Majority of House Dems elected since 2004 are Blue Dogs or New Dems; AP says Dems becoming extreme

It is difficult to respond to Ron Fournier’s “analysis” piece about both Democrats and Republicans abandoning “the middle” without just offering up a string of invectives about Fournier’s complete absence of research and analytical skills.  Here is the lead paragraph from the AP’s Washington bureau chief:

Charlie Crist’s departure from the Republican Party is not just a Florida story; it’s an American story – a tale of two parties driven by their ideologues, squeezing out moderate candidates, alienating independent voters and isolating the place in U.S. politics where most things get done: the middle.

The entire proof that Fournier offers up for Democrats abandoning the middle  is Ned Lamont’s defeat of Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Connecticut Senate primary.  No joke–that is the only evidence he offers up in this “analysis” piece.

This might be because any analysis of the changing composition of Democratic members of Congress would have shown that the Democratic house caucus has actually moved noticeably to the right over the past six years.  For example:

  • 50 of 106 Democratic House members who are members of the Blue Dog coalition and / or New Democratic coalition were first elected in 2004 or later.  Another, Baron Hill, was first elected in 1998,  defeated in 2004, but re-elected in 2006
  • Of the 93 Democratic members of the House of Representatives who were first elected in 2004 or later, 51 are members of the Blue Dog Coalition and / or the New Democrat Coalition. Even if Andre Carson, Jared Polis, and Laura Richardson are removed from that list because they also joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and even if Baron Hill is removed because he first won a seat in Congress back in the 1998 elections, that still makes 47 out of 92, or a majority.
  • By comparison, of the 162 House Democrats who first won their seat in 2003 or earlier, only 55 are members of the Blue Dog Coalition and / or New Democrat coalition.  That is only 34%, compared to 51% for Democrats first elected in 2004 or later.

The Democratic House caucus is moving to the right.  Even leaving aside joining self-proclaimed “moderate” caucuses like the Blue Dogs and the New Dems, quite literally every ideological voting scorecard in existence will tell you that House Democrats with less seniority are further to the right of those with more seniority.

Granted, this is not the case in the Senate, as newer Democratic Senators are actually slightly to the left of the longer-serving Democratic Senators.  Still, these competing trends cancel each other out, and make it impossible to convincingly argue that the Democratic Party is moving to the right.

Further, conducting actual analysis of caucus memberships and voting records is not something Fournier was ever  going to do himself.  Even if Democrats were moving to the left–something that I have been unable to accomplish, despite my best efforts–Fournier isn’t going delve into the research and facts necessary to prove it.  Instead, he is just going to assert it is true, and then quote Pat Buchanan as supporting “evidence.” (seriously)  Hell, Fournier didn’t even bother to prove that Republicans are moving to the right, even though that is actually something that is provable.

If you are going to write a piece claiming that both parties are abandoning the middle, then the least you should do is actually show that both parties are moving away from the middle. Fournier doesn’t bother to do that, and focuses only on a couple of  anecdotes in primaries to demonstrate his thesis.  This is a pathetic amount of research for someone holding such a position of authority in our political discourse.  Even freshman college students aren’t allowed to get away with dreck like this.  For Fournier to simultaneously complain in his piece that part of the problem in this country is that too many people are consuming news from media outlets where “facts are fungible” is the height of irony and lack of self-awareness.

Wall Street reform amendment news: Obama administration opposes auditing the Federal Reserve

Back in December, a provision to audit the Federal Reserve bank passed the House as part of the larger financial reform package.  The provision was a rare moment of real bipartisan support, as the bill which the provision was drawn from had 319 co-sponsors.

Unfortunately, passing the bill into law this is going to be a very long-term project that will not be completed during the Obama administration.  This is because the Obama administration opposes an equivalent amendment to the Financial Reform bill in the Senate, introduced by Bernie Sanders:

Obama administration officials have declined to weigh in on any specific amendments, with one exception: a move by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) to give the government more power to audit certain operations at the Federal Reserve. Fed and administration officials have signaled they would fight to stop it at all costs. Mr. Sanders has more than a dozen co-sponsors.

Wow–the only amendment that the Obama administration decides to weigh in against is one of the few amendments with true bipartisan support?  So much for bipartisanship, indeed.

U.S. PIRG has compiled a list of other amendments to the financial reform bill in the Senate, along with their position on those amendments.  It is pretty solid, and you read the list here (PDF).

Also, yesterday, Rep. Brad Miller, along with some colleagues in the House, began distributing a “dear colleague” letter to gather co-sponsors on a bill to break up the big banks.  The text of the letter can be found in the extended entry.

Dear Colleague:

We’re writing to invite you to join us as cosponsors of legislation to restrict the leverage and size of the very largest banks and financial institutions in the United States.

The resolution powers in the financial regulatory reform bill that passed the House last year represent critical first-steps in addressing the problem of risk-taking by institutions that are “too big to fail.”

Ohio Latest in Reform Trend to Prevent Wrongful Convictions

On April 5th Ohio Governor Ted Strickland signed a reform bill that will help reduce wrongful convictions and improve the fairness and accuracy of our criminal justice system. Among the measures included are safeguards to improve the eyewitness identification process by requiring police to use a more accurate protocol for administering live and photo lineups. The new protocol reflects the growing awareness that eyewitness evidence is fragile, and much like trace physical evidence must be collected very carefully, or it may become tainted.  

Ohio joins a growing trend of states acting to prevent wrongful convictions through implementation of eyewitness identification best practices that are the fruit of decades of scientific research. A handful of states have passed bills that implement or encourage more reliable procedures. Some states, such as California and Texas, have come close, and efforts there continue. Similar legislation has also been introduced in other states from Hawaii to New Hampshire.

This encouraging trend has been a long time coming. The criminal justice system’s inertia, combined with skepticism about reform ideas that come largely from scientific researchers rather than law enforcement itself, has made progress slow.  Almost without fail, the objections to new procedures are based on worry about the unknown, rather than on experience. Further, some in law enforcement may be concerned that by making changes today they are implicitly admitting that they have been doing things badly heretofore.

Only in recent years, however, have law enforcement leaders been made aware of workable alternatives to traditional procedures.  What is finally happening is that law enforcement is modernizing their procedures based on the latest research.  It is never easy to change the settled ways of bureaucracies, and law enforcement is no different.  With progress in Ohio we are seeing at long last that much needed change is coming.

To remind us of the urgent need to act, we need only look at the victims of eyewitness error that may well have been preventable: Freddie Peacock, James Bain, and Forest Shomberg. They spent years in prison for crimes they did not commit because of erroneous eyewitness testimony, yet none of the states that wrongfully convicted these men have implemented eyewitness reforms.

The reforms passed by the Ohio legislature, which mirror key reforms highlighted in The Justice Project‘s publication, Eyewitness Identification: A Policy Review, are based on scientific research about practices that lead to eyewitness misidentification. For example having the officer conducting the lineup be unaware of which person in the lineup  is the suspect (or a functionally equivalent method) can prevent inadvertent influencing of the witness and thus improve the evidentiary value of an identification. Documenting a witness’s degree of certainty at the time of identification can help address the well-documented manipulation of witness confidence due to reinforcing feedback, thus providing jurors with a clear picture of the circumstances of an identification. These and other reforms greatly improve the reliability of eyewitness evidence with only modest changes in procedure.

Fortunately, as more and more jurisdictions implement the needed reforms, their experience provides the definitive response to the worries expressed by those resistant to change.  In big cities and small, from New Jersey to North Carolina to Wisconsin, the actual experience of jurisdictions that have implemented reform has demonstrated that it is pragmatic, inexpensive, and most importantly, improves the reliability of evidence in our criminal justice system.  Now that we know better, failing to act to implement the reforms we know will reduce wrongful convictions becomes nothing less than reckless indifference.

John F. Terzano is President of The Justice Project, a nonpartisan organization that works to increase fairness and accuracy in the criminal justice system.

Follow John Terzano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheJusticeProj

A Key Midterm Issue: Deficits

I think right now the key midterm issue is the budget deficit.  This is a sign that Democrats are not in control of the message.  People have become afraid that the government is “spending too much,” and the Republicans are successfully capitalizing on that fear.

The big shock that got this going was the report last year of a $1.4 trillion deficit for the 2009 budget year.  The entire conservative machine then let loose with a barrage, repeated over and over, that “Obama tripled the deficit.”  Did I say it was repeated over and over?  And, of course, a trillion-dollar deficit means the debt will increase by $10 trillion over 10 years so they can say that “Obama’s budgets increase the debt $10 trillion.” This set in motion a dynamic that drives Republicans toward capturing a number of seats, possibly even the House and/or Senate.

Conservative propaganda outlets like the Heritage Foundation published charts like this one, titled “Bush Deficit vs. Obama Deficit in Pictures”:

wapoobamabudget1

And this one, reflecting what this means for debt accumulation:

foundry_public_debt_update

Both charts, and the accompanying message have been everywhere, in newspapers, op-eds, letters-to-the-editor, radio, TV, blogs, everywhere.

But here’s the thing. Basic math: A budget year that ends 8 months into a President’s first year wasn’t that President’s budget.   2009 was Bush’s last budget.  

The fact is that Obama’s first budget year ends in September.  See the conservative Cato Institute on  this: Don’t Blame Obama for Bush’s 2009 Deficit | Cato @ Liberty.  Here is an honest chart from Cato (and click through to the whole post):

200911_blog_mitchell2

Also, in last year’s How Trillion-Dollar Deficits Were Created the New York Times pointed out that only $145 billion of the huge $1.4 trillion 2009 deficit was from spending on the stimulus program and only another $56 billion was from other Obama programs.  This is a fraction of that $1.4 trillion deficit of Bush’s last budget year.  

As for Obama “adding $10 trillion to the debt,” here is how it works.  Suppose you take over a company that is losing $100 million a year, and your jobs is to turn it around.  So perhaps the second year the company only loses $70 million, $30 million the third year, and breaks even in year four.  You saved the company. But in those years the company “lost” another $100 million.  Should you be fired?  

So OK, the deficits were Bush’s, and the ongoing debt accumulation is the result of that as well.  Obama is actually cutting those deficits a lot.  But that doesn’t matter if the public doesn’t know it!  What are the Obama people doing about that?  It’s not a good sign when a blog at the Cato Institute is on the front line of the President’s defense, and nothing is reaching the public.

Similarly, the public believes that the health care bill (the one that orders us to give our money to the giant insurance corporations) “spends a trillion dollars.”  But in fact it cuts the deficits a lot.  But the Obama people are also not getting th word out about that.

As I said, this is a key point, possibly the main issue, for the coming midterm elections.  But I’m just one guy on a blog somewhere.  When does the massive Democratic communications machine kick into action?

Socialist Obama

I’ve been wondering what the heck Republicans are talking about when they say that “Obama is taking America toward Socialism.”  And they say it over and over and over.  Unfortunately marketing works and Americans tend to believe things that they hear over and over and over.  So I guess this has to be addressed.  What do they mean?

Finally, finally I saw what they are talking about.  Newt Gingrich published one of his famous lists: How America became a ‘secular-socialist machine’.  (“Secular-socialist machine” has a nice ring to it, no?)  From his op-ed, here are some of the reasons Obama is a socialist:

* “Creating czar positions to micromanage industry. …  If that isn’t socialism, what word would describe it?”

* Violating 200 years of bankruptcy precedent to take money from bondholders and investors in the auto industry to pay off union allies is rather an anti-market intervention.

* Proposing that the government … micromanage carbon output is proposing that the government be able to control the entire U.S. economy. … What is that if not socialism?

Gingrich concludes:

Although its actions may seem like “centrism” to some, the Obama-Pelosi-Reid system is clearly a secular-socialist machine. And Obama is the most radical president in American history.

So OK, I’m still left with WTF are these people talking about, but this is a former Speaker of the House, and this was the Washington Post, and lots and lots of people believe this nonsense, so …

First, about “czars.”  “Czars” sounds all Bolshevicky to people who don’t know that the Bolshevics revolted against the Czar. But President Obama never, ever appointed a “czar.”   Conservatives SAID he was appointing “czars”, and said it over and over, and after a while conservatives came to believe it to the point where a former Speaker of the House was able to say it in this op-ed as if it is accepted fact and the Washington Post published it.  That’s how these things work: the right repeats absolute nonsense and then the corporate media picks it up as fact.  But the President appointed advisors, just like every other President has done.

Next point, “violating 200 years of bankruptcy precedent.” Yes, the President put up funds that kept General Motors from going bankrupt and taking all the suppliers, dealers, etc. down with it along with half of the economy of a significant part of the country, leaving literally millions more unemployed than were already unemployed – thanks to the policies advocated by non other than Gingrich and his crowd.  Is that “socialism”?  You tell me.

Gingrich’s point about “micromanaging” carbon is his way of saying that the government is proposing to limit CO2 pollution.  Many on the right claim that any government is by definition socialism, and I guess this is where he is going with this.  But government by definition sets rules, and Gingrich is complaining that the government is setting rules and calls this “socialism.”

Is former Speaker of the House Gingrich correct that these show that socialism is loose upon the land?  Is any government at all socialism?  Can these certifiable nutcases actually be ahead in the polls for the coming midterm elections?

FL-Sen: Why We’ll Win

Yesterday Governor Crist made the decision to run as a No Party Affiliation candidate for U.S. Senate. This put me in a commanding position to be the next Senator from Florida. Governor Crist’s decision to run as an Independent makes this a three-way race, with Speaker Rubio effectively winning the Republican nomination. That means on election day, Floridians will have a choice between a strong, progressive Democrat who fights hard for everyday Floridians and two registered Republicans who together were the architects of Florida’s failed economy, who both are embroiled in a tax evasion scandal, and who both favor more tax breaks for corporate special interests and the wealthy as their only economic proposal.

The national Republicans know that with two Republicans on the ballot in November we have a great chance to elect a candidate who will actually work for the needs of everyday Floridians. That’s why they urged Governor Crist to stay in the race as a Republican or drop out.

Why do I think our campaign is in such good shape? The numbers. The base Democratic vote in Florida is 2.5 million strong and we are on the rise in Florida. While the other side was locked in a battle over whose philosophy is more conservative, we were busy gathering over 145,000 petitions from Floridians to get on the ballot. We’ve been running a strong grassroots campaign for months and this effort will be key to turning out the vote in November, especially in a three-way race. The overall voter turnout in 2010 looks to be about 6.2 million voters. That means that in a race with Crist and Rubio on the ballot, we can win with 40% of the overall vote, a number we can get to with the Democratic base alone.

Crist polls well now in a three-way race. But that’s because our campaign isn’t as widely-known at this point. Almost everyone in Florida knows Gov. Crist and most know Speaker Rubio, meaning they have little room to grow their support. I have a great opportunity to introduce myself to voters, tell them my story and what I’m going to fight for as Florida’s next U.S. Senator.

I’ll stay around a while to answer questions in the comments. Thanks for taking the time to read this and thanks for your support.

Kendrick

PS: Learn more about our campaign at kendrickmeek.com, by texting JOIN to 35736, following us on http://twitter.com/kendrickmeek or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/kendrickme…

PPS: See this article on Pollster.com: http://www.pollster.com/blogs/…

Economy growing, but it isn’t helping Democrats

After posting a 5.6% growth rate for the final three months of 2009, gross domestic product grew by 3.2% in the first quarter of this year:

The economy grew 3.2% in the first quarter of the year, the Commerce Department reported Friday, another indication a steady, though modest, recovery has taken hold.

The annualized rate of growth of the gross domestic product — the nation’s total production of goods and services — was down from the 5.6% rate of the last three months of 2009. But that had been expected as the effect of the federal government’s stimulus policies peaked during that period.

“We’re still running on the fumes of stimulus in the U.S. economy,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial in Chicago. “It’s a recovery, but by any standard is still a muted recovery. But we’re thankful to have what we’ve got,” given the depth of the recession, she said.

While this seems like decent growth,, it is not helping Democrats.  Looking at the two broadest measures of the electoral environment right now, Democrats have actually dropped a net of about 7%:

National House Vote: When I first introduced the national House Ballot monitor on October 29th of last year, Democrats led by 5.3%.  Last week, using the exact same methodology, Republicans were ahead by 1.4% (I have been unable to update the average this week due to travel, but it would not have been much different).

President Obama job approval: According to Pollster.com, President Obama’s job approval is currently net positive by 0.4%. At the beginning of October, when this period of growth began, his approval rating was a net positive of roughly 7.5%.

If an opposition party is gaining about 1% a month on the governing party during a period of economic expansion, as is currently happening in the United States, that economic expansion is clearly not benefiting all that many people.  Whether it is due to continued foreclosures, high unemployment, stagnant real hourly wages, a loss of retirement savings, or all of the above, most people do not feel their economic situation is getting better.  The polling situation is all the evidence needed to demonstrate this: if the majority did feel like the economy was really recovering, then Democrats would be recovering, too.

If Democrats do get whitewashed in 2010, as is seeming increasingly likely, it will be because they failed to to improve the objective economic conditions facing the majority of the country.  This is not an area of politics where spin plays any meaningful role. People don’t need talking heads, or blogs, or press releases, or even Presidents to tell them if their personal economic situation is improving or not.  If anything, politicians who claim that the economy is improving when most people feel it is getting worse just look out of touch, ala John McCain claiming that the fundamentals of the economy were strong the day of financial crisis.

The job of a governing party is not to tell people that things are getting better, but to actually make them better.  Right now, democrats do not seem to be getting the job done.

Marching on Wall Street

I was in NYC yesterday for the big march on Wall Street, and it was really great, one of the most fun marches I have been at in many years. Big, boisterous crowd; great speeches; lots of good chants. It’s always great to have a gorgeous spring day to do a march on (I guess God hates the Wall Street bankers, too). And it was wonderful to see so many different organizations- labor unions and community organizations from all around the region- represented as well.

This march is part of a month of big actions going after Wall Street. In San Francisco, in Kansas City, in North Carolina, this week was a series of big marches and actions. On the weekend of May 15-17, there will be some big, fun, creative demonstrations targeting K Street (since they “own the place”, as Dick Durbin put it).

These demonstrations aren’t just random marches. There is a movement growing to take this country’s democracy and economy back from these big banks. It’s not just the legislative fight in Washington, DC. It’s the Move Your Money campaign. It’s the LA City Council pushing back against the big banks. It’s students on college campuses starting to talk about a divestment campaign. It’s activists discussing state and local ballot initiatives targeting the big banks. It’s investigative journalists at The Huffington Post and The Nation and Rolling Stone and other blogs and media outlets digging deeper into the sleazy deals these Wall Street guys have been doing.

Something is building out there, and the big bankers and their political cronies had better keep looking over their shoulders. They still have their power and their money, but when people in this country rise up in anger, power and money can still be defeated.

Check out these pictures and videos on-site blogging from the event. And come on down to DC May 15-17 to take on K Street.

1,000 Words About Rwanda

Crossposted from BorderJumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

We’ve taken some long bus rides in Africa. We spent eight bumpy hours on a bus from Nairobi to Arusha and another eight from Arusha to Dar Es Salaam.

The longest so far, though, has been between Kigali, Rwanda and Kampala, Uganda. As usual, we were looking out the window, admiring the crops growing by the side of the road, desperately trying not to think about how we had to pee, and trying not to panic about how fast our bus driver was maneuvering between other buses, cattle, and street vendors hawking roasted corn, bananas, and pineapples on the side of the road.

 

But once we arrived, we quickly realized, that we’ve never traveled anywhere quite like Rwanda.

Fifteen years ago one of the largest modern genocides occurred here.

More than one million men, women, and children were senselessly murdered, not by strangers, but by their own government, their own neighbors, and in some cases, their own family members. It was one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history. If you were a Tutsi (an ethnic tribe, now about 15 percent of the population), you were marked for death, with very few places to hide.

Our visit to the genocide memorial museum in Kigali, was a painful reminder to us that, as Jews, our shared global commitment of “never again” was just words. The world turned away as this happened. It would be easy to lay the blast solely on former President Bill Clinton or Kofi Annan, the former Secretary General of the United Nations, who now admit that the United States and the world failed Rwanda. The blame lands in all our hands, another reminder of how are able to turn our backs on events in Africa and of our apathy or sense of hopelessness about a continent we know so little about.

Today Rwanda, a decade and a half after the atrocities that occurred here, knows all the right things to say. The newspapers are strictly controlled by the government–and censored. New nationalistic slogans have emerged: “One Rwanda, One Country” is the motto heard everywhere.

Yet, we couldn’t help but wonder as we walked the streets of Kigali that anyone over 30 years old was likely either a culprit or victim. And today Hutus still occupy Tutsi homes, many possessions were never returned, and mass-graves continue to grow as bodies are discovered. Although, more than 180,000 people went to jail under a village-by-village court system — many evaded punishment, received minimal sentences, or were freed a few years later on good behavior.

It’s clear that the country and communities are creating spaces for healing. Radio, print, and TV are filled with multi-ethnic dialogues about renewing and rebuilding Rwanda. Communities are holding public forums, counseling is offered, and dialogue is growing everywhere.

We also found a country bustling with energy as it rebuilds. A lush landscape of green hills and trees, filled with infinite possibility. Cities are now becoming used to a growing number of tourists, with WiFi hotspots, European and Chinese restaurants, and growing numbers of satellite televisions. With the growing stability and security, the international community is coming back.

Traveling in the countryside we saw many success stories, including the work of Heifer International Rwanda who are training farmers and increasing food security.”Heifer is helping a recovery process,” explained Dr. Dennis Karamuzi, a veterinarian and the Programs Manager for Heifer. Heifer started its projects in Rwanda in 2000 in a community in Gicumbi District, about an hour outside of Kigali, the capital. This community was especially hard hit by the genocide because it’s close to the border with Uganda. Residents who weren’t killed fled to Kigali for safety.

In the years following the genocide, Gicumbi District is making a comeback thanks, in part, to Heifer International. Heifer International works with farmers all over the world, helping them develop sustainable agriculture practices, including providing livestock and training farmers how raise them.

Heifer began working in Rwanda in 2000, but their start was a little rocky. At first the community was suspicious of the group-because they were giving farmers “very expensive cows,” says Holimdintwoli Cyprien, one of the farmers trained by Heifer to raise dairy cows; they didn’t understand how the group could just give them away. Many community members thought that it was a plot by the government to have them raise livestock and then take them away, a remnant of the ethnic rivalry between the Hutus and Tutsis that started the conflict there in the 1990s. And Heifer has certain conditions for receiving cows-including that farmers build a pen and dedicate part of their land to growing pasture-which made people skeptical, especially when they were used to letting animals roam freely to graze on grass. But as people began seeing the results of Heifer’s training, they become less suspicious and more interested in working with the group.

Heifer introduced a South African dairy breed, known for its high milk production, because, according to Dr. Karamuzi, “no stock of good [dairy cow] genes” was left in the country after the genocide. And he says that these animals help prove “that even poor farmers can take care of high producing cows.”

And these animals don’t only provide milk-which can be an important source of protein for the hungry-and income to families. They also provide manure, which provides not only fertilizer for crops, but also is now helping provide biogas for cooking to households raising cows in the country as part of a the National Biogas Program.

We were very inspired as we met with several farmers all over the countryside, who were lifting themselves out of poverty using help provided to them by Heifer.

Several of the farmers became teachers in their own communities, helping their neighbors learn new skills and techniques that they were benefiting from, and working with them to implement them.

Rwanda may be our most interesting and beautiful visit in Africa but the country also feels lost, still struggling to find itself, still deciding what direction it will go. Its wounds may never completely heal–especially when “never again” happened here such a short time ago.

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