Thursday, July 21, 2016

The very bad Ted Cruz has one shining moment telling GOP convention not to vote for Trump

By Marc Jampole

Though not much into predictions, I’m fairly certain that John Kasich and Ted Cruz will inherit the mantle of leadership of the Republican Party after Donald Trump and the Republican ticket get crushed in November. On the surface, it looks as if there are real differences between them, but their differences revolve around style only. Both will seek to end Obamacare and the legal right of women to have abortions. Both will fight against an increase in the minimum wage and for a decrease in taxes for the wealthy. Both will slow down our response to global warming. Kasich will do it with a smile and Cruz with a churlish grimace.

While a few have condemned John Kasich for not endorsing Trump and not taking part in any part of the GOP National Convention, held in his state’s largest city, most of the news media have applauded his stand as heroic and principled.

But what Ted Cruz did was braver. He went into the lion’s den and spoke truth, at least his truth, which is shared by about 20% of the voters. He stood there and took the verbal abuse hurled at him by the pro-Trump crowd, calmly making his points.

It was his finest moment as a politician and a person, but more striking is that it was his only fine moment in his political career, as his time in the public light has mostly been spent on meaningless political stunts for suspect causes. There was a stunt-like quality, too, about explicitly not endorsing Trump in front of the entire convention on day three of the Trump coronation, very much like his shutdown of the government to protest Obamacare in 2013. But the difference in context made the Cruz-engineered shutdown the self-destructive act of a spoiled toddler and his speech before a hostile audience an act of political bravery that will be rewarded in the future, but only if Trump loses, and especially if he drags down the Senate and the House with him.

Don’t get me wrong. I despise Ted Cruz. From what I can tell, he is the second most despicable politician on the current national scene after Donald Trump, and certainly as despicable as anyone since Nixon. But I see the impact of his political program as no different from that of John Kasich. Nor from those of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio either, for that matter. Economically, they want the same thing. They all want to lower taxes on the wealthy and cut social welfare programs. All want to let in immigrants who help large corporations keep wages down while building a wall. None of these guys has any experience in foreign affairs, so despite the relative bellicosity of Cruz, all four would follow the recommendations of the continuing Republican foreign policy establishment, which is decidedly Neo-con, prone to send troops and unabashedly opposed to any reconciliation with Iran, probably because their foreign policy prescriptions seem to track so well with the best interests of Saudi Arabia.

Notice I haven’t mentioned Paul Ryan. His craven submission to Donald Trump, all the while winking that he doesn’t mean it, has been criticized in the mainstream media for cowardice and willingness to sacrifice principle for the Party. In contrast to Kasich and Cruz, Ryan does seem to be a wimp. Before the cavemen among my readers blame Ryan’s weakness on his intellectualism, keep in mind that that intellectualism is merely his brand, that his program is very short on specifics except for lowering taxes on the wealthy and that he has the barest of academic credentials, especially when compared to the Ted Cruz, who pretends to be a hick but has an ivied, establishment set of credentials. Let’s note that Marco Rubio also buckled under and endorsed Trump in convention speeches.

Ted Cruz is a worm, but on the third night of the Republican National Convention, he was a hero.

We do need to clarify what Cruz meant when he said “Vote your conscience, up and down the ticket.” He did not say “Abstain from voting.” He did not say, “Vote for the Libertarian candidate.” He did not say, “Write in for me.” No, he said “Vote your conscience, up and down the ticket” which at the very least means consider voting for Hillary Clinton.

But let’s look into the conscience—the deepest recesses of the intellect—of people like Cruz, Ryan, Kasich, McConnell, Rubio, Romney, the Bushes and other Republican leaders. Many of the delegates may have been brainwashed by 25 years of lies and innuendos about the Clintons, but these men of government and two-party politics know that Clinton is an ethical person who has never committed a serious crime or done anything that even resembles self-dealing or traitorous while in government. They don’t really believe any of the garbage they say about Hillary.

It is possible, then, to infer into Ted Cruz’s statement “Vote your conscience” the message that you should vote for the most competent, experienced, level-headed and stable of the two major party candidates, Hillary Clinton. I know that Cruz went on to excoriate Clinton and say her election would be a disaster. But when you say, “Vote your conscience, up and down the ticket” what you are really saying is “split the ticket” which is understood by virtually everyone to mean that you should vote for a different Party’s candidate for president than you do for other offices. To most people, that will mean voting for Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

GOP speakers paint a dystopic, dangerous world deteriorating under Obama, but offer no facts because they have none

By Marc Jampole

Jokes about a Republican fact-free universe have circled the late-night and high-brow magazine circuits since the Bush-Cheney public relations program to build support for the invasion of Iraq. On the first day of the 2016 Republic National Convention, we got to see what a fact-free universe looks like.

Speaker after speaker bemoaned that the United States is under siege, rapidly being destroyed from within by the actions of a weak president and his sketchy former secretary of state. They painted a picture of an America cowering before both domestic and foreign threats. They advocated strong actions against our enemies with a harsh, merciless bellicosity. Many blamed immigrants, the Muslim religion and the supporters of “Black Lives Matter.”

But where were the facts? There were none, because studies show that over the past 40 years, cop killings are down, the rate of violent crime is half of what it was in 1990, and there are fewer acts of domestic terrorism than in the turbulent 1960s. Illegal immigration is currently almost nonexistent and legal immigration is already tightly controlled.

I’m not saying that we don’t have problems in these areas, but the fear-mongering speakers at the GOP National Convention exaggerated the current dangers to a degree that borders on explicit lying. The current publicity stemming from tragedies such as Ferguson (cops killed), Dallas (cops are killed) and Orlando (U.S.-born terrorist) may represent an upturn in crime and terrorism or may just be highly publicized anecdotes of tragic violence. We won’t know for a few years. But the Republicans use these incidents as proof that we face more dangers now than eight years ago. Then again, the Republicans have long argued from anecdote, beginning with Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens and Bush Senior’s demonization of parolee Willie Horton. It’s Donald Trump’s preferred method.

The Republicans were able to get through the entire night fact-free, with the exception of the very angry Sheriff of Milwaukee County, who quoted a recent study that did not measure rates of crime or terrorism, but public perceptions. The survey found that the public is more fearful than a few years ago—of course, why wouldn’t they be when rightwing and mainstream news routinely feature this collection of roid-raged Chicken Littles? The Sheriff was talking about how people feel, not about the reality of falling crime, which he denied by hiding behind an attitudinal study.

Virtually every speech closed with the same words, “God bless the United States.” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, the traitor who went over the heads of U.S. negotiators to deal directly with Iran via a threatening letter, said, “God calls us to serve.” (FYI, CNN, which treated the first night of the convention as if it were the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, was trying to sell Cotton to the public as a 2020 candidate for president if Trump doesn’t win.) Didn’t this procession of saintly authoritarians ever think that maybe their god was giving them a message through the U.S. failures in Iraq and Afghanistan? Heaven to America: stop invading other countries. Of course, many in the audience believe that their god is punishing the United States for allowing LGBTQ rights, abortion, the teaching of evolution, birth control and other abominations.

Besides seeking the blessing of their deity, the other thing that virtually every speaker did was to condemn President Obama and Hillary Clinton for not using the term “Islamic terrorism.” This insistence by every speaker that not using those precise words—“Islamic terrorism”—bordered on the criminal has tremendous significance.

First, it symbolized how little they really can criticize Barack Obama. Many speakers advocated that the United States do what it is already doing. Many talked of war and violence, without recommending a single measure that would endanger American lives. With no specifics with which to indict Obama and Clinton, they reverted to becoming language police. Unless they use these exact words, the GOP states, nothing Obama or Clinton do will help keep us safe.

The words themselves, “Islamic terrorism” are particularly important to these Bible-touting Christians because it communicates that we are in a Holy War against those of another faith. While occasionally paying lip service to inclusiveness and diversity, the GOP wants us to connect terrorism with the religion of Islam. The GOP conveniently forgets that Christians still commit the majority of acts of terrorism and mass murders taking place in the United States. Obama, Clinton, Kerry and the State Department avoid the term “Islamic terrorism” because they understand that the terrorists represent a miniscule part of Islam and they don’t want other Muslims to think we are blaming them or lumping them in with people they themselves despise.

Keep in mind, too, that “Islamic terrorism” is one small piece of a large racially-tinged lexicon that Republicans have employed since the inception of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.”

The insistence on shaming Obama and Clinton for not using two words also contrasts the styles of the parties and the candidates who will represent them in the fall. Obama and Clinton take studied, fact-based approaches to problems, attempt to understand all sides and try to reach consensus. Their careful phraseology reflects all these concerns. Donald Trump and all the other Republicans want to dominate, humiliate and crush. They see a world of good guys and bad guys, and if you’re a good guy, you can do anything, even bad guy stuff.

Beyond these political concerns of attacking the opposition and claiming the beneficence of a caring deity, the focus on the use of language fits right into the Trump ideology because it is concerned most with branding reality. The constant disparagement of Obama for failing to use two words was an example of branding the other side. 

The Trump brand is based on the lie that everything the Donald touches turns to gold. In reality, he failed as a real estate developer and casino owner, then succeeded as an entertainer and a brand marketer, although it should be pointed out that most of the businesses selling merchandise with the Trump brand have failed. Trump wants us to believe that his genius will fix everything, perhaps merely by his getting involved with addressing the problem. Trump slapped his name on vodka and claimed it was better. He slapped his name on a hotel room and claimed it was better. He slapped his name on a steak and claimed it was better. His campaign consists of saying that he will slap his name on solutions to problems—some which don’t even exist—and they will be solved. Too bad that while Trump was always a genius in branding, he proved almost always to be a failure at actually doing things, such as running casinos or building curricula.

The first night of the Republican convention was about slapping a negative brand on Obama, Clinton and the Democrats. To do so, they slapped a negative brand on our current world.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

EDITORIAL: Busting TPP is Our Brexit

British voters may have done the right thing for the wrong reasons when they voted to withdraw from the European Union, in what has come to be known as Brexit, as nationalism, racism and xenophobia were blamed for the 52% vote to pull out.

The European Economic Community seemed like a good idea to integrate the economies of Western Europe after World War II. But there has been a longtime resistance in Britain to being considered part of Europe and following the dictates of bureaucrats from Brussels.

After the breakup of the Soviet Bloc in 1990, European leaders moved to create the more comprehensive European Union with the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. Nations that have joined the EU since then include Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, for a total of 28 member states,. Eastern Europeans then could move freely to western Europe, including Britain. Nineteen member states have adopted the euro as a common currency since 2002, but many of the smaller nations have found their inability to control their currencies has made them dependent on the dictates of the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank. Britain never gave up its sovereign currency, the pound.

Since Britain is heavily dependent on trade with the EU, economist Dean Baker noted in a column for PBS NewsHour, the Europeans could impose trade barriers with real costs on the British economy. But trade barriers would also impose costs on the EU, particularly those countries that have the most trade with Britain. And the real threat to the EU is its leaders’ devotion toward austerity since 2010. “Rather than using fiscal policy to steer economies toward full employment and address needs in infrastructure, clean energy, education and health care, the EU leadership demanded that governments move toward balanced budgets,” Baker noted. “This meant cutbacks in spending and tax increases that worsened and prolonged the downturn.”

Baker concluded, “The proper response to the Brexit vote would be for the EU leadership to finally embrace reality and adopt an economic policy that will push the continent toward stronger growth and full employment. If it goes this path, the rest of the EU will not be anxious to follow the UK’s lead.

“If the EU leadership instead goes the route of tit for tat and tries to punish Britain, Brexit will be the first round of a very unhappy story.”

Britain’s departure from the EU should have little impact on the US. If anything, it should draw Britain closer to the US economic orbit. London will continue to be an international banking center because money flows over national borders. Swiss bankers have not been hampered by their separation from the EU. The European Central Bank remains in Frankfurt. And Britain’s withdrawal from the EU might be a boon for Ireland, which remains in the UE as a well-educated English-speaking nation where US-based multinational corporations can relocate their European offices.

The closest parallel to Brexit for the US would be if we had a national referendum on whether to remain in the North American Free Trade Agreement. We’re confident that the American people would vote to leave NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, whose unelected magistrates have the authority to overrule regulations that bother multinational corporations. That is why Congress would never call for such a referendum.

An agreement to reduce trade barriers between the US and Canada made sense because the two nations have similar economies and standards of living. Lowering trade barriers with Mexico made no sense for American workers and manufacturers who are not interested in moving factories south of the border in pursuit of cheap labor — and NAFTA doesn’t even offer Mexican workers the ability to move freely over the border to take American jobs, as the EU allows Eastern European workers to move into Britain.

US voters have a chance to discourage adoption of another “free trade” bill that would put more American workers at risk and give multinational corporations greater opportunities to override state, local and federal regulations with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was negotiated among 12 Pacific Rim nations by the Obama administration largely without the input of organized labor or other public-interest groups. The bill is likely to come up in the “lame duck” session after the election, and opponents hope right-wing teabaggers will join with pro-labor lefties to stop it in the House.

Bernie Sanders’ opposition to the TPP is one reason he performed so well in the Democratic primaries, particularly in the Midwest. Clinton, who helped negotiate the TPP as secretary of state, now says she is opposed to the agreement that was finalized after she left office. But when Sanders supporters on the committee drafting the platform that will come before the Democratic National Convention proposed language rejecting the trade deal, Clinton-allied delegates blocked it and instead approved language hammered out by pro-Clinton labor groups that was critical of “trade agreements that do not support good American jobs,” but stopped short of condemning TPP because it is being pushed by President Obama.

The issue probably will be revisited at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. In the meantime let your member of Congress know that if he or she votes for the TPP, they will be leaving Congress at the next opportunity.

Donald Trump hopes to capitalize on the job losses among white working-class voters to put states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in play. But American workers should not believe that Trump will do anything to interfere with “free trade,” despite his campaign promise to back out of NAFTA and other trade deals that hurt American workers, including the TPP. The cynical presumptive Republican nominee has taken advantage of “free trade” laws in the past to outsource apparel production to Mexico and China and his business record reveals a trail of broken promises and bad faith to workers, businesses and consumers with whom he has dealt.

You can trust Hillary Clinton to renegotiate NAFTA and fight enactment of the TPP at least as much as you can trust Trump on this or any other policy statement that he has made. And Clinton actually has the support of trade unions hurt most by “free trade.”

Sanders Pushes Dems Left 

Despite the fight over the TPP, Sen. Bernie Sanders has had a lot of success pushing the Democrats to frame a more progressive platform than the party has had in years. Among other things, the draft platform that was approved for presentation to the convention calls for:

• A minimum wage of at least $15 an hour and the right to form or join a union;
• National paid family and medical leave;
• Guaranteeing Social Security benefits for generations to come by removing the $118,500 cap on taxable earnings;
• Passing an updated and modernized version of the Glass-Stegall Act, to reinstate a firewall between their regular commercial banking activities and riskier investment and insurance activities;
• Carbon pricing, which would tax carbon to recognize its impact on the environment;
• Marijuana legalization;
• Making it easier to vote by restoring the Voting Rights Act to its full power, expanding early voting and vote-by-mail, ending gerrymandering and restoring the voting rights of ex-cons.

Clinton also has proposed a Medicare buy-in for adults 55 and older, insurance access for undocumented Americans and measures to lower out-of-pocket medical costs. Clinton also would give community health centers $40 billion in new funding over a decade.

Sanders, whose team had negotiated the plan with the Clinton campaign, called the health care agenda released July 9 a “significant step forward” in guaranteeing health care access for Americans. But Sanders will need to keep building a progressive movement to change Congress and get the progressive platform enacted. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2016

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Selections from the August 1, 2016 issue

COVER/Ellen Brown
War on weed is winding down

Busting TPP is our Brexit; Sanders pushes Dems left


Why I must let Bernie go

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
The right to know about GM food

Dallas police shooting polarizes opinions over ‘Black Lives Matter;
‘Open Carry’ fails in Dallas;
Dems uniting behind Clinton;
Trump losing badly among Latinos — and so is GOP;
Bayh bid puts Indiana Senate seat in play;
Ryan tax plan designed with rich in mind;
'Other' solar energy can run at night;
Net new jobs in June ...

Time for Utah to let go of oil shale dreams

It’s not just Trump who’s confused about racism

The tyranny of the minority

Straight-faced liars of TRAP

Defending Hillary

Bernie’s next big task: Build a large-scale, national progressive movement

Undue burdens

You can’t keep Big Oil down

Genetically engineered crops, the grand and failed promise

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
The poor: Gumming up the healthcare bureaucracy

Trump’s star power

Currency culture wars

Financing our extinction

Machines and minimum-wage increases

The siege of consumerism in Asia

Current political season and organized religion(s)

MOVIES/Ed Rampell 
Out of sight outlandish outlaws in ‘Outback’: A must-see movie about Maoris and more

and more ...