Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Instead of nominating Marco Rubio, the Republicans should just cut out the pretense and nominate his doppelgänger: Charlie McCarthy

Bill Clinton had a line during his 1992 campaign that he said, mantra-like, so often in fact that eventually it lost its meaning and was just a cringe-inducing song-like chorus.  The line, the slogan, was, “People who work hard and play by the rules.”  It was—until he repeated it to a point well beyond when people actually would think of its meaning when they heard it, rather than just cringe or role their eyes—a very effective campaign mantra and also one that said something meaningful.  And it’s a line that I’ve thought of repeatedly since Thursday night’s debate.

Marco Rubio neither works hard nor plays by the rules.  Except, of course, the rules that politicians these days play by, although Rubio has throughout his political career—which is to say, virtually throughout his adult life once he graduated from law school—been jaw-droppingly adept at it, finding two billionaires to sponsor his political career and shore up his personal finances. One of them is human, the other is a corporate person.

The corporate person is GEO Group, the second-largest private, for-profit prison company in the United States—is there another country that has a private-prisons industry?  I have no idea—and whose company’s only client is government entities.  Including the State of Florida, thanks to Rubio during his tenure as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives (of billionaires, human and corporate).  The other is Miami billionaire Norman Braman.

A common refrain about Rubio is that he’s a man in a hurry.  A refrain that I trust is about to become common is that he also is a man on the take.  Which he is.  Pure and simple.  This spade needs to be called a spade, and will be, whether it’s Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders—or a massive swell from the news media of the sort that, finally, is occurring in the wake of Wednesday’s debate calling all but one member of the entire cast (Kasich was the exception) grifters, scam artists, fraudsters, liars on a truly grand scale—that begins it loudly enough to be heard.

Regarding GEO-Group-as-Rubio-family-financier, the first article about it (to my knowledge) in a major national publication was by Staten Island-based freelance writer Michael Cohen published in the Washington Post on April 28 of this year.  Its title is “How for-profit prisons have become the biggest lobby no one is talking about.”  Its subtitle is “Sen. Marco Rubio is one of the biggest beneficiaries.”  Among its paragraphs about Rubio is this one:

Marco Rubio is one of the best examples of the private prison industry’s growing political influence, a connection that deserves far more attention now that he’s officially launched a presidential bid. The U.S. senator has a history of close ties to the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, GEO Group, stretching back to his days as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust. Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company. (Rubio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

The statute of limitations has run on potential public corruption charges under the federal criminal code.  But many public officials have been charged and convicted for conduct that bears, let’s just say, a resemblance to Rubio’s. Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell would dispute that his was one such case, since McDonnell contends that when he pushed that vitamin supplement in exchange for $165,000 (or whatever the amount was) in gifts and sweetheart loans, he did so not in his official capacity but as a private individual.

Then there is the curious case of Norman Braman, Florida tax policy when Rubio was speaker of the Florida House, and Rubio’s job teaching Political Science at a Florida public university courtesy of a newly created and paid for in full by Braman after Rubio left the Florida House in order to run full-time for the U.S. Senate.  (Full time except for that adjunct teaching position, of course.)  In an article published Monday on Alternet, Lou Dubose of the Washington Spectator summarized the details as revealed earlier by The New York Times:

In an interview with The New York Times, the senator described Norman Braman, a Miami billionaire who once owned the Philadelphia Eagles and now sells BMWs, Rolls-Royces, Cadillacs, Audis and Bugatis, as “a father figure who had given him advice on everything, from what books to read to how to manage a staff.”

Braman, the Times reported, gave Rubio more than advice.

He contributed $255,000 to an advocacy group Rubio formed to lobby for one of his signature-mark initiatives while he was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives: a dramatic reduction of property taxes and increase in the state sales tax.

When Rubio left state government, he got a job teaching at Florida International University, committing to raise his salary from private donors. Braman contributed $100,000 to the university, earmarked for Rubio’s salary.

Braman donated to Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign, and hired Rubio as a lawyer for seven months while he campaigned. He hired Rubio’s wife, and her company, to work for his charitable foundation. And he is reported to have committed $10 million to Rubio’s presidential campaign.

The New York Times reporters suggested that Rubio’s involvement with Braman will lead to a more thorough examination of the Florida Senator’s personal finances as the presidential campaign continues.

Dubose’s article is titled “Marco Rubio’s Financial Messes” and subtitled “Fishy financials don’t make for a great campaign.”  And, really, they don’t.

Rubio’s debate riposte—not about any of this, which he wasn’t asked about, but to a question about problems with his and his wife’s handling of their family’s cash flow—was that, well, he unlike Bush and Trump comes from a family of very modest means, and as an adult he received no financial assistance from his parents.  This presumably will do double duty as a response to questions about what the conduct that many people, I suspect, will view as amounting to public corruption.  But it’s a line that will continue to work only until someone other than me—to reiterate, e.g., Trump, Sanders, Clinton, or journalists—points out that many, many people who come from families of very modest means actually do work hard and do play by the rules.

Many of them, like Rubio’s mother, whom he mentioned during the debate in reference to Medicare and Social Security—he said she relies on them—are weak as people.  So, too, is he, by his own admission, for allowing his mother to rely on those federal programs rather than supporting her, including paying her healthcare costs.  Like people did in the old days. I was unaware of this admission by him, and in fact was unaware that he thinks Medicare and Social Security weaken us as people, until I read Steve Benen’s post yesterday on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC blog (h/t Paul Waldman):

Later, the far-right Floridian referenced entitlements – Rubio is on record condemning Medicare and Social Security for “weakening us as a people” – and said to laughter, “Nothing has to change for current beneficiaries. My mother is on Medicare and Social Security. I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother.”

That same record (video, actually) includes, specifically, Rubio’s statement that Medicare and Social Security have made us as a people lazy.

It will be a relief to many that as long as Mrs. Rubio is alive, Medicare and Social Security will be safe under a Rubio presidency.  Enabling the lazy Rubio to avoid having to support her.

The Democrats can only hope that Marco Rubio will be the Republican nominee for president.  Our current campaign finance system reduces most American politicians to ventriloquists’ puppets, but Rubio is unmistakably Charlie McCarthy reincarnate.  To the point of comedy.  Like the original Charlie McCarthy.  Next time you hear or see him speak, just think of how comfortably he would fit on Edgar Bergen’s lap.*

A week or two ago I read—I don’t remember where—that there is a Super PAC tied to Rubio that has a huge amount of funding but only one donor, whose identity is anonymous.  Rubio indeed would fit perfectly on Edgar Bergen’s lap, but here’s betting that that donor isn’t Edgar Bergen.


*Link to Paul Krugman’s blog post from this morning titled “Policy and Character” added. 10/30 at 11:01 p.m.

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The Silly Analogizing of Bernie Sanders to Ron Paul

Oh, dear.  This post of mine from yesterday is soooo yesterday.  (Okay, sooo last-weekend, to be precise.)  The attempt to paint Sanders as the Democrats’ Donald Trump has failed.  Sanders isn’t the left’s Donald Trump; he’s the left’s Ron Paul!  At least according to a rapidly congealing CW pushed by pundits that include—surprisingly—at least one progressive one.

Freelance writer Zaid Jilani writes on Alternet, in an article republished today on Salon:

In response to the high turnouts at Sanders’s events, many in the media have sought to downplay his momentum by comparing him to former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, who also inspired an enthusiastic following:

Bernie Sanders is the left’s Ron Paul.” [Slate Magazine]

Why Bernie Sanders is the Ron Paul of 2016” [The Week]

Bernie Sanders could be the Ron Paul of 2016” [Washington Examiner]

Can Bernie Sanders be the left’s Ron Paul?” [Rare]

Is Bernie Sanders the next Ron Paul?” [Fox News]

The message these outlets are promoting is that Sanders, like Paul, will be able to get an enthusiastic base but will ultimately fail in his quest for the presidency and will only make only a minor impact on the debate. The implication seems to be that Sanders’ views are on the fringe, like Ron Paul’s. But are they? Or is it just that he is the only one articulating the need to address extreme inequality and expanding social security, which millions of Americans support?

The media message seems to rely on the idea that the two men are similar because they spark genuine enthusiasm among their supporters – which is perhaps a sad commentary on American politics that there are so few candidates who can do this that when they do they are instantly compared.

Jilani goes on to deconstruct the analogy by pointing out, most importantly, that:

Paul, despite his enthusiastic and genuinely creative volunteer and donor base, has advocated ideas like completely eliminating Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. Even among the GOP base, these ideas are extremely unpopular.

Ah.  I get it. There’s no reason to think that a candidate who proposed deeply unpopular policy changes is different than a candidate who proposes popular policy changes. Why would anyone think otherwise?

Okay, maybe there’s a difference between proposing, say, the repeal of Social Security and an increase in Social Security in light of the near-universal end to traditional pension plans.  No, the real problem for Sanders—according to several commentators I’ve read in the last week, including another liberal one—is that Sanders is not like Barack Obama in 2008 because, see, Sanders, unlike Obama in that campaign, isn’t campaigning on generic hope-and-change, fill-in-the-blanks-as-you-want-them-to-be-filled-in slogans, providing specifics about domestic policy proposals only kicking and screaming because John Edwards has done so and then Hillary Clinton has done so because John Edwards has done so.

Nope.  Sanders is running on a series of specific policy statements.  And irrespective of whether or not those policy proposals are popular, Sanders can’t beat Hillary Clinton because he’s  not Barack Obama.

Look.  Obama was supported against Clinton in 2008 by progressives who really, really didn’t want another triangulation Democratic White House.  People thought that’s what a Hillary Clinton administration would be, and a Barack Obama administration would not be.

But the first five years of the Obama administration turned out to be largely a triangulation administration, filled to capacity with former Clinton administration officials, most notably but far from solely significantly Timothy Geithner. So, so much has happened since 2008, most significantly, in my opinion, the movement begun in the fall of 2011 by Occupy Wall Street, and Elizabeth Warren’s election to the Senate in 2012.

The mainstream political punditry, mainstream politicians, and the army of political consultants and such are, of course, not known for mental agility.  But their particular seemingly inalterable cluelessness right now is dramatic nonetheless.

Clinton is running a really terrible campaign, almost completely devoid of in-depth policy discussion, or discussion of any kind.  Much of what she says is incoherent and almost none of what she says responds directly to any policy statements by any Republican. She made news yesterday by giving an actual uncanned, non-generic response to an journalist interviewer’s statement about Jeb Bush’s positions on immigration policy, that actually was responsive to the statement or question.  Hurray!  I mean … wow!

But as I noted in my post yesterday, the most critical fact that the political analysts and pundits miss is the significance of the fact that Democrats are beginning to realize that their party’s nominee will be running against a Tea Party or mostly-Tea-Party Republican nominee—and that, yes, a very progressive Democratic nominee’s policy positions will likely be more popular than the Republican nominee’s.

Which means that Sanders indeed could win the nomination. Largely because he is not only the un-Clinton but also the un-Obama, and that that—a genuine progressive—is what a majority of voters would choose.  At least over Scott Walker, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush.

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Freedom! Liberty! And Being For the Little Guy. As Brought to You By the Conservative Movement.

Update appended below. (Second indented quote format also corrected.)


In the Comments thread to Dan Crawford’s post below titled “Kalamazoo County Michigan…People and Offices to Write to Protest the Stealing of a Home,” I wrote:

Dan, you don’t understand. This is freedom, see. I mean, it’s not like it’s the FEDERAL government that’s doing this. It’s a local government that is doing it, so how could this be anything other than freedom! liberty!??

A huge part of the Conservative Movement has been to simply shift the funding of government from progressive taxation to exorbitant fines and fees for traffic violations, parking tickets, misdemeanors of other sorts, property forfeitures of large amounts of money or homes or cars, home foreclosures and forfeiture of the entire proceeds from the sale of the home for failure to pay a small property tax bill (including if you didn’t know that it was due or was not paid).

This is all part of freedom! Liberty! The private contractors for government services and operations, and the police and judges whose conflict of interest ensures the more-than-adequacy of this method of government funding, have to be paid, y’know.

In the last two weeks, the Washington Post has run a slew of articles on all this. Links to some of the articles are:

In that thread, Dan linked to an Alternet article by David Morris about two Kentucky officeholders, a town mayor and a state senator, cousins both with the last name Girder, who are on opposing sides of the “Government is the problem, not the solution” slogan = policy thing.  The article explains:

On July 19, after years of complaints about local gasoline prices being higher than those in surrounding communities, the city of Somerset decided to take matters into its own hands and began selling gasoline directly to the public. Two-term state senator Chris Girdler immediately declared, “socialism is alive and well in Somerset.” Two-term mayor Eddie Girdler, a distant cousin, responded, “If government doesn’t do it to protect the public, then who does it?”

In an interview, Girdler, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum insisted, “the government is not the answer—government’s the problem.” Regrettably the interviewer did not remind the readers that government laid the very foundation of Somerset’s economy. In 1950 the Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. A little over 100 miles in length with an average depth of 85 feet, Lake Cumberland “transformed Somerset from a sleepy rural community into one of the largest recreation centers in Kentucky, drawing more than 1.7 million visitors annually.” It would have been instructive to discover whether Sen. Girdler would describe Lake Cumberland as a “socialist enterprise.”

Girdler wants to protect us from big government. Senator Girdler approvingly cites Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum, “You can’t be for big government, big taxes and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy.” Mayor Girdler wants to protect us from the predations of big giant corporation and he views government as a proper vehicle for doing so. “It’s the role of government to protect us from big business,” he maintains.

So there you have it: You can’t be for big government, big taxes and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy. Uh-uh. No, Sir.  No way.  The way to be for the little guy is to remove all government protections vis-à-vis private corporations and state and local police forces and courts.  It means privatizing traditional government operations and services, and funding government operations and services (whether already privatized, or instead still directly operated by state, local, or the federal government) entirely by huge, spiraling fines and fees for trivia, and by confiscating cash and homes and cars to resell.

Being for the little guy also means allowing banks to do whatever they please, including making billions of dollars a year in fees for tiny overdrafts—something that the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, and Obama, banned via statute in 2010—and including allowing mortgage companies to misrepresent mortgage terms.  And it means allowing monopolistic credit card companies to charge small businesses outrageous rates for small credit card purchases by their customers.  So in order to be for the little guy, we damn well better repeal the several laws that prohibit these things, enacted by Congress and signed into law by Obama in the two years before the Dems lost control of the House and lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Yes, Sir. We’re talkin’ being for the little guy, here!

Being for the little guy also means, of course, removing Big Government—or any government—from direct involvement in, or regulation of, college-student loan programs.  Access to higher education is not an appropriate function of government. I know this for a fact, because this was an official policy of the Reagan administration, expressly stated by a member of Reagan’s cabinet.  Which explains not just the dramatic reduction of reasonable-interest-rate student loans since, y’know, 1981, but also the extreme reduction in direct state and indirect federal funding for state public universities and colleges—since, y’know, 1981.

Uh-huh. The Conservative Movement, and certainly the Conservative Legal Movement, are all about sleight-of-hand redefinitions of common terms, and rely in the extreme on the idea of government-by-slogan, government-by-cliché.

The Koch brothers are little guys.  Who knew?

This continues to work well for them so often, politically, because the Democrats have allowed it to, by failing—refusing—to address it, in particulars, head-on.

To wit: The witless campaign that Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Dem nominee for Senate, is running in her effort to dethrone Mitch McConnell. Hey, Ms. Grimes: How’s that I’m-a-tough-Kentucky-woman-so-Kentucky-women-will-vote-for-me campaign goin’ for ya?  Might it now be time to try somethin’ different?  Like, addressing specifics of Dem public policy and recent Dem legislative achievements—and Repub votes on such things?  Nah.  You’re a tough Kentucky woman! So policy won’t matter in the outcome of the election.

Which it won’t, you can be absolutely sure, as long as you don’t deign to mention any of it. Are you really gonna allow election day to come without, like, informing the electorate that, uh, Kynect is—OMG!—Obamacare, and that McConnell has promised to defund it if the Repubs gain control of the Senate?  I mean … really?

This woman’s campaign, more than any other this year, just dismays me.  Then again, I myelf don’t give a damn that she’s a tough Kentucky woman.  (Or, for that matter, that she’s a woman.)  And apparently, either do all that many Kentucky women.  She may well be tough. But tough, it turns out, is not the same thing as gutsy.

I’m so, so, so, so, so, so tired of watching this kind of campaign—this flaccid, craven, I’m-embarrassed-that-I’m-a-Democrat genre—from Democrats.

Especially since IT DOESN’T WORK.  Really; it doesn’t work.


UPDATE:  Well, well. Our newest wingy troller, Jack, wasted only 16 minutes after I posted this post before commenting:

The standard false dichotomy fallacy — if you’re against Big Government, you must be against ALL government.

The Powers of the U.S. government is clearly spelled out in its Constitution, and the States and the people retain the rest. If you say that those who want the U.S. government to not exceed the Powers given to it by the States in the Constitution, want no U.S. government at all, then you must believe that the States, in that Constitution, ceded no Powers at all to the central government.

I, in turn, wasted only 18 minutes—I’m just not as quick as he is; I’m a liberal, after all—before replying:

Ah. That’s right, Jack. The issue isn’t what powers the Constitution–the original document, the Bill of Rights, the succeeding amendments (including the reconstruction amendments) give to the federal government vis-a-vis the states. No, the issue is cliches referencing the enumerated powers, but of course only generically.

I do understand that your brand of constitutional interpretation holds that Freedom! Liberty! means he freedom of state and local governments to violate even the most fundamental of constitutional and human rights of individuals–as long as those rights don’t involve, y’know, gun-ownership rights or one of the other select few rights that you folk hold dear.

I also understand that you and your ilk conflate laisse faire economic and fiscal policy with “the enumerated powers”. You’re Rorschach interpretation of the Constitution is tiresome and ridiculous, albeit widely recited, mantra-like, by the far right.

Ideology is not the same as fact. Nor is it the same as the enumerated powers. Except, that is, when, as now, there is an aggressive hijacking of constitutional law by five members of the Supreme Court and Federalist Society lower-level federal appellate judges.

Enough said?  No. But that’ll have to do, for now.

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The End of the Untouchables Era: The Coming End of Institutionalized Federal and State Judicial Abuse of Office [UPDATED]

Last Thursday (Jun. 27) I posted a piece here titled “Poetic Justice for Justice Alito.  Maybe.”, that discussed the concerted and deeply successful effort begun in the mid-1980s by the Reagan-era appointees to the federal appellate bench and continuing unremittingly since then, to invite virulent abuse of litigants and lawyers by judges—the more overt and ugly, the more the peer applause and emulation.  The occasion for my post was an article about Samuel Alito, by Mark Joseph Stern on Slate, which I linked to.

My post said Alito’s conduct was part and parcel of a defining characteristic and goal of the rightwing conservative legal movement of the last four decades—goal so thoroughly successful that it became, and remains, the norm among federal judges, irrespective of political affiliation.  Clinton appointees (including one who, twice, came precious-close to nomination to the Supreme Court by Obama) enthusiastically jumped on that bandwagon.

But there are two key facts that I decided not to mention in that post, and to instead leave for a later post: One is that state-court judges have, en masse, followed the lead of these federal judges.  The other is that that lead consists not only of now-routine denigration and defamation of litigants and counsel but also of jaw-droppingly in-your-face disregard of clear federal and state substantive and procedural law (including unequivocal statutory law).  A triumph of this juggernaut is that, regarding no-name litigants and no-name counsel, the more flagrant the deviation from unequivocal law, the cuter the judge feels. Abuse of office among judges—federal and (these days even more so) state judges—is deeply institutionalized now.

I’m posting this now (although I’m not much in the mood today) because of run75441’s post below from yesterday and because of a comment that reader Denis Drew posted to my Jun. 27 Alito piece. He wrote:

Get judges down to earth:
Just stand outside the courthouse — every courthouse — informing people: “If you don’t have to salute the flag, you should not have to rise when the judge walks in. Nobody will rise once they think of it. Game over.

I refused to remove my hat in an Illinois courtroom (the judge was not yet present — was a bully). I gave the court officer my little spiel and offered to explain to the judge when he came in (he didn’t ask).

I should have added: “If you think this is church, tell the ladies to put hats on (can they tell the ladies to take hats off?).

Gives me another pesky idea. Have “Freedom Hat Day”: hand out hats outside courthouses for the men to assert their First Amendment rights.

I call this “broken windows theory for cops and judges”: full application of First Amendment discipline — remind them they are no bigger than anybody else. Make them repair their small First Amendment misbehavior and you repair the lawless atmosphere that encourages more serious offenses.

I responded today in the Comments thread:

Exactly, Denis.  In writing this post, I considered saying also that state-court judges have, en masse, followed the lead of these federal judges, but I decided to leave that for a later post. The specifics are stunning and appalling.  The very essence of the American judicial system has changed dramatically in the last three decades.

This crowd of federal judges had for nearly three decades been regarded as untouchable.  But their unfettered, unquestioned, and under-the-public’s-radar-screen, at-will legal, ethical and moral freelancing may soon come with an actual price.  It was, and remains, great fun.  But times, I have reason to expect, are changing.  The judicial honorarium may soon cease to serve as license for the routine, joyful abuse of that little-scrutinized but profoundly powerful public office.  These folks may have to take up gardening or fishing instead as a hobby.


UPDATE: In the Comments thread to this post, regular AB commenter and occassional AB contributor Dale Coberly posted a link to this breathtaking article on Alternet.  In response to Dale’s comment, I wrote:

Yes, this is a classic instance of something I’ve written about on AB several times now, including in one of my posts here last week: The Supreme Court’s bizarre several-decade juggernaut by which, in the name of states’ sovereignty, they foreclose access to federal court to enforce federal constitutional rights, however brazenly—and I do mean brazenly—denied by state-court judges in criminal and civil cases (e.g., family-law; adult-guardianship/conservatorship; various types of contract cases, including ones that harm small businesses such as franchisees and business-loan customers).

This 18-year-old should be able to file what’s known as a declaratory-judgment lawsuit in federal court asking for, and receiving, a declaratory judgment—a declaration of law pertinent to the facts—holding that this young man’s statements are protected under the First Amendment. Even though he’s not a corporation.  In the case of a criminal defendant, as this 18-year-old is, the issue is complicated by an outrageous federal “jurisdictional” statute enacted in 1996 and signed by Clinton just before his reelection bid to fend off soft-on-crime accusations, that in a juggernaut led by Anthony Kennedy (states’ sovereign dignity! By which he means state-COURTS’ sovereign dignity) is interpreted in ways that are clearly violative of the Fourteenth Amendment and the original Constitution’s writ of habeas-corpus clause. To the extent that the statute actually DOES bar a “collateral” declaratory judgment claim in federal court, it does violate those provisions of the Constitution.

That 1996 statute is, I think, finally— finally—very ripe politically for re-examination by a congressional coalition of progressives and Republican libertarians such as Rand Paul. I’d love to see this case get widespread attention; I certainly was unaware of it until now.  Maybe Justice Kennedy, if he learns of it, will give a moment’s thought to the dignity of this individual and whether under the ACTUAL Constitution, state court’s sovereign dignity really trumps individual dignity.

The Alternet article doesn’t say that his arrest was by local police and that he was charged in state, rather than federal, court, but that appears to be the case, and I’m assuming that it is.

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