Feb 02 2016

An Embarrassment of Riches

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, National Politics

Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton & Bernie Sanders

What happened last night in Iowa was interesting and historic. For the first time in history, a woman has won the Iowa Caucus.

That win is somewhat muted by the strong showing by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who some say could transform Democratic politics.

I think its a little early to call that, but it was a close contest.

One of the most interesting stories about this campaign is that a septuagenarian is igniting a base of young voters while Clinton, the front runner despite the close contest, is relying on more seasoned voters (I won’t say older because I’m becoming one of those ‘older’ voters).

And because these two groups are different in many ways, and have experienced the world differently, there’s friction. But this is as it always has, and always will be.

Establishment vs. Activist

For as long as I’ve been active in politics (either observing or working with groups) there have been two factions of the Democratic Party: “establishment class” and the “activist class” (you could say the same thing about the GOP, but I’m not talking about them).

The establishment class is made up of people who, quite honestly, look more like me today. They’re older. They’ve been involved longer, and they have scars to prove it. Some of those scars run deep. When you poke those scars, they hurt, and can cause some snippyness.

The activist class is usually younger. What they lack in experience, they make up for in enthusiasm and passion. They may be focused on a single issue, or they may be generalists, like I was. They’re looking for certainty in a world that rarely delivers. Threatening that certainty can cause a lot of that passion to take a dark turn.

While its not true in every case, in most cases, these two groups are either the past or the future of each other. The establishment class likely once had that youthful enthusiasm of the activist class. The activist class will eventually become the establishment…a group who will then be railed against as ‘uninspiring’ or ‘sell outs’ by their children and grandchildren.

They are, whether they like it or not, variants of each other, trapped in parallel universes, separated by time.

The Healthy Debate

Since 2008 I have advocated for robust primary challenges at all levels of government. I believe that in order for elected officials to prove their worth they must have a worthy opponent to question them. And then if the voters decide they are unworthy, the voters don’t have to make a Faustian bargain come November.

At the same time, I recognize that election contests of all kinds can be nasty. People have an emotional attachment to their preferred candidate, and that emotion can spill over into personal attacks against people who, in other circumstances, would be on their side.

I’ve engaged in those attacks before, in my younger life. And while there’s no question there is a value to drawing distinctions between candidates, making it personal isn’t a good thing. It isn’t healthy. Whoever wins the nomination will need all of us in November. And while I’m not calling on people to be ‘pragmatic’ now, I hope that cooler heads will prevail by then.

Politics is about engagement and relationships. Sides can flip on a dime. You will find that your enemy today may be your ally tomorrow. Its important not to damage that relationship so badly that you find yourself without that ally. Because I can tell you from first hand experience, its very cold once you’ve crossed the line.

Must there really be only one?

Must there really be only one?

Its also important to not use the opposition’s lines (i.e. GOP talking points) against your opponent. We’ll get enough of that after the nomination is done. If its Sanders, it will be that he’s a Socialist. If its Clinton, it will be one of 1000 red herrings or tin foil hat theories the GOP has cooked up since the 90’s.

Keep it about the issues. Respect opposing views the way you expect your views to be respected. This isn’t Highlander, the loser doesn’t have to die, or be mortally wounded.

Be Proud of What’s Happening Here

I was born 2 years before Nixon resigned. My formative years were spent in the Reagan era, filled with fears of Russian nuclear war, and a ton of economic policies that set up the gutting of the American middle class.

Now, nearly 36 years since Reagan’s 1980 victory, and the ugliness of the Southern Strategy that helped bring us to where we are today, we have a candidate in Hillary Clinton, who spent many of those same years as First Lady of Arkansas, advocating for children and women, who were more often than not, the victims of those destructive policies…. policies that continue to this day. She bears the scars of that fight, way back when. That record is why older voters like her. They remember how she fought, and believe that she will fight that way again.

On the other side, we have a candidate in Bernie Sanders who wants to change the way things work. Sanders is not content to allow things to be the way we remember them always being. Sanders has been fighting too. He fought his way into office in Burlington, VT, and he’s been fighting ever since. Fighting that conventional wisdom. Fighting lowered expectations.

There are contrasts between the two. There’s no question about it. There are differences in policy, for certain. But both Hillary and Bernie have been fighting, in many ways, the same fight for nearly a half century.

That’s something supporters on both sides should recognize going forward.

As we head into the New Hampshire primary, and the contests that follow, one candidate will likely pull ahead, and the other will likely fall behind. In the process, someone’s going to be disappointed.

I won’t try to divine which will be on which side of the wins/losses column, but I know this like I know my name is Steve Ross, whoever ends up with the nomination will need all of us to come together in late summer to lift them to victory in the fall. We will need the enthusiasm and passion of the ‘activists’ and the experience of the ‘establishment’.

No Democrat has ever won in my lifetime without both. I suspect this time will be no different.

So unless you want a President Trump, or Rubio, or God forbid, Cruz, I hope you’ll think about the larger picture before you get into a flame war with that Hillary supporter, or pooh-pooh that Sanders supporter. We need each other to keep from losing the little bit of ground we’ve been able to eke out this past 8 years.

Remember, we’re family. We have more in common than we have differences. We don’t have to be mean to draw distinctions, and drawing those distinctions isn’t mean. Its politics.

Dec 19 2015

Breach and Overreach

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics

Clinton and Sanders at the 1st Democratic debate

Clinton and Sanders at the 1st Democratic debate

Finally some drama in the race for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination!

Thursday night it was revealed that the Bernie Sanders campaign viewed and possibly downloaded proprietary information from the Clinton campaign for about 40 minutes.

This happened due to a mistake in an update pushed by DNC data vendor NGP Van.

Sanders’ access to the web-based software was suspended for a day, until he sued in Federal court and the DNC finally relented.

There’s been a lot of hoopla about this, some of it real, some manufactured, but there are really just a couple of critical points that are brought us to where we are today. So, in an effort to focus on what’s real and what’s conjecture, here’s the list.

NGP dropped the ball

NGP, the vendor the DNC uses to manage and support its voter list admitted to pushing a flawed software update. That update allowed campaigns to access each others data. While the issue was dealt with fairly quickly, but for the flawed update, the Sanders campaign never would have been able to access the data, and none of this would have even been a possibility.

I’m not sure about the details of the contract between the DNC and NGP, but if I had a vendor make such a critical error, I would definitely have some words for them. I would also be reviewing the contract to find out what kind of recourse is available, if any, and most likely write recourse into any subsequent contract with the company.

In our data driven world, the security of proprietary data is paramount. NGP is tasked with maintaining that security and should have to suffer consequences when they fail at their own hand.

Breach vs Access

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz

The media, as well as the DNC, has characterized this as a ‘breach’ of data. I think that overstates what actually happened.

Sanders’ campaign was able to access Clinton’s data housed on NGP servers.

Breach, meaning ‘a hole or opening in something (such as a wall) made by breaking through it’ gives the impression that the Sanders camp hacked into something or intentionally set out to gain access in a fraudulent manner.

While they should not have accessed the data, that they had access doesn’t constitute a ‘data breach’ on their part, akin to a hack or some other mischievous activity.

Having access is a breach of contract on the part of the vendor. A campaign accessing unauthorized data is a breach of contract, on the part of the Sanders campaign. But the use of the word ‘breach’ as in a ‘hack’ is either intentionally misleading or just plain ignorant and lazy, depending on how tightly you’re wearing your tin foil hat.

Breach is certainly a more damning word than access and download, which, to my understanding of the situation, is what actually happened.

The Clinton campaign’s contention that the data was ‘stolen’ is just using the situation to a political advantage…which is unfortunate, but pretty par for the course.

Unethical Behavior

Sanders’ former data director, Josh Uretsky acted unethically when he directed four people in the campaign to access Clinton’s data.

Uretsky has been subsequently fired by the Sanders camp, and rightfully so.

Uretsky previously stated they looked at the Clinton data to ‘prove to the DNC that their data had been breached’.

But this isn’t the way to handle a problem. Rather than rooting around in Clinton’s data, Uretsky could have simply called NGP or the DNC or both, to report the issue and issued a halt on data work until the issue was resolved.

Had Uretsky acted in this way, he would have kept the Sanders campaign safe from the 24 hour bar that kept them from their voter file.

Buggy but powerful

I’ve been a VAN user off and on since 2008. In fact, the VAN is the tool Dr. Joe Weinberg and I used to identify the over 3000 voters who got incorrect ballots in the 2012 Shelby County primary election.

I can tell you that over the years I’ve been able to see other campaign’s data profiles from time to time, though I never intentionally accessed it nor attempted to.

In one instance I found that after logging in and running some searches, the results of which were inconsistent with the kind of search I was trying to perform, I discovered that I was in someone else’s profile. I’m not sure how it happened, but I quickly logged out and then back in, checked to make sure I was correctly in my profile, and went about my business. While I know my way around, I would never intentionally access someone else’s stuff, if for no other reason than fear of accidentally breaking something.

This highlights both the power and the potential pitfalls of such a massive integrated system. This instance may have an element of intention, in that the data director instructed people to use their unauthorized access, but people need to understand that access to other people’s data is not as uncommon as NGP would like you to believe.

Crime and Punishment

I believe a 24 hour hold on the Sanders campaign’s access to the VAN is an appropriate response to the use of unauthorized access that the campaign admits happened.

However, there are some problems with the DNC response:

First, the DNC really let NGP off the hook with their response. There has been no public rebuke of NGP for their failure to adequately secure data, mistake or not. In the high stakes world of the national nominating process, NGP’s failure to ensure the safety of client data should be a huge concern for all involved. That the DNC basically gave NGP a pass is troubling.

Second, the Sanders campaign did the right thing in firing the manager who ordered the unauthorized searches. But instead of the DNC acknowledging this correct response, they have used this to impugn the Sanders campaign in total. That’s just not fair. I don’t know when the dude got fired. I don’t know all the folks involved. But I do know that getting rid of someone who acts unethically is the correct response.

Finally, one has to wonder why this issue was brought into the public in the first place as well as who brought it out and for what purpose. This is an important question because no one, except for the Clinton campaign, looks good in this situation. Which has led some to opine that the DNC itself leaked the story. I won’t get into all of the details, but in another time, this never would have made it to the media, it would have been dealt with quietly and with the firing of people (which happened by the way). Why and for what purpose it became a national story is suspect.

Everybody Looks Dumb

I don’t think this materially changes the likely result of the Democratic primary contest. Not having access for one day doesn’t permanently cripple the Sanders campaign. But everybody looks dumb in this situation, and that could have a lasting effect on people’s willingness to come together after the nominee is decided…which is likely just three months away.

NGP and the DNC look dumb for making a federal case out of something that could have been dealt with in house. The DNC’s ham handed response is both unfortunate and self-defeating. People feel passionate about their candidates, and in the wake of the DNC’s actions, some people may feel that the DNC isn’t behaving as an unbiased arbiter of the nominating process. That’s not going to be good for the convention, and could lead to problems in November.

The Sanders campaign looks dumb, though not for their immediate response to the problem. They did the right thing in firing Uretsky, but their subsequent response overstates the harm to the campaign, and understates the unethical behavior committed that led to the hold on their account.

The Clinton campaign looks a little dumb for further escalating the situation by saying the data was ‘stolen’. Statements like that make it appear that the data is now gone. It isn’t, and there’s no evidence at this point that the Sanders campaign used the results of any data accessed for nefarious purposes. On the other hand I’m glad the Clinton campaign called for a speedy resolution of Sanders’ access. Surely they realize it doesn’t make them look good for people to feel like they’re piling on the little guy.

Finally, I hope this won’t be turned into a debate topic tonight. We don’t need the precious few debates that are scheduled this season to devolve into the kinds of shit shows that have been the hallmark of the GOP debates. Let’s stick to the top-line issues, not the inside baseball.

The American public, as a general statement, doesn’t give a damn about this, and they shouldn’t. Hopefully, the candidates will agree to stick to the issues that really matter. A discussion of this doesn’t help create jobs or opportunity, or highlight anyone’s vision for the future of our country. Honestly, all it does is sew division in our ranks, which is exactly what we don’t need going forward.

Nov 26 2015

Cameras are only part of the solution

Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke

Chicago Officer Jason Van Dyke

16 shots.

Chicago police released the video this week, after a year of legal wrangling, of the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Over a year since the incident, the officer is facing first degree murder charges.

According to police accounts, McDonald was a suspect in some auto burglaries in the area. The police also say he was armed with a knife.

But those same accounts say Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke fired sixteen bullets into his body but never gave any commands for him to halt, or put up his hands, or in any other way surrender. In fact, according to the officer whose car was recording the incident, said he was only on the scene for less than 30 seconds when he opened fire.

We’ll never know if McDonald is guilty of the crimes he was suspected of, because Officer Van Dyke acted as Judge, Jury and executioner, for a crime that would have been anything but a death sentence.

This isn’t the first time Van Dyke has been in trouble. According to CNN, he’s faced 20 lawsuits or complaints, which makes you question why he was on the streets to begin with.

Bringing it home

Over the past few years I’ve seen a lot of videos like this. I had to write story after story in my former role as a local TV news producer about these incidents.

And every one has made me more sure in my resolve that there is something broken in law enforcement in this country.

See, the ‘good guys’ aren’t supposed to shoot people in the back, or while stopped for a missing license plate, or choke them to death over bootlegged cigarettes. The ‘good guys’ are supposed to bring people to justice. Let them have their day in court, and spend time in jail if they’re guilty of the crimes they’re accused of.

But it seems like in the past few years, maybe more than other years, maybe I’m just paying more attention now, there are a lot of people getting killed by police for what would otherwise be petty crimes.

Is this a fluke that all these are happening, one seemingly after another?

Is it bizarre happenstance?

Or is it something that’s been going on, we’re just now getting around to noticing it?

I don’t have the answer to those questions. What I do know, both first hand, and through the stories of friends is that being at the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to big trouble for you, especially if you’re black. And if you happen to live in an area that’s a designated ‘wrong place’, you’re pretty much screwed.

And that’s why I’m a strong advocate for additional police oversight.

But lets not fool ourselves, cameras are only a part of that oversight.

Define ‘Threat’

What the shooting of Laquan McDonald shows is that the presence of cameras doesn’t mean a cop will think twice about using unnecessary deadly force for an assailant that is running away from them.

If this were a standoff, I think both the law, and standard operating procedure clearly dictates that the officer has a right to defend himself. But that’s not what happened. As the video clearly shows, McDonald was running away from the police. I’m not saying that’s legal, but it doesn’t seem to rise to any reasonable standard of using deadly force. That’s why this officer is facing murder charges.

But you also have to ask, “Why did this officer think using his service weapon was the best/only response?” And to get that answer, you have to look into both the written policy of the department, and the culture of the department. Because policy is no better than the paper its written on if there’s an understanding about when it will and won’t be followed. And if this officer believed that he could act in this way, without facing consequences, then the charges against him are as much an indictment of the upper echelon of the Chicago Police Department… a department whose initial account of what happened is very different from what is shown in the video, and the Cook County Prosecutor, who took a year to announce the indictment the officer, as it is an indictment of the individual cop.

Systematic Injustice?

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullouch

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCullouch

In order to understand the difficult challenge that a prosecutor is under when the potential of indicting an officer presents itself, you have to look at the symbiotic relationship they have with police…as well as the personal relationships that they’re required to maintain to keep putting away bad guys.

Cops are the boots on the ground who deliver the goods to prosecutors: from the uniformed patrol who are the first responders, to the investigators who work to crack the case. Cops do the prosecutors dirty work, deliver them the case, and the prosecutor then has to be ready to take that information and put it before a jury.

Truth be told, both prosecutors and top brass with police forces around the country are political jobs, and they rely on the cops at the ground level to make them look good so they can keep their jobs.

So when no cops are found to have abused their authority after 20 police shootings in 5 years , or 6 cops beat the hell out of two guys and aren ‘t charged no one should be surprised.

One hand relies on the other to stay alive. As a result, those two hands tend to be forgiving of sins against outsiders.

So when we hear a grand jury may be able to indict a ham sandwich, but not a cop in Memphis, you have to seriously question the prosecutors commitment to pursuing justice for all.

Because we’ve seen prosecutors use grand juries for political and patronage purposes before just 200 miles to the north.

The tactic was a shrewd maneuver, legal experts say, in which McCulloch both deflected responsibility for his own failure to charge Wilson and — deliberately or not — created conditions in which the grand jury would not be likely to charge him either.

Which is why its important that the Grand jury transcripts in the Darrius Stewart case be reviewed, and if the prosecutor employed a similar tactic, it be released to the public.

Because if the Shelby County DA’s office isn’t going to handle an indictment proceeding for a cop the same way they would handle any other like charge, then how can anyone believe that the interests of impartial justice are being served?

Tarnished Brass

I like Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never met the man. But I believe he’s trying to run a clean shop, despite the slew of current and former officers that have been indicted over the past few years.

But when you read an investigation about something known as Choir practice you have to question not only the leadership that has risen through the ranks, but also the internal culture that brought that leadership to the top.

And while Armstrong may have kept a low profile early in his career its not crazy to question his ability, as an insider, to challenge a culture he’s been a part of since he was on patrol.

Because it seems that a greater proportion of cops have been accused to all kinds of crimes (cop crimes per thousand on the force), than the general public in the past couple of years (I dare a media outlet to run the numbers). And that’s worrisome.

Now, you could argue that the fact that so many cases have come up shows that the current administration is fighting back against internal demons, and you might be right about that. Or it could be that these were the easy cases, that were perpetrated by dumb people, and it was just too hard not to prosecute them.

In any case, with one case after another coming up this year alone, you have to wonder what else is going on, and, more importantly, what, if anything is being done about it.

True Justice

Video of the Rodney King beating, 1991

Video of the Rodney King beating, 1991

In order for police and prosecutors to regain the faith and trust of the public, they have to stop using their reliance on each other as a wedge that creates two kinds of justice…inside justice and outside justice. Because that’s what it appears to be.

We also have to recognize that this isn’t anything new. This kind of separate and unequal justice has been going on in America for a long time. Anyone remember Rodney King? The only reason any cops were indicted in that case is because someone started videotaping from a nearby apartment. It was 1991, and video cameras weren’t as pervasive as they are today.

Now, just about every phone out there has some kind of camera. And that means, cases like the ones we’ve been hearing so much about over the past couple of years, are going to come to light more than ever before. Which should tell cops who are intent on overstepping their authority that they can’t do that anymore. That hasn’t happened.

FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

So while law enforcement leaders, from the head of the FBI on down, may cite the “Ferguson Effect”… a spike in violent crime resulting from law enforcement withdrawing due to increased oversight, even though he admits he doesn’t have any solid evidence of it being a ‘thing’, the real ‘Ferguson Effect’, if there is one, is that the public is using the technology that is literally in their hands, to protect themselves from cops who would do wrong.

And that’s exactly the kind of oversight that is necessary to provide a check against civil rights abuses that have always been there, but are just now coming into the light.

But as we’ve seen in case after case, just capturing something on video isn’t enough to bring justice. That’s why independent prosecutors who have a transparency mandate should bring these cases to the Grand Jury, not state cops like the TBI, who have promised transparency, but so far, haven’t delivered.

That’s also why independent citizen led groups, like the Citizen’s Law Enforcement Review Board should be there to provide oversight to the internal affairs process to ensure the internal enforcement of standard operating procedures and good policing techniques are adhered to, rather than relying on assurances from police administrators.

Because no one who’s ever had a bad encounter with a cop, and plenty of people who haven’t, believe in those assurances anymore.

Most importantly, the good cops who are out there…and there are hundreds of them in Memphis alone, should demand this kind of transparency, so they can remove the tarnish from their badges that cops who would exceed their authority have brought on them.

The police work for us, the citizens of Memphis. So do prosecutors. And while its understandable that neither group would want to part with the one hand washes the other relationship they’ve had over the years, the events highlighted in the media, both here and around the country, demand that they do.

That means more transparency in the workings of both organizations, and more accountability when things go wrong.

Exactly how it should have been in the first place.

Nov 30 2014

Populism alone won’t save Southern Democrats

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, National Politics, TNDP
Complete Devestation

Complete Devestation

Friday, the AP published an article pushing for more populism from Democratic candidates in Southern states to help revive the respective state party organizations.

I agree that a more populist message would help motivate Democratic voters, and possibly move some swing voters our way, but the notion that populism alone is the answer is moronic.

Because any messaging tactic one might bring to a campaign is worthless without the apparatus to effectively deliver that message. That’s where Democrats in the South, and plenty of other places, have been failing.

I constantly hear from Republicans to be ready to do battle with “Democratic Machine Politics”, but I’ve not seen much evidence of a machine at all in recent years. Certainly not on the local and state levels.

That’s where we’re getting destroyed. And the destruction will have long lasting effects on the politics and policies of individual states, and the federal government going forward.

But its not just Tennessee, its happening all over.

Here’s what they’re saying in Arizona about their state party structure.

“There’s got to be a serious autopsy. And I say autopsy because I think we’re dead at this point. The infrastructure is dead, the party structure is dead….

It’s not just money, we have a much bigger problem than that. I can’t blame anybody. I’m part of the problem, too.”

– Arizona House Minority Leader Rep. Chad Campbell

If this refrain sounds familiar, it should. I’ve been saying something similar to this since 2008.

I suggest you go and read the whole thing, because there’s a glimmer of hope in the statement from AZ House Minority Leader Chad Campbell…recognition.

Unlike Democratic leaders in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and other deep south states, Campbell actually understands two critical problems:

  1. That the state political structure is dead.
  2. That he is at least somewhat responsible for killing it.

That kind of recognition is absent from far too many of the discussions being had around here.

But this post isn’t about blame…because that’s not productive. In fact, I have no interest in calling names or anything like that, because we’re all responsible on one level or another.

This post is about the transformative power of recognizing the problem.

The Arizona Democratic Party actually has a chance now…if only its leaders will act on the recognition of their State House Minority Leader.

We need our leaders, including school board members, County Commissioners, State House and Senate members, State Executive Committee members, and US Representatives, to recognize the role they play in contributing to the problem…and begin working on concrete actions to start building something…anything.

That means finding something for campaign teams to do once the election is over.

We can’t just build campaign teams for the election and then let all that talent get scattered to the wind once the cycle is over. We have to keep these folks in the fold, so all that time training and mentoring doesn’t go to waste.

We have to build a bench, and keep that bench game ready.

But we don’t do that…ever. We fight amongst ourselves about petty party issues, and pigeon-hole people as one faction or another (that we have decided we don’t like) and let that get in the way of building. Its stupid.

Its funny to me that Democrats are the Party that professes to stand up for the little guy, when we consistently squander the “little guy” campaign talent as soon as the election cycle is over.

Then, two years later, we come calling on these folks, hoping they’re still around to help us…and more often than not, they have done what any self-respecting person would do…they’ve moved on.

Republicans don’t do that. They keep their people busy. And while some might say they have more money than we do…part of that is because they don’t ever stop campaigning. They keep their army busy fundraising, advocating, and recruiting.

We don’t, and that’s what’s killing us.

I’ve been saying the same thing for more than six years now, and I don’t care if you’re tired of hearing it. No one has really, effectively put anything in motion for any period of time because we spend so much time second-guessing ourselves into inaction, and ultimately, failure.

Until we decide to get over ourselves, and stop looking around the corner for the next internal boogeyman, we’ll never be able to take on the real villain that’s right in front of us…and has taken over.

Dec 30 2013

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the Nation, 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy

This is part 1 in a series of 3 posts that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR


Inaction – If you’re one of those that thinks the government needs to do less, you probably liked the hell out of 2013. Congress took more vacation time than the average person gets in more than 10 years of working, and little if anything was done to address the sluggish economy, unemployment, or any of the other major problems facing the country. Since Congress writes the laws, most of this falls on their heads, but you’d be hard pressed to know that in the national press, which continuously placed the blame on an administration hamstrung by recalcitrant members of the House.

Outlook for 2014 – Good (which means bad for the rest of us)

Harry Reid – The strong, silent type…Reid shoved through the Senate what he could, and spearheaded an effort to cripple the crippling filibuster, which kept a record number of Obama appointees from ever coming up for a vote. He also held his own during a government shutdown that was largely blamed on those same recalcitrant House Members that were mentioned above.

Reid isn’t the most compelling character in a TV driven national conversation, but his behind the scenes skill at getting things done and keeping his party together earned him a win for 2013.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Paul Ryan – The 2012 GOP VP nominee stayed out of the spotlight for much of 2013, but surged in the waning weeks of the year to pass a Budget that accomplished most of what he wanted while giving up little in return. Bipartisanship may not be popular on the GOP side of the aisle, but any negotiation that gets you 70% of what you want is a win.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Bad

Misinformation – The media struggled against noise machines like Darrell Issa (R-CA) and others this year to get basic facts right about the stories that dominated the headlines. What’s more they struggled to even understand if those stories held any relevance. The Affordable Care Act, Benghazi, and the IRS scandal were the top three issues where the media largely parroted Issa and his acolytes despite information that would eventually discredit their assertions (Sources:Al Quaeda wasn’t involved in Benghazi Attack, IRS targeted progressive groups, Too, Documents reveal, Top 16 myths about the health care law).

The media politics of “He said/She said” continue, and the only winners are those who profit either politically or financially through stirring up misinformation and strengthening the paranoia machines.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) – This may seem an odd addition, since Fincher isn’t a member of the GOP House leadership…but he did get some headlines, and those headlines didn’t seem to hurt him much. The whole SNAP Flap over farm bill subsidies and food stamps helped put Fincher on the national map. That attention helped him raise over $2 million dollars for his campaign…and that’s just through the end of September. Fincher has benefitted from a constituency base that is isolated from media outlets that have the resources to draw the connection from his preferred policies to the impact on the area he represents. Also, having the most conservative swath of Shelby Co. in his district, which can easily provide him 41% of the votes he needs to win in any election doesn’t hurt.

Outlook for 2014 – Good

Steve Cohen (D-TN) – Cohen also had a good year. He too got a good deal of national attention…some of it not always in the best ways…but far better than many of his contemporaries in the House. In addition to working for several progressive bills that will likely never see the light of day in the GOP led House, he used his time on the national TV circuit to push for more progressive legislation to deal with all kinds of problems that haven’t garnered the national attention that the should. This may not seem like a win, but in a year that saw the GOP led House do more of less, anyone doing more of more comes out a winner in my book.

What’s more, Cohen hasn’t drawn a serious challenger in his re-election bid as of yet (unless you count Ricky Wilkins as a serious challenger…and I don’t).

Outlook for 2014 – Good


Barack Obama – Coming off an election year that saw him win 51% of the popular vote, and 61% of the electoral college, you might think there would be a tailwind for the first year of his second term. That simply didn’t happen. Stymied by a GOP led House that seemed more interested in voting to repeal his signature healthcare law and investigate bogus scandals…the President might have made it through the year with at least a draw…if not a win in the wake of the GOP forced government shutdown. But the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov site erased any gains the President made and ultimately distracted the public from the foolishness that was, by far, the signature of the GOP led efforts to implicate him in something…anything.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

John Boehner – “Cryin'” John Boehner had a shitty year. Plain an simple. If “herding cats” is an overused metaphor for damn near everything, that’s still what Boehner was tasked with doing…and he largely failed. Unable to grab the reigns from the TEA Party elements in his party, he led the House to vote for a government shutdown that surged public opinion against him, and his GOP colleagues. Boehner looked weak, and acted weak…eschewing the “Hastert Rule” to eventually end that shutdown, and pass some of the few pieces of legislation that actually had a chance in the Democratically controlled Senate. On top of all of that, he gained a Primary Challenger, something that just about never happens to a sitting House Speaker. Every morning I wake up and thank God that I am not John Boehner…for these, and a multitude of other reasons.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Mitch McConnell – If John Boehner’s year was bad, Mitch McConnell’s year was somehow worse. The Senate Minority Leader managed to block a good deal of Obama nominees to various and sundry posts throughout the year…until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid effectively took away the filibuster for the approval of nominees…effectively hampering that effort. On top of that, McConnell is about as unpopular in his home state as a politician can be…and he drew a credible opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes, the current Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Unemployed – The US unemployment rate may have dropped from 7.9% in Jan. of 2013 to a mere 7% in November of this year, but the unemployed still got the raw end of the deal. Congress failed to reauthorize long-term unemployment benefits, which means 1,300,000 people who have been looking for work for a long-assed time are more screwed than they were before.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Working Poor – Wages for all workers in the US eked up 2¢ for the year. At the end of the year, the average hourly wage in the US was $10.31/hr. That’s the average, so a whole bunch of folks are way below that number. Median household wages are still below their pre-recession level, which means that damn near everyone is still worse off than they were before the Bush Bubble Burst. But for the working poor…who were struggling in the first place, its just not looking good…and there are no immediate sings of improvement in the future.

Outlook for 2014 – Worse

Affordable Care Act – The Affordable Care Act may have been an early success in helping women, and children get or keep healthcare they needed, but the rollout of the healthcare.gov site was a disaster…and has been largely pegged to the failure of the law in general…even though that’s pure BS. The law has been scratched bare by scrutiny, some of it legitimate, much of it rhetorical flourish and the fumbling of the rollout of a key component only gives credence to those who proudly say that government can’t do anything right. Add to that the 23 states that aren’t expanding Medicaid and the 4,800,000 people that are being left behind and you’ve got a full on catastrophe. Its a damn shame, because despite its flaws, this law could help a lot of folks.

Outlook for 2014 – Neutral

TEA Party – The most recent iteration of secessionists finally got their civil war…though not where they expected…in their own party. Now I’ve always held that the TEA Party folks aren’t Republicans, but newfangled “know-nothings” that are more interested in maintaining the status quo than the public populist persona they initially used to their advantage. Nonetheless, the National GOP embraced them as a means to an end, and now they have to deal with them. There’s always been an element of these folks in government, but this is the first time in my lifetime they have grabbed this much power. Even conservative groups are running away…like the US Chamber of Commerce which has pledged $50 million dollars to defeat them. Popcorn popped. I can’t wait to see how this plays out in the primaries.

Outlook for 2014 – Not Good (Which is just fine by me)

The filibuster – Most people have no idea what the filibuster is. I’m not going to get in to all that. But it is a loser this year for reasons I mentioned above. Earlier this year the Senate voted to limit its use as a delay tactic in the Senate for most Presidential nominees. This has been called “the nuclear option” but in reality, its little more than a grenade tossed in the general direction of a nuclear blast fortified door. In any case…its a loser this year which is a huge change and could mean swifter justice, and a whole host of other efficiencies in government…which is something we all want, right? (maybe not)

Outlook for 2014 – Worse (which is good for people who want to see appointees make it through…)

Dist. 8 Constituents – While their Representative may have had a good year, the people of the 8th district of Tennessee had a bad one. Unemployment is 1.7% higher than the state level, and 2.8% higher than the national outlook. Nearly 25% of all the people in rural counties in the district (All but Shelby Co.) are on food stamps. Businesses have closed, population is dwindling, and there’s no help in sight. If only the people of the 8th district would draw the connection between the decline and their elected leaders. It was NEVER this bad when John Tanner was in office.

Outlook for 2014 – Awful


Congress – This may be the worst Congress ever. It may be that only 13% of Americans approve of how Congress is functioning. But like most dysfunctional relationships, this is one that probably won’t end without something really terrible happening. This article describes why Congress as a whole is unlikely to flip. At the height of the shutdown, 60% of Americans said fire every member of Congress…but that sentiment faded when the House GOP decided to relent for its own good. People still hate Congress and love their Congressmen…for the most part. So any real hopes of things suddenly “changing” when there are 538 cats to herd, is unlikely. Also, the notion that Democrats could surge in 2014 aren’t supported by history. The President’s party typically gets hammered in the last two years of a Presidential term. 2014 could be different, but it seems unlikely.

Outlook for 2014 – Good