Saturday, December 14, 2019

Trump Isn’t a Populist

The editor of The Progressive Populist gets provoked every time he hears Donald Trump described as a populist. Trump is a con man who inherited a real estate empire from his father and he has kept it going through a series of bankruptcies that showed, among other things, he couldn’t make a profit running casinos. He also wouldn’t pay his contractors without forcing them to go to court. Trump appears to have remained afloat with the backing of Eastern European oligarchs, which is probably why he is so desperate to avoid the release of his income tax returns. His former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, before heading to federal prison for offenses that include conspiring with Trump to violate federal election laws and lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, testified to Congress that Trump altered his tax and loan records to suit his business needs.

Corporate media calls Trump a populist because corporate executives won’t let reporters call him what he is — a fascist who has embraced hyper-nationalism, admires authoritarian leaders, cuts regulations for corporations and puts former executives and lobbyists in charge of the agencies that are supposed to regulate corporations, and he suggests violence may be used in politics if he doesn’t get his way. He also has had mob ties throughout his career as a real estate developer.

There are clear differences between populism and fascism. Populism is a movement that rose in the late 1800s as a reaction to the rapid industrialization of the US during the Gilded Age. It called for the government to protect working people, farmers and small businesses against monied interests, particularly railroads and what were then called “trusts,” which we now know as corporations. The little guys needed protection against the plutocrats and oligarchs who own and control the corporations (and the government).

The Populists started in the 1880s, and appealed to farmers and merchants in the South, Midwest and Western states to unite in an attempt to regulate the railroads and trusts.

The People’s Party put up candidates for state and national offices in more than 20 states in the 1890s but after the election of 1896 moved into the Democratic and Republican parties and had an influence on their progressive wings of those national parties. The Populists had called for collective bargaining, federal regulation of railroads, an expansionary monetary policy and a Sub-Treasury Plan, which called for federally controlled warehouses to aid farmers, as well as a graduated income tax, direct election of senators, a shorter workweek and establishment of a postal savings system.

You can see those elements in the accomplishments of the Progressive Era of the early 1900s and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the 1930s, through the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s. The Populists also supported public schools and universities and sought diffusion of scientific and technological knowledge so farmers could make use of it. The Populists also tried to form coalitions between white and black farmers in the South, which resulted in a backlash by white supremacists that brought about the Jim Crow laws in the 1890s.

Trump has demonstrated the Grand Oligarch Party’s tilt toward fascism, but the GOP has been moving in that direction since American plutocrats, who had been looking for an opportunity to overturn the New Deal since the end of World War II, put up Ronald Reagan to run for president in 1980.

The Republican Party under Reagan expressed contempt for “liberal” media and, once elected, his National Labor Relations Board undermined organized labor and his Federal Communications Commission in 1987 did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which had been established in 1949 to require broadcasters to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner that was honest, equitable and balanced. The doctrine was designed to encourage diversity of opinions and prevent the control of broadcasters that allowed fascist governments to consolidate their hold on power in Europe in the 1930s.

Since radio and TV stations no longer are required to provide balanced coverage, talk radio has come to be dominated by right-wing voices, particularly in rural areas, where one can drive most of the day without hearing a good word about liberals or Democrats on the car radio. That may be one reason rural areas increasingly vote Republican. Air America Radio was established in 2004 to provide a liberal alternative to right wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. At its height, Air America’s most popular show, The Al Franken show, was carried by 92 affiliates and had 1.4 million weekly listeners before he was elected to the Senate in 2008. The Rush Limbaugh Show was carried by more than 600 affiliates and had between 14 million and 20 million weekly listeners.

With the decline of local newspapers, that leaves struggling periodicals like us and the Internet as refuges for progressive views.

As House Democrats move toward impeachment of Trump, Republican members of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees have offered little substantial defenses, mainly complaining about the process, making procedural objections and dilatory motions and demanding record votes on routine actions to obstruct the flow of the hearings.

Republicans won’t support the impeachment in the House and few, if any, Republicans will vote for Trump’s removal in the Senate trial. But Democrats must do their duty, and they should go ahead and throw in the obstruction of justice charges Robert Mueller’s report proposed. Trump is corrupt to the core and Republicans carry guilt by their continued association.

Ultimately, voters will decide if Trump is fit to be president, and if his Republican enablers are fit to remain in Congress. Trump remains unpopular, which is why Republicans want to limit who makes it to the polls. Make sure you and your friends are registered.

When it comes to actual populists running for president, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren effectively carry progressive populist positions and progressive Democrats should support one or the other of them in the upcoming Democratic primaries, particularly with the Iowa caucuses coming up Feb. 3. We’ve heard many Democrats express misgivings about voting for Sanders or Warren, fearing if they don’t nominate a centrist it might give Trump an advantage next November. Don’t believe it. Voters want government to help them, and Medicare for All, which both Sanders and Warren are proposing, would be a great deal for most businesses as well as workers and their families who will pay less than they now pay for insurance that require deductibles and co-pays. Both Sanders and Warren propose to expand Medicare so it pays nearly all health costs for every American without deductibles, with wealthy tax dodgers would pay the balance.

Medicare for All was overwhelmingly popular among Democrats and independent voters, and even among Republicans, before the health industrial complex started spending millions of dollars to spread disinformation about what Medicare for All would do. Polls have shown a drop in support for Medicare for All, but progressives need to get the truth out — the current US system costs twice as much per capita as Canadian health care, and that’s with the US sytem leaving 87 million Americans uninsured or underinsured. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2020

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Copyright © 2019 The Progressive Populist

Selections from the January 1-15, 2020 issue

COVER/Hal Crowther
Christmas at the madhouse: The straitjacket blues

Trump isn’t a populist

Progressive propaganda: Private parts


A tale of two narratives

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Threats to farms and food — roundup the usual suspects

Deal reached on bill to replace NAFTA;
One-third of Americans delayed medical care over cost last year;
House sends bill to restore Voting Rights Act to roadblocked Senate;
N.R. Rep. George Holding to retire after district redrawn;
Dems say Trump ‘illegally withholding’ funding for Puerto Rico hurricane aid;
Trump brings war crimes pardonees to Fla. fundraiser;
Refugee advocates remember anniversary of child's death in US custody;
Moscow Mitch's boycott of legislating is angering one of his own: Chuck Grassley;
Lawsuit alleging private prison company used ICE detainees as 'captive labor force' goes forward;
Trump touts 'special relationship' with North Korea, which calls him 'heedless and erratic old man' ...

Biden appeals to rural voters over climate change

Can plantations be redeemed?

Is marijuana a gateway drug?

Gleam in Rick Perry’s eyes: King Trump

Everything you need to know about the next recession

Corporations sell out workers’ safety for profit — with Trump as their ally

Why have no republicans turned on Trump?

Ford Motor Company has lost its way

The new normal

Trump continues to manufacture lies

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A shopper’s guide to costs, the health version

When do pols pass their peak?

Why Bernie Sanders is backing Cory Booker’s plan to tackle Big Pharma’s soaring prices

Annals of inequality: The market factor

The politics of the non-political fed

Get a grip on nukes

‘Asia’s oldest democracy,’ Sri Lanka, faces dilemma

The trash is piling up

‘Mrs. Maisel’ is indeed marvelous

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
What goes around

Dead woman walking: A capital film on capital punishment

A king’s ransom

It’s time to end Medicare-for-All denial

Friday, November 29, 2019

Editorial: Rule of Law Overrules Lies

You’ve heard the saying, “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” Clearly that doesn’t work with Donald Trump or Republican members of Congress, who volunteer lies in defense of the president’s power grabs.

Two weeks of hearings by the Democrat-led House Intelligence Committee produced a lot of bluster by Republican Congress members as well as Trump’s tweets and statements trying to distract from the truth laid out by witnesses from the State Department and the National Security Council. They confirmed that Trump not only pressed Ukraine’s president to order an investigation of Joe Biden but also pursued a debunked claim that it was the Ukraine, not Russia, that conspired with Democrats to throw the 2016 election..

Trump and his allies falsely claim that Biden, as vice president, stopped a potential prosecution of his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, by threatening to withhold a US government loan to Ukraine. Trump wanted to smear Joe Biden as corrupt. But Biden pushed for the ouster of an ineffective prosecutor, which was a policy of the US government and was coordinated with US allies, such as the European Union and International Monetary Fund. And the Ukrainian gas company was not under investigation at the time of Biden’s actions.

After Trump in mid-July ordered a pause in the distribution of $391 million in security assistance that Congress had appropriated, US officials in Kiev and D.C. scrambled to understand why the decision was made and sought to get it reversed before the authorization expired on Sept. 30.

Trump, in a July 25 phone call, stepped over the line when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “do us a favor” and investigate Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 election. Trump and his defenders have asserted this kind of “quid pro quo” is the normal give and take that takes place between governments.

Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, not only got Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to remove US Ambassador Marie Yovanovich because she wasn’t seen as a team player; Giuliani kept a back channel with Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker, who pressed the Ukrainian president to issue a statement that he was opening investigations into Biden and the 2016 election. The US aid and/or a White House meeting with Trump was the bait.

President Zelensky had finally caved to the pressure and scheduled an interview with CNN on Sept. 13, at which he was expected to make the announcement of the investigation. But a few days before the interview, the funds were released after pressure from Congress, and the interview was canceled.

Trump insists that the CrowdStrike, a company that investigated hacking of the Democratic National Committeer (DNC), took the server to Ukraine, where he said CrowdStrike’s primary owner is located. The theory is that Ukrainians hacked into the DNC network in 2016 and framed Russia for it.

In fact, CrowdStrike is based in California and is a publicly traded American company co-founded by US-born George Kurtz and Dmitri Alperovitch, who was born in Russia, is a US citizen with no connection to Ukraine, the company says. The DNC server data was copied and submitted to the FBI, the Washington Post reported.

The FBI and DNC disagree on whether the FBI requested access to the DNC’s servers. Former FBI director James B. Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau made “multiple requests at different levels” to access the servers, but the DNC said the FBI never requested access. The DNC had CrowdStrike analyze its network and share findings with the FBI, which Comey called an acceptable substitute.

Cybersecurity expert Thomas Rid told the Post that “handing over the server” as Trump described could have destroyed evidence.

Thomas P. Bossert, Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said Sept. 29 that the president has been told the story is “completely debunked.” “The DNC server and that conspiracy theory has got to go,” Bossert said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”

But Trump won’t let it go. It is one of those lies that demonstrate his reckless disregard for the truth, which has led him to make more than 13,435 false or misleading statements, many of them repeated on multiple occasions, as of Oct. 9, according to the Post’s Fact Checkers.. That’s an average of almost 22 false claims daily this past fall.

Some Republicans are resorting to the fallback position that what Trump did may be wrong, but it does not call for his impeachment and removal from office. However, extortion is a form of bribery, which is specifically mentioned in the Constitution as an impeachable crime.

And there are plenty of other impeachable acts the House can list in the Articles of Impeachment. Among them are various efforts to obstruct justice, detailed in Robert Mueller’s report, as well as his obstruction of the oversight role of Congress.

Lawyers for the House of Representatives accused Trump of trying to “obstruct his own impeachment” by claiming the authority to block his advisers from cooperating with congressional investigations. The House Judiciary Committee is trying to secure testimony from former White House Counsel Don McGahn, as he testified in special counsel Mueller’s investigation, which laid out 10 instances of apparent obstruction of justice.

The House’s lawyers cited the current top White House counsel’s declaration that the Trump administration would refuse all cooperation with the House’s impeachment inquiry, calling it “illegitimate” and “invalid.” Trump directed McGahn not to comply, claiming his former senior advisers have “absolute immunity” from testifying before Congress.

On Nov. 25, a US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson disagreed and ordered McGahn to comply with the subpoena, ruling that “no one is above the law,” but the decision was expected to be appealed by the Department of Justice.

Trump also has refused to allow his income tax returns to be released to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as the law requires. (He also had promised before his election he would make the tax returns public.)

After the first week of hearings, an ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted Nov. 16-17 found 70% of Americans think Trump’s request to a foreign leader to investigate his political rival was wrong, but only a slim majority, 51%, believe he should be impeached and removed from office. Most other polls appear to show Americans split over impeachment. On Nov. 26, after the second week of hearings, the average of polls reviewed by FiveThirtyEight showed 48.6% support impeachment and 44.1% don’t support it.

Impeachment probably will not result in the removal of Trump from office, unless voters put pressure on Republican senators who are the bulwark against the Democratic prosecution. Democrats need at least 20 Republican senators to vote to remove Trump.

If Republican senators choose to defend their president’s power grab against republican principals, Democrats should not only run on “normal” policy initiatives to improve health care, economic opportunities for the working class and building green infrastructure to address climate change, but Dems should also focus on taking back the Senate and the White House, and restoring the rule of law. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2019

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Copyright © 2019 The Progressive Populist

Selections from the December 15, 2019 issue

COVER/Jeff Bryant
Striking teachers are fighting for much more than paychecks

Rule of law overrules lies

Progressive propaganda, please


Vaping: When kids become lab experiments

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
Try new things in the new year

Middle-class Americans getting crushed by health insurance costs;
Southern governors say Dems can win if they stick to kitchen-table issues;
Kentucky GOP moves to strip new Dem governor’s authority;
Polls show close races in key states;
Trump starts sending refugees to Guatemala;
Company behind Keystone pipeline lowballs leak;
‘Pro-life’ group embraces death penalty;
AOC calls on solar company to rehire workers fired after unionizing;
Arizona jury acquits migrant rescuer;
Latino voters hope to flex numbers in California primary;
Justice Department empowers monopolists in media & entertainment ... 

Yovanovitch reminds us of decency

Explaining Trump’s racism

If another president did (even one of) these things

It’s our choice: Medicare for All, or endless war?

What breast cancer taught me about health care

Corporate spies keep an eye on organized labor

Ranking the Democratic candidates

Not all politics is national

Time for a billionaire ban

Two farm crises

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
Cassandra on the status quo

Antibiotic resistance: The superbugs are fighting back

Americans love CBD, but it’s a wild west

The Bernie blackout

How’s that individual responsibility working for you?

PSPS, I don’t love you

Two clashing visions for El Paso’s future

The Left got “Joker” dead wrong: A progressive defense of the film

Escaping into the Hollywood view of Washington

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Abolish this

Pacino, Paquin and the Gangs of New York are all here: Mean seats

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson 
Ahead of his time

and more ...

Friday, November 15, 2019

Editorial: The Right Enemies

Say this about Elizabeth Warren: She scares the right people.

Billionaires are up in arms about her plans to tax their wealth, which is one of the elements of her plan to pay for Medicare for All. One of the aggrieved billionaires, hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman, wept on CNBC’s “Halftime Report” Nov. 4 at the thought that Warren might become president and make him pay higher taxes. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, chided Warren for using “some pretty harsh words, you know, some would say vilifies successful people.” Then billionaire Michael Bloomberg announced he was weighing the possibility of jumping into the Democratic primary field, apparently because he was not impressed with the selection.

There is no apparent groundswell of support for Bloomberg, who served two terms as a mayor of New York City from 2001 to 2009 as a Republican before switching to independent to run for a third term in 2009. But he decided he’s the only one who can beat Trump on the Democratic ticket.

Health industry executives are really scared at the threat Warren and Bernie Sanders represent to their billions of dollars in profits, so they’re lining up funds to brainwash the electorate into believing that it is impractical to expand Medicare to cover everybody.

As former insurance executive Wendell Potter notes in our cover story, big insurance, drug and hospital companies have hired a PR firm to create and run a front group called the “Partnership for America’s Health Care Future,” which, with allies such as the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, will work to convince voters that expanding Medicare to cover everybody can’t be done without a significant tax hike on middle-income earners. And the propaganda seems to work.

In January 2019, a national poll released by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of Americans support a national health insurance program that would eliminate premiums and reduce out-of-pocket expenses and they supported “Medicare for All” 56% to 42%.

But when they were told that a government-run system could lead to delays in getting care or higher taxes, support plunged to 26% and 37%, respectively. Support fell to 32% if it would threaten the current Medicare program.

That represents the power of lying — and misrepresenting what Medicare for All would do is the last refuge of the health industry scoundrels. In fact, the proposals by Sens. Sanders and Warren would improve the current Medicare program for seniors, as well as younger Americans, by making it comprehensive, covering everybody and doing away with co-pays and deductibles — and they could accomplish it by simply re-routing through Medicare money that now is spent on insurance premiums.

Warren produced a plan on Nov. 1 that would pay for Medicare for All with higher taxes on businesses, financial firms, wealthy Americans and corporations that would essentially replace the premiums American businesses and individuals now spend on private insurance. Bernie Sanders would pay for the Medicare expansion with a 7.5% payroll tax on businesses and 4% tax on workers’ income.

Warren noted that families are getting crushed by health costs. For years she studied bankruptcies and found that the number one reason families were going broke was because of medical bills they could not pay — and three quarters of those who declared bankruptcy after an illness were people who already had health insurance. No other industrialized nation has this problem.

An average family of four with employer coverage spends $12,378 per year on health care, Warren noted. This includes employee premium contributions and out of pocket costs in 2018. And the figure has increased every year. The family would pay $844 under Sanders’ plan and nothing under Warren’s plan.

Employers who now provide coverage for their workers would also see savings. They now pay, on average, $5,500 toward each employee’s annual premium and $750 in Medicare payroll tax for an employee earning $50,000 annually. Under Sanders’ plan the employer’s cost would decline to $3,750 for an employee who earned $50,000. And skinflint employers who don’t provide insurance for their workers would finally have to ante up. Warren expects businesses to pay slightly less than what they currently pay for health care, but she would exempt firms with less than 50 employees. Sanders would exempt the first $2 million of payroll.

Of course, ultimately the tax structure to support Medicare for All would be up to Congress, starting with the House Ways and Means Committee.

Critics use 10-year totals to scare voters, claiming that expanding Medicare to cover everybody could cost $35 trillion over the next decade, but we’re already at that spending level, as the US spent $3.65 trillion, or $11,121 per person, in 2018, according to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Warren’s plan counts on cost savings, which gets a skeptical reaction from critics, but there appears to be plenty of room for savings as the US already spends twice as much, per person, as Canada and most other countries that have national health care — and that’s while leaving 87 million Americans uninsured or underinsured. (The next-biggest spender is Germany, whose $5,986 average expenditure is 53.8% of the US average, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)

Nearly 60% of our health care costs already are paid from public money that finance Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Administration, coverage for public employees, elected officials, military personnel and so forth.

One-third of the nation’s health care spending go to private health insurance premiums paid by businesses and individuals. Another 10% of health care spending came directly from the pockets of Americans on copays and deductibles.

And administrative costs, much of which are spent on billing and paperwork, take up approximately a quarter of health-care revenues in the US, Drs. Stephanie Woolandler and David Himmelstein reported in 2017. They estimate that single-payer reform could save approximately $503 billion annually in administrative costs.

Spending on hospitals, doctors and other clinic services was $2.16 trillion, holding steady at 59% of total health care spending.

National health care is by no means a radical program. It has been a Democratic priority since President Franklin D. Roosevelt included “The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health” in the Second Bill of Rights he proposed in his State of the Union address on Jan. 11, 1944. Harry Truman called for universal health care as part of his Fair Deal proposal in 1949, but conservatives blocked it in Congress. When Lyndon Johnson finally got Congress to approve Medicare in 1965 as part of his Great Society program, the plan was to start offering health coverage to seniors aged 65 and older. Then, in succeeding years, the eligibility age was supposed to move down to eventually cover everybody.

With Donald Trump at historic levels of unpopularity, and several vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in the Senate, Democrats have an historic opportunity to move ahead on finally closing the gap on Medicare. If it takes vilifying a few billionaires who don’t want to do their part, so be it. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2019

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Copyright © 2019 The Progressive Populist

Selections from the December 1, 2019 issue

COVER/Wendell Potter
How health insurance industry allies will lie about Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare for All Plan

The right enemies


Secular urge, religious language

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Thanks for caring

Trump must pay $2 million to charities over misuse of his foundation;
Civiqs poll of battleground states shows tight prez race, no matter who Dems nominate;
Many undecided voters in ‘Blue Wall’ states;
Estimated 15,600 deaths result from GOP blocking Medicaid expansion;
Trump ends Filipino WW2 vets program
Ukraine expert says Mulvaney held up missile sles to Ukraine to avoid upsetting Russia;
At Rick Perry's suggestion, 2 political backers get Ukraine gas deal;
Senate Republicans ready to rubber stamp worst Trump judge appointee yet;
Trump hotels rake in millions from Republicans eager to suck up;
New Chinese trade deal might make chicken a booby trap ...

Impeachment is not the issue in Iowa

NAFTA’s empty promises

We need publicly owned utilities

Un-American to boo Trump? Well, lock us up

Trump and Republicans are weak, even on friendly turf

Republicans, not Russians, threaten our elections

How much ‘inequality tax’ are you paying?

One way to honor vets? Protect the Postal Service

A Democracy-killing duo: How the Supreme Court and the morbidity rich are ruining Democracy in America

NAFTA is an accomplice to murder

Japan-US trade agreement is weak and unconstitutional

California burning

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A note on the limits of Uncle Sam

Can dogs help sell a presidential candidate?

Obama and Cummings

Annals of inequality: the Trump interlude

Chile and 9/11 (1973)

EPA ignores toxic PCBs in schools

International cooperation takes a break during the Trump era

Trump’s reelection campaign spreads lies online — and the press touts it as savvy

Listening to music while driving

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
The lies in true crime

All-aboard the freedom train: ‘Harriet’ is real life African American action hero

‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ and the GOP’s crisis of sonscience

and more ...