife, Erica Lira Castro, and two beautiful children, Carina and Cristian. A  telegenic family is an asset in any race. Because of this and his experience in Washington, the edge goes to Julián. Joaquín will have to settle for a Senate seat, or perhaps the Governor’s Mansion in Austin. Who knows? Perhaps it won’t be long before we see a Castro and Castro ticket.

The winning Democratic ticket for 2016 is Hillary Clinton and Julián Castro

John Avignone writes about politics for Salon and other outlets.