Thursday, October 22, 2015

Netanyahu reaches a new low in shamelessness in trying to justify the unjustifiable

By Marc Jampole

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sunk to a new low in shamelessness when he said that a Palestinian leader gave Hitler the idea for the final solution which, it is always instructive to recount, involved gassing and incinerating millions of people because they were Jewish.

This egregious rewriting of history, which came in a speech Netanyahu gave to Jewish leaders, was immediately lambasted as false by a wide range of Holocaust scholars and survivors. Many pointed out that believing that a Palestinian developed the idea for the final solution played into the hands of Holocaust deniers, because it absolves Hitler and the Germans of some responsibility.

Netanyahu was trying to demonstrate that Palestinian hostility towards Israel predates the 48-year Israeli occupation. Instead he hurt his own credibility, while insulting the memory of millions of victims and their families.

And what did Netanyahu hope to gain by telling a scurrilous lie? Even if Palestinian hatred of Jews extended back decades, it would not justify the brutal and unfair way in which Israel treats Palestinians in the occupied territories today. A large majority of Palestinians living in West Bank and the Gaza strip have only known Israeli rule. It’s the bloody incursions and retaliations, the illegal settlements and the discrimination that shape contemporary Palestinian attitudes towards the Israeli government and Israelis, not some decades or centuries old antipathy to Jews.

The similarity between Netanyahu’s faux pas and the stupidities routinely uttered by American conservatives is obvious. The question is, will Netanyahu’s reputation and political viability suffer as has so many of the Republicans running for office who have uttered inanities?

Over the past few years, we have seen a wide range of Republican elected officials suffer after saying stupid things, some lies, some distortions and some even the true but embarrassing statements. For example, the campaigns of Michele Bachmann and Todd Akins fizzled immediately after telling absurd lies about medical issues, e.g. vaccinations and rape. Mitt Romney shot himself in the foot when he presented a distorted statistic—the 47% of takers who would never vote for him; those 47% of takers referred to the percent of citizens getting some kind of check from the federal government and included veterans who had put their lives in danger fighting our endless succession of ill-wrought wars, retirees who paid for their cash benefits with payroll taxes and the disabled. The most absurd example of a Republican elected official suffering from stupidly telling the truth is Representative Kevin McCarthy, who lost a chance to be Speaker of the House when he admitted that the purpose of the House Benghazi committee was to embarrass Hillary Clinton.

I keep writing about elected Republicans losing because they said something stupid because it doesn’t matter how many stupid things the never-elected Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina say. It doesn’t seem to affect their popularity among likely Republican voters. Bachmann was drummed in the Iowa race after lying about vaccinations, but Trump told the same lie in the first debate and saw his popularity increase. Fiorina’s lies about Planned Parenthood didn’t sink her, nor has Carson’s obnoxious statement that the Jews could have fought Hitler if they had guns or his denial of basic science outside his area of expertise.

Our decisions about the economy and society suffer when they are based on lies, distortions and character assassinations. It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway!) that when an elected official or candidate tells a lie or says something stupid not related to his or her personal background, it invariably supports a policy that is harmful to the economy or imposes a religious restriction on what is supposed to be a secular society. Romney wanted to fund further tax cuts for the wealthy by curtailing spending on social service programs. Bachmann and Trump used false science and a lie to pander to vaccine deniers. Carson wanted to justify looser gun controls, while Netanyahu wanted to justify an increasingly immoral policy of oppression and de facto apartheid.

It remains to be seen whether Netanyahu will get the free pass so far given to Trump, Carson and Fiorina. Let’s hope that he suffers the fate of Romney, Bachmann, McCarthy and others. Perhaps then Israel will elect a government willing to end the bloodbath and make the compromises needed to establish a Palestinian state.

Monday, October 19, 2015

No Democratic candidate is proposing anything more than quick fixes to a broken system, not even Sanders

By Marc Jampole

Progressives are delighted about the results of the first debate between the declared candidates for the Democratic nomination for president, but they shouldn’t be too happy. Sure, the candidates all expressed concern about income and wealth inequality, all favored paid family leave, all supported women’s reproductive rights and all want to do something about the high cost of college. Their biggest dispute, other than over gun control, was over whose proposals were tougher on errant banks and bankers.

That makes Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley far to the left of Republicans, but not necessarily progressives. All their proposals are quick fixes to a broken system. None of the candidates advocate radical change, not even the self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders. They all avoid proposing real structural change.

Here is a short a list of proposals that should be part of the basic progressive platform that none of the Democrats would dare to support:
1.      Institute a graduated annual tax on net wealth of more than a certain threshold, similar to what exists in France. For example, at the end of each year, the federal government could assess a half of one percent tax on all household wealth of more than $5 million, one percent on all household wealth of more than $20 million, and five percent on all household wealth of more than $50 million.
2.      Remove the cap on income that is assessed the Social Security tax (AKA “payroll taxes”), which currently is a paltry $118,500.
3.      Tax all inheritance income of more than $10 million at 100% and dissolve all trusts of more than $10 million at the death of the trust founders and funders.
4.      Place a steep new tax on gas and use all proceeds to fund mass transit within and between metropolitan areas.
5.      Equalize what is spent on every student by placing a tax on all private school tuition and taxing wealthy school districts and giving proceeds to poorer school districts so that every school district in each state spends the same average amount of money per student.  
6.      Place high tariffs on countries that do not meet our standards of employee, consumer and environmental safety and do not pay substantially the same wages and benefits as are paid in the United States.
7.      Unilaterally dismantle all U.S. nuclear weapons.
8.      End all private prisons and military outsourcing of personnel and services.
9.      End all right-to-work laws and force charter schools to hire teachers in teachers’ unions, if the public school system is unionized. Force all private schools—religious and secular—to unionize if they want to receive public funding, e.g., busing and participation in public school gifted programs.
10.  Limit the salary and benefits to all corporate executives to 30 times the average employee’s compensation package.
11.  Allow the federal government to negotiate with drug companies and establish single-payer healthcare administered by a number of competitive commercial and not-for-profit insurance companies.
12.  Limit all political campaigns to three months of primary campaigning and two months of election campaigning. Note that the Democratic candidates generally favor passing legislation to overturn the Citizen’s United decision.

Many of these proposals fund the nebulous plans that all the Democratic candidates have to make college less expensive, increase the social safety net for children, the poor and the elderly, invest in new energy technologies and rebuild our aging infrastructure of roads, rails, bridges and mass transit systems. To a large degree, the Democrats are telling us how they will spend money while concealing how we’ll pay for it. For years, we paid for what the Democrats want to do with higher taxes. That was before Reagan.

Other proposals on this list of progressive ideas that mainstream centrists looking left consider “untouchable” directly address inequality of wealth and income by preventing accumulation or reset our relationship with the rest of the world such as unilaterally destroying our nuclear weapons.

This list does not exhaust the list of proposals that would have the federal government manage the economy—much as it always has—but for the benefit of the people, not the weapons, automobile, real estate, oil and utility industries. Implement greater environmental regulations with strict caps instead of carbon trading. Develop a federal set of standards for voter registration and voting, including automatic “motor voter” registration.  End all development of fully automated weapons systems. Deny aid to any university that gave an admissions break to “legacies.” Withdraw aid to Israel unless it works towards a two-state solution. We could spin “unacceptable” ideas all day long.

And how do we know whether an idea is unacceptable to mainstream liberalism? If it truly addresses the vast inequalities that exist in today’s United States and the world.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Editorial: Dems Strong in Debate

Hillary Clinton was poised and demonstrated her command of the issues, Bernie Sanders made his populist points about inequality and Wall Street’s excesses and he appealed for a political revolution. Martin O’Malley reminded voters of his accomplishments as governor of Maryland. And Democrats won the Democratic Debate Oct. 13 in Las Vegas.

The Republican debates have drawn higher ratings as they descended into name-calling, fearmongering and xenophobia, but the Democrats drew 15.3 million viewers who watched five candidates talk about issues such as guns, college debt, living wage, paid sick leave, Syria and Social Security. As Heather “Digby” Parton wrote the day after, “If there’s one thing that was made obvious last night, it’s that the GOP is one big heaping mess of a political party right now. The contrast between it and the Democrats couldn’t be sharper and not just in the presidential race. After all, the backdrop of last night’s event was a drama happening in the Capitol in which House Republicans can’t agree on who should be Speaker. How do they expect, then, to bring the entire country together under one president? It’s laughable. They’re laughable. The candidates on the stage last night in Las Vegas, on the other hand, were serious.”

Sanders needs to work on explaining the difference between his brand of “democratic socialism” and the predatory capitalism that Republicans support. Telling voters he believes in the same political philosophy as the rulers of Denmark and other Scandinavian countries, even if they do provide a much better standard of living for their working class than the United States does, won’t help as much as Sanders explaining that he believes in the same things that Franklin Roosevelt did when he was setting up the New Deal, which regulated Wall Street while taking care of workers, small businesses and family farmers and ranchers. The predatory capitalists want to return us to the Gilded Age, when the government didn’t presume to interfere with the robber barons of industry.

We count at least four Presidents of the United States who expanded socialist programs in the 20th century: FDR, Harry S Truman, who protected New Deal programs after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1947; Dwight Eisenhower, who commanded the Allies in World War II and then, as president, worked with Democrats to expand the New Deal programs, particularly Social Security, and championed the interstate highway system; and Lyndon B. Johnson, who browbeat Congress to expand Social Security to include Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for low-income Americans, as part of his Great Society initiative.

Barack Obama earned the socialist title (as bestowed by Republican critics) by pushing an economic stimulus program in 2009 to put millions of people back to work on infrastructure projects and the Affordable Care Act in 2010, which regulates health insurance, provides subsidies to help small businesses and lower middle class workers gain insurance and expands Medicaid to provide health coverage for the working poor.

So Sanders isn’t such a radical when he calls for strengthening and even expanding Social Security and Medicare, increasing the minimum wage to a living wage and regulating predatory capitalists who nearly ran the economy into ruin during the Bush administration. Republicans who prevent the working poor from getting the health care that Medicaid would pay for, just to spite Obama — they are the radicals.

Sanders got off the two best lines of the debate. First, when asked about Clinton’s emails, he told Hillary, “the American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails. ... Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.” Later, when Clinton suggested that Sanders focused too much on the big banks, he replied, “Congress does not regulate Wall Street. Wall Street regulates Congress.”

In fact, focus groups including CNN’s group of undecided voters in Nevada, Fox News’ group of Florida Democrats and Fusion’s group of millennial voters in Miami all thought Sanders won the debate.

While the consensus of pundits seemed to be that Sanders stumbled in response to questions about gun control, we’re not sure that his mixed feelings about federal gun regulations are a negative for him. Yes, in 1993, as a House member, he opposed the Brady Bill, which mandated that anyone who wanted to buy a handgun had to wait five days while local law enforcement ran criminal background checks. (After 1998, the firearm dealers became responsible for conducting the checks with federal officials, which allowed instant background checks).

Sanders explained that gun control was not popular in his rural state. At the time of the vote, he said he believed the national waiting period was federal overreach and he had promised Vermont voters that he would oppose a federal waiting period. (Liberal Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also voted against the Brady Bill.) However, in 1994 both Vermonters voted for a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

We note that many rural Democrats supported the Brady Bill and the later assault weapons ban, and they were relentlessly pounded by the National Rifle Association and many were retired by their constituents in 1994. (The NRA tried and failed to defeat Sanders because of the assault weapons vote.) Republicans picked up 54 House seats and eight Senate seats as they gained the majority in both chambers and put an end to Bill Clinton’s progressive initiatives.

Sanders has compiled a moderate record on gun control. In 1996, while still in the House, he voted against repealing the assault weapons ban, in 1998 he voted to increase minimum sentences for gun crimes. In 1999 he voted to impose a three-day waiting period for guns purchased at gun shows and in 2013, as senator, he supported bills closing the gun show loophole, restoring the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and he opposed a bill to require states to honor concealed handgun permits for private individuals from other states.

In 2003 and 2005 Sanders voted for a bill to prohibit lawsuits against firearm makers for unlawful misuse of a firearm. We think it is reasonable to protect manufacturers from liability for the misuse of their product after it leaves their control — and the bill, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2005, allows lawsuits against a person who transfers a firearm knowing that it will be used to commit a crime of violence or a drug trafficking crime; a seller for negligence; a manufacturer or seller who knowingly violates a state or federal statute applicable to the sale or marketing of the firearm; and for death, physical injuries or property damage resulting from a defect in design or manufacture of the firearm, except during a criminal offense.

Sanders has indicated that he is reconsidering his opposition to holding manufacturers liable for gun deaths in the wake of school shootings. But gun control is not a liberal or conservative issue; it is a libertarian issue and it has been cynically manipulated by Republican fearmongers.

Some political analysts have disputed the role of the Brady Bill and the federal assault weapons ban in turning over Congress in 1994. But in East Texas, which was still marginally Democratic at that time, Republicans were said to be telling people that then-Gov. Ann Richards (D), who had vetoed a bill to ease the permitting of concealed handguns, was going to send the gays to seize their guns. Texas voted George W. Bush into the Governor’s Mansion and the state hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide since then.

No less an authority than former President Bill Clinton said that passing the assault weapons ban “devastated” more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers in the 1994 midterms.

Martin O’Malley is justifiably proud of the gun controls he signed into law after the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown Conn., when he was governor of Maryland. But until gun control forces start unseating Republicans, particularly in the suburbs, over their resistance to commonsense gun reforms, Democrats shouldn’t demand orthodoxy over strict federal gun controls. However, Dems should demand more debates. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 1, 2015

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Selections from the November 1, 2015 issue