Tuesday, February 24, 2015

'People Are Really Getting Angry': How Bernie Sanders Just Electrified Iowa — And What It Means for 2016

At an under-the-radar town hall in Des Moines, Sanders had the crowd begging for more. Here's why it matters

By Robert Leonard
Progressive America Rising via Salon.com

Feb 24, 2015 - DES MOINES — Bernie Sanders has neckties older than most of his audience at last Friday’s Drake University Town Hall in Des Moines. Yet the age differential didn’t matter. His college-age audience loved him. Organized by Drake progressive students, Sanders and his audience seemed to have a near telepathic connection. His issues are their issues, and if anything, they are more pissed off than he is.

Several Drake students set the stage for Sanders in brief topical introductions, laying waste to money in politics, Citizens United specifically, the reality and dangers of climate change, the importance of pay equity for women, immigration reform, and the crushing burden of the cost of college and debt. Then Bernie nailed it, touching on all of these topics and more.

Unlike the speeches at the recent Republican Iowa Freedom Summit, Sanders was long on ideas, and short on chest-thumping, fiery rhetoric. He also didn’t have an audience mostly old enough to vote when Ronald Reagan was running for president.

At first it was unclear who the bigger enemy of the people were to Sanders — the Kardashians or the Koch brothers.  The Kardashians, or rather our public fascination with them, represents America’s apathy. Sanders was clear that nothing progressive can happen until people start paying attention.  Sanders told his audience that Americans are getting screwed, and that we had better pay attention and get off our asses.

According to Sanders, our government is bought and paid for by the Koch brothers, and we are living in an oligarchy. He illustrated the point by reminding us of the recent announcement that the Kochs plan to spend $900 million on the next presidential election, when Obama and Romney each spent approximately $1 billion in 2012.  He feels that soon, they will have more power than either the Democratic or Republican parties, just because of their wealth and the leverage the 5-4 Supreme Court Citizens United decision gave them and other billionaires.

The question and answer session took an interesting turn when a stocky young man with the voice of a broadcasting major asked Sanders, “Will you run for president in 2016?”

If he had asked, “Are you going to run…” Sanders might have responded differently. “I don’t know yet,” would have been a good answer. But since he was asked, “Will you run…” Sanders apparently heard it as a request for him to run. 

“That’s a good question that you’ve asked,” Sanders said.  “Let me throw it back to you… do you think there is the support in this country?” To which the young man replied, “ I think I do. I do. I think there is the support out there … people are really getting angry about this income inequality, climate change…we’re tired of it.”  (Continued)

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why the Country Needs a Populist Challenger in the Democratic Primaries

By Robert Borosage
Campaign for America's Future

Feb. 17, 2010 - Polls show Democrats want a contest, not a coronation, for their presidential nomination. The press yearns for a primary contest, if only to have something to cover. A raft of reasons are floated for why a challenge would be useful, most of them spurious.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t need a contest to get her campaign shipshape. She’s already been central to three presidential campaigns, as underdog, incumbent and, disastrously, overwhelming favorite. She has every high-priced operative in the party. If she doesn’t know how to put together campaign by now, an upstart challenger won’t help.

Some suggest a challenger could move Hillary to the left, as if Hillary Inc. were a bloated ocean liner needing a plucky tugboat to put it on the right path. But the Clintons are adept at running more populist than they govern. Hillary found her populist pitch in 2008 when it was too late to save her. She’s knee deep in pollsters and speechwriters. She won’t need a challenger to teach her the lines.

There are two compelling reasons for a challenge in the Democratic primaries: We need a big debate about the direction of the country, and a growing populist movement would benefit from a populist challenge to Hillary.

The Divide

This isn’t conventional wisdom. Matt Yglesias argues that Clinton is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination not because of experience, name recognition or the Clinton money machine but because no large ideological divisions separate Democrats. New Dems have embraced the social liberalism they once dreaded. Foreign policy differences are minimal. All Democrats sing from President Obama’s populist songbook. All favor raising the minimum wage, pay equity, investment in infrastructure, bank regulation.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer agrees that the “differences among Democrats are small compared to the chasm on the Republican side.” Democrats, he argues, are united on “fundamental issues,” like the minimum wage, pay equity, paying for college.

In fact, there is a deep divide between the party establishment and the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. All affirm, finally, that this economy works only for the few and not the many. But after that, the differences are immense.

The center of the party – which Hillary occupies – argues that our extreme inequality just happened, sort of like the weather. Globalization and technology did it. Republican trickle-down economics made it worse. We can fix it with sensible reforms packaged as “middle-out economics.” We’ll give everyone a “fair shot,” as the president puts it, echoing Bill Clinton, “with everyone playing by the same set of rules.”

The Democratic wing of the party understands, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren has put it, that extreme inequality is the result of the “rules being rigged” by the few to favor the few. The deck is stacked. Playing by the same set of rules doesn’t change the outcome if the rules are rigged. The core structures of our politics and our economy have to be changed to get a clean deal. (Continued)

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Monday, February 16, 2015

Moral Mondays’ Barber Says America’s Political System Suffers From a ‘Heart Problem’

Saturday’s Moral Mondays march once again brought a multicultural crowd of thousands to Raleigh, N.C., protesting budget cuts and voting restrictions enacted by the state’s Republican Legislature.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards and NAACP National President Cornell Brooks (far right) listen to the North Carolina NAACP’s the Rev. Dr. William Barber speak at the Moral Mondays march in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Feb. 14, 2015.

By David Swerdlick
The Root

Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 14: An African-American Muslim imam, Oliver Muhammad, offered the call to prayer; members of black Greek-letter fraternities served as event marshals; and as marchers in North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement began their walk across downtown Raleigh, the state’s capital, Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Teresa Palmer announced—in Spanish—that “interpreters will be available at the intersection of Hargett and Fayetteville.”

It’s that kind of come-one, come-all event. And even though this year’s ninth annual march wasn’t as big as last year’s—one that The Nation’s Ari Berman reported as “the largest civil rights rally in the South since the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965”—organizers again brought together a diverse coalition of activists on a chilly Valentine’s Day to protest what movement leader and state NAACP President the Rev. Dr. William Barber II described as the state’s—and the nation’s—“heart problem.”

And while the Moral Mondays movement is left-leaning, Barber told supporters that he wanted them to be political “defibrillators” because “we find we’ve got, not a left problem or a right problem or a conservative problem or a liberal problem. We’ve got a heart problem. When money and greed and political hubris and pride and ego and beating your opponent become more important than working together to uplift humanity, we’ve got a heart problem.”

For the movement, the stakes haven’t changed.

Barber called on legislators to “fund Medicaid expansion, raise the minimum wage, index it with inflation—put it on the ballot and let the people vote,” as well as “restore cuts to public education,” reject “the attacks on women’s health and environmental protection, repeal the death penalty, reform the criminal-justice system,” enact “fair immigration reform, and respect the constitutional rights of all humanity, regardless of race, creed, color and sexuality.” (Continued)

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

If Voting Means Little, Why Is the Right Working So Hard to Suppress It?

Selma and Shelby: The Fight for the New South

BY JESSE JACKSON
Progressive America Rising

Feb 10, 2015 - What time is it?  It’s important to be clear.  Is it mid-day and our labors still have hours to go?  Or is it evening, our work done, and we can rest our weary heads?  What time is it for the New South?  Is it time to celebrate Selma, Alabama – and the triumph of the Voting Rights Act?  Or is it time to mourn Shelby, Alabama – and the radical backlash against voting rights?

Fifty years after Selma’s Bloody Sunday that led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, many will gather to celebrate that victory.  But we should understand that our work is not done. With the Shelby decision of the Supreme Court, the struggle for equal rights must go on.

Too often, we remember the triumph and ignore the backlash.  In 1870, the 15th Amendment, codified in in the blood of the Civil War, was ratified to give African Americans the right to vote.  It declared that the right to vote shall not be denied “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

But the triumph was immediately challenged by the backlash.  Across the South, states controlled the structure and laws of voting.  They immediately set up seemingly neutral barriers to voting – poll taxes, literacy tests and more – that were used to disenfranchise black voters.  The reconstruction of the South was ended as the Supreme Court ratified legal apartheid, and segregation was brutally enforced.

It took nearly a century, a mighty civil rights movement, Bloody Sunday and other sacrifices, to pass the Voting Rights Act that gave the Justice Department the right to pre-screen any changes to voting laws in states with a history of discrimination, and ban those that would have a discriminatory effect, even if they looked neutral on their face.

Two years ago, however, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the five conservative judges on the Supreme Court effectively gutted preclearance laws, arguing in essence that there as a new South that had moved beyond racism.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Will ISIS Debate Get Us ‘War Without Limits?’

By Tom Hayden
Progressive America Rising
The Republican Congress is expected to take up an authorization bill for the war against ISIS even though the U.S. bombing and ground escalation campaign has been underway for months.
The specter of the Islamic State has silenced Congressional criticism and marginalized anti-war voices on the outside. The looming question is whether an open-ended authorization will extend the War on Terror for years to come.
The most critical issues are these:
First, whether an authorization will include a narrow or a broad definition of the "enemy". Will it be ISIS in Iraq and Syria or ISIS and associated groups? The broader definition, similar to "Al Qaeda and associated groups" in the 2002 authorization, will allow US military action in any region where Islamic State loyalists raise a flag, like northern Egypt. Even the narrower definition  is ambiguous, since the "Islamic State" is a category based on shifting loyalties among battlefield factions. A new authorization for a global war on terrorism therefore may be in the making.
Second, whether the president's prohibition on US ground troops will prevent another Americanized war. Obama already has sent hundreds of advisers and at least 1,500 new US ground troops. All reports indicate that Baghdad's armed forces are incapable of fighting on their own, even with American bombing, with the exception of some Kurdish units and sectarian Shiite militias. Obama's military advisers and Republican senators are urging the deployment of ground troops.
Third, whether the authorization will be for 18 months before another Congressional debate or extend for three or four years, into the next presidency. Secretary Kerry and Rep. Adam Schiff both are proposing a three-year extension, which would contain serious Congressional debate until 2017. That would continue the war as onecarried out by the executive branch and CIA except for annual debates on appropriations.
Fourth, whether the authorization will include mandatory independent reports on metrics of progress, casualties [including civilian casualties] and costs in US tax dollars. History indicates that such reports are useful if done by an independent inspector general with specialists in budgeting and wartime civilian casualties.
The most important test will be whether a majority votes to bloc US ground troops, or whether the gates of hell will be left open.
Rep. Barbara Lee is attempting to inject limiting amendments and non-military alternatives into the floor debate. On her left, many peace advocates want a vote opposing the use of US military force altogether. On her right are the McCains and Grahams who blame Obama for withdrawing UStroops in the first place. The unknowns include presidential aspirants of both parties.
Lee argues that her Dec. 16 bill intends to "ensure that the U.S. pursues a comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic, and regionally-ledstrategy to degrade and dismantle ISIL, including working through the U.N. The bill would also repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) to ensure that they are not relied on for authority in lieu of an ISIL-specific AUMF passed by Congress. Lastly, the bill would require a report from the Administration on its comprehensive strategy to degrade and dismantle ISIL and information on human rights vetting for partner elements the U.S. is supporting in Iraq and Syria."
According to Lee's legislative director Diala Jadallah, "The underlying point is to ensure that the non-military solutions to the crisis in Iraq and Syria are included in any debate on the war. Right now, no one is talking about that, and all other legislative proposals are simply putting limits on a possible AUMF rather than trying to end the war through diplomatic, humanitarian, and political means. We are not prescribing a [new] AUMF."
The Congressional vote also will define a core peace bloc willing to stand firm during a moment when the winds of escalation are

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Greece Proves Populist Movements Can Fight And Win

By Terrance Heath
Campaign for America's Future

Jan 27, 2015 - After five years of protests, demonstrations and strikes, Greek citizens voted to throw off five years of crushing austerity. Their victory has emboldened populist parties across Europe, and should inspire Americans to resist austerity here at home.

The victory of Greece’s leftist anti-austerity Syriza party, and Alexis Tsipiras’ ascension to prime minister ushers in a government that will push back against the austerity measures devised by the troika of Greece’s international creditors and the International Monetary Fund, and accepted by the country’s economic elite, after the crash of Greece’s economy in 2009.

Greece’s new leaders left little doubt about their intentions as they celebrated victory.

    Alexis_Tsipras“Greece leaves behind the austerity that ruined it, at least behind the fear, leaves behind five years of humiliation, and grease moves forward with optimism and hope and dignity.”
    ~ Alexis Tsipiras, Greece’s new prime minister

    “We are going to destroy the basis upon which they have built, for decade after decade, a system, about a network that viciously sucks the of energy and economic power from everybody else in society. ”
    ~ Yanis Varoukis, Greece’s new prime minister, on Greece’s oligarchy.

The International Monetary Fund assumed the Greek government could impose austerity without significant impact on economic growth and unemployment. In fact, the IMF assumed Greece’s economy would grow as a result of the 2010 aid package, for which the troika and the IMF demanded austerity measures. The results were disastrous.

  •     Greece’s economy shrunk by 25 percent, and wages dropped about the same amount.
  •     Along with shrinking the economy, austerity increased Greece’s national debt.
  •     Unemployment has reached depression levels. Overall unemployment is at 28 percent. Youth unemployment stands at 60 percent — even after the government lowered the minimum wage for youth by 32 percent, to encourage job creation.

Wealthy Greeks got off scot-free. Cocooned in suburbs, austerity cuts didn’t touch them until mid–2013, when the government ruled that wealthy Greeks were no longer entitled to free police bodyguards. Since 2009, businessmen and journalists threatened by anarchist groups received personal police protection.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Uphill Fight: Taking on Finance Capital in Congress

How Bernie Sanders, In New Role, Could Make Wall Streeters Very, Very Unhappy

By Ari Rabin-Havt
Progressive America Rising via American Prospect

Jan 26, 2015 - Big banks now have to contend with an old enemy in a new position of power.

Bernie Sanders, the United States senator from Vermont, plans on using his new position as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee to take on too-big-to-fail financial institutions by advocating for their dissolution. Though a registered independent, Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, allowing him to assume the ranking member role representing the minority party.
Sanders knows how to draw the media spotlight when advocating for a cause.

While normally the domain of the Senate Banking Committee, the oversight of Wall Street, Sanders and his staff believe, is a critical budgetary issue. Democrats need to directly challenge Wall Street’s power, they assert, by boldly reframing the argument against the consolidation of financial institutions in terms of its cost to the national coffers. Though the term “ranking member” might not ordinarily have the barons of finance quaking in their custom-made oxfords, Sanders knows how to draw the media spotlight when advocating for a cause.

“Being the ranking member of the budget committee gives Senator Sanders the opportunity to say, look, people on food stamps didn’t cause the economic crisis, people that lost their jobs weren’t responsible for the economic crisis that we faced,” explained Warren Gunnels, director of the committee’s minority staff, during an interview in his office. “Average ordinary Americans weren’t responsible for the financial crisis we had.”

While centrist Democrats have expressed displeasure with progressives' forceful defense of regulations included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Sanders plans on pushing the boundaries of the debate in the other direction. This potentially puts Sanders, who is seriously considering a run for the White House, in a head-on conflict with Hillary Clinton, Wall Street’s favorite presidential candidate.

As media types muse over Sanders’s prospective presidential campaign, the focus of the minority Budget Committee staff, hard at work in a corner suite on the sixth floor of the Dirksen Senate office building, is elsewhere. Such a run by the senator would no doubt shine a light on the mission he’s set before his committee staff, but the work in this office has no connection to that effort.

Packed boxes are stacked almost randomly as the staff focuses on more important matters—unpacking would be just a temporary process, anyway. Republicans, having won the Senate in the midterms, will take over the office in a few months after the rush of budget season subsides.

Warren Gunnels’s office has a sweeping view of the Capitol dome, but for most of the hour I spent speaking with him about Sanders’s plans for the upcoming Congress, the blinds remain closed.

Gunnels has worked for Sanders in a variety of capacities since 1999, journeying with the Vermonter from his House staff to his Senate staff, when Sanders won the office in 2006, and now to the Budget Committee. There Sanders has recruited a hard-charging group that is by far the most progressive of any committee on Capitol Hill. Instead of sulking in the Democrats’ new minority status, Sanders is preparing to use his staff to advocate aggressively on behalf of a progressive agenda.

Even late on a Friday afternoon, with the senator back in Vermont, there is a sense of hustle in the office, with several meetings taking place around desks.

Gunnels put the blame for our economic collapse squarely on Wall Street. “The people responsible for the financial crisis were the CEOs in charge of the largest financial institutions in this country,” he said. “That nearly drove the economy off a cliff. We are still paying for that today.” (Continued)

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

States’ Minimum Wages Rise, Helping Millions of Workers

Fast-food and health care workers, and supporters, demonstrated in Los Angeles on Dec. 4 in a nationwide rally for higher pay.
Robyn Beck / Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By RACHEL ABRAMS
Progressive America Rising via New York Times

Dec 31, 2014 - For some low-wage workers, everyday tasks like spending money for bus fare to get to and from work also involve deciding which bill to pay or delay, or what to give up.

Rita Diaz, 26, who works two low-wage jobs, sometimes walks the three miles home from her job serving chicken at a Popeye’s fast-food restaurant in Roslindale, Mass., when she doesn’t have money for all of her expenses. Her plight is one of many highlighted by labor advocates who have been pushing for higher minimum wage levels.

In January, with an increase in the minimum wage in Massachusetts taking effect — raising hourly pay to $9 from $8 an hour — Ms. Diaz envisions being able to walk less and ride more.

“I need to make a decision to buy clothes, or pay the rent or pay my cellphone bill,” she said. “Now I’ve got to do that decision, but I’m going to have more money for me, too. A little bit of money for me.”

By Thursday, minimum wage increases will go into effect in 20 states, including Massachusetts, as well as in the District of Columbia. A few other states will enact a pay bump later in the year.

All told, 29 states will exceed the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour at the beginning of January, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The initial changes will enhance minimum pay by as little as a few pennies to as much as $1.25 an hour, affecting about 3.1 million employees, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group.

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Monday, December 29, 2014

Black Lives Matter Must Move Beyond Protests — Or Risk Losing the Fight for Racial Justice

 

By Zeeshan Aleem

Mic.com

Witness the rupture.

Once the worry of minorities and leftists, the ease with which a white man with a badge can end the life of a black person is finally on America's mind. The realization that police practices can be brutish and unfair to black men has become a matter of serious concern for many whites, bourgeois liberals and some conservatives — apparently even George W. Bush. Law enforcement is undergoing a crisis of legitimacy.

But the window of opportunity for the racially equalized institutional changes, which we desperately need, is wider than it's been in decades. The recent non-indictments for police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, have reignited awareness of the systemic nature of racial discrimination. Riot, protest and media pressure has made the White House anxious and piqued the interest of a generally useless Congress. Some modest reform is in the works.

But all of this is fragile. When there is a long enough pause in the rate at which black men are killed by the police, the cameras will point elsewhere. If there is any hope of reaping lasting change from this moment, it must take shape in the form of something more durable than rage.

"Black Lives Matter" is the closest thing we have to a unified rallying cry for this movement. It's a slogan, a website and a Twitter hashtag, which first surfaced in 2012 in response to vigilante George Zimmerman's acquittal after he killed unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin. At this point, the phrase has become shorthand for the various streams of resistance to police brutality across the country.

The Black Lives Matter movement resembles Occupy Wall Street in 2011, which is cause for both celebration and concern: Both establish a polarizing antagonist — police, bankers — who serves as an entry point for structural critique (systemic racism and politico-economic inequality, respectively). Both have given birth to and mobilized highly decentralized, politically diverse and fairly spontaneous protest movements. Both operate amid contentious politics and feed off friction — or the threat of it — with the state. And just as Occupy mostly dissolved during its first winter, so too could Black Lives Matter. 

So now the movement must evolve. Here are three ideas for those interested in carrying on with campaigns under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter:

Public protest is a tactic, not a strategy: Protesting is vital, but it's not a substitute for the organization, discipline and grit needed for long-term change. Groups small and large need to organize locally and coordinate nationally on specific programs with short- and long-term goals. Resources for political, economic, legal and cultural advocacy need to be pooled and employed strategically. Campaigns for reform — whether assigning special prosecutors for police homicide trials, disarming public servants or closing the white-black wealth gap — must be focused. Local community efforts should be paired with efforts engaging the federal political process.

Past efforts with similar agendas provide useful case studies. One example worth considering is the rise of the Black Panther Party in response to police brutality in the late 1960s through the early '70s. Typically depicted as armed separatists, the Black Panthers were antiracist and committed to building interracial coalitions. Their most divisive position, advocacy of armed self-defense, was only one relatively short-lived element of their complex political program. Soon after they developed a nationwide following, they focused on community programs providing free services to neighborhoods; their most popular nationwide initiative was the Free Breakfast for Children Program. The Panthers' other communitarian programs — which included free clothing, medical care, transportation, housing cooperatives and much more — highlighted the shortcomings of the state and economy, while empowering ordinary citizens to conceptualize and participate in an alternative political economy.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

John Kerry Said What? Welcome to Year 10 of the Long War

By Tom Hayden

Progressive America Rising via TomHayden.com

Dec. 9, 2014 - Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be engaging in some double speak this week. (Photo: AP, December 2014)Secretary of State John Kerry today called for a congressional authorization of the New War before he didn't.

Instead Kerry proposed the appearance of an authorization before stripping the idea of real public and congressional accountability. Members of Congress should look carefully at this insult to their constitutional role.

First, Kerry said it was "crystal clear" that the President wants no US troops in combat operations on the ground, but that Congress should not, "preemptively bind the hands of the commander-in-chief to react to changing circumstances."

Second, Kerry said he doesn't want an open-ended timeline for war but that the authorization should run for three years or longer, safely after the 2016 elections.

Third, Kerry promised no wider war beyond Iraq and Syria, but doesn't want any constraint on US going after ISIS militarily in other nations.

HOW THIS HAPPENED

This is nothing but an attempt to avoid an embarrassing battlefield defeat during the next two years before handing over the mission of derailing ISIS to the next president. At the same time, it will limit the ability of Congress to question the policy once they have signed on. This is how escalation works.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Can the Left Launch Its Own Tea Party?

After the midterm debacle, liberal insurgents say it’s time to upend the Democratic Party.

By BILL SCHER

Progressive America Rising via Politico

Dec 08, 2014 - Even as they publicly condemn Tea Party Republicans as hostage-taking legislative thugs, the truth is that some Democrats are quietly jealous of them. Think of it: The Tea Party gang gets to intimidate party leaders, threaten legislation, block nominees, shut down the government and default on the debt if they don’t get their way. They cause major trouble.

Boy, does that sound good.

The extreme right has power, and that’s something the left hasn’t had much of for a long time. But in the aftermath of the party’s disastrous midterm performance, it’s very possible that the Democratic Party leadership will be facing its own Tea Party-style insurgency from the other side of the spectrum. “You’re going to get a fight within the Democratic Party. There is a substantial disagreement coming up,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, an outspoken Congressional Progressive Caucus member, recently told the Wall Street Journal.

The only question is, how serious a fight will it be? Will it be a polite spat that results in what has happened most often before—the fast marginalization of the left, with the best elements of the various critiques being stitched together by a centrist Hillary Clinton, or whoever is the nominee in 2016? Or are the populists ready to stage their own grass-roots rebellion, setting their sights on eradicating all corporate influence from the Democrats and undermining any attempt by President Barack Obama to compromise with Republicans by any means necessary?

Progressive activists such as the feisty Progressive Change Campaign Committee would love to be able to instill some of their own intraparty fear, sharpen their populist pitchforks and prod Democratic leaders leftward. And there is reason to believe this could be their moment.

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Is The Democratic Party Relevant Anymore?

 

Former Senator Jim Webb on the Campaign Trail

(Or more background for Carl Davidson’s ‘Six Party System’ Thesis)

By Dave Johnson

Progressive America Rising via OurFuture.org

Nov 30, 2014 - Many Democrats examining what happened in the 2014 midterms are asking “what did the voters want?” But the right question is why did only 36.4 percent of potential voters bother to register and vote? Obviously Democrats did not give those voters a good enough reason to take the trouble. Is the Democratic Party relevant anymore?

“New Coke” Democrats

In 1985 Coca-Cola was the market leader, but Pepsi was gaining market share. Coca-Cola’s executives panicked and reformulated its flavor to taste like the more-sugary Pepsi. But Pepsi drinkers already drank Pepsi and Coca-Cola drinkers were left with no brand that they liked. If this sounds like an analogy to the Democratic Party consultants who keep urging Democratic candidates and politicians to be more like Republicans, that’s because it is.

Democrats were considered the majority party from the time of Roosevelt’s New Deal until the 1980s. All they had to do to win was to get a high enough voter turnout. Democratic operations were more about Get Out The Vote (GOTV) than giving people reasons to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans. They just assumed most people agreed with them – because most people agreed with them. But that time has passed.

In the 1970s corporations and conservatives launched a major marketing push, establishing a network of PR “think tanks” that pushed a neoliberal economic line. Since the mid-1970s Americans have been subjected to a constant drumbeat through all purchasable and infiltratable information channels – even a whole TV network that blasts out right-wing propaganda 24/7/12/365 – all constantly repeating a professionally-crafted propaganda narrative that conservatives and their values are good and “liberals” and their values are bad.

Instead of responding and countering this, most Democratic candidates and officeholders instead tried moving to where their pollsters perceived the pubic to be on an imagined political spectrum. Conservatives pushed the public right, no one responded to the propaganda, Democrats chased the inevitable result. In this environment the country’s politics could only shift rightward – and voters who did not want to vote for “Pepsi-like” candidates to the right of them stopped turning out.

So corporate, neo-liberal policies came to dominate our economy. “Free trade”, anti-union, monopolistic anti-democracy policies have killed wage growth and government programs for regular, working people and regular, working people have responded by turning away from the party that was supposed to be watching out for them.

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Progressive Caucus to the GOP: Potential Extension Of Tax Cuts Leaves Out Middle Class, Hurts Climate

By Congressional Progressive Caucus

  WASHINGTON, DC – Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), released the following statement in response to a reported agreement in Congress on extending certain tax breaks.

The provisions that are included in the deal, such as permanent extension of tax breaks for corporate research and continued fossil fuel subsidies, will add nearly $450 billion to our budget deficit while providing little relief to the middle class and phasing out renewable energy credits.

“The tax extension package will once again be a boon for corporate profits while largely leaving out middle-class and low-income families who are struggling just to get by. If we can find hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to make corporate tax breaks permanent, we should be able to help those struggling to find work. We should be making permanent those tax breaks that help working families without adding restrictions that exclude children in need.  This deal is a permanent step backwards for those who think we have a system that is rigged in favor of the wealthy.”

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Elizabeth Warren: It’s Time to Work on America’s Agenda


(J. David Ake/AP)

By Elizabeth Warren

Op-Ed, Washington Post

Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts in the Senate.

Nov 7, 2014 - There have been terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Election Days for Democrats before — and Republicans have had a few of those, too. Such days are always followed by plenty of pronouncements about what just changed and what’s going to be different going forward.

But for all the talk of change in Washington and in states where one party is taking over from another, one thing has not changed: The stock market and gross domestic product keep going up, while families are getting squeezed hard by an economy that isn’t working for them.

The solution to this isn’t a basket of quickly passed laws designed to prove Congress can do something — anything. The solution isn’t for the president to cut deals — any deals — just to show he can do business. The solution requires an honest recognition of the kind of changes needed if families are going to get a shot at building a secure future.

It’s not about big government or small government. It’s not the size of government that worries people; rather it’s deep-down concern over who government works for. People are ready to work, ready to do their part, ready to fight for their futures and their kids’ futures, but they see a government that bows and scrapes for big corporations, big banks, big oil companies and big political donors — and they know this government does not work for them.

The American people want a fighting chance to build better lives for their families. They want a government that will stand up to the big banks when they break the law. A government that helps out students who are getting crushed by debt. A government that will protect and expand Social Security for our seniors and raise the minimum wage.

Americans understand that building a prosperous future isn’t free. They want us to invest carefully and prudently, sharply aware that Congress spends the people’s money. They want us to make investments that will pay off in their lives, investments in the roads and power grids that make it easier for businesses to create good jobs here in America, investments in medical and scientific research that spur new discoveries and economic growth, and investments in educating our children so they can build a future for themselves and their children.

Before leaders in Congress and the president get caught up in proving they can pass some new laws, everyone should take a skeptical look at whom those new laws will serve. At this very minute, lobbyists and lawyers are lining up by the thousands to push for new laws — laws that will help their rich and powerful clients get richer and more powerful. Hoping to catch a wave of dealmaking, these lobbyists and lawyers — and their well-heeled clients — are looking for the chance to rig the game just a little more.

But the lobbyists’ agenda is not America’s agenda. Americans are deeply suspicious of trade deals negotiated in secret, with chief executives invited into the room while the workers whose jobs are on the line are locked outside. They have been burned enough times on tax deals that carefully protect the tender fannies of billionaires and big oil and other big political donors, while working families just get hammered. They are appalled by Wall Street banks that got taxpayer bailouts and now whine that the laws are too tough, even as they rake in billions in profits. If cutting deals means helping big corporations, Wall Street banks and the already-powerful, that isn’t a victory for the American people — it’s just another round of the same old rigged game.

Yes, we need action. But action must be focused in the right place: on ending tax laws riddled with loopholes that favor giant corporations, on breaking up the financial institutions that continue to threaten our economy, and on giving people struggling with high-interest student loans the same chance to refinance their debt that every Wall Street corporation enjoys. There’s no shortage of work that Congress can do, but the agenda shouldn’t be drawn up by a bunch of corporate lobbyists and lawyers.

Change is hard, especially when the playing field is already tilted so far in favor of those with money and influence. But this government belongs to the American people, and it’s time to work on America’s agenda. America is ready — and Congress should be ready, too.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Progressives Push Obama to Shield More Immigrants

By Seung Min Kim

Progressive America Rising via Politico

11/12/14 2:13 PM EST

The Congressional Progressive Caucus is laying out what it wants from President Barack Obama on immigration executive action, including shielding 7 million undocumented immigrants from deportation — a larger figure than the White House’s expected plans would cover.

Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota say in a memo that Obama “should act swiftly and comprehensively. We should not force deserving individuals and families to wait any longer.”

The 7 million figure comes from a pair of calculations by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington that focuses on immigration.

About four million undocumented immigrants could be shielded from deportations if Obama extended his executive action to parents or spouses of U.S. citizens, green card holders, and young immigrants whose deportations have been deferred under a 2012 Obama program. An additional 3 million could come with various changes to that 2012 directive, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that would broaden the number of immigrants eligible for that program. One example is getting rid of age limits under DACA — to qualify, an immigrant must have been younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012 under current requirements.

But Grijalva and Ellison want the administration to consider other factors as well. For instance, the CPC leaders believe that immigrants who would’ve qualified for legalization under a Senate-passed immigration last year should qualify, as well as immigrants who have lived here for three or more years and “regularly employed” workers.

“The program should take into consideration those aspiring citizens who have contributed to their communities and have established a strong work history, regardless of familial ties,” Grijalva and Ellison said.

Obama has pledged to act unilaterally on immigration by the year’s end, after delaying the executive action under pressure from Senate Democrats anxious about losing their majority.

Though the White House has been tight-lipped about the scope of the executive action, sources familiar with the administration’s deliberations believe Obama is considering two key factors in whether immigrants will qualify for executive action – how long they have been in the United States, as well as family ties. That would not be as expansive as many immigration advocates and Democrats on Capitol Hill have called for.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/11/obama-immigration-progressives-112823.html#ixzz3IxlxBWBS

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Progressive Dems: Obama Should Push Economic Executive Actions After Midterm Losses

By Dave Jamieson

Progressive America Rising via Huffington Post

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2014 -  Republican leaders have warned President Barack Obama that pursuing more executive actions after last week's midterm drubbing would be like playing with fire. But Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Monday that unilateral action by the president on economic issues is more necessary than ever.

"The president is in a pivotal position to go assertively with executive orders to create a political balance and an economic balance," Grijalva told reporters on a conference call. "I'm one member that urges them to use that as a balancing tool and a leadership tool in these next two years."

Grijalva and his fellow caucus co-chair, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), are putting their weight behind two proposals in particular: one executive order that would give federal contracting preference to firms that pay a living wage of $15 and provide basic benefits to workers, and another guaranteeing that contractors wouldn't interfere with worker efforts to unionize. Branded as "More Than the Minimum," the proposals are being pushed by Good Jobs Nation, a labor group backed by the Change to Win union federation, and other progressive allies.

Ellison and Grijalva, along with Good Jobs Nation, already have a couple of executive-action victories under their belts. They successfully pressured the White House to institute two executive actions that were signed by the president earlier this year -- one setting a minimum wage of $10.10 for federal contractors, and another that would effectively bar firms that have committed wage theft against their workers from receiving federal contracts.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Importance of the War Powers Resolution

 

By Paul Ryder and Tom Hayden

[Research by Paul Ryder]

Nov. 10, 2014 - The nation needs a full public debate and a Congressional vote on whether to authorize the current American military interventions in Iraq and Syria and, if so, under what conditions. The past is prologue:

April 4, 1956: President Dwight Eisenhower’s news conference --

Q: Sarah McClendon, El Paso Times: Sir, would you order those Marines that were sent over to the Mediterranean and over in that area, would you order them to war, without asking the Congress first?

A: President Eisenhower: I get discouraged sometimes here. I have announced time and time and time again I will never be guilty of any kind of action that can be interpreted as war until the Congress, which has the Constitutional authority, says so.

Now, I have said this so often that it seems to me almost ridiculous to ask me the question. Look, how can a war be conducted? You’ve got to have troops, you have got to have draft laws, you have got to have money. How could you conduct a war without Congress? Their Constitutional power is to declare war, and I am going to observe it.

Now, there are times when troops, to defend themselves, may have to, you might say, undertake local warlike acts, but that is not the declaration of war, and that is not going to war, and I am not going to order any troops into anything that can be interpreted as war, until Congress directs it.[1]

One of the hard-earned lessons of the Vietnam War is that Congress must not cede to the White House its constitutional power to declare war.

This lesson became law in the form of the 1973 War Powers Resolution. With a new war starting in the Middle East, Congress must now invoke this law.

 

1. Why bring up Vietnam?

Since no two wars are the same, the new war is not the same as Vietnam. The similarities, however, are so haunting they are already being discussed across the board. Here is a selection of recent articles:

  • “Formula For Defeating ISIS Evokes Memories Of Vietnam Nightmare,” Donald Kirk, Forbes, September 13, 2014
  • “ISIS and Vietnam,” Thomas Friedman, New York Times, October 28, 2014
  • “Obama echoes LBJ on Vietnam,” Bruce Fein, Washington Times, September 21, 2014
  • “ISIS: Obama’s Vietnam?” David Seaton, Fire Dog Lake, October 12, 2014
  • “The Iraq/ISIS Debate: Beware the Ghosts of Saigon and Karbala,” The National Interest, July 10, 2014
  • “Ellsberg Sees Vietnam-Like Risks in ISIS War,” Barbara Koeppel, Consortium News, October 1, 2014
  • “McCain: ‘Incremental’ Strikes on ISIS Remind Me of Vietnam,” Brendan Bordelon, National Review, October 6, 2014
  • “Vietnam v. Iraq: Suicide attacks changed everything,” The Economist, September 11, 2014
  • “As U.S. Bombs Fall, British Hostage of ISIS Warns of Another Vietnam,” Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times, September 22, 2014
  • “Pentagon official: The Similarities Between Obama’s ISIS and Kennedy’s Vietnam Are Eerie,” Joseph Miller, Daily Caller, October 13, 2014

Like it or not, Vietnam is back. We all need to know what happened and what it means.

Today, Congress is hampered in this discussion by the loss of its institutional memory of Vietnam. No one currently in the U.S. Senate was in office in 1973 when the War Powers Resolution passed.[2] Only four current members of the U.S. House were then serving: John Dingell of Michigan, who retires in January 2015, John Conyers of Michigan, Charles Rangel of New York, and Don Young of Alaska.[3]

So, too, with the public: most Americans now living had not been born when the War Powers Resolution became 50 U.S. Code Chapter 33.[4]

2. The Constitution and the Vietnam War

In 1787, the Founders made the Constitution as clear as they could about the matter: “The Congress shall have power to . . . declare war.”[5]

Over the next 155 years, Congress passed eleven U.S. declarations of war authorizing five wars: the War of 1812, U.S.-Mexican War, Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.[6] [7]

President Harry Truman used the resolutions of the new United Nations as the legal basis for the Korean War, but the modern pattern for riding roughshod over Congress was set by President Lyndon Johnson.

The 1964 Tonkin Gulf “Incident” had four now-familiar stages.

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why the Democrats Lost

Progressive policies had success –?? too bad the party didn't run on them

By Bhaskar Sunkara
Progressive America Rising via al-Jazeera

Nov. 4, 2014 - From the outside, it looks as though American voters are more confused than ever.

On election day, they showed their concern about growing economic inequity by voting for ballot measures that increased the minimum wage. They proved their progressive values by supporting marijuana legalization, gun control and reproductive rights. In the same go, they elected Republicans in Senate and House of Representatives races, guaranteeing a GOP majority in Congress for years to come.

The disconnect seems difficult to grasp, though much of it can be attributed to low turnout and the fragmented nature of American politics, where national topics are often of little importance in local races.

District gerrymandering also played a role; the Democrats had more votes than their total number of seats would indicate. Republicans directly instigated the redrawing of congressional lines in many states over the past few years. As journalist Lee Fang notes, Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania won 44 percent of the vote, but secured only 27 percent of the state’s congressional seats.

Even so, a substantial level of Republican support is undeniable. Barack Obama has presided over an economic recovery that exceeds that of most European countries, but that still feels sluggish to most Americans, whose real wages and living standards have been stagnant or in decline for a generation.

Change isn’t on the way either: The president has been unable to follow through on the policy priorities he does have, even when he had a more favorable Congress early in his administration. And Obama’s chief legislative victory — health care reform — is inadequate and built around concessions to the private health insurance industry.

Obama, of course, does face a determined and organized right-wing opposition. The Tea Party may no longer be capturing headlines, but the organization and zeal they’ve injected into the Republican Party is undeniable. Their base is a tradition one for the American Right: middle-class and wealthy white men. As a whole, 64 percent of white males voted for Republicans, the largest margins in years. And this time around they were also joined by more women. Democrats still won more votes from women, but it was just by a margin of 5 percent, down from 11 percent in 2012.
There are huge swathes of the country with broadly social-democratic politics who are effectively to the left of most mainstream Democrats and feel left out by the party’s outreach.

Demographic shifts are often touted as proof that the Democrats should be able to maintain control of the White House. It is true that Asians, Hispanics, and blacks voted in such astounding numbers for Obama that he was able to win comfortably with only 39 percent of the white vote. And with advantages among young people and continued inroads into the Sun Belt, trends still favor the Democrats. Republicans, on the other hand, have increasingly become a regional party wedded to the antiquated rhetoric of white identity politics.

But at the local level the Republican Party remains better able to mobilize and turn out its supporters in midterm elections. The formula could mean a rightward lurch at the national level, even if Hillary Clinton eases to victory in 2016.

The response of mainstream Democrats to the present situation essentially boils down to blaming young people and minority voters — who support them every four years in presidential elections but “don’t care enough” to show up in off years. They speak of a crisis of politics and voter apathy in sweeping terms, while barely mentioning their own shortcomings.

But there’s a good reason why people turn out and support measures such as minimum wage laws when they’re on the ballot: They’re not idiots. They understand the policies that will make their lives and the lives of other working people better and they know that it’s important to support them.

But Democrats didn’t offer enough such proposals. Instead, most Democrats were satisfied with reassuring voters that they weren’t Republicans. It’s hard to think of a candidate from the party who spoke broadly in moral and ethical terms, presented their vision of a good society and how we could reach it. This should come as no surprise; the Democrats are too tied to moneyed interests and too disconnected from labor and pressure from social movements to embrace progressive politics consistently or to be anything other than tepid centrists.

By contrast, the other side of the political spectrum, in the tea party-influenced Republican Party, shows the power of a consistent and ideological politics that motivates its base to get out and vote every November.

Don’t get me wrong: There isn’t a commanding progressive majority just waiting to see radical candidates on the ballot. But there are huge swathes of the country with broadly social-democratic politics who are effectively to the left of most mainstream Democrats and feel left out by the party’s outreach. Once organized and engaged, they can change American politics. But they’re going to need a more compelling reason than the tired biannual sell “Look at at us, we’re not Republicans.”

Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Few Quick Thoughts on the November 4Th Election

By Bill Fletcher, Jr

http://billfletcherjr.com

(1) There is almost always a low turnout during a midterm election and the party which controls the White House tends to lose.  This is definitely true but should not let us off the hook.

(2) The Democratic base largely stayed home except in certain important races, such as in North Carolina.  I think that we have to face the reality that the base that would be expected to vote Democratic was dis-spirited.  It is not just the ads that the Republicans ran.  The Obama administration has not led in a progressive direction.  There are certainly some major accomplishments, but there had been great expectations by many that after the 2012 election he would come out swinging.  I never had such expectations, but many people did.  Instead the administration continued to be stuck in various crises but also was not articulating a clear direction.  The Republicans were able to make Obama out to be the problem despite certain important facts, e.g., the economy has improved; troops had been pulled out of Iraq.

(3) Though the economy has improved, the condition for the average working person has not.  Yes, unemployment is down but we are still dealing with structural unemployment that is weighing on everyone.  The damage from the foreclosure crisis is far from over.  And the rich are the ones who are benefiting from the improved economy.   To turn any of this around masses of working people need to be organized to fight for a division of the wealth.  Yes, that means building and supporting labor unions.  But when the President does not make that a clarion call–except when speaking with union members–he has no answer to the public that is asking for their share.

(4) Race, as always, was a factor.  The Republicans had sufficient codes to make it clear that race was an issue in the election.  Discussions about Obama allegedly being prepared to open up the flood gates to immigrants is a case in point.  But there were many other messages.  Once again, the Republicans have positioned themselves as the “non-black party.”  Race arose in some additional and odd ways.  The Ebola crisis, for instance, was tinged with a racial cover.  The fear and panic associated with it and blaming it on Obama!

(5) This election was about money…but also not:  This was the most expensive midterm in history.  Yet it was not a guarantee that one would win if there was money on the table.  The Democrats, in various races, sunk in a great deal of money.  So, we cannot put it all on that.  Money, however, plus motivation can make one VERY bit difference.

(6) The Democrats keep falling back into running technocrats.  While this was certainly not the case in every election, it was striking that there is this default position of channeling Michael Dukakis ’88 and suggesting that one is a good candidate because one can run the trains on time.  Instead of positioning as an advocate for the people, and especially the people who are being squeezed, too many Democrats were running as technocrats and bi-partisan healers.  Yet this, in part, relates to money.  If you cannot run a campaign without goo-gobs of money, it is more difficult to run as a progressive populist.

(7) Progressives need to support and create organizations that are fighting for political power at the local and state level.  We need formations (which i have called “neo-Rainbow”) that can identify and train candidates; build bases; take on initiatives and referendums; and run our candidates either in Democratic primaries or as independents, depending on the tactical situation.    This brings with it a series of major challenges not the least being accumulating resources.    There is no easy answer to the resource question but one thing that is certain is that building the sorts of organizations i am referencing, e.g., Virginia New Majority, Florida New Majority, Progressive Democrats of America, will necessitate around the clock resource accumulation, including but not limited to fundraising.  We will NEVER have the funds of the Koch brothers so we need to get over that and think about the strategies, tactics and organizational forms necessary and appropriate to an asymmetric situation.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dollarocracy: Even the Establishment Is Worried

Election 2014: A new level of collaboration between candidates and big-money allies

Thirty-six Senate races, $3.6 billion in total costs and one election: Here's a look at 2014 midterm spending, by the numbers. (Julie Percha/The Washington Post)

By Matea Gold
Washingtom Post

Nov.3, 2014 - The 2014 midterm elections mark a new level of collaboration between candidates and independent groups, eroding the barrier that is supposed to separate those running for office from their big-money allies.

The vast sums of cash raised by independent groups have reordered the political landscape, compelling campaigns to find new ways to communicate their wants and needs without officially coordinating with outside players. Such direct coordination is prohibited under 40-year-old campaign finance rules.

This is not how the system used to work. Just a decade ago, candidates shied away from being too closely associated with “soft money,” for reasons of appearance and for fear of running afoul of election laws.

But the rapid spread of super PACs and politically active nonprofit groups that followed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has dramatically altered the climate. Political operatives are also taking advantage of the hands-off approach of a divided Federal Election Commission, which has not reexamined coordination rules in the wake of the 2010 ruling.

“There is a lot of boldness,” said Larry Norton, a campaign finance lawyer at Venable who served for six years as the FEC’s general counsel. “It’s partly a function of very sketchy rules and regulations and little enforcement. People aren’t sure where the lines are.”

 

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Time to Narrow the Target: It’s Not ‘Washington,’ It’s Rightwing Republicans

Ideology and Investment

By Paul Krugman
New York Times Opinion

Oct 26, 2014 - America used to be a country that built for the future. Sometimes the government built directly: Public projects, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, provided the backbone for economic growth. Sometimes it provided incentives to the private sector, like land grants to spur railroad construction. Either way, there was broad support for spending that would make us richer.

But nowadays we simply won’t invest, even when the need is obvious and the timing couldn’t be better. And don’t tell me that the problem is “political dysfunction” or some other weasel phrase that diffuses the blame. Our inability to invest doesn’t reflect something wrong with “Washington”; it reflects the destructive ideology that has taken over the Republican Party.

Some background: More than seven years have passed since the housing bubble burst, and ever since, America has been awash in savings — or more accurately, desired savings — with nowhere to go. Borrowing to buy homes has recovered a bit, but remains low. Corporations are earning huge profits, but are reluctant to invest in the face of weak consumer demand, so they’re accumulating cash or buying back their own stock. Banks are holding almost $2.7 trillion in excess reserves — funds they could lend out, but choose instead to leave idle.

And the mismatch between desired saving and the willingness to invest has kept the economy depressed. Remember, your spending is my income and my spending is your income, so if everyone tries to spend less at the same time, everyone’s income falls.

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