Shortly before 9 p.m. on Wednesday night, something really exciting happened in the world of American politics...and for once it had nothing to do with the short-fingered vulgarian of 5th Avenue, the "democratic socialist" from maple-syrup country, or anyone else among the shrinking cast in the 2016 White House reality show.
The best-known civil rights activist to emerge from the chaos in Ferguson and the #BlackLivesMatter movement -- 30-year-old social-media whiz DeRay Mckesson -- filed papers at the last possible moment to run for the open mayor's job in his hometown of Baltimore.
Even though Mckesson's remarkable odyssey from a comfortable-but-obscure school administrator to a leader of protests in Ferguson and elsewhere has made him a national figure in just 18 months, the activist -- famous for, among other things, his bright blue down vest that he wears year-round -- faces an uphill campaign against 12-13 other Democrats, including several elected officials. But after marches, sit-ins, and occasional unrest -- including a mini-riot in Baltimore last April after the killing of arrestee Freddie Gray -- it will be fascinating to see whether #BlackLivesMatter can gain an electoral foothold.
Just a short in-between-posts-post to say that it wasn't just me who thought that Monday's Iowa caucus wasn't democracy's finest hour. It was also the state's largest, and much-honored, newspaper, the Des Moines Register. Oh, and Iowa's popular long-time governor.
One of these days, America will figure out how to elect a president. I won't live to see it.
There's a thing that pops up Twitter from time to time under the hashtag, #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion....a way for folks to express their undying love for Nickelback or the movie Ishtar. Well, here's mine: I think Tom Wolf is doing a good job after one year as Pennsylvania's governor.
I know this is an unpopular opinion because the pollsters tell me that the first-term Democrat has a low approval rating -- pretty close right now to where it was for his predecessor Tom Corbett, who in 2014 was unceremoniously voted out of office by the people. With the state unable to pass a real working budget during 2015, and with school districts and non-profits facing continued uncertainty over how much money they'll get from Harrisburg and when it might come, that's hardly a surprise. According to one recent poll making the rounds, the governor's current approval rating is at 33 percent.
In that case, We...Are...The 33 Percent.
ROSENCRANTZ: Heads. (He picks up the coin and puts it in his money bag. The process is repeated.) Heads. (Again.): Heads. (Again.) Heads. (Again.) Heads.
GUILDENSTERN (flipping a coin): There is an art to the building up of suspense. Heads.(flipping another): Though it can be done by luck alone.
Anyone hoping for clarity out of tonight's Iowa caucuses didn't get it. On the GOP side, comeback winner Ted Cruz, expectation-beater Marco Rubio and the short-fingered vulgarian of New York City are going to keep slogging away, probably all the way to Cleveland. Ditto on the Democratic side, where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are locked in what amounts to a tie.
Maybe this is the way it was meant to be. A lily-white prairie state shouldn't pick the president for the rest of us.
Let the games continue. And discuss the results below.
No one -- with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders -- really thought that Bernie Sanders would get to this point. With the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses less than 24 hours away, the independent Vermont senator, now running for the White House as a Democrat, has come all the way from Nowheresville to within a couple of percentage points of long-assumed frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the Hawkeye State. And the polls show him on the verge of a landslide victory in next week's first primary, in New Hampshire.
The result, not surprisingly, is that Sanders is becoming 2016's Icarus, the mythological Greek dude who soared high with his wax-sealed wings -- until he got a little too close to the sun. The centrist, Wall Street-funded Democratic Party establishment -- which patronized Sanders last summer with the friendly equivalent of a pat on the head -- has suddenly turned vicious. No one more so than the wretched editorial board of the supposedly liberal Washington Post, which ran a hatchet job last week entitled "Bernie Sanders's fiction-filled campaign" (No, there shouldn't be a second "s" after the apostrophe, but who are we serfs* to correct the Washington Post's grammar?) -- probably to impress its billionaire libertarian owner, Jeff Bezos, who was visiting D.C. that morning and who might pay higher taxes under democratic socialism.
What's truly bizarre is that Sanders' Democratic critics like these editorial writers or the Clinton campaign are attacking the Vermont senator for backing things -- a single-payer healthcare system, or breaking up big banks -- that they themselves have backed in the past. But now that Sanders has a fighting chance to acquire real power to push for these things, the Establishment is in full panic mode. It almost makes you think the Left has been "played" by the Democratic hierarchy and the so-called liberal media all these years. (Spoiler alert: They have.)
There's an interesting local story that's been building in a weird, circular way. Basically, the gist is this: In the wake of the catastrophe with lead poisoning in the Flint, Michigan, water system, people are asking questions about the way that drinking water is tested for lead right here in Philadelphia.
Don't panic: No one is alleging that the water here is orange or has the toxic-swamp qualities of the swill that was pumped through Flint for nearly two years. But Philadelphia -- one of the nation's oldest cities with an ancient infrastructure, including a high rate of lead water pipes -- demands a rigid testing system. And now some critics say that Philadelphia tests its water in a way that would downplay any real lead pollution, instead of providing an accurate picture.
In the weird way that news gets covered these days, some of the best reporting has come from outside sources such as The Guardian, the British-based website that now aggressively covers U.S. stories. Here's an excerpt from their latest:
So it kind of got lost this week amid all the "bimbo"-eruptions, militia martyrs, and debate follies, but President Obama wrote something -- an essay calling in the nation to rethink the use of solitary confinement in prisons, here in the country with the highest incarceration rate of any developed nation. His piece appeared in The Washington Post. Here's an excerpt:
The United States is a nation of second chances, but the experience of solitary confinement too often undercuts that second chance. Those who do make it out often have trouble holding down jobs, reuniting with family and becoming productive members of society. Imagine having served your time and then being unable to hand change over to a customer or look your wife in the eye or hug your children.
As president, my most important job is to keep the American people safe. And since I took office, overall crime rates have decreased by more than 15 percent. In our criminal justice system, the punishment should fit the crime — and those who have served their time should leave prison ready to become productive members of society. How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people? It doesn’t make us safer. It’s an affront to our common humanity.