Saturday, October 29, 2016

Editorial: The Campaign Goes On

The good news is, after the third and final debate, Hillary Clinton has staked out a substantial lead over Donald Trump in polls, both nationwide and in key states, in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign.

The challenge remains for Democrats to get people to actually turn out, preferably in early voting that makes it relatively easy in many states to cast a ballot in the weeks before the election, at times and locations that are convenient for working people. Surveys don’t elect presidents — voters do — and a 6- to 8-point lead at won’t mean squat on the evening of Nov. 8 if Democrats and progressive independents stay home or decide to cast their vote for Green Jill Stein, figuring Hillary’s election is in the bag.

After they vote for Clinton, progressives need to go down the ballot and vote for Democrats for the House and Senate, as well as in state legislatures, where Republicans gained control in 2010 midterms and have been punishing working people ever since.

After the historic level of obstruction of President Obama by the Republican majority in Congress, a Democratic majority is needed in both chambers to work with the new president. That is particularly important in the Senate, which has refused for seven months to move on Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland, a moderate judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals, to replace the late right winger Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Republican refusal to consider Obama’s nomination has left the high court split 4-4 on many controversial issues since Scalia’s death in February. And the obstruction is not limited to the Supreme Court: as of Oct. 24, there were 99 vacancies on federal courts and 59 nominees waiting, apparently in vain, for Senate action. At least 36 of those vacancies are considered “judicial emergencies,” but the Republican leadership, which has allowed confirmation of only 11 nominees this year, is in no mood to hand any more lifetime appointments to Obama, hoping against hope that Trump, the Caligula of Mar-a-Lago, will get the chance to refill the courts with right wingers.

After the election, Clinton must deal with the populist issues raised by Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and Trump in the general election. Matthew Rozsa of noted that when Trump narrowed the margin between himself and Clinton between mid-August and mid-September, he did it by focusing on populist reform issues, such as trade policy — a subject that unites Americans across partisan and ideological lines, largely because it has massively contributed to economic inequality and job loss. Clinton is a battlefield convert on the issue, declaring her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership when challenged by Sanders after she supported the trade deal while she was secretary of state.

Of course, Trump also is a recent convert on fair trade, as he has outsourced manufacturing of his apparel lines to Mexico, China and other foreign factories that feature lower wages. He also opted for cheaper Chinese steel and aluminum in building projects, including the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas. When Clinton noted at the last debate that he chose Chinese steelworkers over American steelworkers, Trump said Clinton shared the blame for letting him get away with it. “Make it impossible for me to do that,” he replied.

With WikiLeaks releasing portions of a 2013 speech to a Brazilian bank in which Clinton declared, “my dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders,” Clinton will face pressure to make sure that future trade deals don’t leave American workers on the sidelines.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren also laid down her marker Oct. 14 when she called for President Obama to replace Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White. Among other things, Warren cited the failure of White, a former federal prosecutor who also represented financial institutions as an attorney before she joined the SEC, to draw up a rule compelling public companies to disclose political spending. Obama is not expected to replace White, whose term on the commission expires in 2019, but the next president can name a new chair and Warren’s demand sends a signal to Hillary Clinton that she should appoint a more aggressive leader for the agency that regulates Wall Street.

Warren has been actively campaigning for Clinton, who has promised an aggressive antitrust agenda that she said would “take on abuses of market power” and protect the interests of consumers and workers.

Clinton promised to appoint strong leadership at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission who would “robustly enforce enforce antitrust laws,” drawing a contrast with the more permissive approach that has reigned since the Reagan administration.

She promised to take steps so that laws are “aggressively” enforced to ensure that mergers and acquisitions don’t overly concentrate market power in a few hands. She also promised to order agencies to use existing authority to curb the overuse of harmful forced arbitration clauses. She also said the Securities and Exchange Commission should pursue the rulemaking authorized under the Dodd-Frank bank reforms to ensure that investors have appropriate legal recourse if they are wronged.

The proposed merger of AT&T with Time Warner, which would make AT&T the nation’s largest entertainment company, could be the first test of her mettle on antitrust enforcement. Consumer advocates have warned that AT&T could raise fees on competitors who want to access Time Warner’s content, such as CNN and HBO, or make it difficult for them to get it, thus driving consumers to its own offerings.

Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said there were “a number of questions and concerns” about the proposed merger and that “certainly [Clinton] thinks regulators should scrutinize it closely.”

Trump said he would block the AT&T-Time Warner merger “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” But, like so many of his populist talking points, it’s hard to put any trust in him. He also said he is going to cut “70 to 80 percent” of federal regulations if he wins the White House.

Trump made his anti-regulatory vow while speaking at a farmers’ roundtable in Boynton Beach, Fla. He did not explain how his administration would determine which rules to axe. “We want clean air, we want clean water,” Trump said. But the regulatory oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency was simply too much to bear, he said. The federal agency that enforces clean air and water laws has been a “total disaster,” and regulations on the whole “have been a total catastrophe,” he said.

Sanders, who has supported Clinton since he conceded the Democratic presidential nomination in July, told the Washington Post he plans to push liberal legislation with like-minded senators with or without Clinton’s support if she is elected — and to aggressively oppose appointments that do not pass muster with the party’s left wing.

Sanders said he and other senators have started plotting legislation that would achieve many of the proposals that fueled his insurgent run for president, including a $15 federal minimum wage, tuition-free public colleges, an end to “mass incarceration” and aggressive steps to fight climate change.

The senators, Sanders said, also plan to push for the breakup of “too big to fail” banks and to pressure Clinton to appoint liberals to key Cabinet positions, including treasury secretary. Sanders said he would not stay silent if Clinton nominated the “same old, same old Wall Street guys” to regulatory positions that are important in enacting and overseeing the financial policies he supports. “I will be vigorously in opposition, and I will make that very clear,” Sanders said.

Progressive populists should be ready to get back to work after the election to push Clinton and members of Congress to stop the TPP and pursue the progressive initiatives in the Democratic platform. Citizenship is a full-time job. Keep after your elected officials. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2016

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Selections from the November 15, 2016 issue

COVER/Amanda Marcotte
Seven races that could flip the Senate

The campaign goes on


Who really is the crook?

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Presidential race is just the top of the card

Latino voters may lift Clinton, Dems in border states;
Clinton, Obama focus on electing Dems to Congress;
Early voting in N.C. is down after polling place reductions;
In N.C., Burr stands with Trump, Dem challenger sprints ahead;
Just 10 mega-donors provide one-fifth of super PAC funds;
Ryan warns if GOP loses Senate, Sanders wins ...
Sanders: If my campaign emails leaked, there'd be mean things about Hillary, too;
Opioid use down in states that allow marijuana;
Media pushed Russia, ISIS, taxes; downplayed climate, poverty, campaign finance;
At least Trump may end Paul Ryan's career ...

The (psycho) path to the White House

Virginia’s home health aides are pretty much invisible

Trump’s put his banana republicanism on display to the world

Her first 100 days

Why health insurance industry consolidation is bad for your health

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
The art of the scam: Wellness programs

Sometimes the system comes in handy

The real first freedoms

The economic consequences of immigration

Financing our extinction

Many prefer that US continue to police the world

The election’s tipping point

Enough about the beast

‘Criminal Minds’ keeps growing

New York ruling grants jobless payments to Uber drivers

America, the violent

This way madness comes

POET/Michael Silverstein 
A passionate Congressman to his constituents

and more ...

Friday, October 28, 2016

GOP give voters who want to break DC deadlock one choice only: Vote straight line Democratic

By Marc Jampole

Official Republican policy over the past eight years has been to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama, and it looks as if the GOP is prepared to follow the same strategy in a Hillary Clinton administration.

The examples of the Obama delegitimacy campaign are many: The dozens of attempts to overturn the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; the Trump-led campaign to suggest Obama was not born in the United States; the outrageous letter GOP senators sent directly to Iranian leaders; the arrangement of a speech by a foreign head of government without White House participation; the historic refusal even to consider the President’s Supreme Court nominee; and the shutting down of the government in 2013, which cost the United States about $24 billion.

We can see the development of the same obstreperous approach even before all votes are cast: Let’s start with the crazy Trump assertion that the Clinton campaign is somehow colluding with the news media and state election officials (who nationwide are overwhelmingly Republican) to rig the election. To be sure, Trump’s major reasons for making this absurd claim are to justify his loss to his large but extremely fragile ego, to continue his code-word campaign against minorities, and to distract the media and public from the Republican’s long-term campaign to suppress the votes of minorities and the young. But one ramification of his mendacious screeds about election rigging is to delegitimize the election, and by implication, Hillary’s presidency. Recent stories in the news media suggest that many are falling for Trump’s accusations.

But Trump is not alone in planting seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of a Hillary presidency. More than 50 House Republicans have urged the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Clinton Foundation donors had unusual access to Hillary Clinton while she served as Secretary of State. GOP Congressperson Jason Chavetz, who recently became the poster boy for flip-flopping because of his off-again, on-again support of Trumpty-Dumpty, promises an investigation of Clinton’s term as Secretary of State lasting two years if he maintains his position as chair of the House Oversight Committee. Tom Filton, current president of the ultra-right Judicial Watch, has coined the expression “preemptive impeachment” to describe his plans for a Republican Congress.

It’s not just a GOP-dominated House of Representatives that will try to delegitimize Hillary’s presidency. GOP Senators Ted Cruz, John McCain and Pat Toomey have all explicitly promised to block any and all Supreme Court nominations that Hillary might make. With three justices over the age of 75, we could be down to five Supreme Court if the Republicans make good on this threat.

To whom will pledging to obstruct the operation of government for another four years appeal? Those who think banning all abortions is the most important issue. Ultra-rich folk who are so selfish that they want to minimize their taxes, even if it means destroying public education and letting our roads and bridges continue to crumble. Large industrial concerns that will suffer if we get serious about fighting global warming and don’t care that the pursuit of clean energy and environmentally friendly business practices will give the economy a large boost. Then there are the racists and those who in their hearts think that women are inferior. Sounds like a rather large basket of deplorables to me.

But they do not represent a majority of Americans, and they don’t even represent all of the Republican Party. A majority of Americans understand that man-made global warming (I hate the euphemistic “climate change”) is happening. Most want to raise the minimum wage, make college more affordable and invest more in our decaying infrastructure. Most Americans, especially among the young, believe in an open, pluralistic society.

Perhaps most significantly, most Americans are tired of Washington’s gridlock and the endless political sniping that has dominated 16 or the last 24 years of American government, that is, the years when Democrats held the White House. Because of news media conflation, many Americans have faulted both sides of the aisle for this ugly political bickering, but the unfolding of the 2016 election cycle has made it obvious that in fact, the Republicans and the Republicans alone are responsible for gridlock by their failure to accept the results of elections.

There is only one way to give Hillary Clinton a chance to fulfill the vision for which an unprecedented landside of Americans will likely vote on November 8. The American people must also give Democrats a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. With a majority of both houses, Hillary can get a lot accomplished from the most progressive platform in American history by a major party. She can make college affordable, raise the minimum wage, invest in infrastructure, alternative fuels and public education and even raise taxes on the ultra-wealthy. Without a majority on both houses, her presidency will face the constant stonewalling of Republicans and her administration is forced will be forced to wallow in investigation after investigation.

That’s why in this election, everyone who wants to end governmental gridlock—Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians and Greens—must vote a straight-line Democratic ticket, at least for national and state-wide offices. Only racists, the ultra-wealthy and anti-woman extremists have anything to gain from a divided government. Moreover, a historic defeat may enable sensible, unhypocritical Republicans who believe in abiding by election results, such as Jeff Flake, Evan McMillan, John Kasich and Meg Whitman, to take control of the Republican Party.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

First order of business for President Clinton: Shoot down automated weapons & nuclear weapons modernization

By Marc Jampole

One of the first decisions Hillary Clinton will face as president is whether to continue funding development of automated weapons, which are weapons that think on their own, selecting targets and firing their payload without the intervention of humans once they have programmed the mission into the weapon. Kind of like the Terminator of movie fame, although defense officials go out of their way to explicitly deny that analogy.  

These weapons are as horrifying in their own right as germ, chemical and nuclear weapons, and more prone to misuse or unintentional use. We can anticipate that decision-making weapons will be as susceptible to bugs, hacking and programming errors as other sophisticated systems based on computer technologies, such as bank databases, credit card companies, government servers, clouds and the Internet. A robot could turn on us, kill the wrong target or mindlessly start slaughtering innocents.

There is also the moral issue of agency. The very thing that makes automated weapons so attractive—we can send them into battle instead of live soldiers—also underlies the essential immorality of using robots to kill other humans. It’s so easy to kill an animated figure on a screen in a video game. And then another, and then another, each of them so realistic in their detail that they could almost be human. Pretty soon you’ve knocked off hundreds of imaginary people. Not so easy, though, for most of us to pull a trigger, knowing that a bullet will rip through heart of someone standing ten feet away and end their existence. Perhaps we instinctively empathize with the victim and fear for our own lives. Or maybe most of us kill with difficulty because the taboo against killing is so strongly instilled in us, that moral sense that taking the life of another human being is wrong, sinful?

The problem with all advanced military technologies is that they turn war into a video game, and by doing so distance the possessors of the technology from their adversaries. Whether the attack is by conventional bomber, missile, drone or the decision-making robot weapons now under development, the technology turns the enemy into video images. Remote warfare dehumanizes the enemy and makes it easier to kill lots of them without giving it a thought. The bombardier doesn’t see the victims below, or if he can, they look like specks. The operator of the drone is even farther away from his intended victims. The operator of robots even more so.

Once we have robot weapons that are allowed to think and act independently, the next logical step will be to provide them with nuclear capabilities. I can only imagine the horrors that we will be able to inflict on others combining these two apocalyptic weapons, but I’m guessing that a future civilization from another planet will label the development of automated weapons with nuclear capabilities as the beginning of Earth’s final extinction event.

Moral and safety considerations aside, there is also the issue of cost. Lots of pundits like to deny it, but one of the primary reasons the United States economy thrived during the 1990s was the peace dividend we received at the end of the cold war. Just like the money that the Obama Administration proposes to spend modernizing our nuclear weapons, the funds to develop automated weapons could better be used to fund public education, mass transit, alternative fuel, medical research and other pressing needs.

As soon as one proposes not developing a new weapon or military technology, apologists for the military-industrial complex (a Republican president’s phraseology) always invoke the fear that other countries will develop it first, and automated weapons are no exception. The argument that we have to do it before others is fallacious because there is another way: to negotiate a treaty banning all development of these monstrous weapons of mass destruction. The central factor in what I believe will be an easy international agreement to reach is the asymmetry in resources that favors the United States. Only China could keep up with us in spending if we decided to make a major “moonshot” push to develop Terminator-like weaponry. But China faces tremendous environmental and developmental problems. The Chinese also seem usually to prefer to compete economically and culturally, and would likely welcome a treaty banning automated weapons.

In the course of a little over one hundred years, humans have developed four apocalyptic weapons of mass destruction: germ warfare, chemical warfare, nuclear warfare and now automated weapons. Thankfully, we have had the will to outlaw two of these terrible scourges. Let’s hope that Hillary makes it three out of four by vetoing the further development of robotized weapons, and then starts working on ending nuclear weapons.

Of course, I’m assuming Hillary wins. When it comes to weapons of mass destruction, any other outcome to the 2016 election would be a deadly disaster.