Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The enigma of Barack Obama

May 21, 2015

HarpersWeb-June2015-Cover-302x410Anyone who voted twice for Obama and was baffled twice by what followed — there must be millions of us — will feel that this president deserves a kind of criticism he has seldom received.  Yet we are held back by an admonitory intuition.  His predecessor was worse, and his successor most likely will also be worse.

One of the least controversial things you can say about Barack Obama is that he campaigned better than he has governed.  The same might be said about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but with Obama the contrast is very marked.

Governing has no relish for him.  Yet he works hard at his public statements, and he wishes his words to have a large effect.  Even before he ascended to the presidency, Obama enjoyed the admiration of diverse audiences, especially within black communities and the media.  The presidency afforded the ideal platform for creating a permanent class of listeners.

via Harper’s Magazine..

I am more disappointed in Barack Obama than in anyone else I ever voted for.  His speeches are often eloquent and wise, but his actions have no seeming connection with his words.  He is conciliatory toward his American political enemies, and tough with his core supporters.

I read The Audacity of Hope in 2008 and was under no illusion that Obama was a progressive reformer.  In that book, he presented himself as one who understood both liberals and conservatives and, by showing his reasonableness, could reconcile the two.  This was either hypocrisy or naivete.

What hoped for was that Obama as President could restore the country to normal after the excesses of the George W. Bush administration—a country in which the President respected the Constitution, didn’t start wars and kept his distance from Wall Street.  But none of these things happened.

There are three possible explanations of this.  One is that the entrenched power of Wall Street and of the covert military-intelligence complex—the so-called deep states—are too powerful to overcome, and that Obama is the best we can hope for.  I hate to believe that because it means there is no hope for my country.

Another is that Barack Obama has certain character flaws that make him ineffective.  The third, which is what I tend to believe, is that Obama’s intentions are not what his liberal supporters think they are.  Although he ran on a platform of hope and change, he is a very effective defender of the status quo.

David Bromwich, writing in the June issue of Harpers magazine, examined the Obama record in terms of his character.   The article worth reading, but it is behind a pay wall, so you have to buy the magazine or go to a public library to read it.  I subscribe to the magazine, so I can provide the highlights.

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Canada’s Texas elects a leftist government

May 6, 2015

Alberta is to Canada as Texas is to the United States.

alberta_oil_sands_mapIt is the heart of Canada’s oil industry and the site of the tar sands industry which hopes to pump corrosive bitumen through the Keystone XL pipeline.  And it is the stronghold of the Conservative Party, Canada’s counterpart to Republicans here in the USA.

But yesterday Alberta’s voters gave a plurality of their votes and a majority in the provincial legislature to Canada’s leftist New Democratic Party.  The results are roughly equivalent to Bernie Sanders being elected governor of Texas and the Tea Party being swept out of office.

Not that the New Democrats are going to shut down the tar sands industry or anything like that.  Its platform is:

  • an increase in the corporate tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent
  • a $15 an hour minimum wage;
  • a review of the royalties that petro-carbon producers pay (which have plummeted in recent years);
  • a ban on corporate donations for elections;
  • a phase out of coal power

Canada’s politics are more changeable than U.S. politics, and Canadians have a wider choice of political parties, so it’s hard for me as an outsider to gauge the significance of this.  That said, it seems to me that this could be the beginning of the end of Canada’s pendulum swing to the right.

I’d be particularly interested in comments from Canadians on this.

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Can we have a fair election?

May 6, 2015

In a capitalist democracy, there are two sources of power—money power and people power.

These days money power is flourishing—partly because of court decisions that say spending money is free speech under the First Amendment, and that corporations have First Amendment rights, but more simply because of the enormous concentration of wealth.

reagaon-couldnt-vote-todays-gop-vot3r-suppression5_n1At the same time, Republican state legislatures are rigging the election process through gerrymandering, and figuring out ways to disqualify voters, especially blacks, Hispanics and students, and make it more difficult to register to vote.

An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice indicated that the reduction in the number of votes as a result of voter suppression laws in 2014 was greater than the margin of victory in the North Carolina and Virginia Senate races and in the Kansas and Florida Governorship races.

The Brennan Center can’t prove that the suppressed voters would have voted for the losing candidate, but that’s not the point.  Voting should be regarded as a basic American right.  If it isn’t, we Americans might as well go back to being ruled by hereditary monarchs and aristocrats.

Elizabeth Drew wrote that it is telling how few Republicans participated in the 50th anniversary of the Selma, Alabama, voting rights march.

Investigative reporter Brad Friedman reported electronic voting machines are an even more insidious threat to voting rights, because your vote can be canceled without your knowledge.   He told how easy it is to tamper with electronic voting machines without detection.  Internet voting is even worse.

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The top 0.01 percent and campaign spending

May 4, 2015
Share of campaign contributions by top 0.01% income bracket

Share of campaign contributions by the top 0.01% income bracket

I and others have written about how the problem in the USA is not in the concentration of wealth and income in the top 10 percent or top 1 percent, but in the top 0.01 percent—the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

Recently I came across a chart that shows how this tiny group of people, roughly 25,000 out of 150 million American voters, provide 40 percent of the financing of American elections.

I’d be very interested to see any research on the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent—the richest 25 or so Americans.

campaign financeYou can see their influence in the recent appearances of Republican presidential candidates before Charles and David Koch or Sheldon Adelson, like actors auditioning for a part.

This is not the only way that the ultra-rich influence government.  They also provide employment and income for politicians and administration officials after they leave office.  It is not surprising that the political system responds to the wishes of Americans in upper income brackets, but not to average Americans.

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, who is running for the Democratic nomination, is trying to break free of this system.   He raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy, from about 35,000 donors giving an average of $43.54 each.  That’s more than any of the announced Republican candidates have raised so far.

This is a good start.   But it’s an uphill battle.

Hillary Clinton has announced she intends to raise a campaign war chest of from $1 billion to $2.5 billion.  To make up that amount from small donations, 10 million American voters would have to contribute $100 to $250 each, which would be difficult but not un-doable.

Fortunately it’s not necessary to match billionaires dollar-for-dollar, but only to raise enough money to get the populist message out.

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Election 2016: Hillary Clinton’s head start

April 20, 2015

This chart, despite its headline, is good news for Hillary Clinton.

silver-feature-hrcpop-new

True, she is a controversial character.  About 48 percent of those polled look on her favorably and 45 percent unfavorably.   But she has a better favorability rating than any of the plausible Republican candidates, especially Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Chris Christie.

She also is a superstar.  Almost as many people recognize her name as recognize the name of the sitting President of the United States.  No Republican candidate is anywhere near as well known as she is.

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Paul Krugman makes a case for the Democrats

April 14, 2015

Paul Krugman, whom I respect, thinks that Americans will have a real choice in 2016 between the Republicans, who represent the wealthy, and the Democrats, who represent the public interest.

I think he’s right about the Republicans, but I’m not so sure about the Democrats.  Here’s what he wrote:

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman

As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other.

The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

For example, any Democrat would, if elected, seek to maintain the basic U.S. social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — in essentially their current form, while also preserving and extending the Affordable Care Act.

Any Republican would seek to destroy Obamacare, make deep cuts in Medicaid, and probably try to convert Medicare into a voucher system.

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How Rahm Emanuel won

April 10, 2015

How was it that Rahm Emanuel was re-elected mayor of Chicago when he did so many unpopular things?   Such as:

  • Awarding no-bid contracts to big campaign donors.
  • Closing and privatizing public schools, almost exclusively in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
  • Shortening red light camera intervals to bring in more revenue in traffic fines.
  • Stonewalling on police abuses, up to and including torture.
  • Politically allying with Gov. Bruce Baumer, whose aim is to make Illinois a right-to-work state.

cyrusinner+001aEmanuel was so close to Chicago’s financial elite he is nicknamed “Mayor One Percent.”  So how did he win re-election, with the support of Chicago’s black wards and poorest voters?

I read two good articles this morning about the Chicago election, one on Naked Capitalism and the other on the Black Agenda Report.  This post is based on those articles.

Emanuel’s victory was not just because of his money advantage and his support by the press.   This was a given, and could have been overcome.

It was because black politicians, from President Obama on down, threw their support to Emanuel, and because his opponent Chuy Garcia, the Cook County commissioner, didn’t really attack the corrupt established system in a meaningful way.

Garcia could have made a strong effort to register voters in black neighborhoods, and aggressively campaign against gentrification, austerity and police abuses, but he didn’t.   His only jobs program was to hire 1,000 more police.

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Why the alliance of Netanyahu and the GOP?

March 16, 2015

The overwhelming majority of Jewish people in the United States vote for the Democratic Party, but it is the Republicans who are the strongest supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  And vice versa.  Why is this?

P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Tom Cotton

P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu and GOP Sen. Tom Cotton

I think that Republican hawks see Netanyahu’s Israel as a model of the kind of aggressive, militarist nation that they would like to see the United States become.

American Jewish voters mostly support Democrats because, based on their historical memory as an oppressed people, they favor civil rights, labor rights and humanitarian causes.   These are values rejected by the dominant faction of the Republican Party and by the Likud party in Israel.

I think that another reason is that Republicans appeal to the apocalyptic Christian minority that believes that the establishment of Israel is the fulfillment of a Biblical prophecy about the End Times.  Jewish people in the USA find these Christians scary, recalling their history of persecution, but they are exactly parallel to the apocalyptic Jewish minority in Israel.

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The silence of the religious liberals

March 8, 2015

Public opinion polls show there are as many Americans who call themselves religious liberals as who call themselves religious conservatives.

Yet religion has come to be identified with conservatism, and liberalism has come to be identified with atheism and recularism.

Paul Rasor

Paul Rasor

Paul Rasor in his book, RECLAIMING PROPHETIC WITNESS: Liberal Religion in the Public Square (2012), blames the timidity of religious liberals.

We religious liberals don’t always preach what we practice, and this is especially true of us Unitarian Universalists, the quintessential religious liberals.

Rasor, who is a professor of religion and a UU himself, said religious liberals are shy about expressing our religious values in public.  When we take a stand on a public issue, our rhetoric is no different from any progressive or civil rights group.  We argue on practical, legal and ethical grounds, but not on religious grounds—unlike our counterparts on the religious right.

Why is this?

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The warmongering record of Hillary Clinton

March 4, 2015

The frustrating thing about the right-wing Republican critics of Hillary Clinton is they criticize her for all the wrong things.   I think I’m as strongly opposed to Clinton as they are, and they put me in the position of defending her.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

In the U.S. intervention in Libya, she is criticized for failing to arrange protection for the U.S. ambassador from the terrorist attack on Benghazi, a legitimate issue, and for mis-characterizing the attack as a spontaneous reaction instead of a planned terrorist attack, an insignificant issue.

But neither of these things matter as much as the total disaster she brought down on the people of Libya.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in Counterpunch that sums up what’s wrong with Clinton very well.

First Libya:

The results of “Operation Unified Protector” … … include the persecution of black Africans and Tuaregs, the collapse of any semblance of central government, the division of the country between hundreds of warring militias, the destabilization of neighboring Mali producing French imperialist intervention, the emergence of Benghazi as an al-Qaeda stronghold, and the proliferation of looted arms among rebel groups.

Now the whole Clinton record:

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Scott Walker’s Southern economic strategy

February 25, 2015

right-to-work-2Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is pushing through a right-to-work law, which gives workers protected by union contracts the right not to pay union dues.

It is part of an economic strategy copied from Southern states such as Alabama—to attract branch plants of industries headquartered elsewhere by means of low taxes, low wages and no labor unions.

The price of the strategy is low educational levels, low public services and deteriorating infrastructure—all the things that make a state attractive to entrepreneurial, high-tech and high-wage enteprise.

I think the Walker strategy is a bad one because Wisconsin can’t out-impoverish states like Mississippi, and the USA as a whole can’t out-impoverish nations like Bangladesh.  Even if we could, would we want to?

What we Americans as a nation need to think about is how to add value, and how to distribute the benefits among the working people who create value.

Scott Walker has been a highly successful politician, and looks to be a strong presidential candidate, by distracting attention away from these questions.   Instead he encourages people who are floundering economically to focus their resentment on their neighbors who still have union jobs and good wages, and away from the tiny economic elite who benefit from the low wage, high unemployment economy.

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Obama on why he’s a such a polarizing President

February 12, 2015

While President Obama is right about polarization and excessive partisanship, we also have too much bipartisanship around the wrong things—protecting Wall Street, perpetual war and secret government.

Why were Democrats AWOL on minimum wage?

January 26, 2015

President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union message proposed tying the minimum wage to the rate of inflation.

A blogger named Jamison Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who had a majority in the Senate, did not introduce any legislation in 2014 to accomplish that.

minimum_wage_onpagePresident Obama in his 2014 State of the Union message proposed an increase in the minimum wage.

Foser pointed out that the Democrats, who still had a majority in the Senate, introduced a bill in April to raise the minimum wage and, when it failed, they did not try again.

The Republicans who controlled the House of Representatives meanwhile passed bill after bill to repeal Obamacare.

Pundits ridiculed them for this, but in the 2014 elections, the Obamacare mess was a much bigger issue for voters than minimum wage.  Some states that passed referendums to increase the minimum wage still voted Republican.

This is a failure of the whole Washington leadership of the Democratic Party.

What good are politicians who won’t fight for the public good even when it’s popular?

LINK

After the State of the Union by Jamison Foser.  Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.

What’s the matter with us liberal Democrats?

January 14, 2015

Barack_Obama_Hope_posterWhy did President Obama never crack down on the Wall Street banks that caused the financial crisis?

Why did Eric Holder’s Justice Department never prosecute financial fraud?  Why were the failed banks bailed out rather than put into receivership and reorganized, as was done after the savings and loan crisis?  Why didn’t the President hire regulators who were willing to do their jobs?

And why don’t we liberal Democrats care?

All these things, as Thomas Frank has pointed out with his usual eloquence, were (1) fully within the President’s power, (2) good policy and (3) hugely popular.  Instead the President invests his political capital in anti-worker initiatives such as the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The liberal Washington press corps says it is politically impossible for President Obama to do the things that his constituents elected him to do.  Frank debunked their arguments one by one, and pointed out that, if the pundits are right, then American politics is an exercise in futility and nothing will ever change for the better.

What the President offers working people are placebos.  He has proposed giving free tuition community college students who meet certain criteria.

I think this would be nice, but community college is already reasonably affordable.  The problem of student debt originates elsewhere.  And sending more people to college does not in itself generate more well-paying jobs.  In itself, it just means higher-educated servers at Starbucks.

I criticize President Obama a lot, but I think the deeper problem is that so many liberal Democrats are willing to go along with the Washington consensus he represents.  Thankfully, this is starting to change.

∞∞∞

It’s not just Fox News: how liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street by Thomas Frank for Salon.   Well worth reading in its entirety.

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Americans are sick to death of both parties

December 23, 2014

Americans are increasingly disillusioned with both Democrats and Republicans.  That’s why only 36 percent of registered voters cast ballots this year—a drop of 22 percentage points from 2012.

The national turnout was the lowest in 70 years in spite of the fact that more money was spent in the campaign than in any off-year election in American history.

fatcatPolitical scientists Walter Dean Burnham and Thomas Ferguson said Americans have good reason for their disillusionment.

They explained in an article on Alternet how neither Democrats nor Republicans can represent the interests of working Americans because they are financed a tiny elite of wealth, and Americans are starting to catch on to this.

The Democrats rely instead on appeals to cultural liberalism, the grievances of women and minorities and memories of the New Deal.  The Republicans rely on appeals to cultural conservatism and prejudice, a big turnout of upper-income voters and hindrances to voting by lower-income voters.

But neither party has a convincing program for dealing with globalization, financialization, de-industrialization and the erosion of good jobs.

Average Americans may not understand the subtleties of economic policy, but they understand what is happening to them.  As John Dewey once wrote, you don’t have to be a shoemaker to know your shoes are a bad fit.

Burnham and Ferguson didn’t speculate as to what will happen if this goes on indefinitely.  My own opinion is that the USA will experience an upheaval worse than the labor violence of the 1890s and 1930s.

The militarization of American police and NSA surveillance of ordinary Americans then will be used by government in league with corporations to protect the social order from the masses.

Radical change would not necessarily be change for the better.  If there is a public uprising, it is likely to be led by someone like Huey Long or Joe McCarthy as by a great statesman.  But I don’t see how things can go on as they are.

∞∞∞

Here are key paragraphs of Burnham’s and Ferguson’s article.

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