Friday, March 27, 2015

Editorial: Dems Need Prez Race

Some progressive Democrats are starting to freak out that Hillary Clinton might have a clear route to the Democratic presidential nomination without a serious challenger.

Several groups have been urging Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to run for president, but Warren has made it clear that she is not interested. Warren apparently is not excited about the prospect of spending most of the next year trooping through Iowa and New Hampshire, even if we think her economic populist rhetoric would resonate well with Democrats and independents in those states.

The good news is that a few reputable Democrats, as well as an independent who is actually pretty close to a New Deal Democrat, are trying to make a race. Potential candidates include former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Progressive Dems should stop wishing for Warren and start supporting Sanders or O’Malley, who actually want to run for president and would provide a progressive alternative to Hillary.

H.A. Goodman, in a recent column, noted that the Electoral College favors Democrats in 2016. “To win the White House a candidate needs 270 electoral votes; far fewer than the 332 votes Obama won in 2012 to beat Romney. Martin O’Malley and Elizabeth Warren can defeat anyone Republicans have to offer in 2016, primarily because they possess ideas and attributes that resonate with the majority of Americans.”

Voters didn’t buy Romney’s conservative pitch in 2012 and they are unlikely to be convinced next year by Scott Walker’s ability to beat up on unions, which is popular among right-wing donors but is less persuasive to blue-collar voters that Republicans need to peel away from the Democrats.

Goodman noted that Wisconsin went blue in 2012 despite Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) being Romney’s running mate. Since then, the economy has continued to improve, despite Republican predictions that it would collapse and Republican obstruction of Democratic jobs bills, while the Affordable Care Act has helped 16 million Americans get health coverage. That has cut the national uninsured rate by 35% since the law went into effect.

Like Wisconsin, other battleground states that went for Obama can easily vote for a Democrat once again in 2016, Goodman noted. Pew Research reported, “Nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say there should be a way for people in the United States illegally to remain in this country if they meet certain requirements.” In addition, 51% of Americans support labor unions, most Americans believe in global warming, 73% of Americans favored increasing the minimum wage in 2014, and 52% of Americans support same-sex marriages.

“On almost all of these issues, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz don’t side with the majority of Americans. As for Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, some of the mainstream values they espouse (immigration reform) are overshadowed by extremely conservative policies on the economy, wealth inequality, climate change, and issues like the minimum wage,” Goodman wrote. “Conversely, all the Democratic candidates in 2016 ... hold views that resonate with most voters.”

In O’Malley’s case, Quentin Misiag of the Daily Iowan at the University of Iowa, has likened the former Maryland governor to John F. Kennedy. And O’Malley has executive experience with eight years at the helm of Maryland government and before that as mayor of Baltimore, where, supporters say, he reversed the Eastern industrial city’s decline, Misiag noted.

Joan Walsh notes on page 13 that O’Malley supports restoring the Glass-Steagall law to separate commercial banks, whose deposits are federally insured, from more speculative banking operations. He also supports abolishing the lower tax rate for capital gains, increasing the minimum wage and overtime-pay threshold, greater collective bargaining rights, expanding Social Security and more infrastructure spending.

Sanders is all that and more — progressive to the point of socialism. He was a founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, he was re-elected senator in 2012 with 71% of the vote and he has visited Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-primary states to test support for a potential campaign, but he is not interested in mounting a purely symbolic campaign and he is not interested in being a spoiler who would throw the election to the Republicans.

Sanders wants progressives to show they can mount a winning campaign. That’s not an unreasonable request — and if progressives don’t want to see a right-winger elected to the White House next year they’d better stop whining about how we’ve lost our democracy. Instead start organizing to get people to believe they can beat the billions of dollars that the Koch Brothers and their plutocrat allies will put up to elect the right winger of their choice.

Finally, progressives ought to calibrate their criticism of Hillary Clinton. She is a centrist liberal in much the same caste as her husband and Barack Obama. She would be friendlier to Wall Street and corporate interests than we would care to see in the White House. But Hillary would not be the enemy of progressive policies, and particularly organized labor, that Jeb Bush or Scott Walker would be. And an Italian funeral during any Democratic administration could turn around the Supreme Court and enable the liberal wing on that court to reconsider Citizens United.

Recent polls show Mrs. Clinton more than 40 points ahead of non-candidate Warren and comfortably ahead of potential Republican rivals, even with the media-manufactured controversy over her use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. But she also was in a strong position in 2008, before Barack Obama overtook her. We think she could benefit from a challenger to sharpen her campaign skills. So bring ’em on, whether Sen. Warren wants to join the fray or not.

Peace By Other Means in Palestine

Benjamin Netanyahu won another term as Prime Minister of Israel in a close election that was tarnished not only by his interference in domestic politics in the United States two weeks before the election, but also with his promise to right-wing Israelis that he would not allow an independent Palestinian state, reneging on a longstanding commitment to a peaceful solution to that conflict, and his last-minute appeal for his base to counter Israeli-Arab votes on election day.

On March 23, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had spied on the US talks with Iran and leaked information to Obama’s political opponents in Congress. After Netanyahu addressed Congress, 47 Republican senators wrote a letter to Iranian leaders, warning that any agreement reached with President Obama would not be binding on Congress or future administrations.

Netanyahu has shown himself to be untrustworthy and President Obama has told him that the US would have to “reassess our options.” He should start by lending support to the UN Security Council’s resolution that would define the principle for a two-state solution as based on Israel’s 1967 borders. The US previously has refused to endorse the resolution, which allows for mutually-agreed swaps of territory between Israel and the future Palestinian state.

American Jews also are reassessing their support for Israel with Netanyahu in charge. The left-leaning pro-Israel group J Street stepped up criticism of the prime minister. The Jewish Daily Forward reported March 22 that J Street’s President Jeremy Ben-Ami made clear that J Street is “very glad to hear the Obama administration is reconsidering its approach to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.”

Obama also could soften opposition to Palestine’s efforts to join the International Criminal Court, which is supposed to happen on April 1. Under current US law, the Palestinian Authority will forfeit $400 million in aid if it pursues war crimes charges against Israel. The US should help Israel maintain its security but the US should not block Palestine from seeking redress of grievances in a recognized international legal forum. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2015

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

Copyright © 2015 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the April 15, 2015 issue

Thursday, March 26, 2015

House budget seeks to make war, not love thy neighbor

By Marc Jampole

Snip, snip, snip. They’re cutting down the nets.

I’m not talking about overjoyed college basketball players standing on ladders to cut down the basket nets to the cheers of rabid fans after advancing to the next round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

No, that loud and constant snipping sound we hear comes from our nation’s capital where Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted to shred the social safety net.

Healthcare aid to the poor. Cut.

Food stamps for families who can’t otherwise afford a decent meal: Cut.
Special education. Cut.

Pell grants to help poor students afford a college education. Cut.

Job training. Cut. Housing assistance. Cut. Federally-funded research. Cut.

The one government function not to get the hatchet is defense. The House budget actually gives the Pentagon more than it requested, including $96 billion that the generals can spend without telling Congress why. They call it the Overseas Contingency Operations funds, or OCO, but that’s just a euphemism for a slush fund.

And not just for military spending, but for spending on war. As a New York Times article points out, the House budget gives the Defense Department less than it wanted for basic operations, but more than double what it requested for waging war.

House Republicans say they are slashing programs to reduce the deficit, but the fact they saved war from the cutting table suggests that what they really wanted to do was stop paying for social welfare programs.  Thus the budget takes money from poor people and gives it to the military contractors and defense manufacturers who benefit most from increased spending on war. 

When we look at the money flow, it all makes sense. This budget continues the proud Republican tradition of stealing from the poor to give to the wealthy. It’s the essence of the Reagan agenda, which still guides Republican economic policy.  The true objective behind the budget differs not a whit from that goal behind other Republican actions that transfer money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, such as replacing public schools with charter schools that pay teachers less and administrators more; cutting taxes on the wealthy while also cutting social welfare programs; or making it easier for businesses to resist labor unions so they can pay their employees less and keep more of the profits.

The House budget also includes language that could lead to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which would end the health insurance of millions of Americans, while driving up the cost of coverage significantly for those lucky enough to keep their insurance. The House budget also takes the first step to privatizing Medicare.

It’s not just the flow of money that makes the Republican budget so odious, it’s also the values behind it: These self-proclaimed protectors of American values say “no” to helping the young, the sick, the poor and the elderly, but say “yes” to bombs, tanks and guns.  I know these guys hated the 1960’s, but that’s no reason to make “make war, not love” in a mockery of that earlier age’s slogan projecting a world of peace and prosperity.

There is absolutely no chance that this budget will become law. The more reasonable Senate will undoubtedly mess with it, and even if it does pass in close to present form, President Obama will certainly veto it.

But all that means is that programs that help poor people, those who send their children to public schools and those who use America’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems will suffer gradual strangulation, not an instantaneous deathblow. Why? Because without a budget, the sequester will remain in effect and keep slowly choking the budgets of all federal programs.

And if the Republicans could somehow exempt military spending from the sequester, they wouldn’t mind that outcome at all. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ted Cruz is more likely to become star orator on the rightwing rubber chicken circuit than president

By Marc Jampole

With all the imagining Ted Cruz was doing in his speech announcing he’s running for president, one thing I don’t think he was imagining was winning.

In fact, I’m convinced Cruz knows he’s not going to win and he doesn’t care, since he’s not really in the race to win.

What I believe Cruz is after is to solidify his career as a radical religious-based right wing nudge, someone who can command fancy prices to throw red meat to the faithful at rightwing gatherings. If I’m right, the true competition for Cruz is not political trust fund babies Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, but current religious right demagogues Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. There are just so many $50,000 honorariums floating around.

My theory depends on Cruz being a rational person who realizes that he has pissed off too many mainstream Republicans with his obstreperous grandstanding and obstructionism since he assumed the office of junior U.S. senator from Texas. He knows that his loud-mouthed intemperance may have given him national visibility but at the cost of burning bridges. When it comes time for Republican senators and Congressional representatives to begin giving endorsements, I’m guessing they’ll go out of their way not to give their nod to Cruz.

My assumption that rationality guides Cruz’s actions stems more from his background than from his public statements, which show an irresponsible disregard for economics, economic history and how government works in the 21st century real world. I’m assuming that if Cruz didn’t pick up good reasoning skills growing up as the privileged child of business owners, he certainly picked them up at Princeton or Harvard Law School. Of course, Cruz was also indoctrinated in middle school and high school into the beliefs of the Christian and economic rightwing, and perhaps these beliefs have addled his brain.

I could be all wrong. Cruz’s wife is a high-ranking executive at Goldman Sachs, and maybe Goldman is looking for a reliable Republican to offset their investment into the campaigns of such Democrats as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Maybe Cruz is backed by the kind of deep pockets that kept Newt Gingrich in the 2012 race long enough to embarrass himself.

He might also be thinking that running this year will increase his visibility, thereby setting him up for serious runs in 2020 or 2024, by which time he’ll be only 54. But candidates that start in the extreme rightwing fringe like Ron Paul and Rick Santorum usually remain fringe candidates, even as their visibility rises. The way to win the Republican presidential candidacy is to start in the middle and look right. That’s what has worked for every Republican candidate since Nixon. My guess is Cruz knows that his strength as a demagogue is also his weakness as a serious candidate, so instead of jockeying for a future race, he is positioning himself for the gravy train awaiting all politicians willing to appeal to the doctrinaire ignorance of the Christian right while espousing economic policies that enable Cruz’s social and economic class—the wealthy—to continue pulling more and more money from the middle class and poor through lower taxes on the wealthy, privatization, policies that keep a lid on wages, the dismantling of the social network and government disinvestment into America’s future.