Donald Trump’s CPAC speech is a reminder that he’s not really in charge of his White House

Speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Friday, President Donald Trump announced a policy idea that at a normal time, from a normal president, would have dramatically moved financial markets. But of course, nothing of the sort happened. 
He said that unless he can get Mexico and Canada to agree to sweeping changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement that would eliminate the US-Mexico bilateral trade deficit, he “will terminate the deal and we’ll start over again.”
Specific companies that depend on the ability to easily import goods from Mexico to the United States should have seen their share prices plummet while firms that compete with Mexican imports should have seen prices soar. Instead, it was a blah day on financial markets, with the Dow up slightly and no particularly surprising moves from individual companies.
Perhaps the most telling moment of the entire speech came at the end, when Trump offered a desultory announcement of new sanctions on North Korea: ...
Trump appears unable to describe either the actual contents of the new sanctions or what policy goals the sanctions are intended to advance. He doesn’t even appear to be particularly supportive of the new policy, just saying blandly that “hopefully something positive can happen.” ...
Foreign policy is where the president’s discretionary authority is at its maximum. Yet it’s clear on that this crucial issue — as on everything else — Trump is essentially a peripheral player in the Trump administration and even in the Trump White House. 
Somebody decided on this new policy, and they presumably did it for some reason, but Trump neither knows nor cares. I, too, hope something positive can happen. But if a time comes when the United States needs strong leadership from the Oval Office, we’re not going to get it.

For people of color, banks are shutting the door to homeownership

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.
The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the homeownership gap between whites and African Americans, which had been shrinking since the 1970s, has exploded since the housing bust. It is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.
This gap has far-reaching consequences. In the United States, “wealth and financial stability are inextricably linked to housing opportunity and homeownership,” said Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, an advocacy group. “For a typical family, the largest share of their wealth emanates from homeownership and home equity.”
Reveal’s analysis included all records publicly available under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, covering nearly every time an American tried to buy a home with a conventional mortgage in 2015 and 2016. It controlled for nine economic and social factors, including an applicant’s income, the amount of the loan, the ratio of the size of the loan to the applicant’s income and the type of lender, as well as the racial makeup and median income of the neighborhood where the person wanted to buy property.

Mosque Terror Attack Suspect Put In Detailed Bid To Build Trump A ‘Great’ Border Wall

An Illinois contractor bidding to build President Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border was among three men arrested Tuesday in connection with the bombing of a mosque in Minnesota and the attempted bombing of a women’s health clinic in Illinois.
Michael B. Hari, 47, was arrested and charged Tuesday in federal court in lllinois with arson and possession of machine guns.
According to the complaint, Hari and two accomplices — 29-year-old Michael McWhorter and 22-year-old Joe Morris — were responsible for the bombing of a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Aug. 5, 2017, and the attempted bombing of the Women’s Health Practice in Champaign, Illinois, on Nov. 7. All three are now facing federal arson charges.
Hari is a former sheriff’s deputy who lives in Charence, Illinois, where he ran Crisis Resolution Security Services Inc., which had put in a bid for Trump’s border wall.
In a YouTube video promoting the proposal, a narrator says the wall would be “culturally significant, a powerful architectural statement of the determination of the American people to defend their nation and its Anglo-Saxon heritage, western culture, and English language” and would defend “our way of life from other people who have different value systems.”

Lessons From West Virginia

The strike also shines a light on the shifting fortunes of the American workforce. Like the “Fight for 15” movement to raise the minimum wage, and other recent grass-roots progressive movements, the West Virginia strike should expand mainstream notions of what it means to be “working class” and economically vulnerable.
When pundits and political observers (and the president) talk about “working-class” Americans, they have an archetype in mind: the white, blue-collar male worker. Journalists who travel to Rust Belt communities in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio often take as a given that those workers—and laborers like them—are representative of working-class Americans. But since the 1970s, working-class labor has shifted from “making stuff” to “serving people,” a product of globalization, technological change, and a policy regime that prioritized the flow of capital above all else. Increasingly, the typical working-class American looks more like a fast food worker or paid caregiver—jobs held predominantly by white women and people of color—than someone who wears a hard hat to the job site. And while most definitions of “working class” center on workers without college degrees, there are many laborers with college diplomas whose prospects are now similar to those without them.

Middle America Reboots Democracy

The protagonists of the trends we report on are mainly college-educated suburban white women. We tell their stories not because college-educated white women are the most Democratic slice of the electorate (they aren’t) or because they are the most progressive voices within the Democratic Party (they aren’t) or because they have a special claim to lead the left moving forward (they don’t: nor do they pretend to). Rather, what we report here is that it is among these college-educated, middle-aged women in the suburbs that political practices have most changed under Trump. If your question is how the panorama of political possibility has shifted since November 2016, your story needs to begin here.
The fact that professional women from mid-life to early retirement years comprise the strong majority of new leaders and activists means that even those with no prior experience in political organizing have lifetimes of experience in working for change within existing systems. In contrast to some of the voices the media have embraced as national spokespersons of the “Resistance,” the actual grassroots are pervasively pragmatic. These are individuals who have honed their skills in the “slow boring of hard boards,” to use Max Weber’s definition of politics, over years of professional and community life—and are now bringing those skills to bear full-strength on local political action.
Democratic Party officials seem notably less sophisticated about how organizing works. Nancy Reynolds, the retired librarian, worked throughout the fall of 2017 with a tight network of women (their partnership forged on a chartered bus to the January 2017 Women’s March) to coordinate phone canvassing and door-knocking across Hampton Township. They elected three Democrats to a five-person township council that had been all-Republican as long as anyone could remember. As Reynolds tried to explain to a party strategist aggrieved that the party’s online calling tools went unused, “My friends won’t make calls for you. They’ll make calls for me.” In this exchange, as in many others we have witnessed, we’ve seen to what extent the ones needing education in political organizing are actually the nominal political professionals. The “amateurs” already get it.

Why America Is Stuck With Only Two Parties

It takes a lot of work to get on the ballot, in the first place (especially for third party candidates). Even when someone does, people tend to vote *against* their last choice, rather than *for* their first choice, because of the winner-take-all style of our voting system. Changes like ranked-choice voting would go a long way to helping with the latter problem, at least.

Here’s the underlying problem: the ballot, which was once the property of voters organically organizing themselves into parties, has become the property of state legislatures dominated by the two major parties. The introduction of uniform, printed state ballots—a reform of the late 1800s intended to quash the buying and selling of individual votes—also gave legislatures the power to determine who was qualified to be on the ballot. Republican and Democrat-controlled legislatures swiftly learned that they could use this power to smother rising third parties like the Populist Party, and gave themselves automatic lines on the ballot while instituting onerous petitioning requirements to hinder other upstarts. (When political scientists argue that the first-past-the-post system of awarding representation invariably forces voters into a two-party duopoly, they forget to note that it’s only when ballot lines are so rigidly guarded that two specific parties, in this case the Ds and the Rs, manage to artificially lock themselves in power.)
The hard reality is that if we ever get a major new political party, it won’t be built by think tank denizens. It will be built first in states like New York, Connecticut, and Oregon, where minor parties don’t have to risk “spoiling” the election because they can endorse candidates from another party, or cities like Minneapolis and San Francisco where ranked-choice voting (where you can assign your vote to a series of candidates in order of preference) eliminates that barrier. And then it will move to power in a few states and maybe a few congressional seats. The presidency will be its final prize, not its first.

Why the Second Amendment does not stymie gun control

(The bit about schools is rather interesting, given current debate.)

It is impossible to say whether erasing the Second Amendment would bring down gun deaths in America. But this is an academic query: changes to the constitution require the unlikely assent of two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and three-quarters of the states. The better question is whether repealing the amendment is a must for pursuing gun control. It is not. The Heller majority opinion did not, in the words of its author, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, secure an “unlimited” right to buy or carry weapons. The Second Amendment would not, for example, scuttle bans on concealed weapons or machine guns. And Justice Scalia emphasised that nothing in Heller “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings”. Nearly every gun regulation under discussion today—from expanded background checks to bans on military-style weapons—would seem to pass constitutional muster.

The Populist Realignment That Never Came

The White House has sent its budget recommendation to Congress, and it’s a spending agenda only a plutocrat could love. The proposal would slash funding for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other social programs, but nonetheless run up deficits by increasing funding for the military, the Mexican border wall, and President Donald Trump’s other priorities. While some have expressed amazement about Trump’s willingness to increase the national debt, this is an aspirational budget in line with the Republican Party’s reactionary agenda.
As The Washington Post notes, the budget “hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require recipients of Medicaid and food stamps to work.” As a candidate and president, Trump repeatedly promised to leave Medicaid and Medicare alone, but now he has completely embraced the Republican agenda of austerity for the poor. 
The one supposedly unorthodox aspect of the budget—the promise of $1.5 trillion in infrastructure funding—turns out to be smoke and mirrors...