Saturday, November 22, 2014

Selections from the December 15, 2014 issue

Whose butt gets kicked?

Editorial: Whose Butt Gets Kicked?

When Republicans gained the Senate majority in the recent midterm elections to consolidate congressional leadership under the GOP, it became apparent that, come January, either President Barack Obama’s butt will get kicked, or new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s and House Speaker John Boehner’s butts will get kicked. President Obama has to decide whether he will be the kicker or the kickee.

It’s too late for Obama to summon his inner Franklin Roosevelt. Now he needs to summon his inner Harry Truman and give the Do-Nothing Republicans Hell — or at least follow the example of Bill Clinton, who lost his Democratic congressional majority in 1995 — two years into his term — and had to show the new GOP congressional leaders that his veto pen worked before they would sit down for serious negotiations. And even then it took two government shutdowns before the Republicans got serious.

Obama already has faced down the Republicans over a shutdown in October 2013 after Teabag Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), resisted adoption of a continuing resolution for appropriations. The Senate takeover emboldened Teabagger extremists who think the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 didn’t go far enough in rolling back the Obama menace. And many of them figure that, since they won in the midterms, the shutdown worked!

Obama faced the first of his first challenges on Nov. 20 when he announced that he would implement some immigration reforms by executive order after a bipartisan Senate bill was bottled up in the House for the past year and a half. His next challenge is to try to get Congress to approve a continuing resolution on appropriations by Dec. 11 to keep the government running into the new year. Republicans warned that Obama's executive orde to defer deportation of four million undocumented immigrants with family ties to citizens or green-card holders will poison his relations with Republicans in Congress. As if there were any good faith among those Republicans, who plotted on the night Obama was inaugurated to obstruct him at every turn. One of the conspirators, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) even suggested the GOP follow the model of the Taliban in its legislative insurgency.

If Obama gets that continuing resolution, the current suspension of the debt limit, expires on March 15 under the new Congress. The US Treasury may be able to meet the government’s obligations for a few months after that, but at some point Republican leaders will have to talk sense into the Teabaggers who are itching to shut down the government, impeach the President and/or repeal Obamacare at all costs.

Michael Tomasky noted at (Nov. 15), we shouldn’t expect much from the Republicans. “Their idea of a ‘negotiation’ is not ‘you give us Keystone, we’ll give you a few green-energy programs and tax credits.’ Their idea of a negotiation is, ‘you give us Keystone, and we won’t impeach you.’ Or ‘you give us Keystone, and we may refrain from throwing the world financial markets into turmoil.’ There’s very little point in Obama even trying to deal with them.”

One thing Obama can do is tell Boehner and McConnell not to bother sending him bills that don’t have the support of a majority of Democrats in their respective chambers, as Boehner for the past four years has refused to allow votes on bills that don’t have the support of a majority of his Republican members. And Democratic members of Congress shouldn’t be afraid to oppose Obama if, as expected, he pursues approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership “free trade” deal.

Republicans claim their majority in the midterm constitutes a mandate to stop Obama. They think the 37.3 million Americans who voted for Republican congressional candidates in the midterms, a 52% majority of the 36.4% of the electorate that actually turned out to vote — in the lowest turnout for a general election since 1942 — overrules the 65.9 million Americans who returned Obama to the White House in 2012. That was a 51.1% majority of the 58.7% who turned out for that presidential election.

The midterm was the first election since the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision last April, which removed overall federal limits on contributions to political candidates, parties and political action committees. With the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed the proliferation of “dark money” super PACs that can run political ads but don’t have to disclose their donors, those two right-wing rulings altered the political landscape and made political candidates even more dependent upon monied interests.

The Center for Responsive Politics expects that this year’s midterm election cost $3.67 billion, a slight uptick over the price tag of the 2010 midterm. Counting all forms of spending — by candidates, parties and outside groups — “Team Red” is projected to have spent $1.75 billion for Republican candidates, while “Team Blue” spending was projected to ring in at $1.64 billion.

But spending by candidates actually went down, from $1.8 billion in 2010 to $1.5 billion this year. The cost of the average winning campaign in both the House and Senate declined, as measured by the money spent by the candidates themselves — even as the total cost of the election increased. That’s because this year outside groups did much of the heavy lifting, outspending the candidates in 36 races, CRP’s Russ Choma noted at “That’s a new dynamic in elections: These groups — dozens of them devoted to a single candidate — are increasingly buying ads, getting out the vote, doing opposition research and taking on other activities that have usually been up to campaigns to execute.”

Republicans dramatically reduced their reliance on small donors who gave $200 or less, while Democrats leaned on them slightly more than in 2010. But Washington-based consultants, in the hopes of keeping the door open to big-money contributors, may have stifled many Democratic candidates from making more populist appeals to the working class.

The most expensive congressional contest was in North Carolina’s Senate race, where Sen. Kay Hagan (D) was defeated by state House Speaker Thom Tillis. As of Oct. 25, that race cost $113.4 million, led by $81 million spent by outside groups. That shattered the previous outside spending record of $52.4 million in the 2012 Virginia Senate race. Two other Senate races also bested that earlier outside spending record: Colorado ($69.2 million of $97 million total) and Iowa ($61.7 million of $85.3 million total).

CRP also noted that while outside groups supporting Hagan in North Carolina spent a reported $37.2 million, besting the $33.1 million reported for the other side, Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4) dark money group, claimed to have spent at least $9 million on “issue ads” targeting Hagan that never had to be disclosed. Unreported spending by outside groups almost certainly exceeded $100 million, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

The election also showed how poorly the electorate is served by the corporate media, which allowed Republicans to peddle disinformation about the economic recovery under President Obama, which has gone about as far as it can without the sort of public works program that could put millions more Americans back to work. The media also ignores the success of the Affordable Care Act, which has helped 10 million Americans get health insurance and has held down premium increases while Republican governors prevented five million working poor from getting health care from Medicaid, which contributes to the deaths of as many as 17,000 low-income Americans annually. And, in the weeks before the election, the corporate media were complicit in GOP demagoguery over the government’s handling of the Ebola virus, which was mocked until after the election, when it turned out there really was no cause for panic.

Under the constant drumbeat of misinformation that blamed Obama and the Democrats for the gridlock that almost entirely was engineered by the GOP, it’s not that much of a surprise that two-thirds of the electorate stayed home from the midterms, and the two-thirds who showed up voted for what they were told was change.

It’s going to be a tough two years, but Obama and the Democrats need to do a much better job of explaining what the battles are about and showing white working-class voters who have abandoned the Dems over the past 20 years that Democrats will fight for their interests over those of the corporate executive class. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2014

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Bill Cosby will once again be a beloved comedian, but only after his death

By Marc Jampole

Once over the initial shock of learning that Bill Cosby probably raped multiple women in a particularly disgusting manner, my analytical side took over and I began to wonder if it will ever be possible for Bill Cosby to rehabilitate his reputation.

He and his handlers have been trying to address the mounting negative publicity by denying the accusations and stating that Cosby dealt with them decades ago. Cosby’s aggressive protestations aren’t washing with the public, though, mainly because so many women are now announcing their own horror stories—and unfortunately, it’s all the same story: Cosby gives her something to drink and she wakes up with her clothes off or under Cosby’s mount. At this point Cosby is hurting himself by not coming clean, admitting he had (has) a problem, asking for everyone’s forgiveness and going into therapy. Of course, his denials may be keeping him out of jail.

Cosby’s behavior is totally reprehensible, in the category of a Jerry Sandusky, and for the same reason—the victims were helpless and unable to consent. What Cosby did strikes me as extremely bizarre. You would think that a successful comedian and television star could avail himself of any number of willing women of any shape, size, age, education level and color his heart desired. He must have liked having sex with the inert body of a passed out woman, someone totally passive and unresponsive. And he must have liked the trickery involved, the idea that he was getting something over on the woman. Totally sick and pathological!  I am certain I’m not the only one who hopes that there is a way to prosecute Cosby for his repeated rapes.

But I’m not writing this column about Cosby the rapist, but about Cosby the brand.

First and foremost, he will not be able to rehabilitate himself with the public until he does a public “mea culpa” and goes through the motions of rehabilitating himself. In the age of social media and 24/7 news, the story has gotten so big now, that he can’t hope that it will blow over and that things will soon return to normal as far as his career and reputation go. To win back his public, Cosby must take action and that action must be to come clean.

Once “rehabilitated,” I would imagine that some network or production company would take the chance that the public will have gotten over their revulsion and would be willing to see Cosby in a TV special, movie or new show, especially if some of the profit went to a nonprofit organization involved in helping raped or abused women. Some contemporary Chuck Barris might even want to produce a reality show that tracks Cosby as he goes into deep psycho-therapy. It never pays to overestimate the intelligence and good taste of the American public, but I believe that drugging and raping multiple women over years is a particularly heinous set of acts, and I don’t imagine an attempt for a Cosby comeback would succeed. While we have seen the public accept Michael Vick, Bill Clinton and Mark Sanford, what Cosby did was much worse than killing dogs or having an affair. Thus, even if he underwent a picture perfect rehab, he would still be poison with the public for any new work.

But the old stuff—that’s a different story. Once Cosby “rehabilitated” himself through a public apology and therapy, I don’t think most people would have a problem watching old episodes of “I Spy” or “The Cosby Show” or listening to some of his best-selling records again.  

If Cosby digs in and never admits his sins, he may die alone under a thunderstorm or rebukes from an angry public, but his past performances will still be around. The initial news of his death will likely spur TV stations to replay the reruns from decades back. After that, I believe the public’s perception of Cosby will soften again, just as it is starting to soften for Joe Paterno. I don’t see rehabilitation in death for Cosby, but rather the reconfiguration of the various parts of his story. The rapes will become a small dark footnote, exactly in the same way as Joe Paterno’s lack of action when he first heard about Jerry Sandusky’s perversions is becoming a small dark footnote to his larger story of football glory.

The public tends to render the lives of past heroes and villains into short symbolic statements, almost like branding statements. The Einstein brand is the absent-minded physicist whose discoveries changed the world. The Babe Ruth brand is the undisciplined but awe-inspiring slugger who loved kids. These quick descriptions conceal a multitude of both sins and good works—we get neither Ruth’s whoring nor his speed on the bases. We miss Einstein’s political stands and his personal life, which was tumultuous at times. None of this detail survives in the public eye.

The one-sentence brand biography of Cosby a decade after he dies will likely be “one of the most popular TV actors who was a trailblazer for Afro-American actors and produced and starred in one of the very best and most important TV shows of the 20th century, but he also had a dark side.”

In other words, the Cosby reputation will probably weather the storm and the owners of the Cosby reruns can rest easy that sooner or later, they will start minting money again.

But Cosby the living man? As the saying goes, he’ll never work in this town again. And if there’s justice in this world, he’ll be doing his next standup routine behind bars.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

America digs deeper into Middle Eastern quagmire—a headline that could be written at any time over past 50 years!

By Marc Jampole

One comment on National Public Radio this morning should jolt anyone into an epiphany about the brutal absurdity of the United States foreign policy since at least World War II.

When asked about the attitude of Syrians regarding the prospect of U.S. help to fight ISIS, a Syrian photographer answered that Syrians were either confused or angry. His main point was that it was difficult to understand why America held fire when the regime killed 200,000, but are acting when ISIS has killed two or three thousand.

The crimes of Assad against innocents seem much greater than those of ISIS, even if ISIS does a better job of instilling fear into westerners. But is the horror of five or six beheadings of professionals who willingly put themselves in harm’s way more compelling than the brutal murder of 200,000 people?  When we start asking that question, it sends us sliding down a very slippery slope: Why didn’t we invade China after Tiananmen Square or Russia during its genocide by famine against the Ukrainians in the 1930s?  Why haven’t we invaded North Korea lately? Why aren’t U.S. troops all over Africa? Clearly ending brutal repression has never really been a priority for U.S. foreign policy, except when we can use it to support other ends.

In seeking an explanation of why we are fighting ISIS but not the Baathists (at least not yet), let’s start with a beautiful example of circular reasoning. Some assert that we are more concerned about ISIS than Assad because Assad’s Baathist government is at least recognized and legitimate. Of course how do we then explain going after Saddam Hussein in 2003?  Since the Bush Administration always knew Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction nor ties to Al Qaeda, the most logical answer (if not very logical)—and the one the Bush II Administration finally settled on years later—was that the Iraq war was an exercise in nation-building in a country dominated by an intolerable tyrant. Here the circle closes upon itself as we are left asking what’s the difference between Saddam and Assad?

Of course, there are some compelling cynical answers to the question why we are going after ISIS when we held back from bombing Assad’s military positions, including:
·         Russia, Saudi Arabia and/or Iran don’t want (or until recently didn’t want) Assad taken down, whereas virtually every country dislikes ISIS.
·         We can’t get the approval of our allies to go after the Syrian regime, but they’re happy to go after the beheaders. 
·         We can’t afford another big war.
·         The ISIS threat is of a perfect size to test some new weaponry and guarantee steady work for military contractors, whereas a war against Syria could quickly deteriorate into another Iraq or Afghanistan.

Another reason pundits give for going after ISIS is because it has also grabbed land in Iraq and we have a responsibility to assure a stable government in Iraq. The odds that ISIS could have swept into Iraqi territory without there first being 10 years of war are minimal. In a sense we created ISIS, so shouldn’t we be responsible for eradicating it? 

That rationale unfortunately assumes that the United States could fix the problem at this point, but can we? We poured trillions of dollars (and sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, plus about five thousand of our own soldiers) into toppling Saddam Hussein, waging a civil war and installing an ostensibly democratic government, which soon descended into suppression and cronyism. Do we propose to spend that money again and hope that next time a unified representational government takes hold? Or do we just incise and drain the ISIS abscess and assume that once the beheaders are gone, the Iraqi political situation will suddenly calm down? Fat chance! It’s more likely that another group will arise that will either take territory or commit frequent terrorist acts.

If the United States really wants Iraq to return to stability, it will have to pull completely out and stay out, and then stand on the sidelines and watch a period of often violent jockeying by the various political factions. This transitional period could last months or years and could result in the formation of a stable if fragile democracy, the establishment of a Saddam-like dictatorship or a splintering of the country into three parts (reflecting the ethnic and city-state organization of the territory from ancient times). 

If we really want to help the Iraqi and the Syrian people, we will make it as hard as possible for these various factions to procure weaponry. Of course, disarming the various factions in just about any country in conflict might prove counterproductive to what I believe is a central tenet of American foreign policy: to make the world safe for American arms manufacturers.