Thursday, May 14, 2015

Warren & De Blasio tell us how to improve economy & society, while Christie offers plan for ultra-wealthy

By Marc Jampole

We’ve seen two agendas for America’s future released within a 24-hour period: the new contract for America by New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (in order of size of population represented), which they presented in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s plan to grow the economy and raise incomes, which he sketched in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

These two plans could not be more different in tone, underlying assumptions, recommendations or targeted constituencies. They also differ in terms of the underlying factual basis of their proposals.

In Christie’s case, there is almost no factual basis to believe what he wants to do will kick-start economic growth and raise incomes. Basically he advocates more of what has choked the country for 35 years. Christie wants to reduce taxes on the wealthy and on corporations; simplify taxes in a revenue neutral way (which is Republican speak for wanting to continue to starve the government of needed funds); reduce government regulation; and base our national energy policy on exploration of fossil fuels.

Christie must have a super-tiny, itsy-bitsy, skinny-as-a-rail attention span, because what he’s proposing is the basic playbook that has led to the greatest transfer of wealth and income in world history: the flow of money from the poor and middle class to the wealthy in the United States since 1980.

Christie proffers the reality-defying idea that with lower taxes, businesses will invest more in growth and conduct more research & development. It hasn’t happened yet, and once more, it never happens. When government programs take money from the middle class and the poor and give it to the wealthy, all that happens is that the wealthy get richer and the overall economy weakens. That’s what has happened during the past three decades and it’s what happened during the Gilded Age in 19th century America, in the 17th century French ancien regime and in 16th century Spain under Phillip II. 

Christie does have one half of a good idea, which is to eliminate the payroll tax for employees under 21 and over 62, as a means to encourage employers to hire new workers and those near retirement to keep working. I call it half a good idea, because payroll taxes include both Social Security and Medicare. I would propose eliminating only the Social Security portion of the payroll tax for these age groups and only eliminating the employee’s side for those over 62, so the employer would keep paying for the experienced worker. Furthermore, to fund the loss of revenues to the Social Security Trust Fund, I would remove the cap on income assessed by the Social Security tax.

Other than this one pint-sized, skinny idea, Christie’s proposals help but one constituency, the ultra-wealthy, whose bank accounts are already bulging from federal and state government actions of the past three decades.

I would love to write that, unlike Good King Christie of Crony Capitalism, Warren and De Blasio are true patriots whose recommendations are based on facts and who don’t deal in the devious obfuscation like Christie and the other factotums of the ultrawealthy do. But I can’t say for sure since not one news media outlet—not one—printed the entire 13 points of De Blasio and Warren’s “Progressive Agenda,” preferring to focus on the absurdly irrelevant question: Is it appropriate for the Mayor to be travelling around the country instead of working at his job? (A question never asked of the globe-trotting Michael Bloomberg.)

Unfortunately, as of this writing, no progressive organization has yet put the plan online either, so we can’t completely blame the news media for not being able to find all 13 points. If De Blasio, Warren and other progressive are serious about pushing their program, they are going to have to reach out directly to people and not depend on a rightward looking mainstream media that prefers to reduce issues to personalities, faux pas and horse races. I’ll keep looking for a formal 13-point proposal and present an analysis if and when I find it.

What we do know about the “Progressive Agenda” sounds like it’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the U.S. economy:
·         Close the “carried interest” loophole in the tax code that enables hedge fund managers to avoid paying taxes on most of their income.
·         The “Buffett Rule,” named after America’s favorite billionaire, which would assess a minimum of 30% in federal income taxes on anyone who makes at least a million a year, about .3% of tax payers.
·         Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation.
·         Instituting universal pre-kindergarten.
·         Requiring employers to provide mandatory paid sick leave.

Taken as a whole, these plans take money from the wealthy and give it to the poor and the middle class, which reverses the trend since 1980. Let’s hope that the other eight proposals fronted by De Blasio and Warren also redistribute income downward, because that’s what this country needs.

I admire the political savvy exercised by De Blasio, Warren and Bernie Sanders to aggressively push the progressive agenda at this time. The earlier they get started, the more leftward they will be able to move Hillary Clinton. Just as important by moving her left early, the Democratic primaries will not become a divisive blood bath.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

If Clinton is the Democratic nominee, progressives would be fools not to vote for her in November

By Marc Jampole

The past few days, I have been sharing excerpts from my lengthy Vox Populi article on Hillary Clinton’s probable positions on most of the issues likely to form the basis of the 2016 presidential campaign. Here is one final excerpt:

We can sum up Hillary Clinton’s probable platform in a few words: On social and domestic issues not involving unions, she will follow Elizabeth Warren’s lead, which should make progressives happy. On homeland security, foreign policy, military policy and trade policy, she will continue Obama’s initiatives in virtually every way, which is not such good news for the left. Taken as a unity, these stands make Hillary Clinton a centrist looking left, a contemporary version of Washington State’s long-time Senator, Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

It’s quite possible that a majority of Democratic voters are more progressive than Hillary, but Pew, Gallup and other polls suggest that a large majority of Democrats and independents taken together pretty much agree with Hillary on most things. Additionally, on domestic matters the gap between Hillary and the most left-leaning of the 2016 crew of Republican stalwarts is far greater than the difference between Hillary and the progressive edge of the Democratic Party, which I define as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.

Over the course of the next 18 months, I’m sure that Hillary Clinton will say many things that piss off progressives. She will particularly disappoint the left on issues related to unions, defense, national security and homeland security. But everything that every Republican running for president will say will piss off progressives—and frighten us, too.  

I didn’t write it in my Vox Populi article, but I feel strongly that it would be foolish for progressives to stay home in November or select a write-in candidate because of some antipathy to Hillary Clinton. The contrast between her views on Social Security, government programs for the poor, immigration, investment in infrastructure, taxation, gay marriage and abortion from those of every Republican is too vast for us to put our country at danger by not throwing our support behind Hillary, or just about any other Democratic candidate for that matter.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hillary Clinton’s stand on issues makes her a centrist looking left

By Marc Jampole

As I mentioned yesterday, the progressive website Vox Populi has published four articles about Hillary Clinton’s campaign, including my analysis of her position on issues

In this excerpt from my Vox Populi article, I dig into her recent statements to erect what her platform will look like. I based most of this analysis on comments she has made since 2014 or comments she has made so many times that she would be hard-pressed to move very far from her past position. I depended to a large degree but not entirely on the very thoroughand accurate nonpartisan website,, which breaks down how all the potential candidates for either major party’s nomination stand on a large number of issues.

Before presenting the detail, let me sum up what we can say about Hillary Clinton’s probable platform: on social and domestic issues not involving unions, she will follow Elizabeth Warren’s lead, which should make progressives happy. On homeland security, foreign policy, military policy and trade policy, she will continue Obama’s initiatives in virtually every way, which is not such good news for the left.

Now for the detail:

Economic Issues
·         Income/wealth inequality: She has commented numerous times on the need to recut the wealth and income pies so that less goes to the ultra-wealthy and more goes to everyone else, but she has suggested little that specifically addresses that issue.
·         Minimum Wage: Through the years, she has consistently been vociferous in her support of raising the minimum wage, but how high remains unclear since her last comment was in 2007.
·         Labor unions: She has no recent comments on whether she supports unions, but her stands on charter schools and trade agreements suggest she’s no lover of labor.
·         Taxation: She is on record many times of saying she believes that the wealthy are not paying their fair share in taxes.
·         Trade: Hillary is one of the most aggressive advocates for TPP and for lowering barriers for corporations to do business abroad.

Hillary is a long-time supporter of charter schools and has said she wants to link teachers’ pay to performance, but do it by school and not by individual teacher. These sound like anti-union moves that do nothing to address the real problems facing public education: resource shortages and large class sizes.

She is both for limiting emissions worldwide and for investment by wealthier nations to mitigate the effects of global warming on the most vulnerable nations.

Foreign Policy
Hillary will probably be a little quicker to send in troops and bombs than Obama was, but will have essentially the same policy. She tends to be hawkish on specific issues:
·         Israeli-Palestinian conflict: She is very concerned about the security of Israel, and doesn’t seem to put any priority on addressing the mistreatment of Palestinians or Palestinian rights.
·         Iran: Hillary was involved in arranging secret talks with Iran in 2012 and 2013, and has come out in favor of a negotiated agreement with Iran regarding its development of nuclear weapons.
·         Hillary pretty much agreed with the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the way the war was prosecuted thereafter, except for the torture, which she vehemently opposed.
·         Syria: She wanted to arm Syrian rebels.
·         Russia: One of her goals as Secretary of State was to achieve a permanent thaw in relations with Russia, but since the invasion of the Crimea, she has been as tough-talking as any mainstream American politician against Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin.
·         China: Hillary was influential in implementing the Obama Administration’s “pivot to Asia,” which has as its goals projection of American power in Asia and containment of China by the United States and its allies. Nothing that she has said or written lately suggests that she has changed her mind about continuing Obama’s hard line on China.
·         Military Technology: In her book, Hard Choices, Hillary defends the use of drones by the Obama Administration.

Gun Control
Hillary has been an outspoken supporter of expansion of the national firearms registry and on placing more controls on gun sales and who can buy and carry a gun.

We know she has long been in favor of universal coverage. We can expect that she will want to maintain and perhaps extend the Affordable Care Act.

She supports immigration reform that helps immigrants, by which I think we can assume illegal immigrants, judging from her comments.

Safety Net
Hillary has always supported maintaining and extending aid to the poor and the elderly. Her stands are particularly significant in light of the frequent calls of all the potential Republican candidates for cutting benefits to the poor.

Security State
Her past positions do not bode well for civil libertarians. Hillary voted for the misbegotten Patriot Act and its renewal and disapproved of Edward Snowden’s actions.

Social Security
She opposes privatization and is in favor of raising the cap on how much earnings are taxed for Social Security purposes, which places her left of President Obama. She also stands in stark contrast to every Republican candidate, all of whom want to privatize Social Security and cut benefits.

Values Issues
She supports gay marriage and a woman’s right to control her own body, which again, contrasts with every Republican candidate. She wants to see how marijuana legalization works in Washington and Colorado and is skeptical of the relative lack of research on medical uses.

Monday, May 11, 2015

News media would still focus on irrelevant even if Hillary had issued a complete platform

By Marc Jampole

The progressive website Vox Populi asked me to write a complete analysis of Hillary Clinton’s positions on the entire range of issues which will—or should—dominate the presidential campaign.  You can find my complete article and three other articles about Hillary’s campaign at Vox Populi.

I wanted to share a few excerpts from this lengthy analysis on the OpEdge blog. Today’s excerpts speculate on why Hillary’s early campaign has largely avoided talking about the issues:

Hillary Clinton has herself to blame at least in part for the news media covering extraneous issues in the early stages of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. She has said hardly a word about her positions on the issues. There is nothing about her platform on either or her two campaign websites, and, or on her Facebook page. In speeches, we get brief tidbits, but nothing substantive.

In a sense, Hillary is saying, “You know who I am and what my capabilities are,” and there is a certain logic to this approach. Let’s start with the reality of the situation: a number of serious constraints have always prevented presidents from veering from the basic direction in which the country is headed—the courts, the legislature and the continuing federal government that goes about its job of running things no matter who is the boss.

Thus, our presidential candidates can be—and usually are—evaluated not just in terms of their political and social stances, but also on their ability to manage the processes of government. And when it comes to the criteria that define an effective chief executive, there are few candidates in American history as qualified as Hillary, at least on paper:
·         High intelligence: How can anyone deny that Hillary is both highly gifted intellectually and a lifetime learner?
·         Past experience: Only the rabid right would call her time in the Senate and as Secretary of State anything other than successful.
·         Lack of hypocrisy: Hillary has never said one thing and then hypocritically did something else, for example, rail against the Affordable Care Act and then sign up for Obamacare, as Ted Cruz has done, or advocate against gays all the while trolling public bathrooms for same sex quickies, as Republican Senator Larry Craig did. 
·         She has a cross-cultural understanding of social cues, which means that she won’t embarrass herself by saying or doing the wrong thing, as Mitt Romney constantly did during the 2012 presidential campaign, e.g., when he publicly revealed a secret briefing that many had undergone over the decades but that everyone else who received it had the good sense to keep confidential; or when Romney broke the cardinal sin of retired Chief Executive Officers, which is not to criticize the new administration unless involved in a hostile takeover; Mitt criticized the London Olympics (unfairly, too, as it turned out), even though he was a past CEO of the Olympic games. Far from making these “bull in a china shop” mistakes, Hillary seems to enjoy tremendous respect among the people of the world and world leaders.
·         She is competent running an organization: Despite the increasingly incredulous claims of Republicans, Hillary seemed to have done a good job of running the State Department, even in the Benghazi disaster. There were media reports that her 2008 campaign was a mess, but I wonder if that was just exaggeration to win eyeballs and sell papers.
·         Science-based decision-making: Hillary has never said or written anything that tried to deny science. Contrast with the Republican candidates, announced and unannounced: all of them deny science in one way or another, regarding a wide variety of issues, including global warming, science teaching, women’s fertility issues and economics. I’m not saying Hillary is always right, but that she always reasons from the facts, and not from what she wants the facts to be.

By focusing on Hillary the person, I believe the campaign wants to communicate that Hillary is the most competent presidential candidate around, regardless of one’s political positions. They want us to encapsulate all the positive personality traits and management skills a president needs into one brand name, Hillary!

The subtext of focusing on Hillary the person (read: the celebrity) is the assumption that we all know what the former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady stands for.

Not immediately presenting a complete platform thus postpones the inevitable intra-party clashes, e.g., between those who favor the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, such as Hillary herself, and those who worry that it gives corporations the right to sue countries; and between those who embrace charter schools, again like Hillary, and those who see them as subtle attempts to destroy public unions. Moreover, there can be little doubt that even if Hillary had opened with a full program, Republicans and the rightwing media would still be wallowing in a mud bath of hysterical accusations and bold-faced lies about her. The frenzied and rabid opposition to the Clintons consists primarily of accusations regarding their character flaws. Perhaps to battle this constant character assassination explains why the early campaign message is that Hillary is competent, ethical, caring, effective, flexible and...Well, you know…She’s Hillary!