Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Bernie Sanders and the Democrats: links

March 15, 2019

Bernie Sanders Wants You to Fight by Meagan Day for Jacobin.

Actually the Democrats Don’t Care About Identity by Branko Narcetic for Jacobin.

A Way-Too-Early Handicapping of the 2020 Presidential Race by Thomas Neuburger for Down With Tyranny!

Fantasy League U.S. presidential elections

March 1, 2019

Click to enlarge. Source Philip Kearney Cartography.

Could Bill Clinton have beaten Donald Trump?  Could Ronald Reagan have beaten Barack Obama?  Who would have won if Bill Clinton had somehow been able to run against Hillary Clinton.  George H.W. Bush, the elder, against George W. Bush, the younger?

A cartographer-blogger named Philip Kearney calculated hypothetical results, based on the percentage of the popular vote each candidate won in each state the first time they ran.  The answers to the questions are “no,” “no,” “Hillary” and “Bush 41.”

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Bernie’s progress

February 28, 2019

Of all the announced U.S. presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders is the one who is unequivocally on the side of American working people (including but not limited to the “white working class”).

He has done more than any of the others to provide a rallying point for those who support labor in its battle with the oligarchy of wealth.

I wish he also was a peace candidate.  He’s moving in a good direction, he’s closer to being a peace candidate than anyone in the field except Tulsi Gabbard, but he does not challenge the U.S. neoconservative foreign policy in the same way that he challenges neoliberal economic thinking.  At least not yet.

LINKS

Six Thoughts on Bernie 2020 by Caitlin Johnstone.  Excellent.  She says it all.

Foreign Policy Distinguishes Bernie Sanders in 2020 by Peter Beinart for The Atlantic.  The case for Sanders.

Think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the same?  They aren’t by Bhaskar Sunkara for The Guardian.

Populism, immigration and white majorities

February 20, 2019

2.1 children per woman is the replacement rate.  Click to enlarge.

I recently read WHITESHIFT: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities by Eric Kaufmann (2018, 2019)

It’s about the response of white people in North America, western Europe and Australasia to the fact that their birth rates are below the replacement rate, and that the likely sources of immigration are all from non-white countries with higher birth rates.

Kaufmann, a professor of political science at the University of London, said white fears of immigration are the driving force behind the election of Donald Trump, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Community and the rise of right-wing populist parties throughout western Europe.

He sees four white responses to population shifts:

  • Fight.  Reduce or eliminate immigration from non-white countries.
  • Repress.  Avoid thinking about the issue and suppress discussion in the name of anti-racism.
  • Flee.  Retreat to white enclaves and avoid diverse neighborhoods, schools and social networks.
  • Join.   Assimilate and inter-marry with non-whites to form a new beige majority.

I wrote about the fourth possibility in a 2012 blog post.  I noted how, in the USA, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority evolved into a white majority that includes Catholics and Jews.  I speculated on the possibility of a further evolution into a new “non-black” majority including white Hispanics, mixed-race people who identify as white and possibly Asian-Americans.

The great danger, as I saw it,  is that the new majority would be as much, or maybe even more, prejudiced against black people as the old majority..

Kaufmann, who grew up in Vancouver, hopes for a more benign evolution—a inclusive majority based not on ancestry, color or facial features, but on loyalty to the nations’ original European cultural roots, but also tolerant of minorities who reject that culture.

He’s an example of what he advocates.  He is by ancestry one-fourth Latino and one-fourth Chinese, but identifies as white.  (The fact that he “identifies” rather than “passes” as white shows progress that has occurred in my lifetime.)

I have long believed that American patriotism should be based not on race, religion or national origin, but on loyalty to the Constitution and the ideals of equal rights contained in the Declaration of Independence.

Kaufmann thinks such civic ideals are too thin to command strong loyalty.  A nation can and should have principles of good citizenship, but real national identity requires a sense of being part of a community with a shared history, whether defined by language, religion, ancestry or culture and customs.

∞∞∞

The politics of the USA, the UK and many other countries are defined by a revolt of an anti-immigration Populist Right  against what Kaufmann calls a Left-Modernist cultural and political elite, which defines opposition to immigration as racist.

Exceptions include the English-speaking parts of Canada, where no Populist Right has emerged, and nationalistic countries of Eastern Europe, where Left Modernism has never gained a foothold.  In Quebec and Scotland also, the cultural elite is on the side of French Canadian and Scottish ethnic nationalism.

Left-Modernism, as Kaufmann sees it, originated among bohemian intellectuals of a century or so ago, who rejected the conventions of the conformist middle-class majority.  In the USA, this was a revolt against the Puritan heritage and an embrace of everything anti-Puritan, from sexual freedom to  jazz music.

Over time these values came to dominate academia, the news and entertainment media and the political elite.  Along the way, though, the Left Modernists ceased to value radical individualism and self-expression and developed a kind of reverse Puritanism, based on conformity and guilt.  Nowadays it is the Populist Right that is transgressive and provocative.

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Tulsi Gabbard is more of an anti-war candidate

January 15, 2019

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, is more of an anti-war candidate than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or any other presidential candidate who has announced so far.

She opposes “regime change wars” on principle, which no other high-profile politician has been willing to say since Rep. Ron Paul left Congress.  Such wars, as she pointed out in the interview, have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and enormous suffering to ordinary people in the Middle East and elsewhere without making Americans safer or better off.

Ending regime change wars would be a big change for the better, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean giving up the U.S. empire of bases and cutting back the U.S. military mission to defense of the homeland and fulfilling treaty obligations to allies.  If you really want to crush Al Qaeda’s successors and imitators, the first step would be to stop arming them to so as to bring about regime change.

Most of the commentary on Gabbard’s announcement ignored all of this.  Instead it focused on her opposition to gay rights moe than 15 years ago..

She is one of a number of people who was raised as a social conservative, and changed their minds over a period of years.  I can understand this, because my own opinions, including on LGBT issues, have changed in the past 15 years.  But some commentators think this will sink her campaign before it gets started.

Gabbard comes from an unusual background.  According to her Wikipedia page, her father is part Samoan and a Catholic; her mother is a convert to Hinduism.  She was elected to the Hawaii state legislature at the age of 21, then was deployed to Iraq as a member of the Hawaii National Guard.  She is now serving her fourth term in Congress.

In 2016, she resigned from the Democratic National Committee in order to support Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.

The video of of an interview with Joe Rogan gives a good overview of what she believes.  It runs an hour and 43 minutes, a little long to watch on a small screen.  Here are starting points of the highlights:

  • 7mn.  Why North Korea has nuclear weapons
  • 9mn.  Regime change wars (the key segment)
  • 22mn.  Authorizing war with Iran
  • 30mn.  Russian troll farms.
  • 32mn.  Why she supported Bernie Sanders
  • 49mn.  Paper ballots and electronic voting
  • 1hr4mn  Pros and cons of universal basic income
  • 1hr13mn  Affordable higher education and health care
  • 1hr22mn  Threats to civil liberties
  • 1hr33mn  Legalizing marijuana

I agree with everything she said in the Joe Rogan interview and most of her views as given on her Wikipedia page.

My main concern about her is her praise of the authoritarian nationalist government of President Narendra Modi of India and her alignment with  Hindu nationalists in the Indian-American community, which is reportedly a large source of her funding.  I also object to her statement in a 2014 interview that torture may be justified under certain circumstances.

Aside from this, I’m favorably impressed with her, not only because I think she is right on policy, but because of her calm, self-assured and well-informed way of answering questions.  Also, that she was not afraid to say “I don’t know.”

Win or lose, she will force the Democrats to debate war and peace issues on a more fundamental level than before.

LINKS

Tulsi Gabbard Wikipedia page.

Five Reasons I’m Excited About Tulsi Gabbard’s Candidacy by Caitlin Johnstone.  Lots of good links with this.

Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 Campaign May Be Over Before It Starts by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Tulsi Gabbard Is a Rising Progressive Star, Despite Her Ties to Hindu Nationalists by Soumya Shankar for The Intercept.  Why her ties to right-wing Hindu nationalists are troubling.

Top Democrats once voted for a border fence

January 14, 2019

This photo, published in 2011, shows a section of the border barrier built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

In the debate over a southern border wall, we might remember that 650 miles of “fence” already has been built along the border with Mexico, and many top Democrats voted to authorize it.

The barrier was built under the Secure Fencing Act of 2006, which was proposed by President George W. Bush and supported by a majority of Democrats, including Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Joe Biden and Dianne Feinstein, and also by then-Rep. Sherrod Brown.

Admittedly there’s a difference between a wall and a fence—although what President Trump means by a wall isn’t completely clear.

And, to be sure, some Democrats opposed the 2006 law, including Rps. Bernie Sanders and Nancy Pelosi and Senators Ted Kennedy, Harry Reid and John Kerry.

Even so, with this history, it’s hard for me to see why the Democratic leadership chose this particular issue to go to the wall over (so to speak).

The bill was part of a package that included a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already in the United States and stricter controls on new unauthorized immigration, including the border fence.

In 2011, President Obama declared the fence had been completed, but his opponents claimed the result wasn’t what Congress intended.

The original bill called for a double row of fencing, but it also gave the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to choose alternatives if deemed more suitable for the location.  Only 36 miles were built as double fencing.  Federal officials said the fence includes 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence.

The U.S.-Mexican border in its entirety is about 1,950 miles long.

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The mirage of “electability”

January 11, 2019
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I don’t think much or have much to say about “electability.”   If I were a politician considering who to support, I’d have to think about it.
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As a mere voter, I just vote for the candidates I think would be best, based on their platform, record and proposals.  Voting “strategically” means voting based on a guess as to how others will vote.  We who vote our own minds have some influence, however small, on who are and who are not electable.
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My litmus test for who I’d support is twofold:
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  • Would they try to break the financial and corporate oligarchy’s lock on public policy and are they willing to do without donations from financial and corporate interests?
  • Would they try to break the military-intelligence complex’s lock on foreign and military policy and give up the goal of world military domination.
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The only prospective candidates I know who meet the first test are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, in that order.  Neither Bernie Sanders nor Elizabeth Warren is a real peace candidate, although they are less militaristic that the Democratic leadership as a whole, which nowadays is even more hawkish than Republicans.
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The odds are against any truly progressive candidate.  Any progressive candidate will have to fight the power of big money, a political system rigged against them and a mainstream press aligned against them.
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Any progressive candidate is going to be under attack for irrelevant reasons, such as the BernieBros smear and the Pocahontas smear.  If someone else occupied the same niche as Sanders or Warren, something equivalent would a tagged to them.  Right now there’s a frantic search going on for something to hang on Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez.
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If you’re a progressive, there are two reasons to support a candidate who stands for what you believe in.  The first is that the candidate might just win.  The second is help to shift public opinion by raising questions and presenting fact that the public doesn’t usually hear.  Hammer away at public opinion long enough, and winning follows.
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The Green Party is widely regarded as the lunatic fringe.  But its idea of a Green New Deal has become mainstream.  Bernie Sanders was regarded as a crackpot for proposing Medicare for all.  Now this idea is mainstream, too.
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The current discussion as to which Democratic politician is “electable” is like a discussion of who should play the lead role in a movie or TV mini-series like the West Wing.  Do we want a likable old white guy with a working-class background (Joe Biden)?  Or a hard-nosed prosecutor who happens to be a black woman (Kamala Harris)?  Or maybe a sophisticated younger black man at home in the worlds of politics and finance (Corey Booker, Deval Patrick)?  Or maybe an appealing Kennedyesque young guy from Texas (Beto O’Rourke)?  Or an actual Mexican-American from the Southwest (Julian Castro)?
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None of these candidates is being promoted on the basis of their record or their platform
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News coverage of elections is largely based on who can win or who is likely to win.  It should be based on giving the public enough information that they can judge who should win.
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LINKS
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What Does Electability Mean in 2020? by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.
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Thoughts on Warren and Sanders: How Much Change Is Needed in 2021? by Thomas Neuberger for Down With Tyranny!
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Should the Left Unite Behind Elizabeth Warren? by Eric Levitz for New York magazine.

Behind the BernieBros smear

January 11, 2019

[Introduction revised 1/15/2019]

Bernie Sanders supporters been dogged by the “BernieBros” tag, the idea that they opposed Hillary Clinton because they’re prejudiced against women.

Lambert Strether, writing on the Naked Capitalism web log, noted a recent charge of sexual harassment within the Sanders campaign and pointed out how easy these charges are to make and how hard to refute.

He predicted that the Sanders campaign is going to be singled out for such charges because supporters of the status quo regard him as a threat.  Here is what he wrote—

“Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate” [Politico]. “The woman did not report the incident at the time because the campaign was over. But over the past several months, [convention floor leader Robert Becker], who is not on Sanders’ payroll, has been calling potential staffers and traveling to early primary states to prepare for another presidential run — activities that Sanders’ top aides did not endorse, but did not disavow, either.”

• Apparently, nobody seems to have written Sanders a letter.  Odd.

Lambert here: Since the story will be weaponized, I’m going to put questions of truth or falsity aside.  A few comments:

(1) It was inevitable that #MeToo would merge with oppo. Now it has. A narrative initially framed as applying to a toxic campaign culture generally (whatever “toxic” means) has oddly, or not, been applied, at least in national venues, only to the Sanders campaign. (Contrast the two sex and meth deaths at Clinton donor Ed Buck’s house, where coverage has remained local to Los Angeles.)

(2) If Sanders and his campaign-in-waiting think this line of attack will go away, or can be dealt either by pointing to improvements made in the Sanders Senate 2018 campaign or by keeping relentlessly on-message regarding policy, they are naïve in the extreme.

(3) There will be more. That’s what Operation Mockingbird and Cointelpro tell us.  From today’s post on the “Integrity Initiative“: “[Simon Bracey-Lane] appeared on the American political scene as a field worker for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential primary run, earning media write-ups as the “Brit for Bernie.”   Now, the young operator was back in the US as the advance man for a military-intelligence cut-out that specialized in smearing left-wing political figures like Jeremy Corbyn.” Anybody who thinks Bracey-Lane was the only sleeper in the Sanders campaign — or Democratic Socialists of America, for that matter — is also naïve in the extreme.  There were surely more.  Some of them will be anxious to share their stories (and then go on book tours).  The same will be true of political mercenaries generally.

(4) The Clinton operation dealt successfully with respected party elder Bill Clinton’s workplace abuse issues and rapes by attacking the women The Big Dog abused and assaulted. (James Carville: “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”)  Hopefully the Sanders campaign can do better.

(5) Doing better than the Clintons would imply not counter-attacking the accusers.  If it were possible, I’d “shoot the messengers” (“#MeTools”) doing the weaponizing.  I think that’s the recommendation 2016 Sanders advisor Adolph Reed has been working up to (see this important article from Reed I flagged yesterday: “There’s no point trying to communicate with those whose resistance stems from such material investment; no matter what their specific content, their responses to class critique always amount to the orderly Turkle’s lament to McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—’This is my f*cking job!’”)  It’s not clear to me that shooting the messengers will work, though it would be interesting to know how trusted the press is by the Sanders base.

(6) It’s also not clear to me what Sanders should do, other than hire somebody to deal with the matter, ideally a person both identitarian-proof and ruthlessly effective.  Sanders also needs to get the idea firmly fixed in his mind that he is not in the Senate now, and there is no comity.

Source: 2:00PM Water Cooler 1/10/2019 | naked capitalism

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The Yellow Vest revolt in France

December 12, 2018

I’m not well-informed about French politics, but I think the “Yellow Vest” revolt is (1) important and (2) an example of ordinary people rising up against a government and political system that does not represent them.

LINKS

Yellow Fever in France by Bernard Dreano for openDemocracy.

The Indiscreet Charm of the Gilets Jaunes by C.J. Hopkins for The Unz Review.

Le Giles Jaunes – A Bright Yellow Sign of Distress by Diana Johnstone for Global Research.

Two Roads for the New French Right by Mark Lilla for the New York Review of Books.  Not directly related to the protests, but interesting.

2018: Year of the Democratic woman

November 25, 2018

American women did very well in the 2018 elections for themselves, and also for the Democratic Party.  The results aren’t all in, but here’s a preliminary tally.

At least 102 women were elected to the House of Representatives, including 89 Democrats and just 13 Republicans.  Among the 36 newcomers, only one was a Republican.

The makeup of the Senate stayed the same, with 17 Democratic and six Republican women.  There’s a runoff election in Mississippi on Tuesday, in which a white Republican woman is running against a black Democratic man, so there’s a possibility of one more Republican woman.

A record 43 women of color were elected to Congress.  Only one was a Republican.

The number of women governors increased from six (two Democrats, four Republicans) to nine (six Democrats, three Republicans).  The number of women serving in state legislatures will cross 2,000 for the first time.  I don’t know how many are Democrats, but I bet a lot of them are.

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What the 2018 results mean for 2020

November 24, 2018

The establishment Democrats won the 2018 primaries and general election.  They could win the 2020 presidential election if the presidential vote mirrors this year’s congressional vote.

By establishment Democrats, I mean the Democrats who, like Nancy Pelosi, seek to strike a balance between the desires of the donor class, who finance campaigns, and working people and racial minorities, who are their core voters.

The establishment Democrats focus on President Trump’s obnoxious personal behavior, the Russiagate investigations and racial and gender issues that don’t affect the power elite.

By progressive Democrats, I mean the Democrats who, like Bernie Sanders, raise money from small donors and regard the Wall Street banks and the billionaire class as enemies.

The progressive Democrats advocate policies such as Medicare for all, a $15 an hour minimum wage and the breakup of the “too big to fail” banks.

The establishment Democrats’ strategy is to win over independents and moderate Republicans who are disgusted with Donald Trump.  They see their mandate as putting things back the way they were before President Trump was elected.

The progressive Democrats’ strategy is to rally labor union members, people of color and other historic Democratic constituencies who’ve grown apathetic because of failure of the Democratic leaders to represent their interests.

Nancy Pelosi, who is almost certain to become Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2019, said she will pursue a policy of fiscal responsibility, which rules out much of the progressive agenda.

She will insist all new spending be on a pay-as-you-go basis—that is, every new appropriation be accompanied by a tax increase or a spending cut elsewhere.  She also will insist on supermajorities for tax increases on the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers.

This would rule out an ambitious infrastructure program, a Green New Deal jobs program, Medicare for all and most of the other programs of the progressive Democrats. What she will offer instead is strong support for reproductive rights and investigations into Trump administration scandals—although she has ruled out impeachment of the President.

Democrats got 8.9 million more total votes than Republicans in elections for the House of Representatives.  Their margin of victory in the popular vote was 8 percent, versus 2.3 percent for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump.

Democrats raised much more money than Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.  The average Democratic Senatorial candidate raised $3.5 million; the average Republican, $1.5 million.   The average Democratic House candidate raised $612,203; the average Republican, $502,805.

Catalyst reported that 56 percent of voters lived in suburban census tracts, versus 26 percent in rural tracts and 18 percent in urban tracts.  The voters were 76 percent white and 63 percent age 50 or older.

The influence of big donations and the nature of the electorate explains why establishment Democrats did so well.  But progressives made gains.  Democrats gained compared to 2014 among their historic core supporters as well as independents and moderate Republicans.

∞∞∞

Democrats have good reason to be hopeful for 2020.  Right now President Trump has a 40 percent approval rating, compared to 46 percent for Barack Obama and 45 percent for Bill Clinton at this point in their presidencies.

The Republican loss of 39 or more Congressional seats is above average for an incumbent party in a mid-term election, but it is less than the 63 lost by Democrats two years into the Obama presidency and 54 lost two years into the Clinton presidency.

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What’s so great about democracy?

November 14, 2018

My core political beliefs are the ideals of American freedom and democracy I was taught as a schoolboy.  My belief in freedom as a political ideal was challenged by a book I read recently, Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen (2018).

Now I have read another, Breaking Democracy’s Spell  by John Dunn (2014), a gift from an old friend of mine, which questions democracy as a political ideal.

Dunn believes that the idea of democracy—especially as understood by 21st century Americans—is incoherent.  Unlike Deneen with liberalism, he does not have a theory of democracy; he just criticizes the shallowness of American thinking on the topic.  Oddly, he deals with the experience of only three countries, the USA, India and China.

He maintains that most Americans fail to realize that—

  1. Democracy does not guarantee good government.
  2. Democracy does not guarantee human rights or the rule of law.
  3. Voting affects governmental decisions but little.  Its main purpose is to give the public the impression they are in control.
  4. Democracy has been in bad repute through most of Western history.  
  5. Democracy’s current popularity is a product of specific circumstances in the past few centuries and may not last.
  6. China’s authoritarian system may prove to be more lasting than democracy as practiced in the USA or India.

Here are my thoughts.

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The geography gap

November 14, 2018

The difference between Republican and Democratic voting in urban and rural areas has grown to the point where it is almost as great as the difference between non-white and white voters

In 2018, Democrats swept the cities by a huge majority, carried the suburbs by a small majority and were wiped out in the rural areas.  Even though the rural areas are smaller in population, the Democrats will have to figure out ways to carry them if they want to win the Senate and be sure of winning the Electoral College.

And it’s no use for Democrats to complain about the Constitutional requirement that every state have two Senators, which allows thinly-populated rural states to dominate.  That is the one provision of the Constitution that is un-amendable (Article V).

In theory the Electoral College, which is based on combined Senate and House representation, might be changed, but ratifying an amendment to the Constitution requires approval of three-quarters of the states and even introducing one is extremely difficult (Article V again).

LINK

A Split Decision in a Divided Nation by Bruce Mehlman for Mehlman-Castagnetti business analysts.

Republicans Tighten Their Grip on Farm Country by Tom Philpott for Mother Jones.  [Added 11/19/2018]

To Win Rural America, Dems Must Lean Into Progressive Policies by Matthew Hildreth for Daily Yonder.

How Trump could be defeated in 2020

November 8, 2018

When I was growing up in western Maryland, there was a frequently quoted saying: Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.

So long as Democrats campaign against President Trump based on his personality and personal behavior, they will lose.  Like it or not, he will win in any clash of accusations and insults.

The Democrats’ new majority in the House of Representatives gives them an opportunity to shift the attention of the press and public away from the President’s Twitter account and toward issues that affect the well-being of the American public.

By holding hearings on issues such as, Medicare for All,  minimum wage, prescription drug prices, student loan debt, gun-related killings, voter suppression and so on, they can set the stage for a 2020 election campaign based on these issues.

If they are smart, they will focus on issues of particular interest to rural voters—water availability*, agri-business monopoly, optoid addiction, nuclear waste disposal*, access to health care in rural areas, transportation infrastructure in rural areas.

If they are foolish, they will focus on trying to impeach Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and President Trump himself.

I don’t know what the Mueller investigation will eventually reveal, but Democrats would be foolish to count on Russiagate as a winning issue.  It had nil effect on this year’s elections.

The same with investigations into corruption in the Trump administration.  Investigating corruption in the executive branch is an important duty of Congress, but it will have little political benefit unless the corruption can be shown to do material harm to Americans and unless Democrats can tie it to a constructive alternative proposal of their own.

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How Trump could win in 2020

November 8, 2018

Donald Trump

Donald Trump campaigned for President with both negative attacks and positive promises.  If he had done more to keep his positive promises, he might have made the Republican Party a majority party.

It is not too late.  If he proposes a meaningful infrastructure plan or a serious plan to lower the price of prescription drugs, he will put himself on the side of public opinion and force the Democrats into a no-win choice of giving Trump credit or opposing a beneficial proposal.

Trump’s other choice is to continue as he as—by stirring up antagonism to racial minorities, immigrants, feminists, Muslims, the press and “political correctness.”  This also could work, if the Democrats fall into the trap of reacting to Trump rather than setting a popular agenda of their own.

Ross Dothan explained how in a New York Times column written right before the 2018 election.

Imagine that instead of just containing himself and behaving like a generic Republican, Trump had actually followed through on the populism that he promised in 2016, dragging his party toward the economic center and ditching the G.O.P.’s most unpopular ideas.

Imagine that he followed through on Steve Bannon’s boasts about a big infrastructure bill instead of trying for Obamacare repeal.

Imagine that he listened to Marco Rubio and his daughter and tilted his tax cut more toward middle-class families.

Imagine that he spent more time bullying Silicon Valley into in-shoring factory jobs than whining about Fake News.

Imagine that he made lower Medicare drug prices a signature issue rather than a last-minute pre-election gambit.

This strategy could have easily cut the knees out from under the Democrats’ strongest appeal, their more middle-class-friendly economic agenda, and highlighted their biggest liability, which is the way the party’s base is pulling liberalism way left of the middle on issues of race and culture and identity.

It would have given Trump a chance to expand his support among minorities while holding working-class whites, and to claim the kind of decisive power that many nationalist leaders around the world enjoy.

It would have threatened liberalism not just with more years out of power, but outright irrelevance under long-term right-of-center rule.

It’s true that President Trump has kept his promise to try to revise unfavorable trade treaties and deal with unauthorized immigration.  I think his approach to trade is clumsy and erratic and his approach to immigration is needlessly cruel, but he has at least forced a national rethinking of these issues.

If he continued to press for restrictions on imports and immigration, if he proposed a serious infrastructure program and prescription drug program, if he managed to refrain from starting any new wars and if the next recession didn’t start until later 2020, he would have an excellent chance of winning.

None of these things are incompatible with the politics of polarization, any more than a Democratic push to strengthen labor unions and raise the minimum wage would be incompatible with being pro-Black Lives Matter, pro-feminist and pro-LGBT.

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Why Pelosi is the big winner in the mid-terms

November 7, 2018

Nancy Pelosi is the big winner in the 2018 election campaign.  Her faction remained in control of the Democratic Party, despite a progressive insurgency, and then went on to win a majority in the House of Representatives.

She’ll become Speaker of the House again, making her the highest-ranking Democratic elected official.  This is a better outcome, from my standpoint, than a Republican victory in the House races would have been, but it means that the House will not become a forum for proposing changes for the better.

Pelosi has said that she will try to restore “pay as you go” budgeting—which means no big infrastructure program and no Medicare for All.

Nancy Pelosi

It opens the door to another “grand compromise” proposal, in which Democrats offer to cut back on Social Security and Medicare for future retirees in return for repeal of recent tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.

Control of the House gives the Democratic leadership an opportunity to challenge the Pentagon budget and some of the ongoing wars, since all appropriations bills must originate in the House.

There might be some resistance to supporting Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, but otherwise I expect Democrats in Congress to keep on voting for whatever military spending Trump asks for.

There is a fundamental structural problem in American politics, which is that there are three main political factions trying to operate through a two-party system.  One is the right wing, represented by Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.  Another is the center, represented by Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.  The third is the left, represented by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The Trump Republicans now dominate their party.  Centrist opponents to Trump have been driven out.  The Pelosi Democrats are still the dominant faction in their party.  The Sanders Democrats have not been crushed and may yet win in the long run.

The problem is, from my standpoint, is that even Bernie Sanders is not a peace candidate.  He is not as bloodthirsty as Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, but he has never questioned the overall goal of U.S. worldwide military domination or considered how to shift from a war to a peace economy.

So long as the United States is on a permanent war footing, the resources won’t be available to meet the nation’s real needs.

On the whole, the country is somewhat better off—less badly off—than it was before the election.  But Donald Trump still controls 2.5 of the three branches of government, and his opponents need a better vision than putting things back the way they were in 2014.

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2016 and all that

November 3, 2018

Populism is the expression of the righteous anger of the common people against injustice or perceived injustice.

Right-wing populism is the re-direction by the holders of wealth and power away from themselves and toward scapegoats.

The great political scientist Thomas Ferguson and his team of researchers recently published new studies of how right-wing populism operated in the 2016 national elections.

Several studies assert that supporters of Donald Trump are motivated primarily by racial anxiety and not be economic anxiety.  The conclusion they draw is that the Democratic Party does not have to become more populist in order to win elections.

Ferguson’s team says the truth is more complicated.  Racial anxiety and economic anxiety are not all that separate, they wrote.

Donald Trump told his supporters that their economic woes were due to immigration and foreign trade, and promised to fix both.  These are legitimate economic issues.

Many working people feel, for understandable reasons, that competition with foreign workers—both workers in foreign sweatshops and unauthorized immigrants in the USA—is driving down thrown wages.  I have to say that, as President, Trump has tried to keep his promises to try to restrict immigration and imports.  He has acted in a crude and counterproductive way, but he has acted.  These issues can no longer be ignored and will have to be rethought.

That’s not to deny that Trump also has tried to stir up animosity against African-Americans, Mexicans and Muslims.  But he also promised to launch a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, protect Social Security and Medicare and replace Obamacare with something better.

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Is Trump that much worse than his predecessors?

November 2, 2018

My big mistake during the 2016 election campaign was in under-estimating the harm that Donald Trump might do as President.

Donald Trump

I thought that it might do less harm, from the standpoint of progressive reform, for an incompetent authoritarian right-winger such as Trump to take office and take the blame for the coming financial crash, than for a Democrat to take office, fail and open the way for more capable, far-sighted right-wing authoritarian in 2020.

I thought that when my Democratic friends spoke of how Donald Trump was going to destroy American democracy, they failed to recognize how far we had already strayed from democracy.

This “normal” that you speak of: When was that, and where is it to be found?  The Benghazi hearings? The drone war and the secret “kill list” that included American citizens?  The birther controversy and the “death panels”?  Potential vice president Sarah Palin?  The Iraq war and the “unknown unknowns”?  The Lewinsky scandal and the “meaning of is”?

Source: Alternet

In many important bad ways, the Trump is a continuation of the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.  He allows the drift toward military confrontation with Russia.  He continues the failing wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.  He continues to staff his cabinet and key departments from Wall Street, especially Goldman Sachs.  He has little or nothing to offer working people.

The new bad thing about Trump is his attack on what his former adviser Steve Bannon called the “administrative state.”  It’s true that Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush talked as if government as such was the enemy, and made appointments without concern for their lack of qualification.  But the Trump administration has taken this to a new, much lower level.

Trump appointed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy.  During the 2016 primary campaign, Perry had the DoE in mind as one of three departments he wanted to abolish, but couldn’t remember its name.

The DoE among other things assembles the country’s nuclear weapons, oversees the safety of nuclear plants and nuclear waste dumps and trains foreign countries’ inspectors that verify nuclear disarmament.  The health and safety of Americans depends on the DoE functioning well.

When Trump took office, the DoE arranged a briefing on all its programs, just as it had done for Obama and George W. Bush.  But the Trump representative wanted just one thing—a list of all employees who had attended conferences on climate change (presumably to arrange a purge list).

Other major government departments are the same.  We Americans depend on their ability to function in ways we don’t think about (for example, the Department of Agriculture’s meat inspections) and often don’t even know.

The Trump administration has systematically downgraded the ability of government to function, except for the military and the covert action agencies.  It is also downgrading the government’s scientific and data collection functions, to eliminate sources of objective information that could be used against him.

The resulting failure of government will be used as an argument to abolish key public services or turn them over to profit-seeking businesses.

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Progressives play on a field tilted against them

October 31, 2018

Progressives face unfair handicaps in American politics today.  The playing field is tilted against them.  Their opponents are dealing from a stacked deck.  Their path to victory is narrow and perilous.

There’s nothing to be gained by complaining about this.  Instead progressives have to figure on ways to win against the odds—which has been done before and can be done again.  Here’s what they are up against:

>The Supreme Court has an anti-progressive majority.  Given the ages of the incumbent justices, this is likely to be locked in for a generation or more.

But this was also true during the Progressive era of the early 20th century and the New Deal era of the 1930s.  Progressives in 1913 pushed through the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution, which allowed Congress to enact an income tax (previously declared unconstitutional) and requiring direct election of Senators, previously elected by state legislatures.

President Franklin Roosevelt failed in his proposal to change the makeup of the Supreme Court by enlarging it, but Congress does have the power to change the structure of the judicial system and the jurisdiction of the various courts.  I personally wouldn’t want it to come to that, but this would be a “nuclear option” if all else failed.

>The Electoral College and the Senate give over-representation to thinly-populated states, where anti-progressive forces rule.  The provision that each state has two Senators is the one provision of the U..S. Constitution that is un-amendable and it makes reform of the Electoral College a practical impossibility.

There’s nothing to be gained in complaining about this.  Progressives will have to carry their message to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states.  The people of these states suffer at the hands of agribusiness monopolies and exploitative mining companies.  Progressives ought to have ideas to change this.

>Gerrymandering and voter registration purges block the democratic process.  This was part of a strategy called RedMap, implemented in 2010, to diminish voting by African-Americans, young people and others likely to vote Democratic.

So far federal judges have overruled some of the more blatant attempts to rig elections, but this will become less likely to happen now that there is a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court and Mitch McConnell and the Republicans push through appointments of right-wing judges.

The consolation here is that these tactics only work to tilt the balance in close elections.  The task of Progressives will be to get majorities too large to counteract, then to use their new power to reverse vote-rigging.

>Voting machines may be tampered with.  The solution to this is paper ballots, hand-counted in public.

>Progressives are fighting the power of big money.  Wall Street and Silicon Valley money flows mostly toward establishment Democrats, oil company and defense contractor money flows mostly toward establishment Republicans.  The Supreme Court has struck down restrictions on campaign spending, and is unlikely to change back.

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Will the Democrats make a difference this time?

October 30, 2018

Donald Trump is a bad presidenteven worse than I expected him to be.  So it will be a good thing if Democrats can gain control of the House of Representatives, leaving Trump and the Republicans in control of only 2.5 of the three branches of government.

The trouble with the Democrats is that they regard Trump’s election in 2016  as a black swan kind of event that nobody could have foreseen and wouldn’t ever happen again. This means that their vision is limited to raging against Trump and not to moving the country forward.

The November-December issue of Mother Jones—a magazine I subscribe to and admire because of its excellent investigative reporting—contains three articles that illustrate the Democratic lack of vision.

The first is an interview with the war hawk Max Boot on why he switched from Republican to Democrat.  I think there is something wrong with the Democratic Party if its leaders feel comfortable with somebody like him.

The second is an article praising the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for freezing out progressives and recruiting candidates on the basis of their ability to raise money. This is supposedly the way to success—despite continuing Democratic losses since 2008 while following this policy.

The third is an article by Kevin Drum quoting polls that indicate that Trump voters are motivated by racial anxiety, not economic anxiety, but that Trump’s racial views are unpopular with the country at large.  Drum says Democrats should campaign on both economic issues and racial justice issues (which I agree with), but the logic of his argument is that only racial justice issues matter.

What I take away from the three articles is that none of these writers think the Democratic Party needs to change.  All its leaders need to do is to remind people of how bad President Trump is.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says that if the Democrats regain the majority, she’ll push for a “pay as you go” budget.  Under Obama, this kind of talk meant a “grand bargain” in which the Democrats agreed to cutbacks in Society Security and Medicare in return for somewhat higher taxes in the upper income brackets.

Pay-as-you-go is certainly incompatible with a big infrastructure program or Medicare for all, both of which the country needs.

I don’t think the Democrats will get anywhere trying to reverse the results of the 2016 elections.  I don’t think they will get anywhere trying to reverse the Brett Kavanaugh appointment to the Supreme Court.  I don’t know what the Mueller investigation may ultimately turn up, but I don’t think Russiagate is a winning issue for Democrats.

The American people want medical care that doesn’t put them at risk of bankruptcy.  They want access to higher education that doesn’t put them at risk of lifetime debt.  They want a trade policy that benefits American workers.  They don’t want unending war.  They don’t want a tiny wealthy elite capturing an ever-greater share of U.S. income.

Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan don’t offer them any kind of realistic hope.  But what do the Democrats offer?

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The right wing’s winning long-term strategy

October 11, 2018

Appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is part of a disciplined long-term strategy by the American right wing to lock in its power for generations to come.

It means the rest of the corporate Republican power play—gerrymandering, voter suppression and virtually unlimited campaign spending—is unrepealable.

The Supreme Court has become a House of Lords—a legislature of last resort.  During my lifetime, it abolished school segregation, legalized abortion, legalized gay marriage, blocked campaign finance reform, and reshaped Obamacare.  It has a potential veto power over virtually anything Congress might do.

Progressive and Democratic leaders have no long-term strategy of their own for the Supreme Court or anything else.  Instead they merely react to events, often in ways that are obviously futile—asking the Electoral College to overturn the results of the 2016 election, hoping Russiagate will drive President Trump from office, planning to impeach Kavanaugh in the future.

Even if the Democratic leaders got a strategy and stuck to it, it could take 10 or 20 years or more to undo what the right-wing corporatist movement has accomplished.  It took decades for the corporate right to bring the United States to where it is today, and changing things back will not be done overnight—if ever.

∞∞∞

You could say there is “a vast right-wing conspiracy” except that it is not secret.  It has always been out in the open for anyone to see, if they care to look.  I wrote about this at length in a previous post.

The strategic corporate movement began with the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the future Supreme Court justice argued that American business had to act strategically to protect its own position in society.

The result was the creation of a media, research and lobbying infrastructure, such Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was tightly integrated with the corporate wing of the Republican Party.  The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, grooms reliably pro-corporate lawyers for judicial appointments.

It is true that there are many institutions with a built-in left-wing bias.  But the bias is unconscious and not a party line based on a planned, coordinated strategy.

The corporate movement crossed an ethical line with the REDMAP campaign.  In a targeted campaign, they gained control of both houses of 25 state legislatures in 2010, and proceeded to re-draw their congressional and state legislative districts so as to lock in a Republican majority.

At the same time they enacted laws making it more difficult for racial minorities to vote and canceling voter registrations, mainly of racial minorities, for bogus reasons.  The main obstacle to this strategy was the federal courts, which overruled the more obvious attempts to rig elections and disenfranchise voters.

Mitch McConnell (AP)

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader since 2007, has removed this obstacle by his partisan and successful effort to give stack the judiciary in favor of the Republicans.

He made it his priority to hold up appointments to the federal bench when Barack Obama was President  and then to push through appointments after Donald Trump took office.

When the Republicans were out of power, they took advantage of the “blue slip” tradition, whereby Senators have the right to block a judicial appointment in their states.

They used procedural rules to slow down President Obama’s judicial appointments, creating a backlog of vacancies.

During the last year of the Obama administration, McConnell simply refused to permit consideration of Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland, a moderately conservative but non-partisan judge.  There is no basis for such a refusal except partisanship.  It is an example of politics as a moral equivalent of war.

Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, judicial appointments go through quickly, and “blue slips” are a thing of the past.  Thanks to McConnell, the corporate movement has achieved its goal.

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Left-wing parties win college grads, lose workers

October 10, 2018

Click to enlarge

Left-wing parties in the UK and France, as well as the USA, are gaining support of the educated classes while losing support of blue-collar workers.

The French economist Thomas Piketty said politics in these three countries is a conflict between the “Merchant Right” and the “Brahmin Left,” a high-incom elite vs. a high-education elite.

I don’t know about the specific situation in France, but it’s clear to me that the leaders of Democratic Party in the USA and the Labour Party in the UK care more about the material interests of a professional class than they do about the material interests of workers.

LINKS

Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict by Thomas Piketty.

How the left stopped being a party of the working class by Simon Wren-Lewis for his Mainly Macro blog.

Does American labor need its own party?

October 5, 2018

Organized labor in the United States is committed to the Democratic Party, but, as the late Tony Mazzocchi came to realize, the Democratic Party is not committed to organized labor.

TonyMazzocchibiogralph51GaK-Gub-L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Les Leopold’s biography, The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor, tells how Mazzocchi’s final days were devoted to trying to create a Labor Party in the United States.

The dilemma of any labor party is that by taking votes away from a Democratic candidate that is indifferent to the needs of workers, it risks throwing the election to a Republican who is actively hostile to workers.

Mazzocchi’s answer was that a Labor Party should refrain from running candidates for at least 10 years, or until it had a realistic chance of winning.

Meanwhile it should continue politics by other means—supporting strikes and boycotts, educating workers on the issues, pressuring and lobbying politicians on the issues and holding them accountable.

Running candidates in elections is only one part of politics, Mazzocchi said.

He was a strong supporter of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy in his younger days, and helped build the Democratic Party on the Republican stronghold of Long Island.

But, as he noted, it was Richard M. Nixon, not John F. Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  That was not because Nixon was pro-labor, but that labor unions in 1970 exerted enough power to bring him around.

He was disappointed with the Carter administration, which failed to enact modest pro-labor legislation despite Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  But the impetus for a Labor Party came with the Clinton administration, which openly turned its back on the union movement.

The Labor Party made a good start in the 1990s, when there was a temporary upsurge in union membership and militancy.  At its peak, according to organizer Mark Dudzic, its affiliates comprised six national unions and 500 local unions and associated groups, representing 20 percent of union members.

But many labor activists turned against third-party movements after the 2000 election, when Mazzocchi’s friend Ralph Nader ran for President on the Green Party ticket and was blamed for throwing the election to George W. Bush.  Support for the Labor Party leveled off and then declined.

U.S. labor unions still have little voice in the Democratic Party.  President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously said they “have no place to go.”  And the movement is even weaker than in 2002, when Mazzocchi died.

Mazzocchi’s long-term fear, according to Les Leopold, was the emergence of a right-wing American working-class movement organized around issues of race, immigration and nationalism.  If progressives can’t or won’t protect workers’ economic interests, somebody else will fill that void.

LINKS

Party Time: an excerpt from The Man Who Hated Work and Loved Labor.

What Happened to the Labor Party? An interview with Mark Dudzic in Jacobin.

Why Kavanaugh should not be confirmed

October 3, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh is a political hack who should not have received the Court of Appeals appointment he has, and should have been rejected by the Senate committee as a nominee for Supreme Court without calling Christine Blasey Ford to testify,

He got his start helping special prosecutor Ken Starr investigate Bill Clinton, was part of the legal team that challenged the voter recount in Florida in 2000 and then worked for White House Special Counsel Alberto Gonzalez in the George W. Bush administration.

There are questions as to whether he was involved in discussions of warrantless surveillance, warrantless detentions and torture, and George W. Bush’s sweeping assertions of presidential authority in signing statements. Kavanaugh has said these issues weren’t part of his job, while the Trump administration has held back on releasing the documentary record of Kavanaugh’s service.

What Kavanaugh thinks about these questions goes to the heart of his understanding of the Constitution and the rule of law.  At the very least, he should be questioned closely about what he thinks about these issues.

As for Dr. Ford’s allegations, I’ve not followed the committee hearings closely, but it seems to me that she is telling the truth she says that at age 15, she was in a room with Kavanaugh, he grabbed her and she thought he was trying to rape her.  She was traumatized by something.

We’ll probably never know that Kavanaugh thought he doing.  He may not remember himself.  All we do know is that he has not been frank about what happened.

Should this, in and of itself, be a disqualification for serving on the Supreme Court?

This is not a case like Ted Kennedy after Chappaquiddick, Bill Clinton in 1992 or Donald Trump in 2016, in which supporters of a candidate had to choose between overlooking reprehensible conduct or letting the bad side (as they saw it) win.

The position could be filled by one of many right-wing judges who’ve never been credibly accused of sexually abusing women.

The Trump administration has nothing to lose by withdrawing Kavanaugh’s name and proposing another conservative.  Kavanaugh’s life will not be ruined.  He’ll remain in his plum job as Court of Appeals judge.

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Americanism and ‘taking a knee’

August 25, 2018

Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Texas, is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against incumbent Ted Cruz, an extreme and unpopular right-winger.

He was recently asked whether he thinks NFL football players who kneel during the national anthem, in order to protest police brutality against black people, are showing disrespect to the nation and to veterans.

O’Rourke gave a great answer, which was straightforward, respectful of the questioner and ended:

I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place.

He is financing his campaign with small donations and does not accept PAC money, but seems to be out-raising Cruz.  I admire the way he campaigns.  I’d like to think he could win.

LINKS

What Democrats can learn from Beto O’Rourke’s viral speech on patriotism and peaceful protest by Chris Riotta for The Independent.

Beto O’Rourke: Ted Cruz’s Punk-Rock Problem by Tessa Stuart for Rolling Stone.

Meet the Kennedyesque Democrat Trying to Beat Ted Cruz by Abigail Tracy for Vanity Fair.

Does Beto O’Rourke Stand a Chance Against Ted Cruz? by Eric Benson for Texas Monthly.