Tuesday, July 17, 2018

That Helsinking Feeling

I don't think it's about the usual kompromat. Honestly, I don't think the president has the embarrassment gene that would make him fear exposure of that kind. I believe it's about money. I think Trump is a wholly owned subsidiary of Russia. And I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I admire Jonathan Chait for building a believable case. Russia is playing the long game against an American public with an attention span of about 140 characters.

Monday, July 2, 2018

More on That Extreme Liberal Stuff

It's been a while. Here's my TW column for July.

The Democratic View
Extremism in the Defense of Liberty
By Kathy Zahler

I thought this column would be all about the winner of the Democratic primary in the 23rd Congressional District, but that’s what I get for planning ahead. As I write, we are at something of a standstill, with Max Della Pia ahead by a tiny margin over Tracy Mitrano, with 32.4% and 32.3% of the vote, respectively. We face an unusual situation wherein a federal race will be determined by absentee ballots.
So, all of you who thought: Why should I bother?—here’s your answer. Because New York State does not have a system of tie-breaking such as ranked voting or runoffs, elections even at the Congressional level can come down to a handful of votes!
Tom Reed’s campaign manager, who fancies himself a master of dirty tricks, declared in print that it was unsurprising that “with a field of Extreme Ithaca Liberal options to choose from,” the Democrats couldn’t pick just one. This despite the fact that Max is from Owego and Tracy from Penn Yan. (Poor Eddie from Jamestown got tarred with the same brush earlier.) It’s sad that the opposition doesn’t know its own district well enough to differentiate one town from another, but it is unsurprising that Reed, who emulates Trump in most things, prefers a meaningless trope to substantive discourse.
I’m alarmed to be quoting the right-wing Barry Goldwater in my column title, but his statement is surprisingly apt for our times. It was written by speechwriter Karl Hess for Goldwater’s acceptance speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention. Goldwater’s concern had to do with the perceived Communist threat, but his words are worth recalling: “…extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice… moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
I would suggest to Congressman Reed and his campaign that resistance to their ideas is not extreme, but rather right, fair, and moral. If he wants to see more moderation from our candidates, he may have to wait a while.
Goldwater’s successor in Congress was John McCain. Both were conservatives who fought against heavy-handed government. Goldwater, like McCain today, would probably be revolted by the current executive overreach.
There was a time after Watergate when it seemed that the executive branch had lost power and that checks and balances might truly be working. That era ended definitively with the Age of Trump. Today, Congress has rolled on its back and put its feet in the air, allowing the executive branch to tickle its tummy on its way out the door to wreak havoc.  
Our Founders created a system by which no one branch of government was supposed to have that kind of power, because they understood that such power could lead to tyranny. But the majority in our current Congress seems happy with the current trajectory, and why shouldn’t they be? They managed to hold up an appointment on the Supreme Court to ensure that the current administration could appoint one new right-wing justice—and with the departure of Kennedy, now two. That has led this session to court-approved gerrymandering and union-busting, which in turn damages Democratic odds and funding, which in turn gives certain Republicans potential lifelong seats in the House and Senate. Why shouldn’t they lie back and roll over? Their course is set. They don’t even need to work in order to win.
Congressman Reed is right up there with the rollover Republicans. According to Five Thirty Eight, he has a 96.3 percent score voting in line with the president’s positions. Based on the 23rd Congressional District’s winning margin for Trump in 2016, Five Thirty Eight would predict Reed to vote with Trump only 87.5 percent of the time. So Reed is +8.8 for Trump, rolling back bank regulations, supporting the Farm Bill that decimated SNAP, reauthorizing warrantless spying, delaying implementation of ozone standards, increasing penalties for certain undocumented immigrants, penalizing states with sanctuary laws, and so on, and so on.
So it matters who’s in Congress. The system cannot work without a healthy tension among its branches.
Our nation was founded 242 years ago this month on Enlightenment principles of democracy, liberty, equality, justice, and humanity. At different points in our existence, we have moved away from or closer to those goals. Our current administration is racing away from them at a terrifying clip.
Although the number of 2018 primary votes in the 23rd District was twice those cast in 2012, they still represent under one-fifth of registered voters. Nearly every nation in the world where elections take place has better turnout than we do. Our Founders would be appalled.   
Primaries are the closest we come to direct democracy. If you are troubled by our overreaching executive, do-nothing Congress, and backward-leaning Court, and you did not vote, look in the mirror. You are the problem.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Extreme Ithaca Liberal BS

Our Congressman avoids our county as much as possible, knowing that the center of the county is majority Democratic, and that he has few fans here. Nevertheless, his insistence that all of his enemies and rivals are "extreme Ithaca liberals" is just obnoxious. Here is my response. I sent it to western papers, but so far, only our local paper has bothered to print it. There's a surprise. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

No More Nice Guys

A young DC reporter I know was trolled hideously for 24+ hours after posting his displeasure at Michelle Wolf's remarks at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Other journalists and talking heads are walking away from the comedian's most pointed lines.

I'm not a fan of that kind of Don Rickles/Kathy Griffin humor; I avoid roasts and dislike that uncomfortable feeling of not being willing to look around at the person in the room being skewered. It feels bad.

But stop. If you think we can counter Trumpism with hearts and flowers, you are clinically insane. If you believe we should turn the other cheek to people who are trying to destroy America, I no longer want to know you.

The #WHCD is supposed to celebrate the First Amendment, yet its president and many of its members seem to think that free speech means speech that is polite, deferential, and limited. They give evil doers screen time in exchange for ratings and dollars. They encourage the drawing of false equivalencies by using "balanced" panels. They are entirely complicit in the septic mess we're in, even as they tut tut about Congress's lack of courage.

You hired a known bad girl comic with an attitude and threw her under the bus when she did what you expected her to do. You dressed up and drank champagne in celebration of a principle you clearly don't support. Look in the mirror and give me a break with your faux indignation.   

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Shadowing Trump, Channeling Nixon

If you're on social media and even slightly into politics in New York's 23rd Congressional District, you are no doubt being hounded by "Extreme Ithaca Liberal" posts by the Tom Reed Campaign. Reed used this to good effect back in 2014 when he ran against Martha Robertson. It did not matter to him, his campaign, or his Republican voters that Robertson was not from Ithaca but rather from sprawling, rural Dryden. Same county, very different vibe.

Not one to let a winning strategy die, Reed is currently using the same phrase to label candidates from Penn Yan, Jamestown, and Owego as well as the two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination who actually live in Ithaca. The Peter Max lettering on his web page is meant to remind us of the evil '60s and is particularly reminiscent of Jim Trelease's 1968 posters of Nixon's rivals that year.

In 1968, Tom Reed wasn't even born. So why is he channeling Nixon's fearmongering campaign of 50 years ago? It seems especially off-putting from a founding member of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of U.S. Representatives who purport to work toward bipartisan solutions. If you believe in bipartisanship, how can you trash your own district's Democrats? If you are "fighting for jobs," how can you disdain the one county in your district where jobs are being created? 

Reed is nothing if not contradictory, however. Despite positioning himself early on as a moderate, Reed was one of the first NYS House Republicans to endorse Trump and even served on his troubled transition team. Despite professing to stand for New York, Reed supported a tax plan that will increase taxes for many New Yorkers as they lose their state and local deductions.

Donald Trump borrowed from Nixon's playbook to win in 2016, and Tom Reed is scuttling hard after both of them. Focusing on fear is a successful way to swing a progressive era backward. You don't even have to posit a real threat. Just mention "hippies" and let the voters' imaginations run wild. If Trump can draw false equivalencies between Nazis and anti-Nazi protesters, Reed can pretend that all Democrats have extreme views, and that no matter where they live, they come from Ithaca. The only danger of such oversimplification is that it starts from the assumption that your electorate is stupid.

It is possible to disagree with Tom Reed on the Second Amendment and not be extreme. It is possible to be a Democrat and be a former military officer. It is possible to be from Western New York and espouse progressive views. We are able to hold all these things in our heads at once. If Congressman Reed respected the people of his district, he'd credit them with the brains to see through his Extreme Ithaca Liberal hogwash. Unfortunately for us all, and for any hope of thoughtful debate, he doesn't.


Friday, March 30, 2018

The Short Legacy of Brown

When Linda Brown died at age 76 last week, it marked 64 years since her central role in her dad's case against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In the three decades that followed the Brown decision, schools in the U.S. became increasingly integrated, achieving a high in 1988, when 45 percent of African-American students attended majority-white schools.

Then came the '90s, and the courts' quiet but rapid reversal of that progress. Oklahoma City was allowed to revert to neighborhood schools (a quiet name for segregated schools). The Supreme Court set a goal of local control (a quiet name for the racial divide). By the beginning of the 21st century, schools were described as "resegregating" by a project at Harvard, and in a 2007 Seattle and Louisville case that I noted at the time, the Supreme Court narrowly found that schools could not assign students to schools on the basis of race. School integration was effectively killed, 53 years after Brown. Today it is estimated that school segregation is equivalent to what it was in 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed.

When I was a kid, there were a couple of things that seemed to guarantee a sort of equity across households in America. One was Brown and the guarantee of a sound, basic education in our public schools. The other was the half-hour evening newscast on the big three TV channels, which gave everyone who watched the same general view of the world.

What are our sources of equity today? Fast food, Facebook, and TV sports?




Monday, March 26, 2018

Required Reading

These supporters will not change their minds, because this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.
There is very little in this analysis with which I disagree. Not economic hardship. White backlash.