Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why Bill Clinton’s sexual past is not an issue, but Donald Trump’s sexism is

By Marc Jampole

Republicans are very clear that they intend to make Bill Clinton’s past wolfish behavior an issue in the election campaign. Donald Trump and Ben Carson have both said that discussing Bill’s past affairs is fair game, as did the editorial boards of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. Both Trump and the Journal compare Bill’s actions and words to Trump’s and declare Trump to be less of a sexist than our ex-President. The Journal even talked about Clinton’s “war on women.”

There are lots of ways that Democrats could argue react to Republican accusations regarding Bill Clinton’s sexual past. They could point out all the strides that women made during the Clinton Administration.

They could remind people that unlike Trump, who believes he is superior to women and has insulted a number of them for their looks or their bodily functions, Bill loves women.

They could reconstruct the two incidents that reflect most poorly on Slick Willie and assert that Paula Jones was a gold-digger and Monica Lewinsky admitted she came to the White House looking to score some presidential booty.  

They could explain that many spouses stray and that Bill and Hillary worked out their marital difficulties and didn’t get divorced, unlike Trump, who has been divorced twice, with at least one divorce coming after a torrid love affair with a much younger woman. Perhaps Clinton supporters could play Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” in the background while making this point. This approach might resonate with those who don’t believe in divorce.

They could claim that the extramarital affairs are a private matter that should play no part in the political discussion.

All of these approaches to responding to the Republican’s attempts to dredge up Bill’s past sexual history would be wrong for one reason—all are irrelevant. In fact the entire discussion is irrelevant, simply because: Bill Clinton is not Hillary Clinton.

It is Hillary who is running for office, not Bill. Bill’s past should be of no concern to voters unless someone can prove that Hillary Clinton lied or participated in a cover-up, which they can’t. If Hillary had acted illegally or unethically before, during or after her husband’s several “bimbo eruptions,” the Republicans would have uncovered evidence after more than twenty years of investigating the Clintons’ past for dirt.

In this regard, Bill Clinton plays the role of embarrassing relative—similar to Billy Carter, Donald Nixon, Neil Bush or Bill’s own brother, Roger. The one difference, of course, is that Bill is not an obscure figure, but an extremely popular ex-President.

The decades-old sexual antics of Hillary Clinton’s spouse have absolutely no bearing on Hillary Clinton’s competence or her ability to lead the country, administer the laws, set foreign policy or work with Congress.

But while Bill Clinton’s sexual history is not an issue of substance, Trump’s dismissive attitudes towards women definitely should be open for discussion, again, for one reason only—because the Donald is running for office.  His old-fashioned laddie-boy sexism will make it harder for him to work with female members of Congress and foreign leaders. Imagine Trump referring to Nancy Pelosi’s menopausal behavior or disparaging Angela Merkel’s fashion sense. Finding out how Trump really stands on a woman’s right to control her own body is important—sometimes he says he favors abortion, sometimes he says he’s against it. The fact that the Donald wants to defund Planned Parenthood is an issue.  Some have characterized Trump as the archetypal “rich man who regularly trades in his wives for younger models.” Trump’s past marriages may turn out to be a character issue for many people.

In short, Trump’s attitudes towards women and women’s issues is of utmost importance in determining his suitability to serve as President of the United States. But whatever Hillary Clinton's husband did two decades ago is nothing more than a sideshow. Of course, sideshows such as Trump, Carson and Cruz are coming to dominate the Republican nominating process.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Koch-bought professor right about impact on inequality of “like marrying like,” but gives wrong ways to fix it

I never thought that I would agree with Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, whom the mainstream media has been trying to turn into a “public intellectual” for the past few years.  Cowen, who is general director of the Koch-funded Mercatus Center, specializes in two types of illogical thinking; 1) proposing market solutions to problems created by markets; 2) Arguing about the impact on individuals instead of focusing on the impact on groups. 

Among Cowen gems of fallacious reasoning was his embarrassing critique of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Cowen’s argument tended to follow the pattern of staring at the trees so you won’t see the forest, which in this case means believing that the fact individual families gain and lose wealth through generations proves that over time more wealth does not tend to accumulate into fewer hands. By focusing on the trees—individual wealthy people, Cowen ignores the forest—the class of the wealthy—who have accumulated more and more of the wealth of the world and the United States over the past 35 years.

Earlier this year, Cowen used the same trick of ignoring the group to perform another feat of corporate justification in a New York Times article asserting that some workers—those who hustle, i.e., “are willing and able to turn their spare time to productive uses,”—will do very well in the freelance economy created by sharing services such as Uber and Airbnb. He ignores the statistics to argue about opportunity for those who possess the entrepreneurial spirit, the Holy Ghost and Holy Grail of American society as conceived by big business operators and their think-tank factotums.

Here it is the season of good will and good tidings, and I find that I agree with what Cowen wrote in “How aMarriage of Equals May Promote Inequality” a New York Times Sunday Business article under the rubric “Economic View.”

Cowen states that professionals tend to marry other professionals and blue and pink collar workers tend to marry each other, creating a natural disparity in incomes. The math is easy. Two lawyers making $250,000 a year have a household income of half a million, while a cashier earning $30,000 married to a janitor making $40,000 generate a household income of $70,000.


I didn’t need to read Cowen’s documentation to know he’s right, because in 1982 I used Stanford Research Institute Research to predict in a five-part television news special that “like incomes marrying” would be one of five factors that would lead to the United States becoming a nation of rich and poor in the near future. 

Yes, 1982. Professor Cowen, congratulations on catching up to the times. 

Once upon a time, many women didn’t work, and those who did made far less than men, so that “like incomes marrying” was an impossibility, except among the ultra-wealthy who often arranged marriages to preserve or increase family wealth.  

Cowen gives us a tired-sounding list of three potential cures, two of which are from the right-wing playbook: further experiments with charter schools and higher subsidies or tax credits for children. His third prescription is also tied to education: universal preschool. Let’s forget that there is nothing inherent in charter schools that improves educational outcomes, and focus on the common theme of education in Cowen’s suggestions, which he admits won’t do much. Both right-wing and centrist economists and social thinkers virtually all say that greater education will lead to less inequality, because the more educated worker will get a better job and make more money. It’s a load of hooey, for one reason: Someone has to take out the garbage, drive trucks, input raw data, change bedpans and perform other jobs that require little or no training. As long these jobs are misprized by society and paid extremely low wages, no amount of education will eradicate poverty and lessen inequality of wealth and income. 

Cowen forgets to mention the other factors that have led to a society of rich and poor, with a shrunken, almost moribund middle class: 1) Loss of union jobs; 2) Globalization; 3) New tax policies; 4) Automation and computerization. 

The real answer to reversing the trend of greater inequality of the income and wealth is to reverse the social and economic policies of the past 40 years so that those who make more money make a little less and those who make less money make a little more. A combination of raising the minimum wage, greater unionization of the work force, increasing taxes on the wealthy and a reversal of the privatization of government functions will go a long way to reversing inequality of wealth and income in the short run. 

Let’s return to our hypothetical two couples and imagine that the two lawyers make only $150,000 each and that the cashier makes $70,000 and the janitor makes $80,000. The professional couple still makes twice what the blue collar couple do, but the blue collar couple isn’t doing badly at a combined income of $150,000 a year. I haven’t run the numbers, but when we compensate for inflation, that seems more in keeping with the middle class spectrum of incomes in 1950’s and 1960’s, when we had a strong middle class and a large percent of the workforce unionized; that is, before professional and executive jobs received an enormous income boost and the income from other jobs started to stagnate. 

Unless we start paying everyone exactly the same and taking away everyone’s savings every five years, we will never achieve perfect equality, and no one says that we should. But the current situation has become intolerable to far too many people who used to consider themselves part of the middle class or thought they had a chance to improve their economic conditions.  

The problem, then, is not inequality per se, but that inequality has led to a shrinking of the middle class. The solution is not more education, but an end to the economic policies started by the Reagan revolution that have transformed the United States from a nation of the middle class into one of rich and poor.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lays brings back cannibal Potato Heads to remind us Xmas joy of wealthy often comes at expense of others

By Marc Jampole

About 18 months ago, Frito-Lay introduced a TV ad in which animated versions of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head eat potato chips, knowing full well that it is a form of cannibalism but reveling in the guilty sin.

In the original spot, Mr. Potato Head gets home from work and can’t find his wife anywhere. He hears a strange crackle and then another. He follows the sounds until he sees his wife hiding in a room with a bag of Lay’s potato chips, munching away. She is suitably embarrassed at what amounts to an act of cannibalism, but the commercial explains that the chips are so delicious that they are irresistible. The last shot shows Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head snacking on the chips with a look of mischievous glee on their faces—they know they are doing a naughty thing, but it just doesn’t matter.

Frito-Lay is flooding the airwaves with the Potato Head cannibal spots for the holiday season. More recent spots include one in which Mr. Potato Head dons a disguise to buy enough potato chips to satisfy everyone at Times Square on New Year’s Eve and another in which the Potato Head couple hides in the bushes.

All these spots remind me of Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece, “Weekend,” at the end of which the main female character sucks on a bone from a stew prepared by the revolutionary who has forcibly made her his concubine. “What is it we’re eating?” she asks, to which the punky gangster answers, “Your husband.” She has the last line of the movie: “Not bad…” and then keeps gnawing on the bone.

In all the Potato Head commercials, at one point the Mrs. slowly and erotically pulls a chip from the bag, brings it to her lips and suggestively swallows it. This simple action conveys the type of irresistible sexuality that often informs transgressive acts. Moreover, it suggests that the potato chip is an upscale product to be savored like expensive dark chocolate. The sexual overtone underscores the ad’s attempt to add value to the potato chip, since the audience is used to seeing sex sell luxury products. Note, too, that the slow, sensual approach to potato-chip eating modeled by Mrs. Potato Head does not correspond to the non-stop nibbling people usually associate with the chip.

The real transgressive act committed by avid consumers of potato chips is against their own bodies. The chips have almost no nutritional value and are loaded down with salt. The ease at which one can consume a large number of chips while watching a game, or playing one, helps to implicate chips of all sorts in the obesity crisis faced by the United States and the rest of the industrialized world.

That cannibalism would serve as the stand-in to overeating junk food says a lot about the values of current American society.  Eating another being of your own species is generally considered to be an abomination. Although the Potato Heads are not humans, they are stand-ins for humans with human emotions and aspirations, just like the various mice, ducks, rabbits, dogs, foxes, lions and other animals we have anthropomorphized since the beginning of recorded history. From Aesop and Wu Cheng’en to Orwell and Disney, authors have frequently used animals as stand-ins for humans in fairy tales, satires and children’s literature.

So when Mrs. Potato Head eats a potato, it’s an overt representation of cannibalism—humans eating other humans.

The advertiser is trying to make fun of transgression, to diminish the guilt that many on a diet or watching their weight might feel noshing on potato chips.

But behind the jokiness of a potato eating a potato chip stands more than the idea that it’s okay for humans to snack on chips. The implication in having a potato playing at human eating other potatoes is that we are allowed to do anything transgressive, even cannibalism—everything is okay, as long as it leads to our own pleasure.  The end-game of such thinking is that our sole moral compass should be our own desires.

Thus the Lay’s Potato Head commercial expresses an extreme form of the politics of selfishness, the Reaganistic dictate that everyone should be allowed to pursue his or her own best interests without the constraint of society. Like the image of the vampire living on the blood of humans or of the “Purge” series of movies in which people are allowed any violent action one night a year, the Potato Head family eating other potatoes that have first been dried, processed, bathed in chemicals, extruded and baked symbolizes and justifies what the 1% continues to do to the rest of the population.
And it’s a happy message, too!  We don’t get the sense that it’s a “dog-eat-dog world in which you have to eat or be eaten.” No, Lay’s presents the gentle Reagan version: you can do anything you like to fill your selfish desires (no matter whom it hurts).

The Mr. Potato Head cannibalism commercial offers a fable about the relationship between the haves and the have-nots, or in this case—those who eat and those who are eaten. The fabulist is interested in selling products and making consumers feel good about the process of consumption, even when it is transgressive.  Some may call it an overturning of traditional morality. I call it business as usual in a post-industrial consumer society.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Did Trump reveal a secret fetish when he called Hillary’s debate pit stop “disgusting?”

By Marc Jampole

What I would like to ask Donald Trump is what was so disgusting about Hillary Clinton having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the debate Saturday evening?

His statement—part of a vulgar excoriation of Hillary—marks another new low in a campaign of new lows that Republicans have hit in the 2016 race for their party’s nomination for the presidency.

Does Trump find natural functions to be disgusting? Or is it just the thought of a woman pulling down her pantyhose and squatting on a toilet seat that disgusts him?  Or maybe it makes him feel some kind of inner guilt? Or does he find the length of time she spent relieving herself to be unseemly?

Maybe Trump believes that Clinton—and by extension all candidates—should wear diapers so they can withstand the rigors of campaigning without taking a break?  Maybe that strange smile we sometimes see on Trump’s face, when he pauses, seemingly to consider his thoughts, is just a natural expression of relief, similar to the first smile we see on infants?

I have often thought that my experience interacting with megalomaniacal entrepreneurs and real estate developers gives me insight into Trump’s mind, and his potty comment convinces me of it. There exists an archetypal business bully who tries to get his (and much less frequently, her) way through intimidation. This type—let’s call it the “Trump”—often think that the world revolves around him. The Trump believes he can browbeat everyone else at the negotiating table. The Trump frequently calls three-hour meetings at 5:00 pm and provides no food and keeps the discussion moving so quickly, there’s no time to ask for a bathroom break. He’ll concede no point, hoping that hunger and an overflowing bladder will make his adversaries give in. A Trump tries to be a man’s man, loves to smoke cigars and wears beautifully styled conservative standard business attire. Even in a casual leather jacket, he retains the tie. The Trumps tend to make a lot of sexist comments and treat women in sexist ways, but always pride themselves on their extreme heterosexuality. All industries have these types, but real estate development in particular attracts the Trumps.

My own experience with Trump types includes the current chairman of the board of a generic pharmaceuticals company when he was running an independent financial planning firm that had engaged my PR agency to design and write a capabilities brochure. My designer was a whiz at creating asymmetrical symmetry, which means that the composition is in balance, but without the two halves (horizontal or vertical) being exactly the same. Asymmetrical symmetry injects movement and dynamism into a composition and has been a key strategy in the visual arts since the cave paintings. We were two hours into a 4:00 pm meeting that didn’t start until 5:00 pm in which this client and his brother detailed changes, all of which involved moving objects in the design to make it more symmetrically boring. Suddenly, he walked over to me with the same angry frown that I see on Trump’s face in virtually every televised appearance, leaned over, his hands pulling out the suspenders on his pants and got as close to me as possible, swelled out his chest and said, “I understand you’re prissy and we hired you for your prissiness.”

Notice that he wanted to get under my skin by feminizing me.

I think of that incident every single time I see Donald Trump speak on TV, and especially when he has made his frequent sexist comments, e.g., about Fiorina’s looks and Megyn Kelly’s menstruation. I smile and say to myself, “Yes, I recognize this type of sexist, bullying behavior.” No one will ever know what lurks inside anyone else’s head, but I suspect that we know more about Donald Trump’s thought processes than most, since his speeches often appear to be the unedited ramblings of his mind spouted at the moment they occur to him,  without consideration of the thought or the words used to express it. I imagine, though, the following to be how Trump’s trashy imagination produced the word “disgusting” to describe Hillary’s need to relieve herself:
  1.  One is supposed to hold it in at a meeting.
  2.  A man can hold it in longer than a woman (he thinks).
  3.  Not to hold it in is to behave like a woman, that is, the frail sex and not a macho man.
  4.  Not to behave like a man at a meeting is disgusting.
In short, I believe calling Hillary “disgusting” was another sexist remark by Trump, another instance of his revealing his inherent feelings of superiority to women. That his remark involved an intimate bodily function isn’t even a new low in vulgarity, since you can’t get any lower than speaking explicitly about menstruation. At the very least, this latest vulgarism confirmed Trump’s sexism, but a darker interpretation might conclude that he has a fetish focused on either bathrooms or one or more bodily functions.

Trump’s vulgarity is not presidential, not to be confused with the homespun good-old-boy charm cultivated by Johnson, Reagan, Carter, Bush II and Clinton. It has no place in political discourse. His grandiosity and gruff attack style will please many Americans even as it fails as a negotiating style with other nations.

Rachel Maddow reported that someone figured out that every Republican with as much of a lead in the polls as Trump has at this time in the race went on to win the nomination. Impossible to imagine, but every day the possibility increases that a major party will nominate a vulgar, blustering, know-nothing hothead who lies through his teeth and has no experience in elected office or negotiating with equals. We’ve had a number of know-nothing liars in the Oval Office, including Bush II, Reagan and Nixon, so that’s nothing new. The vulgarity will end up embarrassing the United States on a weekly basis and lead to the fraying of relationships with other leaders, here and abroad. The blustering hothead, however, is what scares me the most, because it could get us into a major war and keep us there for as long as the vain, bullying president desires.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Editorial: GOP vs. Earth

It was largely overlooked by the terrorism-obsessed news media, but President Obama and other world leaders secured a historic agreement in Paris on Dec. 12 to cut fossil-fuel emissions that contribute to climate change.

The US negotiators wanted the agreement to be insulated from the attacks of Republicans in Congress. That was no easy feat in a negotiation over an immensely complicated challenge involving 195 counties and half a dozen rival negotiating blocks. “We met the moment,” President Obama said in an address from the White House praising the deal. The Paris agreement on its own would not end climate change, he said, but “this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and will pave the way for even more progress, in successive stages, over the coming years.”

The deal reached in Paris set goals to limit warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), phase out carbon emissions by the middle of the century, help poor countries realign their economies, and review their progress towards hitting those targets at regular intervals.

Obama and French President François Hollande reportedly worked the phones to seal the deal. When final approval was held up for an hour late on that Saturday night over typos and a dispute over a single verb – shall or should – Hollande telephoned Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, to assure him the last-minute glitches would be fixed, Suzanne Goldenberg reported in The Guardian.

Obama met the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, at the beginning of the talks and the two leaders were in regular telephone contact throughout the meeting, administration officials said.

Hillary Clinton called the agreement “an historic step forward” in global efforts to address climate change, applauding America’s leadership, and she called for a redoubling of efforts to transition to a “clean energy economy.”

Bernie Sanders said that while the agreement was a step forward, it “goes nowhere near far enough.”
“The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that,” Sanders stated.

But as Mark Hertsgaard noted at Dec. 13, “the main reason why it doesn’t [take bold action] are his Republican colleagues in the United States Senate, which would have to ratify any bona fide treaty the Obama administration might have preferred in Paris.”

No sooner was the deal announced than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) led the attack on the deal for Republicans.

“The president is making promises he can’t keep, writing checks he can’t cash, and stepping over the middle class to take credit for an ‘agreement’ that is subject to being shredded in 13 months,” McConnell said.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the global warming denier who chairs the Senate environment and public works committee, said he would continue to scrutinize Obama’s climate agenda and signaled that Republicans in Congress would continue to undermine the Paris climate goals and the work of government scientific agencies.

Republican presidential candidates had little to say on the climate change deal, possibly because they didn’t want to acknowledge Obama’s accomplishment. Of the nine Republican candidates, the New York Times noted Dec. 14, only John Kasich had any substantial comment: “While the governor believes that climate change is real and that human activity contributes to it, he has serious concerns with an agreement that the Obama administration deliberately crafted to avoid having to submit it to the Senate for approval,” Kasich’s spokesman said in a statement. “That’s an obvious indicator that they expect it to result in significant job loss and inflict further damage to our already sluggish economy.”

In the past, Republicans have disputed global warming. “We’re not going to make America a harder place to create jobs in order to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing, nothing to change our climate,” Marco Rubio said at a debate in September.

Donald Trump said, “I believe there’s weather. I believe there’s change, and I believe it goes up and it goes down, and it goes up again.”

Ted Cruz said before the deal was reached, “Climate change is the perfect pseudoscientific theory for a big-government politician who wants more power.”

At the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on Dec. 15 CNN’s moderators asked no questions about global warming but there were a few mocking references to Obama’s attempts to deal with climate change. Kasich complained that the Paris talks focused on the climate instead of the threat from ISIS.

As administration officials pointed out after the deal was done, the agreement in Paris was constructed with a view to making it safe from Republican attacks – which was one reason negotiations were so difficult.

Bill McKibben, the founder of, said the agreement would kick off a new wave of activism targeted against big carbon reserves. He said groups would also step up the pressure on Obama.

“It is absurd we are having to have this fight and it is absurd that the administration, even while it is championing these negotiations, hasn’t yet materialized the message of these negotiations,” he said. “If anyone is serious about 2C, you have to understand you can’t be doing on the one hand or on the other hand anymore.”

Hertsgaard wrote that the summit’s accomplishments deserve the adjective “historic.”

“By aiming to limit temperature rise to ‘well below’ 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and ‘pursue’ a goal of 1.5 C, the world’s governments went further than ever before in defining the allowable amount of future climate disruption. This was a case of moving the goalposts in the best possible way. What’s more, both developed and developing nations pledged to entirely eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases ‘as soon as possible,’ in effect promising to de-carbonize the global economy. Thus the leaders of both of the world’s climate change superpowers, the United States and China, praised the accord, with President Obama hailing the agreement not ‘perfect’ but ‘our best chance to save the only planet we have.’”

The Paris agreement was seen as the result of a long, slow rebuild of Obama’s climate strategy – after the chaotic end of the Copenhagen summit in 2009 and the death of cap-and-trade legislation in Congress a year later, Goldenberg noted.

In 2013, Obama made the fight against climate change one of his top priorities for his second term and began using executive powers more aggressively to reduce US emissions, including rules cutting pollution from power plants.

To make real progress on the climate, voters will have to remove climate-denying Republicans from power in Congress. Democrats must convince voters that more Americans are threatened by storms due to climate change than will be threatened by radicalized Islamist terrorists — who are still way behind radicalized Christian terrorists in the post-9/11 US body count, by the way.

The numbers are encouraging. The climate action is popular: two-thirds of Americans support an international agreement to curb emissions, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll released Nov. 30 that showed 63% of Americans — including a bare majority of Republicans — said they would support domestic policy limiting carbon emissions from power plants.

In the United States we have one major party that believes, along with the leaders of 194 other nations, in limiting climate change, to keep it below the point that scientists believe could be catastrophic. The other party ignores the scientific consensus and is content to burn fossil fuels until the dinosaur juice runs dry and the Earth is a cinder.

You can vote Republican, but you can’t also claim that you care what happens to the children or grandchildren you will leave behind. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2016

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the January 1-15, 2016 issue

COVER/Ben Goldfarb
Will GMO salmon hurt fishing industries? 

GOP vs. Earth


Camouflage for Christmas

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Sustainable ag: what a year

Climate deal could be good for business;
Fossil fuels flail, solar stocks soar;
Congress reaches deal on spending;
TV ‘news’ feeds Trump, starves Sanders;
Right-wing pact spurs Cruz surge;
Latino groups differ: Cruz & Rubio ‘bad’ or ‘worse’?
Strategic voting by French left beats far right;
Election roundup;
Trump's Vegas hotel refuses to recognize workers' union;
States expand gun rights after Sandy Hook massacre;
Huge blow to Obamacare? Maybe not;

Swords into plowshares

Will Paris silence climate liars and nuke deniers?

GOP enters the abyss 

Choice between Sanders & Clinton on climate

Behind-the-scenes climate-change cabal

QR codes aren’t the answer; GMO labels are

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
A candle in the bleakness

The world is still at risk of AIDS

NYT too quick to target assault rifles

Why not a single-payer?

ISIS and the politics of endless war

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky
New industrial proletariat

Will Kohler strike ignite 3rd major labor war?

Chi-Raq attack

Turning the US into the OK Corral

and more ...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The trend in presidential crises suggests some ugly truths about American politics and government

By Marc Jampole

Reading Malcolm Byrnes’ Iran-Contra reminds me that since the 1970s the United States has endured a presidential crisis in every decade. Comparing these crises reveals some disturbing trends in our government and our so-called free press.

In the 1970s, Richard Nixon resigned rather than suffer the humiliation of impeachment for ordering the break-in of an office of the Democratic Party and then trying to cover it up. Several of his staffers and hired hands served time in jail. Note that Nixon’s fall had nothing to do with his illegal secret bombing of Cambodia.

Byrnes tracks the presidential crisis of the 1980s in excruciating detail, based on his reading of an enormous range of government documents and news reports. The Reagan Administration illegally arranged for the sales of weapons to the Iranians in exchange for American hostages being held in Lebanon. Administration operatives funneled the money to the Contras, a ragtag army trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, in concealed defiance of American law and the expressed wishes of Congress. When rumors and evidence of this illegal activity began to emerge, the White House engaged in a cover-up, which, like Nixon’s of Watergate’s, ultimately failed. The president knew everything from the very beginning. An impeachable offense, you would assume, but people liked Ronald Reagan and didn’t want to go through the slow-motion horror of Watergate again. Many people were indicted, some convicted, but no one served any time.

BTW, Byrne is unable to prove or disprove the rumor that Reagan confidants promised Iran weapons if it held onto 52 American hostages until after the 1980 presidential election. Meetings were held; no one knows or will say what was discussed in them.

The 1990s presidential crisis seems ludicrous in retrospect. The Republicans spent years investigating Bill Clinton, trying to find some sign of illegal activity. All they could come up with was that Slick Willie liked to chase skirts. The House of Representatives impeached Clinton for no act he committed that endangered the United States or subverted the law, our democratic ideals or the will of the people. What he did was lie about one of his affairs, which is like blaming someone for touching third base after hitting a home run. Isn’t lying an essential part of the sin of infidelity and not a new, impeachable, sin?

The presidential crisis of the first decade of the 21st century revolved around the Bush II’s reaction to 9/11: manufacturing a reason to go to war against Iraq and establishing a torture gulag around the globe. The mainstream news media and our political elite seem to have given the Bush Administration a pass on the Iraq War, spinning everything away from the most likely explanation for the misstatements uttered by the President, Vice President and others on the rationale for going to war. As a nation, we prefer to blame bad information instead of out-and-out deceit.

But there is no doubt that Bush II and his henchmen conceived of, approved and implemented our shameful and illegal torture program. Instead of prosecuting these criminals, the Obama Administration chose not to investigate or indict, but to do as much as possible to ensure that no future administration resorted to such Nazi-like barbarism. 

The Republicans should have thanked Obama for burying their toxic dirty laundry, but instead they created the presidential crisis of the 2010s: the calling into question of the very legitimacy of the President. The Republicans have sowed hatred and distrust of our first African-American president by stoking rumors that he wasn’t born in the United States and is a practicing Muslim. They have further delegitimized the president by attempting to conduct their own foreign policy: arranging to have a foreign head of state address Congress without paying a visit to the President and writing an open letter to Iranian leaders. No president before Obama has ever had to endure accusations of being a socialist, a traitor, anti-Christian or un-American outside the campaign trail, perhaps because campaigns now seem to last the full four years of a presidential term.  Also new are criticisms of the President without proposing alternatives. Following the lead of their constituencies, many elected officials came to oppose the war in Viet Nam vociferously. By way of contrast, for eight years the Republicans have accused Obama of projecting weakness in foreign affairs without proposing to do anything differently. 

Let’s review what we’ve learned. All these presidents, except perhaps Obama, were caught lying. Sometimes it mattered and sometimes it didn’t. My conclusion—lying isn’t a presidential crime, unless it’s done to facilitate or conceal something that is considered a crime.

And what constitutes criminal or potential criminal behavior by a president? 

It’s not okay to play dirty political tricks, but it is okay to sell guns to our professed enemy and use the proceeds to contravene an explicit decision by Congress.

It’s not okay to have an affair with a consenting adult, but it is okay to torture dozens of people, many of whom are innocent.

No one seems to care how many people you bomb into the Stone Age, no matter the circumstances.

And it’s still not okay to be a black male in America.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Why hasn’t Justice Scalia proposed sending athletes and legacies to “lesser” schools?

By Marc Jampole

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia expressed an odious racist sentiment the other day when he said that those admitted to elite universities based on Affirmative Action standards suffered a disservice because they struggle at the elite school instead of succeeding at a lesser institution.

The reason I know Scalia’s comments carry a racial tinge—the false notion of black intellectual abilities—is because Scalia says nothing about the struggles faced by the less qualified student who happens to be an athlete or a legacy.  Studies show that legacies get a bigger break than either African-Americans or athletes do in college admissions, that is, that legacies have the lowest grades and SAT scores on average of any studied group.  A legacy, don’t forget, is someone who gets admitted because mom and dad and maybe granddad and great-gramps went to the college in question and have been giving it a lot of money for a long time.  I imagine that many of Scalia’s bosses, their children and perhaps one or more of Scalia’s own children have benefited from the special treatment given legacies. I vividly remember my son’s friend complaining that the legacies held back the classes at Harvard because they were so unprepared. Legacies and athletes would also do better at lesser schools by Scalia’s reasoning.

Scalia also doesn’t take into account many realities of higher education. For vast numbers of programs such as engineering, hard sciences, medicine and law, there is no difference between what is taught at any university. The only difference is who teaches it. An engineering course will be just as challenging at Harvard as at Arizona State as at New Jersey Institute of Technology. Why shouldn’t someone deprived of the breaks routinely given to legacies get a chance to interact with a more prestigious and probably better connected professor at an elite school? Society will benefit from the greater diversity and equality of wealth and income that will ensue.

As to much of the rest of the university curricula—the humanities and social sciences plus the burgeoning if sometimes dubious fields that try to apply the research in those venerable disciplines such as mass communications and marketing—grade inflation over the past few decades has eroded my confidence in the meaning of the grade performance at the university level. 

I also find that the easier SAT test no longer serves as a valid measure of how the very most talented students are performing in relation to each other, and so is of no value in sorting which kids should go to the very top universities and which belong in the next level down.

Universities mouth mealy justifications for admitting great athletes and the children of former grads. Their reasons for affirmative action are much more compelling: those admitted under affirmative action programs have often gone to segregated schools with fewer resources, not gone to specialty camps or taken SAT prep course, not had consultants help them write their essays. Some may have suffered food insecurity or other trauma, which research now tells us will reduce a person’s ability to perform on an intellectual level. Some suffer because of the reverberating effects of racism through the decades: There is little social mobility in the United States, and the ancestors of most affirmative action students were slaves, including those who come from middle class backgrounds.

The Wall Street Journal is carrying an opinion piece by Jason l. Riley, another of what seems to be an army of right-wing policy analysts from the Manhattan Institute, which praises Scalia’s comments. Riley argues that society suffers by allowing less qualified affirmative action applicants to attend elite schools instead of the more qualified because the school at the second tier now has to go to even less qualified applicants creating a chain of less qualified applicants attending each subsequent level of school. That reasoning doesn’t take into account that the white who is bumped from Harvard or Michigan for an affirmative action candidate—or a legacy or athlete for that matter—will now bring up the standards of the lower rated school.

Riley uses anecdotal evidence to state that affirmative action students do less well in college. I was unable to find any large study on the topic, but it seems beside the point for several reasons. First of all, we don’t ask the same question of legacies and athletes, although I suspect that since they come into schools less qualified than affirmative action students they will perform worse. Besides, the leading institutions have a value beyond the grade point average. In fact, the value of the elite diploma outweighs the grades for many—just ask Al Gore, Jack Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy or George Bush II.

Perhaps the most significant reason that the performance of affirmative action students is a moot point is that affirmative action is not about guaranteeing success, but about creating opportunity. Affirmative action gives someone from a disadvantaged background the opportunity to make it. As in the Texas case before the Supreme Court, the kids who get accepted to elite schools on an affirmative action basis are no slouches, and often the tops in their school and tops in the competitions in which they have participated. They deserve the opportunity to attend the elite school at least as much as the gifted athlete or the pampered scion of a wealthy family. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Wall Street Journal columnist doesn’t care about terrorist actions, preferring to go after “evil”

By Marc Jampole

William McGurn, who regularly writes a column called “Main Street” in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal, has a rather weird view of evil. In his column titled “The Liberal Theology of Gun Control,” he postulates that an evil can exist that does not manifest itself in the real world. The hidden premise—that Islam is inherently evil—does not appear in the article, which has as its subject the excoriation of liberals for thinking gun control would have prevented the terrorists attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.

The logic is ridiculous because it assumes that evil is something concrete that exists apart from the actions by which evil manifests itself. But if you think of evil actions but do nothing, how is your evil a problem to anyone else? It’s when you commit evil actions that society will consider you evil.

Thus, anything we can do to stop evil actions stops evil. The San Bernardino suspects had legal access to guns, which they then illegally modified. While no one would aver that greater gun control laws would have necessarily prevented the San Bernardino killers from acting, it certainly would have slowed them down, and perhaps made them come out of the closet and thus be identified by the authorities. And we can be certain that stricter gun control would have stopped some would-be terrorists.

McGurn also errs in assuming that all liberals want to do to fight terrorism is establish stronger gun control laws. That is a fallacious reading of the record of statements by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. military and security officials, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Implementing stronger gun control laws is a small part of the package that liberals propose to fight terrorism, almost an afterthought.

Stopping terrorism is also not the only reason to establish stronger gun control laws. In the United States, statistics demonstrate that we have relatively little to fear from the terrorist, but much to fear from the legal gun owner who has an accident, the child or other family member who uncovers a loaded gun and the run-of-the-mill criminal who can purchase a gun at a gun show with no waiting period. It’s a simple fact: the fewer the number of guns per capita in a society, the lower the rate of death and injuries from guns.

His assertion is completely false that in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, the entire public discussion is about gun control. He’s confusing San Bernardino with the mass murders in Colorado Springs, Aurora, Tucson, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Pittsburgh and Columbine. After Bernardino, the news media is focusing on Obama’s performance, what we knew and didn’t know about the terrorists before the shooting, refugees and Donald Trump’s awful statements about not letting Muslims in the United States.

A number of almost comic rhetorical flaws mar McGurn’s article, except for those who enjoy finding logical boners. For example, he says that tough gun control laws did not prevent terrorists from inflicting mayhem on Paris and San Bernardino. McGurn scores a two-fer for stupidity with this statement: 1) While it’s true that California and France have stricter gun control laws than other municipalities, both, and especially California, are part of larger geographic zones where in which one can travel without constraints, and in which gun control laws are much looser. 2) No one has said stronger gun control would have prevented the San Bernardino or Paris murders. What liberals and progressives are saying is that controlling gun sales will reduce the total number of terrorist attacks using guns.

McGurn makes a weird historical comparison which hides the fact that the two assertions in the comparison are fallacious. He states that liberals today are calling for greater gun control instead of fighting ISIS, just as liberals called for greater gun control during the Cold War instead of fighting communism. While it’s true that many progressives both today and in the past have called for gun control, it’s also true that most American progressives on domestic issues have also been hardline on military issues. From Truman, Johnson and Humphrey to Obama and Clinton, Democrats have taken a hard line in foreign affairs while supporting gun control at home. Richard Nixon could hardly be called a wimp in foreign affairs, and he was in favor of outlawing handguns and requiring licenses for hunting rifles.

To the degree that it reflects current right wing thinking, the scariest part of McGurn’s article is his underlying premise about evil, that it is an essence and not a type of action. In McGurn’s world view, the only way to free ourselves of the threat of terrorism is to kill everyone who has evil thoughts. I don’t believe that McGurn expects our security forces to begin reading minds. I’m thinking that he believes he knows an evil person (which is different from an evil doer) when he sees one. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Republicans prefer rights of NRA over safety of Americans, yet blame Obama for weak response to terrorism

By Marc Jampole

Is it a lack of consistency or hypocrisy that drives the Republicans to their befuddling policies?

The Republicans have spent the better part of four years devising and passing dozens of new state laws making it harder for millions of people to vote, to protect society from the ostensible menace of the lone wolf criminal who commits the non-violent act of fraudulent voting. Keep in mind that no one has found any evidence of widespread or even occasional fraud. In fact researchers uncovered maybe six cases of individual voting fraud among the billions of votes cast over the past 50 years; none swung an election. But to protect us from the miniscule number of sociopaths who could potentially shoot holes into the great American tradition of fair elections, the Republicans insisted on shrinking the rights of millions.

The Republicans must not think the threat of domestic terrorism is serious, or that it is far less serious than the dangers of fraudulent voting. Republicans voted as a bloc not to prevent people on the Terrorist Security Administration’s (TSA) no-fly list from buying guns. Their excuse: not everyone on the no-fly list is a terrorist, and the Republicans would hate to prevent or impede any red-blooded American citizen from their right to purchase a weapon. The no-fly list affects far fewer people than the recent spate of laws making it harder to vote. There are some people on the no-fly list who may be considering terrorist acts against the United States and other countries, harming dozens and sometimes hundreds of people. All the imaginary scofflaws in the pool of millions of people who are now inconvenienced or prevented from voting would want to do is vote in the wrong district or without prior registration.

National security be damned. The gun rights of a few are more important than the safety of more than 300 million people, according to the Republicans. But the voting rights of millions are not important at all.

No one is saying that increasing gun control laws and making it illegal to own, buy and sell automatic weapons will end all acts of domestic terrorism, mass murders and other gun violence. But every single study that has been done on the topic and every single comparison between countries that has ever been made come to the same conclusion: the fewer guns that are afloat in society, the fewer incidences of gun violence there is and the lower the number of deaths by firearms.

But national security and the safety of citizens be damned, as long as the checks keep rolling in from the National Rifle Association.

While the Republicans are not good at addressing safety issues, they do know how to complain about the supposedly lackluster efforts of the Obama Administration. To a person, and almost in unison, Republican presidential candidates and elected officials have condemned the president for his response to the San Bernardino mass murders. Joining them have been a slew of so-called experts who have appeared on all cable news stations. But the lot of them have nothing concrete to suggest, except for the frightening Ted Cruz who would carpet bomb ISIS territory (including the innocent citizens currently being terrorized by ISIS) and send in large numbers of American troops.

Other than Cruz’s warmongering, not one critic of Obama’s program to combat ISIS has proposed any concrete action that the Administration and American allies are not doing already.  Some will say we should do more of one thing and less of another, without really knowing how much of anything we’re doing, since that’s confidential information. Others will ask for more detail on what are really technical issues—all nitty-gritty process steps—and when they don’t get it, assume the Administration has not worked it out or is not addressing the details they think are important. But not one critic is asking for a real change in the Administration’s program.

The words that dominate what the critics of Obama are saying all convey value or spin, as opposed to defining actions: “Commitment,” “leadership,” “focus,” “urgency” are the words I heard most frequently from Republicans and TV pundits.

To question the commitment of Obama is an absurd ad hominem attack, similar to the questioning of his patriotism or his commitment to free-market capitalism—of course he is committed to fighting terrorism, as committed, and more successful so far, than George Bush II. This language is but another way that Republicans try to question the legitimacy of the first non-white President in American history. To say Obama lacks commitment is a subtle attack on his patriotism, but it’s also an attack on his advisors, the administration and the continuing foreign policy and defense establishment that were installed before Obama and will survive his presidency.

The other words that Republicans frequently employ when criticizing Obama’s actions against ISIS are all related to style. “Focus,” “leadership” and “urgency” express a wide range of styles and attitudes. I don’t believe that Bush II spoke with more urgency in his voice than Obama, but even if he did, so what—his actions, in Iraq, Afghanistan and domestically—were foolish and led us into the current quagmire.

There are those who would question the loyalty of the Republicans who are making ad hominem attacks on the president without suggesting any specific policy changes. It’s one thing to disagree with the course of action the government takes. But to take pot shots at the government while offering nothing different—that’s disloyalty of the highest order.

No one, however, will question the Republicans loyalty to the NRA.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Editorial: Don’t Let GOP Fearmongers Win

(Editor's Note: This is an expanded version of the editorial that was published in the 12/15/15 issue. It was written before authorities reported that the San Bernardino massacre was carried out by a Muslim couple who may have had terrorist motivations, but we believe the editorial still stands.)

When Americans surrender to fear we betray our founding principles. But the economy under President Barack Obama has pulled out of the nosedive that George W. Bush’s “voodoo economics” put it in 2008, so fear is about all the Republican Party has to sell these days, and their unscrupulous leaders are working overtime to scare us about enemies real and imagined, foreign and domestic.

In the US, crime rates rose from the early ’60s through the early ’90s, but have plunged since the mid-’90s (the good old days for Republican fearmongering). But as of 2013, the rate of violent crime, is down 71% from its peak in 1994, Neil Howe reported at (5/28/15). Over this same period, the rate of violent crime by 12- to 24-year-olds—the age bracket most likely to commit crime—fell 78%. But you can’t convince suburban Republicans of that; in every annual Gallup poll since 2003, a majority of American adults said that the number of gun crimes is higher than it was two decades ago, even though gun violence peaked in 1993, Howe noted.

Lately, Republicans have inflated the threat of the Mideast murder gang that calls itself Islamic State (ISIL/ISIS) also known by the Arab acronym “Daesh” (which they apparently don’t like). Their threat is real enough in Iraq and Syria, where they are estimated to have killed more than 100,000 Arabs, mainly Shiite Muslims and Christians, as well as journalists and aid workers, as they have occupied cities and taken over oilfields. But US and allied air forces have reduced IS’s mobility, which has caused them to turn increasingly to remote terrorist attacks in other nations, such as the Nov. 13 attack that killed 130 innocents in Paris and wounded 368 (which overshadowed an attack by suicide bombers in Beirut a day earlier that killed 43 and wounded more than 200).

Republicans responded by mocking President Obama’s handling of IS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria and calling for a blockade of Syrian refugees seeking entry to the US. Obama has wisely resisted Republican calls for large-scale military deployments to Syria and Iraq, but he has proposed accepting 10,000 refugees from Syria. Against that proposal, 31 governors — all Republicans except Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) — said they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) threatened to cut funding and/or sue social agencies such as the International Rescue Committee that cooperate with the federal government in resettling Syrian refugees.

The Republican panic amplifies the propaganda victory for the Islamist terrorists. Make no mistake: the terrorists would love to strike in the United States and they probably will manage to do it, because we are an open society and — face it — anybody with a few hundred dollars (preferably a white man without an accent) can buy an assault weapon and ammunition at a gun show without showing an ID, much less being subjected to a background check. But the chance of terrorists causing more damage than an average weekend’s worth of shooting by garden-variety American gunslingers is beyond remote.

Ian Millhiser noted at ThinkProgress Nov. 30 that terrorism perpetrated by Muslims receives a disproportionate amount of attention from politicians and reporters, but the reality is that right-wing extremists pose a much greater threat to people in the USA than terrorists connected to IS or similar organizations. As University of North Carolina Professor Charles Kurzman and Duke Professor David Schanzer explained last June in the New York Times, Islam-inspired terror attacks “accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.” Meanwhile, “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”

But all forms of terrorism account for only a tiny proportion of violence in America, as there have been more than 215,000 murders in the US since 9/11. For every person killed by Muslim extremists, there have been 4,300 homicides from other threats. And crime statistics show homicides are down over the past 20 years.

Kurzman, a professor of sociology at UNC-Charlotte and author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There are So Few Muslim Terrorists, noted at (11/30) the Islamic State came to realize that even small-scale, low-tech attacks by Muslim extremists — a knifing in Boston, rifle shots in Chattanooga — could attract massive attention and concern. Few Muslims have taken up the call to mayhem, but a few is enough. “Opportunistic politicians will do the Islamic State’s work for it, warning their constituencies that they face an existential threat from ISIS and its supporters.”

Politicians stoke the sense of vulnerability that the Islamic State aims to instill, Kurzman wrote. The Islamic State gloats about the panicky policies of the West, which it views as signs of weakness.

“A nationwide state of emergency was declared as a result of the actions of eight men armed only with assault rifles and explosive belts,” IS’s Dabiq magazine bragged after the Paris attack. “The Islamic State dispatched its brave knights to wage war in the homelands of the wicked crusaders, leaving Paris and its residents ‘shocked and awed.’”

IS is particularly hopeful that Western countries will retaliate against their own Muslim communities, Kurzman noted. Like al-Qaeda before it, IS believes that Muslims in the West will conclude that their faith and identity are incompatible with obedience to the laws of the United States and Europe.
“Muslims in the crusader countries will find themselves driven to abandon their homes for a place to live in the Khilafah [the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State], as the crusaders increase persecution against Muslims living in Western lands,” Dabiq predicted earlier this year.

The day after Thanksgiving, one week after Republican elected officials all over the country tried to block Syrian refugees from entering their states, a white man in Colorado Springs committed an apparent act of terrorism at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Though Robert Lewis Dear’s motives for killing three people at the clinic and wounding nine others are still unclear, Millhister noted that Dear reportedly told law enforcement “no more baby parts,” an apparent reference to heavily edited videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress, which numerous politicians have cited to falsely claim that Planned Parenthood sells “aborted baby parts.” Dear’s actions, in other words, appear to be an act of politically motivated terrorism directed against an institution widely reviled by conservatives.

Kurzman and Schanzer’s methodology, moreover, may underestimate the degree to which domestic terrorists in the US are motivated by right-wing views. As they describe the term in their Times piece, the term “right-wing extremist” primarily encompasses anti-government extremists such as members of the sovereign citizen movement, although it also includes racist right-wing groups such as neo-Nazis. Thus, it is not yet clear whether Dear, who made anti-abortion remarks but also reportedly referenced President Obama, was motivated in part by the kind of anti-government views that are the focus of Kurzman and Schanzer’s inquiry.

Kurzman and Schanzer also surveyed hundreds of law enforcement agencies regarding their assessment of various threats. Of the 382 agencies they spoke with, “74% reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction,” while only “39% listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations.”

Meanwhile, the percentage of refugees that are connected to terrorist plots is vanishingly small, they noted. Out of 784,000 refugees resettled in the US since 9/11, a grand total of three refugees have been charged with plotting terrorist acts. Two were jailed for plotting to send weapons to terrorist groups in Iraq and one Uzbek man was convicted of terrorism-related charges for possessing explosives and supporting a terrorist group in Uzbekistan.

Refugees go through a vetting process of 18 months to two years before gaining a visa to the US. We think those who make it through that review will be a foe of the sort of extremism that forced them out of their homeland. It would be a lot easier for IS/Daesh to get one of their confederates in France, Belgium or Saudi Arabia to take a flight to New York or Dallas (as the 9/11 conspirators did), than assign an undercover terrorist to spend two years in a refugee camp, waiting for a visa to the US, with the likelihood that the vetting might trip him up.

Obama also should open the gates to the 50,000 men and women who served as interpreters for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan at great personal risk. As American forces have withdrawn, locals have been left behind to fend for themselves.

Dane Bowker, who served two tours in Afghanistan working with the Afghan army and police as a Department of Defense civil servant, wrote in the Washington Post (Sept. 17) that he worked with countless interpreters who were essential to his work and served at great personal risk. They are targeted by insurgents precisely because they helped the US but they are expected to remain in Iraq or Afghanistan while their application is processed. Just three special immigrant visas were issued to Afghan translators in 2011; 63 were given in 2012; John Kerry overhauled the system when he took over in 2013 and 3,441 visas were issued in 2014, but thousands of men and women are stranded at various points in the process and trying to stay out of Taliban or ISIL gunsights.

It’s bad enough that Islamist terrorists would like to scare the hell out of us. We shouldn’t cooperate in their plans. But we should help those who risked their lives on behalf of our soldiers in foreign wars. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2015

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the December 15, 2015 issue

COVER/Andrew O’Hehir
The GOP-ISIS nightmare coalition 

Don’t let GOP fearmongers win


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Admin changes at Mizzou won’t solve racism

GOP ‘establishment’ candidates can’t buy love;
Trump surges, Carson tanks, Dem race static;
Sanders leads top GOP candidates;
Rider killing net neutrality threatens must-pass spending bill;
Deal clears highway bill, 9/11 responders left out;
Hillary and Bernie propose infrastructure spending;
Countrywide Financial execs scatter to other mortgage brokers;
Cops steal more than burglars;
Most Americans want global agreement on climate change;
All but one women Dem senators rally for Hillary;
Supreme Court eyes another swipe at affirmative action ...

Vietnam thumbs nose at TPP

Dealing with ISIL/ISIS/Daesh

Will ISIS trump Sanders’ Populism?

Talking back

What does Exxon know that it’s not saying?

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Vaccines: A gift from science

Why are Dems so much better for economy?

The big, red machine bounces back

Paris and the politics of terror

Behold the energy that made America

Asia grapples with climate vulnerability

On being ‘academic’

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Politics of protest

Terrorists are the right wing’s best friends

and more ...

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ted Cruz takes time from campaigning to hold a Senate hearing for climate change deniers

One day after President Obama returned from a global summit on human-induced climate change attended by nearly 150 world leaders, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz announced he is holding his own convocation to deny climate change is occurring.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science & Competitiveness Committee’s subcommittee on science and space, the Republican presidential candidate is convening a hearing titled “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate” to which he has invited a mere four people to testify.  

All four witnesses are prominent climate change deniers. Not one of the thousands of scientists who believe the earth is warming as a result of fossil fuel emissions is on the list, nor any of the hundreds of economists who have estimated the cost of climate change, nor any of the hundreds of technocrats investigating solutions.

The Republicans are getting good at holding these bogus hearings. There have already been four Congressional hearings on the non-existent sins of Planned Parenthood. I have seen counts of 11 and 14 for the number of hearings and investigations already held to vet the Benghazi incident. And who can forget the House of Representatives hearing on contraception a few years back to which the Republicans forgot to invite any women to testify!

The goal of all these hearings is the same: to throw red meat to the right-wing media and to give Republicans the platform to say bad things about all the right’s bogie men, who, as it turns out, are often mostly women.

A similarity between all these hearings is their dependence on false statements, innuendos and bad science. But that seems to be the case with most of the statements made by all the Republican candidates to for president.

The Republican Party is now the party of liars. Since the New Deal, the Republicans have lied about unions, taxation, the minimum wage, regulation, foreign trade deals and military matters; many Democrats told the same or similar lies. But over the past 15 years, the GOP has added new lies to their message points: denying climate change, misstating the impact of abortion on women’s health, demonizing Planned Parenthood, raising the false specter of voter fraud, and denying the danger that private ownership of guns presents to civil society. They can spend millions of dollars holding hearings on Planned Parenthood and Benghazi, but have outlawed any government support of research into the impact of guns on safety.

The Republicans can attract a lot of votes through the politics of denial and deceit. By playing to the worst instincts, misplaced anger and unrealistic expectations of large number of voters while suppressing the vote of natural Democrats in the name of preventing the nonexistent problem of voter fraud, they can even gain the power to implement policies based on their distortions. But sooner or later, reality will catch up to them—and, unfortunately, the rest of us. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

If Ferdinand Lundberg’s theory is right, we’re witnessing a putsch by wealthy to take over United States

By Marc Jampole

Since the publication of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, the mainstream news media has been paying attention to the impact of the super-rich on the political system. We see a growing number of candidates for major offices who are multi-millionaires and billionaires without elective experience, such as Carly Fiorina, Donald Trump, Matt Bevin, Meg Whitman, Linda McMahon, Rick Scott, Bruce Rauner and probably Ben Carson. Many, though not all, have managed to spend their way into office.

As The New York Times and others have noted, the ultra-rich are also spending more money than ever before to help the candidates they like, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ill-thought decision in Citizens United.  We’ve probably all seen the number 158 a lot over the past few months—it refers to the number of families who all by themselves give half of all campaign contributions, primarily to candidates who oppose unions, government regulation and taxes. The New York Times recently ran a front-page story about a small group of the ultra-wealthy who, led by billionaire hedge fund honcho Kenneth C. Griffin, are remaking Illinois government. They elected fellow rich guy Bruce Rauner as governor and are using their money and influence to aggressively support his plan to cut spending, weaken unions  and restructure (AKA rip off) the state pension system.

Perhaps the most pernicious influence of the ultra-wealthy is their support of bogus research to support their positions, long disproven by responsible research. The ultra-wealthy support the think tanks whose employees crank out the countless articles in the mainstream media denying climate change, advocating lowering taxes on the wealthy, slamming unions and the minimum wage, delinking government policies with growing inequality, telling us how great corporate inversions and carried interest tax rules are, and supporting greater military spending as a means to solve all foreign policies. This investment in propaganda yields an ignorant electorate and an elected class usually focused on the wrong problems and the wrong solutions. Wrong, that is, for everyone other than the wealthy.

Certain of the wealthy such as Griffin, the Koch brothers and Phillip Anschutz have outsized power because of their ability to guide the political ”investments” of their wealthy friends and cronies.

While reading the Times article on the take-over of Illinois, my unconscious memory suddenly spewed out a name I hadn’t encountered in decades: Ferdinand Lundberg, a 20th century journalist who wrote about the rich and the power they hold. I read his major work, The Rich and the Super-Rich soon after it appeared in 1968.

In a nutshell, Lundberg’s theory is that in the United States two groups battle for control of society: the super-rich and the government. He traces the battle from the gilded age through Roosevelt’s reform of capitalism and the post-war era.

Lundberg’s theory was rejected by left and right alike. Critics from the right reject any analysis of power that creates a class of wealthy and pits them against other groups. One basic principle of conservatism is the belief in the wisdom of the marketplace in which everyone presents his goods, services—and in the case of politics, ideas—on a supposedly level playing field.

Those on left like C. Wright Mills and William Domhoff said that the analysis was naïve, because, in fact, the super-wealthy have always controlled government and society through a complex web of relationships formed at boards, clubs, private schools, nonprofit organizations and social circles. Domhoff’s model, included in his revision of Who Rules America, depicts wealthy people and corporations forming foundations and financing university research to produce reports advocating policies which filter to the public through the news media and government commissions comprising the very experts whom the wealthy have financed. What’s now becoming increasingly apparent is that over the past 30 years, right-wingers with money have followed the progressive Domhoff’s social policy model to seize and exercise power on such issues as taxation, privatization of government functions, gun control, abortion rights, capital punishment and voting rights.

In his latest book, The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy, I believe Domhoff gets the subtleties of power in America right. His broad history has centrist business leaders cooperating with progressives to shape progressive initiatives to their own ends from the New Deal through the mid-1970s. After that, business centrists increasingly turned their backs on their allies among labor unions and progressive centrists to make truck with the ultra-right, who had always been in bed with the religious right and local real estate interests.

If we take a look at the history of U.S. government action over the past 150 years, however, we could conclude that that the progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the New Deal created a government that could in fact control and compete with the wealthy. To the degree that that government pursued policies that were against the interests of the wealthy, such as unionization, fair trade laws and workplace safety, it acted as a center of power distinct and separate from the wealthy, as opposed to being an instrument of the wealthy.

In the context of Lundberg’s theory, what is happening today is truly alarming. The only institution in American society powerful enough to serve as a counter force to the network of ultra-wealthy described by C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite is rapidly being co-opted and taken over by them. The democratic ideal of government seeking compromise of countervailing forces, which centrist theorists have long postulated, is now transforming to a government for, by and of the wealthy.

A putsch is a secretly planned overthrow of the government. I’m certain that if Lundburg were still alive, he would describe what is happening today as a putsch by the wealthy to overthrow the government and replace it with a facsimile that looks like freedom but delivers a totalitarian oligarchy.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Mainstream media trivializes Paris climate talks by focusing on Obama’s legacy

By Marc Jampole

Have you noticed that most mainstream news media coverage of the climate change summit in France stresses that any agreement will burnish, establish, enhance or cement the legacy of Barack Obama’s presidency?

It’s absurd to conjecture that Obama will be judged by one conference after almost seven tumultuous years in office. He shaped and passed healthcare reform, ended torture, led us in two, and now maybe three wars, had massive budget fights with Republicans, arranged the capture and immediate assassination of than man most responsible for the 9/11 attacks, oversaw an economy that went from 10% unemployment to 5% unemployment, and initiated an immigration plan that the courts may or may not approve as constitutional. Plus he has already made his mark on global warming with his semi-tough regulations and his rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Despite the apparent silliness of the statement, lots of mainstream news media are peddling it, including The New York Times, The Hill, Huffington Post, CNSNews, Washington Examiner, and Politico, among many other media outlets.

What would cause so many editors to pursue what is truly a trivial concern?

 I suspect it’s a combination of reasons, mostly venial, including:

It’s an easy story to write. It’s relatively easy to write a story on a legacy. You can build much of the article on a recap of Obama’s past accomplishments and losses in the environmental area, analyze his statements on climate change, as the polite euphemistically call human-induced global warming, and get some experts to chime in about the President’s legacy. It’s much harder to analyze the technicalities and implications of proposed initiatives or to compare the various climate change and economic impact models.

It’s a personality story. As much as possible, the mainstream news media likes to turn all issues into personality stories: Obama versus Boehner; Marco backstabs Jeb; Bush II motivated by Saddam’s diss of his dad; Reagan and O’Neil govern as pals. Donald Trump received enormous media coverage from the very start of his campaign because his obnoxious personality and personal comments about others enabled the media to write about personality without really touching the issues.

It takes our mind off the problem. Focusing on the legacy issue instigates conversations about what Obama’s legacy should be. Those opposed to actions to slow down and address the ravages of climate change should be delighted. They can no longer call into question the facts of global warming, at least not with a straight face. The latest research puts the lie to their long-time fallacy that transitioning from fossil fuels will hurt the economy. But no matter, the mainstream media helps to distract people from the gloomy facts by creating another controversy: what does a conference on climate change mean to the legacy of the widely if unfairly despised first black president? If the talks fail, Obama has in part failed. If Republicans can block any agreement to which Obama agrees in Paris, they have taken down the man and tattered his legacy. The main attraction is no longer what to do about established facts, but a political cat fight.

There are misinformed voters who don’t want the government to take over Medicare and others who don’t like food stamps and other social welfare programs because they wrongly believe that the money goes almost exclusively to blacks. Similarly benighted individuals who support action to address climate change might root against Obama achieving anything of substance at Paris since what is at issue is not preserving the world as we know it for 7.3 billion human inhabitants and our fellow travelers, but something far more important—the legacy of this one man who has attracted so much unwarranted animosity by virtue of being the first black president.