Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The misunderstood legacies of the New Deal

November 15, 2022

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal had two legacies – a welfare state and a warfare state.

Admirers of FDR focus on the legacy of the 1930s – the creation of Social Security and strengthening of the social safety net, the massive public works programs and job programs, the guarantee of the right to collective bargaining and the growth of a powerful administrative and regulatory state.

But just as important – maybe even more important – is the legacy of the 1940s. The New Deal programs mitigated the Great Depression, but they did not end it.  That only happened with the coming of World War Two and an economic boom based on war production.

The war economy made possible the re-industrialization of the United States.  Wartime investment in manufacturing capacity produced seeming miracles in production that carried over into peacetime for decades.

The New Dealers established military bases in Europe and Asia, the beginning of the empire of bases that exists to this day.  They built the Pentagon.  They created the OSS and then the CIA.  They created the atomic bomb and incorporated the A-bomb into American military strategy.

If not for FDR and the New Deal, the atomic bomb would not have come into existence when it did.

It is not just that Roosevelt personally authorized the research program that produced the atomic bomb.  Without the New Deal’s great hydroelectric projects on the Tennessee and Colombia rivers, the U.S. would not have had the industrial capacity to create a uranium bomb (at Oak Ridge, TN) and a plutonium bomb (at Hanford, WA).

Under Harry Truman, FDR’s chosen successor, the U.S. government chose to continue its wartime alliances, maintain its overseas bases, incorporate atomic weapons into the nation’s war strategy and maintain full employment through war spending.

Two important positive things about the wartime New Deal, from the progressive standpoint, are that it gave the labor union leadership a place at the table in war planning, and that it at least gave lip service to the need for civil rights and equal employment opportunity for African Americans.  Both these things were needed for full war mobilization, and also for Democratic electoral victory.

I don’t deny the idealistic and reforming impulses behind the New Deal.  They were an important part of its legacy, but they weren’t the only part.  Idealism seldom wins without being allied to someone’s interests. 

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Maybe I didn’t give Biden enough credit

November 11, 2022

Krystal Ball, writing for The Lever, said the Democrats were stronger than expected in the Rustbelt states because the Biden Administration actually did things that benefitted working people.  Half a loaf, or even crumbs, are better than no bread.

President Joe Biden’s economic policy has been a genuine break from the market fundamentalism of the Clinton and Obama White Houses.  Instead of pushing terrible new trade deals that ship jobs overseas, the Biden administration has challenged China with an export ban on semiconductors and signed executive orders to encourage American manufacturing.

In fact, companies are on track to reshore 350,000 jobs this year alone.  This is a huge reversal of what happened under the Trump administration when offshoring actually increased to the tune of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

What’s more, instead of tax cuts for the rich à la Bill Clinton, or bailouts for Wall Street like Obama, Biden hiked taxes on corporations with a 15 percent minimum tax rate passed through the Inflation Reduction Act.  This is, of course, a giant break from the tax-cuts-for-the-rich giveaway, which was the main accomplishment of Trump.

Biden’s union policy also deserves credit.  Rather than abandon unions or actively union bust like plenty of Clinton-era Democrats and every Republican, Biden appointed a genuinely pro-worker National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and a fantastic General Counsel who has set about trying to reinterpret the horrible labor law that has let so many workers down over decades.

The recent organizing wave at Starbucks, REI, Amazon, Apple and more could have been stopped dead in its tracks without this pro-worker NLRB.

Biden’s infrastructure package and his Inflation Reduction Act both contain significant investments in the region and are especially vital for automakers trying to compete in the new electric car era.

Like the entire nation, the Industrial Midwest will also benefit from the new antitrust direction of the Biden Administration led by Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan.

I don’t want to oversell Biden’s populist wins. He’s still no FDR and his policies fall far short of what’s actually required to revitalize the Industrial Midwest and deliver for the working class.

The CHIPS Act, which was heralded as the beginning of a new era of industrial policy, may just end up being a corporate giveaway, because it contained no labor standards or job-creation requirements.

Having a strong NLRB is great, but workers are still severely hampered by labor laws rigged to benefit corporations.

The Inflation Reduction Act was better than nothing, but came nowhere close to the transformational change of Democrats’ original Build Back Better proposal.

In fact, what’s astonishing is the size of the political response to the Biden administration accomplishing the bare minimum.

[Added Later]  Even giving the Biden Administration the benefit of the doubt, none of this offsets his dangerous and self-destructive war policy.

LINK

The Real Reason For Dems’ Rust Belt Revival by Krystal Ball for The Lever.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]

Why Biden Is Not a Transformational President by Thomas Neuberger for God’s Spies.  From 2021.  The other side of the coin.

Election 2022 results: first impressions

November 9, 2022

Nothing will fundamentally change.  

==Candidate Joe Biden, to donors, in 2020

The complete results aren’t in, but we know enough to see that this election settled nothing.

Republicans probably gained, but not as much as they had hoped or Democrats had feared, and so the balance of power is roughly the same.

Republicans have enough power to block Democratic initiatives, such as they are, but not enough to enact a program of their own.

The result is that the USA will stay on economic pilot for undeclared war against Russia, along with the Covid pandemic, climate-related disasters, economic stagnation and racial tensions, until the multiple crises become too great to be ignored—which is a very real possibility.

The end of the mid-terms are the start of the 2024 Presidential election campaigns.

In the Republican Party, Ron DeSantis, thanks to the size of his victory for reelection as Florida governor, is the chief possible alternative to Donald Trump.

Both stand for the same things, but DeSantis is more self-disciplined and a better political strategist.  From the standpoint of Democrats, he is much more dangerous.  It would be better for Democrats if Trump stayed in the race than if he dropped out..

Joe Biden said he was running as a “transitional” President, but it now looks as if he will run again in 2024.  If he does, barring the unexpected, he will lose.  No Democrat emerged in today’s election who seems like a possible replacement.

I was told, for the fourth national election in a row, that it was duty to vote because democracy is in peril

I voted, but democracy is still in peril, just as it was in 2016.  Democracy is in peril from election tampering by Republicans and by censorship of dissenting opinion and reporting, coordinated by Democrats, in the news media and social media.

By the standards of most countries, differences between Democrats and Republicans are small, and yet many in each party see members of the other party as a dangerous threat.

There is a great sense of foreboding in the USA about the future and I think that fear drives voting.  It would be comforting to think that all the danger comes from an opposition political party, because that means the danger is manageable.

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‘Rigged’ election claims then and now

September 30, 2022

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President Biden and other leading Democrats are aghast that so many Donald Trump supporters don’t accept the results of the 2020 election. But as these two videos by Matt Orfalea show, the shoe was on the other foot for the 2016 election.

First there was the campaign to persuade members of the Electoral College to vote for candidates other than the ones the voters chose.  

Then came the charges that the election result was somehow the result of a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.  All the specific claims in the bogus Russiagate scandal were debunked.  

Nevertheless Democrats proceeded with an impeachment trial on the claim that Trump had tried to obstruct the investigation of the nonexistent crime, which failed.  

Then they tried again for impeachment on the claim that Trump urged the President of Ukraine to investigate a corrupt corporation in his county for the purpose of discrediting Joe Biden.  This, too, failed.

Now they are pursuing criminal investigations of Trump’s business dealings and of his failure to turn over classified information.  Of course Trump may well be guilty of something and, if tried and convicted, he should pay the usual fine.

I think the motive for these investigations is to find something – anything – that would discredit Trump or possibly prevent him from running again.  I recall Democrats took a different stance about Hillary Clinton’s problems with handling classified information.

∞∞∞

Here’s the thing.  It is not a crime to claim that an election is rigged.  It is not a crime to deny that an election result is legitimate.  If you believe that, and say so, this is an expression of your right to free speech. 

I myself think there is a strong possibility that the 2016 election result was swayed by hacking of voting machines.  Tests of certain voting machines showed that the results could be altered, both on-site and remotely, and that there was no way to detect the results.

I’m not claiming this is evidence that Russians could have hacked these voting machines.  I’m claiming it is proof that almost anybody could have hacked these voting machines.

There were also widespread attempts to illegitimately purge voter rolls of black people.  Investigative reporter Greg Palast has been on this topic like a bulldog.  

I am certain that the result of the 2000 election was determined by illegal purging of voter rolls in Florida and may also have been influenced by a miscount of ballots.

It also is very possible that there was ballot-tampering in the 2020 election, although, if it was, it is just as likely that it was done by Republicans as Democrats.  Yes, Republicans are the ones making the most noise about this.   Recall the strategy of Karl Rove was to accuse one’s opponents of the thing you are doing yourself.

Once the election is held, it is too late to change the result.  There is a fine line between protesting the results of an election, which citizens have every right to do, and making an insurrection or coup to overturn the results.

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Forget Trump! It’s the economy, stupid!

September 27, 2022

If the November election were held on the issues, there’s a good chance the Republicans would win.  But as it is, there’s a good chance the Democrats will win.

Click to enlarge

That’s what I conclude after reading a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist National Poll.

  • 30 percent of polled voters think inflation is the most important issue.
  • 40 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents agree, but only 13 percent of Democrats.
  • 62 percent of polled voters think the United States is in a recession.
  • 57 percent say President Biden’s decisions have hurt the economy, and 41 percent strongly disapprove of his job performance overall.
  • 39 percent think Republicans would do a better job of managing the economy, while 26 percent think Democrats would do better.

Concern about inflation is slowly declining.  I think that is because President Biden is helping to drive down gasoline prices by releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

I don’t think most Americans realize how much of the price increases are due to blowback from the economic sanctions war against Russia.  Supplies of Russian oil and gas are being cut off from Europe, and this drives up the market price not only in Europe, but worldwide.

I don’t think the Republicans have a good plan, or any plan at all, for dealing with inflation.  The Federal Reserve Board’s plan is to slow down the economy, but that only works to slow down an overheated economy, not to bring down price increases due to scarcity.

The Democrats are the incumbents and the Republicans are the opposition, so the issue favors the Republicans.  Also, the Republicans talk more about deindustrialization, tariffs and other key economic questions, so they at least indicate concern, while Democrats are inclined to downplay these issues.

Click to enlarge.

The next most important issue is abortion.

  • 22 percent of the public think abortion is the most important issue.
  • 35 percent of Democrats think so, too, and so do 22 percent of independents, but only 10 percent of Republicans.

The repeal of Roe v. Wade has energized abortion rights advocates, but most voters take a middle position.  Only a minority support the extreme restrictions on abortions proposed by Republican state legislatures, but a majority are opposed to allowing abortions without any restrictions at all.

The poll also indicates that a lot of Democrats choose the Jan. 6 hearings as their top issue, but few Republicans or independents do.  A lot of Republicans choose immigration as their top issue, but few Democrats or independents do.  The other important issue is health care, but it’s a lesser issue than inflation or abortion.

All that would lead me to think that Republicans have the advantage, but the poll results indicate that the Democrats have an edge of 4 percentage points.  I think the Republicans are hurt by their internal conflicts and by the focus of news coverage on Donald Trump and his many battles.

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Forget the issues: It’s all about Trump!

September 27, 2022

Three to six months ago, the conventional wisdom was that the Democratic Party was headed for disaster in the coming elections. The reason given was President Biden’s failure to cope with inflation and other serious national problems.

Now the conventional wisdom is that the Democrats have an even chance or better of holding on to their majority. Why? The change is due to the focus on Donald Trump.

Overall, many political observers and Democratic leaders think Trump-backed candidates in the Republican primaries are wackos that will be easy to defeat.

Operating on this theory, Democrats reportedly donated $53 million to Trump-backed candidates.

Here is the Washington Post’s rundown how the Democrat-backed pro-Trump candidates fared and the amounts the Democrats contributed.

WON.  Illinois Governor.  $34.5 million spent.

LOST.  Colorado U.S. Senate. $4 million spent.

LOST.  Nevada Governor.  $3.9 million spent.

WON.  New Hampshire U.S. Senate.  $3.2 million spent.

LOST.  Michigan Governor. $2 million spent.

WON.  Maryland Governor. $1.7 million spent.

LOST.  Colorado Governor.  $1.5 million spent

WON.  Pennsylvania Governor $1.2 million spent.

WON. Michigan 3rd District, U.S. House. $425,000 spent.

LOST.  Virginia 2nd District, U.S. House.  $300,000 spent.

LOST.  California 22nd District, U.S. House.  $200,000 spent.

LOST.  Colorado 8th District, U.S. House.  $250,000 spent.

WON.  New Hampshire 2nd District, U.S. House.  $100,000 spent.

Total $53,275,000.

I don’t want to overstate the significance of this.  Democrat money wasn’t necessarily the deciding factor in any of these races.  

And Trump endorsed nearly 200 candidates in all.  BBC News reported 92 percent of them won.

What the contributions reflect is that Democrats think that focusing on Trump is a winning victory strategy.

Of course this strategy could backfire.  The Clinton campaign in 2016 tried to “elevate” Trump, figuring that he would be easiest to defeat in the general election.  It didn’t work out the way they thought it would.

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Billionaire power in the 2022 election

August 1, 2022

The expected backlash against Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership is well-deserved.  But it’s unlikely that the Republican leaders will do anything to improve the lot of ordinary Americans.  They are even more dependent than the Democrats on campaign contributions from the billionaire class.

Judd Legum wrote in Popular Information:

Are the 2022 midterm elections for sale? A handful of billionaires are trying to find out. 

Two primary super PACs seek to establish Republican majorities in the Senate and House — the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) and the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF). Those two groups, which can accept unlimited donations, collectively raised $188.3 million through March 2022. Nearly half of the money, $89.4 million, has come from just 27 billionaires, according to a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness. 

This figure understates the influence of billionaires pushing to restore Republican majorities in Congress. An additional $40 million in funding to the SLF and CLF has come directly from corporations. Some of these corporations are controlled by billionaires. Koch Industries, for example, has donated $1.75 million to the SLF and CLF and is controlled by billionaire Charles Koch. 

Another $35 million in donations to the SLF and CLF comes from entities organized as non-profits that do not disclose their donors. $18.7 million in funding comes from the American Action Network, a non-profit run by the same group of leaders, including former Republican Senator Norm Coleman, that run the CLF. The source of these funds is entirely opaque. 

The Democratic counterparts to the SLF and CLF, the House Majority PAC (HMP) and the Senate Majority PAC (SMP), raise significant funds from billionaires — but it is a smaller percentage of their total receipts. According to Americans for Tax Fairness, the HMP and SMP have collectively raised $154 million in the 2022 cycle. About $25 million, around 17%,  has come from billionaires. 

The reliance on billionaire dollars by Republicans and Democrats in 2022 reflects an acceleration of an alarming trend in American politics. Since the Supreme Court eliminated limits on so-called “independent” expenditures by corporations and the wealthy in Citizen’s United (2010), political spending by billionaires on federal races has exploded. 

During the first two years of the pandemic, the net worth of the 44 billionaires who donated this cycle to the main Democratic and Republican Super PACs increased by $168 billion. These billionaires are now using a small percentage of their extraordinary wealth to shape the federal government to meet their economic and ideological interests. 

LINKS

Bank of America Memo: “We Hope” Worker Power Worsens by Ken Klipperstein and Jon Schwartz for The Intercept.

Billionaires Buying Elections: How the Nation’s Wealthiest Translate Economic Power Into Political Clout by Americans for Tax Justice.

The billionaires buying the midterm elections by Judd Legum for Popular Information.

How corporate cash could make an extremist the next Governor of Pennsylvania by Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby for Popular Information.

The expected backlash against the Democrats

July 29, 2022

By all accounts, the Democrats are about to be crushed in the elections this fall.

That is because the Democratic establishment is on the side of elites and not on the side of ordinary Americans.

Because they are on the side of a cultural elite, they are failing to curb the excesses of the “woke” cultural revolution.

Because they are on the side of economic elites, they are failing to do anything to address the growing economic distress and U.S. decline generally.

The problem is that the Republican establishment also is on the side of economic elites.  There is a clash of economic elites.  Democrats generally align with Silicon Valley and the Republicans with the fossil fuel industry, but neither represents the interests of the majority of Americans.

On the cultural front, the Republican leadership can be as wrong-headed as the Democratic leaders.  At the one extreme, there are Democrats who favor gender reassignment surgery, including castrations and mastectomies, for teenage children.  At the other, there are Republicans who want to go after a physician for giving an abortion to a 10-year-old victim of rape.

The best possible outcome on the cultural front would be a return to the old live-and-let-live liberalism, which many people now consider conservatism, without the extremes of the radical right.

The best possible outcome on the economic front would be victory for the economic nationalists who represent domestic business interests, over the free traders who represent the global tech and financial firms.  And also victory for the few scattered pro-labor populists.

Both parties are war parties—the Democrats now even more than the Republicans.  I see little hope on that front.

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Why I didn’t watch the Jan. 6 hearings

June 18, 2022

I don’t think the Jan. 6 investigations revealed anything new.  They reached a pre-determined conclusion on an issue most Americans had already made up their minds about, and few Americans care about.

The investigations would have had merit if they can explored why it was the police presence in Washington, D.C., and Capitol Hill specifically, was too small to deal with the mobs.  And why videos showed some Capitol police welcoming the Trump protesters into the Capitol building.  There are innocent explanations for both things, but I would like to know more.

There also would have been merit on hearings on whether legislation is necessary to protect the integrity of the presidential election process at the state level.  Some Republican states are considering legislation to give state legislatures the power to set aside the popular vote and make their own choice of Presidential Electors, or otherwise tampering with the voting process in presidential elections.   This is a real threat to the integrity of the election progress.

There was no chance that Vice President Pence could have changed the outcome of the election.  If Pence had refused to certify the electors, there would have been an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court calling on him to do his Constitutional duty.  If he refused to comply, there would have been some sort of work-around.  If neither of these things happened, the offices of President and Vice-President would have fallen vacant on Jan. 20 and, in accord with the Constitution, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, would have become chief executive of the United States.

The whole national military-police-governmental-business establishment was opposed to Trump overturning the election.  If Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, the establishment might have allowed the election to be overturned, but he wasn’t.

Why do we Americans accept failure and decline?

January 11, 2022

For the past 40 years or so, the USA has been in economic decline.  The proportion of Americans who can’t pay their bills has grown, the industrial base has been hollowed out, wealth has been concentrated at the top, drug addiction and suicide have increased.

Public opinion polls indicate that most Americans understand this, and want something done about it.  But each successive administration—Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden—has been devoted to propping up the status quo.

Our governmental system is a mess.  We can’t do simple things like keep our roads, bridges and electric power grid in repair, provide basic medical care for all Americans or ensure that all school children are literate and numerate.

Again, most Americans are aware of this and would like something better, but nothing happens.

For the past quarter century, the USA has waged a series of wars without a clear goal and without clear results, except to keep the military-industrial complex in existence and the world in chaos.

I think Americans are beginning to wake up to the extent to which their patriotism has been abused and to the need to rebuild at home, but the bipartisan consensus for war continues.

Back in the 1960s, there were leaders who sought to unite Americans for economic justice and for peace.  But Robert F. Kennedy snf the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were assassinated and Walter Reuther, the great labor leader, died.  Malcolm X, the Black Muslim, and Fred Hampton, the black power advocate, who had begun to turn to a more universalist message, also were killed.

Since then there have been policies from above whose effect has been to keep the peace, labor and civil rights movements apart.  The AFL-CIO was split off from the peace movement by funding by the Central Intelligence Agency to support of anti-Communist labor unions abroad.   The civil rights movement was split off from the labor movement by Ford Foundation grants to encourage separate black development; the Ford Foundation also is a major funder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Today the majority of college-educated white liberals have given up on equal rights for all, and instead concentrate on affirmative action for more narrowly defined racial, ethnic and sexual minorities.  Not that there’s anything wrong, in and of itself, with being anti-Communist, black self-determination or any of these other causes.  What’s wrong is the rejection of solidarity by the advocates of these causes.

I think things may change when people high up in the power structure realize that the lack of national unity endangers their own lives and fortunes.  They are threatened by COVID-19.  They are threatened by global climate catastrophe.  They would suffer if the U.S. blunders into war with Russia.

But maybe not.  Maybe they’ve come to believe their own propaganda.  Then it will be up to we the people to rise above our differences and do what’s needed.

LINKS

The Double Bind of Maintaining The Schismogenesis: A Theory of Wokeness by Howie Klein for Down With Tyranny!  Very clear (despite the fancy title) and important.

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The humiliation of Joe Biden

December 21, 2021

The Build Back Better bill was a list of Joe Biden’s campaign promises in legislative form. For months, President Biden and the Democratic leadership in Congress have been weakening the bill in hope of appeasing Senators Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema.

Now, after all these months and waste of work by administration and congressional staff, Senator Manchin has announced he won’t support the bill even in its gutted form.

Manchin, Biden early 2021

There will be no political retaliation as a result of this, either from the Biden Administration or the Senate Democratic leadership. I can imagine Senator Mitch McConnell would do to any Republican who stymied the Republican legislative program.

This is not only a defeat for Joe Biden. It is a public humiliation.

A year or so into President Barack Obama’s first term, I wondered whether he was a progressive who was very weak and naive, or a conservative who was very cunning. I decided the latter was true.

I don’t have the same question with Biden. Defeat of his program may have been unavoidable, but he didn’t have to set himself up to be made to look like a fool.

Obama failed to deliver on his campaign promises, and the opposition party swept with mid-term congressional elections. Most political observers expect the same thing to happen again.

LINKS

The Democrats Go Full Gotterdammerung as Manchin Makes DOA of BBB Official by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Build Back Better Now DOA: Next Phase of US Economic & Political Crisis Begins by Jack Rasmus.

Why Trump won in 2016 and lost in 2020

December 16, 2021

Donald Trump would have won the 2020 election if not for the Covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, according to political scientist Thomas Ferguson.

He explained why in an academic paper he co-wrote in November and an interview a couple of days ago on Paul Jay’s theAnalysis podcast.

Ferguson is known for his “investment theory of political parties.”  He sees American politic as a conflict between powerful economic interests, not between voting blocs.  The economic interests select and invest in candidates; the public gets to choose between the candidates the investors select.   

Trump was on the verge of losing in 2016 and was saved by a last-minute surge in campaign funding by wealthy donors who feared he would take the Republican Party down with him, Ferguson said.

Trump got campaign support from the oil and gas, coal mining, timber, agri-business industries, which he favored, The Koch brothers, for example, get their wealth from energy and other resources industries. 

I notice that these industries are based in parts of the USA in which states are over-represented in the Senate and Electoral College in proportion to their populations.  This was a big factor in 2020.

While Trump appealed to racial and nativist prejudice, Ferguson said this did not determine the outcome.

His protectionist trade policies were popular with industrial workers as well as manufacturing CEOs.  He got support from farmers because his administration compensated them for losses as a result of trade wars with China.  

All these things, together with the relatively good performance of the economy, put Trump in a good position to win in 2020, Ferguson said.

But his ineffective response to the Covid crisis cost him support from corporate executives and also college-educated Republicans who otherwise might have voted for him out of party loyalty.

The voters’ response to the 2020 strikes and protests movements is interesting and not easy to explain.  Usually, when there are civil disorders, there is a backlash in favor of the police and law-and-order.  This time was different.

Ferguson’s analysis showed that there was a correlation between counties in which there was an upsurge in Black Lives Matter, environmental and others kinds of protests, and counties in which there was strong support for Joe Biden.  The only exception to this were counties with large Hispanic populations.  Also, there was no correlation between Biden voting and wildcat labor strikes.

The point is that it is premature to count out Donald Trump and his followers.  President Biden and the Democrats need to do more than just be anti-Trump if they are to retain office.  They can’t afford to let the economy falter or Covid spread. [*]

###

Is the USA a democracy?

Paul Jay asked Ferguson whether he thinks the USA is a democracy.  Ferguson said democracy is an “honorific” term, not an analytical term.  No voting system, in and of itself, can empower the public to overcome the enormous concentration of wealth that exists in today’s USA, he said.

He said wage-earners in the USA and other rich Western countries do still have more rights than they do in Russia or China (although Ferguson acknowledged China’s economic achievements.)

And political disorder in the United States has not yet reached the point as it did in the late Weimar Republic, where political killings by para-military militias were an almost daily occurrence.

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Can progressives win U.S. workers’ votes? (2)

November 13, 2021

The Commonsense Solidarity poll indicates that the priorities of working-class American voters are the same as mine. Given a choice of five alternatives, they preferred the Progressive Populist option.  I do, too.

The problem is the topics the soundbite poll didn’t cover.  None of the soundbites mention the forever wars, civil liberties and voting rights, and climate change is an afterthought.  These are all fundamental problems that have to be solved if the Progressive Populist agenda is to be enacted.

Mainstream Moderate

America is better than this.  We have to stop demonizing each other based on which party we support, how much money we make or the color of our skin—it’s time to heal.  We need common sense leaders who will stick up for working people, listen to the experts, reach across the aisle and get things done.

Republican

What makes America great is the freedom of the American people.  But today, freedom is under threat from radical socialists, arrogant liberals and dangerous foreign influences.  We need strong leaders in Washington to protect conservative values and defend the Constitution against those who want destroy the greatest country in the world.

Two things are important to remember.  One is that the survey is not of a cross-section of the American public, but of the working class—defined as non-Republicans without college educations, earning less than $100,000 a year.  These are the voters whose support Democrats need to win.

The other is that poll covers the entire working class, not the “white” working class.  Poll respondents were opposed to “systemic racism”; this just wasn’t their top priority. 

I assume that, all other things being equal, working-class Americans would be in favor of winding down the wars, reining in the military and dealing with the effects of climate change, but most of them are more concerned with bread-and-butter issues.  The poll doesn’t go into that, however.

Some self-identified conservatives endorse the Republican agenda, as outlined in the soundbite, but at the same time are anti-war, pro-civil liberties and, up to a point, pro-worker, although not defenders or voting rights or action on climate change.

If I was forced to choose, I’d prefer one of them to a mainstream moderate, woke moderate or even a woke progressive who won’t stick up for peace, freedom of speech or labor rights.

LINKS

Commonsense Solidarity: How a working-class coalition can be built and maintained by Jacobin, the Center for Working-Class Politics and YouGov.

The Left Needs More Than Low-Hanging Fruit to Win by Jared Abbott for Jacobin.

Can progressives win U.S. workers’ votes?

November 10, 2021

Jacobin magazine, the YouGov polling organization and the newly organized Center for Working-Class voters did a poll to find out what progressives need to do to win working-class voters.  Here are the key takeaways.

Working class voters prefer progressive candidates who focus primarily on bread and better issues, and who frame those issues in universal terms. This is especially true outside deep blue parts of the country.

Candidates who prioritized bread-and-butter issues (jobs, health care, the economy) and who presented them in plainspoken, universalist rhetoric, performed significantly better than those who had other priorities or used other language.  This general pattern was even more dramatic in rural and small-town areas, where Democrats have struggled in recent years.

Populist, class-based progressive campaign messaging appeals to working-class voters at least as well as other varieties of Democratic messaging.

Candidates who named elites as a major cause of America’s problems, invoked anger at the status quo and celebrated the working class were well received by working class voters—even when pitted against more “moderate” strains of Democratic rhetoric.

Progressives do not need to surrender questions of social justice to win working class voters, but “woke” activist-inspired rhetoric is a liability.

Potentially Democratic working-class voters did not shy away from progressive candidates or candidates who strongly opposed racism.  But candidates who framed that opposition in highly-specialized, identity-focused language fared significantly worse than candidates who embraced either populist or mainstream language.

Working class voters prefer working-class candidates.

A candidate’s race or gender does not appear to matter much to potentially Democratic working-class voters. But candidates with upper-class backgrounds performed significantly less well than other candidates.  Class background matters.

Working-class non-voters are not automatic progressives.

We find little evidence that low-propensity voters fail to vote because they don’t see sufficiently progressive views reflected in the political platforms of mainstream Democratic candidates.

Democratic partisanship does not hurt progressive candidates.

Working-class voters prefer progressive candidates running as Democrats to candidates who stress their independence from the party.

Blue-collar workers are especially sensitive to candidate messaging—and respond even more acutely to the differences between populist and “woke” language.

Primarily manual blue-collar workers, in comparison with primarily white-collar workers, were even more drawn to candidates who stressed bread-and-butter issue, and who avoided activist rhetoric.

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There really is a vast right-wing conspiracy

October 25, 2021

There is a possibility of an anti-democratic right-wing coup in the United States.  There really is.  Here’s how it might work.

You have another close Presidential election, like the ones in 2016 and 2020.  The balance of the electoral vote is in a few key states with Republican majorities in the state legislatures.

Those Republicans invoke Section II, Article 1, of the Constitution, which says: “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature shall direct, a number of electors… …”

This is interpreted to mean that the state legislatures have the power to set aside election results, disregarding their own state laws and their governors.

Competing slates of electors go to Washington (this happened once before, in 1876).  

Another Constitutional question arises.  Who decides which electors are legitimate?  The Vice-President, whose duty is to certify the Electoral Collage vote?  The House of Representatives, whose duty is to pick a winner when no candidate has a majority?  Congress as a whole?  The Supreme Court?

There is mass protest, in Washington (as happened in 2020) and the state capitols (as was feared, but didn’t happen).  A President is inaugurated, but tens of millions of Americans believe the government is illegitimate.  Martial law is declared.  A low-level civil war begins.

I do not predict this will happen in 2024, but I do believe a constitutional crisis is inevitable if things go on as they are.  The moments of maximum danger will be during a future crises—an economic crash, defeat in a major war or failure to cope with disasters and plagues.

The economic historian Adam Tooze pointed out in his latest book that a constitutional crisis was avoided in 2020 only because all the forces of the American establishment were dead set against Donald Trump.  This includes the military, the intelligence community, the Supreme Court, big business and the press.

All of them regarded Trump as dangerously unpredictable, and Joe Biden as a safe choice.  But he said the balance of forces might have been different if the incumbent had been, say, Jeb Bush and the narrow victor had been, say, Bernie Sanders. 

Political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. had a good discussion of this with Paul Jay on Jay’s podcast, based on an article Reed wrote for Nonsite.org.

Reed pointed out that Republicans are numerically the minority party in the USA, but they hold on to power partly by the peculiarities of the U.S. electoral system, but also by using their power in state legislatures to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts, and to restrict or discourage voting by Democratic blocs.

Reed said a large number of right-wing Republicans believe that no real American could have voted for Biden, and so the only way Biden could have voted is for the Democrats to have colluded with those who are not real Americans.

There are armed right-wing fanatics who say they are prepared for civil war.  Some of them the black flag of “no quarter,” meaning they intend to kill their enemies without mercy, along with the American flag.  

I don’t think there are a lot of them—far fewer, in fact, than turned out for the Black Lives Matter protests.  But it doesn’t take many to start something that will create an excuse for martial law.

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Biden and the progressives

September 30, 2021

I’m not sure what to make of President Biden.  He says good things about labor rights, economic inequality, high drug prices and curbing monopoly power.  He listens to progressives and has appointed progressives to important positions in his administration.

The economic legislation he has proposed will materially benefit the majority of Americans.  More importantly, unlike Presidents Obama and Clinton, he hasn’t proposed anything that will be actively harmful, such as deregulating the finance industry or unconditionally bailing out crooked Wall Street financiers.

The question is my mind is: Does he really mean what he says?  Or is he, like Obama and Clinton, merely setting up a plausible excuse for failure?

The economic legislation he originally proposed was an omnibus bill to build needed infrastructure, invest in “human capital” and expand the welfare state.  To get it passed, he and the Democratic leaders in Congress agreed to split the infrastructure part from the welfare part, but on condition that the infrastructure bill wouldn’t be enacted unless the Build Back Better welfare bill also was enacted.

Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were two of the Democrats who pledged to support the Build Back Better bill.  But now they’re gone back on their word and now oppose the bill.  My morning newspaper reported that President Biden is trying to find out what they would be willing to settle for.

But what is the point of negotiating with people who won’t keep their word?

If Lyndon Johnson had been President or Senate Majority Leader, Manchin and Sinema would be stripped of their committee assignments, no bills they introduced for the benefit of their states would come up for a vote and they would be cut off from support by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee—not just because they opposed their party’s program, but because they broke their word.

Another key test for President Biden is the filibuster.  A majority in the Senate has the power to change the rules so that laws can be enacted with 51 votes (or 50 plus the Vice President’s vote).  If the filibuster isn’t broken, the Democasts won’t be able to pass their voting rights act, Republican state legislatures will be able to rig the election laws and Democrats will likely lose the 2022 midterm elections.

One reasonable change in the filibuster is to restore it to its original meaning, which was unlimited debate.  Require those who want to delay a vote to go on the floor and keep talking, rather than just register their opposition and go home.  If President Biden and the Democratic leadership won’t even do that, they are not serious.

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COVID-19 and the war on populism

September 13, 2021

Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Thomas Frank had a good interview last week on the Breaking Points TV show.  It’s worth watching.

He talked about how failure to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus, instead of being blamed on the failed health care system, is instead blamed on people who are skeptical of established authority.

The problem is that there are good reasons to be skeptical of authority.  It was Anthony Fauci, who is nowadays considered to the voice of science, who in the early days of the pandemic said that it was not to be taken seriously, it was just like the ‘flu, and that masks were useless.

It was the Centers for DIsease Control that, in the early days, advised the U.S. government not to screen air travelers coming in from China. 

Established authority nowadays tells us that vaccination will prevent the spread of the disease, when, so far as is known, it merely suppresses the symptoms and does little or nothing to stop the spread.

Nobody is being called to account for this.  The bulk of the press, the political establishment and the medical establishment say that everything that has gone wrong, and everything that is predictably going to go wrong, is the fault of right-wingers who refuse to get vaccinated.

There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t get vaccinated.  There are medical reasons.  There are economic reasons.  There are religious reasons.

And of course there are conspiracy theorists who think the pandemic is a Democratic hoax.  I don’t share their views, of course, but conspiracy theories flourish in times like these, when established authority can’t be trusted.

Whatever the reasons people have for not getting vaccinated, ridicule and scapegoating are not good methods for bringing them around.  They are, however, good tactics for diverting blame for failure from the people in charge.

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Deplorables and liberal hate speech

September 4, 2021

When I was a small boy, one of the things my mother forbid me to do was to say I “hated” someone.  I could say I was angry with them or annoyed with them or use some other word, but to hate someone is to wish they were dead, and I certainly didn’t want that, did I?

Nowadays I hear and read complaints from self-described progressives about un-vaccinated people who get COVID, and how wrong it is for these willfully ignorant Trump supporters to be given space in hospitals when decent, rational liberal people need the space.

The idea is that if willfully un-vaccinated people (although presumably not including un-vaccinated African-Americans and Hispanics, I presume) die of COVID, maybe they have it coming, maybe they should be allowed to die, because they had a choice to be vaccinated and didn’t take it.  I’m guessing the people who talk this way don’t literally mean what they say, but still……

On the other hand, I don’t doubt the sincerity of the exterminationist rhetoric of a blogger named Chris Ladd,  who wrote that democracy can only be saved my meeting radical Trump supporters with deadly force.

Ashli Babbit, the traitor shot by police during the attempted coup, deserved what happened to her.  Every other traitor who mounted those steps that day deserved the same end.  The only tragedy in that incident is that she was the only attacker killed.

No, her death wasn’t “unfortunate,” any more than every death of every living thing is unfortunate.  Violence used to protect our most fundamental institutions was necessary, just, and in the service of a brighter future.  Babbit’s death deserves just as much regret or discomfort as the death of one of the 9/11 plotters or some random Nazi.

The loss of any life is regrettable and also often necessary.  If we cannot embrace what happened to Ashli Babbit, and make sure it happens to others like her, we will very soon live in a post-democratic, disintegrating former nation.

He called for the suppression of the Republican Party.

There’s little need to worry about what happens to hardened Trump cultists.  There aren’t as many of them as it seems and they have minimal cultural and financial power.  Faced with a real confrontation, with real material consequences, the number of them who will continue the fight will drop off precipitously, leaving the rest to be easily isolated and neutralized. ……

For now, isolate Republicans from every center of cultural influence by any available means.  Make it expensive and risky for anyone to identify publicly with the GOP.  When Republicans attempt their coup, as they will, make sure they have nothing to support them but their small band of idiot cultists and the financial backing of a handful of millionaire weirdos.

Bring whatever organized violence is necessary to blunt Republican attempts to destroy democracy.  And don’t flinch.  On the backside of that coup, rout them from every remaining position of public trust and jail as many of them as possible.

In a different post, Ladd said the founding myth of the United States is white supremacy.  Americans, he said, defined ourselves as not being the non-white “other.”  We need a new founding myth, he wrote, one in which we demonize the right-wing deplorables.  In other words, we substitute one powerless minority for another as national scapegoats.

Ladd equated Republicans with Trump supporters, white evangelical Christians, white supremacists and terrorists, and people who take ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment—all, in his view, incapable of rational thinking.

If you created a Venn diagram of all the groups he mentioned, it would be complicated and confusing.  Many Republicans despise Trump.  On the other hand, a small but significant number of former Obama voters voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

White evangelical Protestants are not all of one mind and, as a group, they are not racists in any meaningful sense of that word, unless you think that religious and political conservatives are by definition racist.  Actual white supremacists, whose works I read on the Internet, despise the Republican party and feel betrayed by Trump.

Although Donald Trump was anti-lockdown and anti-mask, he advocated vaccination and launched the successful Warp Speech program to develop vaccinations.  While he was in office, many liberals warned against the possibility of vaccines being released before they were ready, then changed their minds right after the 2020 elections.  Republicans are not the only ones who are politicizing medicine.

Certainly the Jan. 6 mob deserve to be punished for their acts of assault, trespass and vandalism.  But most of them sincerely believed they were defending democracy, not attacking it, by protesting election rigging.  There never was a possibility they would threaten the transition of government.  And so on.

On the other hand, if you created a Venn diagram of those who are trying to suppress discussion of ivermectin, and a Venn diagram of those who oppose winding down the forever wars, I think they would pretty much overlap.

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The fall of Andrew Cuomo

August 12, 2021

Gov. Cuomo

As with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and many another public figure, the things NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo was most attacked for were not the worst things that he did.

Cuomo probably deserved to be impeached for corruption.  I don’t know whether the sex scandal was grounds for impeachment.  Of course impeachment on charges of corruption might have led to disclosures that would have embarrassed a whole lot of people.

By resigning, he avoids impeachment and preserves the option of a political comeback.

LINKS

The Real Question Is Why Andrew Cuomo Took So Long to Fall by Zephyr Teachout for The Nation.

Andrew Cuomo’s Legacy: Normalizing Corruption and Lawlessness by David Sirota for Jacobin.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Resigns in Sex Scandal by David Walsh for the World Socialist Web Site.

Nine other scandals surrounding the New York governor by Robert Gavin for the Albany Times-Union.

How culture wars have replaced class conflict

August 11, 2021

Note: I made several last-minute revisions and additions to this post the evening and following morning after I put it up.

Source: Mother Jones

American politics nowadays is extremely bitter.  Many Democrats and Republicans literally hate the opposing party.  In some circles, there’s talk of a new civil war.

Yet the leaders of the two parties differ but little on fundamental political and economic issues.  None of them questions the goal of global military supremacy.  Neither is facing up to the pandemic or the impending climate-related disasters.  Neither questions the existing structure of wealth and power.

But our politics is not about economic and political change.  It is about cultural change.

One party is pushing the ongoing revolution in how we think about race, religion, the family and sexual morality; the other is resisting it.  These issues are important, but they don’t have political answers.  But here we are.  They are on the political agenda, whether I like it or not.

Some friends of mine pointed me to an important article by David Brooks in The Atlantic about the background to all this.  He said that we are in the unusual position of having an elite of income and wealth who think of themselves as progressive, and push for change they think is progressive, while remaining blind to their own privilege.

The late Saul Alinsky said politics is a conflict between the haves, the have-nots and the have-a-littles.  As Brooks points out, this is not politics in today’s USA.  He describes a blue hierarchy and a red hierarchy, and points out that political antagonism is mostly between groups at the same levels in the opposing hierarchies (Koch brothers vs. Bill Gates, social workers vs. cops).

Brooks’ blue hierarchy consists of:

  • The bohemian bourgeoisie: Technology and media corporate CEOs, university and foundation presidents, high-level bankers, highly-successful physicians and CEOs.  Many are graduates of elite universities.  They think they owe their success to their superior intelligence and understanding.
  • The creative class: Tenured professors, successful journalists, employees of non-profit and cultural institutions.
  • Children of the elite: Younger people with elite educations, but without elite incomes, working in the lower rungs of education, the mass media, technology and the non-profit sector.
  • The caring class: Health care workers, and also restaurant servers, store clerks and hotel employees.  They tend to be racially diverse, and poor.

His red hierarchy consists of:

  • The philistine one-percenters:  Corporate executives, entrepreneurs, top-level professionals.  Few are graduates of top universities.  They think they owe their success to their superior common sense and grit.
  • The regional gentry: Families in small cities and towns who’ve owned businesses and properties for generations, and identify with their communities.
  • The proletarian aristocracy (aka the petit bourgeoisie): Small-business owners, independent craft workers (electricians, plumbers), salaried middle managers.
  • The rural working class.  Wage-earners with highly-supervised jobs in manufacturing, construction and transportation.  They tend to be poor, and racially homogeneous, living among family and friends they’ve known all their lives.

I would mention another key group in the red coalition.

  • The guardian class.  State and local police, private security and the career military.  They are important not only because of their numbers, but because of the respect the enjoy and because of the key role they would play in any breakdown in social order.  Counteracting this is the new wokeness at the top levels of the Pentagon and FBI.

What unites the blue and red hierarchies?  Not material interests.  Values.  What are they fighting over?  Validation of their values.  Validation of their ways of living and ways of thinking, and repudiation of those of their enemies.  Also higher status, but mainly validation.

What Brooks doesn’t get into is the large number of Americans who don’t feel represented by either the blue or the red hierarchy  They either see no material benefit in voting or they reluctantly vote for what they see as a lesser evil.

Not everybody is enlisting to fight in the culture wars.  Some care more secure jobs, or secure retirements, or an end to useless, unwinnable wars, or protection from pandemic disease, or something else that’s tangible and real and not a matter of attitude.

LINKS

How the bohemian bourgeoisie broke America by David Brooks for The Atlantic.  “The creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth.  Instead we got resentment, alienation and endless political dysfunction.”  Yep!

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Thomas Frank on anti-Trump authoritarians

August 8, 2021

AFP via Getty Images

Thomas Frank, writing in Le Monde diplomatique, points out that the hard core Trump haters are just as authoritarian as President Trump himself.

I remember, back in the 1950s, that the conventional wisdom among college-educated liberals was that if you wanted to fight Communism, you had to understand and address the reasons why poor and down-trodden people saw Communism as an answer.

Those liberals also perceived that threats to liberty could come in many forms: not just fascism, but Communism; not just Communism, but the followers of Joe McCarthy and the Ku Klux Klan.

In the era of Donald Trump, establishment liberals lack this insight.  They do not look at the reasons why ordinary people might turn to someone like Donald Trump, and they fight dissent by trying to silence dissenters.

Here’s how Thomas Frank puts it—

….. Millions of ordinary Americans despise the well educated elite. Why?

Look at the opioid epidemic that raged through middle America in the years before 2016 — a gift of Big Pharma and the medical profession.

Look at the de-industrialization that afflicted the same geographic areas — a product of our brilliant free trade deals.

Look at the global financial crisis and the bailouts — the deeds of America’s greatest math and financial geniuses, who faced almost no consequences for their actions.

Look at the Iraq War — the toast of the foreign policy establishment.

Look at the incredible fact that American life expectancy was actually declining in the years before 2017 rather than increasing.

Trump did nothing to solve any of these problems.  But everyone knows they exist.

One side talks, lectures, scolds and instructs, and the other side — silent by definition these days — seethes with resentment.

Everyone knows this awful dynamic had a role in elevating the racist demagogue Trump to the presidency.  Everyone also knows this country is primed to explode.  [snip]

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Corporate dems oppose Medicare for all

July 1, 2021

Nina Turner, who’s running for Congress in the Democratic primary on northeast Ohio, is under attack by the corporate wing of the Democratic Party for supporting Medicare for All.

Pharmaceutical industry lobbyists are backing her main primary opponent, Shontel Brown.  So are Hillary Clinton and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, both big beneficiaries of donations from Big Pharma.

As my friend Bill Harvey says, corporate Democrats are not “moderates” or “centrists.”  Their agenda is to block the opponents of big business.

LINK

Dems Launch Proxy War on Medicare for All by David Sirota and Julia Rock for The Daily Poster.

Why don’t we Americans demand what we want?

June 3, 2021

A short answer is that not enough of us are like Bill Harvey and Dennis Kucinich.

A longer answer is that our political process has induced a state of learned helplessness among American voters.

Our leaders are constantly promising “hope and change,” and then telling us that, regrettably, it wasn’t really possible.

We saw this with the Obama administration. We are seeing the beginnings of this with the Biden administration.

So over time we become conditioned to the idea that universal health care, or a minimum wage that is a living wage, or anything else that would make life better, are impossible dreams.

Why can’t we Americans get what we want?

June 2, 2021

Here are some bits of information I pulled from a post by a blogger named Benjamin David Steele.

###

Columbia law Professor Tim Wu wrote an op-op in the New York Times that included the following list of things he observed the public wants, but is not getting:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy.

The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support.

Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws.

Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

The list goes on.

Michael Moore included a segment in his film “Fahrenheit 11/9” released last fall (pre-election) intended to bring home the realization of how much more to the left the American public is than what the political establishment is providing.

Here are the facts.

The vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. [Slide: 71% pro-choice (NBC News/Wall Street Journal, 2018)]

They want equal pay for women, [Slide: 82% Equal pay for women (YouGov, 2013)]

  • stronger environmental laws, [Slide: 74% stronger environmental laws (Gallup, 2018)]
  • legalized marijuana, [Slide: 61% legalized marijuana (Pew, 2018)]
  • a raise in the minimum wage, [Slide: 61% raise the minimum wage (National Restaurant Association Poll, 2018)]
  • Medicare for all, [Slide: 70% medicare for all (Reuters, 2018)]
  • tuition-free college, [Slide: 60% tuition-free public college (Reuters, 2018)]
  • free child care, [Slide: 59% free child care (Gallup, 2016)]
  • support for labor unions, [Slide: 62% Approve of labor unions (Gallup, 2018)]
  • a cut in the military budget, [Slide: 61% a cut in the military budget (University of Maryland, 2016)]
  • break up the big banks. [Slide: 58% Break up the big banks (Progressive Change Institute, 2015)]

Most Americans don’t even own a gun. [Slide: 78% Don’t own a gun (Harvard University, 2016)]

And 75% believe that immigration is good for the U. S. [Slide: 75% Immigration is good for the U.S. (Gallup, 2018)]

And on and on and on.

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Democrats support their cause more intensely

April 18, 2021

Willingness to donate to a political party is a measure of how strongly you support it. I came across a couple of graphs that show how the depth of support for Democrats (measured in donations) exceeds support for Republicans.

Double click to enlarge.

The top chart shows the number donors to the Trump and Biden campaigns from various occupations; the bottom chart shows the same thing from various institutions.  The size of the circle indicates the number of donors; the intensity of the blue for Biden or red for Trump indicates how much of a majority they had with each group.

Double click to enlarge.

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