Republicans and Democrats: A Play in Three Acts.

ACT 1: Washington DC, United States Senate early 2016

Merrick Garland, an eminently qualified judge, was nominated by Barack Obama to the Supreme Court. For weeks afterwards, Republican senators responsible for considering the nomination refused to meet with him. Some of them slink out of their offices in the Senate to avoid the visiting judge.

Several eventually do meet him after being shamed, but refuse to discuss confirmation hearings and restrict conversations to pleasantries. They work in lock step to deny Garland a hearing, and deny him the nomination. For the first time in the Republic’s history, a President’s judicial nominee is denied a hearing for 10 months.

170-Plus Days And Counting: GOP Unlikely To End Supreme Court Blockade Soon

As of now, Garland has been waiting, in vain, for more than 170 days, well over the century-old, 125-day record. The prospect is, at best, many months more of waiting.

To sum up events to date, hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last February, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell announced that there would be no hearings, no votes, no action whatsoever, on any Supreme Court nomination until the American people got to vote on a new president. —…

The Republican Senate leader maintains strict discipline among his senators, whipping them into line, ensuring not a single one broke ranks.

ACT 2: Washington DC, early 2018

President Donald Trump nominates a pro-torture war-monger to serve as Secretary of State.

The nominee is Mike Pompeo, who once said Obama had an “affinity” for terrorists like ISIS. He called Hillary Clinton “morally reprehensible” when she was Secretary of State. He liked a tweet calling John Kerry a traitor. He has called Muslim leaders “potentially complicit” in terrorism.

Many Democrats go along as if this is B.A.U. Several senior Democrats voted to confirm said pro-torture war-monger to lead the CIA the previous year, after he said he remained open to waterboarding and other forms of torture that he had previously supported.

The Senate considers the nomination as Democratic activist groups across the spectrum oppose his nomination:

These are extra-ordinary times. At least one Republican senator has pledged to vote against Pompeo’s nomination. This senator sits on the Foreign Relations committee where Pompeo’s hearing is being held. If all Democrats on the committee join the Republican in voting down Pompeo, heis nomination will go to a floor vote. No nominee who has failed to gain majority support in committee has been confirmed in over 40 years.

The senate has only ever rejected nine cabinet level nominees in its entire history. Several observers believe that though Pompeo was confirmed 66-32 to his CIA position, Secretary of State is a different proposition as cabinet position.

In Committee, Pompeo is grilled about his views on Russia, Iran, North Korea, torture and his anti-Muslim bigotry.

“At the State Department, there are too many holes, too many vacancies, too many unfilled positions,” Mr. Pompeo said in one of his many promises to restore the department to its former glory after his predecessor, Rex W. Tillerson, pushed out hundreds of diplomats. The vow was greeted with relief by nearly all on the panel. —…

The senate committee “appear relieved” that a pro-torture, far-right, war-mongering bigot will have the opportunity to pack the State Department with hundreds of supporters.

As the curtain falls on this act, prominent Democrats line up on the stage to publicly declare magical beliefs, such as:

ACT 3: Will Democrats Put Up a Fight?

The Act opens with a jester hopping on stage to address the audience. He wonders whether Democrats are like frogs in a kettle being boiled by Trump. The temperature’s been rising with Tillerson and , it will reach boiling point with Bolton, Pompeo and Haspel. The American public has a tiring habit of “rallying around the president” when we’re at war. And the only thing Pompeo, Bolton and Haspel love more than harassing black/brown people at home is bombing black/brown people abroad.

Martial music is piped through the theater.

 The Jester says he spoke with the nominee, and…

Mike Pompeo Can’t Believe Senate Just Expects He’ll Answer Questions Without Being Tortured First

Maniacal laughter from the rafters, interspersed with screams.

In Act 1, we saw that Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of Kentucky. Kentucky is a red state, it last had a Democratic senator in 1999. McConnell whipped his entire party to deny an eminently qualified supreme court candidate a confirmation hearing. He used all his power to ensure someone he mildly opposed ideologically didn’t stand a chance to win a supreme court seat.

He fought.

In Act 3, we see Democratic senate leader Chuck Schumer of New York. New York is a blue state, it last had a Republican representing it in the Senate in 1999. Schumer voted to confirm Pompeo as CIA Director a year prior. Schumer is happy to tell the press that he is not “at this moment” asking Democratic senators to oppose the nomination of pro-torture war-monger Mike Pompeo.

He’s not fighting.

Stay tuned to see what happens next!

— @subirgrewal | Cross-posted at & TheProgressiveWing

On Donna Brazile and moving progressive politics forward

I’m no fan of Donna Brazile. As vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) she violated her responsibility to run a fair process by leaking debate questions to the Clinton campaign. It is hard for me to escape the conclusion that Donna’s recent revelations are merely an attempt to curry favor with the newly ascendant lefty faction.

Nevertheless, there is substance to the information she’s provided.

First, you might want to refresh your memory about how the sham transfers between the Hillary Victory Fund (HVF), DNC and state parties worked to flout campaign finance laws. These shenanigans materially impacted state parties and their ability to support candidates. For a real-world example of opportunities lost, look no further than the James Thompson fracas.

As Democrats, we’re presumably committed to good politics and a defensible process. You’d expect us to deal seriously with well-founded claims that one favoured candidate secretly reached an agreement with the DNC (prior to the primaries) to control appointments to key positions. You would of course, be wrong.

There’s no denying that the secret side-letter the Clinton campaign reached with the DNC in August 2015 is problematic. Most defended of HVF’s agreement revolve around the presumption that Clinton was bound to be the nominee, but of course, this side letter is executed about six months before a single person had voted for Clinton to be the nominee. So even if you think Clinton was destined to win the nomination, the wholesale takeover of the DNC by the Clinton campaign. assumed and partially executed by the side-letter, is profoundly un-democratic, solely because it precedes the vote. And that’s before we get to the bit granting the Clinton campaign veto power all DNC communications about ANY primary candidate.

It’s been interesting to see the various dubious theories advanced to exonerate the side-agreement instituted between Hillary For America (HFA)f and the DNC a year before the primary was decided. These include:

  • There was no such agreement, Donna can’t make out 2015 from 2016. A patently false claim, but one made repeatedly.
  • There was a side-agreement but it really applied only to the general election. This claim is made over and over again, even though the secret aide-letter was inked 18 months prior to the election and gave HFA a say in DNC personnel decisions a year before th convention. The sole evidence presented is a transparently CYA clause in the secret side-letter itself.
  • Others have pointed to the fact that this side agreement explicitly permitted the DNC to reach similar agreements with other candidates as exculpatory. That’s a dubious claim since the Clinton campaign had already put its people in place by September 2015. Would this hypothetical other candidate have been allowed to fire these people? By the way, no other candidate (Chafee, O’Malley, Sanders or Webb) has come forward to say they were offered such a side-letter, or notified of its existence with the Clinton campaign.
  • The oft-heard defense that “loyalty” to the party is what drove various DNC staff to favor the Clinton campaign. Folks presenting this defense are applauding machine politics, perhaps unknowingly.
  • A corollary is the claim that the DNC owed nothing to Sen. Sanders because he “isn’t a Democrat”. First, this ignores the fact that he’s caucused with Democrats for decades in Congress and helped co-found the Progressive Caucus. Second, it doesn’t matter, you either run a fair process for all, or you don’t. Finally, the folks advancing this defense are hoping you’ve forgotten that the secret side-agreement also disadvantaged other candidates. Biden for example, did not conclusively rule out a run till October 2015.
  • A particularly pernicious defense is that the Clinton campaign was justified in imposing its will on the DNC because it directed large sums to it. This justification of donor-driven politics would be comical if it weren’t so dangerous. One shudders to think what demands these people believe high-dollar donors should are justified in making of politicians since apparently explicit quid pro quos are acceptable. If this is truly where we are as the “party of the people”, the sale of our democracy to the highest bidder is complete, we just don’t know it because the memorandum recording the sale was shredded.
  • Lastly, my personal favorite: Donna Brazile and Black Lives Matter were pawns in the hands of, you guessed it, the Russians.

There are several others, but time is short and there’s only so much you can do after you bring horses to water.

Here’s the thing, it’s not like the Clinton campaign even had to tilt the scales. They likely would have won anyway. The decision to twist arms at the DNC came from the same galactic brains who tried to run up the score in blue states for a popular vote margin but forgot to lock down the Electoral College. Donna Brazile advocated for such a popular vote focused strategy, which is another reason it makes no sense to throw yourself into the Brazile fan club.

Believe it or not, there’s a silver lining in all this for the left.

The 2016 election cycle and its aftermath make it abundantly clear that the Democratic party’s reigning centrist/third-way faction is in disarray. The DNC can’t seem to tie its own shoelaces, state parties have been intentionally starved of funds, candidates lack resources, and egos rule the roost.

All this disfunction makes the job of returning the party to it’s lefty roots that much easier, if we can provide the momentum forward.

All we have to do is keep working for progressive candidates, continue bringing more people to the party and stay focused on justice and equality.

There’s no reason to expend our considerably energy in futile arguments with defenders of the status-quo and mega-donor driven politics. Most voters have a healthy sense of fair play and respect for fairly run elections. They already know the score and have moved on to think about 2017 and 2018. That, is a winning strategy.

— @subirgrewal

What is a fair wage for prison labor?

Prisoners at Angola Prison, LA. Angola is built on the site of a former slave labor camp (they were not “plantations”)

Samuel Sinyangwe visited Louisiana a few weeks ago, and wrote about how conscript labor is used there in the state legislature and across government facilities.


The thread is worth reading, and Sinyangwe was particularly affected by the sight of prisoners serving food, cleaning and laboring at the state capitol.

Though it is sobering, none of this should come as a shock to any American. Shawshank Redemption was one of the biggest movies of the 1990s, and it explored, in exhaustive detail, the exploitative system of conscript labor. More recently, the documentary movie 13th covers the many forms of legal exploitation of prisoners embedded in our system of mass incarceration.

Nor should it come as a surprise to anyone with even the slightest familiarity with American history that the powers of the state have been used to exploit and steal labor from people of color, primarily black men. Yet, many of us sometimes fail to recognize what is staring directly at us.

We should also note that low wages for labor can, perversely, condemn people to years of imprisonment. Jimmy Carter (who as governor also had prisoners working for him) describes the damning case of a woman who was sentenced to 7 years or $750. She couldn’t come up with $750 and served 5 years till Carter discovered the circumstances and had her released:

I believe that unless you subscribe to a labor-centered ideology, unless you have the principle of a fair wage for labor engrained in you, it is easy to miss these injustices and accept arguments about cost control at face value.

There is an argument that having prisoners serve governors helps facilitate an eventual pardon. Governors in states like Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Arkansas do grant pardons regularly, often to prisoners who served them in the governor’s mansion, sometimes taking significant political heat for doing so. Yet, this so called “trusty” system, also has a tortured history that involves prisoner abuse and exploitation. It’s also true that, black people are pardoned at lower rates than others. And, as Governing magazine notes, pardons are becoming increasingly rare, while the theft of labor from prisoners continues.

Things have not gotten better in since the 1980s. In an article written in 2000, “Prison labor on the rise in US”, Alan Whyte and Jamie Baker write about the history of prison labor in the US.

US trade union officials have repeatedly denounced China for its use of prison labor, as part of the AFL-CIO’s campaign against the normalization of trade relations with China. At the same time, however, the union officials have virtually been silent about the huge growth of prison labor in the United States. […]

The struggle over prison labor has a long history in the US. In the early 1800s, group workshops in prisons replaced solitary handicrafts, and the increased efficiency allowed prisons to be self-supporting. Entire prisons were leased out to private contractors, who literally worked hundreds of prisoners to death. Manufacturers who lost work to prison contractors opposed the leasing system, but only with the growth of the union movement came effective opposition to prison labor. One of the most famous clashes, the Coal Creek Rebellion of 1891, took place when the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad locked out their workers and replaced them with convicts. The miners stormed the prison and freed 400 prisoners, and when the company filled up work with more prisoners, the miners burned the prison down.

The prison leasing system was disbanded in Tennessee shortly thereafter, but remained in many states until the rise of the CIO and industrial unionism in the 1930s. As a result of this mass movement of workers, Congress passed the 1935 Ashurst-Sumners Act, making it illegal to transport prison-made goods across state lines. However, under the presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter, Congress passed the Justice System Improvement Act of 1979, which granted exemptions from Ashurst-Sumners for seven “Prison Industry Enhancement” pilot projects. Congress has since granted exemptions to all 50 state prison systems.


More recently, during the general election campaign last year, prisoners went on strike nationwide. Shamefully, our mass media expended hours of TV coverage on typos and gaffes but spent almost no time covering this country-wide strike which touched the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.

The nationwide prison strike that began September 9 has largely wound down. Inmates have returned to work, though some smaller hunger strikes are still taking place. It’s unclear what long-term changes the strike may bring. Yet the protest, timed to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, has made waves: An estimated 24,000 inmates missed work and as many as 29 prisons were affected, according to activists.

It’s also brought renewed attention to our prison labor system. About 700,000 of America’s 1.5 million prison inmates have jobs, and they work for as little as 12 to 40 cents an hour with few workplace protections. “It’s utterly exploitative,” says Heather Ann Thompson, a professor of Afroamerican and African studies and history at the University of Michigan and the author of the new book Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. “Some farms in Nevada are paying 8 cents a day. Some jail workers are paid nothing.” Thompson, who has extensively studied prison labor, says prisoners are expected to work more than they have at any time since the Civil War, when prisons leased out convicts to private companies.


The hollowing-out of organized American labor has left unions unable to address the many injustices associated with prison labor in a meaningful way. However, prisoners have organized themselves at periodic intervals and demanded their labor be compensated at a fair rate:

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, prison labor was largely regulated or prohibited, due in part to efforts by labor unions to prevent competition with low-paid inmates. But beginning in the 1970s, as the prison population began to rise, businesses lobbied to gut these regulations, says Thompson. In 1979, Congress created a program that gives incentives to private companies to use prison labor. Currently, the federal prison industries program produces items ranging from mattresses to prescription eyewear. Some inmates are employed as call center operators (“It’s the best kept secret in outsourcing!” says the program’s website.) Last year, federal inmates helped bring in nearly $472 million in net sales—but only 5 percent of that revenue went to pay inmates. […]

Heather Thompson: It’s absolutely fair to characterize it as slave labor, since constitutionally that is the only exception made for keeping people in a state of slavery.…

That last line should settle the controversy over whether prison labor can be called slave labor. It is treated as such in our constitution. A good rule of thumb is that if you can call it “slave labor” when it happens in China, you should call it slave labor in the US as well.

Vice documented the varied work that prisoners are conscripted to do in the US, including fire-fighting, call centers, rodeo clowning, and yes, picking cotton. On that last note, let’s go back to Louisiana for more on the jarring image that leads this diary.

Crops stretch to the horizon. Black bodies pepper the landscape, hunched over as they work the fields. Officers on horseback, armed, oversee the workers.

To the untrained eye, the scenes in Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary, an Atlantic documentary filmed on an old Southern slave-plantation-turned-prison, could have been shot 150 years ago. The imagery haunts, and the stench of slavery and racial oppression lingers through the 13 minutes of footage. […]

But there is a second storyline running alongside the first, which raises disquieting questions about how America treats those on the inside as less than fully human. Those troubling opening scenes of the documentary offer visual proof of a truth that America has worked hard to ignore: In a sense, slavery never ended at Angola; it was reinvented. […]

Some viewers of the video might be surprised to learn that inmates at Angola, once cleared by the prison doctor, can be forced to work under threat of punishment as severe as solitary confinement.


There’s a phrase here which is important, “less than fully human”.

Before you can get most people to blindly accept an injustice, you have to dehumanize the victims. We do this consistently with our never-ending wars. We have also been doing it with convicted prisoners.

Here again, ideology can help us avoid falling into such traps and become unwitting instruments of oppression. An ideology that focuses on the shared humanity of all can help us avoid becoming the kind of person who will be swayed by a single “feel good” story:

SILICON VALLEY mavens seldom stumble into San Quentin, a notorious Californian prison. But when Chris Redlitz, a venture capitalist, visited seven years ago, he found that many of the inmates were keen and savvy businessmen. The trip spurred him to create The Last Mile, a charity that teaches San Quentin inmates how to start businesses and code websites, for which they can earn up to $17 an hour. One of the first people it helped was Tulio Cardozo, who served a five-year sentence after a botched attempt at cooking hashish, which also left him with severe burns across half his body. Two years after he was released, he got a job as a lead developer in a San Francisco startup.

Such redemptive stories are the model for what the prison system could be. But they are exceptions—the rule is much drearier.



I would urge all of us to take these steps.

  1. Remake our minds, and think about what a fair wage for a prisoner’s labor should be.
  2. Urge your Congressional representative to support Raul Grijalva’s Justice is Not for Sale Act (will be re-introduced in this Congress).
  3. Urge your representative and senator to apply the Federal minimum wage to prisoners’ labor.
  4. Pay more attention to down-ballot races for judges and also for prosecutors, they control sentencing and plea deals.

Cross-posted at & | @subirgrewal


Most “Conservatives” will protect Trump. No Matter What.

This week, Hannity and Hume rushed to tell us that colluding with Putin to subvert the results of an American election is entirely legal. The National Review thinks evidence of collusion would be “an enormous calamity” for Trump and lead to impeachment if Democrats win Congress. But, they don’t think there’s anything wrong about collusion, they just think it’s a “dead-end” argument to talk about legality.

Let’s set aside, for a moment, all the state, federal or campaign finance laws that might have been broken. Or even the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Let’s set aside the fact that Trump asked for help from “Russia, if you’re listening…”

Let’s focus on why a big faction of the Republican party isn’t troubled by the idea that the GOP candidate might have colluded with a foreign government to influence an election.

We’re up against a party that doesn’t think we are Americans.

Remember all that talk about “Real America” and “Real Americans”? Those terms are used specifically to suggest we are “fake Americans” who listen to “fake news”.

That’s why Trump was a birther.

Seriously, go read Jim Henley’s entire thread. Highlights below.

That’s James G. Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, who was later indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges by a federal grand jury.

Jim goes on to talk about how our security agencies have meddled in foreign countries, how they can always find someone willing to take their money, and whether turnabout is fair.

Trump isn’t a “Putin stooge”. He’s as American as apple pie. Roughly 60 million Americans didn’t need any convincing to vote for him.

Republicans on the Hill will protect Trump. Most Republicans would vote for Trump in 2020, no matter what happens. “Russia” won’t faze them for a second.

The task Democrats face is to pull together a compelling vision and message to win back the House and Senate over 2018 and 2020. “Russia” alone, won’t work. Just as distaste for Trump alone didn’t work in 2016.

Democrats fail to pick up any seats in special elections for Congress.

We’ve had four House special elections this year. Democrats have lost all four. All four were tough races to replace Republicans from very safe districts who were appointed to posts within the Trump administration. In 2016, the Republicans were all incumbents, and their Democratic challengers were:

  • Mike Pompeo (60.7%) won against Daniel Giroux (29.6%) in KS-4
  • Ryan Zinke (56.2%) won against Denise Juneau (40.5%) in MT-AL
  • Tom Price (61.7%) won against Rodney Stooksbury (38.3%) in GA-06
  • Mick Mulvaney (59.2%) won against Fran Person (38.7%) in SC-05

In KS-04, an Independent and a Libertarian won almost 10% of the vote in 2016.

First for the good news, Democrats improved their margins significantly, losing by single digits races they had lost by 15%, 20% or even 30%.

Seat ‘16 margin 2017 Dem Dem 2017 Rep rep 3rd ‘17 Margin
KS-04 -31.1% James Thompson 45.7% Ron Estes 52.5% 1.7% -6.8%
MT-AL -15.7% Rob Quist 44.1% Greg Gianforte 50.2% 5.7% -6.1%
GA-06 -23.4% Jon Ossoff 48.1% Karen Handel 51.9% 0.0% -3.8%
SC-05 -20.5% Archie Parnell 47.9% Ralph Norman 51.1% 1.0% -3.2%

3rd party candidates didn’t play a significant role in the special elections except in Montana. I’m ignoring CA-34 for obvious reasons. FWIW, Chaffetz’s seat in UT-03 is up on November 7, Sessions’ Senate seat is also up on Dec 12.

Two of these special elections rank among the most expensive house races. The Georgia race was the most expensive ever, with estimates putting total spending at $60 million. The DCCC dropped $5 million into the Ossoff race, which was an enormous bet that they could win a deeply Republican district in the Atlanta suburbs. The DCCC and other Democratic groups spent far less on the other three races.

Seat DEM Spend REP Spend D Party Spend R Party Spend ‘16 turnout ‘17 turnout Turnout drop
KS-04 $292,000 $501,093 $3,000 $130,000 275,251 120,897 -56.09%
MT-al $6,000,000 $4,600,000 $340,000 $5,600,000 507,831 379,763 -25.22%
GA-06 $23,000,000 $4,800,000 $5,000,000 $11,700,000 326,005 259,488 -20.40%
SC-05 $500,000 $1,100,000 $275,000 $97,000 273,006 87,840 -67.83%

* The numbers above aren’t complete, Q2 filings aren’t in, I link to my sources.

The amount of spending does seem to correlate with turnout. The two expensive races, MT-AL and GA-06 had pretty high turnout for an off-year election. For a special election, it was sky-high. The low spend races had much larger drops in turnout.

But the spending didn’t result in better margins. The improvements over the 2016 Democratic candidate and Clinton’s vote share were lowest in MT-AL and GA-06. The largest gains over 2016 tallies were in KS-04 and SC-05. Those races were largely ignored by the national media and Democratic donors, until the very last minute,

Seat   ‘12 BHO ‘16 HRC ‘16 Dem ‘17 DEM Lost by > ‘16 Dem > HRC HR.676 Trump poll
KS-04 36.1% 33.0% 29.6% 45.7% 6.8% +16.9% +12.7% YES 41.6%
MT-AL 41.7% 35.9% 40.5% 44.1% 6.1% +3.6% +8.2% YES 39.3%
GA-06 37.5% 46.8% 38.3% 48.1% 3.8% +9.8% +1.3% NO 38.4%
SC-05 43.6% 38.8% 38.7% 47.9% 3.2% +9.2% +9.1% NO 38.4%

Distaste for Trump alone won’t automatically translate into victory. I listed the candidate’s stances on single-payer as a proxy for whether or not they’re progressive, so you can consider whether or not policy positions played a role. It’s not clear it made a difference, but if you look at average improvement over the 2016 Presidential and Congressional candidate, even Rob Quist did better (3.6% + 8.2%) than Jon Ossoff (9.8% + 1.3%). There is still some question as to whether any of the candidates have run a robust “anti-Trump” campaign.

That said, every candidate improved on the vote-share gained by the presidential or congressional candidate in 2016. They all improved on Obama’s vote-share in 2012.

If improvement over 2016 is the measure, then James Thompson’s campaign was the best run. But he lost by the widest margin. If loss by smallest margin is the measure, then Archie Parnell ran the best campaign. And Parnell is literally a lawyer for Goldman who ran on a centrist message.

The loss margin has shrunk with each race. Perhaps that’s because the GA, SC candidates ran better races. Or it may be because Trump’s approval ratings have dropped even further in a month. The only woman in the four races was a Republican, Karen Handel in GA-06. All the candidates were white.

There are many different ways to read the data. Personally, the two things that stand out to me is that the sleeper races were tighter, and that fundraising/spending drove turnout.

It is very difficult to claim the enormous sums spent on the GA-06 race were a wise allocation of resources. Yes, on its face, Clinton outperformed Obama’s 2012 tally in GA-06, so it’s reasonable to believe that district had a high dislike for Trump. Yet Ossoff didn’t improve much over Clinton’s total. Should that silence those strategists who believe dislike of Trump married to a carefully crafted centrist message delivered by a polished candidates will carry Democrats to victory (at least in the suburbs)? It probably won’t, because there are other reasons the party contested Ga-06 as if it were and existential threat:

If Ossoff were to win, it would be taken by a lot of Democrats as a huge validation of the centrist/barely-left-of-center approach to 2018.

But yeah, if he comes up short, it’s a new opening for the left of the party to argue that only a more pointed liberal message will fire up the voters the party needs for 2018.

That was the biggest concern mainstream Democrats had going into tonight. — NY Times

The biggest question I’m left with is this. Would it have made more of a long-term difference if $20 of the $28 million spent in GA-06 had been spent on a voter registration campaign? We will never know.

PS. If this isn’t enough, and you’re still searching for answers as to why Jon Ossoff lost in GA-06. Eve Peyser over at Vice has collected 51 reasons, including this gem:

—  @subirgrewal

DNC lawyers say it can pick candidates in smoke-filled back-room

For the DNC, the fallout from the presidential primary is not yet over.

In the conduct and management of the affairs and procedures of the Democratic National Committee, particularly as they apply to the preparation and conduct of the Presidential nomination process, the Chairperson shall exercise impartiality and even handedness as between the Presidential candidates and campaigns. The Chairperson shall be responsible for ensuring that the national officers and staff of the Democratic National Committee maintain impartiality and even-handedness during the Democratic Party Presidential nominating process. — Democratic party charter/by-laws

That section of the charter is the subject of a class-action lawsuit by Sanders supporters and DNC donors. The plaintiffs claim the DNC violated its own by-laws and was not impartial during the 2016 presidential primary race.

The DNC’s lawyers had an interesting defense at the initial hearing:

“We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way,’” Bruce Spiva, lawyer for the DNC, said during a court hearing in Carol Wilding, et al. v. DNC Services Corp., according to court filings exclusively obtained by TYT Politics. […]

In one of the more strange defense rationales, Spiva evoked baptism to suggest the term “impartial” is too vague and open-to-interpretation to be enforced legally.

“You have a charter that says you have to be — where the party has adopted a principle of even-handedness, and just to get the language exactly right, that they would be even-handed and impartial, I believe, is the exact language. And, you know, that’s not self-defining, your Honor. I mean that’s kind of like, you know, saying, Who’s a Baptist?”

Jordan Chariton (TYT) on Medium

Now, as an occasional cigar-smoker, I object to the stereotype, but I’ll let it slide, this one time.

The attorney for the plaintiffs pointed out that DNC officials, including chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz repeated the impartiality claim on television numerous times.

The DNC’s lawyers aren’t addressing that. Instead, they’re trying to undermine the expectation of impartiality itself. Claiming that it is too vague and not enforceable.

“There’s no right to not have your candidate disadvantaged or have another candidate advantaged. There’s no contractual obligation here . . . it’s not a situation where a promise has been made that is an enforceable promise,” Spiva said.

— Salon

The DNC lawyer’s argument is this: The charter is crafted in such a way that what appears to the average person to be a promise of impartiality isn’t one at all. It’s all an illusion. What Democrats have is just a “political promise”.

The most recent court hearing on the case was held on April 25, during which the DNC reportedly argued that the organization’s neutrality among Democratic campaigns during the primaries was merely a “political promise,” and therefore it had no legal obligations to remain impartial throughout the process. — Newsweek

An uncharitable view would be that the actions of DNC officials were indefensible, and so this is the only defense their legal team could come up with.

Let’s be charitable for a moment. Maybe this is just a legal tactic, the quickest way for the DNC’s lawyers to get this case dismissed. Let’s accept their claim that there’s no “enforceable promise” so we don’t waste the court’s time trying to figure out whether or not the DNC was actually impartial. Let’s agree with them that impartiality is undefined, and there’s no measurable standard to apply to the DNC official’s actions.Now, let’s take this line of thought to its conclusion. The DNC claims:

  • the charter authorizes them to pick a candidate in a proverbial cigar smoke-filled backroom.
  • “impartiality” is so vague a concept that DNC officials can, with impunity, take actions to favor whichever candidate they wish.
  • impartiality is a “political promise”, and we all know those are worth squat amiright?

What then, is the purpose of the entire primary charade? To give Democrats the illusion that they have an actual say in who heads the ticket? To lull us into believing Democrats actually stand for democracy?

Does anyone at the DNC understand what calls for “unity” look like in this light?

Does anyone at the DNC understand what this argument does to their credibility in the future?

Does anyone at the DNC understand what happens when politicians break a “political promise”?

— @subirgrewal

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

Jonathan Allen covered the White House and the 2016 campaign for Bloomberg News. Amie Parnes is the White House correspondent for The Hill. In 2015, they published a book titled HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton. It was a largely positive profile of the former Secretary of State.

Allen and Parnes covered the Clinton campaign starting in 2014, planning to write a second book about it. They had high level access to many campaign insiders. In their introduction, they say the expected to be writing about the election of a woman for the first time as President. Instead, they, like most of us, were shocked and now we have a book that chronicles infighting, mistakes and strategic errors to explain the loss. It’s: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign

It’s getting a lot of press. Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone is largely unforgiving towards Clinton and the party establishment:

Allen and Parnes here quoted a Clinton aide who jokingly summed up Clinton’s real motivation: “I would have had a reason for running,” one of her top aides said, “or I wouldn’t have run.”

The beleaguered Clinton staff spent the better part of two years trying to roll this insane tautology – “I have a reason for running because no one runs without a reason” – into the White House. It was a Beltway take on the classic Descartes formulation: “I seek re-election, therefore I am… seeking re-election.”


Even if you detest Taibi, which doubtless many here do, it’s worth paying attention to one of his conclusions:

The real protagonist of this book is a Washington political establishment that has lost the ability to explain itself or its motives to people outside the Beltway.

Ron Elving over at NPR reviewed the book and Clinton’s campaign with more sympathy:

‘Shattered’ Picks Through The Broken Pieces Of Hillary Clinton’s Dream

There is no Big Reveal, no shocking secret answer. Instead we get a slow-building case against the concept and execution of the Clinton campaign, with plenty of fault falling squarely on the candidate herself.

Far from a juggernaut, the campaign we see in these pages is plagued with division, unease and anxiety practically from the outset. When things go right, it only means they are soon to go terribly wrong. Win a primary, lose a caucus. Quash a rumor, see three more go viral. Close one wound and find another torn open again. […]

The Clinton we see here seems uniquely qualified for the highest office and yet acutely ill-suited to winning it. Something about her nature, at its best and its worst, continually inhibits her. Her struggle to escape her caricature only contributes to it.


Business Insider has a round-up of staffers who are challenging the depiction of infighting in the campaign. Politico is reporting the same. The NY Times review discusses Clinton’s own puzzlement at why white working-class voters, loyal to her in 2008, weren’t on board this time around. The WaPo review focuses on the description of election night, when Obama called Hillary urging her to concede and not drag it out.

Basically, everyone’s talking about it.

I’ll chime in with my own view and then leave it to your comments. I still haven’t finished the book. What I have read seems a bit gossipy to me, to be expected from a book labeled a “tell-all”. I followed the campaign closely enough to know the arc.

My take is that some of the mistakes being chronicled are now overblown by Monday morning quarterbacking. Presidential campaigns are insanely fast-moving affairs where inevitably, mistakes are made and bad news comes out. Enormous teams are put together at short notice, and sometimes they fuck up. People have personality conflicts and everyone’s working in a pressure cooker, the stakes are high, tempers flare, and dog-eat-dog inclinations are indulged at times. The Trump campaign was a master class of ineptitude, infighting, scandal, distaste and overall disaster. They won, and few are second-guessing their strategy.

Basically, I don’t think campaign mis-steps made the difference. The crucial factor was an anti-establishment cycle (in terms of the Beltway establishment). It was going to be an uphill fight for someone like Hillary Clinton. Some missteps made much earlier snowballed. High level aides okayed the paid speeches and private e-mail server, for reasons that seemed reasonable when the decisions were made, but then turned into a nightmare when the anti-establishment climate reified.

Foreign and domestic actors opposed to Democrats and Hillary utilized tools (FBI/Congressional investigations and hacking) in ways that weren’t expected. The opposing candidate was completely untraditional and did his best to outflank Clinton by running as a (fake) populist. Clinton’s natural inclination towards moderation and the center, which should have been a strength, became a weakness, and the industrial mid-west was torn away. It was probably a mistake to not show up in Michigan and Wisconsin, but Pennsylvania was lost though resources were poured into it.

Personally, I regret Hillary Clinton’s loss. I thought she was the most prepared and competent candidate in 2008. I thought much the same in 2016, with several reservations. In some ways that explains the downfall. Hillary would have beaten a generic Republican candidate, but Trump wasn’t something she prepared for. There is no joy in saying that. The Trump administration’s vindictive meanness and ineptitude should shut up all the people who said there was no difference between the candidates. I pay more attention to foreign policy than most and it was clear to me that Trump would be awful on foreign policy, that his natural strongman inclinations would lead to ill-advised belligerence.

After all that though, the question we’re left with is why it was so close.

The blame for that cannot be placed on Hillary Clinton’s shoulders alone. Or indeed on her campaign, which was effective on many traditional measures. In a very real sense, this election was a bipartisan indictment of Washington by voters. Yes, not the majority, but we are all adults and knew what the electoral college was going into this.

In my view, to win in the future we have to focus more on local/state level politics rather than the Presidency exclusively. Income inequality is the biggest issue in this country, we have to address it head on, without reservation and our messaging should reflect that. This is where the fight is. Though they try to hide it, the Republican objective is to maintain the current gross levels of income inequality. Though they try to disguise it, in the end they are willing to jettison every other policy if they can just keep low taxes for the super wealthy. We have to show people we are not going to stand for that.

— Cross posted to | @subirgrewal