Friday, September 14, 2018

Editorial: Economic Royalists Remain

Democrats are rightly outraged at the rush by the slim Republican majority in the Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh as the fifth right-wing justice on the Supreme Court by any means necessary.

Republican Senate leaders decided Democrats were not entitled to see tens of thousands of documents from Kavanaugh’s work in George W. Bush’s White House. Before his confirmation hearings, nearly 200,000 pages of records from his time at the White House were classified as “committee confidential,” meaning senators could review them but not release them to the public. Another 100,000 pages were withheld from the Judiciary Committee altogether, because the Trump administration claimed “executive privilege.”

Democrats accused Kavanaugh of lying to the Judiciary Committee in 2004 and 2,006, when he was up for confirmation to the US Court of Appeals for D.C. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said Kavanaugh gave answers that “were not true” when asked whether he had used materials stolen from committee Democrats when he was a White House lawyer under Bush. The Democratic Coalition, a PAC, has filed a criminal complaint with the Department of Justice against Kavanaugh for allegedly perjuring himself in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But, barring criminal prosecution, Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court was assured when Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 by a minority of voters, and Republicans held onto a two-seat Senate majority. There already was a vacancy on the Supreme Court after Republicans refused for nearly a year to allow a hearing on President Barack Obama’s centrist nominee for the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, the chief judge on the US Court of Appeals for D.C. (The Democratic Coalition also filed an ethics complaint against Kavanaugh with the D.C. Court of Appeals, which would be reviewed by Chief Judge Garland.)

Liberals had a chance to break the conservative majority on the high court for the first time in a generation, after Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died Feb. 13, 2016. But enough liberals and blue-collar white workers in November 2016 took election day off, or decided they’d express their disenchantment with Hillary Clinton by voting for the Green candidate or the multi-bankrupt casino developer and reality TV star, while tens of thousands of black voters in Milwaukee, Detroit and Flint, Mich., were prevented from voting. It made just enough of a difference in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to send Trump to the White House.

Republicans also kept a 51-49 majority in the Senate, narrowly winning races in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) then changed Senate rules to get rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees so Republicans could put a right-winger, who turned out to be Neil Gorsuch, onto the high court for a lifetime appointment regardless of the objections of Democrats.

With Scalia on the court, and Justice Anthony Kennedy usually siding with them, Chief Justice John Roberts had the votes to gut the Voting Rights Act, campaign finance laws, environmental regulations and protections for organized labor. After Gorsuch replaced Scalia, the court upheld Trump’s ban on travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries; overturned a 41-year-old precedent that had allowed public-sector employee unions to collect fees from nonmembers; and approved a Texas redistricting plan that a lower court found discriminated against blacks and Hispanics.

Kennedy usually sided with conservatives, but he occasionally showed signs of independence. He was the deciding vote in the court upholding same-sex marriage, abortion accessibility and affirmative action.

With Kennedy stepping down, to be replaced by Kavanaugh, Roberts likely will have the votes to reconsider those liberal victories.

“Pro-life” Catholics might celebrate the Supreme Court upholding new abortion regulations. But those who believe that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness continues after birth might have second thoughts when the new court puts further curbs on labor unions, restricts the government’s authority to regulate businesses, and gives states more leeway to limit voting rights and gerrymander districts without federal interference — and gives billionaires more power to influence elections without requiring them to disclose how much money they are contributing, or to whom.

A solid right-wing majority might return the court to judicial obstruction not seen since the Supreme Court in the 1930s blocked many of the progressive attempts to help workers and farmers during the first four years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The crisis nearly required an increase in the court’s size to resolve.

FDR ran for re-election in 1936 against “economic royalists” who used corporations, banks and stock dealers, agriculture, labor and capital to carve new dynasties and dominate the government. After Roosevelt won re-election with Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate, he proposed adding as many as six new justices to the Supreme Court, which could be done by law. At least one conservative justice, Owen Roberts, buckled in March 1937, joining four centrists in approving a state minimum wage law in Washington, just a few months after invalidating a similar law in New York. Two weeks later the court sustained the National Labor Relations Act and in May it ruled the Social Security Act was constitutional. The move to expand the court was abandoned. A pundit reworked an old proverb to observe, “A switch in time saved nine.”

The economic royalists never gave up their opposition to the New Deal reforms. They redoubled their efforts after Lyndon Johnson passed his Great Society programs in 1965-66, including Medicare and Medicaid as well as civil rights and voting rights acts, federal aid to education, mass transit, rental subsidies and food assistance, environmental regulations, consumer protections and funding for the arts and public broadcasting.

In August 1971 Lewis Powell, a corporate lawyer, wrote a memo to the director of the US Chamber of Commerce outlining how business leaders could use their resources to shift public attitudes to restore corporate privileges. Two months later, Richard Nixon put Powell on the Supreme Court, and in 1978 he wrote the majority opinion in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti that invented a First Amendment right for corporations to influence ballot questions. The right has focused on cementing control of the Supreme Court ever since.

Whether or not Kavanaugh makes it onto the court, everyone from the center to the left should put every effort toward electing Democrats to the Senate and replacing as many Republican senators as possible, so Democrats can put a stop to Trump’s judicial nominees.

Unfortunately, Republicans will be defending only 10 Senate seats they now hold while Democrats defend 25, including nine senators in states Trump carried. The embattled Dems include Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Joe Manchin (W.V.) and Tammy Baldwin (Wis.). But Trump is a lot less popular today, and if Dems can hold onto those seats, they have a good shot at winning at least two of the vulnerable seats now held by Republicans: Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Bob Corker (Tenn.) who are retiring, as well as Dean Heller (Nev.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), who face tough Democratic opponents.

Polls show Democrats are in a good position two months out from the election, but Republicans will have the money they need to attack the Democrats and build up their own candidates in the closing weeks.

In the meantime, social media might help organize the Democratic resistance, but hashtags don’t win elections. Showing up and voting wins elections. And the Supreme Court is at stake. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2018

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Selections from the October 1, 2018 issue

COVER/Kevin Robillard
Progressives will lead Democrats in some of 2018’s biggest contests

Economic royalists remain


Redistricting plan changes everything (and nothing)

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen p. 5
What are the Pols going to do for my town?

US split on Kavanaugh confirmation; hearings didn’t help.
Obama embraces Medicare for all.
GOP on Obama: He made us elect a racist idiot.
Trump’s lie count passes 4,713.
After blowing up deficit with tax cuts, Republicans want credit for fiscal responsibility.
Texas leads lawsuit to overturn health care for pre-existing conditions.
DACA gets win in court from judge who thinks it’s illegal.
Trump team returns EPA to Reagan-era staffing level ...

Candidate shows up early, listens carefully

Imagine our economy as a game of ‘Monopoly’

Republicans strap on an orange suicide vest

It’s time for progressives to raise their game

How to recognize a plutocracy: The dead giveaway

It’s the corruption, stupid

Free and unfree labor alliance

Check your wallet: Can you find the $4k Trump promised you?

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Health policy: A little good news

Are liberals and conservatives wired differently? 

Killing for coal (literally)

The woman who would kill health care

Race, slavery, and the politics of welfare

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
The story in the numbers

You can teach kids hard work, but feed them first

SATIRE/Barry Friedman
Annotated text of Donald Trump’s eulogy for John McCain

The red’s turned to gray, but Willie’s welcome to stay

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
And God said ...

Infiltrate hate: Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’

Corporate censorship is still censorship

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Editorial: NAFTA 2.0: Details Bedevil

Donald Trump Aug. 27 announced a new “incredible” trade deal with Mexico that has the outlines of some positive developments, but labor and environmental leaders cautioned that details need to be finalized, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in a phone call broadcast at the White House press conference, stressed the importance that the agreement include Canada.

Trump wants to get approval for a deal to replace the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement before the new Mexican President-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a progressive populist who might demand concessions, takes office Dec. 1. To beat that deadline, Trump must send the proposed deal to Congress by the end of August to give them 90 days to review it.

Trump left open the possibility of cutting Canada out of the final deal, and simply putting tariffs on Canadian cars, which would amount to a tax on American carbuyers, but US Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer told reporters that every effort would be made to include Canada, even if it took longer for them to sign on to changes. Lighthizer said it was still unclear what the letter to Congress might say, but the agreement would run for 16 years, with an option to revisit issues in six years, and extend it for another 16 years.

The tentative deal, wich focuses on auto manufacturing, would increase the percentage of each car that must be made in the US or Mexico to 75%, from the current 62.5%, to qualify for duty-free treatment. Both sides also agreed to a provision that would require 40-45 percent of each vehicle’s content to be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour. That would appear to promise a significant increase for Mexican auto workers, who now make $4 to $8 per hour.

US labor leaders said the NAFTA rewrite was still a deal in progress. “We are aggressively engaged in pursuing an agreement that works for working people in all three countries, and we are not done yet. There is more work that needs to be done to deliver the needed, real solutions to NAFTA’s deeply ingrained flaws,” said the statement issued by Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President; Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers (USW) International President; Gary Jones, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) President; Robert Martinez Jr., International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers International President; and Chris Shelton, Communications Workers of America President.

They added, “Any new deal must raise wages, ensure workers’ rights and freedoms, reduce outsourcing and put the interests of working families first in all three countries. And working people must be able to review the full and final text and have the confidence not only in the terms of the deal, but its implementation, monitoring and enforcement. We remain committed to working with the administration to get NAFTA right. Our members’ jobs depend on it. But, as always, the devil is in the details.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, was skeptical of the bilateral agreement: “The Trump administration’s announcement that it has completed a ‘new and improved’ replacement for [NAFTA] should be taken with more than a grain of salt. A vague description of a bilateral deal with Mexico alone (the US-Mexico Trade Agreement) was announced in the White House today, with an eye toward forcing a reluctant Canada to the negotiating table. But we have no confidence that the Trump administration will truly address the many flaws in NAFTA.

“The devil resides in the details of these corporate-driven free trade deals, and we expect that the fine print will include the kind of pro-polluter, pro-fossil fuel industry, pro-Wall Street deregulation that has been a hallmark of Trump’s domestic agenda. These rumored trade provisions would codify the administration’s savage attacks on environmental protection, food safety and consumer rights into trade deals that enshrine and globalize deregulation, making it harder to restore US environmental and consumer protections once this administration is shown the White House door.”

Melanie Foley of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch said, “We know progress was made between the US and Mexico on some key changes we have demanded for decades. But we also know that the enforceability of the new labor standards to which the countries agreed is still lacking, which is a serious problem that needs to be resolved.”

Canada had not participated in negotiations since May, so it’s unclear where it stands on the terms agreed to by Mexico and the United States, she noted.

Foley added, “As we’ve made clear since Day One, an acceptable deal must remove NAFTA’s job outsourcing incentives,” as almost one million American jobs have been lost due to NAFTA.

A NAFTA replacement must remove corporations’ Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) powers to attack our environmental and health laws before tribunals of three corporate lawyers and obtain unlimited sums of taxpayer awards.

And it must add strong labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement to raise wages. Otherwise, US corporations will keep moving jobs to Mexico to pay workers a pittance, dump toxins and import products back for sale here.

Call Congress at 202-224-3121 to demand negotiators keep working with Mexico and Canada to get a deal worth supporting.

Trump’s Heart is Too Small

Donald Trump’s reaction to Sen. John McCain’s death due to brain cancer is emblematic of what is wrong with his presidency. We have mixed opinions about McCain’s political career. Yes, he was willing to occasionally cross party lines to work with Democrats in the Senate, but he mainly pursued conservative policies and apparently never met a military appropriation he didn’t like. Occasionally, he would do good things, such as co-sponsoring the 2002 campaign finance reform bill with then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis) — which was largely overturned by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 — and his key vote in July 2017 to preserve the Affordable Care Act which helps more than 30 million Americans get health insurance with meaningful coverage, even if they have pre-existing conditions.

McCain probably voted with Trump more than 90% of the time in the past year and a half, but Trump still couldn’t shake off McCain’s vote to preserve “Obamacare,” nor the sting of McCain’s criticism of him. After McCain’s death was announced Aug. 25, Trump offered perfunctory condolences in a tweet that offered his “deepest sympathies and respect” to McCain’s family but made no mention of McCain’s service in the military or the Senate. The White House flag was lowered to half-staff that Saturday night, as the law requires for a deceased member of Congress, but the flag was raised back to full staff just after midnight Sunday. (The flag was brought back down to half-staff after an outcry from veterans’ groups.)

Trump’s disparagement of McCain, even in death, is a relatively small matter, but it displays the small heart of a man who cannot take any criticism, has neither conscience nor empathy and a negligible sense of humor, which leaves him unable to laugh at himself or admit that he makes mistakes. That, and the fact that Trump is an habitual liar (4,229 false or misleading claims as of Aug. 1, by the Washington Post Fact Checker’s count), makes him a most dangerous and unreliable president. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2018

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Selections from the September 15, 2018 issue

COVER/Leo W. Gerard
Workers get scammed in the new economy — as corporations get richer and more powerful

NAFTA 2.0: Details bedevil


A tale of two counties

Scoring Trump’s tax cuts so far: $280K for rich lawmakers, pennies for working people

Health care motivates voters — and physicians run as Democratic candidates;
Trump, GOP play down Obama economic gains;
Republicans predict probes if Dems take over;
Student loan watchdog quits, claiming Trump ‘failed borrowers’;
Trump lied about Paris climate deal, his own EPA confirms;
Democrats limit role of superdelegates;
Judge strikes down Trump orders in win for federal unions;
Maine's top court orders Gov. LePage to stop ignoring Medicaid mandate;
Republican staffers tied to allegedly forged signatures on petitions to spoil opponent's vote ...

Tickling Trump’s ear

Here out West, ‘smoke season’ keeps getting worse

Keeping farms in the economy

Will the economy determine the midterms?

If your boss makes millions, it’s not because of the ‘market’

Schools need resources, not ‘school resource officers’

Real home security includes affordable housing

Cancer-causing herbicide found in breakfast cereal

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
The dark side of paradise: Decision time

Trump berates the ‘fake news’ that made him president

School reform lands in federal court

Losing it

Civil War and popular memory

Former cricketer’s dream of new Pakistan and hard realities

Trump snubbed McCain. The media snubbed the rest of us.

What democracy looks like

Bobby Kennedy: What might have been

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Oh, the injustice of it all

Congresswoman Maxine Waters awarded at play featuring ‘slaves in epaulettes’

Monday, August 27, 2018

Before taking convention vote from super delegates, did the Dems consider that’s what the GOP did and it helped Trump win the nomination?

By Marc Jampole

Before Democrats start patting themselves on the back for curtailing the power of super delegates at the national convention to nominate a presidential candidate, consider this: If the Republicans had super delegates in 2016, Donald Trump might never have been nominated.

Super delegates are typically high-ranking party machers who until now have been able to vote for any candidate they want at the convention, which differs from most delegates, who are obliged to vote according to the results of the primary or state convention. Just 15% of total delegates, the super delegates usually include people who have worked for the party for decades, winning elections, campaigning for other candidates and raising money for the party and other candidates. Specifically, a super delegate has to be a member of the Democratic National Committee, a current governor, senator, congressional representative or a current or former president or vice president. In a real sense, they represent the continuing party establishment and the institutional memory of the party.

Super delegates became a hot issue in the 2016 primaries, with supporters of Bernie Sanders claiming they gave Hillary Clinton an unfair advantage. The facts on the ground say differently. Hillary won a majority of both voters and delegates selected in the primaries. Bernie did garner a number of super delegates. While awareness that most super delegates wanted Hillary certainly caused other elected officials to endorse her, the idea that super delegate support of Hillary translated to more primary votes is a big stretch. Voters listened—or didn’t listen—to Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton and Elizabeth Warren not because they were super delegates, but because of their past actions and reputation.

Under the new rules, super delegates will be unable to vote for candidates during the first round of voting. Only if there is a deadlocked convention will they be able to cast a ballot. The last time that happened was in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson was nominated on the third ballot. The super delegates will likely never have a chance to cast a vote.

I would imagine that moving forward, some if not most governors, congressional reps and DNC members will wangle a way to be a regular delegate so that they can have a vote at the convention. The net effect will be that fewer of the obscure party workers at the local and statewide level will have votes. If a state has to reserve a delegate spot for a senator, there will be one less to give to a grass roots organizer. Thus, in a perversely counterintuitive way, the move to be more democratic may end up making the conventions less democratic.

The larger concern, however, is that the super delegates could serve as a bulwark against an inappropriate candidate with widespread name recognition winning a bunch of primaries in an open field with well less than 50% of the vote in any state. For the sake of argument, let’s call that candidate Donald Trump. In such a situation, the super delegates could serve as the conscience of the party and block the nominee, either at the convention or before the late primaries. Remember that, until the candidates started dropping like flies, Trump was winning early primaries with well less than 40% of the vote. He used his enormous name recognition based on his reality TV show and the false myth he was a successful business mogul to squeeze out wins over a large, fragmented field.  Super delegate support of another candidate would have changed the math and perhaps stopped the autocratic and erratic Trumpty-Dumpty.

But the super delegate remedy for someone who is either a demagogue or does not represent the basic values of the party was not available to the Republicans in 2016. The Republicans ended the super delegate option some years ago.  In the early months of the 2016 campaign, Republican super delegates would most likely have gone for Jeb Bush, and if not Jeb, for Marco Rubio or John Kasich. Let’s be clear: as president, these candidates would likely have supported lowering taxes on the wealthy, nominating ultra-right judges, loosening gun control laws, cutting social welfare programs including healthcare, increasing the military budget and reducing government regulations. But they would not have walked away from the Iran and Paris agreements, not have started a trade war with both our allies and most important trading partner, not have instituted senseless and sadistic immigration policies. They would not have overtly appealed to white supremacists. They would not have hurt and embarrassed the country by spewing out stupidities and lies day after day. I doubt we would be talking about impeachment for corruption or traitorous conspiracy with a foreign power less than two years into the administration of any other Republican candidate for president.

Super delegates strengthen a political party because they express the continuing will of the party. Not having super delegates fragments the party and puts greater power in the hands of the individuals running for office. It helps to turn parties, which are supposed to express collective agreement on broad principles, into collections of individuals who conveniently use the party label to run for office. The growth in the use of primaries over the past 50 years has democratized the process of selecting a presidential candidate, with the super delegates serving as a “check-and-balance” that can prevent a party takeover by a single individual. Essentially ending the role of super delegates is another step in the long-time trend for personalities to become more important than party and party platform, a game fixed in favor of the wealthy.

We won’t miss super delegates as long as the Bernie’s and Hillary’s are running for office. But imagine a rightwing celebrity or even a Democrat in name only like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin with unlimited resources running against six or seven credible progressive Democrats in the primaries. Let’s say Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown Kamal Harris, Ron Weyden and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez split the vote, giving Manchin all the winner take-all primaries and the biggest share of votes in the other primaries. As progressive slowly drop out, Manchin gains strength and gains the backing of the essentially centrist and right-leaning mainstream media. The Dems could end up nominating someone who does not want universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, a foreign policy based on creating partnerships not disputes, higher taxes on the wealthy and more spending on infrastructure and education or a regulatory regime that addresses global warming. All because the primary vote is fragmented and there are no super delegates to step in to assert the party’s values.

If it happened to the Republicans, it can happen to the Democrats, as well. In the name of a little more democracy at the convention, the Democrats may have perverted their broader democracy.