Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Will Dems Ever Stop Being Craven Tools of Wall Street?

By William Greider

Progressive America Rising via The Nation

July 25, 2014 - To put it crudely, the dilemma facing the Democratic party comes down to this: Will Dems decide next time to stand with the working people, or will they stick with their big-money friends in finance and business? Some twenty years ago, Bill Clinton [3] taught Democrats how they can have it both ways. Take Wall Street’s money—gobs of it—while promising to govern on a heart-felt agenda of “Putting People First.”

It worked, sort of, for the party. Not so much for the people. New Democrats prevailed. Old labor-liberals lost their seat at the table. Among left-wing malcontents, Bill Clinton became “slick Willie.”

Now economic adversities have blown away the Clinton legacy, which is rightly blamed for much of what happened to middle-class wage earners. New voices like senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherod Brown are demanding a new new politics—big governing reforms that really do put people first. The old New Dems are stuck with their moderation and obsolete economic doctrine that is utterly irrelevant amid the nation’s depressed circumstances.

Sooner or later I expect politics will change, because the injuries and adversities will not go away in the absence of stronger government interventions. For now, however, the Clintonites are the Democratic Party, having deliberately excluded liberal thinkers and activists from the ranks of government policymakers for two decades. Economic experts recruited by the Obama administration are more likely to have been trained at Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. They do not personally share the public’s anger.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Interventionist Starved Neo-Con Hawks Are Trying to Drag Us Back Into More War

 

Amid the crises in Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine, hawks are calling for U.S. military intervention.

By William Greider

Beaver County Peace Links via The Nation

July 25, 2014 |   The War Party in American politics is beating its drum and once again, mobilizing hawkish politicians and policy experts of both parties to wage a high-minded war of words.

Hawks are salivating because they see the world’s current turmoil as a chance to rehabilitate themselves and the virtues of US military intervention. Three hot wars are underway and the United States has a client state in each of them. Civil wars in the Ukraine and Iraq plus Israel’s invasion of Gaza give Washington’s armchair generals fresh opportunity to scold President Obama for his reluctance to fight harder. They are not exactly demanding US invasions—not yet anyway—but they want the dovish president and Congress to recognize war as a worthy road to peace.

“In my view, the willingness of the United States to use force and to threaten to use force to defend its interests and the liberal world order has been an essential and unavoidable part of sustaining the world order since the end of World War II,” historian Robert Kagan wrote in The Washington Post.“Perhaps we can move away from the current faux Manichaean struggle between straw men and return to a reasoned discussion of when force is the right tool.”

“Reasoned discussion,” that’s the ticket. By all means, we should have more of it. But please don’t count on it from Professor Kagan. What he neglected to mention in his stately defense of American war-making is that he himself was a leading champion fifteen years ago in stirring up the political hysteria for the US invasion of Iraq. Why isn’t this mentioned by The Washington Post when it publishes Kagan’s monthly column on its op-ed page? Or by The New York Times in its adoring profile of the professor? Why doesn’t the Brookings Institution, the Washington think tank that employs Kagan as a senior thinker?

Kagan was the co-founder of the Committee to Liberate Iraq, the neocon front group that heavily promoted pre-emptive aggression and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. You might assume Kagan was reacting to 9/11, but his role as propagandist for war actually preceded the terror attack by three years. Back then, Kagan and William Kristol also co-founded the Committee for a New American Century that was meant to restore American greatness through military power. They attacked the United Nations and warned that “American policy cannot continue to be crippled by misguided insistence on unanimity at the UN Security Council.” To Iraq’s lasting sorrow, George W. Bush took their advice.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Memo to Obama: Avoid Splinters in Iraq, Syria

Jim McGovern (D-MA) pushing war powers vote

By Tom Hayden

Beaver County Peace Links

July 15, 2014 - Congressional support for a War Powers authorization looms as the only opportunity for the US to avoid another self-inflicted wound in Iraq and Syria.

The fifteen-day deadline provides an opportunity for anti-war groups to exert public pressure against any escalation, and a wrenching deadline for Congress to end its dickering and denial.

The best that can be expected is a face-saving bipartisan formula for avoiding a quagmire while minimizing the political cycle of blame. The difficulty will be defining a formula that might yet patch together the Sunni "humpty" with the Shiite "dumpty". If that is possible at all, the interim solution will take the same threat by John Kerry and the Western alliance to stop funding sectarianism, which has worked for the moment in Afghanistan. A no-fault divorce of Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites seems out of the question, meaning an expansion of war.

The most important advice President Barack Obama should heed in Iraq and Syria is to avoid splinters. When these tiny barbed slivers cut into flesh, they can be painful to remove completely. Patience and soapy warm water are recommended, which translates into diplomacy as the equivalent of medicine.

ISIS is an Islamic splinter ready to pierce American flesh. The responsible US approach should be hands-off. As predicted here, the ISIS offensive will stall as it approaches Shiite strongholds in Baghdad and further south. Tensions within ISIS will increase. Instead of funding and arming the sectarian al-Maliki regime, the best American approach is to threaten a cutoff in funding unless al-Maliki abides by a genuine power-sharing arrangement, presumably including his resignation. As frequently occurs, America's "client" (in this case al-Maliki) turns the tables (on his "master") with confidence that the US will not pull the plug. 

ISIS is only the latest example of how wrongheaded US military intervention often creates exactly the enemies they claim to be preventing. It is established fact, except among the neo-con crackpots, that al-Qaeda did not even exist in Iraq until the US invasion created the conditions for its birth. Then US Special Ops went to war in Iraq against al-Qaeda in league with Sunni "Awakening" forces in 2007, when that version of AQ was considered too extreme even for the disenfranchised Sunni tribes in Anbar Province. The apparent "defeat" of that al-Qaeda by the US and the tribes spawned a splinter insurgency, which has become ISIS in Iraq.

Meanwhile, other splinters were breaking loose within the Syrian Sunni insurgency against Assad. While the US tried to pick and choose among competing "free Syria" contenders, the al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was expelling the splinter group which became ISIS. The grounds for the split were two-fold: that the ISIS violence was too extreme and indiscriminate, and Zawahiri wanted ISIS to focus on Iraq and leave the Nusra Front to deal with Syria. The splintering continued with the formation of the Army of Islam, whose thousands of fighters have been battling ISIS on the same issues of excessive brutality. By one estimate, seven thousand fighters have been killed in clashes between these Syrian splinter groups since January.

Air strikes by the US, combined with any escalation of ground forces, under whatever label, would be a key factor in unifying these insurgent splinters who otherwise are at each other's throats. The splinters thus lodged in America's flesh will be hard to remove any time soon.

****************

McGovern Demands War Powers Vote in Two Weeks

July 11 - Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) today introduced a measure requiring a House vote on Iraq under the War Powers Resolution, forcing the Republican leadership to take action within fifteen days or face an up-or-down vote, which might curb the administration's escalating military intervention in the civil war. 

"We are trying to signal to the House leadership that we have a constitutional responsibility on questions of war and peace," McGovern said this morning. "It's all to easy to let things drift. When Congress goes on recess in August, there could be more American troops authorized, or a US bombing. John Boehner doesn't want a debate on Iraq. He's rather sit back. There's a fear that a majority will say they don't want a war."

McGovern's measure is co-authored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). Lee has been circulating a House letter calling for application of the War Powers Resolution. The new measure contains a trigger that is hard to avoid. McGovern is seeking co-authors on his proposal while the clock is running. Lee, along with Republican Rep. Scott Rigell, has gathered nearly one hundred signers on a House letter urging compliance with the War Powers Resolution

--

Sources:

McGovern's House Floor Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3VZGjxD7SE&feature=youtu.be

The Resolution: http://mcgovern.house.gov/sites/mcgovern.house.gov/files/McGovern%20HCON%20RES%20105.pdf

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Environmentalists, Capitalists Should Broker Green New Deal

By Tom Hayden

Progressive America Rising via San Francisco Chronicle.

July 4, 2014 - Most environmentalists see themselves on the left of the political spectrum, so what's the Left to do when leaders of finance capital take leading roles in confronting climate change?

That development blossomed into public view last month with a coordinated offensive led by Hank Paulson, the Republican architect of the 2008 Wall Street bailout, and two billionaires, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was a leading opponent of Occupy Wall Street, and Bay Area liberal Democrat Tom Steyer, to try to influence the national dialogue. Paulson initiated the effort with a June 21 manifesto in the New York Times urging a tax on carbon.

At the same time, Bloomberg released an economic report declaring that zero-emission energy sources, led by solar, will make up more than half the world's power mix by 2030. Bloomberg already has given the Sierra Club $50 million for its campaign to shut down Big Coal. The independent Steyer is one of the biggest funders of environmentalist political campaigns, and may one day be a candidate himself.

California's groundbreaking climate-change policies, including its cap-and-trade program, are based on the assumption that "when faced with the certainty of reasonable policy, businesses innovate and successfully cut pollution with consumer-oriented solutions that drive their markets forward and continue economic growth." California's tailpipe emissions standards, for example, overcame Detroit's resistance and led to a doubling of automobile efficiency measures in recent decades.

As more finance capitalists go green, the trend will be problematic for those with an anticapitalist or socialist agenda. They blame capitalism for the unfettered exploitation of the Earth's resources and life-supporting ecosystem. History shows that fundamental critique to be on the mark, though it can be dogmatic in its assumptions.

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Five Ways Wall Street Continues to Screw Up the Economy for the Rest of Us and How to Fix It

By Robert Kuttner

Beaver County Blue via Huffington Post

July 2, 2014 - The shocking thing about the financial collapse of 2008 is not that Wall Street excesses pushed us into the worst economy crisis since the Depression. It's that the same financial system has been propped back up and that elites are getting richer than ever, while the effects of that collapse are continuing to sandbag the rest of the economy. Oh, and most of this aftermath happened while a Democrat was in the White House.

Consider:

  • The biggest banks are bigger and more concentrated than ever.
  • Subprime (subprime!) is making a comeback [2] with interest rates of 8 to 13 percent.
  • Despite Michael Lewis's devastating expose of how high speed trading is nothing but a technological scam that allows insiders to profit at the expense of small investors, regulators are not moving to abolish it [3].
  • The usual suspects are declaring the housing crisis over, even though default and foreclosure rates in the hardest hit cities and states are upwards of 25 percent.
  • The deficit is falling, now just 2.8 percent of GDP [4], thanks to massive cuts in social spending. Isn't that reassuring?

Meanwhile, back in the real economy, good jobs are far too scarce, incomes are stagnant, while 95 percent of the gains go to the top one percent.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Don’t Go Back to Iraq! Five Steps the U.S. Can Take in Iraq Without Going Back to War

There is no military solution in Iraq—so end the threats of U.S. airstrikes, bring home the Special Forces, and turn the aircraft carrier around. (Photo: Jayel Aheram / Flickr)

By Phyllis Bennis

Beaver County Peace Links via Common Dreams

This is how wars begin.

Barack Obama says we’re not going back to Iraq. “American forces will not be returning to combat in Iraq,” he said on June 19th, “but we will help Iraqis as they take the fight to terrorists who threaten the Iraqi people, the region, and American interests as well.”

The White House says it’s “only” sending 275 soldiers to protect the embassy, it’s only sending 300 Special Forces, they’re only “advisers.” There’s only one aircraft carrier in the region, they say, and a few other warships. They’re considering missile strikes but they’re not going to send ground troops.

Iraq isn’t a start-up war for the United States—we’ve been there before. And these actions increase the danger we could be heading there again. We thought we had a president who learned the lesson, at least about Iraq—he even repeats it every chance he gets: “There is no military solution.”

This is a very dangerous move. President Obama’s words are right: there is no military solution.But his actions are wrong. When there is no military solution, airstrikes, Special Forces, arms deals, and aircraft carriers will only make it worse.

We need to stop it now. Before the first Special Forces guy gets captured and suddenly there are boots on the ground to find him. Before the first surveillance plane gets shot down and suddenly there are helicopter crews and more boots on the ground to rescue the pilot. Before the first missile hits a wedding party that some faulty intel guy thought looked like a truckload of terrorists—we seem to be good at that. And before we’re fully back at war.

Iraq is on the verge of full-scale civil war along the fault lines set in place when U.S. troops invaded and occupied the country more than a decade ago. We need to demand that our government do five things right away:

First, do no harm. There is no military solution in Iraq—so end the threats of airstrikes, bring home the evac troops and Special Forces, and turn the aircraft carrier around.

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Behind the Madness in Iraq

 

By Tom Hayden
Beaver County Peace Links via HuffPost

June 13, 2014 - The U.S. had no business invading Iraq. We toppled a dictatorship on a false 9/11 rationale, which plunged Iraq into a sectarian civil war inside a war with the United States. We left behind a vengeance-driven Shiite regime aligned with Iran. Now the sectarian war in Syria is enlarging into a regional one. The primary blame for this disaster is on the Bush administration, but also on all those who succumbed to a Superpower Syndrome, which said we could redesign the Middle East. There is no reason whatsoever to justify further loss of American lives or tax dollars on a conflict that we do not understand and that started before the United States was born.

Anti-war networks already are sending online messages to Congress opposing any U.S. military re-intervention in Iraq. Representative Nancy Pelosi already is there. Those voices need to be amplified to help President Barack Obama stave off the most irrational forces during this crisis.

Then we need to construct a narrative that blocks the hawks from blaming Obama for "losing" Iraq, and turns the focus on the neo-conservatives, Republicans, and Democratic hawks who took this country into a sea of blood. Most of them remain in power, unscathed and immune, even occupying high positions in this administration. What they fear most is not an Iraqi insurgency, but the risen families of the dead and wounded, on all sides, that increasingly ask who led them into an unwinnable, unaffordable war. The duty-driven bravery of their lost sons and daughters stands in direct contrast to shameless privilege of those who sent them into harm's way.

As this immediate crisis unfolds, we must act to strip away certain delusions. The least of these, though still irritating, is the view of many visible anti-war "radicals" that says the United States never really withdrew from Iraq, but instead secretly left behind tens of thousands of Special Forces in disguise. This silly notion was meant to refute the belief that Obama had "ended" the war.

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Economy Is Growing, but We’re Replacing Good Jobs With Bad Ones

chart

By Martin Hart-Landsberg

June 05, 2014 - In a fancy bit of marketing, U.S. capitalists have been reborn as “job creators.” As such, they were rewarded with lower taxes, weaker labor laws, and relaxed government regulation. However, despite record profits, their job creation performance leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s time to move beyond our current focus on the business cycle and initiate a critical assessment of the way our economy operates and in whose interest.

According to the official data the last U.S. recession began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009. Thus, we have officially been in economic expansion for almost five years. The gains from the expansion should be strong and broad-based enough to ensure real progress for the majority over the course of the business cycle. If not, it’s a sign that we need a change in our basic economic structure. In other words, it would be foolish to work to sustain an economic structure that was incapable of satisfying majority needs even when it was performing well according to its own logic.

A recent study by the National Employment Law Project titled “The Low-Wage Recovery” provides one indicator that it is time for us to pursue a change. It shows that the current economic expansion is transitioning the U.S. into a low-wage economy.

The figure below shows the net private sector job loss by industries classified according to their medium wage from January 2008 to February 2010 and the net private sector job gain using the same classification from March 2010 to March 2014. As we can see, the net job loss in the first period was greatest in high-wage industries and the net job creation in the second period was greatest in low-wage industries.

As the study explains:

The food services and drinking places, administrative and support services (includes temporary help), and retail trade industries are leading private sector job growth during the recent recovery phase. These industries, which pay relatively low wages, accounted for 39 percent of the private sector employment increase over the past four years.

If the hard times of recession disproportionately eliminate high-wage jobs and the “so called” good times of recovery bring primarily low-wage jobs, it is time to move beyond our current focus on the business cycle and initiate a critical assessment of the way our economy operates and in whose interest.


This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “The U.S. Is Replacing Good Jobs With Bad Ones.”

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Elizabeth Warren and The New Populist Challenge

By Robert Borosage

Progressive America Rising via Campaign for America’s Future

May 28, 2014 - A powerful new populist challenge is emerging from the reality of an economy that is not working for working people. It is expressed not by the Koch-funded, rabidly anti-government Tea Party, but by the new populists, inside and outside the Democratic Party.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has emerged as its champion. Her speech at the New Populism Conference sponsored by the Campaign for America’s Future on May 22 summarizes the case.

For the mainstream media, the headline from the conference was Warren’s reiteration that she has no intention of running for president. Like all such statements, that pledge is written in water, inevitably impacted by times and tides. For progressives, the real news was the expanded agenda that she announced she was ready to “fight for,” and her forceful commitment to reframe the national debate.

Warren began with her basic case: Americans know that the “game is rigged.” That injustice is exposed in everyday scandals, from the tax dodges that allow millionaires to pay lower taxes than their secretaries, budget priorities that lard the most profitable corporations in the world while cutting funding for education, a justice system that jails kids for possessing “a few ounces of pot,” while bankers launder billions in drug cartel profits and “no one even gets arrested.”

This forces, Warren argues, not only a “fight over economics, over privilege, over power,” but also a “fight over values.” Conservatives are guided by their age-old principle: “I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.”

“But we’re guided by principle, too. It’s a simple idea: We all do better when we work together and invest in our future.”

Then she outlined an agenda based on core values that the new populists “are willing to fight for.” This includes the senator’s signature issues: Cracking down on Wall Street; protecting consumers in from the “tricks and traps” of the financial world; giving every child a fair shot at an education, beginning by insuring that college is affordable; ensuring there is equal pay for equal work.

But her agenda also embraced big ideas that she has only just begun to champion. The commitment to retirement security requires not just defending, but expanding Social Security. The new populists, she argued, have to fight for “the right of workers to come together, to bargain together” for wages and working conditions. Strikingly, she called for a trade policy that works for Americans and not just for global corporations, noting the current discussions are secret because Americans would reject the deals if they knew about them.

She pledged to fight for the public investments vital to our future – from rebuilding our decrepit infrastructure, to expanded R&D, to affordable, high quality education for every child. And, of course, repeated her commitment to fair taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for what we need.

With this speech, Warren dramatized the fault lines between the new populism and core elements of the conservative economics of the last decades, from Reagan to Clinton to Obama: coddling Wall Street, peddling corporate trade accords, enforcing fiscal austerity, going AWOL in the war on workers, and now pushing cuts in retirement security to help pay down the debt amassed from the economic collapse caused by Wall Street’s excesses.

Warren’s list is not a fringe agenda. Elements have been adopted by Senate Democrats, even in an election year featuring a struggle to defend relatively conservative Democratic incumbents in largely red states. Their “fair shot agenda” includes raising the minimum wage, pay equity, and cracking down on wage theft. They’ve embraced the Warren proposal to refinance existing student loans at far lower rates, paid for by closing tax loopholes for millionaires. Democratic leaders Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi have blocked a vote on “fast track” trade authority before the election. Democratic senators are increasing the pressure on the Justice Department and regulatory agencies to enforce the law on the big banks.

Warren’s commitment to “fight for” this agenda, already influencing the 2014 campaign, will surely help define the debate in 2016, whether the senator ultimately throws her hat in the ring or not. This will pose some “hard choices” to Hillary Clinton’s formidable candidacy. Hillary is Wall Street’s favored candidate. The new populism insures greater strain between Democratic voters and many of its donors. Hillary is quintessentially the candidate of experience. The new populism demands change.

Hillary and Bill have been reframing his presidency in more populist terms, sensibly contrasting the jobs growth and broadly shared rewards with what has followed. But Clinton embraced many of the conservative follies of the time – the NAFTA and China trade accords, tax cuts on investor income, tax breaks for CEO stock options, fiscal austerity, deregulation of Wall Street and escalating financial crises, welfare repeal, three-strikes-and-out sentencing and soaring imprisonment. Hillary will need to figure out how to tout the Clinton record while arguing that new realities require new directions.

With Americans discouraged by the economy and increasingly outraged at the rigged game, presidential candidates – in both primaries and the general election – will have to present themselves as clear and compelling champions of change. Warren and the new populists are setting down the markers that define what change is. That will have a major impact in 2016, whether Sen. Warren ultimately runs or not.

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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Today’s New Leader, in Prison, Learning from Eugene Debs

A Note From Occupy Wall Street Activist Cecily McMillan

By CECILY MCMILLAN

Good morning. I’m writing from the Rose M. Singer Correctional Facility, dorm 2 East B on Rikers Island – where I’ve been held for the past 4 days.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the jury’s verdict on Monday, but was not surprised by the events that followed. An overreaching prosecutor plus a biased judge logically adds up to my being remanded to Rikers.

I was prepared then, as I am now, to stand by my convictions and face the consequences of my actions – namely that of refusing to forsake my values and what I know to be true in exchange for my “freedom.”

Packed into a room with 45 other women – often restricted to my cot – I’ve had nothing but time to measure the strength of my beliefs alongside that ambiguous concept – “freedom.” (I’ve come to the conclusion that it is far easier to weigh such tradeoffs from the comfort of one’s own bed.)

At Rikers, the day begins with 4:30am breakfast. Milk cartons in hand, the women echo a common set of concerns – “can’t reach my lawyer, my family won’t speak to me, no commissary” – and I become painfully aware of how privileged I am, despite what is supposed to be the great equalizing suffering of the prison experience.

Unlike my peers, I have a hell of a lawyer – Marty Stolar – who made the long journey to hold my hand and promise “I will not stop fighting for you.” I also have a gifted team of friends and organizers – ‪#‎Justice4Cecily‬ – that continue to provide around-the-clock care and mobilize public support. Finally, I’m incredibly lucky to have a vast and very much alive movement at my side, sending me “Occupy Love” from across the world.

Despite how obscenely unbalanced our circumstances are, my new-found friends – who have quickly become my comrades – are outraged by my story and resolve to do their part to keep me out of prison. After lunch, they spend their free time writing letters to Judge Zweibel, defending my character and pleading for leniency.

At 6:00pm dinner, the cramped circle of ladies ask me “What exactly is social justice organizing?” Over the complex choreography of food trading I tell them about Democratic Socialist leader Eugene Victor Debs. How nearly 100 years ago he publicly criticized U.S. involvement in WWI – in violation of the Wartime Sedition Act – and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for exercising his constitutional right to free speech. “Sort of like that,” I explain, “But he’s way out of my league – he’s my hero.”

By lights out, a subtle peace has begun to wash over me. I page through a book stopping at Debs’ speech to the Federal Court of Cleveland, Ohio – I read and reread, as if a personal mantra, these opening lines -

“Your honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said it then, as I say it now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

At the close of the night, I smile and shut my eyes. As I drift off, “Somehow,” I think, “this is all a part of the plan.”

Cecily McMillan is an activist now serving a sentence in Riker’s Island. This statement first appeared on http://justiceforcecily.com/.

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Friday, May 9, 2014

The Next Battle Against Wall Street? Los Angeles…

Will The Occupy LA protestors, from October 2011, return to the steps of Los Angeles City Hall in this new battle against Wall Street? (Photo: Los Angeles Times, 2011).

By Tom Hayden

Progressive America Rising

The next battle against Wall Street may be brewing and this one is in Los Angeles City Hall.

If it erupts, the soldiers will be a scrappy, wonky, and sophisticated phalanx of labor, neighborhood, and religious activists. Their research has exposed the fact that Wall Street banks were paid $200 million in fees alone last year by the City of Los Angeles; many millions more than the city spent on fixing its streets.

The comparison between City Hall and our streets makes City Hall officials wince; claiming it mixes apples with oranges. But there's more than catchiness in the comparison. The new report, Fix LA, shows that at least $106 billion in public money overall, from airports, seaports, utilities and pension funds, goes to private financial institutions that profit from fees, lending and leveraging those funds.

Citizens and elected officials often are overwhelmed and under-qualified to understand the weird and complicated transactions – debt swaps and derivative trades, for example - that Wall Street employs to extract maximum profit from all that public capital. There is no single Los Angeles official mandated to bargain with Wall Street. No official consumer watchdog, no fledgling Elizabeth Warren or Ralph Nader. No inspector-general to investigate financial industry fraud. No mainstream investigative reporters on the case, not so far anyway. While insiders and advocates will pore over the city's multi-billion annual budget this month, no single monitor is minding the hundreds of millions funneled to Wall Street's predatory care, as the report charges.

City officials will have their chance to respond in public hearings over the next several weeks, based on a motion being introduced by Councilman Paul Koretz this Friday; one seconded by Councilmember Gil Cedillo. Budget and Finance Committee chair Paul Krekorian, waiving the report, promised thorough public scrutiny of its data and claims.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Is Elizabeth Warren the Only Person Standing Between You and Total Bank Domination?

Book Review: Fighting Chance

By Lynn Stuart Parramore

Progressive America Rising via Alternet

May 1, 2014 - There’s really a storybook quality to Elizabeth Warren. How did this cookie-baking housewife from Oklahoma end up staring down the most powerful financial powers on Planet Earth, causing them to tremble in their wingtip shoes?

Seemingly conjured up from the fabled town of Mayberry, a place of bake sales and heart-to-hearts with Aunt Bea (she actually had an Aunt Bea), Sen. Warren seems aware of her mythic dimension: at one point in her new memoir, A Fighting Chance, she refers to herself as “Alice in Crazyland.” As Alice/Elizabeth heads down the rabbit hole to navigate the money-papered halls of Washington, she uses words like “vile” and “shameful” to describe the evildoing of bankers and corporate predators: she’s an outsider from a realm of truer American values who looks upon the upside-down goings on with outraged astonishment, frequently peppering her narrative with her favorite term for disbelief at human folly, an emphatic, “Really?!?

This Alice among the evil wizards of Wall Street is full of homespun charm and Midwestern wisdom, but in this cynical age, the truly fabulous thing is that her story is true.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren really did grow up among ordinary, struggling people in Oklahoma, and she really did try her very best to content herself with baking brownies and tending her young family before deciding to go to law school. She really did become a crack expert in bankruptcy law and a Harvard professor, and used what she’d learned to challenge the bankers who spent billions purchasing their own facts and unleashing armies of lobbyists to make victims of hard-working, law-abiding Americans.

You get the feeling that Warren's fight against these financial predators is deeply personal. And from her memoir, you can see why: she’s fighting for the people who raised her, the neighbors she grew up among, the students in her classes, and the people she has met along the way who have lost their homes, jobs and savings through the deliberate traps set by people who measure their income in human suffering.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

WORKERS' MEMORIAL DAY, 2014: WHAT WORKERS NEED

By Harry Targ

Progressive America Rising via Diary of a Heartland Radical

The stench is vomit-making as never before. The fat and plucks, the bladders and kidneys and bungs and guts, gone soft and spongy in the heat, perversely resist being trimmed, separated, deslimed; demand closer concentration than ever, more speed. A helpless, hysterical laughter starts up. Indeed, they are in hell; indeed they are the damned. Steamed, boiled, broiled, fried, cooked. Geared, meshed.

In the hog room,108 degrees. Kerchiefs, bound around their foreheads to keep the sweat from running down into eyes and blinding, become saturated; each works in a rain of stinging sweat. Almost the steam from the vats seems cloud-cool, pure, by contrast. Marsalek falls. A heart attack. (Is carried away, docked, charged for the company ambulance.) Other hearts pound near to bursting. Relentless, the conveyor paces on.

Slow it, we got to slow it. (Tillie Olsen, Yonnondio: From the Thirties, 1974)

American workplaces from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the recent past were living hells for workers.

Novelist and essayist Tillie Olsen described working conditions in meat-packing plants in the 1930s. Others have written about auto assembly lines, mines, textile assembly plants, and food-processing plants. Analysts such as Harry Braverman, in Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974), pointed out that employers have usually sought to control the minds and motions of workers. Profit-making has been seen as tied to controlling every movement of workers, the speed-up of production, and cutting costs for health and safety. After years of labor mobilization, the Occupational Safety and Health Act passed in 1970 to begin to address the problem of how dangerous it was to go to work each day.

Every April 28, workers across North America assemble to remember those workers who died or were injured on the job. Workers’ Memorial Day, initiated in the United States by the AFL-CIO in April, 1989, celebrates the inauguration of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1970). Workers’ Memorial Day is about remembrances, reviews of progress toward safety and health, and re-commitment to making the workplace safer.

In April, 2013 the AFL-CIO issued its annual data-based report, “Death on the Job: the Toll of Neglect,” to review the current state of worker health and safety, given the administration of OSHA rules initiated over forty years ago. “Since that time, workplace safety and health conditions have improved. But too many workers remain at serious risk of injury, illness or death as workplace tragedies continue to remind us.” These tragedies have occurred in mines, oil refineries, fertilizer plants, meat-packing plants, manufacturing facilities, and on construction sites.

The AFL-CIO report indicated that 4,693 workers were killed on the job in 2011 (13 workers per day). Over 3.8 million work-related injuries were reported with unofficial estimates of such injuries doubling or tripling that total. Particular sub-groups, such as Latino workers and those born outside the United States, experienced excessively high injury rates, presumably because of their fears of raising safety concerns within the workplace.

The report indicated that workplace inspections had decreased over the years because of budget constraints limiting the hiring of inspectors. Given the numbers, federal OSHA employees could be expected to investigate a workplace once every 131 years and state OSHA inspections can be expected every 76 years. Penalties for workplace violations also are inadequate to deter violations.

The Report indicated that budget allocations for OSHA must be dramatically increased, more laws must be passed to regulate the complex reality of workplace dangers, and worker rights to protest dangerous conditions at the workplace must be strengthened.

This year, Workers’ Memorial Day events will highlight demands to address contemporary issues of concern such as

-defending the OSHA process from political campaigns to reduce workplace regulations.

-requiring employers to establish work-site safety and health programs with worker participation to address enduring hazards.

-adding safeguards against respiratory diseases from silica, combustible dust, and Black Lung.

-protecting workers who seek to challenge workplace safety hazards, particularly for immigrant workers.

-passing more legislation such as the Protecting America’s Workers Act to expand protection for workers not yet covered by OSHA rules.

-increasing worker voices on the job including creating an environment that would allow workers to freely choose to form unions.

Earl Cox, Community Services Liaison, Northwest Central Labor Council, Indiana AFL-CIO, concluded as he announced the 2014 event that legislators must be made aware of workplace health and safety “…so when a vote comes up to slash funding for OSHA, they vote to protect workers and not corporate interests.” The AFL-CIO believes that “safety laws and regulations don’t kill jobs—but unsafe jobs kill workers.”

(For those living in Tippecanoe County, Indiana Workers’ Memorial Day events will occur April 28, Inside the Depot, Riehle Plaza, Lafayette at 5:15 p.m.)

www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Economist Thomas Piketty Has Scared the Pants Off the American Right

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
Progressive America Rising via Alternet

April 21, 2014 - Thomas Piketty is no radical. His 700-page book Capital in the 21st Century is certainly not some kind of screed filled with calls for class warfare. In fact, the wonky and mild-mannered French economist opens his tome with a description of his typical Gen X abhorrence of what he calls the “lazy rhetoric of anticapitalism." He is in no way, shape, or form a Marxist. As fellow-economist James K. Galbraith has underscored in his review of the book, Piketty "explicitly (and rather caustically) rejects the Marxist view" of economics.

But he does do something that gives right-wingers in America the willies. He writes calmly and reasonably about economic inequality, and concludes, to the alarm of conservatives, that there is no magical force that drives capitalist societies toward shared prosperity. Quite the opposite. He warns that if we don't do something about it, we may end up with a society that is more top-heavy than anything that has come before — something even worse than the Gilded Age.

For this, in America, you get branded a crazed Communist by the right. In this past weekend's New York Times, Ross Douthat sounds the alarm in an op-ed ominously tited "Marx Rises Again [3]." The columnist hints that he and his fellow pundits have only pretended to read the book but nevertheless feel comfortable making statements like "Yes, that’s right: Karl Marx is back from the dead" about Piketty. TheNational Review's James Pethokoukis joins in the games with a silly article called "The New Marxism [4]" in which he repeats the nonsense that Piketty is some sort of Marxist apologist.

For Douthat and his tribe, the proposition that unfettered capitalism marches toward gross inequality is not a conclusion based on carefully collected data, strenuous research and a sweeping view of history. It has to be a Communist plot.

The very heft of Piketty's book is terrifying to the Douthats, and no wonder they don't dare to read it, because if they did, they would find chart after chart, data set after data set, and hundreds of years worth of economic history scrutinized.

Income and wealth inequality have not been comprehensively studied to date, which has to do with the paucity of historical data and the difficulties of making comparisons between countries and populations when there are so many variables. Piketty's contribution is to painstakingly comb over the available data and illuminate trends that would leave no reasonable person in doubt of the fact that capitalism's inherent dynamics create inequality, and that only our express intervention, in the form of things like a global wealth tax, investment in skills and training, and the diffusion of knowledge can lead us to a different outcome.

To the horror of conservatives, the public is rushing out to buy this weighty economic treatise: the book is #1 on Amazon [5] and has hit the New York Timesbestseller list. A public that not only inuits conservative economic nonsense but has the detailed information to back up that gut instinct is just too awful for words.

Piketty is scaring the right because he is a serious researcher and a calm, disciplined observer who writes in measured tones. But for conservatives who have based the last several decades of economic discussion on mythology, this dose of reality has come at them like a chillling blast of Arctic air.

Let them have their hysteria. It's a testimony to the utter bankruptcy of their ideas.

Memo to liberals and progressives: making Piketty into a rock star isn't helping, either. Let's let the facts speak for themselves.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet's New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

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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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