When will the media finally admit that the Trump economy hasn’t been ‘great’?

Stock prices rise and fall, but who’s really coming out on top in the long run? Not the American public.

Throughout the presidency of Donald Trump, the media has parroted the GOP talking point that the economy is “great” (or “booming” or “strong” or “humming along” or whatever word Republicans happened to be using on any given day).

Never mind the fact that the economy Trump inherited from President Obama was doing pretty well, thank you very much, and that it has continued to grow, although any argument about which president had the stronger economy is still evolving and won’t be settled until after Trump’s presidency is over. But throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump continually trashed the “Obama economy,” and the media dutifully repeated his words, spreading the idea that the U.S. economy was failing under the 44th president. And too many voters believed both Trump and the media.

During the campaign, Trump continually lied about the unemployment rate, claiming that the lowered rate under Obama was much higher than reported and might even be as high as 42 percent. Trump bragged that the economy would boom once he was in charge, growing by 4% per year and maybe even as high as 6% per year. Need we add that such growth never occurred? It never even reached his downgraded promise of 3% growth, and quarterly growth rates keep being downgraded.

Certainly, cutting regulations for businesses and cutting taxes for those same businesses did create a temporary boost. But for the most part, instead of benefiting the average American, the GOP corporate tax cuts only enriched those at the top. Companies have been buying back stocks at levels never seen before — buybacks that have reached what some analysts are calling dangerous levels. All the while, corporate executives reaped the profits.

When the U.S. stock market tumbles and the Dow Jones Industrial Average drops 800 points in one day, that’s a big deal. The media and the markets declare that the sky is falling, while economists deliver doom-and-gloom predictions, describing the warning signs of a possible global recession.

Yet until very recently, most of the media continued the upbeat reporting about the economy, playing sound bites of Trump and other Republicans bragging about the U.S. economy and why it would be Trump’s trump card to win reelection.

If that’s the trump card, It sounds like the deck just got reshuffled.

There were economic warning signs before the precipitous stock plunge. Faced with a likely no-deal, hard Brexit in three months, the United Kingdom’s economy contracted in the last quarter, the first time since 2012. Government forecasts say a no-deal Brexit could send the UK (and perhaps other countries that are still part of the European Union as well) into a recession, causing the UK stock market to fall by as much as five percent.

The German economy also saw shrinkage in the second quarter. The contraction of 0.1% is being called the end of the golden decade for the German economy. China’s economy is growing at the slowest rate in nearly three decades. CNN now reports that five of the world’s biggest economies are at risk of recession—the UK, Brazil, Germany, Italy, and Mexico. The Washington Post lists an even larger count of nine countries — the five listed, plus Argentina, Russia, Singapore, and South Korea. And the U.S. could work its way onto the list.

What about the U.S.? Whatever happens, Trump always claims that it must be somebody else’s fault. From a Washington Post story on the stock plunge:

Whether the events presage an economic calamity or just an alarming spasm are unclear. But unlike during the Great Recession, global leaders are not working in unison to confront mounting problems and arrest the slowdown. Instead, they are increasingly at each other’s throats.

And President Trump has responded by both claiming the economy is still thriving while dramatically ramping up his attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, seeking to deflect blame.

Trump’s word-salad tweet blasts between rounds of golf claimed that the U.S. was still “winning,” that other countries were saying “THANK YOU to clueless Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve,” that “China is not our problem,” and that it was all the fault of the “CRAZY INVERTED YIELD CURVE” (he likely missed the lecture or failed the test when his Wharton professors were explaining that one, since he sounds like he doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about).

Actually, there have been warning signs here in the U.S. for a while, even though the media didn’t report on them (much) and the Trump administration ignored them all. Here’s what most of the media have been saying about how the economy will affect Trump’s reelection chances. These are all recent headlines:

CNN: The strong economy is Trump’s safety blanket

Politico: How Trump is on track for a 2020 landslide

Los Angeles Times: How can Trump get reelected? It’s still the economy, stupid

But now media outlets are doing a 180, saying that Trump’s economic goose is cooked (some of these are opinion pieces):

Fox Business: ‘Great Recession’ to hit US, killing Trump’s reelection hopes

MarketWatch: Economy will drag on Trump’s reelection hopes

Washington Post: How a recession could doom Trump’s 2020 reelection

CNN: Trump 2020 can’t afford a recession

Economists are still divided on what lies ahead for the U.S. economy. Here are just a few of the factors leading up to what might or might not turn into a recession:

The ballooning deficit. Besides making the rich richer, the GOP tax cuts did one thing spectacularly — it raised the deficit to never-before-seen levels. The deficit is up 27 percent over a year ago and could reach $1 trillion by 2020. While deficits by themselves aren’t necessarily negative, a deficit this big will give the U.S. less flexibility to pump up the economy during a downturn or even a crisis.

The U.S.-China trade war. The Trump tariffs have been hurting U.S. consumers ever since he announced the first round of 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. Prices on appliances such as washing machines went up 12 percent. Trump announced a new round of tariffs on Chinese imports but delayed their imposition until Dec. 15 so as not to remind U.S. consumers of higher prices when they’re doing their Christmas shopping. Some analysts are calling the escalating trade war a self-fulfilling downturn.

Income inequality. This is not just a talking point for Democratic candidates. The level of income inequality in the U.S. is unsustainable in the long run. There are many factors — technology, globalization, the rise of “superstar” companies like Apple and Amazon, the breakdown of unions. America’s top 10 percent average more than nine times as much income as the bottom 90 percent.  The top 0.1 percent take in over 188 times the income of the bottom 90 percent. And the GOP tax cuts that rewarded the richest while leaving most of the rest of us behind made it worse.

Markets collapsing for U.S. farmers. Soybean farmers have seen huge losses as China stopped buying U.S. soybeans in retaliation for Trump tariffs. Total agriculture exports to China dropped by more than half last year and are down 20 percent this year. Soybean prices have dropped nine percent since the trade war began a year ago. And the payouts that the Trump administration has been making to farmers aren’t making up the difference.

U.S. economic isolation. Trump’s approach to global trade has not been winning him many friends on the world stage. The disaster of the U.S.-China trade war has no end in sight, and there are no dates set for the next round of trade talks with China. When Trump abruptly pulls out of trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA, especially with no certain replacement, that doesn’t give our allies much reason to trust him on the economic front (oh, who are we kidding—on any front).

When the Dow dropped by 800 points, there was a good reason that #TrumpCrash, #TrumpSlump, and #TrumpRecession were trending by the end of the trading day. By the next day, markets were recovering in the U.S. and around the world, as they usually do. But the damage had been done to the perception of Trump’s approach to economic success.

If people stop looking at the U.S. economy as Trump’s ace in the hole to win reelection, he’s in trouble. When media start honestly reporting that the economy is not as great as he claims, he’s in even worse shape.

That must be why Trump is going all in on the white supremacy front. If he can’t convince his followers that their economic payoff is just around the corner, all he can do is fall back on bashing immigrants and expressing outright racism.

In other words, exactly the same way he started his campaign when he descended that golden escalator in Trump Tower in 2015.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 18, 2019.

Despite outcry over mass shootings, don’t look to Republicans for meaningful gun safety measures

Residents of Dayton, Ohio, made their feelings clear during a visit by Donald Trump.

The National Rifle Association might be losing money and its stranglehold on political influence, but it’s still got a toehold in the White House. And that means its $30 million investment to back the 2016 election of Donald Trump is paying off.

No matter how incensed and grieving the public is after the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which killed 31 people and wounded 50 others, don’t expect any serious gun safety legislation to advance at the federal level.

The gun lobby group lost $55 million in revenue in 2018. It shut down production of its online media arm, NRATV. Its chief lobbyist was forced to resign. The NRA and its longtime ad agency are suing each other. The group’s tax-exempt status is under investigation in New York. But they’ve still got the ear of the president of the United States.

The mass shootings have highlighted many issues that need to be addressed: White supremacy, domestic terrorism, racism, the stoking of these ideas on social media platforms, domestic violence, Trump’s incendiary language, and mental illness. Donald Trump and Republicans would prefer that the conversation sticks to mental illness and (laughably) video games. Except for video games, all of these topics deserve discussion and action.

What’s missing from that list are the guns themselves. But the only movement on any serious gun safety laws will come at state levels, if at all. Whatever might pass in Congress — if it even does — will likely be minimal at best.

Democrats and gun control groups have been increasingly forceful about the need for action against gun violence, and there are signs of a few cracks in the GOP wall against any gun regulation.

Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine is proposing both background checks and “red-flag” laws, which would allow people to petition a judge to remove firearms from a person deemed a threat to himself or others. But with a solidly GOP legislature, he’s not likely to get any further than did the previous Republican governor, John Kasich, who backed red-flag laws as well.

GOP Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, whose congressional district includes Dayton, tweeted that he, too, backs red-flag laws — and a ban on the sale of military-style weapons. Republican senators now voicing support for red-flag laws are South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Florida’s Marco Rubio, South Dakota’s John Thune, and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who voted against a 2013 bipartisan bill to expand background checks, said, “I think we should look at everything.”

It’s easy to see why a red-flag law can pick up support, because it plays into the “mental illness” narrative the GOP wants to push. Trump mentioned the idea of red-flag laws and background checks in a White House address, giving Republicans some cover. That is, until he talked to NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre. When Democratic Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar, whose congressional district includes El Paso, requested a phone call with Trump to talk about the El Paso victims, he refused to speak to her. But he had plenty of time for the NRA.

The Dayton shooter, Connor Betts, was killed by police, so pinning down a motive for him is hard, but signs indicate some mental health issues. An ex-girlfriend said she and Betts bonded over their shared struggle with mental illness and that he had a fascination with mass shootings. She also said Betts had a dangerous fixation on a past girlfriend, which could be indicative of a domestic violence streak — something that perpetrators of the deadliest recent mass shooters have in common. (There were blaring headlines about his “left-wing” and anti-police Twitter feed, but authorities found no indication that his politics had any connection with the killings.) Acquaintances said Betts had a history of having a “death list” and a “rape list,” which temporarily got him kicked out of high school.

On the other hand, the El Paso shooter, Patrick Crusius, with his diatribe against immigrants, started shooting and killing because of his racial hatred, stoked by Trump’s words and tweets. After all, he admitted that his goal was to shoot as many Mexicans as possible.

Once you get past motive, though, what the two shooters had in common were the weapons they used — weapons that should never be in the hands of civilians to begin with. They both used legally purchased, semi-automatic, high-caliber assault-style rifles with high-capacity magazines. The Dayton shooter killed and wounded his victims in 30 seconds.

We’ve all seen this show before: an awful mass shooting, demands for gun safety regulations, the “too soon to talk about it” excuses from Republicans, and measured proposals for action such as universal background checks, the kind of gun reform backed by more than 90 percent of Americans. But the NRA’s ownership of the Republican Party always has stopped such common-sense gun legislation from moving forward.

Even the red-flag legislation that GOP senators are touting wouldn’t be universal. The bill Lindsey Graham is proposing would offer federal grants to states to help them enact and enforce red-flag laws, also sometimes called “extreme risk protection orders.” Seventeen states and the District of Columbia currently have such laws. And rather than cut down on mass shootings, research shows that red-flag laws are most effective in stopping suicides, which still make up two-thirds of gun deaths.

The NRA still objects to state red-flag laws. Any such orders “at a minimum must include strong due process protections, require treatment and include penalties against those who make frivolous claims,” said NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen. When Trump flirted with the idea of background checks, the NRA warned him that his voting base would be displeased with that action.

But without a universal background check, a person exhibiting worrisome behavior in one state could still buy a gun in another state. After all, the killer in the recent mass shooting in Gilroy, California, was able to circumvent California gun laws by buying his gun in Nevada.

Recently, federal legislation attempting to cut gun violence has died at the Senate’s door. Even Twitter hashtags such as #MassacreMitch aren’t likely to change Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s mind in bringing up House-passed bills on universal background checks and extending the FBI review period for background checks on firearm purchases.

Democrats and gun control groups support red-flag laws but insist they don’t go far enough. Bans on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines would go a lot further in cutting down the carnage of a mass shooting. According to a New York Times story, Democrats would like to incorporate a Senate-passed red-flag bill into the House-passed gun safety measures.

“The idea of a red flag law is O.K., but it doesn’t substitute” for a background checks bill, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not enough.”

All of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have proposals on gun safety. All support universal background checks. Many back bans on semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines. Some propose either a voluntary or mandatory assault weapon buyback program.

A new study published this spring in the Journal of Internal Medicine evaluated 10 kinds of state gun safety laws and found that three are the most effective in cutting gun deaths in the U.S. No gun safety law will stop all killing from guns, but the three with the most success are universal background checks, bans on violent offenders purchasing guns, and “may issue” laws, which give police discretion on issuing concealed-carry permits. States with all three of those laws had a 36 percent lower homicide rate than states without such laws.

According to a story on the study in CityLab:

Universal background checks are associated with a nearly 15 percent drop in the homicide rate. Measures that prohibit people who committed a violent crime from owning a handgun are associated with an even larger reduction in homicide, 18 percent. Conversely, requiring police to approve concealed-carry permits unless the applicant meets explicitly stated exclusion criteria — so-called “shall-issue” laws — are associated with a nearly 10 percent higher homicide rate. None of the other seven firearm laws had a statistically significant association with the homicide rate when controlling for other factors.

In other words, when police cannot deny concealed-carry permits instead of using discretion, there is a higher homicide rate. Both Texas and Ohio have relatively lax gun regulations, including “shall-issue” laws.

We know the current Senate won’t pass the kind of gun safety legislation that most Americans want, and we know Trump would never sign it. But with the vast majority of Americans supporting universal background checks and research showing that such laws are effective in cutting the homicide rate, isn’t it time for the Senate to pass one damn bill? Over to you, #MassacreMitch.

Americans are ready for that law. The nearly 6 million members and supporters of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, who regularly make their voices heard in state legislatures nationwide and who successfully elected Democratic lawmakers in favor of gun safety in 2018, are ready for such a law. The students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who turned their anger and sorrow into a national movement against gun violence and a massive voter registration drive of young voters, are ready, too.

They’re ready for Mitch McConnell and for any other Republican lawmakers standing in their way.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 11, 2019.

Forget polls. What will Democrats eat and what policies will they tout at the Iowa State Fair?

Except for vegan Cory Booker and vegetarian Tulsi Gabbard, any presidential hopeful courting Iowa voters is likely to eat a pork chop on a stick, like Hillary Clinton did in 2015.

For presidential hopefuls, the food stands at the Iowa State Fair are as obligatory a campaign stop as making a speech at the Des Moines Register Soap Box. What candidates eat could count as much as the policies. Speeches are fine, but what really gets a candidate’s mug on TV are shots of them chowing down on a pork chop on a stick.

Some Democrats skipped the 2018 fair while other hopefuls attended. But at this year’s fair, Aug. 8-18, we can expect all candidates to be checking out some of the more than 80 tasty treats (besides pork chops) at the fair’s 200 food stands, including chocolate-covered chunky bacon maple nougat on a stick, bacon-wrapped pig wings, and pickle beer (I am not making that up). In between bites, they will make their Soap Box speeches (20 candidates are scheduled to make 20-minute talks, which will be livestreamed). While all will discuss several topics, given the audience, many will describe how their proposals will help farmers and people in rural areas. Then they’ll chomp on their snacks on a stick, combined with a visit to the fair’s famous life-sized Butter Cow.

The Des Moines Register polled fair-goers in 2018 to pick their favorite state fair foods. The story with the results included photos of many would-be presidents chomping on various food offerings: Mike Pence eating a hot beef sundae and Mitt Romney joining Chuck Grassley flipping pork chops on a grill, both adorned in jaunty red monogrammed aprons. The winners as chosen by Iowans (the foods, not the caucus winners):

  1. Corn dogs. They’re so popular that in 2008, during an event called the Corn Dog Chomp, fair-goers set a world record of 8,400 for the number of people simultaneously eating corn dogs.
  2. Pork chops on a stick, widely popular with politicians and sponsored by (no surprise) the Iowa Pork Producers Association, in a state that produces more pork than any other.
  3. Peppermint bars. Oreo crust, peppermint ice cream, fudge sauce. What’s not to like?
  4. Hot beef sundaes. This must be Iowa’s version of Canada’s poutine. It’s sponsored by the Iowa Cattleman’s Association and is described by the Register as “two scoops of hand-mashed, homestyle potatoes surrounded by slow-roasted, fork-tender roast beef topped with savory beef gravy, a sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese and finished with a sweet red cherry tomato on top.”
  5. Deep-fried cheese curds. They also come on a stick, and there’s a related mozzarella stick that comes in a honey-sriracha variety.

What can Democratic candidates gobble up that will impress Iowa voters? There are newer food entries to choose from that will still meet candidates’ dietary guidelines. But their proposals on farm policy and positions on corn-based ethanol might win more votes than chowing down on deep-fried pecan pie on a stick topped with bacon and caramel bits.

In a series of profiles, The New York Times asked about candidates’ favorite comfort foods on the campaign trail. Here’s a complete list, which ranges from a baked potato for Amy Klobuchar to vegetables (naturally!) for Cory Booker. Pete Buttigieg will always accept beef jerky from a supporter. Marianne Williamson has NO comfort foods. Sad! So here are suggestions on how to impress voters with policy and still please candidates’ palates.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is apparently very fond of the pink frosted donuts favored by Homer Simpson and often orders Dunkin’ Donuts’ strawberry frosted sprinkles donuts for staffers. There’s no shortage of donut-inspired foods at the fair, including donut sundaes. Warren could woo small farmers with her policy position (you knew she would have a plan for that) against big agriculture and in favor of small family farms.

California Sen. Kamala Harris may have learned to master Indian cooking from her mother, along with her civil rights commitment, but there don’t seem to be Indian foods on the complete fair food list. Maybe she could find enough spice in the Caribbean leg of lamb taco to honor her father’s home country of Jamaica. (The same could be said of Miramar, Florida, Mayor Wayne Messam, also the son of a Jamaican immigrant.) Otherwise, Harris could tout her bill to strengthen labor protections for farm workers, also backed by other candidates.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a serious love of ice cream. His campaign staff gave away Joe Cones during the first Democratic debate in Miami, claiming they tasted “like victory” (how’d that work out?). If ice cream doesn’t do the trick, Biden could describe his policy for more investment in food, agriculture, and health programs in rural areas.

Speaking of ice cream: The Vermont ice cream moguls, Ben & Jerry’s, are longtime supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Ben Cohen even created a special ice cream flavor, Bernie’s Yearning, in 2016. This year, Sanders is courting farmers with a proposal to break up big agriculture companies and increase federal investment in struggling rural areas.

Being a vegan, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is going to have to pass on many traditional Iowa favorites. Perhaps he can try one of the blended fruit smoothie coolers  available, though he could impress Iowa farmers with a roasted ear of sweet corn.  He’s more likely to impress farmers with his policy proposals against big mergers of food and agriculture companies.

Since her state is directly north of Iowa, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar should feel right at home with the gustatory delights of the fair. Klobuchar will woo corn farmers with her strong support of ethanol and has a proposal to protect the renewable fuel industry. When it comes to snacks, she should try the salad-on-a-stick, lest she repeat the infamous eating-salad-with-a-comb incident.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg stirred up some social media controversy early in the campaign when, in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” snippet, he declared definitively that a hot dog isn’t a sandwich. He likely won’t think a corn dog is a sandwich, either, although you can get them wrapped in bacon, in a jalapeno double bacon variety, as a corn brat, in a veggie version, and gluten-free. Or he could just talk to Iowans about how his New Rising Tide plan would expand federal protections to farm and domestic workers.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke loves to hop up on restaurant counters and tabletops to address crowds of Iowa voters, although his Soap Box speech is as elevated as he’ll get. As a Texan, he might enjoy some of the numerous barbecue offerings, despite the false claims of his 2018 Senate opponent, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, that O’Rourke wanted to ban barbecue across the state. But he might pick up support from Iowa farmers with his plan for farm-to-table restaurants in all communities to eliminate food deserts.

In 2014, when San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro was nominated to be President Obama’s secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, his twin brother, Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro, gave him advice on the best Mexican restaurants in Washington, D.C. We obviously don’t want to stereotype Castro’s food choices, but there’s no shortage of Mexican food at the fair, and guacamole made fresh with ingredients on a cart and served with fresh chips sounds especially tasty. As policy, Castro would strengthen protections for immigrant guest workers.

A natural fit for former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock would be Rocky Mountain oysters, which they could munch while Hickenlooper describes his farm-to-table program as governor and Bennett criticizes how Donald’s Trump’s trade war with China has hurt farmers.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose state grows an average of 2.5 million tons of apples a year, can choose an apple item such as apple eggrolls or apple tacos while he describes his goals for growing agriculture. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio concentrates more on urban than rural farming but he also might enjoy snacks that remind him of the Big Apple. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand especially might like the boozy pecan caramel apple, since she told The New York Times that her favorite comfort food on the campaign trail was a glass of whiskey at the end of the night. But she’ll try to win over voters with her Safe School Meals for Kids Act that bans pesticides from school lunches.

Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton listed burgers as his favorite campaign comfort food, but in between bites he could tell voters about his plan to support small-scale farmers and increase access to local food. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney likely wants to win points with his Heartland Fair Deal to expand agriculture markets, so eating corn on the cob might make an impression.

Ohio Rep. TIm Ryan is another ice cream fan, which could contradict the subject of his book, The Real Food Revolution: Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm. Former tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, pushing the idea of a universal basic income to fight the encroachment of automation, might like anything as long as it’s not made by robots. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard might feel at home with the Hawaiian Pineapple Bowl as she talks about her plan for tax breaks and incentives for small food producers. Author Marianne Williamson founded Project Angel Food, which delivers healthy meals to those with serious illnesses in the Los Angeles area, so she might check out the many healthy choices available at the fair.

Joe Sestak and Tom Steyer? These late entries can find their own snacks.

To learn more about where candidates stand on these issues, check out Civil Eats, a website about the American food system and sustainable agriculture. The group has compiled a list of all candidates’ positions on food and farming.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 21, 2019.

No surprise: States with the most guns have highest rates of domestic violence gun deaths


In April, Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined a group of House Democrats asking the Senate to follow the House’s lead in reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. So far: crickets.

A new study confirms what anyone who pays attention to domestic violence already knows: The presence of a gun raises the chance of a fatality, and the victim is most likely to be a woman.

As a tweet from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America puts it, “Gun violence IS a woman’s issue.”

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, compared state-by-state rates of gun ownership with rates of gun homicide from 1990 through 2016. The study did not find much correlation between gun ownership rates and overall gun homicides. But when it comes to domestic violence, the study’s authors found that states with the highest gun ownership rates had a nearly 65 percent higher rate of firearm homicide compared with states with lower gun ownership rates. What is needed to lower that rate, they say, are stronger state laws.

“Overall, these findings support the need for state firearm legislation directed toward protecting victims of domestic violence, as access to firearms uniquely increases the likelihood of homicide among this population,” the authors say in their conclusion.

A New York Times story about the study pointed out that the results are not surprising. It quotes Aaron Kivisto, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis and the study’s lead author.

The study reaffirms a well-known connection between access to guns and abusive relationships turning deadly, at a time when intimate partner homicides are on the rise. Research has shown that women killed by their partners are more likely to be murdered with a firearm than by all other means combined, and the presence of a gun in domestic violence situations can increase the risk of homicide for women by as much as 500 percent, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Both men and women were at increased risk for domestic homicide when firearm ownership increased, the study found. “But the important caveat to that is, whereas men are victims in about three out of four typical homicides that occur, it fully reverses when we are talking about intimate partner homicide,” Dr. Kivisto said. “Women are three in four victims of intimate partner homicide.” …

“It is women, in particular, who are bearing the burden of this increased gun ownership,” he said.

What laws can curb such violence against domestic partners? That is, besides  common-sense gun laws such as universal background checks, which are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans? The study points out that some federal laws are aimed at reducing domestic violence gun deaths. Unfortunately, these laws are not always enforced, so some states have countered with their own statutes.

The rate of estimated gun ownership varies widely, ranging from about 10 percent in Hawaii to 69 percent in Wyoming, with an average ownership rate of 39 percent, according to the study. Higher rates are found in Southern and Western states, and lower rates of gun ownership are found in the Northeast.

The number of murders committed by intimate partners is on the rise nationally. From 2010 to 2017, gun-related domestic killings increased by 26 percent, and the majority of victims are women. The study’s authors suggest that more state laws could help lower the number of those deaths by making it harder for violent partners to obtain and keep guns.

“Studies into these policies suggest that states with laws that prohibit individuals at high risk of intimate partner violence from possessing firearms and require them to relinquish any firearms they currently own have a lower incidence of domestic firearm homicide,” the study’s conclusion says.

Here are ways that some laws help and how they fall short.

Violence Against Women Act. A federal law that addresses such domestic violence is the Violence Against Women Act, but it is currently in limbo until the Senate acts on reauthorization (if ever). The act was first passed in 1994 as part of the original crime bill that year. It has been reauthorized three times: in 2000, 2005, and in 2013 (delayed because some conservatives objected to provisions extending provisions to same-sex couples and to undocumented immigrants). The many provisions of the law established and funded broad community responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. The act helped to protect victims of sexual and domestic violence, adding stricter provisions regarding domestic abusers and gun ownership. It prohibited gun possession by people subject to permanent restraining orders against committing violence against intimate partners.

The law expired during the government shutdown in December 2018 and January 2019. It was temporarily reinstated by a short-term spending bill but expired again in February 2019. The House passed a reauthorization bill in April but the Senate has refused to take up the legislation. The supposed reason for the Republicans’ refusal is a new provision protecting transgender people. Another new provision would close the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” meaning a violent partner who was not married to or living with the victim would be subject to the law. The restraining order provision was expanded so that the law would bar not only those under a restraining order but also those convicted of abusing, assaulting, or stalking a domestic partner from buying guns.

The Center for American Progress points out the need for continued enhancement of the Violence Against Women Act:

Since its original passage as part of the 1994 crime bill, VAWA has established a vitally important and previously nonexistent infrastructure that responds to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Now is not the time to shy away from the serious work of improving the federal government’s responses to gender-based violence. … Congress can and must continue to push for comprehensive approaches to end violence against women.

Gun Control Act of 1968. Another federal law cited in the study is the Gun Control Act of 1968, passed after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. It primarily focuses on regulating interstate commerce in guns. It is supposed to prohibit interstate gun sales except by licensed manufacturers, dealers, and importers, but it’s too easy for private sellers and buyers at gun shows to skirt the law.

The Gun Control Act prohibits all convicted felons (including those convicted of felony domestic violence against a partner), drug users, and the mentally ill from buying guns, but the study points out that it, too, is poorly enforced.

Red-flag laws. Several states are trying to lower the threat of violence by passing so-called “red-flag” laws. A total of 15 states have passed some version of a red-flag law, which permits police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of guns from someone who may present a danger to others or themselves. Many of those laws were passed after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018, which killed 17 people. Another 21 states have passed some steps toward such a law.

Besides lowering the threat of domestic gun violence, the laws also have been successful in lowering suicide rates, as many of those identified as being potentially dangerous intended harm to themselves.

We already know that the majority of mass shooters also have a history of domestic violence, according to research by Everytown for Gun Safety. More than half of all mass shootings in the United States are related to domestic or family violence. Of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history, nine were committed by domestic abusers. And the act of mass shooting is not the first instance of domestic violence by these perpetrators.

Everytown for Gun Safety calls the combination of guns and violence against women America’s Uniquely Lethal Domestic Violence Problem, as women in the U.S. are 25 times more likely to be shot and killed as are women in other high-income countries. Common-sense gun safety laws in this country, as well as the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, could save a lot of lives.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 28, 2019.

Ignore conservatives’ advice on how to pick the Democratic presidential nominee

After the first Democratic debates, Joe Scarborough declared them a “disaster” for Democrats and hoped no one was watching. Talk about being out of step: 15.3 million watched the first night and 18.1 million the second, and viewers liked what they saw.

Spare us from supposedly well-meaning conservative pundits telling the world whom the Democratic Party must — and must not — nominate for president. They’re out of step with the times.

It’s still more than six months until the first votes in the Iowa caucuses, a year before the Democratic National Convention, and nearly 16 months before the actual 2020 election itself. Yet conservative columnists and television commentators — many who fall into the “Never Trump” category — think they hold the secret to the perfect Democratic nominee.

These conservatives contend that the only way Democrats can win back the presidency is to nominate someone that they approve of. A moderate — nay, a center-right — nominee is the only possible pick who could capture those “white, working class voters” that all conservatives think are necessary for a winning path to the White House.

Here’s an idea, conservative pundits: If you want to help pick the Democratic nominee, become a Democrat. If you can’t stand Trump (and many of you have said publicly that his presidency is a racist disaster) and you still want to offer advice to Democrats, give advice that reflects a Democratic mindset, not just your own.

If you still want to stick with your conservative values and want to keep your GOP credentials, fine. Tell your own party to dump the racist-in-chief and choose a new candidate.

Business Insider recently ran an opinion piece by Democratic campaign strategist Matt Herdman that was the written equivalent of someone banging his head against his desk. The conclusion in the headline: Republican pundits keep offering Democrats advice. It’s almost all terrible.

Usually it comes from “Never Trump” Republicans, who share a common interest in beating President Donald Trump in 2020. I’m glad that these Republicans are on the team, but I hope none of the Democratic presidential candidates take the bait and listen. …

Polling suggests voters, and independents, support a popular vote rather than the electoral college. It also suggests that voters favor the Green New Deal, creating new social programs like Medicare for All and expanded funding for childcare, and Warren’s wealth tax. But you wouldn’t pick up on that from these pleas for Democrats to run as diet Republicans.

Charlie Sykes, a conservative MSNBC contributor and editor-in-chief of the Bulwark, listed 11 steps in Politico that he claims would ensure Trump’s re-election. The advice is what you would expect from a conservative as policy losers: Abolish private health insurance, license guns, be vague on open borders, promise free stuff without paying for it, etc.

As to that last point: Probably the most satisfying answer at the first Democratic presidential debate was when California Sen. Kamala Harris, when asked a “how-will-you-pay-for-it” question, shot back, “Where was that question when Republicans passed their tax cuts, now that the deficit is out of control?”

Just for the record, Charlie (hey, I worked with him at The Milwaukee Journal), Democrats aren’t “vague” on borders and support border security as much as any Republican. The proposals on gun safety stress the common-sense restrictions such as universal background checks that are supported by more than 90 percent of Americans.

Or take the advice from writer George Will. His recent column in The Washington Post advises Democrats that their best bet would be to nominate … Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.

Reading too much George Will all at once can cause a serious case of eye-rolling. Will says he favors Bennet because “He can distinguish between what he calls ‘the Twitter base of the Democratic Party’ and the ‘actual’ version.” (I’m leaving out Will’s wordy attempts at showing off vocabulary and knowledge of ancient Greek historians.)

Don’t get me wrong. I like Michael Bennet. His election in 2010 as a Democratic senator from Colorado was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal year for Democrats. His entry into the crowded Democratic field was delayed by treatment for prostate cancer, so other candidates gained followers who might have gone to him. His positions could hardly be called conservative, yet he doesn’t embrace some of his colleagues’ ideas on issues such as Medicare for All and the decriminalization of migrant border crossing.

Bennet remains optimistic that he still has time to break out of the lower rungs of the crowded field into a higher position. Never mind that he is receiving between zero and 1 percent support in national polls reported by FiveThirtyEight.com and likely won’t qualify for the September debates. Despite a decent performance in the June debate, his poll numbers remain unchanged. Yet Will thinks that Bennet is a sure winner.

Another Washington Post columnist, Robert Samuelson, made the often-repeated charge that none of the candidates seems presidential. Samuelson’s complaints — that the candidates resembled a “gaggle of graduate students” — centered on ideas you would expect from conservatives. They aren’t saying how they’ll pay for everything when they should be cutting budgets (tell that to Republicans blowing up the deficit). They don’t have foreign policy experience (as if the current occupant hasn’t turned the U.S. into a laughingstock on the international stage).

Samuelson’s most ridiculous complaint was that the Democats don’t come off as “leaders.” Well, sure, if you’re defining leadership as being a white, male Republican.

There are a lot more, from the usual suspects such as Bret Stephens of The New York Times and Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal. But they’re all basically saying the same thing: The country needs a “center-right” Democrat, even if that’s the opposite of what Democratic voters want.

An intriguing theory on why all of this dated advice sounds the same comes from a piece in New York Magazine: The pundits in this country are still adhering to old rules — from a time when they wrote the rules. “In all of their hand-wringing, they seem not to have noticed that, in fact, assumptions about a safe center are crumbling in the hands of a new generation of political leaders willing to make a stirring case for radical ideas.”

Where many Americans have seen the emergence of compelling and charismatic candidates who don’t look like those who’ve preceded them (but do look more like the country they want to lead), some prominent pundits seem to be looking at a field of people they simply can’t recognize as presidential. Where many hear Democratic politicians arguing vigorously on behalf of more justice and access to resources for people who have historically been kept at the margins of power, some prominent columnists are hearing a scary call to destabilization and chaos, imagining themselves on the outside of politics they’ve long assumed should be centered around them.

Altogether, what’s emerging is a view of a presidential commentariat that — in terms of both ideas and diversity — is embarrassingly outpaced by the candidates, many of whom appear smarter, more thoughtful, and to have a nimbler grasp of American history and structural inequities than the television journalists being paid to cover them.

No, Democrats aren’t going to run as “diet Republicans,” as Herdman dubbed those mythical creatures in the Business Insider piece. No matter the nominee, he or she will embrace progressive ideas in the campaign, even if political reality means scaling back some of those ideas once the winning Democrat has been sworn in on Jan. 20, 2021. But how will we ever know if we don’t try?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 21, 2019.

Of course Trump’s tweets were racist. But they’re a losing proposition in the long run

Donald Trump’s itchy Twitter fingers are getting him in trouble once again.

Donald Trump’s tweetstorm telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to the “crime-infested and corrupt” countries they came from reflected the kind of racism he espoused during his campaign and throughout his presidency. He’s planning to double down on that racism to try to win reelection, and immediate polls showed that his standing rose with Republicans.

The trouble for him is that the racism expressed in these tweets are sinking him with the swing voters he desperately needs.

Trump sent a flurry of incendiary tweets clearly aimed at the four progressive congresswomen known as “the squad” — New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, all of whom have been strongly critical of Trump. Besides telling them to return to their countries (three were born in the United States, and Omar moved to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia when she was a child, and all are American citizens and members of the U.S. House of Representatives), he questioned their patriotism, lied about their past statements, and said they “hate” America. It was the kind of message Americans have come to expect from Trump, except it reached a level of overt racism that he usually doesn’t express out loud — or only expresses at his rallies.

There’s a big partisan divide on how people view Trump’s racist missives. A USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll showed that a clear majority of Americans object to Trump’s messaging: 68 percent think the tweets were offensive, and 59 percent called them “un-American.”

The tweets were widely condemned around the world as well. British MP David Lammy branded Trump’s comments as “1950s racism straight from the White House.” Reactions from Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, and the West Bank included phrases such as “sickening,” “ugly sentiments,” “clearly racist,” and “an insult to values America purports to uphold.”

In the USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll, 93 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents polled agreed that the tweets were offensive. Even 37 percent of Republicans gave them that label.

On the Republican side, though, the reactions tell a different story. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans polled said they agreed with Trump’s tweets, including a third that “strongly agreed” with Trump’s words.

Well, sure. That’s his base. Those are the people who will vote for Trump in November 2020 no matter how racist he sounds. But that base isn’t enough to win reelection.

As a USA TODAY story describing the polls put it:

The dispute could be costly for Trump among key voters in his bid for a second term. Three-fourths of the women polled call his tweets offensive. Independents, by more than 2-1, say the comments are “un-American.”

One interesting takeaway from the poll is that most Americans are fine with political criticism. From the USA TODAY/Ipsos poll:

There is a broad consensus among those surveyed that it is patriotic “to point out where America falls short and try to do better.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s Twitter thumbs went into overdrive because he was trying to shift the focus from an outbreak of negative publicity. His bad news included losing the fight to get a citizenship question on the 2020 Census, the continuing horror stories of migrant children being locked in cages at the border, and the wealth of material showing him with multiple ties to Jeffery Epstein, the billionaire newly indicted on sex trafficking charges, including a video of Trump and Epstein (and a lot of young women) whooping it up at a Mar-a-Lago party.

In the weeks leading up to the Trump tweetstorm, a mostly media-driven battle had emerged between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the four women of the squad. The differences were blown up by media interviews, incendiary tweets, and messaging by both sides.

After Trump took to his phone, however, all Democratic sides united in response. The Democratic-led House passed a resolution condemning Trump’s tweets, with four GOP votes and one vote from Michigan’s Justin Amash, a Republican recently turned independent when he publicly backed Trump’s impeachment.

There’s no secret why those in the GOP are so frightened of crossing Trump: They’re afraid of losing the support of Trump voters. As former Republican Rep. Joe Walsh wrote in The Washington Post:

In a world where more Republicans still sincerely thought of our party as the Party of Lincoln, condemning the president’s words should have been a no-brainer, and, in theory, should have been the tipping point where Republicans started hopping off the Trump bandwagon.

But it won’t be. …

Most of them care only about getting reelected. The same rudderless politicians who’ve let Trump give plum jobs to unqualified cronies and run up the deficit are too scared of his base to do anything other than comply.

Keep your base, Trump and his fellow Republicans. You could be in for a rude awakening when you wake up on Nov. 4, 2020, only to find that the majority of people in this country are so sick of Trump’s racism and your unwillingness to stand up to him about it that they voted for Democrats.

GOP’s new methods of ratf**king: spreading lies online via social media

A shouting match ensued between Playboy writer Brian Karem (center) and former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka (right) after a White House social media summit for conservative online activists.

Republicans are showing how scared they are of losing the 2020 election by returning to one of their tried-and-true forms of spreading disinformation and resorting to dirty electoral tricks — ratfucking. The danger is that employing those dirty tricks on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and elsewhere gives their lies a wider audience, as it did in 2016.

A Wikipedia definition of ratfucking should sound familiar to anyone who follows politics. “Ratfucking is an American slang term for political sabotage or dirty tricks. It was brought to public attention by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their non-fiction book All the President’s Men.

It’s not a new practice, but it was perfected by operatives of Richard Nixon for his 1972 reelection campaign, the campaign where indicted Trump adviser Roger Stone got his start as a 19-year-old. Even those operatives’ actions were just a continuation of what they did as Republican undergraduates at the University of Southern California, when they “engaged in shady tactics to win elections.” More recent examples are Karl Rove’s moves against John McCain in 2000, when voters were asked if they would be less likely to support McCain if he had “fathered an illegitimate black child,” or Roger Stone telling the National Enquirer in 2016 about the “rumor” that Ted Cruz had five secret mistresses. (Donald Trump himself was happy to hint that Cruz’ father had assassinated JFK. Oh, who am I kidding — he makes up and spreads this crap all the time.)

We know that disinformation spread through Russian election interference helped Trump win the Electoral College in 2016, even as he lost by nearly 3 million votes. Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to hold votes on House-passed election security bills giving money to states to shore up election systems or on bipartisan Senate measures for cyberinformation-sharing, Americans can expect the same foreign interference in next year’s presidential contest. We’ve already seen lying tweets continuously repeated by bots until an insulting hashtag starts trending and deepfake videos, such as one that made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi look drunk.

Donald Trump held a social media summit at the White House for right-wing allies that was closed to outside media. Invited guests included such known liars as James O’Keefe, famous for his doctored and misleading videos; QAnon conspiracy theorists; and right-wing members of Congress who claim that tech companies “censor conservatives.” Representatives of actual social media companies weren’t invited. As Think Progress reported before the summit:

It would be easy to dismiss the summit as just another presidential stunt, following closely on the heels of Trump’s largely rained-out Fourth of July celebration. But giving trolls full-fledged White House attention in the run-up to the 2020 election could become a serious problem, as it would further encourage them and others to spread the same sort of misinformation that thrived during 2016.

So what does ratfucking look like these days? Here are a few examples.

Fake “campaign websites.” As a New York Times story described it, a Trump digital consultant has developed “campaign websites” for several Democratic presidential hopefuls. These fakes look like legitimate campaign websites, except that they portray the candidate in negative ways, distorting their records just enough to look real but to give a bad impression of the candidate.

The most successful of these fake sites is one purporting to be the campaign website of former Vice President Joe Biden, calling itself “Joe Biden for President.” Its address is joebiden.info rather than than joebiden.com, the actual website of the campaign, and it has received more online visits than the real site.

The site is filled with images of Biden’s often “overly friendly” manner of affection through physical contact. It also lists past Biden quotes, gaffes, stances, and votes that would definitely not endear him to progressive voters.

A tiny disclaimer at the bottom proclaims: “This site is political commentary and parody of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign website. This is not Joe Biden’s actual website. It is intended for entertainment and political commentary only and is therefore protected under fair use. It is not paid for by any candidate, committee, organization, or PAC. It is a project BY AN American citizen FOR American citizens. Self-Funded.”

Self-funded. Except that the brains behind these fake candidate sites is a Republican consultant for Trump’s reelection campaign. From the Times story:

His name is Patrick Mauldin, and he makes videos and other digital content for President Trump’s re-election campaign. Together with his brother Ryan, Mr. Mauldin also runs Vici Media Group, a Republican political consulting firm in Austin whose website opens with the line “We Kick” followed by the image of a donkey — the Democratic Party symbol often known by another, three-letter, name. …

Yet in anonymously trying to exploit the fissures within the Democratic ranks — fissures that ran through this past week’s debates — Mr. Mauldin’s website hews far closer to the disinformation spread by Russian trolls in 2016 than typical political messaging. With nothing to indicate its creator’s motives or employer, the website offers a preview of what election experts and national security officials say Americans can expect to be bombarded with for the next year and a half: anonymous and hard-to-trace digital messaging spread by sophisticated political operatives whose aim is to sow discord through deceit. Trolling, that is, as a political strategy.

It turns out that the fake Biden site wasn’t news to the real Biden campaign. “Imagine our surprise that a site full of obvious disinformation is the handiwork of an operative tied to the Trump campaign,” said campaign spokesman T.J. Ducklo.

There are also fake websites for other Democratic front-runners: A “Millionaire Bernie” labels Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as a greedy socialist. “Elizabeth Warren for Chief” recalls her claims to Native American ancestry. “Kamala Harris for Arresting the People” repeats the false claim that as a prosecutor, she “put parents in jail for children skipping school — and laughed about it.”

The new “birtherism” against Kamala Harris. There have been multiple coordinated Twitter attacks against the California Democratic senator. The most recent was a bot-spread campaign against Harris, who was born in Oakland to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, claiming that she couldn’t truly represent American blacks. The original instigator was a self-described “black activist” calling himself Ali Alexander. He insisted that Harris cannot represent the black experience in America because she has “no ancestors who suffered American Slavery, the Civil War, nor Jim Crow.” His tweets were retweeted by bots and went viral, even being retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., who later deleted his retweet.

It turns out that “Ali Alexander” is a pseudonym for a well-known right-wing activist and Trump supporter. As Huffington Post described the scam:

Alexander is actually a far-right political operative and conspiracy theorist Ali Akbar, or Ali Abdul Razaq Akbar, whom Politico profiled last year as an “increasingly prominent pro-Trump supporter.”

Other Democratic candidates came to Harris’ defense, and the fake attack seemed to die out once it was exposed. I guess a birtherism campaign, like the one Trump used for years against President Obama, sounds pretty stale in 2019.

Republicans donating to the Marianne Williamson campaign. Self-help author Marianne Williamson was one of 20 candidates in the first round of Democratic debates. She got off a few good lines, but she also had some bizarre moments, such as promising to call New Zealand’s prime minister to say, “Girlfriend, you are so on” and to call European leaders to tell them, “We’re BAAACK!”

Just the kind of candidate you want to make sure stays in, right? Well, sure, if you’re in the GOP.  According to an MSN story:

GOP strategist Jeff Roe, who ran Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted out to his 16,000 followers asking fellow Republicans “to donate $1 to keep this vibrant democrat on the debate stage. One debate performance is not enough.”

At least several people appear to have taken up the challenge based on responses to Roe, accompanied by copies of receipts of their campaign donations.

We still don’t know if small donations by a growing number of Republicans will be enough for Williamson to reach the 130,000-donor threshold that the Democratic National Committee has established for inclusion in the third round of debates in September. But it’s the number of donors, not the amount raised, that dictate making it to the stage, so Republicans could spend next to nothing and still look forward to Williamson vowing to “harness love for political purposes.”

The inept dirty tricksters. Luckily for Democrats, some of those on the GOP side are just pathetically bad at trying to throw Republican wrenches into the works. The Washington Post ran a personality profile (we’re using the term “personality” loosely) on right-wing nutter activist Jacob Wohl and former GOP lobbyist and conspiracy theorist Jack Berman, two would-be ratfuckers who keep bungling their attempts to burn Democrats or anyone else standing in Trump’s way.

That was before their spree of bungled smears — including a disappearing sexual assault accuser against special counsel Robert Mueller (announced at a news conference that Burkman conducted with his pants zipper down) and a botched attempt last month to paint Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as a sexual predator. …

The truth or falsity of a Burkman-Wohl-concocted story is merely an inconvenience. Let the media’s “puritanical” fact-checkers puzzle it out: That’s the view of this twosome who fancy themselves as sub rosa players in the 2020 presidential contest and busy themselves trafficking in Internet rumors they hope will damage Democratic candidates.

Like notorious dirty tricksters before them, they operate in a realm where it matters little whether their claims are proved — they hardly ever are — but only whether they somehow slip into a corpuscle or two of the national bloodstream. But today it’s a more dangerous game: They operate in an era when notions about truth and fiction have been upended and in which many Americans get their information from self-affirming, partisan silos, making their brand of political cyberwarfare hyper-relevant.

Wohl already has been permanently suspended from Twitter for creating fake accounts to negatively affect the 2020 election (Wohl called it an “intellectual exercise”) and was fined by an Arizona regulatory commission for securities fraud (he never paid). Burkman has reached out to Republicans in Iowa to offer his services (“Nobody returned my call,” he said).

Here’s the danger, though. Even if these two are untalented idiots, if undecided voters have caught wind of anything they’ve concocted and believe just enough to raise doubts, that whiff of doubt has done its job.

Sometimes those theories spark dangerous actions. The “pizzagate” conspiracy theory about a global child trafficking ring being run (by Democrats and Hillary Clinton!) in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant sounds like a schlock movie script that no one in Hollywood would touch. Yet it was enough for an armed right-winger to travel to Washington in December 2016 and start shooting inside the pizzeria to “liberate child sex slaves” while restaurant employees fled in terror. Even this year, a California man tried to set fire to the restaurant after he watched a YouTube pizzagate video.

I hate to think of the lies they’ll come up with next that may go viral.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 14, 2019.

Chicago Race Riots of 1919: violence that cemented the city’s segregation

The Chicago Race Riots were national news everywhere and were covered widely by the city’s premier African-American newspaper, the Chicago Defender.

On July 27, 1919, a hot summer Sunday 100 years ago, Chicago’s beaches were packed with people trying to beat the heat. Some black youths were playing on a makeshift raft launched from the 29th Street Beach, popular with the African-American community.

As the raft drifted over an imposed “invisible line” that separated black swimmers from white beachgoers, who swam from the 26th Street Beach, a crowd of whites noticed the black teenagers and grew angry. Some of them started throwing rocks at the young men.

George Stauber, a 24-year-old white man, was among those in the crowd of angry whites. He hurled stones at the boys until he hit 17-year-old Eugene Williams, in the head. Williams, who couldn’t swim, fell off the raft and drowned.

Police were called. Daniel Callahan, the first police officer to arrive, refused to arrest Stauber, which angered the black crowd that had gathered. Instead, Callahan arrested one of the black men present, on a minor complaint from a white man.

The black teen’s death and the lack of police response triggered what remains the most violent episode in Chicago history, the 1919 Race Riots. The riots were part of a string of nationwide outbreaks of racial and labor conflicts that year, which collectively came to be known as “Red Summer.”

By the time the violence stopped seven days later, 38 people were dead — 25 blacks and 13 whites. Two-thirds of the 520 Chicagoans who were injured were black. Two-thirds of the 138 people indicted for riot-related crimes also were black, even though white citizens were the ones who started the attacks. Some 4,000 troops from the National Guard were called in to quell the violence.

But it would take the black community a long time to recover — fires and vandalism left more than 1,000 black families homeless. White gangs even laid down steel cables over streets so fire trucks could not get to burning homes in black neighborhoods. And the segregation that separated white and black communities in the city, long a cultural norm, deepened and is ingrained to this day.

Those involved in a history project marking the anniversary point out that the conditions that sparked the riots — the segregation, the attitudes, and the police inaction — are as prevalent in 2019 as they were in 1919.

Chicago 1919: Confronting the Race Riots is a year-long initiative about the history of the riots. The project is holding events throughout the city all year to teach current Chicagoans about the history that few of them know. The effort is being funded primarily by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and is being led by the Newberry Library with support from 13 other local institutions. Partner organizations include the DuSable Museum for African American History, the Chicago History Museum, and many others.

Chicago was a major destination for thousands of Southern blacks during the first part of the Great Migration in the early 1900s, as whole families moved to Midwest and Northern cities. Chicago also was a destination for European immigrants, many of whom arrived at the same time. The groups settled in different but sometimes adjacent neighborhoods and competed for housing as well as jobs in the stockyards and meatpacking plants. The city’s population grew from 1.6 million in 1900 to 2.7 million by 1920.

The unrest started the night of July 27, 1919. Fights broke out between black residents, angry about the lack of an arrest for Williams’ death, and nearby whites, especially those from the city’s South Side Bridgeport neighborhood, home to many Irish immigrants. Soon, the fights erupted into rioting.

One of the white ethnic gangs active in attacking black residents was the Irish Hamburg Athletic Club in Bridgeport, named specifically in a post-riot report as an instigator of violence. The club had a 17-year-old member who would become famous: Richard J. Daley, the long-time mayor of Chicago from 1955 until his death in 1976. Daley never acknowledged whether he was part of the violence.

A Chicago Sun-Times story recounted Newberry’s historical summary of the riots:

After the beach confrontation, “Whites loaded into automobiles and sped through black streets, firing indiscriminately at African Americans and their homes. As whites attacked, black people fought back in unprecedented numbers: a street-level expression of the growing race consciousness catching fire across the country.

“… The riots were terrible,” the summary continues. “So was their aftermath and expulsion from history. Only a handful were tried or saw any prison time — most of them black. Many of the riot’s most vicious offenders were whites protected by law enforcement and local politicians.”

The DuSable is one of the partner institutions in the initiative, and Director of Education Erica Griffin sees an invisible arc connecting Eugene Williams and Laquan McDonald — the 17-year-old shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke, triggering days of mass protests.

In the aftermath of the 1919 riots, Illinois Gov. Frank Orren Lowden sought to investigate the city’s race relations. Mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson charged the Chicago Commission on Race Relations with the task.

Led by black sociologist Charles S. Johnson, the commission issued a 672-page report 2 1/2 years later, “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot.” Its findings of systemic racism came with 59 recommendations for municipal reform that went nowhere.

A 2017 video from Decades TV explains what led to the riots, what the culture of the city was leading up to them, and the aftermath. The video is narrated by long-time Chicago and national newsman Bill Kurtis (you might recognize his voice from NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”) and features commentary from Peter Alter, historian and director of the Studs Terkel Center for Oral History at the Chicago History Museum.

A story about the history project in the Chicago Tribune recounted how the riots led to even more segregation. This is from Adam Green, a University of Chicago history professor and an adviser to the project.

Before 1919 there was tension over blacks moving into “white” neighborhoods and even some racially motivated bombings as the black population grew in the Great Migration, Green explained.

But after the riots, the city — meaning white Chicago — essentially decided to separate the races officially. “The city’s response to the cataclysmic events of the riot in many ways was to double down on segregation as a solution to keep the peace,” Green said. “So restrictive covenants, for instance, were first drafted and implemented by the Chicago Real Estate Board, the governing (industry) group in the city, in 1925. … Housing segregation of course has been a dominant shaping factor within the city and has largely structured it as a dual and unequal city in relation to whites and blacks.”

The Chicago Sun-Times also interviewed an eyewitness to the riots, Juanita Mitchell, who was 8 years old at the time and had just arrived in Chicago with her mother and sister. Mitchell was 107 at the time of the interview in March 2019 and still lives in the Chicago area. Here’s some of what she remembered:

“My father had died. My uncle was a doctor, and my aunt had gotten permission from him to take in her sister and her two daughters. We had just gotten to their home on 35th & Giles,” Mitchell told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We met my aunt. We were in the living room. That’s when I saw my uncle at the window, and I heard him in a gruff voice say, ‘Here they come!’ I didn’t know what he meant. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ My uncle said, ‘The race riot. The white people are coming down 35th Street with loaded guns.’ ” …

“My Uncle Cesar said, ‘Here they come!’ That’s when he grabbed us and hid us in the living room behind the piano. I saw him go in his pocket and come out with the longest gun I’d ever seen. I was a little girl, so it was big to me,” she said.

“My mother began to cry. We stayed hiding with my Aunt Iona behind that piano ’til things quieted down on 35th Street. So that was my introduction to Chicago.”

Besides the violence, the deaths, the injuries, the arrests, and the loss of black residents’ homes, many African-American businesses and workers were affected. The majority of blacks who worked in Chicago’s stockyards were non-union, and union whites always had been resentful of their hiring. After the riots, white stockyard workers threatened to strike if black workers were allowed back on the job. The African-American workers were able to return only under the protection of special police and militia members.

Among the new books about the riots is 1919, a collection of poems by Eve L. Ewing, an acclaimed author and a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. The book is published by Haymarket Books and is available from Amazon and elsewhere.

As Ewing told the Chicago Tribune, the poems in this book show how history repeats itself. The poems cover all the aspects of the riots and the events leading up to it: the Great Migration and the racial tensions.

“It’s not about commemorating this thing that happened 100 years ago,” Ewing told the Tribune in a phone interview. “It’s about asking more critical questions about what we’re going to do over the next 100 years.” Ewing also is serving as one of the scholarly advisers to the Newberry Library helping to coordinate the yearlong programming effort remembering the riots.

Another new book describing the riots and the aftermath was written specifically for young adults. A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919, by Claire Hartfield, recently won the Coretta Scott King Author Book Award. The book is published by Clarion Books and is available from Amazon.

The title comes from a Carl Sandburg poem about the incident, “I Am the People, the Mob.” Sandburg wrote the poem after he covered the riots as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News.

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember.
Then — I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool — then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob — the crowd — the mass — will arrive then.

The “Chicago 1919” events started in February and will continue all year to help people learn more about the riots. On the actual anniversary itself, July 27, 2019, there are two events. The Chicago History Museum and the DuSable Museum of African American History are co-sponsoring an event at Margaret S. Burroughs Beach, 3100 S. Lake Shore Drive. (The artist and writer Dr. Margaret Burroughs founded the DuSable Museum in 1961.) The same day, Newberry Library will sponsor an afternoon of public performances, debates, and events in Washington Square Park, known as Bughouse Square for its long history as a space for free speech.

A few days later, a large-scale bicycle tour along the South Side lakefront will take riders throughout parts of the city affected by the riots. The tour is sponsored by Blackstone Bicycle Works, a community bike shop and youth education program that provides educational and vocational opportunities to youth from some of Chicago’s most underserved neighborhoods. The tour will start at the only marker of the riots in the city — at 28th Street and the lake. It reads: “Dedicated to All the Victims of the Race Riot That Began Near This Place.”

Other upcoming events include film screenings, spoken word poetry slam performances, a program about the role of law enforcement in racial violence, and readings from many of Chicago’s black writers and poets.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 7, 2019.

The NRA is falling apart, one bad shot at a time

Two down, one to go: Top NRA Executive Wayne LaPierre (from left on poster) is still around, but top NRA lobbyist Chris Cox and NRA President Oliver North were forced to resign.

The National Rifle Association is facing several self-made crises all at once, and it couldn’t happen to an organization that deserves it more. Consider:

  • Its finances are a mess. The group is losing both members and revenue. At the end of 2018, the NRA reported losing $55 million in revenue.
  • Gun sales are continuing their downward trend.
  • The NRA cut ties with its longtime advertising and public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen. Now the two are suing each other.
  • NRA President Oliver North was forced to resign in April during a power struggle with Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. The NRA is now suing North over the attempted coup.
  • Speaking of LaPierre, the organization still hasn’t recovered from the bad publicity about LaPierre’s ultra-expensive clothing purchases, including $300,000 on designer suits.
  • Speaking of both LaPierre and North, the NRA’s top lobbyist and second in command, Chris Cox, was suspended after text messages showed he was one of the leaders behind the move to oust LaPierre — a move Cox strongly denied, but his aim was way off. He was forced to resign.
  • The NRA shut down production of its online media arm, NRATV.

Whose fault are all these problems? Those inside the NRA are pointing fingers at each other. Board members criticized LaPierre’s shopping sprees. One board member called for LaPierre to be fired. Two NRA board members scorched NRATV to reporters from The New York Times, citing the image of Thomas the Tank Engine in a KKK hood. And the organization is awash in multiple expensive legal disputes.

Talk about a circular firing squad.

After spending $30 million to support the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the gun group thought it would be safer than a skeet disc left in the box. But instead of hitting the target with policy wins, the NRA seems to be firing blanks — or shooting itself in the foot. As Vox said in a story explaining the NRA’s woes:

These seemingly unrelated threads are all part of a systemic issue: allegations of ongoing financial mismanagement at one of America’s largest single-issue advocacy groups — mismanagement that could cost the NRA its tax-exempt status.

There’s lots of trouble on the political firing range. Let’s look at a few examples.

The “Trump slump.” When Democrats are in power, gun sales rise, because the NRA has an obvious bogeyman to target. It’s the group’s most effective way to scare gun owners into buying more guns and to get members to fear regulations. President Obama was often referred to as “the best gun salesman in America,” because every time there was a mass shooting, he would call for common-sense gun regulations such as universal background checks. You know, the kind that are backed by 90 percent of Americans. The NRA would respond with one of its knee-jerk statements that “Obama’s trying to take your guns,” and gun sales would shoot up. But with gun sales down, even gun sellers refer to the drop in sales as the Trump slump.

Gun sales are often measured by the number of FBI background checks for gun sales. Since Trump has been in office, the number of those background checks has dropped each year, meaning that fewer people are buying guns. No bogeyman, no need for a new gun. Gun sales were down 6.1 percent in 2018, the second straight year of losses.

The money and membership drop. Gun sales weren’t the only measure showing a loss. According to the most recent NRA financial figures, reported by the Daily Beast, the NRA received only $98 million in contributions in 2017, down from nearly $125 million in 2016. Even that amount wasn’t good news, as $19 million came from a single anonymous donor. Membership dues also were down 21 percent: $128 million in 2017 membership dues compared with $163 million in 2016.

That revenue drop meant that the NRA drastically cut the amount of money it invested in the 2018 midterm elections — only $10 million, compared with the $25 million it spent in 2014.

LaPierre the clothes horse. The media had a field day with the reports of the NRA executive shopping at stores in Beverly Hills. On a single trip, he dropped $39,000 on Zegna suits. But NRA board members were furious. According to a story in GQ:

That LaPierre’s clothes suggest hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed at the NRA. Aaron Davis, a former NRA employee, told the New Yorker that not everyone approved of the direction of certain departments. Davis recalled taking a board member to lunch and awkwardly requesting a donation: “He just looks at me, and he goes, ‘You know, I like you, but I hate your department.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He says, ‘Because N.R.A. is not fancy Italian shoes with thousand-dollar suits. N.R.A. is the backbone of this country, wearing bluejeans and boots.’ ”

That board member might believe his spiel about bluejeans and boots, but LaPierre and his staff dress more like top executives than cattle hands, and have for years. Even worse, LaPierre tried to hide his clothing purchases by charging them to the NRA’s now-former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen. And speaking of the ad agency:

NRA and “Ack Mack” are suing each other. Ackerman McQueen, called “Ack Mack” by NRA staffers, had been the NRA’s agency since the 1980s, producing recognizable ad campaigns such as “I’m the NRA, and I vote” and popularizing the Charlton Heston meme that his guns would have to be pried from his “cold dead hands.” But the relationship began misfiring.

The NRA sued Ackerman McQueen for $40 million in damages, charging that it was behind the coup attempt to oust LaPierre. The gun group also charged the agency with “misleading, defamatory” leaks of confidential documents that were the substance of Oliver North’s coup attempt, and with not cooperating with an audit. Recently the NRA had been paying the firm more than $40 million a year. Billings from Ackerman McQueen increased nearly 50 percent since 2015. As reported in Rolling Stone:

The decades-long partnership began to sour last summer, in the wake of threats from regulators to challenge the NRA’s nonprofit status. Scrambling to get its finances in order, the NRA sought to audit Ackerman McQueen’s books. When the agency stonewalled instead of cooperating, the NRA sued for access to its financial records.

But why should the NRA have all the lawsuit fun? Ackerman McQueen filed a counterclaim lawsuit of its own for $50 million, claiming that its reputation had been smeared by the NRA. One of Ackerman McQueen’s most recent project was launching NRATV in 2016. And speaking of that:

NRATV gets shot down. Shutting down NRATV brought the predictable (and somewhat delicious) Twitter reactions from those working against gun violence, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. This tweet from Parkland mass shooting survivor and anti-gun violence activist David Hogg was typical:

And from Moms Demand Action leader Shannon Watts:

NRATV was never a particularly good investment for the gun group. It was expensive, its online views were never very high, and, according to LaPierre, it was becoming “too far removed from the core mission of defending the Second Amendment” (I guess Thomas the Tank Engine in a KKK hood was a little much, huh?). No conspiracy theory seemed too bizarre for NRATV talking heads — for instance, they suggested that the pipe bombs mailed to media outlets and Democrats in 2018 were false flags. They often spewed what has been described as red meat for the hard right.

Among the public faces of NRATV was the lightning rod Dana Loesch, who seemed more interested in a Twitter war with Moms Demand’s Shannon Watts than with being effective. Loesch, a failed actress, often labeled Moms Demand members “bored women drinking boxed wine” and once derided gun-control advocates as “tragedy-dry-humping whores.”

As a story on Huffington Post put it: “NRATV is survived by a host of lax gun laws that have enabled dangerous criminals to commit mass shootings with assault weapons.”

No more ammunition from NRA’s top lobbyist. Chris Cox was widely seen as the heir apparent to Wayne LaPierre, who is 69 years old. Cox’s official title was principal political strategist for the Institute for Legislative Action, the NRA’s lobbying arm, and he had been with the NRA since 1995. He was seen as one of its most effective message carriers — he publicly announced the NRA’s support for Donald Trump in 2016 — and he was a fervent defender of the AR-15.

But Cox was named in the lawsuit against Oliver North as being part of the conspiracy. He was placed on administrative leave for his alleged role in the Oliver North coup attempt. He denied involvement in the internal struggle, telling The New York Times:

The allegations against me are offensive and patently false. For over 24 years I have been a loyal and effective leader in this organization. My efforts have always been focused on serving the members of the National Rifle Association, and I will continue to focus all of my energy on carrying out our core mission of defending the Second Amendment.

Riiiight. Except that, given the text messages tying him to the coup attempt, he had no choice but to resign. Guess he’ll miss the $1.1 million annual salary, although I bet there’s an opening somewhere in the Trump administration for someone with his skill set. Maybe in ATF—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 30, 2019.

Democratic debates showcase a new rising star: Kamala Harris

One good debate performance does not win an election, but Kamala Harris was the breakout debate star over Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and the other hopefuls.

With the first two Democratic debates finished, political pundits everywhere are issuing the usual “who won” and “who lost” evaluations. But there was one winner who rose above the rest — Kamala Harris.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren came through with her usual “I have a plan for that” workmanship. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro showed why he belonged on that stage when he talked about immigration — he saw a Google surge of more than 2,400 percent after the Wednesday night debate. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg held his own, giving a heartfelt answer about how the killing of a black resident by a white cop is affecting his community.

Some former favorites such as former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke seemed overmatched. Neither of the polling leaders, former Vice President Joe Biden or Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, had a particularly good night. With 10 candidates, and limited time to talk, it’s difficult for candidates to get all of the ideas out that they want to stress. And let’s face it: Some of the also-rans, like Marianne Williamson, Andrew Yang, Eric Swalwell, Tim Ryan, John Hickenlooper, and others, just don’t belong on that stage. Let’s hope the Democratic National Committee raises the stakes for getting into the next round of debates.

Then there was Kamala Harris. Actually, there was Kamala Harris and the rest of the field.

The California senator often has showed her toughness asking questions as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. But she took that toughness to another level on the second night of the debates. She took on Biden’s earlier comments about his history of working with segregationist senators: “If those segregationists had their way, I would not be a member of the United States Senate, and I certainly would not be a serious candidate for president of the United States.” Biden didn’t really know how to respond to her personal story on busing. The image of her as a pig-tailed young girl is now being developed into a T-shirt for supporters.

On both nights, given the number of people on stage and the need for the lower-ranked candidates to claim airtime, the Democratic hopefuls interrupted each other. Like a mom telling kids in the back seat to settle down, Harris took charge and quieted the ruckus.  “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on their table,” she said as the rest of the field fell silent.

This is how the latest story giving candidates’ rankings (she’s now ranked No. 1) in The Washington Post described Harris’ performance:

The real winner this week was Harris. She had a compassionate story to illustrate every policy question, and the crowd ate it up. But Harris also was bold enough to take on the Democratic favorite headlong, and she definitely came out ahead. She didn’t spend that much time detailing her policies (reversals have dogged her in the past), but we have plenty of debates to come.

There are many descriptions of her dominance:

Satirist Andy Borowitz suggested that a frightened Donald Trump is now sending a campaign contribution — to Joe Biden.

Ever since Biden entered the race, he has been described by pundits as “the most electable candidate” to beat Donald Trump, and that has turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy in polls. Much of his support has been from African-American voters: Around 50 percent back Biden, according to an average of CNN polls.

After the first round of debates, that could change. Harris was mobbed after the debate, and many surrounding her were black women. A Politico story suggested that it was too early to tell how this first debate might affect African-American support for Biden, but his campaign might have reason to worry.

David Axelrod, the former strategist to Barack Obama, opined on CNN that the clash could hurt Biden with African Americans. He cited a recent poll showing Biden walloping the field with the highest African-American vote share while Harris had 12 percent.

“These kinds of exchanges can have an impact on that number, and that number is one of the reasons why he is sitting in such a strong position nationally,” Axelrod said. “So this has some perilous implications for him in this regard. On the other end of the equation, the question still remains if not him, who?”

What Axelrod failed to mention is that in 2008, black voters backed Hillary Clinton, thinking her as the inevitable and most electable candidate. Until they started voting for Barack Obama.

Harris, the former California attorney general, says she is ready to “prosecute” Donald Trump in 2020. “It was easy to imagine her utterly demolishing Trump on a debate stage,” wrote Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “It was possible to imagine Biden doing the same thing, but you had to wonder.”

It’s still six months before the first votes are cast at the Iowa caucuses. There are more debates and a lot more campaigning to do before then. We won’t see new poll numbers for several days.

But in the weeks and months to come, there’s no question that “Momala,” as her two stepchildren call her, is a new force to be take seriously.

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