Saturday, May 28, 2016

Editorial: The Usual Bedlam

Supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton keep claiming there are irreconcilable differences between the two rivals, but you know in the third act they’re going to end up back together in Philly.

A flareup at the Nevada State Democratic Convention in Las Vegas on May 14 spotlighted the rough side of the political process. Background: Clinton had won the Nevada presidential caucuses by a 5% margin out of 80,000 voters who participated at the local level in February, but only 23 of the state’s 43 national delegates were allocated at that time. Clinton got 13 and Sanders 10. Eight others were superdelegates, party officials who decide on their own who to support. That left 12 delegates up for grabs at the state convention, and the Sanders campaign saw an opportunity to steal a few of Clinton’s national delegates there when many of Clinton’s supporters failed to show up at county conventions in April. But Clinton supporters showed up in force at the state convention, determined to protect what they saw as Hillary’s rightful winnings.

Unfortunately, the Clintonites were a little hamfisted in doing so. State Democratic Chairwoman Roberta Lange laid out the rules for the convention that required that all votes at the convention would be decided by voice, with the ruling of the chairperson being final — and Sanders partisans claimed that Lange seemed to hear the Clinton delegates’ voices better than Sanders delegates’ voices.

PolitiFact’s Riley Snyder, in an examination of the Sanders campaign’s allegations of fraud and misconduct at the convention, noted that the rules have been largely the same since 2008.

The first major fight happened Saturday the morning, with the convention gaveled in nearly 40 minutes after the scheduled 9 a.m. start time (but while some delegates were still checking in).

In a voice vote, Lange approved adoption of a preliminary credentials report showing more Clinton than Sanders delegates. Immediate howls of protests from the Sanders contingent emerged, many of whom rushed the dais and started screaming insults and obscenities directly at Lange.

Although several videos from the event appear to have louder “nays” than “yeas,” both preliminary and final delegate counts showed that Clinton supporters outnumbered Sanders supporters in the room, PolitiFact noted.

In the review, PolitiFact noted that Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said Nevada Democratic Party leaders “hijacked the process on the floor” of the state convention “ignoring the regular procedure and ramming through what they wanted to do.”

Caucuses and delegate math can be incredibly confusing, and the arcane party structures don’t reflect how most people assume presidential selection works, PolitiFact’s Snyder wrote.

But the Sanders campaign’s howls of unfairness and corruption during Nevada’s state Democratic Convention can’t change the simple fact that Clinton’s supporters turned out in larger numbers and helped her solidify her delegate lead in Nevada, Snyder noted for PolitiFact, as he ruled that Jeff Weaver’s claim was “false.”

“There’s no clear evidence the state party ‘hijacked’ the process or ignored ‘regular procedure,’” Snyder wrote. You might have trouble convincing a Sanders partisan of that. But they’ll need to get over their hurt feelings.

This year, Sanders has repeatedly said he does not want to help Republicans win the White House, and he has no interest in undermining Democrats in the general election. As the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sanders is in line to take over as chairman of that important committee if Democrats regain the Senate majority. They need five seats now held by Republicans — or four seats and the White House, which would make the Democratic vice president the tie-breaker.

Sanders may have signaled that the campaign was nearing acceptance of the inevitability of a second-place finish on May 23 when he agreed to the appointment of five of his supporters to the committee that will draft the platform for the Democratic National Convention. Hillary Clinton will get six members of the committee and Democratic Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will appoint four members.

If we were running the convention, we’d let Sanders write most of his pet projects into the platform, including his call for a $15 minimum wage, expansion of Medicare and Social Security and a tax on Wall Street securities transactions that would pay for an increase in financial assistance for students to attend college without racking up massive debts. All those points are popular among voters — and it’s not as if party platforms are binding on the president or members of Congress in either the Democratic or Republican parties.

Remember that, in the summer of 2008, as Barack Obama consolidated his lead in the race for the Democratic nomination, multitudes of Hillary Clinton supporters complained that the delegate selection process was rigged. They warned that they would not vote for Obama in the general election. The disgruntled Clinton supporters originally styled themselves as “Party Unity My A**,” or PUMAs, but registered with the Federal Election Commission in June 2008 as a non-affiliated political action committee named “People United Means Action.”

In the days before the 2008 Democratic convention, Gallup found only 47% of former Clinton supporters said they were certain to vote for Obama. After the convention, 65% said they were certain to vote for Obama. The 2008 election exit poll found that Clinton supporters ended up splitting 83-16 for Obama and John McCain. And, of course, Clinton ended up serving as Obama’s secretary of state and now she is running on continuing Obama’s initiatives.

Donald Trump has released the names of 11 far-right jurists who he said represent the kind of people — if not literally the exact people — he’d consider for Supreme Court vacancies. Trump told the National Rifle Association he expects the next president to appoint between three and five justices to the high court.

Five would be an awful lot, Steve Benen noted at In the past century, only Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower appointed that many justices. But three is a distinct possibility. Even if the Senate confirms President Obama’s choice of Judge Merrick Garland to the Court during the lame duck session after the election, by Inauguration Day 2017, two sitting justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, will be over the age of 80. And Justice Stephen Breyer will be 78 years old when the next president is inaugurated. Clarence Thomas will be 68 and Samuel Alito will be 66.

The Supreme Court now is near ideological deadlock at 4-4. We still think President Obama should tell the Senate that if they don’t confirm Garland, a centrist on the D.C. Court of Appeals, before the election, he’ll withdraw the nomination in deference to the next president. Hillary could then name a solid liberal who could tip the court’s balance toward the left and allow the court to revisit some of the excesses of the Antonio Scalia era, such as Citizens United and the Shelby County decision that declawed the Voting Rights Act, allowing Republican legislatures to proceed with voter suppression laws.

Or Trump could name a right-winger in the Scalia mold who could once again provide the right-wing majority to eliminate labor unions, cripple affordable health care — never mind universal health coverage — and clear the way for the final takeover of the federal and state governments by corporate oligarchy.

Bernie Sanders should take his campaign through the June 7 primaries, where California’s 546 delegates are the biggest prize, but unless he gets the 70% victory margin that he needs in those remaining states to catch up with Clinton in pledged delegates, he should conclude the campaign with the final primary in the District of Columbia on June 14 and approach the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia with the goal of he and Clinton putting their differences behind them.

Any of Sanders’ supporters who remain in the “Bernie or Bust” camp, who rule out voting for Hillary Clinton if she wins the Democratic nomination, might well spend the next 20 years denying that they are responsible for the very bad things President Trump would mislead this country into. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2016

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Selections from the June 15, 2016 issue

COVER/David Cay Johnson
The art of the inside deal

The usual bedlam


Farewell to Clark, Songwriter’s Songwriter

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Struggle past the nomination process

Outsourcing widens pay inequity;
Trump just kidding about $6M for vets;
TPP would worsen trade balances;
Va. Republicans sue to stop ex-felons from voting;
Journos: Time to press Trump on ex-wife’s rape allegation;
Supreme Court strikes down gerrymander;
Americans insured agains their will;
Fast food workers move on to union rights;
House R's can't resist gay bashing;
Obama's surprising poll support good for Dems ...

‘Bathroom bills’ don’t help women at all

Ted, Mitch and Marco helped T-Rex emerge 

Political theatre of the absurd

Trump and Ryan agree: let’s dismantle Social Security

What’s killing the American middle class?

Trump’s top 10 tax tricks

Producing poverty

GOP bias behind Wisconsin voter suppression

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Recycling ourselves

There’s no such thing as a safe gun

The triumph of identity politics

Exxon: A villain with plenty of company

Why this new overtime rule is a big, big deal

Congress eyes trade deal warily

Sanders right when he went to the Vatican

It’s all over but the Googling

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Drink, drugs, sex, rock ’n’ roll and baseball

A commencement address for the most indebted class ever

and more ...

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Obama continues mainstream post-WW II foreign policy by allowing arms sales to Viet Nam

By Marc Jampole

President Obama has issued a number of executive orders over the past two years that have overridden the obstructionist Congress to give Americans what they voted for: a left-looking centrist administration. Among other things, he has negotiated an historic treaty with Iran that stops nuclear proliferation, tried to end the stalemate over creating a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, issued new regulations that help address climate change, and extended overtime pay to millions of Americans.

But in foreign policy and national defense, it’s the same old same old that we’ve had since World War II. President Obama, someone who claims he’s seeking peace, is lifting sanctions on the sale of lethal arms to Vietnam. How could selling arms to yet another country help the cause of world peace?

The standard answer to that question for the past 70+ years has been that arming a nation serves as a deterrence to other nations. As applied to Vietnam, the argument goes something like so: China will be less willing to push its weight around the South China Sea and will draw Vietnam closer to the United States, both militarily and economically. The big issue in the mainstream media is not whether we should be selling arms, but if we extracted enough in return in terms of prodding Vietnam to increase press freedom and political expression.

On closer inspection, this argument makes no sense. How can arming a totalitarian government that allows no press freedom and little dissent make the region or the world more secure? And how does Vietnam fit into a strategy of military containment of the Chinese? What would such a strategy look like? Or are we building up the fire power for the next regional conflagration, between Vietnam and China or a Chinese ally serving as proxy?

The United States is the leading supplier of arms to the rest of the world and has been for many decades. We account for almost 53% of the $40.4 billion in total world trade in arms. In second place, with a mere 19.3% of world arms trade, is Russia. Our guns help keep the flames of conflict alive in many regional war zones. If Obama were interested in a real turn in American foreign policy, he would stop all sales of American arms to other countries. The objection that other countries would step into the vacuum and develop arms businesses of their own doesn’t hold water, because if their governments could afford to subsidize weapons industries the way the U.S. government does, they would have done so long ago.

Making and selling military grade weapons are a big business for a handful of American manufacturers who have had their claws into Congress and both political parties since World War I. Often the organization making military grade equipment is affiliated with a company that sells guns to U.S. consumers. By ending the arms embargo to Vietnam, President Obama is making the world safe—safe for American military businesses that is!

One could cynically interpret the Iran nuclear agreement as about opening Iranian markets to a wide range of U.S. goods and services. It could serve as the foundation for the two countries to move closer together, which always results in America supplying the former enemy turned friend with arms.

Even as the Obama Administration makes deals to benefit American arms manufacturers, it has also proposed spending a trillion dollars to create a new generation of smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons. The administration’s costly plan would rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, including the warheads, and the missiles, planes and submarines that carry them. The Congressional Budget Office estimates these plans will cost $348 billion over the next 10 years, but the National Defense Panel, appointed by Congress, found that the price tag could reach $1 trillion.

I thought Obama wanted to end the use of all nuclear weapons. What easier, or less expensive way, to do so than to let our aging nuclear arsenal grow obsolete and not replace it? The sad and simple truth is that only a madman would use a nuclear weapon, because of the damage that it inflicts not just on the site that is bombed but on the rest of the world through raised levels of radiation leading to more cancers and other diseases. Some predict that the next generation of nuclear weapons will release less radiation, but the operative word here is “less,” which is not “none” or “less than five years’ worth of dental x-rays.” Remember, too, our military will be less reluctant to use weapons they think are “safer.”

What the President doesn’t seem to understand is that you end nuclear weapons by getting rid of them, not by developing new ones. And you end war not by supplying arms to other countries, but by stopping arms sales and encouraging negotiations.

The scary thing is that Obama and Hillary Clinton are relative doves when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Led by presumptive nominee Donald Trump, all the Republicans are talking about increasing military budgets. All say they would be faster to send soldiers into foreign lands and slower to remove them once in. Obama merely wants to sell arms and develop new nuclear weapons to subsidize our military industries. The Republicans, under the leadership of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, were willing to start a war to help a broad range of military contractors, including suppliers of mercenary forces. Now Trump even said he would keep the option of a first-strike use of nuclear weapons on the table.

I understand the focus that progressives have placed on economic issues this election cycle, especially in support of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. But even as we continue to move Hillary Clinton and mainstream Democrats further left on economic and social issues, we can’t forget that under both Democrats and Republicans, we have long had an anti-democratic, immoral and ineffective foreign policy that helps no one but large international corporations and military contractors.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Trump reveals American contradiction: Democracy needs informed citizens; consumerism demands self-centered dolts

By Marc Jampole

That a failed developer turned reality TV star and brand marketer could win enough votes in Republican primaries to become the presumptive GOP nominee confirms the essential contradiction of a consumerist capitalist society organized as a representative democracy.  Democracy requires well-informed, well-read, well-adjusted and well-educated citizens, whereas consumer capitalism demands consumers who are dumb and uninquisitive, with a short attention span, a high degree of gullibility and a constant undefined dissatisfaction, assuaged only by purchasing some thing or service.

The pinnacle of consumer capitalism is celebrity culture. Consumer capitalism glorifies the celebrity, because the celebrity has been detached from accomplishment or merit and merely represents what one does with the riches, which in America is to spend large sums of money on garish luxury items and experiences. Celebrity culture created Donald Trump, the language he uses and the cultural ideals he embodies.

We remember Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays for playing ball, and not for spending the money they made—although Mantle did get some bad publicity for witnessing a few night club fights. But Kim Kardashian is famous only for being famous. When we think of her, we think of what she does as a consumer, not as a productive member of society. What we see her do always involves spending large sums of money. The celebrity sets the standard for consumption in a consumeristic society.  It doesn’t matter whether the society has done nothing like Kardashian or has failed, like the failed real estate developer Donald Trump.

Instead of judging Trump by his many failed businesses and multiple bankruptcies, the average American—trained by the mass media to accept anecdote overs statistics—evaluates what they see on a show that they only vaguely understand is scripted. Trump’s qualifications twist an old joke, “I’m not a successful businessman, but I play one on TV.”  For many Americans, especially those without the benefit of a college education, Trump really is a successful businessman, as qualified to run for president as Wendell Willkie was.

Celebrity culture not only produced Donald Trump, it also warped mass media coverage of elections to the point that the rhetoric of a reality star resonated with major parts of the electorate. It wasn’t his odious comments that many followers have found most appealing, but the means with which he delivered his poisonous messages: Direct, without caveats or conditions. Conversational. In blunt language. Vulgar insults of others. Trump centers every issue and statement on himself, which TV viewers learn from reality TV is the central trait of all great people.  He uses the rhetoric of celebrity culture, something that prior performers such as Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono and Al Franken never did. Quite the contrary, former performers and celebrities turned politicians assiduously used the rhetoric of politics to convince us they belonged. But that was before the mass media infused election coverage completely with celebrity concerns such as who made a verbal error, who insulted whom, who is ahead in the polls, who is raising more money, who is more likeable and other issues of celebrity, not government.

Then there is the issue of aspirations. Trump is not a true conservative, but he appeals to groups tutored by conservatives for the past thirty years to distrust liberals and blame their problems on the “other”—minorities and immigrants—and big government. The angry, disenfranchised-feeling white males relate not just to Trump’s vile, racist opinions, but also identify with his Laddie Boy Rat Pack lifestyle, which reality TV and three generations of beer and car commercials have held up as the traditional right of the white male, a right being lost along with good paying jobs to the multi-cultural and feminist agendas.   

The increasing dominance of the mass media by celebrity news and programming glorifying celebrity culture created most of the conditions for the emergence of a failed businessman with fascist leanings and a possibly pathological narcissism as a major party candidate. But it was an important decision of the Reagan Administration 30 years ago that created a key element of the Trump phenomenon: the train of Big Lies, one after another, often generated on the spot and kept alive long after being disproven.  In Reagan’s second term his Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended the Fairness Doctrine, which required the holders of television or radio broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance in a manner the FCC deemed honest, equitable, and balanced. By ending the Fairness Doctrine, Reagan enabled radio and television stations to broadcast partisan ideologues such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity without having to air opposing views. Right-wing billionaires bought up stations, created networks and created the many voices who made and still make the same false statements about unions being bad, taxes being too high, crime being up and the nation being overrun by immoral and unreligious outsiders (recently to include the President himself!).  The Republicans supported, and benefitted from, the many lies of the right-wing news media. They deserve what they have in Donald Trump.

Those who look at American popular culture and its emphasis on turning all human interactions into opportunities for commercial transaction and conspicuous consumption may conclude that America, too, deserves Donald Trump.