Why didn’t we demand justice and vengeance for last month’s Syrian dead?

The Assad regime, in alliance with the Russians has forced various factions towards Idlib, this includes ISIS and other rebel forces. This week, we learned that dozens of civilians died there, struck by a chemical weapons attack. The Assad regime is most likely responsible.

Dozens of people, including children, died — some writhing, choking, gasping or foaming at the mouth — after breathing in poison that possibly contained a nerve agent or other banned chemicals, according to witnesses, doctors and rescue workers. They said the toxic substance spread after warplanes dropped bombs in the early morning hours. Some rescue workers grew ill and collapsed from proximity to the dead.

The opposition-run Health Department in Idlib Province, where the attack took place, said 69 people had died, providing a list of their names. The dead were still being identified, and some humanitarian groups said as many as 100 had died. — NY Times

There was almost universal outrage and an outpouring of sympathy for the victims of this atrocity. US media provided wall to wall coverage, as is appropriate for such an atrocity. During an interview earlier today, Hillary Clinton said she had long advocated air-strikes against Assad’s air force and thought they were still a good idea.

President Trump has now ordered these strikes and over 50 missiles appear to have struck a Syrian air-base. I’ve seen numerous comments in support of this bombing on DKos. Several segments of the “Resistance” have rallied to the war-cry of President Trump in the name of dead Syrian children.

Well, that reminds me of something that happened last month involving Trump and dead Syrian children:

Iraqi rescue workers on Friday pulled dozens of bodies from the ruins of a building in Mosul, where residents allege a U.S.-led coalition strike killed 137 people a week ago. — Washington Post

So, where was everybody last month when OUR bombs buried dozens of Syrian children under rubble of our making? Why didn’t you ask that the runways our jets and drones take off from be pock-marked?

And this wasn’t the only US strike last month to kill large number of civilians. On March 16, US forces bombed Idlib, Syria, apparently targeting an Al Qaeda meeting. Almost immediately after the strike, human rights organizations on the ground said roughly 50 civilians had died in the strike and it had demolished a mosque during prayers while 300 people were inside. Yes, that’s the same Idlib Assad struck. Everyone is bombing the same town.

There are other reports that US led airstrikes in Raqqa hit a school sheltering refugees, leading to 33 deaths. And then before that, we had a US ground mission in Yemen that led to the death of 9 young children under the age of 12 and more than a dozen other civilians. The White House called it a “winning, successful mission”.

So why aren’t you asking for the US Air Force, which dropped the bombs that killed these people to be grounded? Why weren’t you outraged last month at what OUR government had done? Why do you only get incensed when it’s some other son of a bitch doing it?

“The use of chemical weapons against innocent Syrian men, women, and children is a clear violation of international law. The Syrian regime must be held accountable for this horrific act, and its actions underscore why the United States should embrace innocent people who are fleeing in terror.

But the Constitution gives the power to authorize the use of military force to the legislative branch. Expanded military intervention in Syria requires action by Congress. If President Trump expects such an authorization, he owes the American people an explanation of his strategy to bring an end to the violence in Syria. We should not escalate this conflict without clear goals and a plan to achieve them.” — Elizabeth Warren’s statement

— Cross-posted at DailyKos | @subirgrewal

Kansas Democratic Party didn’t have $20k to help a House special election 5 days away. Why?

James Thompson is running for a US House of Representatives seat in Kansas’ 4th district. The election is in five days. It looks like he might actually have a chance to turn this deep-red district. That’s partly because the Republican opponent seems inept and also because Democrats are very engaged. In a special election where turn-out and engagement will make the difference this is a real possibility. Cook report moved it to likely Republican today (from safe). The candidate is on DKos, and he has a real chance to win this seat, he’s a veteran and a civil rights lawyer.

If you haven’t already, please contribute at ActBlue or visit the campaign websiteto volunteer and share their materials on social media. If you’re in Kansas, volunteer to GoTV.

PS. The candidate is endorsed by Our Revolution and, as of today by Daily Kos. Volunteers (including yours truly) are urging Our Revolution to crank up its GoTV phone/text machine for James Thompson. That is likely going to happen.

The campaign has had to scramble for cash, partly because no one thought they could win. So unlike the much closer race for Georgia’s 6th district, where John Ossoff has raised over $8 million, Thompson has only manage to raise $300k or so. But suddenly, the race seems in contention, with 5 days to go. Something must have scared the GOP because they pumped money into ads in this district that Trump carried by 27 points.

Thompson’s campaign asked the Kansas Democratic Party to chip in with $20K for a mailer to counter the Republican efforts. The state party couldn’t do it because they are strapped for cash.

“I don’t think it’s atypical for campaigns to ask parties to chip in. We asked the party to pay for a $20,000 mail project that would essentially be an early voter outreach,” Curtis [Thompson’s campaign chief] said.

Curtis referenced the party’s latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, which showed the party had $274,111 cash on hand at the end of February.

That figure appears to be in error, however.

A Feb. 20 letter from the FEC to the party says the filing lists a $143,000 transfer from “Hillary Victory Fund.” But the FEC letter says a review shows only $14,300 was disbursed.

That would mean the party’s actual cash on hand was closer to $145,000.

Kansas’ Democratic Party has limited resources, and there are a lot of other races they want to support this year. We have to trust their judgement on this call.

But, there’s still the question of what happened to that $143,000? And why can’t Democrats commit resources to a House race that they might be able to win?

See below the fold for more.

The Hillary Victory fund was a Joint Fundraising Committee between the Hillary campaign, the DNC and all state parties. It allowed the fund to collect a single check from a wealthy donor of up to $350k. This is far in excess of campaign finance limits for the candidate, but it was based on the idea that this massive contribution would be distributed between all the joint fund-raisers (the DNC, state parties, etc).

Back in May last year, Politico broke a story that only 1% of the money raised by the fund was making its way to state parties. In fact, the fund was sending money to state parties (likely to meet FEC requirements) but the DNC was turning around and asking for up to 90% of it back the same day. We had a diary about it at the time. It is possible that is what happened here.

The end result state parties can’t fund small requests in an important congressional race. The real shame is that the money was raised by telling donors it would be used to rebuild state parties:

In the days before Hillary Clinton launched an unprecedented big-money fundraising vehicle with state parties last summer, she vowed “to rebuild our party from the ground up,” proclaiming “when our state parties are strong, we win. That’s what will happen.”

But less than 1 percent of the $61 million raised by that effort has stayed in the state parties’ coffers, according to a POLITICO analysis of the latest Federal Election Commission filings. — Politico

Donors believed what they were told about rebuilding the state parties:

After POLITICO revealed that the victory fund was asking for couples to donate or raise a whopping $353,400 in order to sit at a table with Clinton, Clooney and his wife, attorney Amal Clooney, at a fundraiser last month in San Francisco, Clooney admitted that was “an obscene amount of money.” But he justified it by saying “the overwhelming amount of the money that we’re raising is not going to Hillary to run for president, it’s going to the down-ticket.” — Politico

The Hillary Victory fund raised 530 million. 145 million was spent on expenses, 158 million was sent to the presidential campaign, 108 million was sent to the DNC. That left 119 million for the state parties (22%), though much of that seems to have gone back to the DNC. The DNC also disbursed funds to state parties during 2016, but the majority of its expenditures during the 2016 cycle was spent on the national race.

This is in the past. We can only learn from it.

Here’s what you can do now to help Thompson’s campaign win.

If you haven’t already, please contribute to Thompson’s campaign at ActBlue and share their materials on social media. If you’re in Kansas, volunteer to GoTV.

PS. The candidate is endorsed by Our Revolution and, as of today by Daily Kos. Volunteers (including yours truly) are urging Our Revolution to crank up its GoTV phone/text machine for James Thompson. That is likely going to happen.

— Cross-posted at DailyKos | @subirgrewal

Car insurers are charging more in minority neighborhoods as per Pro Publica investigation.

ProPublica has a major investigative analysis where they conclude that Minority Neighborhoods Pay Higher Car Insurance Premiums Than White Areas With the Same Risk

ProPublica bought data on average damage claims in white and non-white neighborhoods and compared them with the rates insurance companies are charging in these neighborhoods. They consistently find that auto insurers charge more in non-white neighborhoods even when average loss rates per vehicle are lower. To remove variations based on driving records, age etc. They focused on a mythical 30 year old woman with a good driving record and one four states, California, Illinois, Texas and Missouri.

The analysis is quite thorough, though they are working with industry wide data since insurance companies won’t release their own loss rates broken down by neighborhood. The report is quite damning. Insurance companies are bound by various state regulations that prohibit discrimination and require pricing to reflect risk.

OTIS NASH WORKS SIX DAYS A WEEK AT TWO JOBS, as a security guard and a pest control technician, but still struggles to make the $190.69 monthly Geico car insurance payment for his 2012 Honda Civic LX.

“I’m on the edge of homelessness,” said Nash, a 26-year-old Chicagoan who supports his wife and 7-year-old daughter. But “without a car, I can’t get to work, and then I can’t pay my rent.”

Across town, Ryan Hedges has a similar insurance policy with Geico. Both drivers receive a good driver discount from the company.

Yet Hedges, who is a 34-year-old advertising executive, pays only $54.67 a month to insure his 2015 Audi Q5 Quattro sports utility vehicle. Nash pays almost four times as much as Hedges even though his run-down neighborhood, East Garfield Park, with its vacant lots and high crime rate, is actually safer from an auto insurance perspective than Hedges’ fancier Lake View neighborhood near Wrigley Field.

— Pro Publica

Most insurance companies refused to respond to their requests. Some have responded with “we don’t discriminate based on race” boilerplate that does not address the specific issues around rating setting algorithms that the article raises. Some of the state insurance regulators and insurers pushed back on ProPublica’s methodology claiming ProPublica’s dataset is incomplete and doesn’t accurately reflect loss rates. Of course, insurers also refuse to release more complete data, or make it available for analysis, so there is no way to validate their claims.

They could release the data to independent researchers to exonerate themselves, but haven’t offered to do so as yet. The industry has a long history of covering up redlining practices. My own take is that Pro Publica’s methodology is reasonable, and they’ve identified a very strong pattern that requires further investigation.

ACTION: So what should you do if your concerned about this? There are three actions you can take.

  1. Call your insurance company, ask to speak with a supervisor and ask to provide ProPublica with a specific response to this article that provides details on their pricing algorithm. Tell them you will not be satisfied with boiler-plate, non-quantitative legalese that states “we don’t discriminate”.
  2. Call the state insurance commissioner. If you live in one of the states ProPublica investigated, their websites/numbers are below. All of them have consumer feedback hotlines and e-mails:
    1. California Department of Insurance1-800-927-4357 (@CDINews)
    2. Texas Department of Insurance1-800-252-3439 (@TexasTDI)
    3. Illinois Department of Insurance: 1-866-445-5364
    4. Missouri Department of Insurance: 1-573-751-4126 (@MissouriDIFP)
  3. Write to your representative in Congress and ask that they investigate this, especially if they are on the Housing and Insurance committee.

And please go read the entire article which also covers the history of redlining in the insurance industry, and the extensive efforts insurance companies and banks went through to cover up redlining and withhold data from investigators. ProPublica interviewed black insurance agents who related older practices that included denying coverage entirely in minority neighborhoods (redlining), to dissuading agents from working in black neighborhoods. They also descrieb the various excuses insurers have used to mask redlining practices. Thurgood Marshall was denied car insurance by Travellers because they said he lived in a “congested” area (Harlem). What are they odds they issued insurance at competitive rates on the Upper East Side, which is as “congested”? The NAACP and others advocated for the passage of anti-discrimination laws through the 40s and 50s:

most states passed laws stating “rates should not be inadequate, excessive or unfairly discriminatory.” The legislation defines discrimination as “price differentials” that “fail to reflect equitably the differences in expected losses and expenses.”

Of course, the laws didn’t immediately stop discrimination. In a thorough examination of MetLife’s history released in 2002, New York state insurance regulators catalogued all of the ways that the company discriminated against black applicants for life insurance — dating back to the 1880s when it refused to insure them at all, to the first half of the 20th century when it required minorities to submit to additional medical exams and sold them substandard plans.

In the 1960s, as insurers stopped asking applicants to declare their race, MetLife began dividing cities into areas. In minority areas, applicants were subject to more stringent criteria, according to the report. In 2002, MetLife agreed to pay as much as $160 million to compensate minorities who were sold substandard policies.

One plausible explanation for higher prices is “price optimization” algorithms which seek to maximize profits by predicting which consumers are less apt to shop around and quote them higher rates.

— @subirgrewal

The Deification of Hillary Clinton: Sarah Jones reviews Susan Bordo’s book.

Susan Bordo’s book “The Destruction of Hillary Clinton” (and an extract published in the Guardian), has been discussed extensively on DKos previously here, herehere and in several other less heavily commented diaries.

Sarah Jones has a review of the book up at TNR which is worth a read.

She begins:

Susan Bordo is right about one thing: Sexism is real and Hillary Clinton has been subjected to it. The spectre of Hillary-the-nasty-woman is persistent and familiar—but it’s only one of the many reasons Clinton lost her latest White House bid. The story of her defeat is a complicated one, encompassing rising anti-establishment fervor, campaign error, and yes, prejudice. But you wouldn’t know it from reading Bordo’s new book.

Sarah goes on to comment on various aspects of Bordo’s book, including the:

  • scapegoating of millennials
  • unwillingness to acknowledge Clinton ran as a pragmatic realist and knowingly took positions to appeal to Republican voters turned-off by Trump
  • claim that Monica Lewinsky “has steadfastly insisted that there was nothing abusive (or even disrespectful) about Bill Clinton’s behavior.”
  • attempt to minimize the “super-predator” speech by claiming it was about “older drug dealers”
  • studious disregard for “moments when the candidate seemed to misread the public mood—such as her repeated claim that “America is already great.” ”

And yes, she addresses Bordo’s focus on tweets by “Bernie Bros” (a pejorative invented by Clinton partisans as a sequel to 2008’s “Obama Boys”):

To Bordo, rude Twitter users prove Sanders’s inadequate commitment to the left. Bordo never asks if her one-sided framing is evidence that she lives in a bubble, and what a telling oversight. Female Sanders supporters would have told her that Clinton backers are also guilty of online harassment—and that the label “Bernie Bro” has been deployed to erase the very existence of left-wing women, drowning out valid critiques of Clinton’s platform.

Bordo’s book is having its fifteen minutes, and perhaps we should perhaps just let that pass.

If it weren’t for this observation:

It crystallizes an emerging tendency in liberal discourse: the notion that critics of Hillary Clinton are either trolls or naive children. […]

Destruction offers no real lessons for Democrats. It’s a hagiography, written to soothe a smarting party. That is precisely why they must ignore it: There is no path forward that does not account for past mistakes. Hillary Clinton’s destruction was at least partly her own making, and if Democrats want to start winning elections it’s time they saw the truth.

Sarah’s review is well worth a read.

What if he isn’t colluding, just clueless?

There is clearly a lot we don’t know about the role Russia’s intelligence agencies played in the 2016 election. Investigations continue, both in Congress and by US intelligence agencies. I haven’t seen much attention paid to one possible outcome of the investigations. What if it turns out that Trump himself didn’t actively collude with Putin or any foreign agencies seeking to influence the election. What if he was clueless about this as he is (sometimes intentionally) about many other things?

That’s Mark Cuban’s take, as he outlined in a series of tweets yesterday.

Cuban then goes on to speculate that Manafort and Flynn were recommended to Trump who brought them on without  much due diligence. This is plausible, Trump prides himself on making decisions based on “very little knowledge”. With the haphazard, home-grown nature of his campaign, it’s quite likely no one even knew what screening questions to ask when bringing people into the campaign.

Trump is clueless enough to have asked, during a campaign rally:

“Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Someone actively conspiring with Russian intelligence wouldn’t be expected to say that. It might however, be blurted out by a careless person who has associates whispering in their ear that another e-mail dump might help the campaign.

If the rot is limited to Manafort, Flynn and a couple of others in the Trump campaign orbit, then we need to temper our expectations of the result. Unless it’s clear that Trump himself colluded (like Nixon) on an electronic DNC break-in, it’s unlikely he’ll be forced to resign or impeached.

There is no process to remove a president who is lazy, uninformed, uninterested or vulnerable to psy-ops and social engineering by foreign agents. Congress can’t and won’t impeach a president for incompetence.

There is still a political benefit to such a result. It will damage Trump’s awful agenda further and dent his approval ratings even more. So, we should continue to push for thorough, independent investigations. But it is likely that all we end up with is a hobbled Trump presidency. That would still be a good result for 2018 and 2020, but it is bound to disappoint some who believe Trump’s not long for the White House.

FWIW, my own take is that the alt-right in general (Trump included) adores Putin because they see in him a like-minded strongman who has used the Russian equivalent of white-supremacist, Islamaphobic, Christianist rhetoric in a quest for power.

“The Destruction of Hillary Clinton” has few lessons and heaps of condescension.

Susan Bordo published an extract from her forthcoming book in the Guardian, under the title: The destruction of Hillary Clinton: sexism, Sanders and the millennial feminists.

A quote from the piece:

They didn’t witness the complicated story of how the 1994 crime bill came to be passed or the origins of the “super-predator” label (not coined by Hillary and not referring to black youth, but rather to powerful, older drug dealers).

Go ahead, watch the video:

Your lying ears are probably telling you Hillary Clinton just said “they’re often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators”.

That’s because you’re an empty-headed, inexperienced, young millennial who doesn’t have the benefit of Bordo’s spidey-senses. Which is why you don’t know “kids” is actually a secret code-word for “powerful, older drug dealers”. Silly you.

Sanders’s branding of Hillary as establishment, however, seemed vastly unjust and corrosively divisive to me, especially when delivered to a generation that knew very little about her beyond what Bernie told them.

Not only are you too dumb to understand what “kids” means when Hillary Clinton says it, you’re also largely ignorant about politics in this country over the past 25 years. This generation doesn’t know much about politics or the Clintons and so abjectly failed to recognize HRC as the superior political product.

It’s really quite lamentable how impressionable and stupid we are, to fall for the rock-star charisma of a 75 year old grandpa, and that too only eight years after we fell for the rock-star charisma of a 47 year old black guy:

As I watched Sanders enchant the crowds, it was something of a deja vu experience to see a charismatic male politician on stage telling women which issues are and aren’t progressive.

The entire extract is meant to tell Bernie supporters they’re rubes without any agency of their own, incapable of discriminating between candidates. Apparently, millennial feminists weighed down by student debt were seduced by Bernie’s charisma, not his steadfast call for public colleges to be as affordable as when he (and Bordo and Clinton) attended.

On the off-chance that someone remembered there were substantive policy differences between Bernie and Hillary, Bordo is standing by to explain how silly we are to think that should matter.

As Jonathan Cohn wrote, in May: “If Sanders is the standard by which you’re going to decide whether a politician is a progressive, then almost nobody from the Democratic party would qualify. Take Sanders out of the equation, and suddenly Clinton looks an awful lot like a mainstream progressive.”

Let me paraphrase Jonathan Cohn’s prescription, quoted admiringly by Bordo:

First, forget that strong tea you tasted yesterday. We’re going to give you this weak tea, and just to make sure your little young heads don’t get all confused about it. The weak tea is what you get, and you will and should like it.

Earlier in the piece, Bordo is incensed that Bernie claimed the mantle of “progressive” from HRC, going into a long explanation of what “progressive” has meant over the years. And a couple of paragraphs later, she admits that you can only get Hillary to “mainstream progressive” if you remove Bernie from the data-set.

There’s a rank stench of paternalism, yes paternalism, wafting from this piece.

Bordo knows what is progressive and the silly Bernie supporters seduced by his “charisma” know less than nothing, we were just easy marks for a slick Burlington salesman. That paternalism might explain the next phenomenon that catches her attention:

too many young Democrats made it very clear (in newspaper and internet interviews, in polls, and in the mainstream media) that they were only voting for Hillary Clinton as the lesser of two evils, “holding their noses”, tears still streaming down their faces over the primary defeat of the person they felt truly deserved their votes. Some didn’t vote at all.

Ah yes, the crime of insufficient enthusiasm, which all Bernie supporters are forever guilty of. Of course, this couldn’t have anything to do with the candidate, it’s a product of Bernie supporters’ inherent moral failings, along with their youth, ignorance and inexperience as explained above.

This whole line of thinking is so ridiculous that even Bordo manages to lose the plot:

He was the champion of the working class (conveniently ignoring that black and white women were members, and that their issues were also working class issues)

Yes, for once I agree with her. Working class issues are indeed issues that impact black and white women, and all working people. Bernie reminded us of this throughout the campaign. For example, in his announcement speech:

Now is the time for millions of working families to come together, to revitalize American democracy, to end the collapse of the American middle class and to make certain that our children and grandchildren are able to enjoy a quality of life that brings them health, prosperity, security and joy – and that once again makes the United States the leader in the world in the fight for economic and social justice, for environmental sanity and for a world of peace.

Or when his campaign developed a comprehensive position on racial justice (before HRC’s did). Those are all reasons his campaign spoke to me, and why I knew he was more “progressive” than HRC. Jonathan Cohn’s attempt to adjust the curve and make HRC a “mainstream progressive” wasn’t compelling during the primary. Bordo echoing him a year later won’t do it either.

HRC had an opportunity to join the Congressional Progressive Caucus during her eight year senate career. It counts several dozen representatives as members. She did not.

Which allows me to remark on another prejudice that Bordo has managed to imbibe:

if Clinton had more support from the Democratic party, that was due in large part to the relationships she had cultivated over the years, working with others – something Sanders was not particularly good at.

By the way, that is the same CPC that Bernie helped found when he arrived in the House. So much for not being “particularly good at” working well with others. It’s also worth noting that the CPC overlaps significantly with the Congressional Black Caucus.

The fact is, HRC is a relatively “conservative” Democrat who inhabits a space between the right (on economic issues) and the left (on social issues). During her ascent (as part of a power couple) to the height of political power in our country, she had to make hard political choices, and there were reasons for making those choices. Some of them had to do with her priorities and what she believed, others with the circumstances. For instance, while serving as a board member at Walmart:

Fellow board members and company executives, who have not spoken publicly about her role at Wal-Mart, say Mrs. Clinton used her position to champion personal causes, like the need for more women in management and a comprehensive environmental program, despite being Wal-Mart’s only female director, the youngest and arguably the least experienced in business. On other topics, like Wal-Mart’s vehement anti-unionism, for example, she was largely silent, they said.

HRC was appointed to the board while her husband was governor of Arkansas (where Walmart is headquartered), to address the criticism that the board was composed entirely of white men. While in that role, she advocated for women in managerial roles, but not for rank and file working class women at Walmart who would have benefited from a union.

Some of those choices have been personally taxing for Hillary. For instance, her support for the Welfare Reform act caused a long-lasting rift with Marian Wright Edelman that has never been repaired.

In the end, Bordo’s long essay boils down to, us young ones don’t know what Hillary Clinton had to go through. If we accept that argument, then why not make it in defense of Lindsey Graham? Do we really know what Lindsey Graham had to go through, why he made the political compromises he did? Maybe we should cut him some slack and vote for him for president? Of course that’s a bad idea because much as there is to admire about Graham, his politics don’t align with ours, which is why we’re not enthusiastic about the prospect of voting for him.

The sad fact is that HRC was the wrong candidate for 2016. This was an anti-establishment cycle and she was the establishment candidate. She would have been the establishment candidate with or without Bernie. Without Bernie in the primary, her campaign might have made an even stronger pitch for suburban voters, by down-playing progressive economic issues. Would that have enthused millennial feminists?

There is much to admire in Hillary’s career and life, and even her two unsuccessful campaigns. Appreciating that does not require infantalizing those who supported Bernie as Bordo does.