Friday, March 15, 2019

Editorial: Dems Fight for the Vote

Alarms have been raised by “concern trolls” that Democrats are at risk of alienating voters by overreaching with their aggressive agenda as the new House majority.

While the corporate media like to push the story that Democrats are in disarray, House committees have stepped up investigations of the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia as well as the Trump administration’s attempts to obstruct the special prosecutor’s investigation. Meanwhile Democrats are proceeding with plans to promote expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, set Congress on course to address climate change as well as create new economic opportunities with a Green New Deal, and passed a major bill to increase voting rights and reform campaign procedures to reduce candidates’ dependence on lobbyists to finance their campaigns.

The electoral reform bill, known as HR 1, the “For the People Act,” passed by a party-line vote of 234-193 on March 8. It includes provisions for publicly financing federal elections and requiring candidates for president to release their tax returns.

The bill has been a top priority for Democrats since the party won back the majority in the House in November, in an election marked by challenges to voting rights, including voter suppression efforts by the Georgia Secretary of State’s office under Brian Kemp, which may have provided the margin of victory for Republican Kemp in the race for governor over Democrat Stacey Abrams.

The bill would create a national voter registration system, including expansion of online voter registration, and end aggressive voter purges and election day voter registration. It would provide funding for states to adopt paper ballots, restore voting rights for ex-felons and declare Election Day as a federal holiday. It also would institute new donor disclosure requirements for political organizations and a 6-to-1 matching system to multiply small-dollar donations to federal campaigns.

The bill also prohibits gerrymandering by requiring independent commissions instead of state legislatures to draw congressional maps and would allow federal workers to take up to six days of paid leave to work at polls.

While the public likes most of the provisions in the bill, it is unlikely to advance in the Senate. Every Republican in the House voted against the bill, because conservatives know they are increasingly unlikely to win in fair elections, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he will not bring the election reform bill, which he characterized as a “radical, half-baked socialist proposal,” up for a vote in the Senate.

At least it was another victory for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who held the Democratic caucus together for the electoral reform bill, which some moderate House Democrats said went too far. Ten days earlier, all but two Democrats voted for another potentially controversial bill — requiring federal background checks for nearly all firearms sales and transfers, which the House passed 240-190. That bill is popular, but it also is expected to die in the Republican Senate, which is beholden to the National Rifle Association.

Democrats seem to take little risk in passing bills that are popular but face a roadblock in the Senate. It gives voters a reason to want to see Democrats take back the Senate and the White House.

There also is little reason to be pessimistic about Democrats’ chances of beating Trump, who has never had an approval rating of 50% or more since he’s been president. When he took office in January 2017 he had a national approval rating of 45.5%, according to an weighted average of polls reviewed by But even that anemic level of approval quickly began to founder and bottomed out at 36.5% in December 2017 (which finally settles the question of how many people one can fool all of the time).

Trump’s ratings have fluctuated since then, with approval in the high 30s to low 40s, while disapproval has remained in the low 50s. As of March 12, showed him with 41.7% approved and 53.5% disapproved, which is not a good look for a president seeking re-election. In January, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found 56% of Americans said the will “definitely not” vote for Trump’s re-election. And this was before many Trump supporters discovered Trump’s billionaire tax cuts didn’t reach them.

Perhaps more important, Trump has seen his approval ratings plunge in states he carried in November 2016. When he took office, he had a net positive rating in 38 states, according to Morning Consult’s tracking poll, but in January 2019, Trump’s positive states were down to 17, while 31 states had a net negative and two states — Nebraska and Texas — were tossups at 48% approval and 48% disapproval. Two years ago, Trump had a 23-point net positive in Nebraska while Texas was a 20-point net positive for him.

Alaska, Kansas and Montana, all 24-point net positives for Trump in January 2017, were only one point positives for him this past January. Among the states still positive toward Trump, but within single digits, are Indiana and North Dakota, both within four points.

Among states Trump won in 2016 that are now net negative on him are Georgia, down 20 points since 2017, to one point net negative (47-48); Missouri, down 21 points since 2017, to two points negative (47-49); Florida, down 26 points, to four points negative (46-50); North Carolina, down 22 points, to four points net negative (46-50); Ohio, down 20 points, to six points negative (45-51); Utah, down 33 points, to six points negative (45-51); Arizona, down 28 points, to eight points negative (44-52); Pennsylvania, down 20 points, to 10 points net negative (43-53); Iowa, down 23 points, to 14 points net negative (41-55); Michigan, down 23 points, to 15 points net negative (40-55); and Wisconsin, down 22 points, to 16 points net negative (40-56).

Those numbers should not give Republicans confidence going into the 2020 elections. When they expect to have to fight for Utah, Texas and Nebraska, that not only is good news for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee. It also presents opportunities for Democrats in House and Senate races against Trump enablers, when Republicans will be defending 22 Senate seats while 12 Democratic seats will be up for election.

If Democrats win the White House, they’ll need to gain at least three seats to gain control of the Senate. Sen. Doug Jones is the Democrat facing the toughest re-election fight, in Alabama, but endangered Republican incumbents include Cory Gardner in Colorado, Susan Collins in Maine and Martha McSally in Arizona. If Trump pulls down the ticket, other endangered Republicans could include Joni Ernst in Iowa, David Perdue in Georgia, an open seat in Kansas as Pat Roberts is retiring, Steve Daines in Montana, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, an open seat in Tennessee, where Lamar Alexander is retiring, and it makes it worthwhile for Dems to find a candidate to challenge John Cornyn in Texas. And Mitch McConnell was the third least popular senator, with 47% disapproval and only 38% approval in Kentucky, as of January, according to Morning Consult, so Democrats should find a good candidate to put up against him.

With those states up for grabs, Republicans figure they can’t afford to risk fair elections. So, with HR1, the “For the People Act,” buried deep in the bowels of the Senate, you can expect Republicans to devise new ways to keep likely Democrats from casting ballots in 2020. So far, 14 candidates have announced they’re running for the Democratic nomination for president and at least 10 more are considering a run. Any of them would be better than Trump and his gangster associates. Please, this time, don’t make reckless charges about rival Democrats that you can’t take back after the nomination is decided. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2019

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Selections from the April 1, 2019 issue

COVER/Austin Frerick
Fixing our food system — and reviving rural America — means breaking up big ag

Dems fight for the vote


Methodism revisited: No turning back

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Don’t Bern the Dems’ hopes

Trump budget reneges on promises to protect Social Security and Medicare;
Republicans reserve the right to bash Muslims, minorities;
Trump tells blackface joke at RNC fundraiser;
Trump tops 9,000 lies;
Rate of illegal crossings from Canada rising nearly as rapidly as US border with Mexico;
Sunday morning talk shows ignore Trump massage parlor scandal;
Trump asks UK to drop food and environmental standards for post-Brexit trade deal;
Household net worth falls by lagest amount since Great Recession ...

Sustainable farms depend on soil health

Starving kids won’t help them study

Julián Castro is resetting the Latino image in Iowa

GM is closing my plant. What are politicians going to do about it?

What percent of Cohen’s testimony don’t you believe?

Criticizing Israel isn’t anti-semitic. Here’s what is. 

Have the rich always laughed at stiff taxes?

Costing the Green New Deal

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
How to slay the Medicare beast: A handy guide

Millennials are changing the world, whether you like it or not

Rural America needs Medicare for All now

The ‘S’ word

Reclaiming the peace dividend

Nuclear tensions increase after failed Trump-Kim summit

Public pensions finance immigrant detention

Elvis Costello’s worn out genius

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Who listens to the negro?

Hollywood’s ‘other’ awards ceremony

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Trump fall down go boom

Worse than the wall

Friday, March 1, 2019

Editorial: Curb the Deadbeat Dictator

After President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border, the real crisis involves whether the Republican Party will enable the Great Misleader to assume dictatorial powers.

Trump claimed extraordinary power under the National Emergencies Act (NEA) of 1976 to redirect money Congress had appropriated for other uses to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Trump is using the law, whose constitutionality is uncertain, to fulfill a campaign promise that he would build the wall (despite his promise that Mexico would pay for the wall) — and also to distract from the progress of Robert Mueller’s probe of his business and political ties with Russian oligarchs. The White House plans to divert $3.6 billion from military construction projects to the wall, as well as $2.5 billion from counternarcotics programs and $600 million from a Treasury Department asset forfeiture fund.

Combined with $1.375 billion authorized for fencing in the spending package Congress passed, Trump would have about $8 billion for barriers, significantly more than the $5.7 billion he had demanded from Congress.

When Trump announced the national emergency, he may have undercut his argument that the border situation was urgent. “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster,” he said. “I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”

A bipartisan group of 58 former senior national security officials issued a statement Feb. 25 saying that “there is no factual basis” for Trump’s proclamation of a national emergency to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.

If anything, border crossings have decreased dramatically over the past 20 years, with 467,000 apprensions in 2018, compared with one million as recently as 2006. Border cities in the US boast relatively low crime rates. Nothing going on there requires the use of armed forces — and the use of the US Army to enforce domestic immigration laws may be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of military as a domestic police force.

The NEA provides that Congress can terminate a “national emergency” by passing a joint resolution. The Democratic House has started that process, and they might get the four Republican senators they need to pass the resolution in the Senate, but they probably would need to override the president’s veto with two-thirds majorities, which would require a substantial number of Republicans to stand up to the would-be dictator.

In case Republicans won’t stand up for the constitutional separation of powers, 16 states, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, have sued in federal court to block Trump from stealing federal funds appropriated for their states for other uses.

Trump has cited concerns that the US was being flooded with murderers, drug runners, kidnappers and other offenders from Central America. During his Rose Garden announcement of the emergency declaration, he claimed there was an ongoing “invasion of drugs, invasion of gangs, invasion of people,” including gang members he called “monsters” and migrants who have killed US citizens.

But according to new US Immigration and Customs Enforcement figures obtained by the Washington Post, the nation’s immigration jails were not filled with such criminals. As of Feb. 9, days before the president’s declaration, nearly 63% of the detainees in ICE jails had not been convicted of any crime.

Of the 48,793 immigrants jailed on Feb. 9, ICE data shows, 18,124 had criminal records. An additional 5,715 people had pending criminal charges, officials said, but they did not provide details. ICE also did not break down the severity of the crimes committed by or attributed to detainees.
An average of 59% of detainees in custody during this fiscal year had no criminal history, according to ICE.

Of course, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security does not have a much better record on telling the truth than Trump’s White House. DHS officials still are unable to say how many children were abducted from their parents at the border since the Trump administration took over, or what happened to hundreds of them.

The Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services reported in January that HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement received at least 2,737 separated children before a June 2018 federal court order required ORR to identify and reunify separated children in its care as of that date, but thousands more children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017, before the accounting required by the court. The Trump administration not only failed to track separated families in a single database, but the agencies say they lack the resources to find out what happened to all the separated children. Some of them may have been put up for adoption without their parents’ consent.

Salvadoran officials in August 2018 said three minors from El Salvador separated from their parents after crossing the US border were sexually abused in “shelters” in Arizona, the Associated Press reported. In late July, the news website ProPublica reported that police had received at least 125 reports since 2014 of sex offenses at shelters that mostly house migrant children.

One of the most damaging impacts of the Trump presidency is the normalizing of lying. Republicans have been inoculating their supporters against believing what they call the “liberal media” for more than 40 years, ever since they blamed the mainstream news media for supporting the movement to oust President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal. But the Republican disinformation campaign has been supercharged under Trump, who has taken the use of lying to a level undreamed of in generations past — at least in the United States.

The Washington Post has a team of three fact checkers assigned to examine political statements on a bipartisan basis, but the bulk of their effort has been trying to hold Trump to account for false or misleading claims, which as of Feb. 17 numbered 8,718 in the 25 months since he was inaugurated.

The Post did not have a similar team tracking President Barack Obama’s misstatements, but the New York Times reported in December 2017 that Obama made 18 demonstrably false claims during his eight years in office, while Trump told 103 separate lies or falsehoods in his first 10 months as president. (The Post counted 1,876 false or misleading claims in the same period, but it counted each time Trump repeated a lie as a separate occurrence.) A key difference is that when Obama became aware that what he was saying was untrue, he stopped saying it.

“Trump is different. When he is caught lying, he will often try to discredit people telling the truth, be they judges, scientists, FBI or CIA officials, journalists or members of Congress,” David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Stuart A. Thompson wrote in the New York Times Dec. 14, 2017. “Trump is trying to make truth irrelevant. It is extremely damaging to democracy, and it’s not an accident. It’s core to his political strategy.”

Trump is not only doing damage to domestic politics. America’s historic allies have come to know they cannot trust him, as he has berated and lied about NATO allies, particularly Canada, while cozying up to dictators, particularly Vladimir Putin in Russia.

Republican congressional leaders don’t appear to have a problem with Trump’s strategy. Call your senators and your member of Congress via the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 and urge them to uphold the constitutional separation of powers, with a veto override, if necessary. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2019

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Selections from the March 15, 2019 issue

COVER/Daniel Ross
Factory farms pollute the environment and poison drinking water

Curb the deadbeat dictator


Kaepernick, Reid and the heritage

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen p. 5
What happens when a hog lot moves in near you?

Trump approval tops 50% in only 17 states;
Trump presidency continues to devalue his brand;
Green New Deal doesn’t mention farting cows;
CNN hires Republican operative to head 2020 election coverage;
Drug seizures show empty promise of Trump border wall;
Supreme Court limits civil asset forfeiture;
Coast Guard officer accused of plotting murder of prominent Dems and media personalities;
US hints at military intervention after Venezuelans block 'aid'
NC cout attacks fruits of illegal gerrymandering;
Trump's shameless fli-fop on high=speed rail;
Didn't see the death of clouds coming ...

The Green New Deal outlines the change society needs

Help wanted: Rural America needs immigrants

Take it from me: Addiction doesn’t start at the border

A border crisis sized to TV screens

We need more people, and fewer factories, in farming

Standing together on trade with China

Make arms control great again

Next steps

Spending bill saves sensitive areas from border wall

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
High class robbery

Mexican pollution pours under border wall

They’re off and running

Resetting the doomsday clock

Going over Trump’s wall might lead to better things

A soft focus on Quincy Jones

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
We won’t go back

A super supernatural socialist show

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Punxsutawney Phil sees Trump’s shadow and cries

Marijuana can help fight opioid abuse

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Editorial: Don’t Play Trump’s Game

Donald Trump and the Republicans obviously want to run against socialism and “open borders” in 2020. Democrats shouldn’t let Trump set the terms of the debate, but should run on progressive populist solutions to improve economic opportunities for working Americans.

“We renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” Trump said in his State of the Union speech Feb. 5.

Republicans already are claiming that Democrats, given half a chance, would turn the US into another Venezuela. At the same time the increasingly authoritarian Grand Oligarch Party pushes to build an Iron Curtain along our southern border.

Of course, Republicans have been calling Democrats socialists ever since Franklin D Roosevelt and his advisers drafted the New Deal to revive the economy from the Great Depression in the 1930s — and the accusation that Roosevelt was a socialist was a source of amusement and/or resentment for real socialists ever since. But, socialist or not, voters re-elected FDR three times as the New Deal revived the economy from the Great Depression and saved many a family’s farm and livelihood.

FDR’s government did not take over the means of production, which is the actual definition of socialism, but the New Deal provided support for farmers, created public works programs that put millions of Americans back to work, set up Social Security, which included unemployment insurance, welfare programs and income for disabled people and retirees, and it gave workers the right to organize into unions and bargain collectively. Above all, FDR’s New Deal saved capitalism by regulating it, and the plutocrats never forgave him.

The New Deal coalition dominated Congress through the 1960s, although Southern Democrats and Republicans formed coalitions to roll back the rights of labor organizations with the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 and resisted other liberal initiatives. The New Deal’s last hurrah was Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program, which included the Civil Rights Act and the War on Poverty in 1964, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare in 1965, Medicaid in 1966, as well as consumer and environmental protections, as he got Congress to create the Department of Transportation as a cabinet-level agency and provided federal funding for education, affordable housing, rural development and the arts and public broadcasting.

Opposition to the War in Vietnam and backlash against passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts in the South and among conservative Democrats in the North gave Republicans an opportunity to exploit divisions in the New Deal coalition. That helped Richard Nixon win the presidency in 1968, but Democrats continued to control Congress until 1981, when Republicans gained a majority in the Senate to work with Ronald Reagan during the first six years of his presidency. But Republicans lost the Senate in 1987 and it was not until 1995, in the third year of Bill Clinton’s first term, that Republicans managed to get control of the House and Senate.

In 1999, the Republican Congress, with Clinton’s signature, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which had separated commercial and investment banks, preventing commercial banks from getting involved in speculative stock deals and investment banks from accepting federally insured deposits. The financial services industry made it through eight years of free-market capitalism under George W. Bush before excessive risk-taking by banks, dealing in subprime mortgage debt securities, caused the financial crisis of 2007-08, which spread to a global economic downturn.

It fell to Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress to clean up the mess the free-market Republicans left them, and they proceeded to pass an $800 billion economic stimulus package in February 2009. Obama also approved loans for General Motors and Chrysler to continue operations while they reorganized in March 2009. The stock market bottomed out in March 2009 before beginning the climb back up; the unemployment rate peaked at 10% in October 2009 before the economic recovery kicked in. By November 2012 unemployment had dropped to 7.7% and it continued to drop in Obama’s second term, down to 4.7% when he left office in January 2017.

Republicans accused Obama of being a socialist, of course, so the term has lost much of its sting — so much that young Americans who have grown up since the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are more likely to associate socialism with prosperous democratic socialist states, such as Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Axios reported Feb. 2 that centrist potential Democratic candidates for president are rethinking their plans because the “rising Democratic enthusiasm for big government liberalism” might limit their appeal.

“Michael Bloomberg and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, each of whom were virtual locks to run, are having serious second thoughts after watching Democrats embrace ‘Medicare for All,’ big tax increases and the Green New Deal,” Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei reported for Axios. “Joe Biden, who still wants to run, is being advised to delay any plans to see how this lurch to the left plays out. If Biden runs, look for Bloomberg and McAuliffe to bow out, the sources tell us.”

The Axios writers also noted polling in Iowa “by a prominent 2020 hopeful found that the Democratic electorate has moved sharply left. For instance, the polling found that ‘socialism’ had a net positive rating, while ‘capitalism’ had a net negative rating.”

If so, good feelings toward socialism might reflect national trends. A Gallup Poll found for the first time in August 2018 that Democrats have a more positive view of socialism than capitalism. In 2016, 56% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents had a positive view of capitalism and 58% had a positive view of socialism. By 2018, only 45% had a positive view of capitalism while 57% were positive about socialism.

Among Americans aged 18-29 in the Gallup Poll, 45% were positive about capitalism while 51% were positive about socialism, but older Americans favored capitalism over socialism, with people aged 30-49 favoring capitalism (57%) over socialism (41%), people aged 50-64 favoring capitalism over socialism 60% to 30% and people aged 65 and over favoring capitalism 60% to 28%.

A supermajority of Americans also support taxes that hit the rich. A Fox News poll in January found 70% of voters support raising taxes on those with incomes of over $10 million and 65% support higher taxes on those with incomes over $1 million.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who actually calls himself a democratic socialist, got over 12 million votes and narrowly lost the Democratic nomination in 2016 to centrist Hillary Clinton. With high-profile victories of democratic socialists last year, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York’s 14th Congressional District, the Democratic Socialists of America’s membership has grown from 7,000 members to over 50,000 since 2016.

Support for socialism may have grown in the past few years, but Democrats don’t need to spend time and resources trying make the case for socialism among voters over 30. Democrats should embrace the time-tested brand of progressive populism, which has promoted greater equity among people, rights for labor and farmers, regulation of capitalism, improved social services and universal health care in the United States for the past century.

Above all, Democrats should tell voters what they’ll do if they get back in power. And a Green New Deal, Medicare for All, expansion of Social Security benefits to raise all retirees above the poverty level, and federal grants that make university education affordable for everybody who can make the grade — all paid by higher taxes on the superrich — is a good start. But we’ll let the capitalists keep their corporations, as long as they’ll behave. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2019

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Selections from the March 1, 2019 issue

COVER/Elizabeth Henderson
Why sustainable agriculture should support a Green New Deal

Don’t play Trump’s game


New journalism and the truth behind the facts

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Plant milkweed and trees for life

Trump tax ‘cuts’ may become political disaster.
Trump tells at least 28 lies in State of the Union speech.
NAFTA rewrite would lock in high med prices.
Black Virginians support Gov. Northam in blackface scandal.
Green New Deal reflects 2016 Democratic platform, but stronger.
Senate Leader McConnell linked to Russian oligarchs as sanctions lifted.
Loss of newspapers leads to political polarization.
ICE confirms asylum seekers on hunger strike ae being force-fed.
Trump trade war pushes farmers into record number of bankruptcies.

Nursing the soil back to life

Third-party math is Trump’s fondest calculation

People who seek mental health treatment should be applauded

Can candidates define the national conversation for 2020 amid the chaos?

What is a ‘Green’ New Deal?

State of the Union 2019: Two visions

States should squeeze college coaches to lower tuition and house students

People who care about democracy don’t plot coups abroad

A minimal wage

How the age of billionaires ends

The real crisis

What is right and what is wrong?

How little pharma grew up

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Canaries and the politics of immiseration

Activists, banks and for-profit immigrant prisons

Corruption incorporated

The return of the strike?

The hot honeymoon of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador

Can we all just lighten up about Howard Schultz? 

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Tidying up with Trump

Blacklist and blue

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Fear ... and loathing, but mostly fear

‘Birds of Passage’ depicts the devastation of drug trafficking for South America’s indigenous people