Saturday, September 26, 2015

Editorial: Some Dems Fear Bern

Bernie Sanders has multitudes of progressives, particularly younger voters, “feeling the Bern,” as polls show Sanders not only closing the gap on frontrunner Hillary Clinton but also, in some surveys, leading Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire. That makes establishment Democrats nervous.

Clinton’s campaign has said it has no plans to attack Sanders, who has pointedly refused to be drawn into attacks on Clinton. But that didn’t stop a super PAC, called Correct the Record, led by Clinton ally David Brock. In an email sent Sept. 14 to, the PAC tried to tie Sanders with Britain’s controversial new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as the late Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan leader who was an ally of Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

The Correct the Record email was meant to flag Corbyn’s “most extreme comments” and tie them with Sanders, an avowed “democratic socialist.” Corbyn suggested that the assassination of Osama bin Laden was “a tragedy,” since there was no attempt to arrest the former al Qaeda leader and put him on trial. The email also cites Corbyn’s comment that he’d invite his “friends” from Hezbollah to come to the UK to discuss peace in the Middle East and an editorial in which Corbyn said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s “attempt to encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time.”

Corbyn has said he is following Sanders’ campaign “with great interest,” and Sanders said he was “delighted” that the Labour Party elected Corbyn as its leader.

The “similarities” between the two, according to the email, include Sanders’ introduction of legislation to terminate the US nuclear weapons program, comments that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet states is dangerous because it could provoke Russia, opposition to more US funds for NATO, and saying he “was concerned” that proposed new NATO members had shipped arms to Iran and North Korea.

Those all sound like reasonable positions to us.

The email also criticized Sanders’ role in negotiating a deal with Citgo, which was controlled by Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, in 2006 that provided discounted heating oil to low-income Vermonters. Sanders said it was “not a partisan issue” and he was merely trying to provide a way for his constituents to heat their homes at a time when George W. Bush’s administration was cutting the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Joseph P. Kennedy II originally negotiated the deal with Citgo, an arm of Venezuela’s national oil company, in 2005 on behalf of his nonprofit Citizens Energy Corp. to help low-income residents of Massachusetts who were struggling with high fuel costs. Maine and New York City also signed up for the discounted heating oil before Vermont made the connection, but Republicans, such as then-Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire criticized the deal, saying Chavez was “strongly aligned against American interests“ and was showing off.

Sanders, who was then a congressman, said geopolitics was not his concern, nor did he consider heating oil a political issue. ”This is a means by which we can keep people warm, senior citizens, low-income people in the State of Vermont who need that help,” he said.

The program has has survived Chavez, who died in 2013. It’s even touted on Citgo’s website as a sign of corporate responsibility. Citgo operates refineries in Texas, Louisiana and Illinois and retail gas stations across the US and provides the discounted heating oil to a half-million low-income American customers annually.

Sanders can’t expect support from the party establishment or the corporate media. He has caucused with the Democrats since he arrived in Congress in 1991 and he was got bipartisan support when he replaced former Republican Sen. Jim Jeffords in 2001. But even some of his friends in Washington don’t think a self-professed socialist can be elected nationally. ”No matter how well you think of Bernie — and all of us do — … when the politics of it all hits the road, I don’t feel — and I feel most members don’t feel — that he can be elected,” Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) told The Hill (Sept. 19).

Mark Lillis of The Hill noted that the doubts have nothing to do with policy. Indeed, Sanders’ career-long advocacy for economic and social justice — a vision of wider safety nets, higher wages, universal healthcare and corporate policing — overlaps almost directly with the policy priorities of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the Democratic Caucus on Capitol Hill.

“I’m proud of what Bernie is saying out there, and it’s a reflection of what we fight for here,” Pelosi said.

Yet there remains a lingering sense among many Democrats that a Sanders’ nomination would spell doom for the party in 2016, Lillis wrote. That sentiment is highlighted by the fact that not a single Democrat in either chamber has endorsed Sanders.

“Bernie Sanders is raising some issues that are important,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip and a Clinton supporter, told reporters. “But I don’t think there’s an expectation that’s he’s going to be president of the United States.”

But Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) warned that Democrats, by doubting Sanders’ viability as a candidate, risk undermining the party’s agenda.

“The expectation that he will fade, I think, is not true because the agenda he’s putting forward, instead of tamping down momentum, it’s increasing momentum,” Grijalva, the head of the Progressive Caucus who has not yet endorsed in the primary, told The Hill. “He’s ignited the base in a way that we haven’t been able to do for six years … So I would be very careful to [not] marginalize the man. Because in a sense then you’re marginalizing the message.”

Reasonable Democrats don’t want to risk losing the White House at a time when Supreme Court justices on both sides are at advanced ages, and even if Democrats regain control of the Senate they are unlikely to retake the House and a new Republican president could undo much of the good that Obama has done through executive actions.

Sanders supporters might note that not many on Capitol Hill thought Barack Obama was electable in the summer of 2007. Clinton supporters should note that if their standard bearer can’t beat a socialist in a Democratic Party primary, that indicates that she is not the strongest candidate the party could put forth against whomever survives the GOP clown contest — and maybe there is something in that socialist message that appeals to Democrats.

We think either Sanders or Clinton — and Martin O’Malley, for that matter — are head-and-shoulders better than any of the Republicans who are vying for the nomination. And Republican hysteria over President Obama’s moderate economic policies, which they have characterized as socialist, may have diluted the toxins of that label.

Anyway, solid majorities of the electorate support Sanders’ “socialist” positions, which include debt-free public college education; limits on industrial pollution to protect the environment; government action to reduce income inequality; reducing the influence of money in politics; increasing taxes on people who make more than $1 million a year; expanding Medicare and Social Security; supporting a living wage for workers and the right to organize and bargain for better wages and benefits; supporting fair trade standards that protect workers, the environment and jobs; and breaking up banks that are “too big to fail.”

As we’ve said before, we think Sanders should drop the socialist label and instead run as a progressive populist Democrat who wants to restore the New Deal coalition that put millions of unemployed people back to work building roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure during the Great Depression of the 1930s, won World War II and set the stage for the greatest economic boom in our nation’s history in the 1950s and ’60s. It won’t stop Republicans from calling Sanders a socialist — or a communist. But it might remind some Boomers and their surviving parents why they used to vote Democratic. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2015

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Selections from the October 15, 2015 issue

COVER/Conor Lynch
The age of apocalyptic government

Some Democrats fear the Bern


Portland may lead way on gentrification

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Southern coops work for food sovereignty

GOP playing defense in 2016 Senate races;
Hillary expands polling leads, opposes Keystone pipeline;
Pharmas backtrack on drug price increases;
Path to renewable energy;
Republican senators opposed to Clean Water rule;
Some unions endorse, others hold off ...

Our right to know what's in our food

The right to a level playing field

Tax cuts Now or growth in the future

Our greatest constitutional shortcoming

Living in the era of peak planet

Climate action represents 'system threat’

Howard Industries’ secret life

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Personal responsibility in the age of ACA

Ohio demands down syndrome births

The new stupid party

To tighten or not to tighten: Not the question 

Labor in the on-demand economy

The GOP agenda (or lack thereof)

and more ...

Monday, September 21, 2015

Statistics show police safer than ever, but it doesn’t stop liars from saying protests lead to more cop killings

By Marc Jampole

A recent National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast put the lie to the Big Lie that protests in the wake of police killings of black citizens in Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, New York and elsewhere have led to a significant uptick in violence against police across the country. The reasoning is a bit absurd. It goes like this: all the negative publicity regarding police activities has led to a decline in respect and fear of the police throughout the country. The protests have in a sense given permission for an “open season” on cops, according to this line of reasoning. Police departments around the country have joined right-wing politicians in bemoaning the so-called slaughter of cops instigated by the protesters, liberal politicians and the news media.

The argument doesn’t work, of course, unless there really has been a significant increase in violence against police, and as NPR has demonstrated, no such increase has occurred unless you put blinders on your eyes and ignore all but one set of statistics, the comparison between the number of police officers murdered in 2014 and 2013. It is true that cop killings surged from 27 in 2013 to 51 in 2014, but 2013 was the safest year for the police across the United States since the government started keeping records of these things. There were just as many cop killings in 2012 as in 2014, and far fewer in both those years than 2011. As Seth Stoughton, a former police officer and an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina, points out, the rate of cop killings has gone down dramatically in every decade since the 1970s and now stands at less than 40% of the 1975 total.

The statistics just do not support the assertion that cop killings are on the rise. With the facts gone, how can anyone blame protest movements for something that isn’t even happening?

Those making the false case that protest causes violence typically aver that the protests are an overreaction to a “few bad apples.” I would love to believe the “few bad apples” argument, because that makes the problem easy—just get rid of the bad actors in police departments, as right-wingers want to get rid of bad teachers.

But the “bad apple” excuse doesn’t wash once we examine the facts, all of which suggest that the protest against minority killings is helping to change how America and American police departments think about institutional racism. For example, in most cases, the “bad apples” receive no punishment for killing minorities. They are exonerated by friendly district attorneys and those few who go to trial often get off scot free. The wholesale absolution of police officers who use violence in situations in which none is required is changing, with some now getting charged, but only since the protests started.

The “bad apple” excuse melts away for anyone who views the types of advertising that many police departments now place to attract new officers. The ads focus on how cool it is to be part of a SWAT team incursion and to use the sophisticated armament supplied over the past 30 years by the Department of Defense. These advertisements are certainly appropriate for the military, which has a need to attract individuals prone to violence and attracted to killing. But the job of the police is not to fight a foreign army, but to protect the citizens. Police officers do not walk among the enemy, as soldiers often do.  By advertising to attract soldiers, not police officers, police departments over the past decade or so have filled their ranks with potential “bad apples.”

The Department of Justice is finding racial bias in the administration of justice in municipalities all over the country. The racial bias extends from stopping suspects, through arrests, treatment while incarcerated, likelihood of being tried and harshness in punishment. In all these areas, minorities get the short end of the stick almost everywhere—stops, arrests, inappropriate violence, formal charges, convictions, bail, fines, incarceration rate and years. The various investigations launched by DOJ and others virtually always result from a high-visibility incident such as the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson or Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

In other words, what the protests have done is to embarrass white America into admitting that minorities are frequently the subject of violent mistreatment by police across the country and into taking some baby steps to do something about it.

But we need to do more. In fact, the entire criminal justice system needs an overhaul, and that’s why organizations such as “Black Lives Matter” are absolutely essential.

Many of the protests against unnecessary police violence against African-Americans loosely affiliate with the unstructured “Black Lives Matter” movement, which began after the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmermann, who murdered Trayvon Martin.  Thus it makes perfect sense that the right-wing would go after “Black Lives Matter.” They do it in two ways.

First is the direct attack: Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly are among the right-wingers who labeled “Black Lives Matter” a hate group, which is like calling Mother Teresa a sadist. I mean, really? These folks are trying to protect their community, and in particular their male children, and that sounds like love to me. The pursuit of justice never involves hate.

The second attack against “Black Lives Matter” is the insidious slogan “All Lives Matter,” perhaps the most code-loaded phrase since “Support Our Troops” graced bumper stickers as soon as the disastrous war in Iraq began in 2003. I used to yell at the many cars sporting the “Support Our Troops” regalia, “Yes, support them by bringing them home.” It pissed me off because I knew—and so did everyone else—that what the slogan really meant was “support the war, because if you don’t, you’re not supporting our soldiers, and that’s treason.”

In a similar way, the slogan “All Lives Matter” carries substantial meaning beyond the words. Let’s imagine if “All Lives Matter” came first and was not a reaction to “Black Lives Matter.” My response might be, “Of course, all lives matter. Let’s make sure of it.”

But it didn’t come first. “All Lives Matter” is a reaction by people who don’t ‘like “Black Lives Matter.” The people who sing out “All Lives Matter” typically either blindly support the police or are used to speaking in racial code to conceal their virulent racism. When they say “All Lives Matter” as a rejoinder to “Black Lives Matter,” it can only have one of two possible meanings: 1) Black lives are already being taken care of since all lives are being taken care of, which is a whitewash, since we know that in the criminal justice system, black lives don’t matter; OR 2) They don’t believe black lives matter. Both these positions are odious, the one based on a lie that enables racism, the other naked racism.

The leaders of the “Black Lives Matter” movement have displayed great strategic thinking to go after Bernie Sanders. None of the Republicans are going to be receptive to being associated with the “Black Lives Matter” program. Many do support criminal justice system reform to get people released from prison and into our shrinking workforce, but their base would not like them in bed with a “hate group.” I assume that Hillary Clinton is already with the program, as she is a long-time vocal supporter of minorities (and, BTW, is proving to be as left-wing as Sanders and Elizabeth Warren when it comes to most social, consumer, social service issues, taxation and economic issues). If it was to have a chance to matter after 2016, it was important for “Black Lives Matter” to get the ear of Sanders and now it looks as if they are going to have it. Well played.