Monday, August 25, 2014

To New York progressives: Vote for Teachout in primary!

By Marc Jampole 

New York State could serve as a model of how progressives can move the right-of-Eisenhower Democratic Party back towards the left. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s version of Barack Obama, is running for reelection as governor of the Empire State. But first there’s the little matter of the September 9 primary in which Cuomo faces Zephyr Teachout, a very progressive professor of law at Fordham University.

Cuomo has essentially run the state of New York by looking rightward.  He put a cap on property taxes and wants to lower taxes for businesses. He blocked New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s attempt to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund pre-schools, preferring to take money from the existing state budget, which means other programs will do without. Cuomo is an ardent supporter of charter schools, a conservative initiative originated to bust teachers’ unions and has proven to underperform and undercut funding for public schools.  And like President Obama, Cuomo is too fast to make deals with Republicans that continue the disastrous economic policies of the past 30+ years.

Let’s not forget about the whiff of corruption now emanating from the Cuomo body politic. Cuomo empanelled a state commission to investigate corruption in government and then dismantled it when it started turning over the rocks of his administration. In the best case scenario, Cuomo is exercising too much power in an effort to subvert democracy. The worst case would involve a cover-up of the kind of unethical and often illegal crony capitalism that seems to plague Republican governors these days.

Cuomo does support gay marriage and tends to speak and vote progressive on most social issues, but so do virtually every Democrat and a growing number of Republicans nowadays. He did pass one of the toughest gun control laws in the country after the Newtown mass murders, for which he should be applauded.

Teachout has no chance of beating Cuomo in the primary, but every vote she gets should turn Cuomo’s head a little bit to the left. If Teachout could get more than 45% of the vote, it would send a strong message to Cuomo to shift leftward on economic issues.

Which is exactly what Cuomo doesn’t want to hear and doesn’t want to do. That’s why the Governor sued to keep Teachout off the ballot and then appealed when he lost. Even though he knows the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor, he does not want to have to listen to progressives. It would upset the corporate bankers who back him and who might up the ante if he decides to run for president of the United States.

The worst that can happen by voting for Teachout is that she wins, which will be very good for New York State and the nation. The Republican Rob Astorino, a former Catholic radio personality, is far too right-wing for New York State. While it’s probable that conservatives would pour tens of millions of dollars into a campaign against the relatively unknown Teachout, the Democrats also have a ton of money for whoever the candidate for governor of New York happens to be.  I’m confident any Democrat will beat Rob Astorino in New York State, especially if turnout is high. And it stands to reason that more Democrats would come out to vote for a face fresh than they would for the incumbent expected to steamroll Astorino.  In other words, if Teachout won the primary, she would also win the election.

What we have then is a win-win situation for progressives. By voting for Teachout in the Democratic primary, New York voters can send a message to Andrew Cuomo—and every Democrat considering a run for the presidency.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

America can learn a lot from the Ferguson situation, that is, if we’re willing to

By Marc Jampole 

The American public is relearning many lessons from the events in Ferguson following the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.  The three biggest takeaways from this tragedy and its aftermath are:
  1. We have gone way too far in militarizing our local police forces.
  2. There is still rampant institutional racism built into our policing and criminal justice system.
  3. The police and criminal justice system does itself and the people it is supposed to protect a disservice by never admitting a mistake.
The ramifications of these big picture dynamics affect more than the relationship between authorities and the citizens they protect. Going too far in militarizing our police, for example, results partially from the political cowardice and cronyism that led Congress to give every state a cut of the money we dedicated to fighting terrorism in the USA Patriot Act instead of focusing the money on those areas and systems most vulnerable to terrorist attack, i.e., New York, Washington, D.C. and our docks and harbors. Of course, the opportunity for American manufacturers to sell to local police forces with money supplied by the feds was too good for the crony capitalists who run our country to pass up. The result—local police everywhere now own all kinds of military equipment that they don’t need and, which, when used, only make a sensitive street situation more volatile. The number of SWAT team attacks has skyrocketed across the country, as have the number of SWAT invasions directed at the wrong address.  I’m thinking that the money spent on military-grade guns and vehicles might have been better spent in the recruitment and training of minority police officers and the introduction of less violent ways to confront suspects.

Ferguson is only the latest proof that minorities and the poor get treated badly by the criminal justice system across the country.  As Jeff Smith, a former Missouri state senator and professor of sociology at The New School, pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, Ferguson does the same kind of racial profiling that the courts have made New York City stop doing.  In Ferguson last year, 86 percent of police stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of African-Americans, numbers which are way out line with the percentage of the total Ferguson population that they represent, which is about 62%. Even more damning is the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on African-Americans, 22 percent of whom were carrying something illegal, compared to 34 percent of whites.   

It’s almost painful to see the Ferguson police chief try to justify the actions of his department. For example, instead of thanking the Governor for bringing in the Highway Patrol and National Guard and installing a charismatic African-American to be the face of the police response, Chief Tom Jackson prefers to complain about the insult to the Ferguson police that the switch in authorities and tactics represented.
Instead of admitting he was wrong to bring out the tanks, the Ferguson police chief released information meant to stain the reputation of the young man who was shot six times, including twice in the head. First it was news that the boy was a suspect in a robbery, which the officer who fired the shots was decent enough to admit he didn’t know when the confrontation occurred. Now we’ve learned that the boy—Michael Brown—had marijuana in his system. So what? It wouldn’t matter if he was a suspect in 30 armed robberies and they found traces of cocaine, heroin, Oxycontin and meth in his body. An experienced police office trained in protecting the public and probably in martial arts fired six bullets into his body. One or maybe two bullets and I—and the rest of the public—could understand the act as possibly, maybe necessary. But six??  The officer should get his due process, but the police department would advance the cause of better understanding between police and minorities by admitting its mistakes and stating that it will not support officers who behave brutally or illegally.

But closing ranks isn’t new for the criminal justice system. Several times a year we read of district attorneys who are opposed to new trials or the release of the unjustly imprisoned, or those who will fight tooth and nail to insist that a retarded or near retarded death row prisoner has a high enough IQ to qualify for the death penalty. We recently saw the union representing New York City police department cry that is was unfair to investigate the death of an innocent man from a police choke hold. The union also bemoaned the lack of solidarity of the teachers’ union to participate in a march against police brutality.  The union made itself look bad by not explicitly stating that it did not support the use of chokeholds, which is an illegal tactic for police in New York State.

People and organizations make mistakes. Organizations occasionally hire individuals who won’t follow the rules or make their own rules. When you admit your mistake and then fix it, you gain the respect of others. When you hunker down and defend your position even after it painfully clear you were wrong, others begin to disrespect you and question your authority. Now imagine decades of closing ranks and protecting bad decisions and rogue employees and you begin to understand why minority communities distrust our criminal justice system.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Editorial: Still Cleaning Up After W


President Obama has sensibly resisted attempts to draw him into the civil war in Syria and to militarize confrontations with Iran and Russia, but former Vice President Dick Cheney, who personifies everything that’s wrong with American foreign policy, recently surfaced to accuse the President of projecting “weakness” abroad and “crippling” the US military.

In an Aug. 10 interview with radio host John Catsimatidis, Cheney said he traces “most” of the problems of Washington to the current administration. He cleared his nominal former boss, George W. Bush, of responsibility for the actions a decade ago that led to the series of bad choices Obama now faces. “They can’t blame George Bush any more,” Cheney said. Of Obama, he said, “I think he’s been a failure as a president. I think the scandals, with respect to the Veterans Administration, with respect to the IRS, these are bad situations.” But “even worse,” he said, are cuts in the military budget.

This is the sort of claptrap you get when you don’t prosecute war criminals, but it reflects the Republican party line.

First of all, the VA “scandal” was that Congresses under the Bush and Obama administrations didn’t appropriate enough money to take care of the wounded warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And the IRS “scandal” was that the tax agency had required politics-oriented groups on the left and the right to comply with the law, which limits political activity of organizations seeking non-profit and tax-exempt status.

As for the military cutbacks, that’s what you should get when you wind down two wars. And the cuts have been modest: defense and international security assistance still amounted to $643 billion, or 19% of the federal budget, for fiscal year 2013. The US still spends more than the next eight countries combined, according to 2013 figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. (Runner-up China spends $188 billion on its military, Russia $87.8 billion and Saudi Arabia $67 billion, though the Saudi total also includes police.)

Anyway, Obama withdrew troops from Iraq in 2011 under the terms drawn up under Bush’s administration. The Bush hawks, who ran the Mideast into the ditch but all found employment in private industry and/or “think tanks” and have never been far from the TV chat show cameras, yelled bloody murder that Obama had let us down.

The mess in the Mideast shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, as it was predicted a decade ago. In a Jan. 16, 2003, column, Molly Ivins wrote, “I assume we can defeat Hussein without great cost to our side (God forgive me if that is hubris). The problem is what happens after we win. The country is 20% Kurd, 20% Sunni and 60% Shi’ite. Can you say, ‘Horrible three-way civil war?’”

But Bill Kristol, right-wing ideologue and chairman of the Project for a New American Century, which promoted the string of regime changes in the Mideast that started with the fall of Saddam Hussein, in 2003 dismissed concerns that sectarian differences would be a serious problem. “On this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there’s been a certain amount of, frankly, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”

In our March 1, 2003, editorial, “Inspect, Don’t Invade,” while UN inspectors were still in Iraq, we wrote, “We wish we could believe that invading Iraq would solve the problems. More likely the bombing of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq to clear the way for the invasion will kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi people, create hundreds of thousands of refugees, plunge the Middle East into chaos and expand the radical Islamic jihad against the western world.”

But Bush and Cheney bulled ahead anyway. US troops routed the Iraqi military and secured its oilfields but let the rest of the country go to hell. On March 31, 2003, Egypt’s then-President Hosni Mubarak said the US-led war on Iraq would produce “one hundred new bin Ladens,” driving more Muslims to anti-Western militancy. “When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences,” Mubarak told Egyptian soldiers in the city of Suez, while hundreds of Arab volunteers were streaming to Iraq pledging to join in “martyrdom operations” against US and British forces

Lou Dubose noted in the Aug. 1 Washington Spectator that Peter Galbraith—a former US ambassador to Croatia and adviser to the government of Iraqi Kurdistan—in Jan. 11, 2007, testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a foreign-policy catastrophe and the tragic and unjustifiable destruction of a country; the toxic politics of Nouri al-Maliki’s government; and the sectarian fault lines that effectively divided Iraq into three countries.

“The alternative to partition,” he said, “is a continued US-led effort at nation-building that has not worked for the last four years and, in my view, has no prospect for success. That, Mr. Chairman, is a formula for war without an end.”

Now forced nation-building of Iraq at US gunpoint is the option that Republicans are blasting Obama for not pursuing.

Even Hillary Clinton criticized President Obama’s foreign policy in an interview published Aug. 10 in The Atlantic. She said the failure to help build up a credible fighting force among the protesters against Assad in Syria “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” She added, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

“Don’t do stupid stuff” might not be an organizing principle, but it is a pretty good prime directive. And Obama has been smart, at least compared with what the Bushites did from 2001 to 2009 and what John McCain proposed to do. We have our criticisms of specific Obama policies, but if McCain (or Mitt Romney) had become president we might well be at war with Iran and/or Russia, arming Syrian rebel groups that turned out to have terrorist ties.

Hillary Needs a Challenger


One of our concerns with Hillary Clinton is the perception that she intends to pursue a centrist neoliberal course as the presumed Democratic nominee for president in 2016.

Progressives who want to move Clinton to the left had better come up with a candidate who can give Hillary a run for her money and perhaps nudge her to adopt a more populist tone.

Some progressives hold out hope that Sen. Elizabeth Warren will challenge Clinton, but we take her at her word that she has no plans to run for president. However, Sen. Bernie Sanders is considering a challenge for the Democratic nomination.

Sanders has said he respects the former Secretary of State, but cautioned against assuming that she will be the Democratic nominee before she’s even announced her candidacy.

In an interview with ABC’s Jeff Zeleny, Sanders said, “She has accomplished a lot of positive things in her career, but I’m not quite sure that the political process is one in which we anoint people ...

“What is her agenda? I don’t know, you don’t know. She hasn’t said,” Sanders noted.

Sanders said he does not “wake up every morning with a burning desire to be president of the United States,” but he reiterated his commitment to fight for political and economic equality as the US shifts toward “an oligarchic form of society in which a handful of billionaire families control not only the economy of this country ... I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening.”

If progressives want Sanders, or any other candidate, to run for president from the left, they need to show they can make it a credible race. “Look, it’s easy for me to give a good speech, and I give good speeches,” Sanders told Zeleny. “It is harder to put together a grassroots organization of hundreds of thousands of millions of people prepared to work hard and take on the enormous amounts of money that will be thrown against us.”

To encourage Sanders to run, contact Progressive Democrats of America at pdamerica.org or call 877-239-2093. — JMC

Note: this was edited Aug. 26 with corrected Russian military expenditures.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2014

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Selections from the September 1, 2014 issue