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Lessons for Democrats running

president sealCertainly the issue of lessons learned applies to presidential campaigns and none more so than the next presidential election in 2016.  Republicans are already portraying a Hillary Clinton presidency as a "third term of Obama".  The question for Hilary, as well as, to a degree, the other democrat candidates, is whether she will allow herself to be baited into distancing herself from the Obama Administration and, in her case, the Clinton Administration, or will she, rather, embrace them both and, if so, to what degree?

The 2014 mid-term elections were the epitome of candidates distancing themselves from the incumbent president to disastrous results.  One such example was the Kentucky senate race. During that race, democrat Allison Lundergrin-Grimes, you may recall, was asked the simple question of whether she voted for President Obama.  Rather than risk being linked to him and his policies, she chose to evade the question altogether as was her right.  How well did this strategy work for her politically?  Not very! How much more credible would she have come off if she had chosen a response more like this: "Of course I voted for President Obama! Who else could I have voted for? Romney? I may not agree with every position of the president, but certainly he is much more in line with me politically than Romney and his disregard for '47%' of Americans."  Now, this response may have unwillingly tied her too closely to the president for her liking but at least she would have come off as more credible.  Besides, is there anyone who really believes she didn't vote for the president and may have actually voted for Romney?  I think not. Lesson learned: credibility should be at the top of the list for any candidate of any race.  Standing up for what you believe in and not trying to mislead voters should  also be at the top of that list.

Any candidate for president, democrat or republican, must decide how wise it will be to distance themselves from previous administrations.  That strategy certainly did not work very well for either John McCain or Mitt Romney.  Neither was very successful at distancing himself from the previous republican administration under George W. Bush and the failed policies of that administration.  With regard to Hillary, specifically, will she learn from Al Gore's 2000 campaign and, rather than distance herself from the administration that she served in, will she embrace at least some of its achievements?

As you will likely recall, Vice President Gore distanced himself from President Bill Clinton during the 2000 presidential campaign so as not to be "soiled" by the Monica Lewinski scandal.  As things turned out, it certainly would have been more strategically prudent for him to have tied himself to the economic successes of the administration without being tied directly to Clinton's  personal improprieties.  True, Gore did still receive a majority of the popular vote and, yes, Ralph Nader took a chunk out of his total number of votes and, yes, no one really believes that Pat Buchanan is so well liked in Florida.  However, if candidate Gore did a better job of linking himself to the successes of the Clinton administration, it is likely that these other factors would have had less of an impact on the election.

Accordingly, my recommendation to any democrat candidate for president is, rather than running away from the name Obama, embrace at least some of the achievements of his administration.  Not everything, but at least some, and there are several.  To begin with, while republicans claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility, the reality is quite different.  President Obama inherited an annual deficit of approximately $1.3 trillion from President Bush and has brought it down to about $470 billion.  Likewise, President Clinton inherited an annual deficit of about $290 billion from President George H.W. Bush and left office with a surplus of in excess of $125 billion for the next President Bush to squander on a ten year war paid for on a credit card and tax breaks for the wealthy that did nothing to help the economy or the middle class but, rather, contributed mightily to our current income inequality.

Certainly, there are other positives such as consumer protection for credit card holders, expansion of college aid for needy students, repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" which had prohibited gays from serving openly in the military, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which strengthened the ability of women to fight for equal pay, preventing the American auto industry from going under, providing health insurance for millions of previously uninsured Americans, phasing down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, getting the unemployment rate to below 6%, and the take out of Osama bin Laden. 

However, this is not to say that any democratic candidate should embrace the entire Obama record without question.  Being judicious should be a presidential requirement.  I, for one, question why the banking industry did not have any of its leaders see jail time for putting greed before country and causing the Great Recession of 2008.  Dealing with the banking industry also applies to the Clinton Administration since it was President Clinton who supported the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which had been enacted after the stock market crash of 1929 to construct a wall between commercial banks and investment banks.  The repeal of Glass-Steagall tore down that wall and opened the door for the risky investments by commercial banks that had ordinarily been reserved for investment banks and which contributed so greatly to the recession. The next president must take a strong stand to replace the regulatory protections lost over the last several years.

I also wonder about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and any agreement that is supported by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner whose actions have never demonstrated any concern for working class America.  The G-7 conferences envisioned, through globalization, wealthy nations helping the economies of third world countries through investment.  It was anticipated that globalization would  see these economies grow and create markets for our goods.  It was never intended that the sole result of globalization for America would be to provide U.S. companies with cheap labor abroad at the expense of jobs at home.  Based on my experience with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement back in the 1990's, I question whether any agreement that is so vehemently supported by big business would actually be beneficial for working America. The question that the presidential candidates must grapple with is the same one that the president is grappling with which is whether we are better off being part of the deal, as good or bad as it is, or being left out altogether and shed more influence to China.  Not an easy question, but one that must be answered regardless of who the candidate is.

So, yes, there may not be total agreement on all issues, but history has shown that running away from the previous administration has not proven to be a successful strategy and one that places the candidate on the defensive rather than the offensive.

In an upcoming column, we will attempt to provide some lessons learned for the republican candidates.

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Racial Lessons from Charleston

 

I recently posted on my Facebook wall my reaction to the horror that just befell Charleston, South Carolina. The responses to that post revealed all too well the challenges we face as a nation as we deal with these tragedies on an all too regular basis. My post was this:
Is there anyone who can still claim racism in this country no longer exists...I mean anyone other than FOX? Oh, and who gave him the gun? And while I'm at it, how sad that the life of an individual who dedicated that life to serving his community and was elected to office at 23 could so easily have been snuffed out by a 21- year- old loser.

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Confessions of a Southern Boy

carr-currentOr how I learned to stop worrying and fold up the battle flag

 

If you’re an old white guy from the Deep South, it can be hard to explain yourself these days - maybe impossible.
When I was in high school in Memphis, I fell in love with the glamour and glory of the Confederacy. The covers of my school textbooks suddenly sprouted confederate battle flags—which was not hard to do. You could buy rolls of confederate flag stickers at any dime store. Cloth battle flags were as common as pennies; one adorned the cover of my main notebook. I went to a very good but very private school. Our student body was mixed, although the black contingent didn’t begin to match the population breakdown of Memphis. I did have black friends and if any of them were offended by my confederate paraphernalia, no one said anything to me.
If you’d asked me at the time, I would have scoffed at the notion that there was any offense to be taken from the display of those confederate emblems. I considered myself to be free of racial prejudice—a statement that I now realize works very well as a goal but not so much as a declaration of fact, given how deeply engrained racism is in our culture. But to me the flag didn’t mean an attack on anyone, nor was it an attempt to put anyone down. It is possible to love the culture of the Old South while detesting its sins. In fact, it’s possible to venerate the incredible valor of the southern soldier while, at the same time, being glad the Union won the war. (One of the great ironies of southern patriotism is that those waving the Confederate flag often wave the U.S. flag just as vigorously, depending on the context and the issue at hand. I do a lot of driving and don’t recall any region of the country busting out with more U.S. flags after 9/11 than the South.)
I adored the classic storybook heroes of the war, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, after whom my grandfather—and therefore by extension, I—was named. And if, for instance, I had to try to reconcile my affection for the great general with the fact that he was a founding member of the Ku Klux Klan—well, I put it out of my mind with the thought that, hey, times were chaotic, and at least he quit when the Klan became crazy violent.
It is amazing to me looking back on it that no one ever challenged me on the flag issue. But now that challenge is in full swing in a general way, starting—the irony is exquisite—with South Carolina, the crucible of the rebellion where the governor now wants to take the confederate battle flag down from state property. Other southern legislatures are taking up the question.
Should we do it? Should we ban the confederate battle flag from official display in public spaces?
One of the things you learn during a career in communications is that when you speak, it does not matter what you mean, it only matters what is perceived. Let me say that again: What you’re trying to say is immaterial. What the receiver hears you say is the only issue. A communications professional knows this and crafts his or her words accordingly. In broadcasting in particular, you get one shot at it. You bring your full set of professional skills to bear to get it right on the first pass. If your message goes awry—is honestly misunderstood or misinterpreted or provokes an adverse reaction you did not intend—usually you can’t blame the recipient.
The sad truth about the confederate battle flag is that whatever supporters would say about why it still needs to fly and why it might be worthy of public admiration, hate groups have stolen it from us. Add this to the long, long list of items for which such groups cannot be forgiven. They’ve hijacked it and the theft is an accomplished fact. When that flag goes on display, a message of racism goes with it—whether that is the intended effect or not. For the recipient, the impact can be as in-your-face aggressive as the sight of a swastika—which hate groups often display alongside it.
The swastika got its poor reputation the same way. It spent 3,000 years being revered by various religions and cultures as a symbol meaning “auspiciousness” among other things. Then the Nazis appropriated it. Display it today and you’ll get only one reaction.
Those who would continue to support the public display of the confederate flag really have two questions to ask themselves. One: Does it make any sense to deny that hate groups have stolen the symbol and made it their own? Or should flag supporters continue the battle to wrest the flag away from hate groups—and in doing so, risk offending a good portion of America?
Looking at race relations as they now stand in this country, to me it’s hard to argue that we should be doing less to salve old wounds and resolve old and current injustices.
Reviewing my high school days, I am confident that those who knew me well were aware that my flag display was not meant as anything racist. But I am left to wonder how many saw it and never bothered to ask. I sure didn’t bother to ask them. For all I know to this day some of those classmates may think of me in a way I would not like to be thought of. My face turns red at the prospect.
It’s now up to southern legislatures to decide what to do with this grand old symbol—which forms the motif for many of the old south’s current state flags as well. As for me, my affection for the old south and my admiration for its fighting spirit remain firm. But I have folded my flags.

Forrest Carr is a confessed novelist, blogger, land snark, and former TV news director and talk radio host. who has worked all across the country.
You can find his works and his blog at: http: //thebashfulbloviator.blogspot.com/

 

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Barve seeks a step up to Congress

KumarPortraits 270The field of candidates for the soon to be vacant Congressional seat of Congressman Chris Van Hollen has been taking shape over the last several months. One such candidate is Delegate Kumar Barve, a former Maryland House Majority Leader and currently the chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

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The quest for affordable housing

house genericEvery community needs affordable housing whether they recognize it or not. The current requirement is that 12.5 percent of any new construction in Montgomery County must be set aside for moderately priced housing, but is that enough?

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A conversation with David Axelrod

axelrodI recently had the opportunity to listen to David Axelrod, long time advisor to President Obama and key strategist for both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, speak about his new book "Believer: My Forty Years in Politics". The event was sponsored by the Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County and was quite enlightening.

Of particular interest to me was the issue of dealing with the rampant partisan politics within the beltway. In his book, Mr. Axelrod had indicated that one of the motivating factors convincing President Obama to run for the presidency was his sincere belief that he, as someone new to the "beltway", could have a significant impact on cutting through the partisan politics that so stymies the ability of the federal government to get anything accomplished. Regrettably, the reality that is all too apparent to anyone following President Obama's time in office is that this president has faced more blatant obstructionism than any other president in history, certainly any president in my own lifetime which goes back to the Truman Administration.

The election of the first minority candidate for president, rather than serve to indicate how far we have come as a nation, served all too often to awaken in too many the desire to take us backwards to where we once were...30, 50, 100 or even 200 years ago in areas such as race relations and how we react to the differences that exist among all of the various members of our society.

My question to Mr. Axelrod was simple: Knowing what we now know, how would you have advised President Obama differently in the early stages of his administration in dealing with the blatant partisan obstructionism intended to undermine any attempts by the president to move this country forward? I made it clear that this was not a trick question, Jeb Bush notwithstanding. His response was both extremely honest and, in my opinion, quite appropriate. His answer was "I don't know" and he didn't know, he went on to say, because there really is no surefire way to deal with an opposition that "won't take YES for an answer".

If I could find one positive thing to say about the intentions of the opposition it is that at least they didn't try to hide them. They were quite upfront with their plan from the beginning which was to win back the White House by blocking everything the President attempted to accomplish. As Mr. Axelrod indicated, Mitch McConnell made that strategy quite clear when he declared that his goal was to "make this President a one-term president". Regrettably, this strategy is still being adhered to in a second term.

So how do we break through the obstructionism that plagues today's "beltway politics" and all too often places party before the best interest of citizens? Mr. Axelrod did offer a solution, be it one that requires time and dedication. His solution is "bottom up" politics. Looking at local elections, whether for school board, City Council, and the like and working and voting for candidates who represent the best interests of citizens. It is local and state legislatures that serve as the breeding ground for the senators and representatives in the Congress of the future and it is an investment well worth taking.

Mr. Axelrod also referred to the strategy used by Ronald Reagan to curry favor with what is now known as the "Reagan Democrats" of the southern belt through social issues. He did so not to win back that specific voting bloc as much as to use as an example of rallying a group around a specific set of issues. As the middle class continues to shrink as a result of the policies of the current Congress, the rallying point for those of us who consider ourselves still part of the middle class must be, according to Mr. Axelrod, around economic issues.

These, of course, would include the earned benefits we worked for such as social security and Medicare but they should also include recognizing the need for investment in education and infrastructure. It should also include a tax structure that rewards hard work over making money off of the money others earn. That tax structure should also reward investment in creating jobs in America while penalizing those companies who ship jobs overseas. Supporting candidates who understand and support these middle class issues when they are running for office at the lower echelons of the political spectrum is the most effective way to ensure that they make their way to the upper echelons of the political spectrum down the road.

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The Supreme Court and health care

scales of justiceIn a few weeks the Supreme Court will be rendering its decision in the King vs. Burwell case which could significantly impact health care coverage for almost 9 million Americans. The case revolves around the applicability of the tax credit that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare, provides for individuals at certain income levels to enable them to afford the purchase of health insurance through the health insurance Exchanges established under the ACA. The question before the court is whether that tax credit is limited to Exchanges set up by the state or whether it would also apply to the Exchanges set up by the Federal government in those states that opted out of setting up the Exchanges themselves.

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Violence and riots and life outside

tear gasLet me begin by stating in no uncertain terms that I absolutely abhor violence. I am for President Obama's efforts to resolve international threats through diplomacy as a first step rather than jumping right into our next war. I am against the NRA's quest to arm every citizen, even those not yet born, with a firearm. That said, I still wonder if it took the utter destruction and looting of a CVS and other businesses in Baltimore to shine the media spotlight on the plight of the inner cities. Granted, the motivation behind much if not most of the looting could very well have been to take advantage of a situation to obtain "free stuff", but that doesn't change whether the burning down of the CVS was a necessary evil to focus media attention on the underlying issues plaguing Baltimore and other cities throughout the country. The city of Detroit has yet to fully recover from the devastation of the riots of 1968 despite great efforts to bring people and industry back to a city from which they fled to the outlying suburbs as a result of those disastrous riots.

Certainly, the plight of the inner cities and the lack of opportunities for its young people has steadily declined over a period of time much greater than the three weeks since Freddie Gray's death. The sending of jobs overseas has been a steady phenomena for well over thirty years. Baltimore was once a major port of entry for overseas cargo. Since the 1980's, with the shift to containerization of cargo, there are now only two major ports of entry on the east coast, Port Elizabeth in New Jersey and Charleston, South Carolina. As a result, all of the other major ports, even New York Harbor, found the need to turn themselves into tourist attractions like the Inner Harbor in Baltimore and The Seaport in New York to salvage lost revenue from the shipping industry and the many jobs that industry provided along the Atlantic coast. Other practices, like the irresponsible pushing of subprime mortgages by unethical lenders seeking to take unfair advantage of the "housing bubble" lead to the massive housing foreclosures that are scattered throughout the poorer neighborhoods of Baltimore and the many other similar cities across the nation.

President Obama in his State of the Union address emphasized the need for the nation to invest in education to enable our youth to compete for higher level jobs. Yet, in Governor Hogan's FY 2016 budget, funding for education in our state was drastically slashed.

Most of us recognize that the upturn in our economy has primarily benefitted the wealthy in our society contributing to a staggering level of income inequality not seen since just prior to the stock market crash of 1929 - 91% of the recent income gains have gone to the top 1% wealthiest Americans.

The question that must be addressed is whether that burning of the CVS in Baltimore will do anything to wake up those in power in both government AND the private sector to move from simply recognizing the ongoing problem to taking actual steps to address the inherent problems in the long term. Will they, together, agree on a plan that includes among other actions: reinvestment of corporate profits in the communities to create more jobs, keeping jobs in the U.S. by providing tax incentives that reward those companies that do and penalize those companies that do not, closing corporate tax loopholes, investing in education to make it affordable to all, not just the wealthy few?

If it took the destruction of that CVS to move us further along towards truly addressing these pervasive issues with long term solutions rather than short term fixes, then it was a wakeup call well worth making.

As for the actual event that set off the days of protest and rioting, the killing of Freddie Gray, let me just say that any commitment to rebuilding our inner cities must be accompanied by some level of respect for the inhabitants of those cities. Recognizing the sanctity of life, all life, especially by those responsible for "protecting and serving" is an essential element. I believe, therefore, that the charges filed by Prosecutor Mosby against the six police officers were justified.

It appears, and I emphasize the word appears, that he was stopped by police for "looking suspicious". I won't comment any further on why he was stopped and let the courts determine that, but what I will comment on is what, at least to me, was clear from the video footage. He was, indeed, "taken down" by six police officers AND his injury occurred during that take down. This is evident from the fact that he is screaming in pain as he is being dragged to the paddy wagon since he clearly is not able to freely move his legs. Anyone who suspects that he was "beaten" by police while in the paddy wagon, in my opinion, is way off base. It is also quite clear to me that, while initially injured during the take down by the officers, his condition was likely exacerbated by both the manner in which he was "placed" in the police van and, then, further exacerbated by the officers' failure to properly secure him in the van while he was handcuffed and shackled resulting in his "bouncing" around the van during the transport. If this isn't an example of depraved indifference to life and negligent homicide, I am not sure what could ever fall into those categories.

While there are numerous questions relating to the overall handling of this case by the police involved, the key question for me is how an unarmed individual, who it does not appear was resisting arrest by six police officers, could be injured to such an extent while in police custody as to ultimately lose his life? Clearly, police face a danger in their work that most other individuals rarely if ever face. I do not see this, however, as a valid excuse. Lack of respect for life is certainly not limited to police; we have seen instances by non-police individuals who shoot first and ask questions later such as in Florida and elsewhere by gun-toting "citizens". I place responsibility for these with the lack of responsible gun legislation throughout the country. However, it is the lack of respect for life by police that is particularly troubling since they are vested with the responsibility to serve and protect.

What makes these events even more ironic if not downright hypocritical is the fact that they have been occurring at a time when the debate of "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice" is occurring across the nation. How is it even possible that there could be more concern about the right to life of an unborn fetus than, at too many times, there is about the right to life of the "born" fetuses that walk our streets as citizens?

I admit I am not in any position to provide any real solutions to this very real problem, however, I will say that any solution has to begin with instilling in everyone a greater appreciation and respect for the sanctity of all life, even life that occurs "outside" the womb!

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