Friday, May 25, 2018

Editorial: Dems: Go Big or Stay Home

As Democrats seek to mobilize the resistance to Donald Trump in preparation for the mid-term elections, they could use a progressive populist platform to lure back some of the white working-class voters who have fallen for the Republican con over the past 40 years, instead of simply relying on the electorate to be alarmed at the increasingly fascist Republican Party that is enabling the fake populist Trump.

Democrats have let Republicans chip away at the Democratic brand as the working people’s party. When Democrats increased opportunities for women, LGBT and minorities during President Barack Obama’s administration, Republicans claimed these gains for others showed Democrats were not interested in helping straight white men. Frankly, Democrats have dropped the ball in explaining how their policies also helped white men — and that’s probably a major reason Hillary Clinton lost the critical states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (along with Republican-engineered voter suppression, particularly in black precincts).

Democrats should reclaim the heritage of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who put together a working-class coalition in the 1930s that enabled his New Deal reforms that helped working people and farmers survive the Great Depression by placing much-needed regulation on capitalism, giving millions of unemployed men jobs in public works projects and granting working people rights in the workplace, including the right to organize a labor union. The Democratic Congress established Social Security, unemployment compensation, a minimum wage that increased pay for millions of Americans, and agricultural policies that helped stabilize farm production and prices.

The economy was recovering when the US entered World War II, but Roosevelt knew more reforms were needed, so in his 1944 State of the Union address, he called for an expansion of the Bill of Rights to recognize economic rights as well.

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence,” Roosevelt said. Quoting an “old English judge,” FDR said, ”Necessitous men are not free men.” He added, “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

FDR proposed “a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.” They include:

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

2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.

3. The right of every family to a decent home.

4. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.

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

6. The right to a good education.

Roosevelt died in April 1945 before he could promote the Economic Bill of Rights, although he did gain passage of the GI Bill of Rights in June 1944, which provided for education and training of returning veterans, as well as low-cost loans for housing and to start businesses. The program was credited with helping fuel the economic boom in the 1950s that created the world’s largest middle class.

Plutocrats finally got their opportunity to counterattack against the New Deal after Roosevelt’s death in 1945. New President Harry S Truman tried to continue Roosevelt’s policies, but his popularity dropped over his handling of post-war labor strikes and his hesitation to lift wartime price controls to prevent food shortages. In the 1946 mid-term election, Republicans picked up 12 Senate seats and took control of the Senate. Dems held the House, but Republicans worked with conservative Southern Democrats to pass, over Truman’s veto, the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947, which restricted the power of labor unions.

The next major domestic policy gains came under Lyndon B. Johnson, who got his political start during the New Deal. After John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the new president launched a War on Poverty in 1964 as part of his Great Society. His administration helped to create the Job Corps, the Community Action Program, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), Head Start, food stamps and work study programs. He also used his mastery of congressional procedures to get a civil rights bill past the Southern segregationists in the House and Senate, although after he signed the bill, he wistfully predicted it would deliver the South to the Republican Party for a generation.

Johnson ended up losing five states in the Deep South, as well as Arizona, home of GOP nominee Barry Goldwater, but the 44 other states gave LBJ a landslide and the largest Democratic majority in Congress since FDR’s re-election in 1936. LBJ put that majority to use, passing the Voting Rights Act, an immigration bill that removed national-origin quotas dating from the 1920s, and education bills that doubled federal spending on education and provided funding for grants, work-study money and student loans for college students.

But Johnson’s greatest accomplishment was expanding Social Security to include Medicare, to provide hospital insurance for seniors, as well as a voluntary insurance program for doctor visits and an expanded medical program for the poor, now known as Medicaid.

Johnson’s War on Poverty helped millions of Americans rise from poverty as the national poverty rate declined nearly by half, from 23% of Americans living below the poverty line when he took office to 12% in January 1969, when Johnson left office.

Ronald Reagan led the counterattack against the War on Poverty, saying in a February 1986 radio address the nation’s welfare system made the problem worse. Without citing statistics, which appear to contradict him, he said, “I guess you could say, poverty won the war.”

Since then, Republicans have sought to reduce or eliminate many New Deal and Great Society programs and bust unions. The poverty rate edged back up to 15% in the administrations of Reagan and George H.W. Bush, though it fell back to 12.7% (40.6 million people) in 2016 as the economy grew under President Obama. But the wealth gap has continued to increase as unions lost negotiating power.

Now is the time, as Mark Paul, William Darity Jr. and Darrick Hamilton wrote in “An Economic Bill of Rights for the 21st Century” in The American Prospect March 5, to revive the six rights outlined by FDR and update them for the 21st century with three more rights. The proposed additions:

7. The right to sound banking and financial services. They propose a public option, such as the Bank of North Dakota, or revival of postal savings banks to provide banking services, particularly in underserved low-income neighborhoods.

8. The right to a safe and clean environment.

9. The right to a meaningful endowment of resources as a birthright. For example, an endowment for every newborn child.

Democratic leaders have unveiled a populist agenda called “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future,” which is good as far as they go, but Democrats should push for more.

As Paul, Darity and Hamilton conclude, “Many may question in this time of ‘resistance,’ if this is the right time to fight for an expansion of economics rights, but no one wins anything of consequence by simply playing defense. Maintaining the highly unequal and unjust status quo is neither sufficient nor sustainable. We need to take aggressive measures to achieve economic justice.” — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2018

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Selections from the June 15, 2018 issue

COVER/Steven Greenhouse
Unions face the fight of their lives to protect American workers

Dems: Go big or stay home

Farm Bill lost in Never-Never Land


How Zion (and the rest of the world) just became less safe

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Big ag farms the government

Trump backs down, claims victory in trade war with China;
Gorsuch’s first major opinion allows bosses to steal from workers;
Speaker Ryan dives in to save NAFTA for big business;
Trump administration finds a sham election it doesn’t like;
White House goes all in comparing migrants to animals;
Breakthrough solar panel havests power from raindrops;
EU may forbid compliance with Trump sanctions on Iran;
Repubs aim at black people with Medicaid work requirements in Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan;
Feds lose track of 1,475 migrant children, some to traffickers ...

Norris goes for broke with immigration, rural Iowa

The lesson I learned growing up Jewish

The art of being transparently corrupt

Mueller inquiry status

Modest proposal for Congress to reclaim war authority

Donald Trump’s racist ideas

Sick of predatory lenders? Get a loan from the Post Office!

A safe black space

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Cheap insurance: Back to the future

High drug costs are a major health threat


Who is the real nuclear threat?

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Put your brain back on track

‘Atomic Cafe’ good for another 35 years

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Sheryl and Mark’s magical mystery mea culpa tour

Good when she’s bad: Bawdy bard Mae West’s ‘sex’ appeals

Thursday, May 24, 2018

In light of Trump’s remark about “animals” here is a new definition of human beings: “Animals who kneel.”

By Marc Jampole

Whether Donald Trump meant his “they’re like animals” remark to refer to all immigrants or merely to members of the MS-13 gang, everyone understood his intent: To say that a group of human beings of a certain ethnicity are less human than we full-blooded Americans, and perhaps not even human beings at all. In this sense, even if Trump really only meant MS-13 gangbangers, MS-13 served Trump as a synecdoche, which is a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole. Just as we understand that “a strong arm” or a “piece of ass” refers to an entire body, so do we realize that Trump was saying that all immigrants from Latino (and African and Islamic) countries are animals.
The essence of racism involves the belief that certain human beings are better than others—by virtue of their skin color, DNA, family history or whatever factor is being used to distinguish individuals by race. In the West at least, humans have traditionally considered animals to be lesser forms of life put on earth for the benefit and use of human beings. To call someone an animal is virtually always used in a pejorative sense, except when referring to football players or boxers, and even in the sporting context, our admiration for an animal is for her/his less than human qualities.
To call a group of people animals is always racist.
Of course, most Americans nowadays would be appalled if we treated animals, especially dogs, how we treat immigrants and refugees. Far more was made in the news media of Michael Vick killing dogs he trained to fight than in the separation of families by the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). Without a doubt, America loves its pets more than we love the human beings whom we have defined as “others.” In the mass media and advertising and in our streets and living rooms, we see dogs pampered and treated as members of the family, referred to as children, given holiday gifts, preferred over human beings for companionship. The composite message we should infer regarding the totality of television advertising for food and what are called food products is that human beings give their pets a healthier, more nutritionally balanced diet than they themselves eat.
Thus many, if not most, of the people who embrace Trump’s demotion of groups of human beings to animal status routinely elevate animals to the status of “human beings.”
Defining people as less than human makes it easier to treat them badly. It used to justify slavery, segregation and Jim Crow laws. Today, it justifies an ungenerous, mean-spirited immigration policy—to use violence when dealing with them, to turn them away even though they are suffering refugees, to split families, to send people well-established in this country to the countries of their parents.
Trump’s animal comment is one set piece in a large campaign he and his allied are waging to divide America into “us-and-them” armed camps, with ”them” defined by color and ethnic background. Another theme in this long-term propaganda war is Trump’s constant labelling of behavior by blacks, Hispanics and Muslims as horrific while condoning or remaining silent about similar white behavior. The most obvious example of the Trumpite double standard is Trumpty-Dumpty’s reaction to mass murders involving whites versus people of color. When whites go postal, mental illness is to blame; anyone of color and it’s terrorism.
Contrast, too, Trump’s comments about “the good people” marching with the Nazis in Charlottesville versus his condemnation of Colin Kaepernick and other professional athletes for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before sporting events.
Which brings us to the unfortunate decision of the National Football League (NFL) to fine players and their teams when the player genuflects during the anthem. Like Trump and his minions, NFL owners have decided that taking the knee is inherently unpatriotic and thus antisocial, even if the players are asserting a right that defines Americans to protest a flaw in the American way of life that supposedly makes the United States a superior place to live—the unfair treatment of African-Americans and other minorities by the criminal justice system. The NFL owners put themselves on the side of Trump and his minions, which is why Trump is praising the announcement.
In attempting to explain why NFL owners didn’t decide to affirm the right of all Americans to engage in peaceful protests by doing nothing, we face another set of bad options, caught between a symbolic Scylla and Charybdis with no ship to navigate us safely between the two: Either pressure from rightwing politicians and the large numbers of NFL fans who are racist or Trumpite has coerced a craven NFL to submit to their un-American, and covertly racist, agenda OR the NFL owners sincerely believe that saluting the flag is more important than a basic civil right.
Or maybe they just like the idea of controlling the players, like a sheep herder controls the flock.
Let’s keep in mind that the NFL, more than any other professional sport, has maintained the plantation owner attitude towards players that all sports used to have before the days of free agency. No other league is as preoccupied with its public image as the NFL, and the owners insist on that image being corporate, conservative and dedicated to the values of small-town white America. No other league has as many rules of behavior that have nothing to do with playing, e.g., the extensive regulations dictating proper behavior after scoring a touchdown. Now the NFL wants to take away the player’s right to free speech, or at least make them pay for the right through fines (which is in keeping with the essential rightwing idea that people with more property should have more of an influence on social policy, as if the NFL is saying, “If you want a say, you have to pay.”). The racial makeup of the NFL reinforces the plantation metaphor: The league is about 70% black, but there are few blacks in management and no black owner.
In organization and physical infrastructure, the old slave plantation had many similarities to contemporary immigration collection centers, Japanese internment camps during World War II and German concentration camps. Moreover, in all these instances of herding people into confined quarters and controlling their every movement, the people in charge openly expressed a superiority to those under their control. The evidence of that superiority was and is racial in nature and usually color-based.
Thus the NFL’s decision to try to prohibit political protest during the national anthem and Trump’s “worse than animals” remark are profoundly connected, not only as different arrows in Trump’s quiver of racism, but as manifestations of the continued persistence of the belief that whites of European decent are superior to others. Both Trump’s comments and the NFL action are highly calculated moves meant to exploit the virulent racism that still distorts American values.
During the last few centuries, science has undercut the notion that certain groups of humans are superior to others, or that all humans are superior to animals for that matter. Science’s inexorable refutation of revealed religion removed our inherent superiority to other creatures as much as its dismissal of inherent differences between the races has refuted racism. Moreover, over the past 40 years, anthropologists and paleontologists have found evidence of all kinds of behavior in animals that humans once cited to assert our superiority, including the development of language, use of tools, social organization and hierarchy, altruism, morality and even religion. The more we learn about the natural world and ourselves, the more like other animals we seem. Even as American whites wrongly believe that they are losing their status economically and socially to “others,” all humans are losing their status of uniqueness among the animal kingdom.
While respecting all life (except maybe rats and cockroaches), I still believe that humans are different. Other animals may use tools, but not to the degree we do. Other animals may communicate, but they haven’t built the widespread and sophisticated communications networks we have. And while altruism and morality exist among other animals, none have yet banded to together to protest the mistreatment of others. Your typical alpha male or alpha female among social animals doesn’t threaten its own existence by trying to raise awareness about how creatures in other groups suffer. And that’s what Kaepernick, the quarterback—the quintessential human alpha—did. In standing up for the civil and judicial rights of people of color, Kaepernick performed a uniquely human act. He could have defined himself as a privileged football player or a member of the economic elite, much as Trump and the NFL owners do, but instead he chose to identify with the downtrodden, and by implication, the entirety of humanity.
In a profound sense, then, those who protest and work for human, civil, judicial and economic rights are the most human among us. That’s certainly what Christ and the early Christians thought. They knelt before the concept of a god who helps the poor. Kaepernick knelt before the secular concepts of equality, equity and human solidarity. Either way, they elevated themselves—made themselves more human and less like animals—through the devotional act of kneeling. Perhaps when considering definitions of human beings, we should simply say, “animals who kneel.”
My hope is that the NFL edict will incite more football players and other professional athletes to become “animals who kneel.” I would like to see entire teams either stay inside the locker room for the national anthem or all take a knee in unison. I would like to see fans stay seated during the national anthem to protest this new restriction on civil rights. I would like to see a class action lawsuit by the players that upends this obnoxious new regulation. In short, I would like to see Americans collectively tell Trump and the NFL owners that we are not animals, but human beings.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The terrible consequences of the largely symbolic move of U.S. embassy: At least 61 dead & 2,700 injured, plus U.S. credibility in international circles sinks lower

By Marc Jampole
The demonstrations and killings in the wake of the United States moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem reminds us again of the power of symbolism: People are willing to put themselves in harm’s way and other people are willing to kill them for a symbol, in this case the symbolism of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The move encourages extreme Zionists, enrages Palestinians and rankles most other countries.
But the embassy move doesn’t change a thing in the Middle East.
It doesn’t alter the situation on the ground and it shouldn’t disturb the dynamics of any negotiations. Why should Jerusalem be off the table now in discussions of a peaceful settlement, be it a two-state solution or something else? It was so easy to move the U.S. embassy. All it took was money. Why can’t a future deal require the United States to move its embassy back to Tel Aviv, or elsewhere? It’s even possible that one day this new U.S. facility could be the U.S. embassy in a democratic Palestinian state that is allied with its neighbor, Israel? A peacenik can always dream…
Trump’s lunacy does have both immediate and long-term consequences. Short-term, it increases tensions and violence in Israeli and the occupied territory. Trumpty-Dumpty and his advisors must have known that the opening ceremonies would kindle demonstrations. But did they know that Israel would react with such brutality? Only among American evangelicals and hardliners in both Israel and the United States will the Israeli reaction to the demonstrations not seem blood-thirsty. Sixty-one dead and about 2,700 injured by a superior force that as of this writing reports no injuries or deaths is what the Latins used to say was res ipsa loquitur, a thing that proves itself. What it demonstrates is that the Israelis could have figured out a way to deal with the protesters and rioters without killing anyone, inflicting minimum injury. Fire hoses. Loud acoustics. Reinforcement of the fence. There are lots of ways to deal with protesters short of firing bullets and teargas.
The long-term implication of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is that it provides further proof that the other nations of the world can no longer trust the United States to abide by treaties and that the United States has little interest in collective decision-making on issues of global import. Trump has already walked away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Accord and the Iran nuclear agreement, and raised tariffs that threaten to start a trade war. Now he has ignored the United Nations agreement not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel until a peace agreement is reached. U.S. credibility is at an all-time low among our allies.
And for what? A symbolic move about a symbol.
As a secular Jew in diaspora, I am befuddled by the big deal that Jews make about the symbolic import of the city of Jerusalem. I’ve never been there, but I have seen ancient Neolithic, Greek, Roman, Carthaginian and Islamic ruins and experienced the expansive swell of religious joy and connection with past civilizations and peoples, the oneness with humanity, or a portion of it, that comes from knowing that values, ideas and artifacts persist in time. And yes, I did feel a special, Jewish tug when viewing the old synagogues of Prague and Spain. I get it.
But let’s consider the real symbolism of Jerusalem. It is called King David’s city, the city that King David conquered and made his capital, the city that King Solomon grew, the city of the temple of the Kings.
Kings. Royalty. The idea that certain people have a divine right that is passed down by birth, a right to command others, to mess with the lives of others by forming armies, fighting wars, deciding who should pay what taxes, and building monuments, often to their own glory. Royalty is the most autocratic and least democratic system of government. Royalty is the ultimate expression of racism: my blood is so much better than your blood that I’m always in charge. One could make a case that the kings weakened ancient Israel to the point that the Babylonians could take over the country. Why would Jews want to have anything to do with royalty? Most Jews everywhere in the world today believe in representational democracy and reject the very concept of kingship and royalty, yet worship Jerusalem, forgetting that the city is not just a symbol of Judaism, but of Jewish royalism.
True enough, both holy temples were located in Jerusalem, but the first was fruit of the evil seed of royalty. Remember, too, that the temple was the place of animal sacrifice, a practice that Jews gave up centuries ago. There are remarkable and religiously uplifting antiquities all over the state of Israel.
Giving up the obsolete is something Jews are used to doing. We replaced animal sacrifice with prayer centuries ago. Most branches of the Jewish religion have gradually ended or are in the process of ending the many sexist elements in ancient and medieval Jewish religion and custom. We’ve made changes to the liturgy—prayers and melodies. Isn’t it about time that we turn our back on the concept of royalty and thereby de-mythify Jerusalem? If I were involved in the negotiations, I would be willing to trade political control of Jerusalem in return for a real lasting peace that included economic cooperation with a Palestinian state, as long as Jews were allowed to visit and live in Jerusalem. Hell, yes.
The equations sometimes produced by symbolic actions like moving an embassy are as macabre as they are tragic. Ask yourself, if it were your children, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews, nieces, friends and neighbors, how many dead would be worth the symbolism? It shouldn’t be difficult to understand that Palestinians feel the same way. Of course, to believers in royalty, some people are worth more than others. The essence of royalty—as conceived of and practiced throughout recorded history—is that the better people can sacrifice or kill the lower orders. That military representatives of “the chosen people” should kill and maim so many as an almost necessary aftermath to Trump’s Jerusalem symbolism is the ultimate expression of the obscenity that is the concept of kingship.