Archive

December 12th

Keith Ellison's coronation as DNC Chair hit a major hurdle this week

    Keith Ellison seemed to be on cruise control in his campaign to be the next head of the Democratic National Committee. The Minnesota Democrat had won endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer for the job and had emerged as the liberal favorite in a party that has become increasingly controlled by its progressive wing in recent years.

    Then this week his past came back to haunt him.

    Ellison has a long history of controversial remarks, many of which he has disavowed. Like the time he compared George W. Bush to Hitler. Or his defense of the Nation of Islam. Or calling his 2012 opponent a "low-life scumbag."

    But, this week another Ellison controversy emerged -- and this from the much-more-recent past.

    In 2010, Ellison gave a speech at a fundraiser hosted by a past president of the Muslim-American Society. In it, he says he wants the "U.S. to be friends with Israel" but adds: "We can't allow another country to treat us like we're their ATM." Then Ellison said this:

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If not on 'voter fraud,' when will Trump's inner circle stop going along with his false assertions?

    One would think that Reince Priebus, the guy in charge of the Republican Party's 2016 electoral efforts, would be unwilling to entertain the nonsensical idea that millions of people who participated in it voted illegally. After all, the Republicans did very well in 2016 - holding the Senate, holding the House and retaking the White House. And, after all, it would largely be up to Priebus as head of one of the two major political parties to maintain the integrity of the election - and up to the Republican attorneys general in the majority of the states to police things.

    That policing happens, of course. Any number of safeguards and protections are in place to ensure the integrity of the vote. Over the course of the election, we found a grand total of four proven instances in which someone was caught trying to vote more than once in person or by absentee ballot. The system works, and Priebus should both know and reiterate that point.

    Confronted by CBS' John Dickerson on Sunday morning, though, he didn't.

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Democrats have lost an entire generation of congressional leaders

    You might have missed the news this past week that Rep. Xavier Becerra will leave Congress to become California's attorney general. Becerra wasn't the highest-profile member of Congress. But his departure is a piece of a broader exodus of Democratic House members once regarded as the next leaders of the party in Washington.

    For Becerra, the move makes sense. His stock in Washington had fallen somewhat in recent months, and with Rep. Nancy Pelosi's reelection as minority leader last week - and the retention of the two other top leaders for House Democrats - it would be at least two more years before Becerra could move up the leadership ladder. Now he will be positioned to run for a statewide office (governor in 2022 or 2026, Senate in 2018) or be plucked by the next Democratic president as a Cabinet pick. Plus, he is being appointed to the job by Gov. Jerry Brown, meaning that he will run as an incumbent in 2018. (The job is open because Kamala Harris won election to the Senate last month.)

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Trump says he'll cancel Obama's 'unconstitutional' executive actions. It's not that easy.

    During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to "cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama." The good news was that Trump did not simply use the phrase "executive order" to describe every administrative tool presidents can use. That simplification is inaccurate.

    The bad news was that it wasn't clear, then or now, which particular actions he deemed "unconstitutional." Many of those he complained most about on the campaign trail - about gun control, for instance - had little substantive impact on gun ownership or use.

    In any case, judging from his recent YouTube video announcing his own plans for "Day One" of his administration, Trump sees executive actions exactly as other presidents have: as a means to show leadership and to push forward his policy preferences fast, without the tedium of the legislative process. (In his two-and-a-half minute video, Trump never used the word "Congress," though other items from his campaign's "100-day plan" would clearly need legislative approval.)

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The faux teacher shortage

    Here's something I've been struggling to understand: What makes the prospect of a national teacher shortage such an immediately compelling narrative, capable of spreading with the speed of a brush fire?

    With almost no real data - because neither states nor the federal government collects the information that would be needed to pronounce the onset of a true teacher shortage - we witness the press, school districts, state school boards and even Congress conclude that we are in the throes of a full-blown national crisis.

    At the root of this crisis is a New York Times news article published two summers ago reporting on six school districts that were having a tough time filling positions (though all but two ultimately started the year just fine). Whoosh! Overnight the teacher shortage became real.

    That early spark was then steadily fed by news articles reporting that teacher preparation programs were facing unprecedented enrollment drops.

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What it was like to look up to John Glenn

    John Glenn was one of my heroes. When I was a kid, we would learn about the exploits of the Mercury astronauts in "My Weekly Reader" and gawk at their photographs in "Life." Each of us had a favorite, and Glenn was mine. I was in second grade in February 1962 when he became the first American to orbit the globe, and like the rest of the country I was ecstatic.

    Glenn, who died this week at 95, was the rare public figure who was just exactly what he seemed -- the smiling, hardworking Presbyterian from a little town in Ohio who joined the Marines as an aviator after Pearl Harbor, won medals in two wars, and became the face of the U.S. space program. He was a genuine hero at a time when heroes were in short supply.

    It's hard to capture for the contemporary reader the extent to which the Cold War dominated public life in the early 1960s. This was the era of fallout shelters and air raid drills. Glenn's flight was sandwiched between the crises in Berlin and Cuba, either of which could have erupted into a conflagration. Children worried as much as adults about Armageddon. My friends and I used to bet nickels and dimes on when World War III would start.

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Raw emotions persist in run-up to Trump presidency

    Every four years, the Institute of Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government assembles the managers of the presidential campaigns for a deep, post-election debrief. It is always illuminating and generally civil, with occasional fireworks. Because the 2016 election was unlike any other, this year's managers conference was also unlike any other.

    In the immediate aftermath of President-elect Donald Trump's victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, all the leading players said the right things. Trump called for healing and said that he would try to bring the country together. Clinton asked her supporters to give the newly elected president the space and opportunity to govern. President Barack Obama, despite harsh words for Trump through the campaign, said that he would assure an orderly transfer of power in the spirit of reconciliation.

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December 11th

Our Only Hope

    Following the election I expressed the hope that this President-Elect continuing to promote such extreme views would alarm even his Republican colleagues sufficiently to hold him in check. Alas, his pronouncements and actions have continued in the same vein with concern only being expressed by those Democrats smart enough to have opposed his election in the first place. The concern is more than normal political differences of how to run a nation. It is extremism in the extreme!

    To be sure there were many of his party members who did express opposition from time to time but when push came to shove they were right there at his side supporting his election. So much for responsibility! Yes, there is something to be said for joining him now that he has the office in hopes of mitigating his extreme stated policies. My referral is to the few who cautioned us regarding the candidate who are now under consideration for high posts. The appointment of agency heads whose purpose seems to be to dismantle the agency is a different matter.

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How to Win a Senate Race

    It takes a certain force of will to turn away, even briefly, from the burlesque of Donald Trump’s transition into the presidency. But that’s not the entirety of U.S. politics, just as his election wasn’t the lone political story of 2016. Other contests had important lessons. One especially draws my eye.

    It was a gigantic win for Republicans, who will use it as a model. But Democrats can learn as much from it, because it mirrored some mistakes they made nationwide.

    I’m referring to Sen. Rob Portman’s re-election in Ohio. His seat was one that Democrats identified early as a potential steal, and through much of 2015 and 2016, political analysts tagged the race as one of the most competitive in the country. But he ended up winning by 21 points.

    Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Ohio by a smaller margin of 8 points, so Portman didn’t merely surf a Republican wave. And while the Democratic Party essentially gave up on the race two months before Election Day, diverting money elsewhere, that didn’t fully explain the size of Portman’s victory. Nor did his formidable war chest of funds.

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Finding America’s Mother Teresa

    If this political season has you feeling down, meet Annette Dove. She’s a salve for our aches and wounds, for she represents the American grass roots’ best.

    Dove, 60, is a black woman who dropped out of high school when she became pregnant and who has endured racism and domestic abuse. Drawing on her own experience overcoming difficulties, she now runs a widely admired program for troubled children. Funding the program in part with her own savings — even going into personal bankruptcy to keep it going — she transforms lives.

    Dove works seven days a week and struggles month to month to pay the bills with donations, foundation support and a state grant; when the money runs out, she prays.

    The poverty and disadvantage that Dove is fighting here in Pine Bluff, a poor, majority-black town of 50,000, are found all across America. But so, too, are people like Dove, battling for progress through churches, schools, Big Brother programs, advocacy efforts.

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