Saturday, February 13, 2016

Editorial: Bernie Gets a Boost

Bernie Sanders scored an impressive victory with 60% of the vote in the New Hampshire Democratic primary that solidified the view that the Vermont socialist might be the strongest candidate the Democrats can put up in the general election.

Hillary Clinton might have the better resumé, as a former First Lady, senator from New York and secretary of state during Barack Obama’s first term, but she struggled to eke out a narrow victory in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1 and then she got blown out in New Hampshire on Feb. 9.

The Clinton campaign hoped that women and working-class voters would boost Hillary’s campaign, as they did in 2008, and at least narrow the gap of an expected defeat in the Granite State. Instead, exit polls showed Sanders won among nearly every demographic, including women, young voters, non-college graduates and those who make less than $50,000 a year, the New York Times reported. The only demographic Clinton held onto from 2008 was voters over the age of 65.

Sanders’ popularity with Latino voters will be tested in the Nevada Democratic caucuses on Feb. 20 and he’ll be tested with black voters in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 27. Then comes “Super Tuesday” on March 1, when Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and American Samoa will hold primaries and Colorado caucuses.

Clinton supporters hope that bloc of primaries will be their firewall against the Sanders insurgency. He has a few weeks to introduce himself to the black electorate in the Southern primaries as well as Texas, whose 252 delegates is the biggest prize of the 1,076 that will be distributed that day. To win the Democratic nomination requires 2,382 delegates and Clinton already has 394, including 362 superdelegates (Democratic elected officials). After New Hampshire, Sanders has 42 delegates, including eight superdelegates.

The close call in Iowa showed Bernie was for real, and capable of putting an organization together in a state that Hillary should have locked up. As brother Art Cullen wrote in the Storm Lake Times, “Clinton should have won Iowa in a walk. She had [former Sen.] Tom Harkin and [former Gov.] Tom Vilsack on her side. President Obama has winked his support for her. But, she never asked for our vote. Sanders was here twice. Clinton never showed up in Storm Lake—home to a university filled with young people, and 1,500 registered Latino voters. Will she ever learn? Iowa voters gave her a loving caution with a tie vote—you had better figure out a way to connect with young people and progressives quickly. Where is James Carville when you need him?”

It does not appear that lecturing progressives that they can’t expect expansion of Medicare to cover everybody—or even opening up Medicare as a public option to compete with private insurance—succeeded in diverting votes from Sanders to the more incremental Clinton. (More than 50% of potential voters supported the public option in January 2015, in a poll conducted for the Progressive Change Institute. Nearly 80% of Dems support the public option, and only 13% opposed it.)

Whichever way the nomination goes, progressives will need to unite with centrist Democrats for the general election. The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision Feb .9 blocking federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which form the centerpiece of President Obama’s strategy to combat climate change, should raise alarms about the importance of keeping a Democrat in the White House and at least regaining the majority in the Senate to review the next president’s choices for the Supreme Court.

Some older Democrats are concerned that the nomination of Sanders, an avowed democratic socialist, could bring a repeat of the debacle the party suffered in 1972, when it nominated liberal Sen. George McGovern, who had alienated much of the party’s establishment, to run against President Richard Nixon. Democrats lost every state except Massachusetts and D.C. that year.

A better lesson may be the 1968 election, when Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota challenged President Lyndon Johnson’s re-election over the Vietnam war. McCarthy surprised the party establishment when he got 42% of the vote against Johnson, who got 49%, in the New Hampshire primary on March 12, 1968. Four days later, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York, sensing Johnson’s vulnerability, announced his candidacy. On March 25, the Iowa Democratic caucuses were held. McCarthy and Kennedy supporters, who caucused together to maximize their impact, were estimated at 40%. Six days later, Johnson announced he would not campaign for re-election.

My mother, who was a friend of McCarthy’s wife in college, supported McCarthy at the local caucus and she was a leader of the McCarthy group at the county convention in April. There was a fight between the McCarthy and Kennedy delegates that split friendships and resulted in grudges that lasted for years. Despite the broad support that McCarthy had at the precinct caucuses, party regulars used their knowledge of the rules to snooker the inexperienced McCarthyites and control the delegations to the state convention in late May. McCarthy ended up with only five of the state’s 46 delegates to the national convention.

While Humphrey focused on winning delegates controlled by party bosses in non-primary states, McCarthy won six state primaries and Kennedy won four primaries, including California, on June 4, only to be assassinated shortly after midnight on June 5.

After the assassination, many of Kennedy’s delegates, still fuming over the battles with McCarthy supporters, refused to vote for him. Instead, Kennedy delegates rallied around George McGovern. Division of the anti-war votes made it easier for Humphrey to gather the delegates he needed to win the nomination. When the Democratic National Convention opened in Chicago in late August, thousands of activists from around the nation gathered in the city to protest the war. The evening of August 28, TV broadcast Chicago police beating anti-war protesters in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. The riot divided the party’s base, as some supported the protesters and thought the police were heavy handed and out of control, while others blamed the protesters and supported the police.

After Humphrey won the nomination, he trailed Nixon by double digits in Gallup polls, but he fought back, attacking George Wallace, who was running on the American Independent ticket, as a racist bigot who appealed to the darker impulses of Americans. Humphrey also distanced himself from Johnson on the Vietnam war, called for a halt of bombing and he closed the gap with Nixon.

LBJ announced the bombing halt and a possible cease fire the weekend before the election. However, the Nixon campaign, through Anna Chennault, advised South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to pull out of the peace talks, promising a better deal under Nixon. When LBJ learned of Nixon’s sabotage of the peace talks, via wiretaps, he called the Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen, R-Ill., to complain that “they oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.” Dirksen agreed.

The election proved to be extremely close. The key states were California, Illinois and Ohio, all of which Nixon won by less than three percentage points. Nixon won all three states with a plurality of votes. Wallace’s third party bid nearly threw the election into the House of Representatives, where the Dems would have prevailed.

In 1968 the inability of the anti-war left to get over their differences and support Humphrey may have inadvertently helped Nixon win the White House. In the next four years, between Nixon’s sabotage of the peace talks and the eventual peace agreement in January 1973, more than 20,000 US troops died in Vietnam, more than 100,000 Americans were wounded and more than a million Vietnamese were killed.

Don’t let complaints that Hillary is not tough enough on Wall Street, or that Bernie is not tough enough on gun control, or any of a dozen other complaints about either candidate obscure the need to keep any of the right-wingers who are still on the Republican card out of the White House. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2016

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2016 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the March 1, 2016 issue

COVER/David Dayen
The Democratic Primary miracle


EDITORIAL
Bernie gets a boost


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

MARC MORIAL
We still need Black History Month


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Ted Cruzing with the Iowa Evangelicals


DISPATCHES
How cozy is Hillary with Wall Street?;
Obamacare keeps working;
Unfinished business with ‘full jobs’ report;
Court stays carbon regs while lawsuit proceeds;
Billionaires dominate election;
AT&T fights to keep ’net slow;
California, Massachusetts lead US solar boom ...


DON ROLLINS
Remarkable saga of United Steel Workers 2324


BOB BURNETT
It’s inequality, stupid!­­


ROBERT BOROSAGE
New Hampshire populist uprising


JOHN YOUNG
‘Hand on the Bible’ for climate deniers


NORMAN SOLOMON1
Bernie leads biggest Dem insurrection in decades


JOEL D. JOSEPH
Chinese stock market syndrome


WENONAH HAUTER
A poisonous approach to governing


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
One displeased insurer: I want out


SAM URETSKY
Legislators aren’t good with sequels


WAYNE O’LEARY
Democrats and white guys


JOHN BUELL
Flint, crises and Democratic politics


N. GUNASEKARAN
Campaign against enclosure of Internet


MARK ANDERSON
4th industrial revolution leaves workers behind


BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Right turn


ERIC BLUMBERG
Iowans rage against the machine


MOVIE REVIEW/Ed Rampell
In the Heart of the Sea, great whale strikes again


DONALD KAUL
The election moves on


and more ...

Friday, February 12, 2016

Trump rips Pope for Mexico trip


Donald Trump ripped into Pope Francis as a "very political person" for visiting areas close to the United States' border of Mexico during an upcoming trip and for lacking an understanding of the U.S.' immigration situation, Politico reported.

“So I think that the pope is a very political person. I think that he doesn’t understand the problems our country has. I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico," Trump said in a telephone interview with Fox Business' "Varney & Company" on Thursday, adding, "Mexico got him to do it because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”

Niall O'Dowd noted at Irish Central that Trump has dragged anti-Catholic and anti-papal rhetoric into an election for the first time since John F. Kennedy’s campaign, in 1960, when JFK was forced to explain his faith.
"It is not the first time that Trump has raised Catholic ire. Cardinal Timothy Dolan in New York spoke out fearlessly when Trump first began mouthing anti-immigrant slogans," O'Dowd noted.
"Cardinal Dolan wrote in Catholic New York, 'I am not in the business of telling people what candidates they should support or who deserves their vote. But as a Catholic, I take seriously the Bible’s teaching that we are to welcome the stranger, one of the most frequently mentioned moral imperatives in both the Old and New Testament.'"
O'Dowd added some context: "The latest comments by the billionaire must be seen in the light of Trump going to compete in the GOP primary in South Carolina, perhaps the most anti-Catholic state in America.
"It is home to Bob Jones University, long a bastion of anti-Catholic and racist commentary.
"In fact, so anti-Catholic is South Carolina that the Reverend Ian Paisley, at the height of his anti-Catholic career, traveled frequently to Bob Jones University, which gave him an honorary doctorate and praised him for calling the pope the 'whore of Babylon.'
"As for Bob Jones himself, the following comment is all you need to read: 'Pope Paul VI, archpriest of Satan, a deceiver and an anti-Christ, has, like Judas, gone to his own place … A pope must be an opportunist, a tyrant, a hypocrite, and a deceiver or he cannot be a pope.'
"By attacking the Pope on Mexican immigration, Trump is sending the dog whistle to two of his most important constituencies: those who are anti-immigration, and the many who are still anti-Catholic.
"Throw in the KKK roots of many good old boys in the state and you have the perfect trifecta of hatred."
Yes, Trump is an eejit, and sometimes Irish Americans need to be reminded why their parents and grandparents were Democrats.


Bernie blasts Wall Street donations, while Hillary claims that their big money is harmless

By Roger Bybee

Milwaukee, Wis.

Coming off his smashing 60%-38% victory in the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Bernie Sanders delighted his supporters by ripping into “the rigged economy and the corrupt campaign finance system that supports it” in Thursday night’s debate with Hillary Clinton at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In broad strokes, Sanders effectively laid out his fundamental appeal to America. “The American people bailed out wall Street, and it’s now time for Wall Street to help the American people,” he thundered.

But Clinton pulled off one of her most skillful debate performance thus far, pumped up by an audience of 700 that appeared to contain far more administrators and professors than students, who have been captivated by Sanders’ campaign. She artfully peppered her remarks with specific references to Wisconsin issues and villains like Gov. Scott Walker, and kept up her familiar theme that she alone is capable of actually delivering real change rather than merely outlining grand reforms.

Still, Sanders managed to drive home his basic message by launching big punches. He called for reining in Wall Street, generating millions of jobs via rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, opening up opportunities through making public universities free, and creating a cost-efficient, genuinely universal healthcare system.

But Sanders reminded his listeners that none of this is possible without exciting people who have given up on the political system and feel that voting and other action is futile.  “As president, I can’t succeed in making these changes, no one person can make these changes, without the involvement of people who now feel left out of a system dominated by billionaires. We need a political revolution.”

Meanwhile, Clinton acted like a boxer trying to tie up a stronger opponent by clinching herself for much of the debate to many of his progressive policy aims.  At a number of moments, Clinton seemingly attempted to merge her identity with President Obama in order to jab Sanders by equating his criticisms of her positions with vicious attacks on the president.

For example, Clinton turned a question about foreign-policy leadership into a diatribe on Sanders’ departures from Obama’s positions, which emerged on issues like healthcare reform that retains big insurers in command and “free trade” agreements that foster offshoring of jobs.

In an apparent attempt to land a knockout punch, Clinton denounced Sanders for making “the kind of criticisms of the president that I expect to hear from Republicans.”

Sanders retorted, “That is a low blow. I worked with him closely for seven years. He’s responsible for enormous progress over the time when he came into office, with America losing 800,000 jobs a month.

Sanders then admonished Clinton, “In our country, as a senator, I have the right to disagree. I have voiced criticisms of him when I differed, as I’m sure you have.”

Sanders topped off his counterattack by reminding Clinton, “I’m the only person on this stage who did not run against Barack Obama,” referring to Clinton’s highly contentious campaign in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Among other issues where they clashed, Sanders and Clinton differed clearly on financial reform. Clinton insisted that the Dodd-Frank bill adequately safeguards us from another Wall Street collapse. Sanders responded “I voted for Dodd-Frank, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough.” 

“Three of the four biggest banks are now bigger, six banks have assets equivalent to 58% of our GNP, and they issue two-thirds of all credit cards,” he said. “If Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, he would be calling for breaking up the big banks.”

Clinton defended her considerable campaign contributions from Wall Street by once again linking herself to President Obama, claiming that he raised considerable funding from Wall Street without it affecting his administration.  

Clinton’s version of history conveniently erases the central roles granted by the Obama Administration to big-time Wall Street players like Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner, and Steven Rattner. Summers and Geithner’s pro-banker tilt helped to produce the failure of programs to halt the tide of home foreclosures.  The Rattner-led bailout of GM and Chrysler, which imposed virtually no conditions on job creation in the US, substantially increased offshoring of auto-industry jobs.

Sanders sharply contested Clinton’s claim of a benign effect from Wall Street contributions: "Let's not insult the intelligence of the American people. Why in God's name does Wall Street make huge campaign contributions? I guess for the fun of it — they just want to throw money around."
Clinton had perhaps her best moment of the night in her closing statement, where she vividly outlined the numerous dimensions on which Americans feel deprived of power and their dignity.  “We need to address of the poisoning of our water like in Flint, the miners left behind in coal country, the institutional racism, the sexism that women face, and people in the LGBT community who may get married on Saturday and fired on Monday. “
She even launched into a defense of labor that resonated strongly, declaring,” Here in Wisconsin, we have to stand for unions under attack from ideologues and demagogues like Scott Walker who are taking away bargaining rights and destroying the middle class.”

In an obvious swipe at Sanders’ stress on the effects of economic inequality, Clinton sniffed, “I am not a one-issue candidate. This is not a one-issue nation.”

Following the debate, Sanders supporter Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator, dismissed Clinton’s suggestion that Sanders has somehow treated issues such as racism, sexism, and homophobia too lightly.  Suggesting that Clinton was a late-comer in her willingness to portray inequalities in the strongly progressive terms, Turner responded, “Bernie’s been strong on all of these issues for years. He was progressive before progressive was cool.”

While Sanders’ performance in the Milwaukee debate was strong, it also revealed some areas where he could refine his approach to Clinton.

CLARITY ON REAL HEALTHCARE REFORM: Once more, as she has in past debates, Clinton suggested that Sanders’ “Medicare for All” proposal would somehow endanger the gains won through Obama’s Affordable Care Act. With stunning complacency about the spread of high-deductible health plans,  pervasive “unaffordable underinsurance,” and tens of millions still without any insurance, Clinton insisted,  "The last thing we need to do is throw our country into a contentious debate over health care.”

Clinton even argued incorrectly that Obama’s healthcare reform has provided healthcare to 90% of all Americans, when in fact 29 millon remain uninsured. Clinton called for retaining the central role of profit-driven insurance companies in healthcare, insisting that private insurance was part of America’s approach to healthcare.  In reality, private for-profit insurers consume about one-third of all healthcare spending.

While Sanders forcefully made the case for “healthcare as a right for all Americans,” he seemingly failed to explain clearly and concisely exactly how Medicare for All would substitute small monthly taxes in place of the much larger premiums and co-pays now afflicting America’s working families. Despite his long advocacy for single-payer healthcare and his deep familiarity with it, he still has not quite discovered how to lay out his plan in concise and comprehensible terms. 

TALKING ABOUT WISCONSIN: With his strong ties to the Wisconsin Left, why did Sanders fail to make any specific references to state issues?

In contrast, Clinton—much less steeped in state activism-- made several powerful connections to Wisconsin level concerns as with the police killing of an unarmed African-American man, the nation-leading rate of black incarceration, and who even denounced Walker’s union-busting. 

Bernie Sanders has been meeting with labor and progressive leaders in Wisconsin since 1995. Over the last dozen years, he has spoken at almost every day-long “Fighting Bob” gathering of thousands of Wisconsin progressives, named after Wisconsin’s feisty Progressive Gov. Robert LaFollette who won the passage of numerous reforms benefitting workers, small farmers, and the democratic process. In the bitterly-cold days of early 2011, Sanders traveled to Wisconsin to excoriate Gov. Scott Walker for his legislation to revoke essential union-representation rights to almost all public employees.

Further, with the debate set in Milwaukee, Sanders had a good chance to reinforce the legitimacy of democratic socialism based on the city’s almost continuous line of democratic socialist mayors from 1910 to 1960, with the late Frank Zeidler remaining a beloved figure and Congressman Victor Berger, a particular personal favorite of Sanders, remembered for his courageous stance against WWI.

Yet it was Clinton who frequently discussed Wisconsin issues in a lively way.

A RELEVANT CONTEXT FOR KISSINGER DISCUSSION:  To most effectively explain to youthful audiences the significance of both Hillary and Bill Clinton boasting of her relationship with Henry Kissinger, widely despised as a war criminal in progressive and Democratic circles in the 1970’s and 1980’safter his conduct as secretary of state under Richard Nixon.

But to reach a younger audience, Sanders needs to find a much more up-to-date reference. For example, he might consider framing the point by describing Kissinger as the “Dick Cheney of his time.” 

Older progressives have an indelible memory of Kissinger’s place in history, recalling his scorched-earth policy in the Vietnam War and the invasion of Cambodia, his coordination of a US-led a coup against the democratic socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970, his secret approval of dictators’ Operation Condor death squad operation in southern Latin America, and his signaling of US government’s backing for Indonesia’s takeover of East Timor. Further, in the 1980’s, Kissinger served as a paid consultant for the repressive Chinese dictatorship, and late pushed for congressional approval of the Permanent Normalization of Trade with China which open the floodgates for a massive outflow of US manufacturing jobs to China.

However, given the frequent adulation of Kissinger as an elder statesman in the mainstream media, few young people will catch the full significance of Hillary Clinton’s ties to the reviled Kissinger’s without Sanders introducing this with a more current reference. 

CLINTON’S WALL STREET TIES DESERVE MORE PROBING: Maggie Haberman, writing  in Politico about Hillary’s much-discussed fees pf $675,000 for speeches to Goldman Sachs, summarized her talks in these terms:“ Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. 

“Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it. What the bankers heard her to say was just what they would hope for from a prospective presidential candidate: Beating up the finance industry isn’t going to improve the economy—it needs to stop.”
Haberman’s article adds more urgency to the demand that Clinton produce transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, as well as immediately providing plenty of ammunition for Sanders to use.

Sanders also has an opportunity to question Clinton about her views on Goldman Sachs’ CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s advocacy of the proper relationship between US presidents and Wall Street: “politicians should naturally reside in a state of more or less constant accommodation with Wall Street."

Perhaps Sanders might also find an opportunity in future debates to probe Clinton’s six years as a member of Wal-Mart’s board of directors.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. He edited The Racine Labor weekly for 14 years. Email winterbybee@gmail.com.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Once again, a Wall Street Journal columnist is undone by bad math & a lack of business skills

By Marc Jampole

I’m beginning to wonder if not being good at business math is a requirement for getting a regular column on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Time and time again, columnists use fallacious quantitative reasoning to build their case. Whether overestimating the impact of the minimum wage on overall employment, supporting the laughable illogical Laffer Curve, not recognizing the economic boon that alternative fuels and environmental regulation will bring or underestimating the costs of war, the rightwing often plays fast and fancy with numbers.

It’s so much in their nature to lie with numbers, that rightwing pundits do it even when they don’t have to take. Take, for example, Daniel Henninger’s excoriation of the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president in an article titled “Trump Among the Canaries.” I don’t agree with Henninger on many things, but he is correct when he says that the Donald “has been floating in an inch-deep pool of policy and shows no inclination to expand his pre-existing knowledge of anything.”

One great point that Henninger makes is that Trump’s proposed 45% tariff on goods imported from China is unrealistic and will harm the U.S. economy. But then he displays some of the stupidest thinking with numbers I’ve read this year when he writes: “Wal-Mart has 1.4 million employees in stores filled with foreign-made consumer goods. With a 45% price increase, many won’t be working for long.” 

Does Henninger really believe that a 45% increase in the tariff paid to import Chinese goods into the United States will lead to a 45% increase in prices? If he does, he’s an unsophisticated fool with so little experience in the business world that he should not be writing for a business newspaper or commenting on economic matters.

The cost of merchandise is not the only factor that goes into the price that people pay at Walmart, or anywhere else. There is also transportation (a factor that will now be reduced substantially over the short term as soon as the merchandiser has unwound the long-term gas contracts it entered into when oil prices were much higher), store and warehouse space and equipment, labor costs, marketing and advertising, insurance, information technology, legal, other administrative costs and the cost of borrowing. And let’s not forget about profit. When costs go up, businesses always have the option of eating the additional expenditure and making slightly less money.

It would be great if we knew exactly how much Walmart pays for the merchandise it sells. Unfortunately, Walmart lumps what it pays for merchandise into a line in its annual financials that also includes “the cost of transportation to the Company’s distribution facilities, stores and clubs from suppliers, the cost of transportation from the Company’s distribution facilities to the stores, clubs and customers and the cost of warehousing for the Sam’s Club segment and import distribution centers.” That number is just under 76% of revenue. If the cost of product were half this number and Walmart insisted on maintaining its healthy profit margin, a 45% increase in the tariff would result in 17% increase in store prices. Still steep, but not the 45% increase in prices that Henninger threatens will occur.

Henninger would have had a good point, even if he didn’t present a misleading picture. But it seems to be encoded into the DNA of rightwing pundits to manipulate numbers and do bad math.

Forgetting about factors in an economic analysis is something that Trump himself does, most egregiously when he claims that he made good business deals when he took three business entities into bankruptcy. The number the Donald forgets, of course, is the hundreds of millions of dollars of losses incurred by investors. His bragging about his billions in assets neglects the fact that a passive investor would be worth twice as much as Trump is after his three decades of businesses deals.

In truth, Trump has been an unsuccessful business person. And with his seemingly unsophisticated understanding of simple pricing matters, it looks as if Henninger would be just as bad as Trump if he had to quit his sinecure at the WSJ and get a real job.