Tapped: The Prospect Group Blog

Did Hillary Win the Debate or the Media Coverage?

Last night’s debate was a much-needed respite from the GOP clown car that has taken up too much of our bandwidth and time. Instead of talking about Carly Fiorina’s face or Donald Trump’s tweets, we heard the Democrats debate on foreign policy, social welfare, criminal justice reform, and other issues.

Some did better than others (Lincoln Chafee was “feeling the chafe”). But while Hillary Clinton reasserted her dominance, Bernie Sanders and even Martin O’Malley showed they will continue to share the stage.

For that reason, the immediate declarations from larger outlets that Clinton was the landslide “winner” seemed puzzling. Matt Yglesias of Vox wrote that the four other candidates “simply aren’t close.” Jonathan Chait of New York magazine predicted “The Hillary Clinton Panic May Have Just Ended.” And Slate proclaimed, “Hillary Clinton Won.”

Beltway wonkdom has often been accused of disconnect from regular voters. Last night was no different. Focus groups favored Sanders by large margins. He had strong support among younger voters in a Fusion focus group, won handily in another for CNN, and was called “strong” and “smart” by those in a Fox News group.

This is not to say Clinton didn’t perform exceptionally. She handled questions about her flip-flopping and her hawkish foreign-policy record with finesse and cheer. And she got a huge boost (barely containing her glee) when Sanders insisted that the debate move on from Clinton’s “damn emails.” For all the negative coverage of her in recent weeks, this debate certainly was “the best day for Clinton’s campaign,” as Maggie Haberman of The New York Times put it.

But journalists and analysts could perhaps just as easily say Sanders had his best day, too. For example, when asked whether voters would be willing to put a “socialist” in the White House, Sanders, refusing to identify as a capitalist, asserted, “I believe in a society where all people do well. Not just a handful of billionaires.” The answer earned generous applause, not the burning at the stake that pundits predicted.

O’Malley, Chafee, and Jim Webb also had their moments. For many voters, last night was probably the first time they had seen or even heard of them. O’Malley spoke crisply and succinctly (and even garnered new followers, if not for his policies, at least for his charm). For those three candidates (one of whom, Chafee, is running his campaign out of his personal sedan) CNN’s Tuesday Night Lights put them on the map.

This of course doesn’t mean those four candidates “won,” either. Chafee and Webb were crowded out of much of the discussion, and Webb was a bad sport about it. Sanders had to go on the defense about his gun-control record, and when asked about Russian intervention in Syria, looked like a deer in headlights. But pundits highlighted Clinton’s defensive moments as strengths. Yglesias claimed Clinton responded to the Glass-Steagall attacks with specific policies while Sanders didn’t, though one could just as easily argue that naming one bank to regulate and hurriedly referring to shadow banking is just as vague as saying we need to break up big banks.

But the media elite had already made up their minds. As Paul Waldman wrote on The Week, our opinions are inevitably shaped from the top down. Focus groups, though hardly scientific, can at least help inform media coverage. Ignoring that information made instant announcements of winners appear premature. Perhaps an entirely different debate aired for the punditocracy, or perhaps they are stuck in a feedback loop that reinforces the idea that Sanders is simply unelectable, no matter how the audience reacted. 

The Democratic Debate Was Proof That Protests Work

Last night, five Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage for their first debate hosted by CNN. The candidates—Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee—fielded questions from Anderson Cooper about a wide range of topics, including economic inequality and national security. However, one of the most telling moments during the two-hour debate was when Don Lemon read a question from a Facebook user: “Do black lives matter or do all lives matter?”

In July, at Netroots Nation—the largest gathering of progressives in the country—Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted the presidential town hall during Sanders’s speech. He fumbled on stage and left angrily. O’Malley fared even worse when he said, “All lives matter.” Clinton, who did not attend Netroots Nation, had the privilege of firming up her answer beforehand and later said “Black lives matter” in a Facebook Q&A.

Many Sanders supporters took to Twitter after Netroots to express their distaste for the protesters. Some said interrupting the candidate’s speech was rude or “not the right way” to go about addressing the issue of racism and police brutality. Others said that the protests discredited the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole. The message from those (mostly white) critics was very clear: Black people, stay in your place.

After Sanders’s poor handling of the protesters and the subsequent criticism from Black Lives Matter activists on his inability to stray from his pet issue of economic inequality and actually address systemic racism, Sanders released a racial equality platform. O’Malley also sought to do damage control by unveiling his plan for criminal justice reform.

Last night, Sanders answered Cooper’s question with an emphatic “Black lives matter!” Not all of the answers from the other candidates were thoughtful or encouraging, including Jim Webb, who came close to saying, “All lives matter” when he responded with, “Every life in this country matters.” But for the first time, the issue of police brutality and institutional racism made it onto the stage at a presidential debate in a substantial way—proof of the power of disruptive protest. 

Tamir Rice's Killing Is Called "Reasonable" Because He Was Black

Last November, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun at a park in Cleveland. A person in the park called the police to report that a black male was pointing a gun at people. Cleveland police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback responded to the call and, within two seconds—two seconds—Loehmann shot Rice. On Saturday, two experts found that the shooting of Tamir Rice was “reasonable.”

The two reports were written by S. Lamar Sims, who is senior chief deputy district attorney in Denver and former FBI agent Kimberly A. Crawford. “For all of the reasons discussed herein,” read the report written by Sims, “I conclude that Officer Loehmann’s belief that Rice posed a threat of serious physical harm or death was objectively reasonable as was his response to that perceived threat."

The fact that Loehmann’s actions were found “reasonable” has activists in Cleveland worried that the grand jury will decline to charge the officer. “It will be read, understandably, as a tragic foreshadowing of where the case may be headed: no arrest, no charges, no indictments,” Rhonda Y. Williams, the director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland told The New York Times.

Plenty of white adults with real guns, like defiant Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his merry band of protesters—managed to point their weapons at police and survive. And in Ohio, which is an open-carry state, white people can casually walk around with assault rifles slung over their backs without being killed. Though the guns are real, their skin relieves them of the burden of being a threat. Only in a country where black lives aren’t valued is killing a 12-year-old boy because he has a toy gun “reasonable.” 

This Just In: We Are Officially in a New Gilded Age

Yesterday, The New York Times dropped an investigative bombshell that confirmed in detail what most of us already know: The ultra-rich are in control of our electoral process. 

As the Times reports, just 158 families have contributed nearly half of all the money raised so far for the numerous presidential campaigns. “Not since before Watergate,” the story states, “have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign, most of it through channels legalized by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision five years ago.”

Not surprisingly, these donors are overwhelmingly white, male, old, Republican, and rich—very, very rich. These are the people who have made their wealth by cashing in on the under-regulated frontiers of fracking and speculative finance. And they are backing candidates who will ensure that their interests are kept at the front of the agenda.

“[R]egardless of industry, the families investing the most in presidential politics overwhelmingly lean right, contributing tens of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates who have pledged to pare regulations; cut taxes on income, capital gains and inheritances; and shrink entitlement programs. While such measures would help protect their own wealth, the donors describe their embrace of them more broadly, as the surest means of promoting economic growth and preserving a system that would allow others to prosper, too.”

Most of these donors are concentrated around only nine cities, and if you combine the neighborhoods—elite, mostly white enclaves—that these political benefactors live in, it would be roughly equivalent to the area of New Orleans. Here’s a great breakdown of just where these donors come from, and how they’ve made their fortunes.

We’ve known for some time now that the mega-rich, who have a very specific political agenda, have captured the campaign-finance system. This investigation serves, however, to turn that notion from an abstract to a very tangible concept and brings these political power-players out from the shadows. 

To Protect Public Housing, Maxine Waters Calls For Greater RAD Oversight

Earlier this week, Maxine Waters, the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, sent a letter to the GAO requesting a review of the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD). RAD, as I’ve written about previously, is the Obama administration’s plan to save public housing by injecting private capital. Currently 185,000 public housing units across the country are being transferred to the control of private developers, who will receive tax breaks and subsidies in exchange for repairing and rehabbing the units, and keeping their rents low.

Waters has criticized RAD in the past. In December 2014, she sent a letter to President Obama asking him to reconsider the program, saying she believes it “may very well do more harm than good in diminishing a crucial public asset.” She urged him to allocate more funds directly to public housing authorities and to “renew [the government’s] commitment to serving those most in need by demanding the full amount of funding that the public housing program so desperately requires.”

Now, nearly ten months later, Waters is calling for a more formal federal review. In her letter to the GAO she outlines her concerns that tenant rights will not be properly protected through RAD conversions, that public assets will be privatized, and that long-term affordability is not guaranteed. (My previous reporting looks more specifically at all of these concerns).

Waters asks the GAO to examine some critical questions about RAD conversions, such as how are the housing authorities proposing to maintain public ownership over the long haul, and are those proposed mechanisms sufficient to actually protect the properties? What are HUD’s plans for public housing units not converted under RAD? Have any tenants been displaced? How have tenants been educated about and involved in the RAD conversion process?

According to HUD, the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units need at least $25.6 billion in capital repairs. While many experts feel that RAD may be the best available option to preserve public housing given the austere political climate, answers to Waters’ questions are still sorely needed. The details of these real estate transactions are not well understood, and the few details that have emerged raise many questions.

Given that some of the failures of the Clinton-era HOPE VI program were poor recordkeeping and tenant displacement, Waters’ call for more rigorous oversight is a welcome development. 

On Voting Rights, Carson is Actually the Sane Republican

Yesterday, at a campaign event in Iowa Republican contender Jeb Bush said he didn’t think the Voting Rights Act—a cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement—should be reauthorized by Congress after the conservative Supreme Court gutted it in 2013. 

Here’s exactly what he had to say: “If it’s to reauthorize it to continue to provide regulations on top of states as though we’re living in 1960, because those were basically when many of those rules were put in place, I don’t believe we should do that. There’s been dramatic improvement in access to voting, exponentially better improvement, and I don’t think there’s a role for the federal government to play in most places.”

On this issue, Jeb is not only straying from his brother’s position—given that George W. Bush signed reauthorization of the VRA in 2006—but he’s also outflanking the Republican’s resident crazy-talker, Ben Carson.

As the CNN reported yesterday, a policy divide has emerged within the party on the issue of restoring and protecting voter rights. "Of course I want the Voting Rights Act to be protected. Whether we still need it or not or whether we've outgrown the need for it is questionable," Carson told CNN. "Maybe we have, maybe we haven't. But I wouldn't jeopardize it."

For The Nation, Ari Berman explained exactly why Jeb Bush’s notion that the VRA is no longer necessary is an absolute abomination. From 1965 to 2013, the section of the VRA that was struck down by the Supreme Court had stopped 3,000 discriminatory voting changes from happening. One only needs to look at what Alabama did last week to refute Bush. Berman also notes that in the past four years alone, 468 new voting restrictions have cropped up in 49 states—one of the most severe was in Jeb’s home state of Florida.

“It’s sad, but not surprising, that the same guy who said African Americans just wanted ‘free stuff’ from the government is now claiming that the VRA, the country’s most important civil-rights law, is no longer necessary,” Berman writes.

McCarthy's Exit Sparks Liberal Schadenfreude and GOP Disarray

At about noon today, political Twitter and news junkies were offered a gift: Representative Kevin McCarthy, the presumed successor to House Speaker John Boehner’s throne, abruptly withdrew from the leadership contest.

McCarthy’s election was by no means certain—just yesterday, the conservative Freedom Caucus decided to back Representative Dan Webster instead—but things were looking pretty good for the California Republican. “How the dusty, deep red Bakersfield, California, shaped his life—and might shape his speakership,” said the subtitle for a Politico magazine story posted today, anticipating the outcome of today’s Republican conference vote (which Boehner has now postponed).

There’s been a few ideas as to why McCarthy made the sudden decision to drop out of the race, from unsubstantiated rumors of an affair to the Freedom Caucus decision. And of course, there was McCarthy’s ill-advised comment last week, which seemed to acknowledge that the Benghazi committee was a political tool meant to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The decision left some Republicans “audibly crying” in the cloakroom and gave liberal observers cause for glee.

Clinton demonstrated her own delight in the news, by posting this video:


Journalists and Twitter users highlighted the chaos of the Republican Party and its failure of leadership, and some typically wild speculations:


But John Nichols of The Nation had a particularly stirring condemnation of the GOP and the politics of “no” that have led to the party’s unsurprising disarray:

But the greater surrender is that of the Republican Party. It has given up on a premise as old as the party itself: that Republican speakers (like the best of Democratic speakers) would lead the whole House and seek to keep the chamber functioning. … But [Boehner’s] tepid regard for governing was too much for his caucus. And for a party that has no real need for a speaker of the House because it has lost interest in what Republicans historically understood as governing.

Challenges to John King’s Integration Pilot

In August I wrote about the Obama administration’s record on school integration, and while it’s been mostly disappointing, there have been some encouraging recent developments. Specifically, the administration has moved to include diversity as a funding priority in more of its smaller grant programs. At the end of 2014, New York’s education commissioner, John King, spearheaded the first socioeconomic integration pilot of its kind, using newly available federal dollars.

Soon after, King moved to the Department of Education, where he served as Arne Duncan’s senior adviser. Last week, Duncan announced that he would be stepping down, and King would assume the role of secretary of education.

Journalists quickly published a bunch of “Here’s What You Need to Know About John King” pieces. A few mentioned his support for school integration (see MSNBC and The 74) but not all (Vox, The Washington Post).

I had the opportunity to hear John King speak at the National Coalition of School Diversity’s conference last month, just a week before he took over for Arne Duncan. It was at the same time that Pope Francis was traveling up the East Coast, and King pointed this fact out to the audience. This is a moment, he said, “where we as a country ask ourselves what kind of country do we want to be?” King then went on to declare that “schools that are integrated better reflect our values” and that he “sees our diversity not as a challenge or a problem but as a strength.” While some other conference speakers noted their dissatisfaction with the Obama administration’s record on school diversity, attendees seemed to generally embrace King’s speech.

Today ChalkbeatNY published an important article that looks more closely at how King’s pilot program is faring in New York. The reporter, Patrick Wall, finds that, “it’s far from certain that the initiative will spur much integration” in the nine local districts participating. (A 2014 study found that New York has the nation’s most segregated schools.)

Wall points to several factors. The noncompetitive grants were relatively small, and came with restrictions. Districts also had a very short amount of time to apply for them, which can impact how they’re implemented. There are also questions about how comprehensive these plans are across participating districts.

Wall interviews several experts excited by the pilot, because they feel that regardless of how it fares, the pilot creates space for more far-reaching policy down the line. He talks to Susan Eaton, an academic who studies school integration, who says that the pilot could have a greater impact with more political support and increased funding. She notes, however, that the initial grant proposals, and the effort put forth by the administration, “fell short.”

Jeanne Beattie, a spokesperson for New York’s Education Department said many districts set “initially modest” integration goals, but they could be increased in the future, especially if the federal government starts to earmark funds specifically for integration. (I’ve written before about why there’s still a significant role for the federal government to play when it comes to these issues.)

Yet there are risks associated with failure, too. Wall quotes Michael Hilton, from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council (which co-sponsored the school diversity conference), who says that while he’s hopeful, he worries that if goals are too modest or poorly implemented, the political momentum around tackling school segregation could diminish.

At the conference, King pledged his commitment to working more concertedly on these issues. He’s now in an even greater position of power than he was when he spoke those words. Advocates will be playing close attention to where this all leads. 

Your Constitutional Right to Privacy (Unless You Want an Abortion in Ohio)

The Ohio General Assembly is expected to vote soon on a bill that seeks to let the state government decide whether a woman’s reason for terminating a pregnancy is acceptable. Introduced in August, H.B. 135 would prohibit women from seeking an abortion because of a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome; a doctor who knowingly performs the abortion would lose their license.

Ignoring the fact that this certainly isn’t “small government,” the bill raises some serious enforcement questions. For instance, how will the doctor performing the abortion prove that the woman was choosing to terminate her pregnancy because of such a diagnosis? Couldn’t the pregnant woman say she’s terminating for other reasons?

This bill, like many other abortion restrictions, is loaded with concern for a fetus, but not what happens after. Children, those with special needs or without, require economic, physical, and emotional sacrifice from parents. But the safety net across the United States and especially in Ohio is dismal. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio is the third-worst state for food insecurity, only behind Arkansas and Missouri. And like most states, Ohio does not provide paid family leave.

The proposed legislation would add to the already long list of abortion restrictions in Ohio. A woman seeking an abortion must receive state-directed counseling that includes information that will attempt to discourage her. Then she must wait 24 hours after counseling before obtaining the procedure, necessitating two separate trips to the clinic. More than half the women of reproductive age in Ohio live in a county without an abortion provider, meaning that those two separate trips can be long and costly.

Ohio Governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich said that he would sign the proposed bill if it makes it to his desk. If it is enacted, Ohio would become the second state to ban abortion in such cases. In 2013, North Dakota passed some of the most stringent abortion laws of recent decades, including bans on abortion because of genetic defects and sex selection, or once a fetal heartbeat is detectable (which can be as early as six weeks).

H.B. 135 is in direct violation of Roe v. Wade, which said that a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy until the fetus is viable is protected under her constitutional right to privacy. Abortion is a personal decision, and the reason a woman wants to obtain the procedure should not be one the government must approve. 

An Uber Union?

Last Friday, the Seattle City Council finance committee voted unanimously to advance a bill that would allow drivers for companies like Lyft and Uber to form a union. The final vote has yet to be scheduled, but if the proposed legislation were to become law, it would be the first of its kind in the country.

Some taxi drivers—like those in Washington, D.C.—have affiliated with unions, but given their independent contractor status, they lack the power to negotiate directly with taxi companies. Their approach has mainly been to push for more favorable regulations around rates and working conditions. According to The Washington Post’s Lydia DePillis, this has worked out fairly well for the most part, but given that Uber and Lyft are not regulated very much, such a strategy is limited for them.

Hence the proposed bill, spearheaded by Seattle City Councilman, Mike O’Brien. If the National Labor Relations Act doesn’t cover independent contractors, could local governments still pass laws that would? It’s not without precedent: Some states have allowed farmworkers to join unions and O’Brien has been working with Teamsters Local 117 to find a concrete strategy for Seattle. While his bill focuses specifically on drivers, it may also set a precedent for workers' rights for other industries that rely on independent contract labor. 

If the bill were to pass, it would no doubt face fierce legal challenge. Opponents would likely argue that the statute violates federal law. But according to the Seattle Times, Mike O’Brien feels confident that his bill would be upheld in court.

“I’m always concerned (about the city losing a lawsuit),” he said. “That’s something we balance when we’re passing legislation that hasn’t been done before. There’s a trade-off between that risk and the benefit we would get for workers. I believe the upside on this is worth more than the downside.”

At the same time, Uber currently faces a big class-action lawsuit from as many as 160,000 current and former California drivers who argue they have been misclassified as independent contractors. And this past summer, FedEx settled a class-action lawsuit with more than 2,000 drivers found to be misclassified as independent contractors. The Department of Labor also recently published a new guidance on employee misclassification, which suggests it will be paying more attention to the issue going forward. 

As Harold Meyerson has documented extensively for The American Prospect, Seattle has earned a national reputation for passing innovative worker protection laws. It raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, mandated paid sick leave, and criminalized wage theft. If Seattle also becomes the first city to allow Uber drivers to unionize, that would be another major feather in its cap.