Monday, May 18, 2015

By killing Boston Marathon bomber, we stoop to his level of barbarism & depravity

By Marc Jampole

The jury that sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death had a choice. They could have imprisoned Tsarnaev for life. But these 12 supposedly civilized men and women choice to do unto the Boston Marathon bomber what he had done unto others.

I wonder whether any of the 12 have ever killed another human being before—from a plane, at sniper’s distance, or up close. I wonder whether they would have all voted to put Tsarnaev to death if they had to pull the trigger or push the button that ends his life.

It’s so much easier to vote “yes,” almost as easy as pulling the toggle that kills a dozen enemy soldiers in a video game.

Killing is killing, no matter what.

Even if the death penalty served as a deterrent, it would still be wrong on moral and ethical grounds. But most studies conclude that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. It seems that at the moment of pulling the trigger, planting the bomb, applying the poison, lighting the fire, pushing the accelerator to the floor or someone off the roof—at the moment of committing a capital crime, perpetrators don’t consider or discount the possible consequence.

This essay is not the place to discuss the morality of war, but I think we can all agree that lots of soldiers come home from battle with deep psychological wounds that heal slowly and leave ugly scars. We call it post-traumatic stress disorder, but we could just as well call it the “killing” disease, because having to kill another person disgusts and shames normal people so much that it makes them ill. Psychopaths and sociopaths are different. Maybe killing other human beings is
necessary in war, and maybe not, but it is never necessary in peace, which makes it always wrong.

It makes me wonder whether members of a jury that brings in a death sentence suffer the same cold night sweats, panic attacks, inability to concentrate, sudden rages and other symptoms of the soldier returned from the killing fields.

Killing is killing, no matter what.

Most other nations of the world have abolished the death penalty, 140 according to Amnesty International. The United States is one of a mere 22 countries that held executions in 2013. But then again, we also incarcerate one quarter of the Earth’s prisoners, making us the world’s largest jailor, and perhaps it’s bloodiest, too. Both the left and right are making noise about ending the system of “mass incarceration” that has made America the land of the jailed. Part of this movement to make the criminal justice system fairer, more efficient and less costly should be ending capital punishment once and for all. It’s time we returned to the circle of civilized nations.

Meanwhile, we should understand that one death is almost as bad as six, or 60. Like all juries that vote unanimously to kill a fellow human being—even one as reprehensible as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—the Boston marathon bomber jury has broken no law. In fact, it has enforced one. But it doing so, these 12 citizens have brought new shame to the United States and all Americans.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Steer Left with Sanders

With the entry of Sen. Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic nomination for president, it’s time for progressive populists to show their game.

Sanders, 73, is a democratic socialist who has run independent campaigns as he won elections to serve eight years as mayor of Burlington, Vt., 16 years as Vermont’s at-large member of Congress, where he founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991, and two winning campaigns for the US Senate, where he has served since 2007. In his campaign for president, he will have to capitalize the “D” while his opponents at the center and the right will focus on the “S”, but Sanders won re-election in 2012 with 71% of the vote in a state that still has a lot of hardscrabble conservatives, so being a socialist hasn’t been a bar to his popularity thus far. Sanders has succeeded by translating political and economic issue to languages he can share with blue-collar workers over the kitchen table. He’s not a communist — an important distinction — but he thinks we could take after democratic socialist countries in Scandinavia, such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

While the conventional wisdom is that “socialist” is still a political slur in the US, six years of Republicans calling Barack Obama a socialist have removed much of the sting from that label, and that GOP hyperbole has left youngsters thinking that socialism must not be that big a deal. If it’s socialist to fight for American manufacturing jobs, to put more Americans to work by investing in roads, bridges rail lines and other infrastructure improvements, to make public colleges and universities free, to make health care a right and protect Social Security, Medicare and the Veterans Administration from threatened cuts by Republicans — and even expand those benefits with a restored progressive tax system that soaks the rich — public opinion polls show those socialist policies Sanders promotes are supported in most cases by two-thirds of Americans.

Sanders also has reintroduced legislation to break up the nation’s biggest banks, saying, “If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist.” He notes that the largest banks are now 80% bigger than they were before the financial crisis in 2008, making them an even bigger threat to the economy today.

Bankers are confident that they can smother Sanders’ bill in the Republican Congress, but Kevin Cirilli reports in The Hill(May 12) that financial industry leaders are still concerned that Sanders’ rhetoric might impact Hillary Clinton and cause her to “pander to the far left.”

In fact, Bernie’s platform is nothing radical. He is channelling the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal — another program that plutocrats derided as socialism in the 1930s. But that was the sort of socialism that provided relief for millions of unemployed, giving them jobs on public works projects, helping farms and businesses survive, rebuild and eventually thrive, with organized labor empowered to look after the interests of industrial workers when the economic royalists would pay them starvation wages if they could get away with it.

The New Deal set the stage after World War II for the growth of a middle class that was the envy of the world until the plutocrats simply could not stand the broad-based prosperity any more. They put up Ronald Reagan to break up the unions in the 1980s and then eliminated trade barriers in the 1990s so the industrialists could move their factories to Third World nations that allow starvation wages and don’t bother manufacturers with pesky regulations.

Sanders has tapped a deep vein of frustration among progressive Democrats who have watched the party move toward the right over the past 30 years. He raised $3 million in his first four days as a candidate and he promises to build a progressive grassroots campaign to win the nomination.

Sanders will need to run an insurgent campaign because he won’t have the money to flood the airwaves with ads, and neither he nor other progressives can expect any favors from the corporate news media in getting a fair hearing of their agenda. (That is one reason you should support publications such as The Progressive Populist, and get your friends and family members to subscribe too!) But it also is important that President Obama’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission in February affirmed the principle of net neutrality on the Internet, so corporate Internet service providers cannot throttle independent voices who get the word out on websites, podcasts and other “social media.” Internet service providers and trade groups have sued in federal court challenging the FCC’s net neutrality rule.

It is true that federal campaign finance rules have been grotesquely deformed by the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court, whose Citizens United decision in 2010 struck down the limits on organizations accepting corporate money for electioneering, and whose McCutcheon decision in 2014 struck down aggregate limits on campaign contributions by wealthy contributors. That allows wealthy industrialists such as the Koch Brothers to raise and spend billions of dollars — much of it unaccountable — to try to elect their anointed ones to the White House and Congress in the next cycle. Democrats might as well make a virtue of their poverty and embrace a real progressive agenda such as the ones that are being proposed by Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Don’t complain that we’ve lost our democracy. People still get to vote. (Though whether your vote gets counted can get problematic.) Get to work on taking democracy back. Bernie’s campaign is as good a vehicle as any.

On the other hand, try not to say anything in the primary campaign that you might need to walk back in the general election. In his announcement, Sanders noted that he has never run a negative campaign and he doesn’t plan to start now. The facts should suffice, but he is not operating under the illusion that a progressive “spoiler” campaign that throws the election to the Republicans would do working people any good.

We know some of our readers have no use for Hillary Clinton, but if she manages to overcome Bernie’s challenge, we would vote for her in the general election. Not only has she embraced some progressive principles as she rolls out her agenda; her choice of Joseph Stiglitz as her economic adviser is very encouraging to progressives. We still don’t anticipate she would be much tougher on Wall Street than the Obama administration has been, but Stiglitz has proposed sensible moves, such as raising taxes on capital gains and a push to make corporations less focused on short-term quarterly returns, that we wholeheartedly support, and Clinton is expected to embrace those reforms. She also might remind the bankers who are miffed at the populist talk coming from the Democrats that if Wall Street didn’t like the Dodd-Frank financial reforms in 2010 after they had contributed millions to the campaigns of President Obama and congressional Democrats, they really won’t like what she might do in 2017 if they place all their bets on the wrong team.

Anyway, we believe that progressives will have little choice but to embrace the Democratic ticket if for no other reason than the next president almost certainly will set the future of the Supreme Court.

The high court has done enough damage with Anthony Kennedy providing the swing vote on a 5-4 bench. The next president might get to appoint three or four justices, which could turn the court around, or it could cement a right-wing majority for a generation. You don’t want those justices named by a president who is approved by the Koch Brothers and you don’t want those nominees reviewed by a Senate that is ruled by Mitch McConnell.

In the meantime, if you want the Democratic Party to embrace progressive populist positions and scare Wall Street bankers, support Bernie Sanders for president. See berniesanders.com. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 1, 2015

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

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the June 1, 2015 issue

COVER/Bill Curry
Sanders can win by building a movement 


EDITORIAL
Steer left with Sanders


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Don’t depend on Asia to put food on the table


DISPATCHES
Dem filibuster prompts GOP concessions on trade bill;
‘Meet the Press’ has trouble remembering Bernie Sanders;
US subsidizes huge oil companies;
NSA reform bill falls short;

Amtrak wreck kills 8, Congress argues over railroad funding;
10 fierce Senate races shaping up;
FBI broke its own rules in tracking anti-pipeline activists;
Verizon-AOL merger 'makes no sense':
Rand Paul blames black parents in Baltimore, won't comment on his son's DUI ...

JOEL D. JOSEPH
Why Baltimore is burning


JOAN WALSH
The era of (Bill) Clinton liberalism is over


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Medicaid: The patient’s dilemma


SAM URETSKY
Predestined to vote Republican


JOHN YOUNG
GOP’s contraceptive stance: More abortions


WAYNE O’LEARY
The roots of inequality


JOHN BUELL
Trading away democracy


BOB BURNETT
Vote no on Armageddon


DON ROLLINS
Labor in search of a champion


FR. DONNELL KIRCHNER
What will Pope Francis tell Congress?


SETH SANDRONSKY
California’s two-tier economy


JASON STANFORD
We are all Baltimore

ROB PATTERSON
Who’s still rocking after all these years


POPULIST PICKS
Van Morrison; Boz Scaggs; Nellie McKay


and more ...

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Warren & De Blasio tell us how to improve economy & society, while Christie offers plan for ultra-wealthy

By Marc Jampole

We’ve seen two agendas for America’s future released within a 24-hour period: the new contract for America by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (in order of size of population represented), which they presented in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s plan to grow the economy and raise incomes, which he sketched in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

These two plans could not be more different in tone, underlying assumptions, recommendations or targeted constituencies. They also differ in terms of the underlying factual basis of their proposals.

In Christie’s case, there is almost no factual basis to believe what he wants to do will kick-start economic growth and raise incomes. Basically he advocates more of what has choked the country for 35 years. Christie wants to reduce taxes on the wealthy and on corporations; simplify taxes in a revenue neutral way (which is Republican speak for wanting to continue to starve the government of needed funds); reduce government regulation; and base our national energy policy on exploration of fossil fuels.

Christie must have a super-tiny, itsy-bitsy, skinny-as-a-rail attention span, because what he’s proposing is the basic playbook that has led to the greatest transfer of wealth and income in world history: the flow of money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy in the United States since 1980.

Christie proffers the reality-defying idea that with lower taxes, businesses will invest more in growth and conduct more research & development. It hasn’t happened yet, and once more, it never happens. When government programs take money from the middle class and the poor and give it to the wealthy, all that happens is that the wealthy get richer and the overall economy weakens. That’s what has happened during the past three decades and it’s what happened during the Gilded Age in 19th century America, in the 17th century French ancien regime and in 16th century Spain under Phillip II. 

Christie does have one half of a good idea, which is to eliminate the payroll tax for employees under 21 and over 62, as a means to encourage employers to hire new workers and those near retirement to keep working. I call it half a good idea, because payroll taxes include both Social Security and Medicare. I would propose eliminating only the Social Security portion of the payroll tax for these age groups and only eliminating the employee’s side for those over 62, so the employer would keep paying for the experienced worker. Furthermore, to fund the loss of revenues to the Social Security Trust Fund, I would remove the cap on income assessed by the Social Security tax.

Other than this one pint-sized, skinny idea, Christie’s proposals help but one constituency, the ultra-wealthy, whose bank accounts are already bulging from federal and state government actions of the past three decades.

I would love to write that, unlike Good King Christie of Crony Capitalism, Warren and De Blasio are true patriots whose recommendations are based on facts and who don’t deal in the devious obfuscation like Christie and the other factotums of the ultrawealthy do. But I can’t say for sure since not one news media outlet—not one—printed the entire 13 points of De Blasio and Warren’s “Progressive Agenda,” preferring to focus on the absurdly irrelevant question: Is it appropriate for the Mayor to be travelling around the country instead of working at his job? (A question never asked of the globe-trotting Michael Bloomberg.)

Unfortunately, as of this writing, no progressive organization has yet put the plan online either, so we can’t completely blame the news media for not being able to find all 13 points. If De Blasio, Warren and other progressive are serious about pushing their program, they are going to have to reach out directly to people and not depend on a rightward looking mainstream media that prefers to reduce issues to personalities, faux pas and horse races. I’ll keep looking for a formal 13-point proposal and present an analysis if and when I find it.

What we do know about the “Progressive Agenda” sounds like it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the U.S. economy:
·         Close the “carried interest” loophole in the tax code that enables hedge fund managers to avoid paying taxes on most of their income.
·         The “Buffett Rule,” named after America’s favorite billionaire, which would assess a minimum of 30% in federal income taxes on anyone who makes at least a million a year, about .3% of tax payers.
·         Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation.
·         Instituting universal pre-kindergarten.
·         Requiring employers to provide mandatory paid sick leave.

Taken as a whole, these plans take money from the wealthy and give it to the poor and the middle class, which reverses the trend since 1980. Let’s hope that the other eight proposals fronted by De Blasio and Warren also redistribute income downward, because that’s what this country needs.

I admire the political savvy exercised by De Blasio, Warren and Bernie Sanders to aggressively push the progressive agenda at this time. The earlier they get started, the more leftward they will be able to move Hillary Clinton. Just as important by moving her left early, the Democratic primaries will not become a divisive blood bath.