The Urgent National Crisis That Presidential Candidates Aren’t Talking About

The Urgent National Crisis That Presidential Candidates Aren’t Talking About

It’s visible on the streets of most major U.S. cities, has been for decades, and costs the government billions of dollars a year. But none of the people running for president seem to be speaking about it. Politicians and pundits don’t talk about homelessness like they talk about Donald Trump’s insults or Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The Obama administration prioritized veterans, one group within the U.S. homeless population, in its plan to end chronic homelessness nationally by 2017. In August, federal and Connecticut officials announced that the state had become the first to do so among U.S. veterans.

With 14 months to go until the 2016 presidential election, candidates are regularly referring to the United States’ dwindling middle class and income and wealth inequality, while others continue to rail against the financial elite and the 1 percent. But few are speaking explicitly on the campaign trail about perhaps the most jarring manifestation of poverty.

“A few candidates have talked about the distribution of wealth and the need to grow the middle class, but homelessness is as invisible in these discussions as it is visible on the streets,” Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project, told The National Memo.

Nearly 580,000 people experience homelessness in the United States on any given night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. But with only 18.3 per 10,000 Americans in the general population directly affected, the issue is off the radar for most people — including candidates.

Advocates said that they did not expect homelessness to become a major campaign issue in the 2016 presidential race, but they do see hope in the fact that some candidates are talking about economic inequality.

Part of the reason homelessness is absent from the national conversation is that many think of it as a local issue, one that mayors can campaign on, said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Americans, he added, don’t usually think of the president as the elected official responsible for getting people into housing.

Even so, advocates have suggested, the progress made in some U.S. cities and Connecticut on chronic veterans’ homelessness could be a politically viable way to present the issue to American voters.

As more cities report that they’ve ended that situation, Berg said it could get more public exposure as a social problem that can be solved. “Some candidate is going to figure out that this is an opportunity to get him or herself associated with something really good. Maybe,” he added.

William Burnett, a board member of the advocacy organization Picture the Homeless, and a formerly homeless veteran living in New York City, said he got housing in March due to his status as a veteran.

“It’s easier to sell the political will to address veteran homelessness than it is to address the homelessness of other people,” Burnett told The National Memo. He said he appreciated the fact that he was able to get housing, but said people who hadn’t served in the military also need help.

“I would like to see some of these candidates addressing [homelessness] during the campaign process,” added Burnett, who volunteered for Howard Dean’s campaign in 2003. Policy makers and candidates, Burnett said, should listen to those with the most expertise on homelessness — currently and formerly homeless people — in order to come up with creative solutions to get people housed.

Homelessness is “a national nexus for so many other issues that candidates talk about,” said Jake Maguire, a spokesperson at Community Solutions, a national nonprofit organization that helps communities address homelessness. He cited income inequality, jobs, and affordable housing, among other social and economic issues related to homelessness.

The Obama administration put a spotlight on the issue of veteran homelessness, Maguire said. Now, it can be “an entry point” to politicians speaking about addressing homelessness more broadly.

National Problem, Local Success

In New Orleans to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, on August 27, President Obama touted the progress the city has made in “fighting poverty” and “supporting our homeless veterans.”

“New Orleans has become a model for the nation as … the first major city to end veterans’ homelessness, which is a remarkable achievement,” the president said.

In addition to Connecticut and New Orleans, cities including Phoenix and Salt Lake City announced that they have eliminated chronic homelessness among veterans, and Houston reported in June that the city has effectively housed all of its homeless vets.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines chronic homelessness “as an individual or family with a disabling condition who has been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years.”

Even though a small minority of Americans experiences homelessness firsthand, advocates say it’s a social issue voters should care about because their tax dollars fund the government programs aimed at addressing homelessness, whether they’re effective or not.

Between shelter costs, emergency room visits, mental health services, drug treatment, Medicaid, food stamps, and other benefits, it costs the government between $35,000 and $150,000 per year for one person living on the streets. And ultimately, the people receiving these benefits do not get the one they really need: a place to live.

“We as taxpayers spend [on average] 40 percent more to keep people homeless than to house them,” Maguire said. Annual per-person savings for cities that choose to offer homeless people housing vary by location, from $54,086 in Jacksonville, Florida, to $46,900 in Los Angeles, to $15,772 in Denver.

Burnett also said it costs more to keep a homeless person on the streets, than to pay for their housing. “If you want to bring the budget down, let’s find a cheaper way.”

Some cities, including Salt Lake City, have found so-called “housing first” strategies to be both ethical and cost-effective in transitioning people from shelters or the streets to their own housing.

While some taxpayers may question why they should pay for someone else’s housing, and argue that homeless people are without shelter because of drug or alcohol abuse, not wanting to work or some other personal choice, the reality is that many people are homeless due to a lack of affordable housing and poverty.

In addition, Maguire said, “housing is actually the platform of stability” from which people can gain access to drug treatment programs, job training, and mental health care.

Other advocates agreed: It’s hard to maintain a job when you are sleeping on the streets.

On The Streets, Off The Campaign Trail

As far as political constituencies go, homeless people don’t have the loudest voice. Most people without shelter are likely not donating to any candidates’ campaigns, and certainly not to Super PACs. Furthermore, the homeless experience unique barriers to exercising their right to vote. Without a mailing address, it may be difficult to receive your voter registration card or information about your polling site.

So while 2016 candidates are talking about income and wealth inequality, creating jobs, raising the minimum wage, developing more affordable housing, and providing greater access to health care, they have only discussed homelessness indirectly or in passing, if at all.

The advocates interviewed for this piece mentioned Bernie Sanders as the candidate most likely to speak about homelessness on the campaign trail.

Back in March, on a visit to San Francisco before he had declared his candidacy, Sanders said the city deserved credit for “consistently being one of the most progressive cities in the United States.” But the Vermont senator said the homelessness that is evident on the streets of San Francisco was emblematic of “a systemic failure being ignored by both political leadership and media,” according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

“I know this has been a long-term problem in this great city, but what is hard for many Americans to deal with is the fact that we were led to believe we were a vibrant democracy — but in many ways we are moving to an oligarchic society,” Sanders said. “Ninety-nine percent of all new income today generated is going to the top 1 percent. Does that sound anything vaguely resembling the kind of society we want to be living in?”

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley’s campaign told The National Memo he has addressed homelessness on the campaign trail, and while he served as governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore. While campaigning in Iowa on July 4, candidates were asked by The Des Moines Register how they best demonstrated patriotism in their lives. O’Malley said his patriotism was shown in “the form of service to others — especially the most vulnerable and voiceless among us: the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry and the imprisoned.”

In June, O’Malley discussed the need for a more coordinated strategy to promote affordable housing, mental and physical health care, addiction treatment, and “putting housing first” in order to address homelessness, according to O’Malley’s campaign.

The campaigns of Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson did not respond to an email asking whether they planned to discuss homelessness, or had a policy plan to address homelessness nationally. The campaigns of Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders also did not respond to requests for comment.

One reason candidates rarely talk about poverty and homelessness specifically, the California Homeless Youth Project’s Hyatt said, is simple: Financial struggles are often foreign to them.

“Unfortunately, people who tend to run for public office have grown up middle class or better, and are therefore out of touch with the urgent crisis of homelessness in our country.”

Photo: Homeless people sleeping in Washington Square Park in New York City, (Kevin Christopher Burke via Flickr)

The 2016 Campaign Joke That’s No Longer Funny — Just Violent

The 2016 Campaign Joke That’s No Longer Funny — Just Violent

Let’s be honest: We’ve all been kind of enjoying watching Donald Trump, even if the prospect of him becoming the next president makes many of us shudder in horror.

But as he continues to lead in national polls, Trump’s campaign is giving us all another reason to pause: As of late, physical violence has been following the candidate on the campaign trail, and leaving those who dare challenge his offensive remarks and policy positions shaken up at best, banged up and bruised at worst. The common thread among those attacked by Trump’s goons (both hired and not): They’re all Latino men.

On Thursday, while Donald Trump was signing a GOP loyalty oath, promising to back the winning Republican presidential nominee and not run as an independent should he lose the party’s nomination, one of his security guards ripped a sign away from protesters outside Trump Tower in New York City and then hit a protester in the face after the man attempted to retrieve the sign.

The large blue banner read, “Make America Racist Again,” a play on Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

In news video footage, the protester who was hit, Efraín Galicia, is seen chasing after the security guard. As Galicia attempts to take back the sign, the guard turns and hits him in the face.

“These men are acting just like their boss, Donald Trump, pushing Jorge Ramos from Univision out,” Galicia said of the guards. “This man thinks he can do whatever he wants in this country, and we’re going to stop him.”

“The Trump campaign said that the security team member on Thursday was ‘jumped from behind’ and that the campaign would ‘likely be pressing charges,'” The New York Timesreports.

This week’s strong-arming follows an August incident in which journalist Jorge Ramos was physically removed from a Trump campaign event by a security guard — who appears to be the same man who struck the protester outside Trump Tower.

When Ramos attempted to ask Trump a question about immigration, without being acknowledged to speak by The Donald, Trump told him to sit down and “Go back to Univision.” Later, Trump said he was not a bully, and Ramos “was totally out of line.”

In the most physically violent example of what Trump and his campaign have wrought, two of the candidate’s supporters in Boston allegedly beat and urinated on a homeless Latino man, after which one of the attackers reportedly told police, “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported.”

The survivor of the assault, a 58-year-old man who had been sleeping on the street, had his nose broken and chest and arms beaten by the suspects, two brothers who were leaving a Boston Red Sox game.

Adding insult to significant physical injury, Trump’s immediate comment on the attack was callous and cruel. The Boston Globereports:

Trump, told of the alleged assault, said “it would be a shame … I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

Later, he tempered his original statement, claiming on Twitter that he “would never condone violence.”

He “would never condone violence,” Trumps says, but he would, and has, proposed deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, stripping citizenship rights from the American children of undocumented immigrants, and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out immigrants, refugees, and political asylum seekers fleeing poverty and violence in their countries. He has also said he would bomb nations in the Middle East and take their oil by military force. But, again, he “would never condone violence.”

While Trump himself has not put his hands on anyone, his rhetoric against undocumented immigrants, his choice of words, which dehumanizes Latino immigrants as “illegals,” and his responses to the violent altercations occurring in his name make him responsible.

What began as comical media fodder that has kept us smiling in disgust during the start of the long 2016 presidential campaign season has devolved into violent hate with bodily consequences. And with five months to go until the GOP primaries begin, Americans should be worried about how politics, sometimes described as the civilized exertion of power, is turning into a blood sport.

We need to stop chuckling and start fighting the urge to watch Trump. It may be the only way to resist his brand of violence.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts as he speaks at the 2015 FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 11, 2015. REUTERS/L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun

Democratic Presidential Candidates Charm DNC Faithful

Democratic Presidential Candidates Charm DNC Faithful

Four Democratic presidential candidates spoke Friday at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in Minneapolis. Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley each gave 10-minute speeches, in between words from Democratic Party leaders. Here are a few highlights from the candidates’ elevator-pitch speeches to the party faithful.

Lincoln Chafee

lincoln-chafee-facebook-photoThe former governor of Rhode Island highlighted his past political record and vision for the country.

Chafee touted his political credentials as the only candidate running who has served as a mayor, senator and governor. “That means I know how to plow the snow. I know how to pick up the trash. I know how to have good schools … and keep property taxes down,” Chafee said.

He called his time in the Senate, back when he was a Republican, “the bad years of Bush and Cheney.” Chafee said he voted against big tax cuts for the wealthy, the war in Iraq, and the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, and he “stood strong” on environmental protection, abortion rights and LGBT rights.

He also said as part of the “Gang of 14,” comprised of seven Republicans and seven Democrats, he worked to promote bipartisanship in the Senate.

On supporting marriage equality in Rhode Island, Chafee said, in addition to believing in civil rights, “I wanted a tolerant atmosphere. That’s what makes an economy grow.”

Chafee said his foreign policy vision for the country is to end conflicts abroad, and promote the idea that “prosperity comes through peace.” He said he supports the Iran nuclear deal, and was concerned by the rise of right-wing groups in Europe and the potential destabilizing effect of refugees from Africa and the Middle East entering Europe.

Despite switching party nominations, Chafee said he doesn’t “flip-flop” on the issues, and has had “the courage to take tough votes.”

Hillary Clinton

2015-08-28-hillary-clinton-dnc-summer-meetingGreeted by loud applause and chants of “Hillary,” the former Secretary of State, senator from New York, and First Lady said the next election will decide whether the “country keeps moving toward opportunity and prosperity for all,” or whether Republicans get the chance to halt progress made by Democrats and the Obama administration.

Clinton focused on the economic struggles of American families, citing the rising costs of prescription drugs, child care, and college, as middle-class wages remain stagnant and women still don’t earn equal pay compared to men. “Unions are under concerted attack by Republicans and their allies,” she added. (Clinton has so far been endorsed by two large unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.)

“I believe raising incomes and supporting families is the defining economic challenge of our time,” Clinton said. “It will be my mission every single day in the White House.”

As a Democrat, she listed her and the party’s political values: supporting affordable health care, equal pay and equal rights, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, benefits for seniors, and an end to mass incarceration and gun violence.

Her speech stuck to an us-versus-them framework that framed her as the Democratic nominee who will challenge the Republican nominee in the general election. Republican candidates, she said, have tried to outdo each other’s “ideological purity” and offered no solutions during the recent GOP presidential debates.

Clinton hit back at Donald Trump (the GOP’s “flamboyant frontrunner”) for saying he’d do a better job for women than she would. “You can’t make this stuff up, folks,” she said, adding that it might be a fun issue to debate during the general election campaign. She also criticized Republican candidates for calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Clinton said her first job out of college was working at the Children’s Defense Fund, and she would continue fighting for children and families, as she has throughout her career, as president.

Martin O’Malley

Martin O'Malley

The former Maryland governor and mayor of Baltimore touted his political record as a “lifelong Democrat,” criticized the hateful rhetoric coming from Republican presidential candidates, and questioned the Democrats’ plans for limiting debates among their own candidates seeking the party’s nomination.

“Is this how the Democratic Party elects its nominee?” O’Malley asked, wondering aloud about the reasoning behind holding six Democratic debates rather than more.

He said Democrats need the opportunity to showcase their ideas and solutions to the country’s challenges in the form of debates, and should not be silent in the face of Republicans who “double down on trickle down,” and openly denigrate women and immigrants.

O’Malley said the first GOP debates were comparable to an episode of Survivor, and referred to Donald Trump as a “hate-spewing carnival barker.”

“[The Democratic Party] must engage in this debate, and we must engage in it nationally,” he said, repeatedly punctuating his statements with the line, “We need debate.”

O’Malley said he supported raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, ensuring overtime pay for overtime work and equal pay for women, and expanding Social Security for seniors.

While conceding that he was not the only Democratic candidate who holds progressive values, O’Malley said he is “the only candidate for president with 15 years of executive experience as a big city mayor and as a governor.”

Citing his record of reducing violent crime in Baltimore and improving public schools in Maryland, the former governor said he planned to “rebuild the American dream” with concrete plans and actions. He also reminded the DNC that he passed marriage equality, an assault weapons ban, and other progressive policies in the state of Maryland.

“It’s about actions, not words,” O’Malley said.

Bernie Sanders

BernieSanders_smileThe Independent senator from Vermont acknowledged to the DNC audience that when he first announced his candidacy, few took him seriously. But now, Sanders said, things have changed. The party outsider has been drawing large crowds, and he said, more individual campaign contributions than any other presidential campaign. The average contribution to his campaign? $31.20.

“Our grassroots campaign, which is calling for a political revolution, is striking a chord all over America,” Sanders said.

The candidate focused on his campaign’s main themes of addressing income and wealth inequality and getting money out of politics. While Sanders admitted he has not made many campaign promises, he said one he could make was his criteria for nominating a Supreme Court justice: The nominee would have to be willing to re-hear and overturn the court’s decision in Citizens United. Sanders also called for the public funding of elections, and an end to voter suppression across the country.

Channeling President Obama’s catchphrase on clarity, the candidate said Democrats lost the last midterm elections because of low voter turnout. “Millions of working people, young people, and people of color gave up on politics as usual and they stayed home,” Sanders said. The way for the party to win next year’s elections, he added, was to “generate excitement and momentum and produce a huge voter turnout.”

Sanders received loud applause and his statements were interspersed with chants of “Bernie.”

On the economy, Sanders said he would take on the billionaire class and ensure corporate America paid its fair share of taxes, as well as break up the “too big to fail” banks that are “too big to exist.”

He said he opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as well as the Keystone XL pipeline, and would support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, and develop a national jobs program to put Americans to work and rebuild U.S. infrastructure.

He touted his vote against the war in Iraq, and his support for criminal justice reform, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, sustainable energy, and tuition-free public higher education.

“We must become the country in the world which invests in jobs and education, not jails and incarceration,” Sanders said.

He suggested that we could live in a country where health care is a right, parents have access to quality child care, and seniors and veterans have access to the benefits and health care they deserve.

Given the collapse of the middle class, Sanders said, “We do not need more establishment politics or establishment economics.”

Photo above: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the Democratic National Committee (DNC) summer meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Craig Lassig

This Week In Crazy: Twisted Logic And Right-Wing Blame Games

This Week In Crazy: Twisted Logic And Right-Wing Blame Games

Just when you thought the far-right fringe couldn’t possibly connect abortion with the stock market, or equate the LGBT Pride flag with a white supremacist symbol, they just, well, go ahead and do that. It’s “This Week In Crazy,” The National Memo’s weekly update on the shameful, racist, and hateful speech of the increasingly illogical right wing. Starting with one of our regulars:

5. Pat Robertson

PatRobertsonScreenshotSure, Pat Robertson, an organization that provides women’s reproductive health services is to blame for the recent stock market slide. The conservative televangelist said this week that “Black Monday” was God’s punishment for legal abortion and the federal government’s funding of Planned Parenthood. As anyone who watches Robertson’s The 700 Club (or who reads “This Week In Crazy”) knows, the host typically blames any negative incident, natural disaster, or preventable tragedy on abortion, same-sex marriage, or the LGBT community in general. In his usual fire-and-brimstone style, Robertson said:

We will pay dearly as a nation for this thing going on…. And possibly if we were to stop all this slaughter the judgment of God might be lifted from us. But it’s coming, ladies and gentlemen. We just had a little taste of it in terms of the financial system, but it’s going to be shaken to its core in the next few months, years or however long it takes and it will hurt every one of us.

I’m no economist, but I’m pretty sure Monday’s selloff had something to do with the cyclical nature of capitalism and China’s devaluing of its currency, which caused instability in global markets. Planned Parenthood has been accused of some vile things, but manipulating currency is not one of them.

No matter to Robertson, who likes to play financial advisor, warning viewers that troubled times are ahead. “You don’t know where to go, there is no place to hide financially except in the Lord,” he said. “The Lord is the ultimate refuge.”

ViaRight Wing Watch

Next: Donald Trump

4. Donald Trump

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump's greets the crowd during his

Continuing his heated rivalry with Spanish-language news network Univision, Donald Trump had reporter Jorge Ramos booted from a campaign event in Iowa on Tuesday. The reason? Ramos asked Trump a question about immigration — out of turn.

The Donald’s reply: “Go back to Univision.”

Putting aside the fact that this is far from Trump’s first press conference, so he should be used to pushy reporters firing questions at him, his comment about Ramos showed the Republican presidential candidate’s true bigoted colors. (“Go back to Univision.” = “Go back to Mexico.”)

After the incident, Trump tried to portray Ramos as hysterical. “Certainly he was not chosen … he just stands up and starts screaming, so maybe he’s at fault also,” Trump said, adding, “He’s obviously a very emotional person.”

This coming from the man running for President of the United States, yet has a fit every time a reporter asks a challenging question, has gotten to second base with a flagpole, and has people touch his hair to show it’s his own.

Trump is not just “emotional” and vain, but he can be a bully, especially when provoked on his core campaign issue, and God forbid, asked to answer a direct question directly. At the campaign event, he repeatedly tells Ramos to “sit down” as the reporter continues speaking and reminding Trump that he has the right to ask a question.

The legendary Univision broadcaster is still hoping to land an interview with Trump.

ViaRaw Story

Continue reading: Keith Ablow

3. Keith Ablow

Keith_AblowFox News commentator and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow sounds like the last person who should be sharing “expertise” on gun control and mental health issues. In a Fox segment this week, Ablow charged President Obama with “inflaming racial discord.”

As strange as the allegation was, delivered as an afterthought that sounded more like a rehearsed jab at the president, Ablow’s comment was typical of the right’s urge to blame the guy in the White House, with little evidence, for everything. Ablow echoed a conservative meme: The problem isn’t guns but lack of mental health care — which means “hands off our guns; blame the crazies.”

Sensible people can agree that individuals with mental health problems, as well as many others, should not have access to firearms. But Ablow’s claim that mentally ill people are the problem and guns are not is rebutted by many studies that show people living with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

More ridiculous is how Ablow concluded the segment, seeming to place blame on the president because a black man who protested against alleged job discrimination just killed two white people: “There are some people who are unhinged out there who actually think [Obama is] right when he’s just trying to fan the flames of racial disharmony,” Ablow said.

What does Ablow mean when he says Obama has inflamed racial discord? Perhaps that the president has spoken in support of civil rights, voting rights and, repeatedly, about gun violence.

According to Ablow, that’s the real problem: “It would be helpful if President Obama, frankly, would stop tweeting … about gun control and get serious about attacking mental health care.” Again, the pundit blames a small segment of the population of people who commit violent crimes, instead of the policies and lawmakers that allow guns into the hands of far too many unstable people.

ViaMedia Matters

Next: Casey Davis

2. Casey Davis

CaseyDavis_Kentucky_clerkThe county clerk from Kentucky who continues to defy the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage is apparently willing to allow his homophobia to take him to an early grave. Casey Davis, no relation to his fellow “religious freedom fighter” Kim Davis, said this week that marriage equality is “a war on Christianity” and that he is willing to fight, even if it kills him. He told a West Virginia radio show:

If it takes it, I will go to jail over — if it takes my life, I will die for because I believe I owe that to the people that fought so I can have the freedom that I have, I owe that to them today, and you do, we all do. They fought and died so we could have this freedom and I’m going to fight and die [so] my kids and your kids can keep it.

Incoherent and manic as he is, Davis continues to argue that issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples would violate his right to religious freedom. He talks a lot about God, freedom, and fighting for what he believes in, but says much less about his responsibilities as a government employee, the freedom of LGBT people to marry, and the long struggle of gay people to legally marry those they love. Then there is his misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution:

There is a travesty taking place with that Supreme Court ruling was completely unconstitutional, completely unconstitutional. They have no right to tell us, the state of Kentucky, that our law that was voted with what was 70 percent of the people that it was wrong; they had no right.

Actually, as the Supreme Court, they have every right under the Constitution to find state laws in violation of constitutional rights. That’s part of the High Court’s mandate. Davis, on the other hand, has no right to deny LGBT people their right to marry. To borrow a semantic framework that conservatives love, if Davis doesn’t like same-sex marriage, he should move to Russia.
[soundcloud url=”″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]
ViaRight Wing Watch

Next: Dinesh D’Souza

1. Dinesh D’Souza

dinesh-dsouza-facebook-640We’ve saved the worst for last. Following the tragic televised killing of two journalists in Virginia this week, D’Souza took to Twitter to point out supposed progressive hypocrisy on gun violence, race and ideology.

D’Souza suggested that because the murderer was a gay black man, officials should demand the removal of the LGBT pride flag from public spaces, as occurred with the Confederate flag following the killing of nine black people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church by a white supremacist.

The key difference, of course, is what each flag represents and the killers’ motives in the shootings. The Confederate flag symbolizes white supremacy, or as its defenders argue, Southern “heritage not hate.” Except that the heritage of the South involves a long history of slavery, KKK lynchings, voter disenfranchisement, and other human rights violations perpetrated against black people. The rainbow flag’s history has no such violent or hateful meaning.

Consider D’Souza’s latest odious, trolling tweets, in which he blames President Obama for what is yet another example of gun violence resulting from unregulated access to firearms, illogically equates love with hate, and confuses healthy pride in your culture with dangerous pride in a racist ideology.


Photo illustration above: Confederate flag, Pride flag via Flickr, Edited Matt Surrusco

Candidates, Interrupted: Black Lives Matter Takes Over The Campaign Trail

Candidates, Interrupted: Black Lives Matter Takes Over The Campaign Trail

Black Lives Matter protesters have been working to feed their message of racial justice to 2016 presidential candidates at campaign events by interrupting speeches and calling on candidates to publicly state how they plan to address institutional racism in the United States.

Democrats Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley got their first taste in July. Then, Sanders got a second on Saturday. Hillary Clinton took hers in a to-go bag on Tuesday. And Jeb Bush, the first Republican presidential candidate to be served, got his taste on Wednesday.

In Seattle on Saturday, two women from the local Black Lives Matter chapter jumped onstage as Sanders began to speak at an event marking the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Protester Marissa Johnson took the microphone, refusing to return it to an event organizer, exclaiming to the candidate, “Bernie, you were confronted at Netroots by black women,” and added, “You have yet to put out a criminal justice reform package like O’Malley did.”

The largely white crowd was not happy, especially since Sanders left the stage and did not return. The protesters also called for a 4.5-minute moment of silence to recognize the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown.

The Black Lives Matter movement began to draw national attention after the killing of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It gathered momentum from local and national protests that followed a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer, as well as the killing of several other unarmed people of color by police all across the country.

In an MSNBC interview on Tuesday, Johnson said, “Black people are in a state of emergency,” and demanded explicit policy positions to address racism from lawmakers. She also explained why the confrontational protest tactic of interrupting campaign speeches has mostly targeted Democratic presidential candidates over Republicans.

“We really need to put pressure on people who claim that they care about black lives,” she said.

If they do not acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement or offer policies that will address white supremacist violence in U.S. institutions, “presidential candidates should expect to be shut down and confronted every step along the way of this presidential campaign,” Black Lives Matter Seattle members said in a statement posted to Facebook. On the one-year anniversary of the death of Brown, the group added, “We honor Black lives lost by doing the unthinkable, the unapologetic, and the unrespectable.”

Responses have varied from the Democratic candidates who have been pressured by Black Lives Matter protesters in recent weeks. In the most direct and arguably comprehensive response, Sanders released a racial justice policy platform on his website Sunday, highlighting the “four central types of violence waged against black and brown Americans: physical, political, legal and economic,” and how he would address this violence against people of color if he were elected president. Sanders’ campaign also recently hired Symone Sanders, a young black woman and national youth chair of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, as his national press secretary.

At an Urban League conference on July 31, Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley each invoked the Black Lives Matter movement in their remarks. The Republican candidates present, Jeb Bush and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who is black, did not.

Some black legislators have defended the protesters’ strategy as a nonviolent, albeit disruptive means to force the issue of racial injustice into candidates’ political agendas.

Protesters have said their goal is to hold candidates accountable and pressure them to articulate exactly how they would address white supremacy and racism in education, housing, and the criminal legal system, and to reconcile that agenda with their past policy history.

According to some critics, Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, has a dubious record on race and policing. While mayor of Baltimore, he was a proponent of the “broken windows” theory of policing that emphasizes the enforcement of relatively small offenses and typically ends up targeting people of color.

After being interrupted at the Netroots conference in July, the Democratic candidate released a criminal justice reform platform.

The Democratic frontrunner, Clinton, thanks to her Secret Service security team, avoided being interrupted during a campaign speech on Tuesday. Following the event, she spoke with Black Lives Matter activists privately, who said they had recorded the conversation and planned to release a copy of it.

On Wednesday, dozens of protesters chanting “Black Lives Matter” interrupted Jeb Bush’s campaign event in North Las Vegas, which the Republican candidate ended early.

Some Bush supporters chanted “All Lives Matter” and “White Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter protesters, and “[t]wo women — a protester and a Bush supporter — stood a few feet from the candidate with their middle fingers extended in each other’s faces,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Bush reportedly met with Black Lives Matter activists earlier and “discussed criminal justice reform and barriers to upward mobility.”

In a statement released Sunday, following the second interruption of Sanders, Black Lives Matter’s national organization said it has not endorsed any presidential candidate, and is not affiliated with a political party.

“In the year leading up to the elections, we are committed to holding all candidates for office accountable to the needs and dreams of black people. We embrace a diversity of tactics. We are a decentralized network aiming to build the leadership and power of black people,” the statement says.

“We will continue to hold politicians and political parties accountable for their policies and platforms. We will also continue to demand the intentional dismantling of structural racism.”

Photo: Tiffany Von Arnim via Flickr

Obama Calls For Voting Rights Reform On 50th Anniversary Of Historic Law

Obama Calls For Voting Rights Reform On 50th Anniversary Of Historic Law

President Obama called on Congress to pass “an updated version” of the Voting Rights Act during a speech on Thursday, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the historic federal law. He also urged Americans to exercise their right to vote, citing the forthcoming National Voter Registration Day on September 22.

The White House commemoration of the voting law — which sought to protect the constitutional right to vote from laws created to bar people of color from the polls, such as literacy tests and poll taxes — came a day after a U.S. appeals court ruled that a Texas law requiring voters to show authorized identification violated the Voting Rights Act through its “discriminatory effects.”

The president called on Congress to pass a new version of the Voting Rights Act that would correct some of the recent court rulings and actions by state legislatures that have weakened the enforcement of the original law.

“This has to be a priority. If this isn’t working, then nothing’s working,” Obama said.

“Too many states are making it harder for folks to vote,” the president added, citing how photo ID laws and restrictions on early voting disproportionately affect seniors and poor people.

The Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. After the SCOTUS ruling, then-governor of Texas Rick Perry said in a statement that “Texas may now implement the will of the people without being subject to outdated and unnecessary oversight and the overreach of federal power,” referring to the Voting Rights Act’s overseeing of certain states’ voting laws.

On Thursday, countering what many conservatives call common-sense protections against voter fraud, Obama said voter fraud is too rare a crime to be fairly used as an argument in favor of laws that limit many eligible voters from casting ballots. “There are almost no instances of people going to vote in someone else’s name,” he said. “It’s not a common crime.”

The goal of these voter ID laws, the president stated, is “to make it harder for folks to vote.”

The president on Thursday said Americans should not tolerate laws that aim to disenfranchise their fellow citizens. “How can you rationalize making it harder for people to vote?” Obama said.

“State legislatures are making it deliberately harder for people to vote and some are not shy about saying so,” the president added.

In 2011, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker called a photo ID requirement he was signing into law “obviously special.”

In 1965, a few months after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led thousands from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to protest legal barriers erected to prevent black people from voting, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law on August 6, 1965.

“The struggle for the right to vote has been a long, tedious struggle for the soul of America,” John Lewis said, adding that the struggle continues today.

Recalling his time as a 25-year-old civil rights activist and witness of the signing of the Voting Rights Act on Capitol Hill, Lewis also spoke of the literacy tests, beating, arrests and even murders of black people attempting to exercise their right to vote.

“All across the American South it was almost impossible for people of color to register to vote,” Lewis said.

Despite the progress, Lewis said there’s a “deliberate, systematic effort” to make it more difficult for people of color, young people, poor people, seniors, and others to participate in the political system.

The president also made clear that low voter turnout rates in the United States are primarily due to citizens choosing not to exercise their right to vote, rather than being prevented from registering.

“Far more people disenfranchise themselves than any law does by not participating, by not getting involved,” Obama said.

Photo: Keith Ivey via Flickr

At Urban League Meeting, 2016 Candidates Talk Race, Inequality, ‘Black Lives Matter’

At Urban League Meeting, 2016 Candidates Talk Race, Inequality, ‘Black Lives Matter’

Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Bernie Sanders, and two other 2016 presidential candidates spoke Friday morning at the National Urban League’s annual conference, discussing U.S. race relations, the Black Lives Matter movement, and economic and racial inequality, while also trading policy jabs with their political opponents.

“Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind,” Clinton said, speaking before the conference’s largely black audience. “And yes, while that’s partly a legacy of discrimination that stretches back to the start of our nation, it is also because of discrimination that is still ongoing.”

In recent days, some candidates have received criticism for seeming to miss the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement — which is to highlight how U.S. society, government, and police regularly disregard black lives, seen most clearly in the several deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of the police; and to declare unequivocally that racism has tangible and fatal effects. The main Democratic contenders have been slammed for saying “All Lives Matter,” or some version of that phrase, which critics argue diminishes the message and meaning of “Black Lives Matter.”

At the Urban League conference, Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley attempted to refine his earlier statements, telling attendees that as mayor of Baltimore, “Every year we buried 300 young black men who died violent deaths on our streets — and black lives matter.”

The former mayor and Maryland governor said the next president will need to “improve and reform our criminal justice system.” And he had some policy ideas: “Reduce mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes. Repeal the death penalty. Invest in re-entry programs for convicts. Better equip communities to deal with mental illnesses.” And the big one: “We must improve policing, and the way we police the police.”

Clinton also spoke about how issues of economic and racial inequality continue to play out in the lives of black Americans, citing how black people receive “disproportionately longer sentences” than white people, and are “three times more likely to be denied a mortgage loan,” The Associated Pressreported.

Targeting Jeb Bush by mentioning the name of his SuperPAC and campaign slogan, Clinton said, “I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a ‘right to rise’ and then say you’re for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care.”

She also criticized Bush’s “skepticism over a federal minimum wage and his policies as Florida governor to end affirmative action in college admissions,” according to The New York Times.

Addressing the conference attendees, Bush cited his record on improving Florida schools as governor and said that Democrats “have failed to fix the education system,” Reuters reported. “For a half-century, this nation has pursued a war on poverty and massive government programs, funded with trillions of taxpayer dollars. This decades-long effort, while well intentioned, has been a losing one,” Bush said.

He also ticked off a few other political bona fides: As Florida governor, Bush said “he ordered the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state Capitol, raised the number of black judges, and tripled the state’s hiring of minority-owned businesses.”

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders spoke about his campaign’s core message: the need to address income inequality. Relating it to racial inequality, Sanders told conference attendees how a black high-school graduate, age 17 to 20, faces a 51 percent unemployment rate, compared to a white graduate at 33 percent, and a Hispanic graduate at 36 percent. “That is unacceptable,” Sanders said of the greater barriers in the job market faced by black youth.

On racial inequality, prisons, and policing, Sanders said, “Blacks are in prison at six times the rate of whites.” He added that cities and the country need to move in the direction of community policing.

“Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Rekia Boyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Samuel DuBose. We know their names. Each of them died unarmed at the hands of police officers or in police custody,” Sanders said. “Violence and brutality of any kind, particularly at the hands of law enforcement sworn to protect and serve their communities, is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated.”

Calling for criminal justice reform, Sanders said, “Black lives do matter and we must value black lives.”

Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who is the only black contender in the presidential race, also spoke at the conference. “There was racism,” Carson said, recalling being the only black student in his 8th grade class. “There still is. And there always will be … as long as there are people with small brains and evil forces to stimulate them.”

“What do you do about it?” he asked.

Sticking to his conservative, bootstraps ideology, Carson said, “The person who has the most to do with what happens to you in life is you. It’s not somebody else. It’s not the environment. They can’t stop you. And once I developed that mindset, I stopped listening to all the naysayers and the people who were telling me that I was a victim.”

While Clinton, Sanders, and O’Malley each invoked the Black Lives Matter movement in their remarks, Carson and Bush did not.

The Urban League is a national civil rights organization “dedicated to economic empowerment in order to elevate the standard of living in historically underserved urban communities.” The 2015 conference is taking place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from July 29 to August 1.

Friday evening, the Urban League conference will feature a town hall plenary titled, “Saving Our Sons and Daughters: Black Lives Matter.”

Photo: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the National Urban League’s conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, July 31,2015. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity 

Jeb Bush Keeps Clarifying: He Wants To Replace Medicare

Jeb Bush Keeps Clarifying: He Wants To Replace Medicare

At an event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity on Wednesday night, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said the U.S. government should find a way to “phase out” Medicare, the federal health insurance program for Americans aged 65+ and some disabled people, and “move to a new system.”

In a back-and-forth with an audience member at a New Hampshire town hall event on Thursday, Bush attempted to clarify his remarks, saying the government needs to “reform our entitlement system,” Politico reports.

“It’s an actuarially unsound health care system,” Bush told the audience member.

“The people that are receiving these benefits, I don’t think that we should touch that; but your children and grandchildren are not going to get the benefit of this that they believe they’re going to get, or that you think they’re going to get, because the amount of money put in compared to the amount of money the system costs is wrong.”

Repeating himself, Bush reiterated a talking point about social spending that some question. “Despite recent evidence that the program’s finances are secure, the former Florida governor suggested that Medicare isn’t solvent,” ThinkProgress reports.

At the event on Wednesday, speaking about Medicare, Bush said, “I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something — because they’re not going to have anything.”

As usual, Jeb Bush means what he originally said. But this point actually does bear repeating, as Kevin Drum at Mother Jonesreported this week: Medicare “spending is projected to slow down around 2040, and reaches only 6 percent of GDP by 2090.” Sounds like the entitlement program may be more stable than Bush cares to admit.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush answers a question from the audience during a town hall campaign stop at the VFW Post in Hudson, New Hampshire, July 8, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

How Many Must Die In Mass Shootings For Lawmakers To Act?

How Many Must Die In Mass Shootings For Lawmakers To Act?

The alleged perpetrator of yet another mass shooting — this one in a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater — had been “involuntarily committed” by his family, and reportedly had a history of domestic violence and mental illness. Why was he able to get a handgun? Because elected officials have failed to lead on gun regulation.

At a Thursday night screening of the comedy Trainwreck, the 59-year-old man from Alabama, identified as John Russell Houser, shot and killed 33-year-old Jillian Johnson and 21-year-old Mayci Breaux, and injured nine other people, seven of whom remain hospitalized.

The suspected shooter used a .40 caliber handgun and had an additional magazine, which he used to reload, firing one round to kill himself inside the theater, Lafayette police chief Jim Craft told reporters Friday.

Police found 13 shell casings in the theater, Craft said. State police and FBI agents are also investigating the shooting, according to MSNBC.

Houser was denied a pistol permit in 2006 while he was living in Alabama, the New Orleans Advocate reports. According to The Associated Press:

Court documents from 2008 say family members of the theater shooter petitioned the probate court to have him involuntarily committed “because he was a danger to himself and others.”

A judge issued the order, and John Houser was taken to a hospital in Columbus, Georgia.


The wife and other family members of [Houser] … asked for a temporary protective order in 2008 against the man.

Court documents seeking the order said John Houser, “exhibited extreme erratic behavior and has made ominous as well as disturbing statements.”

The documents said even though he lived in Phenix City, Alabama, he had come to Carroll County, Georgia, where they lived and “perpetrated various acts of family violence.”

Houser “has a history of mental health issues, i.e., manic depression and/or bi-polar disorder,” the filing said.

The filing says Houser’s wife, Kellie Maddox Houser, “has become so worried about the defendant’s volatile mental state that she has removed all guns and/or weapons from their marital residence.”

The protection order was at least temporarily granted.

Law enforcement officials have not yet reported how Houser obtained the handgun used in the theater shooting. But based on the earlier court records, it seems clear Houser should not have been in possession of a firearm.

In a BBC interview earlier this week, President Obama said “his failure to pass ‘common-sense gun safety laws’ in the U.S. is the greatest frustration of his presidency.”

“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it’s less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it’s in the tens of thousands,” the president said.

So, what will it take for U.S. political leaders to pass common-sense gun regulations?

The killing of two women and wounding of nine others in a Louisiana movie theater?

Perhaps the recent shooting of four Marines at a Chattanooga, Tennessee military recruitment office, or the killing of 12 people and injuring of eight at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013?

Maybe, the racially motivated murder of nine parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church, including a state senator? The South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds, a symbolic act to honor those killed by a white supremacist, but gun control was never even up for debate.

How about the 2012 killing of 12 people and injuring of 58 in another movie theater, this one in Colorado? The shooter has been convicted and awaits the sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty, but what has been done to limit future mass shootings?

Surely, the gunning down of 20 children and six adults in an elementary school (after the shooter killed his mother at their home) in Connecticut would spur elected officials to action. President Obama even visited the town and gave an emotional speech appealing for stronger gun regulations. But, no, the 24/7 news cycle, the American people, and Congress moved on.

How about shooting a United States congresswoman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in the head? That shooter killed six people and injured 12 others. Giffords’ congressional colleagues were still not moved to act. She lived and has become a vocal advocate to prevent gun violence, but no longer in office, she won’t achieve reform by herself.

According to Mother Jones, more than three-quarters of the guns possessed by the killers involved in mass shootings in the United States since 1982 were obtained legally. It’s doubtful common-sense restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods would have allowed all these gun sales to go through.

Nearly 600 Americans have been killed and 500 injured in mass shootings in the last three decades, and “active shooter events have become more common in recent years,” according to The Washington Post.

A U.S. president hasn’t been shot since Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt in 1981. Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated while in office in our nation’s history by men with guns.

Even if the commander-in-chief was shot and killed by a person with a gun who shouldn’t have had one — in the 21st century — that would likely still not motivate officials to enact policies that decrease mass shootings by taking guns out of the hands of extremists, those with criminal histories, and those living with mental illness.

The problem is these armed killers may act alone, but they have far too much company when it comes to people with undue access to firearms. If current legislators continue to fail to protect their constituents from the dangers of gun violence, and don’t even pass laws that would limit the potential for mass shootings, then perhaps voters need to find other lawmakers who will.

Photo: gunsnews2012 via Flickr

Trump Goes To Texas, Is Ditched By Tour Guides

Trump Goes To Texas, Is Ditched By Tour Guides

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump visited the U.S.-Mexico border town of Laredo, Texas, on Thursday, but the border patrol union that was to show him around canceled the tour before he arrived.

The union, Local 2455 of the National Border Patrol Council, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees and the AFL-CIO, pulled out of the media event, stating “Local 2455 will not participate in any events with Mr. Trump.”

But Trump was undeterred. Wearing a baseball cap embossed with his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” The Donald told reporters in Laredo, “There’s a huge problem with the illegals coming through,” referring to undocumented immigrants entering the United States from Mexico. “The people coming in have to be legal,” Trump added.

Local 2455 president Hector Garza said in a statement: “After careful consideration of all the factors involved in this event and communicating with members of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) at the national level, it has been decided by Local 2455 to pull out of all events involving Donald Trump.”

The union also clarified that the event was never meant as a political endorsement, as the local “does not endorse candidates for any political office.”

Local 2455 also made clear their views on the need to strengthen border security are somewhat aligned with Trump’s, stating that “our border with Mexico is not secure.”

Responding to the union’s cancelation of the Trump border tour in a statement, the GOP candidate’s campaign said Local 2455 was “totally silenced directly from superiors in Washington who do not want people to know how bad it is on the border.”

Trump’s statement continued: “It is unfortunate the local union of Border Patrol Agents received pressure at a national level not to participate and ultimately pulled out of today’s event. They are being silenced, and are very unhappy about it, as told directly to Mr. Trump.”

The AFL-CIO was not involved in the national-level discussions this week with the National Border Patrol Council and Local 2455 regarding the decision to cancel the Laredo event with Trump, AFL-CIO spokesperson Josh Goldstein told The National Memo in an email. Goldstein said, “This was a local union issue.”

The National Border Patrol Council did not respond to a request for comment about the canceled Trump event. The NBPC’s website outlines where the union diverges from the AFL-CIO when it comes to immigration policy:

The NBPC opposes all efforts by AFL-CIO to aid and support illegal aliens working illegally within the United States. Instead of focusing on increasing their per capita and membership through illegal aliens, the AFL-CIO should firmly oppose illegal immigration and instead support American workers

[…] The NBPC challenges AFL-CIO to reconsider their priorities and support American workers and immigration enforcement in the interior and at the workplace.

Speaking with the media on Thursday, Trump claimed that he would win the Hispanic vote and that he was the best Republican candidate to challenge Hillary Clinton — whom Trump called “the worst secretary of state in the history of the country” — in the general election.

While Trump told reporters, “I’m way, way ahead with the Hispanics,” a recent Univision poll reports that 79 percent of Hispanic voters find his comments on Mexican immigrants offensive, and 71 percent view him unfavorably. Univision is one of a few companies that have broken business ties with Trump following his presidential campaign announcement during which he called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and accused some of bringing drugs and crime into the United States.

Laredo, Texas, a town of 248,000 people, is 95 percent Latino, according to U.S. Census data.

After Laredo city manager Jesus Olivares, responding to reporters, said a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was not necessary right now and that the city has a good relationship with federal law enforcement, Trump said that a wall was needed “in certain sections” along the border.

When asked directly what he would do, as president, with the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, Trump said he would first “strengthen our borders.” He didn’t offer any other specifics.

Trump said the border patrol agents’ union had originally invited him to tour the border in Laredo, and today’s cancellation of the tour was a result of national union pressure. “I heard they [Local 2455] got those orders from Washington,” Trump said.

Photo: Donald Trump speaks to the media in Laredo, Texas, on July 23, 2015. YouTube screengrab via The Savage Nation.

4 Bogus Controversies About Bernie Sanders

4 Bogus Controversies About Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders’ recent surge in the polls has got some rethinking the outsider candidate’s viability in the 2016 Democratic presidential race. News profile after profile has attempted to show the real Sanders, but the media — and some Democratic candidate rivals — are also stirring up controversy about the Independent senator from Vermont. Yes, he identifies as a socialist, but that and other “controversies” are really non-issues.

Here are 5 bogus Bernie Sanders controversies:

1. He’s a socialist!

Sanders has self-identified, and qualified at length, his socialist leanings. He explained recently to The Des Moines Register:

Democratic socialism is taking a hard look at what countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway (and) Finland … have done over the years and try to ascertain what they have done that is right, in terms of protecting the needs of millions of working families and the elderly and the children. And I think there’s much that we can learn from those countries that have had social democratic governments and labor governments or whatever.

Not to mention, many Americans agree with Sanders and his leftist principles. If we can get past Republicans’ Red Scare rhetoric and listen to Sanders’ message and ideas, many would probably realize that, hey, this guy makes a lot of sense politically.

2. He wrote an essay about “rape fantasy”!

In a May profile of Sanders, Mother Jones included a 1972 “stream-of-consciousness essay on the nature of male-female sexual dynamics” written by a young, radical Bernie Sanders for a lefty alternative newspaper in Vermont.

On the essay, The New York Timesreports:

Its opening passage, which deals with men’s sexual fantasies, is meant to be satirically provocative but comes across as crassly sexist. (Mr. Sanders’ underlying point, expressed less feverishly farther down in the article, is that men and women should rethink how they deal with one another.)

Sanders tried his hand at satirical writing and social commentary; it didn’t go well, which both he and his campaign spokesperson readily admitted. But Sanders’ larger point, NPR reports — “that traditional gender roles help create troubling dynamics in men’s and women’s sex lives” — is pretty non-controversial, especially in 2015.

Summing up the non-issue, National Review‘s Charles C.W. Cooke writes:

Nobody honestly believes that Bernie Sanders is a sexual pervert or that he is a misogynist or that he intends to do women any harm. Nobody suspects that he harbors a secret desire to pass intrusive legislation or to cut gang rapists a break. Really, there is only one reason that anyone would make hay of this story, and that is to damage the man politically.

3. Sanders has a “dark secret”!

Sanders’ son Levi was born in 1969, to Susan Campbell Mott, a woman with whom Sanders lived in Vermont. They were not married; Sanders had divorced his first wife in 1966. So what? No two families are alike, plus it was the ’60s.

While “the fact that the mother of [Sanders’] one biological child is not his ex-wife” (as has been reported, and gone uncorrected, in the past) is an interesting personal anecdote, details of his professional experiences and early political career provide more insight into how his politics developed and what kind of president he would be.

4. Wait, Sanders is not progressive when it comes to guns?

Despite what a recent attack ad from a SuperPAC supporting Democratic presidential backrunner Martin O’Malley would like you to believe, Bernie Sanders is actually pretty reasonable on guns, if not progressive. The NRA has consistently given Sanders a failing grade for his stance on gun regulations, and he voted for banning high-capacity magazines of over 10 bullets in 2013, and against decreasing gun waiting periods from three days to one in 1999, as a member of the House.

A brief history of Sanders’ voting record on guns, from the Los Angeles Times, offers some explanation as to his less-than-progressive positions:

Sanders’ reputation as soft on guns comes in part from his vote against the 1993 Brady Bill, which created mandatory background checks for gun buyers in many sales. Then a member of the House, Sanders argued that it was a matter that should be left to the states. Sanders also voted for the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a National Rifle Assn.-backed bill intended to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from being sued for negligence when their products are used to commit crimes. The law is opposed by some gun victims’ families who have sought to hold gun makers accountable for shooting deaths.

On Thursday, Sanders was confronted by a local chairwoman of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America about his voting record, at an appearance in Virginia. Watch Sanders’ explanation below, and decide just how controversial his views on gun regulation really are.

Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

With U.S. Wages Flat, Jeb Bush Calls For More Full-Time Jobs

With U.S. Wages Flat, Jeb Bush Calls For More Full-Time Jobs

This may be Jeb Bush’s “47 percent” moment.

The Republican presidential candidate this week told the New Hampshire Union Leader, “[W]e have to be a lot more productive. Workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and through their productivity gain more income for their families.”

Democrats were quick to criticize Bush for seeming to say that Americans are not working long or hard enough and that is contributing to the nation’s slow economic recovery. The Democratic National Committee released a statement calling Bush’s comments “out of touch” with the reality of the U.S. workforce and the struggles of middle-class Americans.

In his defense, Bush said his words were taken out of context, and later clarified, telling reporters: “If we’re going to grow the economy, people need to stop being part-time workers, they need to be having access to greater opportunities to work.” So, more full-time jobs for more Americans. Sounds great.

But Bush stopped well short of addressing the key economic issue on many Americans’ minds: stagnant wages.

As labor unions, grassroots organizers, and workers continue to campaign for a higher minimum wage of $15 per hour, Bush remained silent about how real wages in the United States have not risen for decades.

It’s true that more U.S. workers need greater access to full-time opportunities. Too many of the jobs created in recent years have been low paying or part time, with little regularity in scheduled work hours or job security and benefits.

Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Huffington Post reports:

[T]here are currently 6.5 million individuals working in part-time jobs who would prefer full-time employment, while 19 million Americans work in part-time jobs for non-economic reasons.

Still, the majority of employed Americans work full time, defined as working 35 hours or more per week. And according to a 2014 Gallup poll, “full-time employees reported working an average of 47 hours a week.”

The difficulty that many full- and part-time workers share is low wages, especially workers in low-income industries like the service sector. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been raised since 2009. Given that productivity increased by 74 percent from 1973 to 2013, but hourly wages only jumped 9 percent over the same period, according to the Economic Policy Institute, American workers are clearly getting shortchanged.

Jeb Bush has criticized President Obama’s economic policy, arguing that the administration has made it hard on businesses to create jobs. (Conservatives blame the Affordable Care Act for raising employee costs for businesses.)

If he wanted to make a fair criticism, he could challenge the recent “positive” jobs numbers, which came with two major caveats: In June, unemployment declined — but that was due to lower workforce participation and workers’ average wages flattening. Bush spoke about the shrinking labor force, but failed to mention wages. He has, however, expressed his disdain for raising the federal minimum.

Ultimately, this week, the former Florida governor showed his true colors: He prefers to scapegoat poor and working-class people rather than acknowledge that middle-class wages have been leveling off for years while CEO profits skyrocket.

Even when Bush aimed to contextualize what he said about Americans needing to work more hours, he sounded like Mitt Romney in 2012, talking about the 47 percent of Americans “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims…. who pay no income tax.”

“You can take it out of context all you want,” Bush told reporters, “but high sustained growth means people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success they have disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than standing in line and being dependent upon government.”

What Bush said, and didn’t say, is actually 99 percent clear. He thinks workers should earn more to boost the economy — by working more hours, not by getting a raise, and certainly not by “being dependent upon government.” Thank you for the context, Mr. 1 Percent.

Photo: Jeb Bush, May 16, 2015, iprimages via Flickr

Confederate Flag To Be Removed From South Carolina Capitol Grounds

Confederate Flag To Be Removed From South Carolina Capitol Grounds

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R) announced Thursday that the Confederate flag will be removed from the State House grounds Friday morning at 10 a.m., three weeks after the killing of nine black parishioners in a Charleston church by a white man who had posed in photographs with the Confederate flag and other white-supremacist symbols.

Governor Haley signed a bill to take down the flag after the state’s legislature overwhelmingly approved the measure earlier this week. She was joined at the signing ceremony on Thursday by family members of those killed in the Emanuel AME Church on June 17, and former South Carolina governors who supported the flag’s removal.

The Confederate flag outside the State Capitol building will be taken down Friday morning and moved to a museum.

“May we never forget the actions that those people took to get us to this point today,” Haley said, referring to the shooting victims’ family members, before giving them each one of nine commemorative pens used in the ceremony.

She also gave a pen to former governor David Beasley, who many say lost a re-election campaign due to his support for removing the flag from the Capitol dome and relocating it to the flagpole on the State House grounds.

“South Carolina’s leaders first flew a Confederate battle flag over the Statehouse dome in 1961 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. It remained there to represent official opposition to the civil rights movement,” The Associated Press reports.

On Thursday, on the State House grounds, people both celebrating and protesting the flag’s removal gathered, some waving Confederate flags and others honking car horns to signal their approval of the flag’s removal.

The South Carolina House voted 94-20 on Thursday in favor of removing the flag, after a 13-hour debate that went late into Wednesday night. The state Senate approved the flag’s removal by a vote of 37-3 on July 6.

Proclaiming the occasion of the bill’s signing a great day for South Carolina, Haley said, “We are now looking forward to the future and the future of our children.”

Photo: Andrew Aliferis via Flickr

Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Remarks Force GOP Reckoning On Immigration

Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Remarks Force GOP Reckoning On Immigration

As Donald Trump faces corporate boycotts over his recent comments deriding Mexican immigrants, his remarks are also dividing Republicans, and their conservative constituencies, by forcing them to reconcile their “tough-on-immigration,” “secure-the-border” rhetoric with their hopes of garnering more Latino votes than the Democrats in 2016.

In his June announcement launching his presidential campaign, Trump said: “When Mexico sends its people [to the United States], they’re not sending their best…. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Republicans, and especially other candidates seeking the GOP presidential nomination, have been forced to state publicly whether they stand with Trump on immigration policy.

Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, called Trump’s comments “not helpful,” while former Florida governor Jeb Bush distanced himself from Trump, saying he disagreed with Trump’s comments. Texas senator Ted Cruz recently said on Fox News that Trump “speaks the truth.”

New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who recently announced his own presidential bid, said Trump’s comments were “wholly inappropriate.”

Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who is not running for president, defended Trump’s remarks, saying critics had taken his statements out of context.

Conservative business interests are singing a different tune. In a June 30 statement, touting the entrepreneurial credentials of the United States’ immigrant community, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants represent “an extreme and exclusionary position that has no basis in fact and is completely inappropriate in our national political discourse.”

Joining Univision, NBC, and Macy’s boycotts of Trump businesses, the Hispanic Chamber said it will not consider Trump hotels as possible locations for its 2016 National Convention in Miami, Florida, or its 2016 Legislative Summit in Washington, D.C. Likely fearing consumer boycotts, the business community is running from Trump, seeking to push him further away from the Republican mainstream, while Trump, ever the consummate businessman, is breaking ties with any company that seeks to blacklist him.

Criticizing Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for blaming immigrants for a declining middle class in the United States, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said, “Politicians promote misleading facts about immigration to rile up their political base.” The Chamber might as well have been talking about Trump.

But by playing to the GOP’s right-wing base, Trump’s comments are forcing Republicans to reconsider their hardline stances on securing the border and not offering “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants, causing splits within the GOP over immigration. Republicans want (and desperately need) to court Latino voters nationally, so while moderate Republicans are trying not to alienate potential GOP voters, Trump and the Tea Party faithful prefer sticking with their nativist, scorched-earth rhetoric.

Which explains why Democrats are rejoicing that Trump is becoming the face of the Republican Party. “His outlandish rhetoric and skill at occupying the national spotlight are also proving to be dangerously toxic for the GOP brand, which remains in the rehabilitation stage after losing the 2012 presidential race,” reports The Washington Post.

In 2014, 62 percent of Latinos reported voting Democratic in their congressional district race, according to the Pew Research Center. And in the 2012 presidential election, President Obama had a 44-point advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney when it came to Latino voters.

If Republicans hope to win the White House in 2016, winning over more Latino voters will certainly play a large role. The problem for the GOP is not just limited to one well-known Republican candidate’s dramatic, outspoken racism. More so, it’s the fact that Trump’s stance has shined a spotlight on the party’s deeply entrenched xenophobia, and now every candidate has to acknowledge it.

More and more, it doesn’t seem possible for Republicans to have their border-wall-and-deportations cake, and eat more Latino votes, too.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Four More Votes Needed To Remove Confederate Flag From SC Capitol

Four More Votes Needed To Remove Confederate Flag From SC Capitol

As Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine victims of a racially motivated mass shooting last week, was laid to rest on Friday in Charleston, South Carolina, the Confederate battle flag — the symbol worn by shooter Dylann Storm Roof — continued to fly outside the South Carolina Capitol building in Columbia.

A growing number of Southern politicians and U.S. businesses have called for the flag’s removal following the killing of nine black parishioners of Emanuel AME Church on June 17 by Roof, a 21-year-old white man.

This week, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a Republican, joined the chorus of conservative officials changing their tune. “It’s time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” she said at a news conference. But the decision is ultimately not Haley’s.

Any measure to remove the flag from the South Carolina State House’s grounds requires a two-thirds supermajority in the state legislature, under the 2000 South Carolina Heritage Act.

Four more members of the South Carolina House of Representatives must commit to vote in favor of removing the flag in order for the state legislature to mandate its removal, according to polling data by The Post and Courier.

In the state Senate, 33 of 45 members (73 percent) have told The Post and Courier that they agree the flag should be taken down. Currently, 78 of 123 (63 percent) House representatives in South Carolina have said the flag should come down, just four representatives shy of the two-thirds majority needed for a bill to pass.

In both houses, every lawmaker who told The Post they were either undecided or would vote against removing the flag, as well as anyone who refused or neglected to answer the question, were Republicans.

State senators have introduced a bill to move the flag from its current location near the Confederate Soldier Monument outside the State House to the Confederate Relic Room at the State Museum. House representatives also introduced two bills that call for the flag to be removed. Discussion of the bills and a final vote are expected in coming weeks.

Photo: A sign urging South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to take down the Confederate flag is part of the sidewalk memorial at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church on June 20, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Dozens Killed In Terrorist Attacks On Three Continents

Dozens Killed In Terrorist Attacks On Three Continents

With gunfire and explosions, suspected Islamic terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia, and Kuwait on Friday, killing dozens and leaving questions about whether the assaults were coordinated.

In France, two men who reportedly attacked a U.S.-owned gas factory, and killed one person, “whose severed head was found pinned to the factory’s entrance,” and injured two others, have been arrested. One suspect is allegedly linked to the orthodox Muslim Salafist movement.

One suspect drove a vehicle through the factory gates, crashing into gas canisters and causing an explosion, according to The Associated Press. A white flag and a black flag, both with Arabic inscriptions, were found at the scene.

In Tunisia, at a beach resort crowded with tourists, two gunmen killed 28 people around noon local time. Tunisian security forces killed one suspect and the other reportedly fled the scene. Thirty-six people were wounded in the attack. Police are pursuing the second gunman.

And in Kuwait, 25 people were killed in a suicide bombing attack at a Shiite mosque packed with people during Friday prayers. Militants affiliated with the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, which wounded 202 people, according to the BBC.

On Friday, U.S. intelligence officials were working to evaluate whether the killings in the three countries were connected, and if so, “whether the Islamic State had actively directed, coordinated or inspired them,” according to The New York Times.

“While the Kuwait bomb targeted members of the Shia sect, who are seen as heretics by the hardline Sunnis in ISIS and al Qaeda,” The Daily Beast reports, “the attacks in Tunisia and France were designed to terrify the West.”

Photo: Security forces stand guard outside the Imam Sadiq Mosque, a Shiite Muslim mosque, following a suicide bomb blast on June 26, 2015, in the capital of Kuwait. (Noufal Moodadi/Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)