Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It’s Official: Scientific Study Says We Are an Oligarchy, Not A Democracy

Now Whaddya Gonna Do About It?

By pajoly

Progressive America Rising via DailyKOS

We like to assert that Daily Kos is a reality-based community. At the very least we surely do not deny science. A new study appearing at Princeton's website may test these assumptions for some of us here. For others, it will be grim vindication of what we already know: the United States of America is no longer a democracy, but rather an oligarchy.

The anecdotes are plentiful, from modest gun control proposals that saw 90% public support, to unemployment compensation, to infrastructure spending, to women's rights; where a plurality exists even across party lines, the median public interest seems to hold no sway in policy making. Now science has proven this to be correct:

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.
Distilled down into simple terms: The U.S.A. is now provably an oligarchy; we are a democracy in name only. DINO, as in dinosaur... As in extinct.... Has the acronym ever been more pathetically poignant?

The authors of this study, which will appear in the Fall issue of of the academic journal Perspective on Politics, are Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University. The findings are shocking, but should surprise none. The progressive website Common Dreams (www.commondreams.org/view/2014/04/14) today posted an article on the study and pulls this deeply disturbing nugget from the study.

...the nearly total failure of 'median voter' and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories [of America]. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.
Since we are not science deniers, we need to do our part to make this report gets the audience it deserves. None here should take comfort in an "I told you so moment," because we are all losers here. Despite the trappings and tradition of a representative democracy, the truth is those are just theatrics. At this point, even the echos of democracy are becoming faint. Spectacles like GOP presidential nominees making the pilgrimage to kiss the ring of King Adelson now happen with full knowledge, the vampires are out of the shadows and discover it's fun in the sun. While satirists rightly lampoon it, media practically celebrates it and the Supreme Court in practice has endorsed it as a victory for the 1st Amendment.

Now that we have science on our side, will we be able to go beyond online outrage? Will the Democratic Party have the courage to fight for the restoration of the public's will?

I'll close with an understated gem from page 24 of the study's published report:

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.
The bold is from me. The warning is from science.

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 12:54 AM PT: I woke to share the blood moon with one of my young daughters, so I thought I'd run through the comments before heading back to bed. I see lots of "well no shit, water is wet" responses. While this is obvious to even casual observers, scientific validation is important as it elevates the discussion and can't be disregarded as mere whining by the 99.9%. It is provides both meat and hammer in the messaging.

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at  6:34 AM PT: I reached out to the authors and received a reply from Ben Page. He hopes their work will be used as part of evidence-based debate and he was pleased the work is gaining wider audience.

Tue Apr 15, 2014 at 12:03 PM PT: A commenter makes note from one of HoundDog's diaries that the data used for this study was drawn from study of public policy 1,779 instances between 1981 and 2002. Did you get that....2002...In other words the closing set of data PRE-dates the years most of us would say were when the oligarchs truly built steam. Think of what's unaccounted for: the Iraq War, OWS, drones and the NSA, Citizen's United and now McCutcheon. One has to think if the last 13 years had also been accessed, the conclusions would be much more dire than even they already are.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

North Carolina GOP Leads Attack on Wind Power and Other Renewable Energies

Wind turbines going up in North Carolina mountains

Editorial, NewsObserver.com /NC

April 12, 2014 - Duke Energy’s troubles with coal ash illustrate the hazards of burning fossil fuels and disposing of the byproducts. But another hazard lies in efforts to snuff out a trend that’s decreasing North Carolina’s dependence on fossil fuels: the state’s rising production of renewable energy.

That trend has been fed by a state law requiring utilities – which now effectively means Duke Energy – to get a portion of their electric power from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and livestock waste methane. The Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards law (commonly known as Senate Bill 3) requires that renewable energy sources account for 3 percent of a utility’s sales this year with the standards rising to 12.5 percent of total retail sales by 2021.

The requirement creates a market for renewable energy sources and has accounted for a boom in the solar energy industry in North Carolina. But building one market takes from another, and the fossil fuel industry is mounting an effort to reduce or repeal the standards.

In North Carolina, that effort has been led by state Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherford, a former Duke Energy employee and the Republican majority whip. His push is supported by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which is backing similar rollback legislation around the nation, and Americans For Prosperity, the super PAC funded by the Koch brothers, who operate oil refineries and own some 4,000 miles of oil pipelines.

Hager opposes the requirement that utilities purchase power from renewable sources on the grounds that it’s a subsidy. But as the renewable energy industry grows, it requires less support. And to keep it growing, investors must be assured that there will be a stable market.

Hager’s attempts to limit or repeal the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards were defeated last session. He won’t be taking aim at renewable standards when the next session opens in May. “There are other more pressing issues that are more important to the economy,” he says.

Many conservatives oppose renewable energy standards because they think they inflate the cost of energy. Hager says he’s open to including renewable energy in the state’s energy plans if the alternative sources can contribute to savings. “I’m not anti-renewable,” he says. “The vision is to reduce utility costs in North Carolina.”

R. Bruce Thompson, of the Raleigh law firm Parker Poe, is representing the American Wind Energy Association and monitoring threats to the renewable energy standards. “The thing that worries us is when you see groups like Americans For Prosperity continue to hammer (on the law),” he says.

In 2007 North Carolina became the first state in the the Southeast to adopt renewable energy standards. The law has produced positive results not only in cleaner, safer energy, but also in generating jobs and tax revenue. The Research Triangle Institute estimates that North Carolina’s clean energy and energy-efficiency programs spurred $1.4 billion in project investment statewide between 2007 and 2012.

The state’s solar energy industry is the most dramatic example of renewable energy’s growth. North Carolina was second in the nation behind California for solar-power capacity added in 2013. But wind energy may be the best example of how the law is diversifying energy production and stimulating North Carolina’s economy by tapping a limitless resource.

The wind power on the state’s coast is considered one of the best “wind resources” in the East. It is attracting investment to the economically depressed counties of northeastern North Carolina and some mountain counties. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says proposed wind farms represent more than $1 billion in investment in North Carolina. In some counties, wind farms are already the largest taxpayers.

As advances in technology drive down the cost of wind power, it could expand here rapidly as it has in other states. In nine states, wind power meets more than 12 percent of the energy needs. The further growth of renewable energy here requires that the legislature stay the course. Lawmakers should stand behind the renewable energy standards that are producing alternatives to the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/12/3776836/nc-must-continue-its-support-for.html#storylink=cpy

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why the Minimum Wage Should Really Be Raised to $15 an Hour

By Robert Reich

Progressive America Rising

Momentum is building to raise the minimum wage. Several states have already taken action -- Connecticut has boosted it to $10.10 by 2017, the Maryland legislature just approved a similar measure, Minnesota lawmakers just reached a deal to hike it to $9.50. A few cities have been more ambitious -- Washington, D.C. and its surrounding counties raised it to $11.50, Seattle is considering $15.00

Senate Democrats will soon introduce legislation raising it nationally to $10.10, from the current $7.25 an hour.

All this is fine as far as it goes. But we need to be more ambitious. We should be raising the federal minimum to $15 an hour.

Here are seven reasons why:

1. Had the minimum wage of 1968 simply stayed even with inflation, it would be more than $10 an hour today. But the typical worker is also about twice as productive as then. Some of those productivity gains should go to workers at the bottom.

2. $10.10 isn't enough to lift all workers and their families out of poverty. Most low-wage workers aren't young teenagers; they're major breadwinners for their families, and many are women. And they and their families need a higher minimum.

3. For this reason, a $10.10 minimum would also still require the rest of us to pay Medicaid, food-stamps, and other programs necessary to get poor families out of poverty -- thereby indirectly subsidizing employers who refuse to pay more. Bloomberg View describes McDonald's and Walmart as "America's biggest welfare queens" because their employees receive so much public assistance. (Some, like McDonalds, even advise their employees to use public programs because their pay is so low.)

4. A $15/hour minimum won't result in major job losses because it would put money in the pockets of millions of low-wage workers who will spend it -- thereby giving working families and the overall economy a boost, and creating jobs. (When I was Labor Secretary in 1996 and we raised the minimum wage, business predicted millions of job losses; in fact, we had more job gains over the next four years than in any comparable period in American history.)

5. A $15/hour minimum is unlikely to result in higher prices because most businesses directly affected by it are in intense competition for consumers, and will take the raise out of profits rather than raise their prices. But because the higher minimum will also attract more workers into the job market, employers will have more choice of whom to hire, and thereby have more reliable employees -- resulting in lower turnover costs and higher productivity.

6. Since Republicans will push Democrats to go even lower than $10.10, it's doubly important to be clear about what's right in the first place. Democrats should be going for a higher minimum rather than listening to Republican demands for a smaller one.

7. At a time in our history when 95 percent of all economic gains are going to the top 1 percent, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour isn't just smart economics and good politics. It's also the morally right thing to do.

Call your senators and members of Congress today to tell them $15 an hour is the least American workers deserve. You can reach them at 202-224-3121.

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Monday, April 7, 2014

GOP’s Shameful Treatment of the Powerless

By Jesse Jackson

Progressive America Rising

April 7, 2014 - The Bible’s injunction that we shall be judged by how we have treated the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) appears in different forms in virtually every religion or faith. And surely the measure of a country is how it treats the most vulnerable of its people — children in the dawn of life, the poor in the valley of life, the ailing in the shadows of life, the elderly in the dusk of life.


This week, the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Republican budget proposal put together by Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the Budget Committee and Mitt Romney’s running mate. The vast majority of Republicans are lined up to vote for it, with possible exceptions for a handful who think it does not cut enough.


It is a breathtakingly mean and callous proposal. The Republican budget would cut taxes on the wealthy, giving millionaires, the Citizen for Tax Justice estimates, a tax break of $200,000 per year. (Ryan tells us only what tax rates he would lower, not the loopholes he would close to make his proposal revenue neutral. But CTJ shows that even if he closed every loophole, it wouldn’t make up for the revenue lost by lowering their top rate). The Ryan plan would also extend tax breaks for multinationals, moving to make the entire world a tax haven. He would raise spending on the military by about $500 billion over the levels now projected over the next decade.


Yet Republicans are pledged to balance the budget in 10 years.
To achieve this, the Republican budget would turn Medicare into a voucher program (but only for those 55 and younger). He would repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). He would gut Medicaid, turning it into a block grant for states and cutting it by more than one-fourth by 2024. The result, as estimated by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, would be to deprive 40 million low and moderate income Americans of health care insurance.


The Republican budget also devastates domestic programs and investments, cutting them by one-third of their inflation adjusted levels over the decade, ending at an inconceivable one-half the levels of the Reagan years as a percentage of the economy. Infant nutrition, food subsidy, Head Start, investment in schools, Pell Grants for college, public housing, Meals on Wheels and home heating assistance for seniors or the confined all would suffer deep cuts. The poorest children will suffer the worst cuts.


The Republican budget also savages investments vital to our future — not just education, but research and development, renewable energy, modern infrastructure.


This budget is scheduled to be voted on by the House of Representatives this week. It is expected to pass with a majority made up entirely of Republican votes. Speaker Boehner has lined up this vote, even as he refuses even to allow a vote on extending unemployment benefits and on raising the minimum wage.


It is hard to see this as anything other than a declaration of class warfare by the few against the many. Republicans declare the country is broke, against all evidence to the contrary. But they still want to cut taxes for the rich and corporations and hike spending on the military. So they lay waste to support for working and poor people.
Ryan argues that cutting programs for the poor will set them free, removing a “hammock” and forcing them to stand on their own feet. That might be worth debating if jobs were plentiful, schools received equal support, housing was affordable and jobs paid a living wage.
But none of this is true.


In today’s conditions, with mass unemployment, savagely unequal schools, homeless families and poverty wage jobs, Ryan’s words simply ring false.


Needless to say, the wealthy and corporations reward Republicans for arguing their case. As the Koch brothers are showing, their campaigns will be lavishly supported; their opponents will face a barrage of attack ads.


But most Americans are better than this. Majorities oppose these cruel priorities. The question is whether those who vote for these harsh priorities are held accountable this fall in the elections. After decades of struggle, we all have the right to vote. The majority can speak if it chooses. It has to sort through annoying ads, poll-tested excuses and glib politicians. But we can decide we aren’t going to support politicians who protect the privileges of the few and vote to make the poor pay the price.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Democracy vs. Oligarchy

By Senator Bernie Sanders

Progressive America Rising via Daily KOS

In his 1943 painting "Freedom of Speech," Norman Rockwell illustrated American democracy in action by depicting a man speaking up at a town meeting. A framed poster of Rockwell's painting hangs proudly on a wall in my Senate office in Burlington, Vt.

Since 1990, when I was first elected to Congress, I have held hundreds of town meetings in almost every community in Vermont. Just this past Sunday I held a town meeting in Middlebury, Vt., with a video connection to meetings in three other towns. At these town meetings I listen to what my constituents have to say, answer questions and give a rundown of what I'm working on and what's going on in Washington.

This process -- an elected official meeting with ordinary citizens -- is called "democracy."

Ironically, at the same time as I was holding town meetings in Vermont, a handful of prospective 2016 Republican presidential candidates (Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Scott Walker) trekked to Las Vegas to audition for the support of Sheldon Adelson, the multibillionaire casino tycoon who spent at least $93 million underwriting conservative candidates in the last election cycle. Those candidates were in Las Vegas for the sole purpose of attempting to win hundreds of millions from him for their presidential campaigns.

The disastrous 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United threw out campaign funding laws that limited what wealthy individuals and corporations could spend on elections. Since that ruling, campaign spending by Adelson, the Koch brothers and a handful of other billionaire families has fundamentally undermined American democracy. If present trends continue, elections will not be decided by one-person, one-vote, but by a small number of very wealthy families who spend huge amounts of money supporting right-wing candidates who protect their interests.

This process -- a handful of the wealthiest people in our country controlling the political process -- is called "oligarchy."

The great political struggle we now face is whether the United States retains its democratic heritage or whether we move toward an oligarchic form of society where the real political power rests with a handful of billionaires, not ordinary Americans.

Clearly, if we are to retain the fundamentals of American democracy, we need to overturn the Supreme Court decision. The fact that more than 500 communities and 16 states have expressed support for overturning Citizens United is a good step forward, but much more needs to be done.

Overturning Citizens United, however, is not enough. If we are serious about elections being fought over ideas, we must move toward public funding of elections.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bernie Sanders for President? Another View…

By Tom Hayden

Progressive America Rising via TomHayden.com

Feb 28, 2014- Should Senator Bernie Sanders run for President in 2016? (Photo: AP, 2014.)Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing a presidential run. While it can still be called off, volunteers already are eyeing Iowa and New Hampshire, a database is being prepared, and factions being formed, and its only winter 2014.

The chief question being debated internally is whether Hillary Rodham Clinton needs a challenge to her present dominance. The Hillary defenders say the Democrats need to pave a smooth path through the Democratic primaries and avoid the crippling divisions in the Republican Party. They warn that an independent Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 will siphon enough votes from Hillary to elect the Republican nominee, thus locking up every branch of government. That would be a disaster for the Democrats and every advocate of women's rights.

Progressive Democrats who share Bernie's agenda are likely to be troubled and divided if he runs as an independent. They say he needs to get over his emotional hostility toward the Democrats, which is rooted in their long-ago opposition to him in Vermont. They point out that Bernie already caucuses with the Senate Democrats, so that entering the Democratic primaries would be a reasonable step towards maximizing his influence.

However this is sorted out, there is a vast discontent among the Democratic rank-and-file alongside the recognition of the historic moment for women. The discontent is being channeled into a sharp progressive shift in Democratic politics, originating in the 2008 Wall Street Recession, the rise of Occupy Wall Street, the elections of Mayor De Blasio in New York, Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Senator Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Senator Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and even in recent socialist stirrings in Seattle.

This shift is decidedly away from the neo-liberal, pro-Wall Street economics implemented in the Clinton era. Those Clinton policies split the party over NAFTA, the Seattle WTO protest, financial deregulation and the role of derivatives, the 2009 Wall Street bailout, the stimulus versus deficits debate, and campaign finance reform. As an immediate example of the shift, Paul Krugman, who says, "I am in general a free trader," is hoping that the NAFTA-style Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), "just fades away.” Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are already scuttling any vote on the proposal until after the November election.

Adding to the rejection of Clinton-era economic policies, Hillary also has been more hawkish on Iraq, Afghanistan and the drone wars than President Barack Obama, the congressional Democrats, and the rank-and-file. That widens the gap further.

So which Clinton will it be in 2016? More than any personalities in American politics, the Clinton family knows how to adapt. Perhaps they will slide quickly to the left. They showed up with smiles at De Blasio's inauguration, solidly supporting one of their many protégés. But at the same time, a rival Clinton protégé, Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, is supporting tax benefits for the ultra-rich, advertising New York as a corporate investment haven, and opposing De Blasio's plan for permanent funding for pre-K based on taxing the wealthy.

Choices, choices. How far can Hillary "adjust" before the accusations of flip-flopping and opportunism consume the media space? Perhaps she will select someone like Ohio's Senator Brown as her vice-presidential nominee to appease the parties, and the AFL-CIO's populist hunger. Other deals are possible.

Meanwhile, the vacuum is there for Bernie Sanders, the most genuine representative of the party's New Deal and Progressive traditions, and the newer opposition to climate change, to hold high office in years. His commitment to Medicare-for-all is unmatched. Bernie is not as outspoken on issues like Afghanistan and Iraq, but he is a thoughtful dove in comparison to Hillary. Democrats like Bernie, which is no small asset. Additionally, he is free to run in 2016 and, if he loses, return to the Senate floor with a louder voice and longer email list.

Two things seem clear at the moment: Hillary will beat Bernie in a primary, while Bernie will pull Hillary towards a mandate for more progressive stands than she will take if running unopposed. It's unclear how much momentum Bernie might generate, but he might well amass a significant delegate bloc and, like Howard Dean, contribute to building "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

If Bernie runs as an independent, however, the picture is cloudy, with storms predicted.

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Thoughts on a Bernie Sanders Run

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Progressive America Rising via Black Commentator

To the Point

I first met Bernie Sanders in the late 1980s. He was contemplating a run for Congress and had chosen to take time to study and teach at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. We went out to lunch one afternoon.

Sanders was already a legend. An avowed socialist who had served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he struck me as someone who was quite thoughtful and prepared to listen to views other than his own. We chatted about a matter that has preoccupied me for much of the last thirty years: How to build a national electoral project that is truly progressive and also focused on the fight for power.

Sanders went on to win election to Congress and, ultimately, the U.S. Senate. He has been outspoken on virtually every issue that matters to working people and is unapologetic in his critique of capitalism. At the same time, he works to build unity among progressives rather than simply staking out his claim and expecting people to rally to his flag.

I don’t live in Vermont, but without question, Bernie Sanders is my Senator.

For the last few months, the word on the street has been that Sanders is contemplating a run for the Presidency. Sanders has hinted at the possibility but has not confirmed or denied that he may take the plunge.

Excitement around a possible Sanders run is palpable. After more than one term of the complicated, neoliberal Presidency of Barack Obama—combined with the relentless assaults by the political right on all that for more than sixty years appeared sacred—there is a deep and clear desire among many for a different direction.

Yet a Sanders run brings its own complications.

One issue is whether Sanders should run as a Democrat or as an independent.

There are many progressives and leftists who will automatically suggest, out of disgust with the Democrats, that Sanders should make a “pure” run as an independent. Yet this raises an even more fundamental question: Why should Sanders run at all?

It only makes sense to run for the Presidency of the United States—as a progressive or leftist—if the person is both running to win and running as part of a broader electoral project. A run just to “show the colors” or make a statement is a waste of time. Running for President is both too expensive and time-consuming for that.

On the other hand, if the candidate has a real mass base, is building a broad progressive front around a clear, transformational program, and sees the candidacy as one step in a multitiered process, then it might be worth going for it.

But in suggesting this, I do so with qualifiers. Too many candidates who suggested that they were interested in building a grassroots movement that would transcend their campaigns only to see such candidates close up shop afterwards. A Sanders run as part of a longer-term effort at movement-building and energizing a progressive front only makes sense if there is a demonstrable commitment by the candidate to do the right thing after the election.

Let’s take an example of what not to do. After Obama’s successful 2008 run, there were many people who assumed he was going to keep his campaign organization together as a sort of independent force. But Obama moved it into the Democratic Party instead.

Then there was the choice that Jesse Jackson made in March 1989 when, following the 1988 elections, he completely reorganized the National Rainbow Coalition into an organization that he totally controlled rather than the mass democratic organization that many of its members had thought that they were building.

If a run makes sense, and I think Sanders might be the candidate who would turn his campaign into something lasting, the question is how to do it. I believe that Sanders needs to make a strategic decision to run within the Democratic primary system for the nomination. Despite the discontent with the electoral system among so many people in the United States of America, it is not likely that an independent candidacy at this moment can win. Should the Republican Party fracture, which is a real possibility over the next few years, all bets would be off. But as long as the Republicans stand firm as a hard, rightwing party, it is unlikely that at the national level an independent candidacy can win.

Quite explicitly, I am suggesting that winning must be a major objective of the campaign. The campaign needs to be organized in such a way that it aims to build an electoral coalition that is interested in gaining power, is committed to winning, and has a plan for governing.

Contrary to the contention of some of my friends on the left, there is no contradiction between running as a socialist and running as a Democrat—with the real intention of taking office. Former Massachusetts state representative and two-time mayoral candidate Mel King was an independent socialist, yet ran for state office as a Democrat. Former Congressman Ron Dellums of California was also a socialist and a Democrat. Sanders could run as a Democrat yet be very clear and open about his socialist politics. Such a candidacy would send a bolt of lightning throughout the Democratic Party and change the discourse within it. An independent candidacy would not have anywhere near that impact.

A Sanders candidacy would need to also take on race. We live in a moment that is reminiscent of the period of the Southern coups in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when white supremacists usurped the franchise from African Americans and poor whites, and when Chicanos (in the Southwest) were treated to de facto segregation and voter exclusion. The political right, fearing the future, is moving to exclude millions of voters and ensure the ongoing supremacy of a quite xenophobic Tea Party-esque Republican Party. This is being orchestrated through the brilliant usage of racial symbols, all at a time when people of color have been suffering from the worst effects of the transformation of U.S. capitalism.

For Sanders to run and to make a real difference, he will need to tap into the African American, Latino, and Asian electorate and inspire them with a vision. This has to be far more than a “rising tide lifts all boats,” but must acknowledge race and class as integrally connected. Sanders would need to speak out on the anti-immigrant hysteria of our times, as well as address the manner in which so many workers, particularly workers of color, are being rendered redundant in today’s economy.

He would also need to be a candidate who denounces the misogyny that has pervaded U.S. politics. This is more than the question of abortion. It really goes to women’s control over their own bodies, expectations of women in today’s economy, who is to blame—and not to blame—for the declining living standard of male workers, and basic issues of equality.

I have no worry that Sanders will speak out on behalf of workers. Yet doing so will be insufficient for a campaign to gain traction. Sanders would need to be a spokesperson for a different path, one that addresses not only the issues mentioned above, but also a non-imperial foreign policy and an environmental policy that brings us back from the cliff of climate change. His voice would need to be the voice of the future—the voice of the progressive bloc that seems to be assembling to prevent a dystopian future.

A primary challenge is worth it, even if he just pushes the victor to the left.

The last thing we need is another symbolic candidacy that, while touching our hearts and minds, brings us no closer to clobbering the political right and winning power for the dispossessed and the disengaged.

It can be done.

This commentary originally appeared in The Progressive

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is also the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Other Bill Fletcher, Jr. writing can be found at billfletcherjr.com.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Does America Need a Robin Hood Tax?

A tiny fee charged to the biggest banks could generate hundreds of billions of dollars every year for social services, but what effect would it have on Wall Street?

By Kyle Chayka

Progressive America Rising via Pacific Standard

In a video released last month by an organization called The Robin Hood Tax, an increasingly frantic U.K. prime Mmnister (played by British actor Bill Nighy) is forced to defend his decision made 10 years ago back in 2014 not to pass a tax on banking transactions. While Nighy hems and haws, a trio of polished European Union leaders extoll the tax. They say that the revenue, drawn largely from investment bankers, has “restored health services” and “helped fight extreme poverty” in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The video, which has over 250,000 views, is clearly satire, but it comes at the forefront of a burgeoning political movement to do a little more to curtail the excesses that caused the 2008 crisis. The Robin Hood Tax also hosts an international petition with over 650,000 signatures that proposes levying a tax every time a bank trades in commodities like stocks, bonds, foreign currency, or derivatives. The fee would be small—just 0.03 or 0.05 percent of each transaction—but enough to raise $416 billion globally, the organization suggests.

That money would go toward solving basic social issues like public education, affordable housing, and public services—in other words, taking from the rich, as epitomized in the kind of hedge-fund gamblers depicted in Wolf of Wall Street, and giving to the poor, just like the initiative’s namesake.

By trading in risky commodities, the banks lost everyone a lot of money, so why not punish them for it by targeting the very transactions that caused the problem in the first place?

A Robin Hood-style tax, also known as a financial transaction tax, is on track to be finalized by a coalition of 11 European Union governments before May of this year, including Germany and France, where the tax has 82 and 72 percent approval respectively. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for progress on the tax before the May 2014 E.U. parliamentary elections; European lawmakers are actively pushing their United States counterparts to join the effort.

The idea of a financial transaction tax has a certain visceral appeal that the Robin Hood rhetoric reinforces: By trading in risky commodities, the banks lost everyone a lot of money, so why not punish them for it by targeting the very transactions that caused the problem in the first place? Yet it’s important to weigh the impact the proposed tax would have on Wall Street and Main Street alike.

One benefit of the tax is that it’s designed to make large banks bear the burden (as opposed to consumers or small business owners). Spot currency transactions—tourists switching from U.S. Dollars to Euros, for example—won’t be counted under the tax, nor will transactions with governmental banks, trades in physical commodities, and transactions involving private households, explains a briefing on the bill.

Yet critics fear that any restriction on the flow of investment capital could damage the economy for everyone, not just redistribute some of the wealth away from banks and bankers.

A report from London Economics points out that many households have savings invested in financial instruments that would be impacted by the tax. “In Italy, there is a high level of direct investment in financial markets, with 40 percent of household savings being held directly in the form of equity or debt,” the report notes, with 23 percent of household savings in Spain. The financial transaction tax would quickly make these investments less valuable by slowing down trading and, theoretically, growth.

Another fear is that taxing trading transactions in the European Union, or in the U.S. or U.K. where such a law is less imminent, will cause capital flight from the region as investors look to funnel their money through countries that don’t tax. A recent report by the U.S.-based Financial Economists Roundtable argues that the tax wouldn’t make as much money as has been suggested, since it would provide a disincentive for future business. “Volumes—and thus tax revenues—would shrink as trading dropped or moved to other locations or to lower-taxed vehicles,” the report reads. “A transaction tax imposed at any economically meaningful rate by only some countries would cause many transactions to be shifted to other countries.” What’s currently happening with corporate profits being shuttled through Ireland and the Caribbean, losing billions of dollars in tax revenue, could also occur with investment capital.

The Financial Economists Roundtable report cautions against a kind of cascade, where taxes on transactions would lower financial liquidity, meaning “less capital per worker in the long run and thus lower wages throughout the economy.” Though likely over-exaggerated in the report, the threat of capital flight, which would lead to more difficulty securing loans and start-up funding, is real. But there’s another way to structure a financial transactions tax so it’s even more tightly focused.

IN SEPTEMBER 2013, ITALY became the first country to pass a tax on high-frequency trading, the technology that hedge funds often use to buy and sell financial commodities in fractions of seconds. The tax is tiny at 0.02 percent, and it’s only levied on trades occurring every 0.5 seconds or faster (the Robin Hood tax plan includes a high-frequency tax along with wider-reaching measures).

The high-frequency trading tax is meant as a way for banks to pay for the damage they’ve caused to the economy, but it’s also meant to make trading more efficient rather than less. Driven by computational algorithms rather than human beings, high-frequency trading is less about allocating capital to the businesses that can use it best and more about gaining a competitive edge over other funds. The algorithms that control trading likely aren’t even completing trades, as Felix Salmon points out—they’re putting out buy or sell orders then rescinding them immediately in order to confuse the other algorithms they’re competing against. They might as well be called “high-frequency spambots,” Salmon writes.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Peter DeFazio have repeatedly introduced a U.S. high-frequency trading tax, most recently around a year ago. They propose a 0.03 percent tax on trades that excludes initial public offerings and bonds in order to dampen the tax’s impact on capital raising, which they say will amount to $352 billion in revenue over 10 years. The bill has repeatedly failed, and no plans have been announced to bring it back (Harkin declined to comment for this article).

We’ve already come to the point that stock exchanges are building laser networks to shave extra microseconds off their high-frequency trading. Though our country might benefit from seeing how the European Union’s full financial transaction tax plays out, perhaps it’s time for a little bit of Robin Hood to curtail the worst of the excesses that aren’t benefiting anyone but the banks.

Kyle Chayka is a freelance technology and culture writer living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @chaykak.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Right Wants Workers on Their Knees

'They're Not Dead Yet': Planning The Demise Of Labor Unions At CPAC

By David Jamieson

Progressive America Rising via Huffington Post

March 8, 2014 - NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Any right-wing confab probing the power of "big labor" suffers from an inherent contradiction: The ranks of unionized workers in the U.S. have never been so thinned, with less than 7 percent of the private sector now belonging to a labor union. A successful anti-union discussion therefore needs to strike a delicate balance, celebrating unions' diminished state while simultaneously insisting they pose as grave a threat as ever.

This rhetorical needle was ably threaded on Saturday morning by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, who moderated a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference entitled "On Wisconsin! Turning Blue States Red." The panel sought to answer a strategic question for the right: "After Wisconsin and beyond right-to-work laws, what’s possible now to free workers and students from unionism?"

While acknowledging that union membership has fallen to a historic low, Norquist began the discussion by claiming that unions are the greatest political force in America at the moment.

"They're not dead yet -- they're in decline," Norquist said. "They raise maybe $7 billion a year in dues. Imagine how much they spend of that on politics. They are the largest political player in American politics and will be for some time. What can we do about it?"

Better known for his tax work, Norquist has quickly become a major figure among anti-union activists through the Center for Worker Freedom, an arm of his group Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist's crew bankrolled the anti-union billboards plastered throughout the Chattanooga, Tenn., area in the runup to the United Auto Workers' ill-fated union vote at a Volkswagen plant there last month.

The UAW's narrow loss, by a 53 to 47 margin, was a stinging defeat for organized labor and a major setback for the union's plans in the South. The UAW has accused Norquist and a host of Republican politicians -- including Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) -- of unfairly meddling in the election as third parties and possibly tainting the results.

Many UAW opponents on the right said they were concerned the union's presence would hurt the plant's expansion plans or make it harder to attract new businesses to Tennessee. But one of Norquist's panelists, Terry Scanlon, president of the Capital Research Center, seemed to acknowledge Saturday that the true fight in Chattanooga was a political one. This was the "unmentionable" that Scanlon nonetheless mentioned.

"What is really good here is the unmentionable: There will be so much less money without all these dues, 90-some percent in most cases, going to Democrats," Scanlon said during the panel. "Without the money there, it's not going to happen. This is great news. It's great news."

Norquist didn't dwell on his Tennessee victory, instead steering the discussion toward a larger picture: how the right can fundamentally weaken unions through state legislation. That includes collective bargaining rollbacks like the monumental one carried out by Gov. Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin in 2011, as well as right-to-work laws like those recently passed in Michigan and Indiana. Right-to-work laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf, thereby diminishing unions' clout.

The panelists agreed that after seeing Michigan, the cradle of the U.S. auto industry, go right-to-work in 2012, almost anything seemed possible.

"The good news is you have 24 states today with a Republican governor and both houses of the legislature who are Republican," Scanlon said. "You have a shot at right-to-work in any of these states. ... It can be done. It takes time, and you have to set the mechanism up even if you don't have a majority of Republicans."

F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the free-market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said Republican governors and state lawmakers needn't worry about political repercussions from fast-tracking a right-to-work law through the legislature. Republicans are still standing in places like Indiana, he said.

"When a politician says right-to-work is simply unattainable and they're worried about their job, look at the states that passed right-to-work," Vernuccio said.

Public-sector union membership remains robust, at 35 percent, but anti-union conservatives smell vulnerability. As Norquist noted, the prevailing attitude used to be that "you can't do anything about the public sector." That's no longer the case, particularly after Wisconsin, where most public-sector workers have lost their collective bargaining rights (and where public-sector unions have since lost many of their dues-paying members).

Panelist Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that the key to gutting public-sector bargaining rights in Wisconsin was deference to the cause throughout Wisconsin's right flank. It was agreed that they would all share mutually in the glory, Priebus said.

"Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party groups, the GrandSons of Liberty, the 9-12'ers were involved -- it was a total and complete agreement that nobody cared who got the credit, that everyone was going to run down the tracks together and help each other where we could," Priebus said.

Despite such victories, Norquist warned that Obama "owed" something to unions after failing to shepherd through Congress the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would have made it easier for workers to unionize. Norquist said it was a political mistake for Obama to prioritize the Affordable Care Act before EFCA, since he could have helped grow the ranks of organized labor to Democrats' benefit. But that failure has left him with a debt to unions, Norquist argued.

"That's why you're seeing the National Labor Relations Board out there putting their thumbs on the scale, and that's going to be a big problem for us in the next three years," Norquist said of the independent agency that enforces labor law. Obama has "stacked" the five-member board, in Norquist's words. (He has appointed three members of his own party and two from the opposition, in keeping with tradition.)

With Democrats holding a majority in the Senate and Obama in the White House, there's little chance of any anti-union laws coming out of Washington anytime soon. But the panelists said they see plenty more opportunity at the state level. When Norquist asked Vernuccio to rattle off some right-to-work targets, he didn't hesitate.

"We're looking at Ohio. We're looking at Missouri. We're looking at Kentucky," Vernuccio said. "The fire of worker freedom is shining brightly, and it is spreading."

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Good Turnout Needs a Left Turn, Not a Few Bones

Obama focuses on rallying Democratic base

By Karen Tumulty

[Progressive America Rising via The Washington Post

Feb 22, 2014 - WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is stepping up his efforts to coalesce and energize the Democratic base for the 2014 elections, backing off on issues where his positions might alienate the left and more aggressively singling out Republicans as being responsible for the country's problems.

Voter turnout in midterm elections tends to be much lighter than it is in years when the country is picking a president, which means that it is crucial to maximize the enthusiasm of the party stalwarts who are most likely to show up at the polls.

That helps explain why, in several sensitive policy areas, Mr. Obama recently has moved to defuse tensions with his fellow Democrats.

Liberals are celebrating the president's decision not to include a proposal to trim Social Security benefits in his 2015 budget, abandoning his previous stance in favor of making that part of a larger "grand bargain" to bring down the national debt.

And while the White House insists that it will continue to press Congress for more authority to negotiate trade deals -- something that puts the administration at odds with the Democratic base, and with its own party's congressional leaders -- Vice President Joe Biden this month signaled to House Democrats that it has no expectation that will actually happen.

Nor is the administration showing much appetite for bringing about a resolution to the question of allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, an issue that pits environmentalists against unions, both of which the Democrats will be counting on in November. A Nebraska judge's decision on Wednesday rejecting the pipeline route in that state has raised the possibility that a decision may be delayed until after the election.

There remain some areas where Mr. Obama is at odds with key Democratic constituencies. For instance, he has resisted calls to reconsider policies that have resulted in a record number of deportations of illegal immigrants. Administration officials argue that easing up could undermine the president's larger goal of overhauling immigration laws.

White House officials insist that their efforts to please the Democratic base do not conflict with appealing to independent and swing voters.

Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer noted that on many economic issues -- raising the minimum wage, ensuring pay equity for women, spending more on infrastructure and clean energy -- polls show most Americans share the Democrats' views.

"The position that is popular with the progressive base is the mainstream position," Mr. Pfeiffer said.

As he seeks to rally the Democratic base, Mr. Obama -- who will never again have to face voters himself -- is striking a more combative and partisan tone.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

UAW: Unions Need New Strategy

Reflections on the defeat suffered by the TN workers in Volkswagen

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Progressive America Rising via BillFletcherJr.com

Feb 18 , 2014 · The election loss at the Chattanooga plant of VW was, first and foremost, a loss suffered by the workers.  Secondarily it was a loss suffered by the United Auto Workers.  The workers at that facility lost the chance to bargain collectively and to obtain a voice in their workplace.  This was a loss that was mainly the result of the all-out right-wing offensive that took place in TN against the workers and their–the workers’–decision to seek representation. And, as is the case for all workers who lack collective bargaining (or the even rarer personal contract), they remain in a free-fire zone where they can be removed from their job for any reason or no reason as long as the reason does not violate statute.   I am sorry; i just needed to cut to the chase.

Yet, we cannot stop there with our reflections on what transpired.  This was a situation where the company–VW–agreed to be neutral and, in many ways, seemed to welcome the union.  Nevertheless, by a relatively slim majority, the proponents of workers’ rights did not prevail.   This reality emphasizes the point that employer neutrality, while important, is insufficient.  There are larger factors at stake when workers must make a decision on union representation, particularly in a period where labor unions have been under such vicious assault.  The decision, in this case, of the Republican Party and others on the political Right to draw a line in the sand and go all out to intimidate the workforce is a case-in-point.  The workers, their families and friends had to decide whether the threats coming from the political Right were genuine or just rhetoric.  Given the history of anti-worker repression in the South, along with the on-going racist efforts to secure a ‘white bloc’ against progress, the messages of the political Right came through loud and clear.

At the same time there was another factor that i found particularly striking.   It was mentioned in an article on the election in the Washington Post yesterday (Monday).  They indicated that within the anti-union vote there were those who were angered by the UAW’s willingness to keep the wages and benefits of VW workers in TN ‘competitive.’  This was particularly interesting because herein lay a critique of the UAW that may have surprised many people.  The workers were saying that they did not want to guarantee to VW that their wages would stay below those of Chrysler, Ford or GM workers.

The UAW finds itself in a bind.  For more than thirty years it has engaged in concessionary bargaining with employers under the banner of “jointness.”  Only a few years ago it approved a two-tier agreement by which the wage and benefit package for incoming workers would differ from veteran workers.  Two-tier systems are by their very nature demoralizing and undermine any real sense of solidarity.  They are also a poison pill that can kill the patient over time as the newer workers come to resent the benefits that they do not have, but which are held by the veteran workers.  Jointness, two tier concessions and a failure–until relatively recently–to develop innovative approaches toward organizing auto “transplants” and auto parts manufacturers in the South have come back to bite the UAW, and to bite with fangs of steel.

The defeat in TN will lead some commentators to suggest that organizing in the South, or in any hostile environment, is pointless short of changes in labor law.  Such conclusions, which we hear periodically, are ahistoric and defeatest.   Yet there are sobering conclusions, or at least suggestions that must be considered.  With all due respect, let me propose a few.

One, the UAW needs to build a local union in that TN plant.  The fact that the election was lost should not mean that the union disappears.  Rather, there is the notion that has become increasingly popular over the last 20 years of what are called “non-majority unions,” that is, unions that are organized in a situation where they have not won majority status and, therefore, cannot bargain collectively, but where they can organize the workers and build alternative forms of representation.   The UAW needs to make that commitment and flip the script.

Two, as is being attempted by the UAW in Mississippi, organizing must look very differently than in the past.  The battle is not simply, only and some cases, mainly between the workers and the employer.  In the case of Chattanooga, VW was not opposed to the union, for example.  Yet in organizing a labor union we must be clear that this is and always has been about power–who has it and who does not.  Thus, organizing a union really must be a community affair.  It must be a matter that involves and engages not only the directly affected workers but also their families, friends and neighbors.  The community must see in unionization an economic development strategy that makes sense. They must also see in unionization a strategy to fight back against the gross injustices that workers feel every day.

Three, grass roots political education and political action is key.  The political Right mobilized its various forces against this unionization effort.  Workers and their unions cannot sit back and await a Democratic Party response to such a travesty.  Workers need locally-based political associations and organizations that can mobilize in order to both advance a progressive project but to also move against the political Right.  Champions of workers rights must create a bit of mischief thereby destabilizing our opponents.  That ranges from an active presence in the media to legislative initiatives that advance workers’ rights to electoral campaigns against the demons who wish to keep the workers in bondage.

Four, and this is a difficult one, the UAW will need to look at itself.  The UAW is not by itself in this challenge, i might add.  Today’s unions were constructed in a very different environment.  In many cases they are led–at the national and local levels–by very sincere individuals who continue to fight the ‘last war.’  In the case of the UAW, the leaders and members probably need to seize this time to reflect on the strategy of jointness; on two-tier systems; on their failure to take an aggressive approach to organizing the auto parts industry; and why it has taken so long to make a serious and on-going effort to unionize the South.  Such a discussion will be complicated and painful, but in the absence of such an examination, the UAW will continue to die the death of a thousand cuts.  And, more importantly, workers in this country who so desperately need unionization, will continue to feel the boot of corporate America and their right-wing allies on our collective necks.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Liberal Talking Points Won’t Do: Shatter the Tea Party with the US Constitution Itself

Who can Stop the Tea Party movement?  (left to right: Karl Rove, Senator Chuck Schumer, North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber II) 

Who can Stop the Tea Party movement? (left to right: Karl Rove, Senator Chuck Schumer, North Carolina NAACP leader Rev. William Barber II)

Cut the Tea Party Movement from the Ground Up

By  Leonard Zeskind

Progressive America Rising via IREHR

Recently Sen. Charles Schumer made a groundbreaking speech outlining a Democratic Party strategy aimed at the Tea Parties.  For the first time, a major figure in the liberal political universe sought to both explain the Tea Parties’ appeal to tens of millions of adult Americas and to project a strategy to break the Tea Party base away from its leaders—at least in the context of election campaigns. 

Mr. Schumer’s was wrong in his description of the Tea Party movement, however, and his proposed strategy was little more than a campaign statement that would do little damage to the Tea Parties. 

It should be noted that Republican Party operatives such as Karl Rove had already set the Tea Parties in their sights, planning to drown them with a sea of adverse money and media during the upcoming Republican primaries. The prospects for Republican Chamber of Commerce-types beating down the Tea Party grew dimmer recently, however.  Witness the recent imbroglio over immigration reform.  Speaker John Boehner—in line with Rove’s general strategy—outlined possible points for bi-partisan agreement on immigration reform.  But the Tea Party movement and other hard right organizations pushed the whole project into the dirt.  The Tea Parties were the ones swamping Republican congressional reps with negative phone calls and emails from their constituents. As a result, immigration reform is now off any Republican legislative agenda, and the Tea Party movement can claim victory. Remember, in 2013, Tea Party groups raised more than double the funds that Rove did, according to the February 1, New York Times. Not much of a strategy for Mr. Rove.

Sen. Schumer’s talk garnered more than the usual media attention conferred on a politician’s speech at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.  The New York Times accorded it positive coverage and virtually thirteen column inches of text, plus a picture and headline.  The Wall Street Journal as well as smaller city dailies respectfully covered the senator’s talk.  The conservative and Tea Party blogosphere gave Schumer short, negative attention.  An interesting piece by Kelsey Osterman, writing on Red Alert Politics, a website describing itself as written by and for young conservatives, asserted that Schumer’s proposed strategy “isn’t going to work.”  Why? Osterman asked: “Because Schumer fundamentally misunderstands the grassroots movement.”  The young conservative has this point.

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Friday, January 10, 2014

Obama’s American Roots Far Deeper Than Most

President Obama Descends from America’s First Slave

Depicted: Three escaped bondservants from the early 1600s in Virginia. Court records show , when the three were captured, the two Europeans had years added to their indenture, but the African, named John Punch, had his term set to life, making him the first recorded slave in what is now the US. Records and DNA show Obama is his 11th GGrandson, according to Ancestry.

By Ancestry.com

We’ve all heard about President Obama’s Irish roots, and we know his father came from Kenya. But a research team from Ancestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, has also concluded that the nation’s 44th president is also the 11thgreat-grandson of John Punch, the first documented African enslaved for life in American history.And what’s more, the connection comes through President Obama’s Caucasian mother’s family.

This discovery follow years of research by Ancestry.com genealogists who, using early Virginia records and DNA analysis, linked Obama to John Punch. Punch was an indentured servant in Colonial Virginia who fled to escape servitude in 1640. After he was caught, his punishment was enslavement for life. Punch’s is the first documented case of slavery for life in the colonies, occurring decades before slavery laws were enacted in Virginia.

President Obama is traditionally viewed as an African American because of his father’s heritage in Kenya. However, while researching his Caucasian mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, Ancestry.com genealogists found her to have African heritage as well. Their interest piqued, the researchers kept digging. DNA analysis helped confirm that Dunham’s ancestors, known as white landowners in Colonial Virginia, actually descended from an African man.  Existing records suggest that this man, John Punch, had children with a white woman who then passed her free status on to their offspring. Some of Punch’s descendants went on to be free, successful land owners in a Virginia entrenched in slavery.

An expert in Southern research and past president of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, Elizabeth Shown Mills, performed a third-party review of the research and documentation to verify the findings.

“In reviewing Ancestry.com’s conclusions, I weighed not only the actual findings but also Virginia’s laws and social attitudes when John Punch was living,” said Mills. “A careful consideration of the evidence convinces me that the Y-DNA evidence of African origin is indisputable, and the surviving paper trail points solely to John Punch as the logical candidate. Genealogical research on individuals who lived hundreds of years ago can never definitively prove that one man fathered another, but this research meets the highest standards and can be offered with confidence.”

“Two of the most historically significant African Americans in the history of our country are amazingly directly related,” says Ancestry.com genealogist Joseph Shumway. “John Punch was more than likely the genesis of legalized slavery in America.  But after centuries of suffering, the Civil War, and decades of civil rights efforts, his 11th great-grandson became the leader of the free world and the ultimate realization of the American Dream.”

More details and additional research on President Obama’s family lineage can be found at www.ancestry.com/obama.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Overthrow the Speculators

Why the Progressive Majority Needs a Common Front vs. Finance Capital, War and the Far Right

By Chris Hedges
Beaver County Blue via Common Dreams   

Dec 20, 2013 - Money, as Karl Marx lamented, plays the largest part in determining the course of history. Once speculators are able to concentrate wealth into their hands they have, throughout history, emasculated government, turned the press into lap dogs and courtiers, corrupted the courts and hollowed out public institutions, including universities, to justify their looting and greed.

Today’s speculators have created grotesque financial mechanisms, from usurious interest rates on loans to legalized accounting fraud, to plunge the masses into crippling forms of debt peonage. They steal staggering sums of public funds, such as the $85 billion of mortgage-backed securities and bonds, many of them toxic, that they unload each month on the Federal Reserve in return for cash. And when the public attempts to finance public-works projects they extract billions of dollars through wildly inflated interest rates.

Speculators at megabanks or investment firms such as Goldman Sachs are not, in a strict sense, capitalists. They do not make money from the means of production. Rather, they ignore or rewrite the law—ostensibly put in place to protect the vulnerable from the powerful—to steal from everyone, including their shareholders. They are parasites. They feed off the carcass of industrial capitalism. They produce nothing. They make nothing. They just manipulate money. Speculation in the 17th century was a crime. Speculators were hanged.

We can wrest back control of our economy, and finally our political system, from corporate speculators only by building local movements that decentralize economic power through the creation of hundreds of publicly owned state, county and city banks.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

‘The Common Good’, Dirty Words to Today’s GOP

Progressives Must Stand Up Against the Right Wing War on Public Employees

By Robert Creamer

Progressive America Rising via Huffington Post

Dec 9, 2013 - For many years the American Right -- and many of the most powerful elements of corporate and Wall Street elite -- have conducted a war on public employees.

Their campaign has taken many forms. They have tried to slash the number of public sector jobs, cut the pay and benefits of public sector workers, and do away with public employee rights to collective bargaining. They have discredited the value of the work performed by public employees -- like teachers, police and firefighters -- going so far as to argue that "real jobs" are created only by the private sector.

Last week a conservative court ruled that by going through bankruptcy the city of Detroit could rid itself of its obligation under the state constitution to make good on its pension commitments to its retirees.

It should surprise no one that the Republican Chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan, is demanding that a budget deal with the Democrats include a 350 percent increase in pension contribution by all civilian federal employees. That would effectively mean a pay cut of about 2 percent for every federal worker. And that cut would come after a three-year pay freeze and multiple furloughs caused by the Republican "sequester."

Unbelievably, in Illinois the right wing Chicago Tribune and the state's corporate elite snookered the Democratic-controlled legislature into passing changes in that state's pension laws that slashed the pensions of its public employees. The changes affected all state employees and many of Illinois' teachers. All of them had faithfully made their required contributions to the state's pension funds for years, even though the legislature regularly failed to make its required payments so it could avoid raising taxes on the state's wealthiest citizens.

Illinois cut teacher pensions, even though many do not participate in the Social Security system and the state pension is their only source of retirement income.

All of these attacks on public employees -- and cuts in public sector expenditures in general -- are premised on two myths that are simply untrue.

Myth number one. The Right claims we live in a period of scarcity that requires extreme public sector austerity. They claim "we just can't afford" to pay people like teachers the pensions that we had agreed to in the past, because "America is broke."

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Getting Inside the Heads of the GOP Base: Tea Party, Evangelical and Moderate

Inside the GOP: Report on focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans
By Stan Greenberg, James Carville, and Erica Seifert
Democracy Corps / Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research
If you want to understand the government shutdown and crisis in Washington, you need to get inside the base of the Republican Party.  That is what we are doing in the Republican Party Project and these focus groups with Evangelicals, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans. All the passion, nuances and divisions found expression when we conducted this work in the summer.
Over the last two months, we have been releasing initial findings from the first phase of research for Democracy Corps' new Republican Party Project.  This report details findings from six focus groups among Republican partisans-divided into Evangelicals, Tea Party adherents, and moderates.  All participants indicated that they voted only or mostly for Republican candidates and were screened on a battery of ideological and political indicators.  The groups were conducted in Raleigh, North Carolina (moderate and Tea Party), Roanoke, Virginia (Tea Party and Evangelical), and Colorado Springs, Colorado (moderate and Evangelical.)
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Understand that the base thinks they are losing politically and losing control of the country - and their starting reaction is "worried," "discouraged," "scared," and "concerned" about the direction of the country - and a little powerless to change course.  They think Obama has imposed his agenda, while Republicans in DC let him get away with it. 
We know that Evangelicals are the largest bloc in the base, with the Tea Party very strong as well.  For them, President Obama is a "liar" and "manipulator" who has fooled the country.  It is hard to miss the deep disdain-they say the president is a socialist, the "worst president in history," and "anti-American."
For all that, this is a deeply divided base.  Moderates are a quarter of those who identify Re-publican, and they are very conscious of their discomfort with other parts of the party base.  Their distance begins with social issues, like gay marriage and homosexuality, but it is also evident on immigration and climate change.  Fiscal conservatives feel isolated in the party. 
Evangelicals who feel most threatened by trends embrace the Tea Party because they are the ones who are fighting back.  They are very in tune politically, but the Tea Party base is very libertarian and not very interested in fighting gay marriage. 
Republicans shutdown the government to defund or delay Obamacare.  This goes to the heart of Republican base thinking about the essential political battle. They think they face a victorious Democratic Party that is intent on expanding government to increase dependency and therefore electoral support.  It starts with food stamps and unemployment benefits; expands further if you legalize the illegals; but insuring the uninsured dramatically grows those de-pendent on government.  They believe this is an electoral strategy-not just a political ideology or economic philosophy.  If Obamacare happens, the Republican Party may be lost, in their view. 
And while few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities.  Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.
These are strong common currents in the Republican base, but the thinking and passions are very distinct and telling among the key blocs - and those have consequences for those who seek to lead. We selected these three groups (Evangelicals, non-Evangelical Tea Party adherents, and moderates) because combined they represent almost all of today's Republican partisans. The focus group locations, demographic characteristics, and participants' ideological characteristics were all selected based on statistical analysis of our first survey for this project.  While these are focus groups, and not statistically representative, this analysis gives a real, robust, and serious snapshot of who these Republicans are, how they think, and what matters to them.
--Evangelicals.  Social issues are central for Evangelicals and they feel a deep sense of cultural and political loss.  They believe their towns, communities, and schools are suffering from a deep "culture rot" that has invaded from the outside.  The central focus here is homosexuality, but also the decline of homogenous small towns.  They like the Tea Party because they stand up to the Democrats.
--Tea Party.  Big government, Obama, the loss of liberty, and decline of responsibility are central to the Tea Party worldview.  Obama's America is an unmitigated evil based on big government, regulations, and dependency.  They are not focused on social issues at all.  They like the Tea Party because it is getting "back to basics" and believe it has the potential to reshape the GOP.
--Moderates.  Moderates are deeply concerned with the direction of the country and believe Obama has taken it down the wrong path economically.  They are centrally focused on market-based economics, small government, and eliminating waste and inefficiency.  They are largely open to progressive social policies, including on gay marriage and immigration.  They disdain the Tea Party and have a hard time taking Fox News seriously.
1. Focus groups as real life
When a Macomb County focus group participant shot back, "No wonder they killed him" after I read a statement by Robert Kennedy, that stopped me and led to a whole new analysis of Reagan Democrats - and what were the core blockages to working whites voting Democratic again.  These groups with core Republican voters had similar moments - but more important, these emerged as affinity groups where the participants worked through their alienation and isolation, not just from politically correct-liberal dominated media, but other Republicans, family members, and neighbors.  If you want to know why Republicans are at war internally, start with their voters who are in turmoil.
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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Engines of Change: Millennial ‘Precariat’ as Social Dynamite

30 Statistics About Americans Under The Age Of 30 That Will Blow Your Mind

Young People - Photo by Jefferson liffey

By Michael Synder

Progressive America Rising via EconomicCollapseBlog.com

Oct 3, 2013 - Why are young people in America so frustrated these days?  You are about to find out.  Most young adults started out having faith in the system.  They worked hard, they got good grades, they stayed out of trouble and many of them went on to college.  But when their educations where over, they discovered that the good jobs that they had been promised were not waiting for them at the end of the rainbow.  Even in the midst of this so-called "economic recovery", the full-time employment rate for Americans under the age of 30 continues to fall.  And incomes for that age group continue to fall as well.  At the same time, young adults are dealing with record levels of student loan debt.  As a result, more young Americans than ever are putting off getting married and having families, and more of them than ever are moving back in with their parents.

It can be absolutely soul crushing when you discover that the "bright future" that the system had been promising you for so many years turns out to be a lie.  A lot of young people ultimately give up on the system and many of them end up just kind of drifting aimlessly through life.  The following is an example from a recent Wall Street Journal article...

James Roy, 26, has spent the past six years paying off $14,000 in student loans for two years of college by skating from job to job. Now working as a supervisor for a coffee shop in the Chicago suburb of St. Charles, Ill., Mr. Roy describes his outlook as "kind of grim."

"It seems to me that if you went to college and took on student debt, there used to be greater assurance that you could pay it off with a good job," said the Colorado native, who majored in English before dropping out. "But now, for people living in this economy and in our age group, it's a rough deal."

Young adults as a group have been experiencing a tremendous amount of economic pain in recent years.  The following are 30 statistics about Americans under the age of 30 that will blow your mind...

#1 The labor force participation rate for men in the 18 to 24 year old age bracket is at an all-time low.

#2 The ratio of what men in the 18 to 29 year old age bracket are earning compared to the general population is at an all-time low.

#3 Only about a third of all adults in their early 20s are working a full-time job.

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Can We Break the Pattern of Low Turnout?

Becoming Two Countries in 2014


By Tom Hayden
Progressive America Rising via TomHayden.com

Sept 25, 2013 - The logic of voter turnout data all but guarantees right-wing Republican congressional victories in 2014 and a sealing of the divide of America into two countries for the foreseeable future. White House operatives privately acknowledge that GOP gerrymandering plus low turnout make 2014 a war to keep the Senate Democratic and show gains while losing the House. There are eight battleground Senate seats where Mitt Romney won the popular vote in 2012 and incumbent Democrats are either retiring or vulnerable to defeat.

Even if Hillary Clinton manages to win in 2016, the battle for the House will favor the GOP since the current gerrymandered seats will remain intact until 2020, or even 2022. Assuming continued Democratic control of the White House and Senate in 2014, the opportunity to take back the Roberts Supreme Court may not occur until the next presidential term, as Justices Anthony Kennedy and Antonin Scalia are both 77. 

President Barack Obama was not wrong when he promised a single "red, white and blue America" in 2008. That is what a majority of registered voters want, but he under-estimated the white sea of hate that would be generated from him among Republicans. His electoral advisors concentrated their brilliance on the national electoral map more than the states where Republicans took over in 2010.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

American Exceptionalism? Obama’s Argument Deeply Flawed

 
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

Obama's argument deeply flawedSept 27, 2013- The United States is exceptional, President Barack Obama insisted on Tuesday addressing the United Nations General Assembly, clearly in a bid to refute Russian President Vladmir Putin's criticism of American exceptionalism in a recent article published in The New York Times.

In fact, Obama's speech was exceptional as he tried to lecture the leaders and representatives from countries around the world. He said that next year an international coalition will end its mission in Afghanistan, having achieved its task of dismantling the core of al-Qaida that attacked the US on 9/11.

However, Seth Jones, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation and a former special adviser at US Special Operations Command, has long argued that al-Qaida is far from defeated as there has been a net expansion in the number and geographic scope of al-Qaida affiliates and allies over the past decade. It would be surprising if the US president was not aware of this.

Obama also claimed that the US has limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing imminent threat to the US, where capture is not feasible and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.

But was he admitting that he had not exercised enough caution and apologizing because he had dramatically increased drone attacks in the past years?

Obama has not got the anger at his use of drones. For example, in Pakistan, it is not just the "collateral damage" of innocent civilians that enrage people, it is also the disrespect and violation of their nation's sovereignty. Even if a bad guy is finally killed, they do not want a bomb from another country dropping from the sky and blowing up their villages.

Obama also claimed that the US is transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But for months more than 100 detainees at Guantanamo held a hunger strike, and US military officials said on Monday that a core group of 19 prisoners are still on hunger strike.

Obama said the US has begun to review the way that it gathers intelligence so that it properly balances the legitimate security concerns of its citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share. But he did not address the revelation by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the US is spying on countries all over the world.

At the UN General Assembly session, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff blasted the US' spying, accusing the US of violating international law. Rousseff cancelled a recent trip to the US because the US failed to apologize for eavesdropping on the Brazilian president's phone calls and spying on Brazilian oil companies and citizens. Brazil is just one of the many countries that are waiting for an explanation and apology from Washington.

Obama claimed that the evidence is overwhelming that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the use of chemical weapons in his own country, but the evidence he gave was "these rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods".

Such logic is deeply flawed, as Obama with his background as a lawyer well knows, and is similar to then US secretary of state Colin Powell holding a model of a vial of anthrax during a presentation to the UN 10 years ago.

Obama was furious that he had not received support both at home and abroad for his planned military action against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons. "It's an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack."

For Obama to suggest that so many people in the world cannot reason, simply because they reason differently to the exceptional reasoning of the US president, is insulting.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily 09/27/2013 page8)

Copyright By chinadaily.com.cn. All rights reserved

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Syria War Will Destroy Efforts vs.Austerity at Home

Syria and the Reality at Home in America

By Robert Reich

Progressive America Rising via HuffPost

Sept 9, 2013 - While all eyes are on Syria and America's response, the real economy in which most Americans live is sputtering.

More than four years after the recession officially ended, 11.5 million Americans are unemployed, many of them for years. Nearly 4 million have given up looking for work altogether. If they were actively looking, today's unemployment rate would be 9.5 percent instead of 7.3 percent.

The share of the population working or seeking a job is the lowest in 35 years. The unemployment rate among high-school dropouts is 11 percent; for blacks, 12.6 percent. More than one in five American children face hunger, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And the median wage keeps dropping, adjusted for inflation. Incomes for all but the top 1 percent are below where they were at the start of the economic recovery in 2009.

A decent society would put people to work -- even if this required more government spending on roads, bridges, ports, pipelines, parks and schools.

A decent society would lift the minimum wage, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (a wage subsidy), and provide food stamps and housing assistance, so that no family with a full-time worker has to live in poverty.

We can afford this minimal level of decency.

Deficit hawks in both parties don't want you to know this but the federal deficit as a proportion of the total economy is shrinking fast: It's on track to be only 4 percent by the end of September, when the fiscal year ends. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicts it will be only 3.4 percent in the fiscal year starting October 1.

To put this into perspective, consider that the average ratio of the deficit to the GDP over the past 30 years has been 3.3 percent. So the deficit is barely a problem at all. (We're still projected to have large deficits starting 10 years from now because of all the aging boomers needing health care.)

Yet while attention is focused on Syria, food stamps for the nation's poor are being cut. House Republicans would eliminate food stamps for more than 800,000 Americans who now receive them but still do not get enough to eat or have only a barely adequate diet.

Even if the Democrats prevent these draconian cuts, food stamp benefits will still be reduced in November, when a provision in the 2009 stimulus bill expires.

While attention is focused on Syria, funds for the nation's poorest schools are being slashed. Teachers are still being let go. Classrooms are more crowded than ever. The sequester will drain even more funds after October 1.

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