Sunday, May 1, 2016

Editorial: Renew the Deal

Bernie Sanders has come a long way since he announced his plan to seek the Democratic nomination for president on the Capitol lawn on April 30, 2015. The Washington Post called him “an ex-hippie, septuagenarian socialist from the liberal reaches of Vermont who rails, in his thick Brooklyn accent, rumpled suit and frizzy pile of white hair, against the ‘billionaire class’ taking over the country.”

The consensus of the Washington pundit class at that time was that Sanders would be, at most, a speed bump for the Hillary Clinton juggernaut. The self-styled “democratic socialist” had been mayor of Burlington, Vt., then served 16 years in the House before he was elected to the Senate in 2006.

Sanders, who remained independent but caucused with the Dems, was not well-known.
Sanders has been criticized for running a progressive populist campaign that focused on economic issues such as income and wealth inequality, raising the minimum wage, pushing for universal healthcare, reducing the burden of student debt, making public colleges and universities tuition-free by taxing financial transactions, and expanding Social Security benefits by eliminating the cap on the payroll tax on income above $250,000. He also opposes most “free trade” agreements that move manufacturing jobs overseas and he supports legislation that would make it easier for workers to join or form labor unions. And he identified climate change as a national security issue.

Sanders struck a chord. His campaign raised $1.5 million from 35,000 donors in the first day after his announcement. Through March 2016, he had raised $182.2 million from more than seven million individual donations, as he rejected super PAC assistance. Clinton had raised $182.2 million for her own campaign, but she also raised money for the Hillary Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee and state parties, and she has super PACs working independently on her behalf.

Sanders admires Scandinavian social democracy but in a speech at Georgetown University last November, he traced democratic socialism back through President Lyndon B. Johnson to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who used government power to create jobs and lift Americans out of poverty. “I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street or own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a decent standard of living and that their incomes should go up, not down.” Sanders said. “I do believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America, companies that create jobs here, rather than companies that are shutting down in America and increasing their profits by exploiting low-wage labor abroad.”

Sanders is basically a New Dealer and his success in the Democratic primaries shows there is still a groundswell of support for progressive populist democracy in the United States. While Sanders faces diminishing chances of catching up with Clinton for the nomination after the Atlantic primaries on April 26, he should continue his campaign to complete the unfinished business of the New Deal.

As the US struggled to break out of the Great Depression in 1932, Roosevelt committed to government guarantees of social and economic rights for the working class. In a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on Sept. 23, 1932, he sketched what would become the New Deal to put millions of Americans back to work.

In a key passage, FDR said, “As I see it, the task of government in its relation to business is to assist the development of an economic declaration of rights, an economic constitutional order. This is the common task of statesman and business man. It is the minimum requirement of a more permanently safe order of things.”

In his State of the Union speech to Congress Jan. 8, 1941, as the US watched the aggression of Axis nations in Europe and Asia, Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms that people “everywhere in the world ought to enjoy.” They included freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

In what would be his last State of the Union speech on Jan. 11, 1944, with US military forces leading the Allied momentum against Germany and Japan, Roosevelt proposed a second Bill of Rights, an “Economic Bill of Rights,” which built upon the “Four Freedoms.”

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made,” he said..

“In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, race, or creed.”

“Among those are:

“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

“The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

“The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

“The right of every family to a decent home;

“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

“The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

“The right to a good education.

“All of these rights spell security,” he said. “And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

So, if anything, Sanders is in the mainstream of the New Deal spirit that dominated American politics until the right-wing coalition under Ronald Reagan set about to dismantle the government programs that assisted working families and small businesses.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the right’s attitude toward higher education. After World War II, university tuition was practically free in California and New York and tuition was low enough in most states — the average tuition at a four-year public university in 1965 was just $243, the Sanders campaign noted — that a student could work their way through college with summer jobs at minimum wage.

Reagan, who supported FDR when he was an actor, became a leader in the fight to turn back the New Deal in the 1960s. He attacked state support for higher education, first as governor of California, where he imposed tuition at California universities, and later as president, where he targeted higher education funding and ended up cutting Pell grants and excluded middle-class students from the program. He limited the grants to lower-income families, which made it easier for Congress to cut the program further. Reagan also cut low-interest student loans and restricted eligibility for them. He phased out Social Security survivors’ education benefits, which provided one-fifth of student aid in 1981. Republicans at the state level also reduced their commitment to keeping higher education affordable for the working class, and tuition and other college fees skyrocketed.

If Hillary Clinton wants to win over Sanders’ supporters, particularly his young supporters, and parents who are trying to help their children get a college education, she should discover her inner Roosevelt and adopt Sanders’ progressive populist position on restoring federal assistance for college students at all levels and helping graduates pay off their college debts.

Both Clinton and Sanders should compete over who can finally implement FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights. Dems should force Republicans to answer for making higher education unaffordable for many Americans. Give working people something to vote for. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2016

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Selections from the May 15, 2016 issue

COVER/Ari Rabin-Havt
GOP plan: Lie big, and never back down 

Renew the Deal


From lab bench to copy desk

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Clean water regs flow from feds

Trump U fraud case could go to trial this fall;
Former Sanders staffers seek to change Congress;
Va. gov. restores ex cons’ rights;
N.C. voter suppression law could swing election;
Two-thirds of Kansas voter registrations held back;
Fast food industry skirts labor law with state assists;
Climate change emerges as wedge issue;
Maine gov. says drug users should die;
Colorado GOP loses top Senate challenger;
Kansas gov. justifies kicking 15,000 off food stamps;
Mo. Legislature rejects $8.3M Medicaid funds in war against Planned Parenthood;
FCC moves on Cahter-Time Warner-Bridge House cable merger;
50 donors provide 41% of super PAC money;
Obamacare has been effective, studies say ...

That ‘natural’ label doesn’t mean much

Terrorist down the block

Pols ignore working class at their peril

Missing the Socialist moment

Hey Columbus: Stop, look and listen

A call to action for people and the planet

Media, pols, economists admit they were wrong

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A memo to the 47%

NY primary not as much fun as we hoped

Corporate America’s judicial firewall

Superpredators revisited

Liberals are the future

National gun fetish is double-barrel menace

Alt work grows in US

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Sketches of pain: Miles High

21st Annual political animal awards

and more ...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Primaries are more democratic than caucuses; neither should allow independents to participate

Someone took an online poll that finds that more than half of all Americans think that the primary system is rigged.

If the primaries are rigged, the fix favors rural counties and rural states, which tend to be more conservative. In that, our nominating process resembles our bicameral system—one house for direct representation from a relatively small population zone and one house for representation from a larger geographic region. Geographic regions with smaller populations (rural) have the same representation as those with larger populations (urban). Bicameral representation is built into the Constitution.

The biggest complaint about primaries is that independents in some states aren’t allowed to vote in the primaries of the various political parties. And why should they? If you want to vote, join the party. It doesn’t even cost any money. All you have to do is note your party allegiance when you register or reregister to vote. In many states, you can designate your political party online.

I think the states in which voters can cross over or independents can vote in either party are unfair, and have the potential for rigging, because independent voters who don’t give a hoot about the Party can change the final outcome. Each major party has had consistent positions for decades, although individual party members can differ as much as Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb do. Independents tend to warp the vote. That certainly happened this year in the states that allow independents to vote in primaries and crossover voting. In the case of the Republicans, the warping has been harmful, because it gave additional votes to a candidate who is far more liberal on social issues and far less globalist on trade issues than anyone else in the current GOP. By contrast, the independents who poured into Democratic primaries to vote for Bernie Sanders have helped the Democratic Party to emphasize and rededicate itself to what has been its progressive core since FDR.  

The question as to the fairness of the various ways to apportion delegates is complicated. Our electoral system suggests that states should award delegates on a winner take all basis, but apportioning them according to the percentage of the vote won seems fairer. The more important issue, I believe, is that every state apportion delegates the same way. I like the idea of giving from a third to half the delegates to the statewide winner and awarding the other delegates according to Congressional districts because it preserves the bicameral nature of our government (some by population, some by geography) and remains essentially democratic.

Caucuses favor candidates who can establish on the-ground campaigns that appeal directly to voters. The problem is that so few of the voters participate in caucuses, even in a good year. It surprises me that the very people who have been exploiting the limited democracy of caucuses, Sanders supporters, use increasing democracy as the primary reason to open primaries to independents. They seem to forget that caucuses are only open to party members. I have never liked caucuses because they are less democratic than primaries, and can easily be manipulated by a party faction, as Cruz has been able to do this election cycle.

The other controversial issue related to the nominating process is the existence of super delegates. Those who complain about super delegates say that they were never elected, nor have voters/caucus goers designated whom the super delegates should support. Now that’s inherently undemocratic.

But let’s take a look at the issue from the point of view of the party. Who defines the party and controls the party? Who raises money for the party? Who represents the party in our various elected bodies all over the country? It’s the super delegates. Many super delegates are elected officials. Don’t you think that every Democratic Senator should get a vote as a delegate at the Democratic convention?

At the beginning of the party system in the United States, there were no primaries. A small elite of rich folk and politicos got together and decided who should run. Then came conventions, caucuses and primaries, each an attempt to further democratize the process of selecting candidates. Thus, those who say super delegates make the convention less democratic are looking at what happens the wrong way. In point of fact, primaries make the conventions more democratic.

It is not every year that the super delegates coalesce around one candidate as quickly as the Democrats have done this year, but it’s not every year that a candidate has as impressive a resume or as extensive a political network as Hillary Clinton. Many of the super delegates have said that they are willing to change their minds if Sanders would win the popular vote. Of course that hasn’t happened, as Hillary has racked up more votes than all the Republican candidates combined and millions of more votes than Bernie.

Low voter turnout is a primary reason a narcissistic demagogue is closing in on the Republican nomination. Note that if the Republicans had more super delegates, it would be easier to stop Donald Trump. They serve as a balance against the momentary irrational actions of voters, in a similar way that selecting Senators by state and letting them serve six years serves as a balance to the more volatile House of Representatives. In the 1950s and 1960s, most progressives complained that the conservative Senate—representing a prior era—was holding the country back; for the past few years, we’re been relieved that the more liberal Senate—still representing a prior era—is around to prevent the right-wing house from sending the country into a deep depression.  In a certain sense, the super delegates perform the same function.  It’s another manifestation of the bicameral nature of American governance.

In the case of this year’s Democrats, the super delegates are not seeking to thwart a potentially disastrous candidate, but rather to support the one they think will be more successful pursuing the Party’s agenda, and who at the same time has received more votes despite spending less money than the other major candidate.

If I were king for a day, we would go to an all-primary system with clusters of six states taking turns going first, second and third over a 10-week primary season that starts in April. I would award one half of all delegates to statewide winners and another third by congressional district. One sixth of all state delegates would be super delegates, many of those designated by elected title, e.g., U.S. Senator, mayor of the largest city.

Back to reality, where we have a complicated, cobbled-together nominating process, but one that is transparent and to a large degree reflects the essential bicameral nature of the American political system. The rules in each state are readily available in plain English and often in other languages. It’s incumbent on the candidate and her-his staff to learn those rules. Instead of complaining about the rules, play the game. Only by winning will you have a chance to change the rules, and the only way to win is to play the rules.

Of course, this advice only applies to those lucky enough to have access to millions of dollars in campaign funds. To make the system more democratic, we would do better not to sweat the nominating process but instead to limit the funds that can be expended by candidates to open up the system to less well-heeled candidates.

Monday, April 25, 2016

People at our Seder were too busy enjoying the moment to take photos & that’s a good thing

By Marc Jampole

A very strange thing happened at our family Seder, which included 14 people ranging in age from 12 to 94.

No one took a photograph.

It’s not that the group is anti-technology. The five under 30 are all very social media savvy and four of the Baby Boomers routinely post photos of events on Facebook. My wife Kathy and I had discussed taking photos and posting them for other family members earlier in the day.

What happened?

We were enjoying the moment of being together so much that we forgot to make a record of the event.

Maybe we’ll regret it one day, but right now I feel pretty good about not only living fully in the moment, but also inhabiting the moment with other people about whom I care. This particular group of people comprises a complicated network of special relationships, some intergenerational, between cousins, uncles/aunts and nephews/nieces, parents and children. Moreover, many circumstances lent poignancy to the evening.

Take into account the overwhelming emotional wave that Jews ride when celebrating Passover—our holiday of freedom—and you can imagine how the moment of being together could captivate us to such a point that no one remembered to pull out the smartphone or electronic camera and snap a few.

The concept of memory is a complicated one. No matter how impressive one’s powers of visual, emotional, tactile and sensational memory may be, our memory distorts events. The further away an event is in time, the more likely we are to think of it in terms of words and images, and not what actually happened. Taking a photograph may help to freeze the memory—simplify it to nothing but the photo and/or a few random word images. The memory acquires gloss and is homogenized.   

The upside is that the simplification helps us remember, and makes us creatures with enduring consciousness, not just consciousness of now. On the other hand it distorts. St. Augustine hinted at this distortion when he wrote that there are only three types of time: ”the past in the present,” “the present in the present” and “the future in the present.” Proust wrote and now Karl Ove Knausgård is writing thousands of pages trying to recapture the past in a fictional form using nothing but words. Robert Caro has spent thousands of words describing just the external life of Lyndon Baines Johnson and he hasn’t even started writing about Viet Nam yet! On a less sophisticated level is the person who documents every meal and event with 10-12 photographs that she/he immediately posts on Facebook and Twitter.

The creation of the artificial constructs we aggregate and call memory can impinge on the actual event. Think of how the bridal party leaving the reception just when it’s beginning for two hours to take photographs disjoints contemporary weddings. Most of us have seen people at museums who go around snapping shots of every work of art and never seem to look at anything directly. Snapping photos of food or asking people to stop talking for a minute to pose intrude on the experience. It’s as if the recording of the memory becomes more important than the experience itself. We get to the point that the photo validates the event. Without the photo, nothing “real” has occurred.

The mass media reinforces this predilection to place memory over experience. Just think of how many advertisements for cruises, amusement parks, airlines, state tourist boards, sports teams and holiday gifts, food and decorations have as their basic message “make a memory” (as opposed to “experience something special”).

On the other hand…from the late ‘40s through the mid-‘60s an uncle who married into the other side of my family took silent super eight films of all family events. I remember my mother and father and all my aunts and uncles joking about him. His camera antics made him a buffoon in the eyes of much of the family. But what a difference a few decades make! Those few who survive cherish the electronic transcriptions of the filmed images, now set to sentimental piano music. It is haunting to see your deceased parents dancing and watch your father’s lips mumble counted steps, like you remember him doing.

Thus it may be worth the small sacrifice of the present entailed in picture-taking to facilitate the future’s memory of the past.

The question, then, is: Do we live in the present or do we live in the past? And let’s not forget about the time we may live in the future, anticipating what will happen after graduation, on vacation or next time one sees a beloved, or saving money, or denying oneself something in the present for something in the future? Augustine suggested we live in all three states of being simultaneously, formed by the past and moving towards the future, but all of life experienced only as now.

Will one of us someday feel sorry no photo was taken at the Seder last Friday? I bet several of us have already noted it with some regret. But I hope none of us feels bad about it. The lack of photo attests to the heightened experience we enjoyed. Would all of life be so joyful perhaps we would have no need to remember?

I grappled with some of these issues a few years back in a poem, still unpublished, titled “The Best of Times.” In reading it, keep in mind that the characters and the scene are pure fabrications of my lame imagination and based on no specific persons. Hopefully you recognize the “reality” of one or more of them in people you know, and more importantly relate to the situation and the way it reverberates both backwards and forwards in our mind’s time, which is really the only time that each of us knows:


Black-bean spare ribs, tangy cabbage salad
celebrate a high school graduation.
Silent dread invades me as I think
that this will be the final family time
for one of us: aunt and uncle in their eighties,
another uncle soon retiring from a stressful job,
sickly sister, secret addict, cousins overweight:
there are just too many here today
and a single marching time, always forward
into dark unknowns for all of us, one by one,
and all the ones who come after,
and all the ones who come after that.

Though one by one we die alone,
tonight we gnaw on bones together,
banter cherished stories heard before
and we want to hear again,
stories in stories of whistling past shadows,
swinging at the short end of a long rope,
kinfolk no one’s met in whorling waters,
huddled over steamy bowls of hope,
the best of times reduced to anecdote
or ancient bas-relief, tableaux emerging
from a plaster that is life itself, being lived,
every moment, even as it hardens into past.