Saturday, September 15, 2012

Editorial: Hard Truth for the Left

Some of our readers have taken us to task for supporting President Obama and the Democrats in the upcoming election instead of promoting other alternative candidates on the left, such as Green Party nominee Jill Stein, or Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, or even Libertarian Gary Johnson. But our job is to tell the truth — not what we wish was the truth. And the truth is that Barack Obama is the most progressive candidate who can get elected president on Nov. 6.

We were told in 2000 that there was not enough difference between the two major parties to warrant a progressive vote for Al Gore. You can argue until you’re blue in the face about whether progressives who voted for Green candidate Ralph Nader in Florida share responsibility for George W. Bush’s presidency. We think it is clear that Gore would have been a much better president than Bush, who ignored concerns about al Qaeda’s threat to the US until it was too late. Then Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to invade Iraq. And, perhaps most significantly in long-term damage, Bush replaced conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and moderate Republican Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court with John Roberts and Samuel Alito, right-wing ideologues who have joined with Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and increasingly hardline Anthony Kennedy to form a right-wing bloc on the Court that swept aside a century of precedents in 2010 with the Citizens United decision, which allowed corporations to engage in political activity. Now the right-wing majority appears poised to enact a laundry list of right-wing initiatives from the bench.

In a recent interview with Sam Seder, Jill Stein said the relationship of Democrats to progressives was abusive. “The lesser evil vote is interpreted as a mandate and will lead to more of the same,” she said. Obama is “able to do much worse than George W. Bush was able to do in terms of expanding the wars, the Wall Street bailout and the attacks on our civil liberties because the opposition essentially goes away.”

But we are not sure that it does much good for the Greens to run a presidential campaign that gets at most a few percentage points of the total vote. If anything, it seems to demonstrate what little support there actually is for the Green agenda.

Ralph Nader had a national reputation as a progressive consumer activist in 2000, when he got 2.88 million votes, or 2.74% of the total, for president. In 2004 Nader ran again as an independent and finished third with 465,650 votes (0.38%) while the Green nominee, David Cobb, finished sixth with 119,859 (0.1%). The Green candidate in 2008, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, got 161,603 votes, or 0.12% of the total.

We don’t doubt the sincerity of those candidates, or of Stein, a physician from Lexington, Mass., but she is virtually unknown outside the Commonwealth, where she ran for governor in 2002, finishing third with 3.5% of the vote, and again in 2010, finishing fourth with 1.4%. She won a town meeting seat in 2005 and 2008 and lost a 2006 race for Secretary of the Commonwealth.

The Greens are on the ballot in 32 states, including at least six “swing states” and hope to be on 40 ballots for the general election. (The Greens got on the Texas ballot in 2010 with the help of a Missouri-based nonprofit corporation with ties to Republican activists which paid more than half a million dollars from undisclosed sources for the ultimately successful petition effort.) Libertarians, headed by former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, will be on at least 41 ballots; the Constitution Party, headed by conservative former US Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia, is on 21 ballots and the Justice Party, headed by former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, is on 12 ballots, according to Ballot Access News.

(We believe that all those candidates — and any candidate who will be on enough ballots to contest 270 electoral votes — should be included in the presidential debates, which are scheduled for Oct. 3, Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, as well as a vice presidential debate Oct. 11. However, the two major parties set up the Commission on Presidential Debates in 1987 largely to keep aggressive questioners and alternative party nominees out of the debate.)

Losing general election campaigns discourages a movement. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has shown it is possible to run as an independent progressive populist and win statewide. After starting in the 1970s running also-ran campaigns as the anti-war Liberty Union candidate for the Senate and governor, he ran for mayor of Burlington in 1981, narrowly beating a six-term Democratic incumbent. He followed a progressive course that got him re-elected three times. With that local base, Sanders ran for governor in 1986, finishing third with 14.5% of the vote. He then turned his sights on the state’s at-large seat in Congress when Jim Jeffords (R) ran for the Senate in 1988. Sanders lost to Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Smith that year, but in a 1998 rematch Sanders defeated Smith, 56% to 40%, becoming the first independent elected to the US House in 40 years and the first self-described socialist in 60 years.

Sanders was a co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and and has a 100% lifetime legislative score with the AFL-CIO but he has balanced that with the rural state’s native conservatism. For example, he voted against the Brady Bill in 1993 and in favor of an NRA-supported bill restricting lawsuits against gun manufacturers in 2005. When Sen. Jeffords announced he would not seek a fourth term in 2006, Sanders entered the race to succeed him. With the backing of Democratic leaders, Sanders headed off a significant Democratic challenge and went on to defeat a Republican businessman in the general election by a 2 to 1 margin.

In the Senate, Sanders has caucused with the Democrats. He has been a persistent critic of the Wall Street bailout, joined three Democratic senators in opposing the nomination of Timothy Geithner as treasury secretary and led the successful amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that required an audit of the Federal Reserve. On Dec. 10, 2010, he delivered an 8-1/2 hour speech against the extension of the Bush-era tax rates and other tax credits in a deal that also extended benefits for long-term unemployed workers. The text of that speech was published in February 2011 as The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class by Nation Books.

In his weekly “Brunch with Bernie” radio show with Thom Hartmann on Sept. 7, Sanders noted, “We have to remember where we were when Bush left office and we were losing 750,000 jobs a month.” He said he would like to hear President Obama say how he would put people back to work. “You’re not going to have the kind of economy this country needs and you’re not going to create the millions of jobs we have to create unless we deal with Wall Street,” he said. “You can’t continue to have a handful of huge banks led by JP Morgan and Chase with so much wealth and so much power. In my own view, you’ve got to start breaking up these large financial institutions. At the very least, they need to be significantly re-regulated.”

But Sanders said it was vital to re-elect Obama and keep the Democratic majority in the Senate and regain the House majority. “This really is a pivotal moment in American history,” he said. “If the Republicans win, I fear very much that along with Citizens United and along with the grotesquely unfair distribution of wealth and income in this country that we’re going to he moving pretty rapidly to an oligarchic form of government, where a handful of families — a few hundred families — have significant control of the economic and political life of this country.”

At the same time, he said, progressives need to organize at the grassroots to put pressure on Democrats to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and other progressive principles. “Now is not the time to despair and throw our hands up in the air,” he said. “We need to work hard and get in the streets to to make sure the President moves forward in a progressive direction.”

Sanders is up for re-election this year and he deserves your support, as do progressive Dems such as Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Shelton Whitehouse (R.I.) and newcomer Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. And yes, the other Dems are worth supporting, too, if for no other reason than to keep Mitch McConnell from becoming majority leader. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2012
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Friday, September 14, 2012

Mitt Caught In 36 More Lies This Week

It was a busy week for Mitt Romney, possibly alarmed at President Obama bouncing out of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte with a widening lead in tracking polls. The Republican nominee again played fast and loose with the facts in attempting to close that gap.

Steve Benen, in the 34th installment of his "Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity" series at Rachel Maddow's blog, documented at least 36 more departures from the truth on Romney's campaign path. By our count, that raises the total of lies Mitt has told to 654 since Benen started keeping count in January.

Benen also noted that, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos Friday morning, Romney looked ahead to the upcoming debates and said he'll have a challenge to deal with: "[T]he president tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren't true."

Benen commented, "There's no sense of shame and no sense of irony."

Benen also noted that a Washington Post/ABC News poll out Friday shows a plurality of Americans believes the Obama campaign is saying things "it believes to be true" rather than "intentionally misleading people." On the other hand, a plurality of Americans believes the opposite about the Romney campaign.

See Benen's previous editions of Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity: Vol. I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII,XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII.

Selections from the October 1, 2012 issue

COVER/Michael Moore
‘President Romney.’ It could happen

Hard truths for the left


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Women can make the difference

Obama bounces, Romney spins;
Spinning for dollars;
Repubs start eyeing lifeboats;
Mitt can’t get back to center;
Ryan touted military cuts he now blames on Obama;
GOP's lost weekend;
Mitt breezes past 600 lies in War on Facts;
Messing with voters is part of GOP plan;
Poll shows Bachmann in peril;
GOP voters credit Mitt with Bin Laden kill:
Dems fighting for Senate control;
Texas AG enjoys suing feds;
Jobless rate down as employment rises, bad news?
Uncomfortable truths for Republicans;
Boycott of Palermo's Pizza continues;
Texas nurses win union victory;
Don Siegelman back in prison ...

Citizens fight corporate takeovers

Obama vs. Romney: the popularity contest

Empty suit vs. the working man

Ryan carpet-bombed factories, strafed first aid

Environmental defense fund: stop sellouts

Don’t take my vote for granted

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
The elephant at the Republican convention

Limits of obstruction

Libor crooks

The great constitutional charade

Paul Ryan’s questionable Catholic positions

Public education advocacy and donor secrecy

Voting defensively

The fine art of the celebrity crush

and more ...

Stiff Upper Lip

By Charles Cullen

It hasn't always been our style as Democrats or Liberals to shut up and follow our leader; nor should it be. Debate is healthy and it's what makes our party strong. When our elected representatives don't do what we want them to do, essentially breaking their verbal contract with us, our instinct is to speak out. But I am asking every American of voting age who thinks that President Obama would make a much, much, better leader for the United States than would Mitt Romney to stifle that instinct to criticize what Obama has done wrong somewhat, at least until the election. Look at the body of work and not just the single thing Obama did that you didn't happen to like. Then, proudly wearing your "I voted" sticker, go back to nitpicking every move the President makes.

Don't worry, the Republicans will do all the attacking needed. They will attack Obama for being soft on war even as they attack him for being a war-monger. They will call his economic plan awful even as they draw up a secret economic plan that would make Donald Trump blush. The Republicans have no problem with lies and contradiction. We do. That's why we have to win.

The unfortunate truth is that getting Democrats/Liberals to agree is like herding cats. And that's fine unless you are entering the final stages of a generation-defining Presidential race. Then you need to come together with your fellow voter and, whether or not they agree with you on EVERY issue, reelect the President.

I'll put it out there: I wish Obama had closed Guantanamo. I wish that more troops were coming home from Afghanistan. I wish they were coming home faster. I have not lost a wink of sleep over the killing of Bin Laden, as I tend to believe that if you orchestrate a deadly attack on United States civilians, your life is forfeit. In fact, I believe that being a member of ANY terrorist group that takes serious action against the United States populace should be very hazardous to one's health. I also believe that we should focus our resources on our own workforce, using our military might cautiously and as rarely as we have to.

I disagree with some of the President's moves. Does that mean I'm going to stomp my feet and refuse to vote for him, or worse, vote Romney? Does that mean I'm going to hold my breath until a candidate who agrees with me on every issue comes along? Of course not. I'm going to vote for the best man for the job, who in this case happens to be President Obama.

Finally, I believe that an Obama who is in his second term will tilt back toward the progressive ideals he espoused during his first campaign. An Obama who doesn't have to worry about his reelection bid because he's being blamed for things that occurred before or just days after he took office is an Obama I can believe in.

If Charlotte and the range of speakers can be taken as any indication; I'm right and we can expect a more progressive, economy-focused Obama. If I'm wrong, we can still expect a man who exposes Romney/Ryan as the extremists they are. Either way it's a much better bet than a Romney ticket beholden to the Ultra-Conservatives who helped him.

Details from advisors shows Romney would follow same basic foreign policy, but would he do it as effectively?

By Marc Jampole
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy advisors Eliot Cohen and Richard Williamson have provided details of Romney’s differences from Obama on foreign policy. But if we take the New York Times version as approximately accurate, it boils down to nuances and that Romney would continue the basic post World War II U.S. foreign policy. But would he do it as effectively as the President?

Here are the four differences reported in today’s New York Times. We’ll take them one at a time:
“…he would have already told Iran that he would not allow it to get close to building a bomb, setting a “red line” in a far different place from President Obama’s.” Note that they don’t say where.  The red line of course means the circumstances under which we would go to war with Iraq. Until Romney says at what point he would draw this red line for combat, we have to assume that at best he’s being a little more aggressive, but basically following the Obama line of negotiation and economic sanctions.

“He would tell the Egyptians that if they wanted $1 billion in debt forgiveness — as promised by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this month — they would have to put far more effort into protecting American interests in the country, starting with the United States Embassy.” The Egyptian government has already beefed up security and tussled with protesters.  Linking a show of support for a fragile democratic government to doing something it has already done strikes me as little more than bluster.

“And he would provide far more aid to elements of the Syrian opposition, including…  ‘facilitating’ the provision of lethal arms from other Arab states. But, like President Obama, he would stop short of arming them directly.” This ostensibly aggressive statement turns out to be nothing different as well, because only the na├»ve don’t recognize that any aid to the Syrian opposition facilitates the provision of lethal arms, because everything reduces to money and if you have to pay less for x, y and z, you’ll have more for weapons and ammo. If the advisors mean that they would provide more money and “advisors,” they’re merely grandstanding because they have no idea what the Obama Administration has really done to help the Syrian insurgents.   

“And the United States would have been far more involved in the formation of a new Libya, the advisers insisted, though they conceded it was not clear that could have stopped the attack that killed the American ambassador there and three other American officers.” Again, they don’t say how much more they would have done and they can’t say how involved the U.S. was, because they really don’t know.   

Romney has surrounded himself with neo-con advisors and wherever there’s a microphone or an Internet connection the neo-cons expatiate on the differences between their policy and mainstream U.S. foreign policy under the Democrats. Despite their protestation, it’s practically the same policy, except the neo-cons think we’re in a holy war with Islam and are a bit more trigger-happy when it comes to extraordinary measures and sending in troops.

But no Democrat Administration has called for disarmament or even the unilateral dismantling of our nuclear capability. All base foreign policy on the economic interest of U.S. multinational corporations and the need to secure a supply of oil. While stepping back from the extremes of waterboarding and other torture, the Obama Administration has shown itself willing to circumvent U.S. and international law and due process.  We still have thousands of contractors in Iraq and we still rely on these mercenaries to wage war.  The many successes in the war against terrorism scored by the Obama Administration have come through violence.

After 9/11, a Democratic president would have responded as bellicosely as Bush II to the threat of terrorism and troops would have gone somewhere, probably Afghanistan and Pakistan. That they went to Iraq was a bad executive decision. We will never know why the Bush II Administration decided to invade Iraq because the reasons they gave the world turned out to be lies.  Based on history, there is every reason to believe that both a Democratic and Republic regime would be prone to another enormously tragic and expensive error in judgment.

My conclusion: the strategy will be nearly the same under Romney, but what about the execution?

We know that Romney wants to install as key policy makers many of the men who advised the Bush II Administration. The argument I would make here is the same one Bill Clinton made on domestic affairs: They screwed it up before, so why should we give them another chance?

And then there’s the two leaders—Obama versus Romney on foreign affairs. The nation rates Obama way ahead and so do I. As I detailed in blog entries of September 13 and August 1, Romney has shown himself to be surprisingly unsuited as a diplomat. He doesn’t pick up on standard etiquette cues that everyone else seems to get and he tends to speak before he has enough facts. He also suffers frequently from “foot-in-mouth” disease, which is never good when dealing with foreign governments whose heads have their own little red buttons connected to missile silos. On a talk show earlier this week, Republican royalty Peggy Noonan compared Mitt’s style to Dick Nixon’s, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment.

By contrast, Obama has taken most of our troops and contractors out of Iraq, found Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, organized most of the world against Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, regained the respect in the world that we lost under Bush II and remained friendly trading partners with China. I am confident that McCain would have tried to complete most of this agenda because it’s all part of long-term U.S. foreign policy. But Obama did it, and I trust him more than I trust Romney to keep doing it, even as I condemn much of what constitutes our long-term policy such as focusing so much on the needs of multinationals and not immediately dismantling all our nuclear bombs.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Contrast in foreign policy styles: Obama is rational & resolved. Romney shoots from hip, then lies

By Marc Jampole

The terrorists who planned and pulled off the attack on the American Embassy in Libya that killed four Americans should be condemned. They are violence-loving extremists with an irrational hate of the United States.

But the people who created and distributed the scurrilous and lie-soaked film that incited Egyptians and Libyans to exercise their right of free protest and thereby inadvertently provided the terrorists cover in Libya are also to be condemned, even if we must support their right of free speech.  They (the filmmakers, not the protesters) are also extremists with an irrational hate of Islam.

President Obama’s response to the tragic situation has been appropriate: He has stated unequivocally that the United States is going to track down the perpetrators of the attacks and murders.  And he has the track record to back up his resolve, having tracked down Osama bin Laden and other terrorists.

At the same time, though, the President and the Administration have reached out to the Egyptian and Libyan government and also made it clear that they do not condone the message of the film, ironically title, “The Innocence of Muslims.”

History suggests that there is no immediate role for the opposition in this type of crisis.  As many have pointed out, past challengers have limited comments to sympathy for the victims and support of the United States. It’s what Reagan did in 1980 and what the Democrats did in the weeks after 9/11. The idea is to show solidarity to the rest of the world and not let politics impede the complicated task of responding to the threat. Months later, opposition criticism might blossom, but not in the 24 or 48 hours after such a tragedy.

That Romney took another path demonstrates once again that he is unqualified to be president. I’m not talking about his positions on issues, but about his basic modus operandi. Romney blundered so badly that even loyalist Republicans like Representative Peter T. King, Peggy Noonan and Ed Rogers have criticized it.

Here are the three major mistakes that Mitt has made over the past two days in his effort to turn the terrorist attacks into a political controversy. Note that he has made all three mistakes in the past:
  1. He shot from the hip. Romney made his first statement which condemned the Administration for apologizing to the terrorists and used as evidence a statement the U.S. Embassy in Egypt had issued criticizing the film. At the time, he didn’t know that the embassy’s statement had come before the Libyans gathered outside the embassy in Benghazi and he didn’t know that the terrorists had killed four Americans.  As Martin Bashir, Rachel Maddow, Jennifer Granholm and countless other TV journalists have noted, Romney also embarrassed himself by shooting from the hip before all the facts were in about the Chinese dissident Chen Guangchen.  Some of his foolish comments about security at the London Olympics could also be seen as examples of “shooting before aiming.”
  2. He lied. Anyone who has been following the story closely is probably sick of the expression “double down,” which has been used by journalists of all political persuasions to describe Romney’s statements yesterday afternoon, when he kept repeating that the United States apologized to terrorists, even when the facts emerged. Lying seems to come naturally to this year’s Republican ticket. The lies his running mate Paul Ryan made in his acceptance speech have been thoroughly analyzed by the news media.   One commentator has compiled a list of 533 documented lies that Romney has told over the past 30 weeks. That’s a little more than 17 a week, week after week.
  3. He broke long-existing etiquette and tradition. As I discussed before, Mitt should have followed the American tradition of closing ranks and expressing sympathy. It’s not the first time that Romney couldn’t figure out proper protocol. Remember that during his disastrous trip abroad he revealed that he had received a special briefing in London from the British government that other foreign leaders have received for years. Unlike all others, Romney made the confidential briefing public. That Romney doesn’t pick up on these standards of governmental etiquette is very surprising, considering his background in business.  Perhaps he thinks he’s too important to conform.
Most pundits say that Romney’s foolishness was a desperation move because he sees the polls moving inexorably towards Obama and feels the election slipping away from him.

I disagree: Romney’s statements over the past few days are completely consistent with his past:  He shoots from the hip, he lies and he doesn’t have a good sense of etiquette and protocol, at least when it comes to foreign policy.  Not the right guy to place in charge of dropping bombs and waging wars.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Are there any appreciable foreign policy differences between Obama and Romney?

By Marc Jampole
Like many of the left with pacifist leanings, I am disappointed with President Obama’s foreign policy.  I don’t like the fact that Guantanamo is still open and that we still have 16,000 mercenaries (I’ll refrain from using the current euphemism, “military contractor”) in Iraq and hundreds of thousands of soldiers and mercenaries in Afghanistan. Killing Osama bin Laden without a trial and using drones to assassinate American citizens, again without a trial, seem like continuations of the Bush II reign of illegality.  I would prefer a budget that cuts military spending even more than what the Democrats are proposing.  Moreover, on principle I am disappointed in any President who does not unilaterally dismantle our nuclear capability.

But that’s me. I’m anti-war deep into my bones.

What would the mainstream view of Obama’s foreign policy be?

When placed in the context of American foreign policy since the 1940’s, when judged by the criteria of the Cold War and post-Cold War strategies, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that Obama has one of the best—if not the best—foreign policy record since FDR.  He has pretty much eradicated world terrorism as a military threat and he has brought home virtually all the troops—U.S. and mercenary—from Iraq. He has mustered surprising world support for the U.S. positions regarding Iran and Syria. He has continued to upgrade military technology, as witnessed by the infamous drones. Both Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are immensely popular with foreign leaders and populations, primarily for not being Bush II. Anyone who thinks Obama has been too weak or mealy-mouthed with any of our enemies, perceived or real, just hasn’t been listening to his rhetoric. There have been no new foreign policy fiascos or government scandals. That’s a pretty good record when judged by the U.S. State Department standards in effect for the past 65 or so years.

The Republicans aren’t talking much about foreign policy, and with good reason: when you start from the premises of their worldview, Obama’s foreign policy should rate highly. When you go to the Romneycampaign website you mostly get generalizations. He does seem to repeat several points, all of which I found well-articulated in a speechMitt gave on foreign policy at the Citadel about 11 month ago:
  • He believes in American exceptionalism, which means that the United States can play by its own rules because there is something special about its mission, kind of the equivalent of Jews believing they are a “light unto the nations.”
  • He believes that we are in a war against radical Islam.
  • He doesn’t want a world in which there are rival powers, and mentions China and Russia as two potential rivals.
  • He wants to spend more on the military.
In all these positions, he is only slightly to the right of centrist mainstream State Department positions, in other words to Obama himself.

Would Mitt pull troops out of Afghanistan faster or slower than Obama? Is he more or less likely to start a war somewhere? Will he stop the use of drones to assassinate people our spy network thinks are terrorists? Or will he bring back waterboarding and other forms of torture? 

Mitt’s not saying, but my guess is that the answer to all these questions is about the same as Obama’s, maybe a little quicker on the trigger with China and Russia.  Keep in mind that no matter who wins:
  1. We can’t afford to pay for another major war and everyone knows it, including the Iranians.
  2. Only the top echelon at the State and Defense departments are political appointments. The rest will remain as part of the continuing foreign policy establishment which has employed the following strategy to guide the United States since the birth of the Cold War: Let’s bully our way because we have the most weapons.
These two facts will serve to push a Romney Administration towards the Obama centrist foreign policies.