Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Sarandon has been great progressive for years, so it surprises she hesitates to support best hope progressives have

By Marc Jampole

Susan Sarandon bases her well-publicized reluctance to support Hillary Clinton if she is the Democratic nominee on the fact that Hillary has taken so much money from corporate interests. Of course, that didn’t stop her from supporting Barack Obama twice.

Sarandon’s thought process exemplifies one of the many excuses that progressives and liberals have given as their reason they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton. Here’s my complete list:
·         They blame her for things her husband did when he was president or for her husband’s inappropriate behavior.
·         They do not allow her the opportunity to change her mind on issues based on new information or personal growth, e.g., stiff sentencing laws and the war in Iraq.
·         They judge her too hawkish on foreign policy without applying similar standards to Bernie Sanders.
·         They believe the right-wing nonsense about Clinton corruption and Benghazi that has been discredited multiple times.
·         They make her live by a double standard: It’s okay for other cabinet officials to use her-his personal email for government business and it’s alright for others to get obnoxious amounts of money for speeches, but it’s wrong when Hillary does it.
·         They apply a single issue to her, but not to other candidates, such as the acquaintance of mine who said he couldn’t vote for Hillary because of her stand in favor of capital punishment, but voted twice for Barack Obama, who also favors the death penalty. 
·         They call her part of the corrupt establishment, no different at heart than the Republicans when it comes to taking money from large corporations. This argument was used against Al Gore by Nader supporters in 2000 and led to the election of George W. Bush and his numerous disasters.

If these thought processes sound like excuses, there’s a good reason for it. They are. Much of what masquerades as Clinton criticism hides an antipathy for Hillary Clinton that I can’t quite understand.

I have no problem with progressives or liberals who are currently supporting Bernie Sanders. He is an attractive candidate with lots of good ideas. That people would prefer Sanders to Clinton is a perfectly reasonable position that I respect and encourage.

What isn’t reasonable are the one-third of Sanders supporters who proclaim they won’t vote for Hillary. Even less reasonable are the 10% of Sander’s loyalists who say they would rather vote for the unstable, racist misogynist Donald Trump.

It befuddles me why so many Democrats hate Hillary. A Southern Democrat who once ran for Congress recently told me that it’s because she made the unforgivable mistake of marrying “poor white trash.” I’m more inclined to believe that it’s easier for a progressive to find something fundamentally wrong with Hillary than it is to admit that he-she is not quite ready to have a woman serve as president. Whatever the reason, if we held every candidate to the high standards to which many hold Hillary Clinton, we would only be able to elect candidates who are related to a deity or received divine law on a mountaintop. I guess lifelong contemplation under a Bodhi tree might also qualify.

The simple argument for voting for Hillary is that she isn’t any of the Republicans. Remember all the Republican candidates—Trump, Cruz, Kasich and those waiting in the wings—want to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. All want to lower taxes drastically on the wealthy. All are against any minimum wage. All have militaristic foreign policies. All want to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. All would like to limit women’s access to abortion and birth control. All will select right-wingers for the Supreme Court. All want to loosen gun safety laws even more than they already have been in recent years. Of the two front-runners, one is mentally ill and has fascist tendencies and the other serves the ultra-religious right.

The subtler and more uplifting reason to vote for Hillary is that she is a true progressive on domestic issues, albeit one who is willing to compromise, and can therefore help progressives cash in on a golden opportunity. At the very least, Republicans are either going to field a very weak candidate—Trump or Cruz—with practically nonexistent coattails with which to drag along the rest of the ticket. An even more dire situation for the Republicans will be if either Trump or another Republican launches a third-party campaign. In either case, the Democrats are poised to take both the House and Senate. Both Sanders and Clinton list leftward of Obama. Both have served more time in government than Obama had before assuming the presidency and won’t make the rookie mistakes that Obama did that led to the sequester, the reluctance to assert executive privilege in regulations and the continuation of certain tax cuts for the wealthy.

The big difference between the two is that Sanders will want to get us mired in the political quicksand that would be the renewed argument in favor of single payer healthcare insurance, whereas Clinton will accept the jerry-rigged system we have and focus on other parts of the progressive agenda.

To prefer Sanders to Hillary Clinton at this point shows idealism and an admirable political purism. But not to get behind Hillary when she becomes the Democratic nominee merely manifests a political death wish. The differences between the two candidates are minor, while the gap between them and the most liberal of the current crop of Republicans—the madman Donald Trump—is as wide as wide can be.

Monday, March 28, 2016

No pecking order problem in Xarelto commercial: the aging white male is on top

By Marc Jampole

The Republicans keep sexualizing the fight for pecking order dominance in tasteless yet traditional ways. First came the vulgar insinuations regarding genital size, with its unspoken subtext that you had to have something to measure to qualify for president, or at least for the Republican nomination to America’s highest office.

More recently we have witnessed the dustup about the wives of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, in which both candidates reveal their deep-seated sexism. Somebody’s campaign suggested that the fact Trump’s wife had posed for nude photos somehow disqualified Trump from the presidency. Donald then compared his wife favorably to Ted’s, based solely on the Laddie Boy-Rat Pack definition of female attractiveness. Ted’s answer was to further commodify women in his counter comparison by defining his wife solely in terms of homemaker virtues. Sex toy or housewife? That’s pretty much the choice Donald and Ted are giving women.

This injection of sexuality into the fight for top dog is unseemly because it is so irrelevant to the tasks and responsibilities related to serving as president. Sexuality is, however, an important component of celebrity. Both the news media and the Republicans seem determined to wage the nomination battle based primarily on the criteria by which we judge celebrities.

The Republican race for top dog reminds me of the imaginary world created by a current television commercial in which there is no doubt who is at the alpha male, and in fact, no doubt as to the precise pecking order.  The civility, mutual admiration and joviality of this commercial contrasts sharply with the crass and tasteless accusations and assertions by the various Republican presidential hopefuls.

The commercial, for the anti-clotting drug Xarelto, depicts the Republican utopia—four prosperous and well-dressed guys playing golf on a beautiful course on a sunny day.  Except that these aren’t business owners or trust fund babies, they are three athletes and a comedian—all among the most celebrated in their highly competitive fields. The golf foursome includes golfing legend Arnold Palmer, basketball all-star Chris Bosh, stock car racer Brian Vickers and comedian Kevin Nealon.

Despite the fact that these are all extremely competitive guys used to fighting for everything they get (except for perhaps Nealon, who comes from wealth and is not in a field in which merit derives from winning something measurable), there is not even a hint of competition in the ad. In fact, the ad enforces a strict pecking order that each of the four men embraces openly and happily. The hierarchy has the comedian as low man on the totem pole, while the aging white male, Arnold Palmer, is the top dog, followed by Bosh the greatest athlete among the bunch and then Vickers.

In a single minute, the commercial packs a large number of visual and verbal cues that tell us that Arnie is the leader and hero and that this small society has a rigid hierarchy:
  •  At the end of the commercial, the four sit together in a golf cart in pecking order, Palmer  closest to us, followed by Bosh, Vickers and Nealon.
  •  Bosh passes a helmet behind his back to Vickers. Nealon says “Nice pass” in open admiration.
  • Two practical jokes are played on Nealon, the non-athlete, one by Vickers, the least athletic of the athletes. It’s a jovial version of what happens on many teams—the weakest starter is frequently the “bad ass” to the non-starters, who represent the greatest threat to his/her status. Note that it is the non-athlete, who probably has the greatest verbal skills, to serve as the buffoon.
  • Palmer appears to be giving Bosh advice, and when Bosh hits a good shot, Palmer compliments the basketball player, who beams like a little kid whom the coach has just complimented.
  • As they drive in carts from one hole to the next, Palmer and Bosh drive in the head cart, followed by Vickers and Nealon.
  • At the narrative denouement of the commercial, all eyes are on Palmer in open, almost cloying admiration, as he makes a putt.

The good will and friendly joking between the four men makes for a light-hearted commercial, but the hierarchy by which this micro-society rules itself manifests itself in every shot. We can describe this pecking order in three ways: 1) By money made; 2) By quality of the athlete; 3) By importance of the sport to American culture.

Yet, by any of these measures, except perhaps importance of the sport, the creators of the ad appear to break ranks by putting Arnold Palmer first.

But it makes perfect sense for everyone to be looking up to Palmer as the leader if we consider the Xarelto commercial as an idealized version of the traditional image of the Republican Party—rich and connected people who in their own minds got to the top by being better than others, with the richest, oldest white guy at the summit. No testosterone explosion. No bullying (except the mild twitting of the comic). No over-the-top statements.  Everyone knows his place, and it’s always a good place to be. It’s the kind of world the Republicans would love to install, although most would like the role of Palmer to go to someone other than “The Donald” or “Lyin’ Ted”.

Just like Republican utopia, the world of the Xarelto commercial is missing a lot of things. For example, we don’t learn about the awful side effects that have led to a large number of lawsuits against the makers of Xarelto. That kind of reminds me of the bad side effects of lowering taxes on the wealthy, making it harder to unionize and reducing environmental, health and safety regulations that Republicans never mention. The Xarelto world also exists without greens keepers, caddies, waiters and other members of the working class.

Finally, the Xarelto world also lacks women. I imagine they’re either getting a bikini wax or baking pies.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Editorial: Time to Reopen Cuba

President Obama went a long way toward dismantling the failed embargo of commerce with Cuba with his trip to the communist-governed island.

“I am here to bury the last remnants of the Cold War in the Americas. I am here to extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” Obama said in an eloquent speech in Havana that was broadcast live to the island nation March 22.

Obama noted that there are still opponents to normalizing relations between the two nations. The key reason why he supports ending the 54-year-old embargo, he said, is because it isn’t working. “A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century,” Obama said. “The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them. And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called ‘the fierce urgency of now’ — we should not fear change, we should embrace it.”

Creo en el pueblo cubano,” Obama said, Spanish for “I believe in the Cuban people.” But he also has to get Congress to believe.

Predictably, Republicans first criticized Obama’s decision to go to Cuba and then criticized his decision to remain in Cuba in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Brussels, but Obama was right to push back at the reactionaries. He noted that cutting short his trip would have played into the terrorists’ hands.

“It’s always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, particularly in this age of 24/7 news coverage,” Obama told ESPN at the top of the third inning in an historic baseball game in Havana between Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team March 22. “You want to be respectful and understand the gravity of the situation, but the whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives.”

Acknowledging the calls to go back to the US or Brussels to lead, Obama shared what he called one of his proudest moments as president — when Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz told fans in a pre-game speech following the Boston marathon bombing: “This is our f***ing city and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

“Probably the only time America didn’t have a problem with somebody cursing on live TV was when he talked about Boston and how strong it was and wasn’t gonna be intimidated,” Obama said. “That is the kind of resilience and the kind of strength that we have to continually show in the face of these terrorists. They cannot defeat America.”

Hours after the game, in which Tampa Bay defeated Cuba 4-1, Politico noted that Donald Trump tweeted that Obama “should leave the baseball game in Cuba immediately & get home to Washington- where a #POTUS, under a serious emergency belongs!”

But Obama had departed the game long before the final out, traveling to his next stop in Argentina.

Cruz No Improvement Over Trump

After the attacks in Belgium, Ted Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” He also reiterated his call to “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion,” which 1) it would be a war crime and 2) could put a strain on our allies since it appears that the Brussels bombers were Belgian or French nationals.

Cruz’s blowhard reaction to the Brussels bombings showed that Republican leaders’ rallying around him in a desperate attempt to stop Donald Trump from getting the GOP nomination amounts to trading one dangerous charlatan for another. It probably is too late, anyway, since Trump picked up another 58 delegates from Arizona on March 22, giving him 738 of the 1,237 delegates he needs for the nomination with 18 states to go. Cruz got 20 from Utah, which left him with 463. John Kasich stands way back at 143.

Republicans should take a long look at Cruz’s radical concept of “religious liberty,” which does not necessarily extend to all Christians, much less non-Christian religions — or atheism.

John Fea of Religion News Service wrote in the Washington Post Feb. 4 that Trump appeals to evangelicals connected with the Christian prosperity movement, a form of evangelicalism that celebrates the accumulation of wealth as a sign of God’s blessing.

Cruz resonates with the evangelical culture warriors. He believes that he is engaged in a fight with the devil for the soul of the nation. It is only a matter of time before Cruz assumes the role of the Old Testament prophet Elijah and tries to cast down fire from heaven to destroy the “prophets of Baal” who oppose his campaign, Fea noted.

“Anyone who has watched Cruz on the stump knows that he often references the important role that his father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz, has played in his life,” Fea wrote. “During a 2012 sermon at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, Rafael Cruz described his son’s political campaign as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy.”

Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch, the pastor of New Beginnings, preach a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government.

Cruz is not interested in crafting new models of American pluralism to respond to the country’s ever-growing religious diversity. Rather, religious liberty is a code word for defending the right of Christians to continue to hold cultural authority and privilege, Fea wrote.

Cruz does not use the terms “dominionism” or “seven mountains” when he is campaigning, Fea wrote. But he has never publicly rejected these beliefs.

It’s hard to tell whether Trump or Cruz believe their own demagoguery, but it doesn’t speak well for either of them that we hope they’re fooling.

Bern On

Hillary Clinton has a commanding lead in the race for the Democratic nomination, but Bernie Sanders hasn’t given up, nor should he. On March 22, Sanders won two states, Idaho and Utah, while Clinton won Arizona. The corporate news media portrayed it as another good night for Clinton, because she won the biggest prize, Arizona, in a contest that was decided relatively early, but Sanders picked up 73 delegates that day, while Clinton got only 55. So Bernie won the night — though he didn’t get much credit because the Idaho and Utah caucus results came in after the late news and the Brussels bombing that same day was getting more coverage anyway.

A week earlier, Clinton was credited with sweeping the five states at play on March 15 (Politico called it “a five-state rout”). In fact Sanders effectively tied Clinton in Missouri; Clinton narrowly outpolled him 49.6% to 49.4% in the Show Me state but they split the state’s 68 delegates evenly.

In Illinois, Clinton won 50.5% to 48.7% and split the state’s delegates 76-73. Sanders did get drummed in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, where Clinton won delegates by 136-67, 59-45 and 81-62, respectively, but Sanders was competitive in all three states, particularly among white men and younger voters. Clinton’s strength among white women and black and Latino voters helped her carry the day, according to CNN exit polls, but Sanders has shown he can attract Latino votes, getting 53% of Latinos in Nevada caucuses.

As of March 23, Clinton has won 18 states and two territories (Guam and Northern Mariana islands) and 1,223 pledged delegates, while Sanders has won 11 states plus Democrats Abroad, with 920 pledged delegates, the New York Times reported. The winner needs 2,383 delegates.

Some Democrats reportedly are pressuring Sanders to ease up on Clinton, but Bernie still has a longshot chance of catching up with Hillary. He can keep Clinton addressing progressive populist issues, which also pumps up the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. That could help elect Democrats to Congress and state legislatures in November. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2016

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Selections from the April 15, 2016 issue

COVER/Hal Crowther
The elephant’s graveyard 

Reopen Cuba; Cruz no improvement; Bern on


Kasich calls in a few (million) favors

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Agribusiness fighting for unrestricted GMOs

Cruz turns to dereg godfather Gramm for financial advice;
McConnell: No new Supreme Court justice without NRA OK;
Alabama blocks local control on minimum wage;
Brussels bombing just one in series;
Court strikes down prison gerymandering;
Use a rain barrel, go to jail;
Climate scientist makes dire warning on sea level, superstorm;
Flint probe blames water crisis on state;
Public interest groups urge FCC to block Charter-Time Warner merger;
Trump got $2B in free media;
Obama gives Cuba taste of free press ....

Eating in the dark

The Humpty Dumpty party

Robots create ‘technological unemployment’

The rotten core

White men! Go the the end of the line!

Path being cleared for bird imports from China

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Driving women up the ladder

Prescription drug uses depend on who you ask

Ronnie, Nancy and that gay conversion

Same old same old in Clinton land

Neoliberalism and the ‘free markets’

Highway bill contains free trade superhighways

Feeling the bern

Heaven can’t wait

Status quo is job 1 for corporate press

Last Tango in Kabul 

What would Nancy say?

and more ...