Why This Democrat Is Focusing On California In Fight To Take Back The House In 2018

WASHINGTON ― A new organization launched Monday argues that the road to a Democratic majority in the U.S. House “runs through ‘red’ California.”

Red to Blue California PAC wants to help Democrats take back the chamber in 2018 by supporting and mobilizing Democrats challenging Republican incumbents in seven congressional districts that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton carried in last year’s presidential race. Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats for a majority in the House.

The PAC’s founder, Michael Eggman, is a Democrat, farmer and beekeeper in California’s Central Valley who ran twice against Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) in a district Democrats had hoped to flip. The idea came to him after he narrowly lost in last year’s bid against Denham, whose district voted for Clinton (and for President Barack Obama before that).

The PAC will focus on advising candidates on the mechanics of running campaigns, from online fundraising to speaking at events, guidance Eggman wished he had before his first congressional bid.

“You can have the best message in the world, but if you don’t have the resources to get that message out, or if you don’t have the proper platform to communicate your message, it’s not going to do you any good,” Eggman told HuffPost.

In designing an effective message, it’s important for candidates to recognize the “nuances of that specific district,” Eggman said.

The competitive districts and Republican incumbents the PAC is focusing on are:

  • 10th District: Jeff Denham

  • 21st District: David Valadao 

  • 25th District: Steve Knight 

  • 39th District: Ed Royce

  • 45th District: Mimi Walters 

  • 48th District: Dana Rohrabacher 

  • 49th District: Darrell Issa 

All seven GOP representatives voted for House Republicans’ health care bill in May, an issue Eggman pointed to as evidence of the divide between the representatives and their constituents.

“These reps are standing with [President Donald] Trump and not the constituents of their district,” Eggman said. “Their constituents don’t share Trump’s values, and it seems like these reps do.” 

Several of the districts are in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, a Republican stronghold that last year went for a Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1936.

In several of the seven races, Democratic candidates have already thrown their hats in the ring, buoyed by increased party activism.

Eggman said the PAC is not likely to endorse any specific candidates until after the primaries, but could intervene “on a case-by-case basis” if there is a particularly competitive primary.

Red to Blue California will also fund and train Democratic candidates vying for local office, to help them learn how to run sophisticated and efficient campaigns on the local level and to build a network of future leaders. 

“We want to pay attention to the bench, which is something that hasn’t been done on our side of the aisle. Of course, Republicans have been doing it for a couple decades, and I would attribute that to a lot of their success,” Eggman said.

“It’s great that a beekeeper ran for Congress, but it would have been better that a beekeeper that was also a county supervisor, that had already had a constituency footprint, ran for Congress. That would have given me a tremendous advantage.”

Fresh off defeats in several special elections that had been seen as bellwethers for the 2018 midterms, particularly last Tuesday’s race in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, Democrats nationally are at a crossroads.

But Eggman pointed out that, in those special elections, Democrats made significant improvements compared to prior elections and overperformed — in some cases, by double digits.

“If we did double-digit gains in all seven of these seats, then we win. I am very hopeful, but I’m in it for the long haul too,” he said, noting that he would not see it as a loss if Democrats did not pick up all seven seats in 2018. “You’ve got to be resilient.”

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Conservative’s Story About ‘How Republicans Are Born’ Backfires Spectacularly

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist seemed to think he had the perfect example to explain his problem with taxes, and to illustrate ― as he put it ― “how Republicans are born.”

On Sunday, the head of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform wrote on Twitter

The post quickly went viral, but probably not for the reasons Norquist expected. Of the more than 4,500 comments, many explained exactly what the tax on that guitar would be used for.

Here are some examples: 

Here’s some of the reaction to the reaction: 

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Michelle Obama’s Tribute To Chance The Rapper Literally Moved Him To Tears

It’s one (rather humbling) thing to be honored with BET’s Humanitarian Award ― it’s another to be praised by Michelle Obama and to have her call you a friend. But leave it to Chance The Rapper to accomplish both by the age of 24. 

In addition to taking home the award for Best New Artist during the 2017 BET Awards, which aired Sunday, the rapper and activist became the youngest person to receive its Humanitarian Award.

Chance donated $1 million to public schools in his hometown of Chicago in March, led campaigns to give outerwear to Chicago’s homeless and even led a march to Chicago voting polls on Election Day 2016. 

His list of social deeds can go on for days, which is probably why he was able to get a shoutout from our favorite first lady. 

“We are so incredibly proud of you, Chance,” the former FLOTUS began. “We have known Chance and his family since he was a wee little baby rapper and it has been a thrill watching him come into his own in so many ways.”

“In addition to making some really amazing music, Chance has been taking that big bright spotlight that follows him around and shining it on our hometown of Chicago,” she continued. “Chance is showing our young people that they matter, they have something inside of them that is worthy of being expressed.”

After the first lady’s touching words, cameras caught Chance with tears in his eyes. 

His acceptance speech, which he said was impromptu because he wanted to “speak from the heart,” proved his accolades from Mrs. Obama were well deserved. 

After declaring a love for black people, Chance went into a spiel about how this country can start making things right. 

“I had plans originally to try to tell the world and everybody watching how to make it a better place,” he said.

“To tell everybody in this government that y’all need to let everybody out of jail for selling weed before y’all start making it legal for people to sell it and make capital off it,” he continued, making pointed eye contact with the camera. 

“I was going to tell the Chicago public school system not to take out a loan from Chase Bank when they know that our schools are planning on failing in our district,” he said to increasing applause. 

Before ending his speech, Chance declared that he also wants to work on himself and become a better father, cousin, etc. 

He then had the nerve to say he doesn’t yet feel the award is deserved. Let the humbleness take a seat for one night, Chano. 

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The Military Version Of Roulette

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

If you want a number, try 194. That’s how many countries there are on planet Earth (give or take one or two). Today, Nick Turse reports a related number that should boggle your mind: at least 137 of those countries, or 70 percent of them, already have something in common for 2017 and the year’s not even half over. They share the experience of having American Special Operations forces deployed to their territory. Assumedly, those numbers don’t include Russia, China, Iran, Andorra, or Monaco (unless guarding global casinos is a new national priority for our casino capitalist president). Still, they’re evidence of the great bet American casino militarism has made in these years ― that elite special ops troops could do what the rest of the U.S. military couldn’t: actually achieve victory in a conflict or two. 

Think of the Special Operations Command (or SOCOM) as having won the lottery in these years. From thousands of elite troops in the 1980s, their numbers have ballooned to about 70,000 at present ― a force larger, that is, than the armies of many nations, with at least 8,000 of them raiding, training, and advising abroad at any given moment.  In fact, these days it’s a reasonable bet that if American war is intensifying anywhere, they’re front and center. A year ago in Syria, for instance, there were perhaps 50 special operators helping anti-ISIS forces of various sorts.  Now, as the battle for the Islamic State’s “capital,” Raqqa, intensifies, that number has soared to 500 and is evidently still rising.  (Something similar is true for Iraq and undoubtedly, after the Pentagon dispatches its latest mini-surge of personnel to Afghanistan in the coming months, that country, too.)

As for money, SOCOM has certainly won the Pentagon’s version of roulette. (Of course, in that version, everybody wins, even if some are more triumphant than others.)  Between 2001 and 2014, the special ops budget increased by a not-so-modest 213 percent, and its budget has continued to grow since.

There’s only one category in which the special ops bet has turned out to be anything but a winning hand and that’s the subject of Nick Turse’s latest report on the operations of SOCOM globally, “A Wide World of Winless War.”  I’m talking about actual victories, not exactly a winner of a category for the U.S. military in the twenty-first century.  And by the way, given the astronomical growth and uses of America’s Special Operations Forces and their centrality to the U.S. military story over the last nearly 16 years, aren’t you just a little surprised that the best reportage on the phenomenon can’t be found in the mainstream media, but in Turse’s reports at TomDispatch?

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A Wide World Of Winless War

Cross-posted from TomDispatch.com

The tabs on their shoulders read “Special Forces,” “Ranger,” “Airborne.” And soon their guidon ― the “colors” of Company B, 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group ― would be adorned with the “Bandera de Guerra,” a Colombian combat decoration.

“Today we commemorate sixteen years of a permanent fight against drugs in a ceremony where all Colombians can recognize the special counternarcotic brigade’s hard work against drug trafficking,” said Army Colonel Walther Jimenez, the commander of the Colombian military’s Special Anti-Drug Brigade, last December.  America’s most elite troops, the Special Operations forces (SOF), have worked with that Colombian unit since its creation in December 2000. Since 2014, four teams of Special Forces soldiers have intensely monitored the brigade. Now, they were being honored for it.

Part of a $10 billion counter-narcotics and counterterrorism program, conceived in the 1990s, special ops efforts in Colombia are a much ballyhooed American success story.  A 2015 RAND Corporation study found that the program “represents an enduring SOF partnership effort that managed to help foster a relatively professional and capable special operations force.”  And for a time, coca production in that country plummeted.  Indeed, this was the ultimate promise of America’s “Plan Colombia” and efforts that followed from it.  “Over the longer haul, we can expect to see more effective drug eradication and increased interdiction of illicit drug shipments,” President Bill Clinton predicted in January 2000.

Today, however, more than 460,000 acres of the Colombian countryside are blanketed with coca plants, more than during the 1980s heyday of the infamous cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar.  U.S. cocaine overdose deaths are also at a 10-year high and first-time cocaine use among young adults has spiked 61% since 2013.  “Recent findings suggest that cocaine use may be reemerging as a public health concern in the United States,” wrote researchers from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in a study published in December 2016 ― just after the Green Berets attended that ceremony in Colombia. Cocaine, the study’s authors write, “may be making a comeback.”

Colombia is hardly an anomaly when it comes to U.S. special ops deployments ― or the results that flow from them.  For all their abilities, tactical skills, training prowess, and battlefield accomplishments, the capacity of U.S. Special Operations forces to achieve decisive and enduring successes ― strategic victories that serve U.S. national interests ― have proved to be exceptionally limited, a reality laid bare from Afghanistan to Iraq, Yemen to the Philippines. 

The fault for this lies not with the troops themselves, but with a political and military establishment that often appears bereft of strategic vision and hasn’t won a major war since the 1940s. Into this breach, elite U.S. forces are deployed again and again. While special ops commanders may raise concerns about the tempo of operations and strains on the force, they have failed to grapple with larger questions about the raison d’être of SOF, while Washington’s oversight establishment, notably the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, have consistently failed to so much as ask hard questions about the strategic utility of America’s Special Operations forces.

Special Ops at War

“We operate and fight in every corner of the world,” boasts General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM).  “On a daily basis, we sustain a deployed or forward stationed force of approximately 8,000 across 80-plus countries.  They are conducting the entire range of SOF missions in both combat and non-combat situations.”  Those numbers, however, only hint at the true size and scope of this global special ops effort.  Last year, America’s most elite forces conducted missions in 138 countries ― roughly 70% of the nations on the planet, according to figures supplied to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command.  Halfway through 2017, U.S. commandos have already been deployed to an astonishing 137 countries, according to SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw. 

Special Operations Command is tasked with carrying out 12 core missions, ranging from counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare to hostage rescue and countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Counterterrorism ― fighting what the command calls violent extremist organizations (VEOs) ― may, however, be what America’s elite forces have become best known for in the post-9/11 era.  “The threat posed by VEOs remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort,” says Thomas.

“Special Operations Forces are the main effort, or major supporting effort for U.S. VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America ― essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found…”

More special operators are deployed to the Middle East than to any other region.  Significant numbers of them are advising Iraqi government forces and Iraqi Kurdish soldiers as well as Kurdish YPG (Popular Protection Unit) fighters and various ethnic Arab forces in Syria, according to Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who spent seven weeks in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries earlier this year. 

During a visit to Qayyarah, Iraq ― a staging area for the campaign to free Mosul, formerly Iraq’s second largest city, from the control of Islamic State fighters ― Robinson “saw a recently installed U.S. military medical unit and its ICU set up in tents on the base.”  In a type of mission seldom reported on, special ops surgeons, nurses, and other specialists put their skills to work on far-flung battlefields not only to save American lives, but to prop up allied proxy forces that have limited medical capabilities.  For example, an Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team recently spent eight weeks deployed at an undisclosed location in the Iraq-Syria theater, treating 750 war-injured patients.  Operating out of an abandoned one-story home within earshot of a battlefield, the specially trained airmen worked through a total of 19 mass casualty incidents and more than 400 individual gunshot or blast injuries.

When not saving lives in Iraq and Syria, elite U.S. forces are frequently involved in efforts to take them.  “U.S. SOF are… being thrust into a new role of coordinating fire support,” wrote Robinson. “This fire support is even more important to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a far more lightly armed irregular force which constitutes the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria.”  In fact, a video shot earlier this year, analyzed by the Washington Post, shows special operators “acting as an observation element for what appears to be U.S. airstrikes carried out by A-10 ground attack aircraft” to support Syrian Democratic Forces fighting for the town of Shadadi.

Africa now ranks second when it comes to the deployment of special operators thanks to the exponential growth in missions there in recent years.  Just 3% of U.S. commandos deployed overseas were sent to Africa in 2010.  Now that number stands at more than 17%, according to SOCOM data.  Last year, U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed to 32 African nations, about 60% of the countries on the continent.  As I recently reported at VICE News, at any given time, Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and other special operators are now conducting nearly 100 missions across 20 African countries.

In May, for instance, Navy SEALs were engaged in an “advise and assist operation” alongside members of Somalia’s army and came under attack.  SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two other U.S. personnel were injured during a firefight that also, according to AFRICOM spokesperson Robyn Mack, left three al-Shabaab militants dead.  U.S. forces are also deployed in Libya to gather intelligence in order to carry out strikes of opportunity against Islamic State forces there.  While operations in Central Africa against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a brutal militia that has terrorized the region for decades, wound down recently, a U.S. commando reportedly killed a member of the LRA as recently as April. 

Spring Training

What General Thomas calls “building partner nations’ capacity” forms the backbone of the global activities of his command.  Day in, day out, America’s most elite troops carry out such training missions to sharpen their skills and those of their allies and of proxy forces across the planet. 

This January, for example, Green Berets and Japanese paratroopers carried out airborne training near Chiba, Japan.  February saw Green Berets at Sanaa Training Center in northwest Syria advising recruits for the Manbij Military Council, a female fighting force of Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Turkmen, and Yazidis.  In March, snowmobiling Green Berets joined local forces for cold-weather military drills in Lapland, Finland.  That same month, special operators and more than 3,000 troops from Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom took part in tactical training in Germany.

In the waters off Kuwait, special operators joined elite forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council nations in conducting drills simulating a rapid response to the hijacking of an oil tanker.  In April, special ops troops traveled to Serbia to train alongside a local special anti-terrorist unit.  In May, members of Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Iraq carried out training exercises with Iraqi special operations forces near Baghdad. That same month, 7,200 military personnel, including U.S. Air Force Special Tactics airmen, Italian special operations forces, members of host nation Jordan’s Special Task Force, and troops from more than a dozen other nations took part in Exercise Eager Lion, practicing everything from assaulting compounds to cyber-defense.  For their part, a group of SEALs conducted dive training alongside Greek special operations forces in Souda Bay, Greece, while others joined NATO troops in Germany as part of Exercise Saber Junction 17 for training in land operations, including mock “behind enemy lines missions” in a “simulated European village.” 

#Winning

“We have been at the forefront of national security operations for the past three decades, to include continuous combat over the past 15-and-a-half years,” SOCOM’s Thomas told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities last month.  “This historic period has been the backdrop for some of our greatest successes, as well as the source of our greatest challenge, which is the sustained readiness of this magnificent force.”  Yet, for all their magnificence and all those successes, for all the celebratory ceremonies they’ve attended, the wars, interventions, and other actions for which they’ve served as the tip of the American spear have largely foundered, floundered, or failed. 

After their initial tactical successes in Afghanistan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, America’s elite operators became victims of Washington’s failure to declare victory and go home.  As a result, for the last 15 years, U.S. commandos have been raiding homes, calling in air strikes, training local forces, and waging a relentless battle against a growing list of terror groups in that country.  For all their efforts, as well as those of their conventional military brethren and local Afghan allies, the war is now, according to the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, a “stalemate.”  That’s a polite way of saying what a recent report to Congress by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found: districts that are contested or under “insurgent control or influence” have risen from an already remarkable 28% in 2015 to 40%.

The war in Afghanistan began with efforts to capture or kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.  Having failed in this post-9/11 mission, America’s elite forces spun their wheels for the next decade when it came to his fate.  Finally, in 2011, Navy SEALs cornered him in his long-time home in Pakistan and gunned him down.  Ever since, special operators who carried out the mission and Washingtonpower-players (not to mentionHollywood) have been touting this single tactical success.

In an Esquire interview, Robert O’Neill, the SEAL who put two bullets in bin Laden’s head, confessed that he joined the Navy due to frustration over an early crush, a puppy-love pique.  “That’s the reason al-Qaeda has been decimated,” he joked, “because she broke my fucking heart.”  But al-Qaeda was not decimated ― far from it according to Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. special agent and the author of Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State.  As he recently observed, “Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members, almost all of them based in a single country, today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world.”  In fact, he points out, the terror group has gained strength since bin Laden’s death.

Year after year, U.S. special operators find themselves fighting new waves of militants across multiple continents, including entire terror groups that didn’t exist on 9/11.  All U.S. forces killed in Afghanistan in 2017 have reportedly died battling an Islamic State franchise, which began operations there just two years ago. 

The U.S. invasion of Iraq, to take another example, led to the meteoric rise of an al-Qaeda affiliate which, in turn, led the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) ― the elite of America’s special ops elite ― to create a veritable manhunting machine designed to kill its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and take down the organization.  As with bin Laden, special operators finally did find and eliminate Zarqawi, battering his organization in the process, but it was never wiped out.  Left behind were battle-hardened elements that later formed the Islamic State and did what al-Qaeda never could: take and hold huge swaths of territory in two nations.  Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch grew into a separate force of more than 20,000. 

In Yemen, after more than a decade of low-profile special ops engagement, that country teeters on the brink of collapse in the face of a U.S.-backed Saudi war there.  Continued U.S. special ops missions in that country, recently on the rise, have seemingly done nothing to alter the situation.  Similarly, in Somalia in the Horn of Africa, America’s elite forces remain embroiled in an endless war against militants. 

In 2011, President Obama launched Operation Observant Compass, sending Special Operations forces to aid Central African proxies in an effort to capture or kill Joseph Kony and decimate his murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), then estimated to number 150 to 300 armed fighters.  After the better part of a decade and nearly $800 million spent, 150 U.S. commandos were withdrawn this spring and U.S. officials attended a ceremony to commemorate the end of the mission.  Kony was, however, never captured or killed and the LRA is now estimated to number about 150 to 250 fighters, essentially the same size as when the operation began.

This string of futility extends to Asia as well.  “U.S. Special Forces have been providing support and assistance in the southern Philippines for many years, at the request of several different Filipino administrations,” Emma Nagy, a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Manilla, pointed out earlier this month.  Indeed, a decade-plus-long special ops effort there has been hailed as a major success.  Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines, wrote RAND analyst Linda Robinson late last year in the Pentagon journal Prism, “was aimed at enabling the Philippine security forces to combat transnational terrorist groups in the restive southern region of Mindanao.” 

A 2016 RAND report co-authored by Robinson concluded that “the activities of the U.S. SOF enabled the Philippine government to substantially reduce the transnational terrorist threat in the southern Philippines.” This May, however, Islamist militants overran Marawi City, a major urban center on Mindanao.  They have been holding on to parts of it for weeks despite a determined assault by Filipino troops backed by U.S. Special Operations forces.  In the process, large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble.

Running on Empty

America’s elite forces, General Thomas told members of Congress last month, “are fully committed to winning the current and future fights.”  In reality, though, from war to war, intervention to intervention, from the Anti-Drug Brigade ceremony in Florencia, Colombia, to the end-of-the-Kony-hunt observance in Obo in the Central African Republic, there is remarkably little evidence that even enduring efforts by Special Operations forces result in strategic victories or improved national security outcomes.  And yet, despite such boots-on-the-ground realities, America’s special ops forces and their missions only grow.

“We are… grateful for the support of Congress for the required resourcing that, in turn, has produced a SOCOM which is relevant to all the current and enduring threats facing the nation,” Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May.  Resourcing has, indeed, been readily available.  SOCOM’s annual budget has jumped from $3 billion in 2001 to more than $10 billion today.  Oversight, however, has been seriously lacking.  Not a single member of the House or Senate Armed Services Committees has questioned why, after more than 15 years of constant warfare, winning the “current fight” has proven so elusive.  None of them has suggested that “support” from Congress ought to be reconsidered in the face of setbacks from Afghanistan to Iraq, Colombia to Central Africa, Yemen to the southern Philippines.  

In the waning days of George W. Bush’s administration, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to about 60 nations around the world.  By 2011, under President Barack Obama, that number had swelled to 120.  During this first half-year of the Trump administration, U.S. commandos have already been sent to 137 countries, with elite troops now enmeshed in conflicts from Africa to Asia.  “Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” Thomas told members of the House Armed Services Committee last month.  In fact, current and former members of the command have, for some time, been sounding the alarm about the level of strain on the force. 

These deployment levels and a lack of meaningful strategic results from them have not, however, led Washington to raise fundamental questions about the ways the U.S. employs its elite forces, much less about SOCOM’s raison d’être.  “We are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” SOCOM’s Thomas explained to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Not one member asked why or to what end. 

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa received an American Book Award in 2016. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

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Cheer Up, Democrats

How discouraged should Democrats be after failing to win any of the four recent House special elections to fill vacancies? The losses, most recently of Jon Ossoff, in Georgia’s 6th district, triggered a blame game, directed against House leader Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic National Committee, the tacticians of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and candidate Ossoff himself.

For starters, consider the numbers. Every one of these races was a long shot, and in every case the Democrat did notably better than his counterpart in 2014 or 2016.

Ossoff lost by 3.7 points. In 2016, the Democrat lost the seat by 16.2 points. In other words, Ossoff improved the Democratic performance by more than 12 points.

Likewise in the Kansas 4th district election of April 11, Democrat James Thompson lost by 6.8 points. But in the 2016 election, the Democrat lost by a massive 24.6 percent. The swing was 17.8 points to the Democrat.

In South Carolina’s 5th district election June 20, a sleeper race which did not compete seriously for national funding, Democrat Archie Parnell lost by just 3.2 points—less than 3,000 votes―and benefited from a swing of over 10 points compared to 2016. Even in the May contest for Montana’s at large seat, Democrat Rob Quist gained 2.7 points relative to the 2016 House race, and did almost 11 points better than Trump.

The average Democratic gain in these four long-shot races was about ten points. If that average were to hold nationwide in 2018, Democrats would comfortably take back the House.

But what about the charge that House leader Nancy Pelosi, at 77 and representing liberal San Francisco, presents the wrong image for the national party? Republican Karen Handel, who won the Georgia seat, made Pelosi her target. Her first ad declared:

Nancy Pelosi’s hand-picked candidate, Jon Ossoff, who doesn’t even live in the district, is not one of us and cannot be trusted to stand up for Georgia’s 6th District. It is clear by the overwhelming support from D.C. liberals, Ossoff would be nothing more than another Pelosi lackey in Congress falling in line with House Democrats and out of touch with Georgia values.

In the wake of Ossoff’s defeat, Ohio’s Congressman Tim Ryan, who challenged Pelosi for the leadership last November (and was trounced in the House Democratic Caucus, 134-63), resumed his drumbeat of criticism of the leadership, saying that the Democratic brand was “toxic” in much of the country where Democrats were seen as “not being able to connect with the issues they care about.”

“Our brand is worse than Trump,” he said flatly.

It’s certainly true that Hillary Clinton in 2016 failed to connect to working class voters on the issue of economic distress. But it’s a bit much to pin that on Pelosi.

Throughout the Obama years, Pelosi was much more of an economic progressive than either Obama or Clinton, opposing trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership, and pushing hard for increased stimulus spending. She has also been superb at holding the House Democratic caucus together.

Ryan, for his part, is trying to carve out a role as more conservative on social issues but populist on economic issues like reviving manufacturing. He opposed abortion, but then flipped in 2015 and announced his support for reproductive choice. He also has interesting views for a social conservative, being a big supporter of the local food revolution and an active practitioner of meditation.

Ryan may well have a future as a national Democratic leader, but Nancy Pelosi is the wrong scapegoat. And if you listen to the adjectives tossed around, there is whiff of sexism in the air. Search the words: Pelosi, shrill, woman of a certain age, and hectoring, and you’ll get the drift. 

Republicans have been running against Nancy Pelosi and the “San Francisco Democrats” since at least 1988. That didn’t stop Barack Obama from being elected—twice—on a message of hope. And if Hillary Clinton paid too little attention to the working class in between picking up checks from Goldman Sachs, that was hardly Nancy Pelosi’s fault.

Ossoff himself did not run a great campaign, but in an affluent suburban district of Atlanta, it’s not clear that he would have done better as an economic populist. (He might have done better had he lived in the district.)

What is clear is that the campaign professionals at the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee were asleep at the switch, with the obsessive focus on the Ossoff race. The races in Kansas and South Carolina, it turned out, were more winnable, but got almost no attention or resources.

Bottom line: Even though there were no gains of seats, there was an impressive swing to the Democrats in these four races that portends major pickups in 2018. Georgia’s 6th district was number 71 on the list of likely Democratic gains based on its recent voting history. The Democrats need only 24 to take back the House. That said, the Democrats do need to pick up their game and become a lot more strategic about their campaigns.

Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.

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Jimmy Kimmel Pleads With Senator To Put Trumpcare To Kind ‘Kimmel Test’

Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel is pleading with a Republican senator to put the latest version of Trumpcare to the “Kimmel test” before voting for it.

Kimmel, whose baby son Billy required surgery shortly after birth to repair a congenital heart problem, tweeted to Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) Sunday: “No family should be denied medical care, emergency or otherwise, because they can’t afford it.”

Cassidy himself first coined what he called the “Jimmy Kimmel test” in early May during a CNN interview when asked about caps on insurance coverage in Trumpcare.

“I ask, ’Does it pass the Jimmy Kimmel test?’” said the senator, who is also a doctor. “Would the child born with a congenital heart disease be able to get everything she or he would need in that first year of life, even if they go over a certain amount? I want to make sure folks get the care they need.”

Cassidy said in his latest interview Sunday on CBS that he hasn’t yet decided how he will vote on the Senate’s version of Trumpcare, which will eject some 23 million people from health insurance and will carve $800 billion out of Medicaid.

Right now I am undecided,” Cassidy said on “Face The Nation.” There “are things in this bill that adversely affect my state, that are peculiar to my state. A couple of the things I am concerned about, but if those can be addressed I will [vote for the bill]. And if they can’t be addressed, I won’t.”

On Friday, Cassidy said in response to a question from a Washington Post reporter that the Senate bill “begins to address the Jimmy Kimmel test.”

Just days before Cassidy’s CNN interview in May, Kimmel had tearfully recounted the story of his newborn son’s open-heart surgery on his program in April. It was the “longest three hours of my life,” said Kimmel, who reassured the audience that the story had a “happy ending” for baby Billy.

Kimmel used his own horrifying ordeal to make a plea for access to health care for every American. He said his son’s situation was a classic case of a “pre-existing condition” because it happened at birth.

“If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make … whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?” he asked to wild audience applause. Politicians need to “understand that very clearly,” he added.

“Let’s stop with the nonsense. This isn’t football. There are no teams. We are the team. It’s the United States. Don’t let their partisan squabbles divide us on something every decent person wants.”

Crying again, Kimmel talked about other families at his son’s hospital. “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life,” he said. “It just shouldn’t happen. Not here.”

Kimmel also retweeted a message Sunday from Child Health USA saying that the Senate’s Trumpcare bill doesn’t pass the Jimmy Kimmel test, “not even close.”

In addition, Kimmel retweeted a Jake Tapper tweet about a CNN interview Sunday with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, who refused to say if his taxes would be cut with Trumpcare.

Kimmel had Cassidy on his program on May 8 via satellite to discuss the House version of Trumpcare, and Cassidy talked then about how the Senate would address some of the holes in that bill. That’s when Kimmel clarified the “Jimmy Kimmel test” that he repeated in his tweet Sunday to Cassidy. “Hey, man, you’re on the right track,” Cassidy said on the program.

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33 Fierce Signs Of Resistance From Pride Marches Across The U.S.

LGBTQ Pride marches ensued across the U.S. this weekend and the signs did not disappoint.

Thousands of people hoisted colorful signs of resistance above their heads as they flooded the streets of New York, Minneapolis, San Francisco and other cities during the annual demonstration.

Many signs carried traditional Pride messages of love and unity while celebrating the LGBTQ community and their push for equal rights throughout history.

Other signs took aim at President Donald Trump, whose administration and policies have been largely condemned by LGBTQ community members. Last week, six top experts resigned from Trump’s advisory council on HIV and AIDS, a major issue affecting the LGBTQ community, over the president’s lack of policies to combat the HIV epidemic.

Other signs demanded justice for those disproportionately affected by police brutality, including people of color and those in the LGBTQ community.

Black Lives Matter activists carrying banners that read “No Justice No Pride” delayed the Pride march in Minneapolis. The demonstrators claimed the event was furthering “white supremacy” by ignoring the verdict that found a policeman not guilty in the shooting death of Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul last year.

New York City began its 48th Pride March this year with what some interpreted as a sign from Mother Nature ― a rainbow shining over the city skyline.

Check out the roundup below for some of the most powerful signs from this year’s NYC Pride march and other LGBTQ pride events across the country. Prepare to be Babashook!

Warning: Some of these signs and images could be considered NSFW.

I ❤️ this mom! #pridemonth #lovewins #chicagopride #transgender #pride2017

A post shared by Jason Proper (@jproper3) on

GAY PRIDE PARADE ️‍ #prideparade #pride2017 #pridemonth #minnesota #minneapolis #pride #me

A post shared by Manuel Cárdenas (@manuel_ae) on

Flowers not guns. #gag #gaysagainstguns #pride2017 #pride #nyc #resist

A post shared by brettdavi (@brettdavi) on

#pride2017

A post shared by nava (@xanuelnava) on

⠀ s a s h a y ⠀ *snap snap* ⠀ #pride2017 #beVISIBLE #bitchBYE ______________________________________ ⠀

A post shared by Gerri-Michelle (@ms.pascual) on

#sfpride #prideparade #sfprideparade #pride #pride2017 #stayawake

A post shared by Atefeh Taheri (@atefeh_t) on

San Fransisco Pride Parade #pride2017 #sanfransiscopride #lovetrumpshate

A post shared by Johan & Josefine (@dansktband) on

I was feeling sad @thejinkx wasnt at nyc pride, so i decided to bring her in spirit #pride #babashook

A post shared by duck the dick (@theducko) on

Messages to some Ohio pride attendees fill #pride2017 with solidarity #blacklivesmatter @tko.creative

A post shared by Working Families Party (@workingfamilies) on

The sign pretty much says it all. # #prideparade #pride #RealLove #RealMagic #ThePeopleWhoKeepMeGoing

A post shared by Calibre Grace Resua ☼ (@calibregrace) on

#pride #nycpride #lgbtq #

A post shared by ACLU (@aclu_nationwide) on

NYC subway poster ! #mta #nysubway

A post shared by Graham Marks (@acugraham) on

Igualdad ️‍ #pussypower #loveislove #pride #condado #sanjuan #pr #equality #igualdad #lgbt #lgbtq

A post shared by Brianna Saranchock (@bsaranchock) on

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Facing FBI Bank Fraud Investigation, Bernie And Jane Sanders Hire Lawyers

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his wife, Jane Sanders, the former president of Burlington College, have hired lawyers in the face of a federal investigation into bank fraud allegations related to a multimillion-dollar loan for the now-defunct liberal arts college.

On Saturday, CBS News confirmed that the couple had hired high-profile defense lawyers in light of the FBI probe looking into whether Jane Sanders falsified bank documents in 2010 in an attempt to secure a $10 million loan to expand Burlington College’s campus. That loan, which was obtained, was a factor in the school shuttering its doors in 2016 after it found itself unable to pay off its debt. Jane Sanders, who served as president of Burlington College from 2004 to 2011, has been accused of falsely inflating projected donor contributions in the loan application. 

The federal probe, according to Politico magazine, may also be looking into whether Sen. Sanders used his political influence to put “improper pressure” on the bank to approve that loan. The outlet said the evidence for that seems “thin at best,” but the investigation has still prompted Sanders to hire Burlington lawyer Rich Cassidy. Jane Sanders has reportedly retained Larry Robbins, a Washington-based defense attorney.

The Sanderses have kept mostly mum about the probe. During a May interview with Burlington’s WCAX-TV, however, the senator dismissed the allegations as “nonsense” and suggested they were politically motivated.

“[This] was initiated by Trump’s campaign manager, somebody who does this all of the time, has gone after a number of Democrats and progressives in this state,” said Sanders, referring to Brady Toensing, a chairman for the Trump campaign in Vermont who submitted the original complaint that led to the investigation.

Toensing has said the probe was launched in early 2016, during President Barack Obama’s tenure. “The FBI has not disclosed what prompted its investigation, but it was started more than a year ago under President Obama, his Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and his United States attorney, all of whom are Democrats,” Toensing said in a May statement, according to VTDigger.

Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ top political adviser, told CBS this week that the accusations against Sen. Sanders are “baseless” and that the bank loan in question had been “approved by the financial board at the college.” 

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California Mosques Hit By Possible Hate Crimes During Last Days Of Ramadan

Authorities are investigating two possible hates crimes against Islamic centers in California during the last days of Ramadan, officials said.

A burned Quran filled with bacon ― a food forbidden in Islam ― was found outside the Masjid Annur Islamic Center in Sacramento on Saturday. Law enforcement officials discovered the defiled book of religious text hanging by a handcuff on a fence after a citizen reported the incident around 2:30 p.m.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department said it was investigating the incident at the mosque, the largest in the Sacramento area, as a possible hate crime.

“The Sheriff’s Community Relations Unit contacted leaders of the Islamic Center to offer any assistance,” the department also said in a statement.

A representative for the Masjid Annur Islamic Center did not immediately respond to request for comment.

About 20 miles away, the Islamic Center of Davis was the site of a possible hate crime on Friday. Officials told The Sacramento Bee that someone driving by threw ripped out pages of the Quran as members of the mosque gathered inside during Ramadan Taraweeh prayers.

This isn’t the first time the center has been the targeted. In January, a woman was arrested and charged with a felony hate crime after leaving bacon strips by the mosque’s entrance and breaking some of its windows.

Sheikh Ammar Shahin, the center’s imam, did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Basim Elkarra, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’s Sacramento chapter, thanked law enforcement officials for their quick response to the “troubling incidents,” which took place as Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims, came to a close.

“Decisive action by law enforcement authorities sends a strong message of deterrence to anyone who contemplates turning their bigoted views into acts of intimidation,” Elkarra said in a statement.

The recent incidents reflect a pattern of increased hate crimes against Muslims. The Council on American-Islamic Relations released a report last month that found a 57 percent increase in anti-Muslim incidents from 2015 to 2016. 

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