Saturday, November 19, 2016

Editorial: Snakes vs. Scorpions

Donald J. Trump parlayed a strong vein of anger and discontent with Washington establishment politics among white voters into a come-from-behind victory. His campaign united such disparate groups as the Ku Klux Klan, “alt-right” white nationalists, Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State, which celebrated the election of the con man who will be a recruiting boon for Islamic jihadists when he enters the White House.

We don’t understand how anybody could have watched the presidential debates and come away with the opinion that the real estate mogul and “reality” TV star had the temperament to be president, but the ongoing slander of former first lady, senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton over the past two years, abetted by FBI Director James Comey in the closing days, took its toll and Trump conned just enough people to win the election.

The election apparently was decided by Democrats who voted with their butts on Nov. 8 in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Clinton won the popular vote nationwide, but her campaign failed to turn out many of the voters who carried Barack Obama to victory in those key states — though some of those Democrats turned out to vote for Trump, and stayed in the Republican column to elect Republicans to the House and Senate.

Compounding the problem, Democrats failed to regain control of the Senate. They unseated two Republican senators, as Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D) easily defeated Sen. Mark Kirk (R) in Illinois and Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) narrowly defeated Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R) in New Hampshire, but Democrats failed to defeat vulnerable incumbents in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, Indiana rejected former Sen. Evan Bayh’s comeback bid and Sen. John McCain (R) survived a spirited challenge in Arizona. The GOP maintained a 51-48 advantage, awaiting a Dec. 10 runoff for the Senate in Louisiana in which the Republican is favored.

If Republicans keep the filibuster rule, which requires 60 votes for a bill to pass, Democrats might be able to block the worst bills and nominees, but several Democratic senators are up for re-election in red states in 2018 and they might feel pressure to work with Republicans. Also, if Democrats are obstinate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) might move to eliminate the filibuster.

The biggest disappointment was Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s victory in his rematch with former Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive Democrat, in Wisconsin. Feingold led in polls for much of the last year before pro-Johnson Super PAC ads attacking Feingold tightened the race and the Republican tide in rural areas overcame the Democrats.

The good news is that, if Trump got a mandate, it was to enact populist reforms of Wall Street financial speculators and reverse trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement that have resulted in the loss of American manufacturing jobs. He also promised to protect Social Security and Medicare and suggested he would expand support for family leave.

But House Speaker Paul Ryan is determined to privatize both Social Security and Medicare and expansion of family leave will be a hard push through a conservative Congress. Establishment Republicans don’t trust Trump any more than Democrats do, and Trump’s operatives reportedly are discussing how they can hurt “Never Trump” Republicans who were critical of Trump’s movement. When Trump and his aides meet with congressional Republicans, it could become a battle of snakes vs. scorpions.

Trump might split Republicans as he backs off from repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Conservatives are pushing for the law to be ripped out “root and branch,” which would threaten insurance coverage for 20 million Americans, but Trump said he favors keeping popular provisions such as the prohibition against companies denying insurance for pre-existing conditions and ability of parents to insure their children until age 26.

Clinton had proposed reforms of Obamacare, such as a proposal to give insurance buyers access to a “public option“ — a government-run health plan that would compete with private insurers.

But the public option is not going to happen under Trump. Neither is any action to reduce carbon pollution to fight climate change, which Trump believes is a hoax created by the Chinese. He promises to give the all-clear to oil and coal companies to increase fossil fuel production and he’ll approve all necessary pipelines, regardless of their impact on water supplies.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Trump will get to nominate a new justice on the Supreme Court to take the seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia last February. That probably will shift the high court back to the hard right. If aging liberal justices leave the court, it would give Trump the opportunity to lock in a right-wing majority that could take jurisprudence back to pre-New Deal conditions and clear the way for an all-out assault on organized labor and regulations. Trump also gets to fill 99 seats on lower courts after Republicans refused to confirm most of Obama’s nominees in the last year.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said they are willing to work with President-elect Trump on populist issues that benefit working Americans, but they are ready to fight him on his xenophobic proposals to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to build a wall across the southern border.

Trump named Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus as his chief of staff and Stephen Bannon, a leader of the “alt-right” movement as chief executive of Breitbart News, as his top presidential strategist. Trump also signaled that he would name Washington lobbyists and Wall Street bankers to his administration and he intends to “dismantle” the Dodd-Frank financial reforms that sought to bring Wall Street back in line after the excesses during the administration of George W. Bush.

Republicans once again have been rewarded for their efforts to sabotage the economic recovery. They resisted the Democratic economic stimulus pushed by President Obama in 2009, which helped turn around the economy after the Great Recession of the George W. Bush administration. Democrats in 2009 also saved General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy, which played a large part in preventing the economy from cratering — particularly in Michigan and Ohio. But Republicans gained control of the House and many state legislatures in 2010. Since then, Republicans have blocked all attempts by President Obama and congressional Democrats to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, which would further stimulate the economy, at a time when the need is great and the cost of borrowing money was near a record low.

Democrats need to regain the trust of rural Americans, but not at the cost of embracing harassment of Latinos, Muslims, gays and other “Outsiders.” The Democratic Party should adopt reforms that would reduce the role of monied interests, while it organizes millions of people into an activist army that can peacefully resist the bad things that are about to happen in Washington and also at state capitols.

The Democratic Party needs to regroup for the 2018 elections, when Democrats and their independent allies will be defending 25 Senate seats while Republicans will defend eight.

Democrats need to start recruiting a new generation of progressive candidates to challenge Republicans in 2018 and 2020 and they should stand for progressive populist policies so there is no longer confusion over which party represents working-class interests.

Also, pray that the health of liberal Supreme Court justices holds up. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2016

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Copyright © 2016 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the December 1, 2016 issue

COVER/Robert L. Borosage
Why Trump won

Snakes vs. scorpions


Combatting Trumpenstein

Chrysler is not an American car company any more

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen 
We need better choices

Trump reconsiders ObamaCare repeal;
Comey letter cost Clinton votes;
TPP apparently stymied;
More than 300 hate incidens reported in week afer election;
GOP voter purges fixed elections;
State voters raise minimum wages and require paid sick leave;
US will be pariah when Trump pulls out of climate pact;
Coal jobs aren’t coming back;
Senate race still up for grabs in Louisiana;
Trump conflates documented and undocumented immigrants ...

This deal could save the world

The Trans Pacific Partnership will not help struggling farmers

Trump’s victory is not the last word

Fear of the unknown

Question authority

Corporate threats don’t deter some underdogs

For the Trump era: Fight not flight

Two-party trap snaps shut again

Three massive mergers — millions for one bank and a disaster for food, water, and climate

A night of protest and rust

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Beyond Virginia Woolf, the tyrones and the rest of us: The health mess

Keep trying: Rural access to mental health

The gig economy and job quality

The tragedy of 2016

Waiting for the next Trump?

New Dylan bio balances feeling and intellect

What does Freedom of the Press mean anyway?

Just the beginning

and more ...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

If lame duck Congress doesn’t pass sentencing reform, thousands with minor offenses will stay in jail

By Marc Jampole

People who complain that there is gridlock in Washington should understand that even with Congress and the President on the same page, the enactment of legislation is always an arduous process:
·         It has to go through committee in one chamber of Congress, which often means lengthy hearings.
·         It is then debated by the chamber, House or Senate.
·         It goes for a vote.
·         The other chamber of Congress sends it to committee, which lead to more hearings.
·         It is debated by the full body of the other chamber.
·         It goes for a vote in the other chamber.
·         A joint committee of both chambers reconciles all the differences between the bill that passed the House and the one that passed the Senate.
·         Both chambers vote separately on the reconciled bill.
·         The president signs it or lets it pass unsigned.
·         If the president vetoes the bill, the House and Senate can try to override the veto.

That’s a lot of process.

And what happens when a new Congress begins?

Every piece of legislation has to start from scratch.

Which brings us to a bill in Congress that is sponsored by 19 Democratic and 20 Republican senators, a bill that has the support of both a number of left-leaning and minority organizations and the Koch brothers and others on the right.

It’s Senate Bill 2123, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act. The House has split the contents of the Sentencing Reform Act into two bills, both of which are sponsored by Republicans and co-sponsored by large numbers of Representatives in both parties.

The Sentencing Reform Act is the first step to reversing the pernicious effect that mass incarceration has on our minority communities and our economy. In the 1990s to fight a 30-year crime wave that was already ending, Congress and state legislatures everywhere passed a number of laws that mandated minimum sentences for many crimes, took discretion away from judges and inflicted much harsher punishment for victimless crimes that African-Americans tended to commit, like smoking cocaine, than for victimless crimes that whites tend to commit, like snorting cocaine.

The result: The United States is now the world’s leader when it comes to people in prison—some 2.2 million, five times as many as there were 40 years ago, even though the total population has grown by only about 1.5 times in the same period.

The inherent bias in these new laws has combined with the unfair and uneven application of existing U.S. laws to create a new “Jim Crow”—a set of laws that institutionalized unfair treatment of minorities and represented an explicit double standard under the law. One in three black Americans will serve time in prison at some time in their life. More to the point, blacks serve about the same amount of time for non-violent drug-related offenses as whites do for violent crimes.

Left-wingers and the minority communities see the unfairness of mass incarceration. Rightwingers are concerned about the rising cost of housing so many prisoners. Economic experts across the spectrum of opinion worry about the impact on our coming labor shortage of having so many people in jail for carrying an ounce of weed or puffing on a crack pipe.

The Sentencing Reform Act would:
·         Reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses
·         Reduce mandatory three-strikes-you’re-out life sentences to 25 years
·         Give judges greater discretion in sentencing low-level drug offenders.
·         Apply the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively to people currently serving long prison sentences for hitting the crack pipe; the law was passed in 2010 to reduce the disparity in sentences for possession of crack versus powdered cocaine. The House version allows those still in prison for crack cocaine to apply for a lesser sentence.

The Sentencing Reform Act is not a perfect bill and only goes part way towards correcting the inequities in the criminal justice sentence. But it’s a start. A start that’s stalled.

Someone affiliated with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (who provided a lot of the information in this article to me) was told on Capitol Hill that the Senate is waiting until the House moves, because individual Senators don’t want to get burned as they did when they supported immigration reform and were left hanging out to dry when the House politicized the issue. No one seems to know why the House is not advancing the bill, although I suspect that it has something to do with Speaker Paul Ryan’s inability to control the misnamed Freedom Caucus right-wingers. I also wonder whether Senators and Representatives of both parties are afraid of losing the votes of the racists who would just as soon see us lock up more minorities.

Here’s a bill that has widespread bipartisan support, and Congress can’t pass it! That’s my definition of gridlock.

Meanwhile, thousands of people remain in prison for non-violent and victimless crimes instead being productive members of society. And if Congress doesn’t act by the time the current session closes in a few weeks, sentencing reform will have to be reintroduced and go through the whole complicated rigmarole from square one.

I urge all readers to email, call, telegram or send a letter to your Congressional representative and Senators to pass the Sentencing Reform Act before they go home for the holidays. It would be an early holiday present for thousands of prisoners, their families, the American sense of fairness and our economy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ending voter suppression laws enough to overcome innate rural bias of Electoral College

By Marc Jampole

Let’s be quite clear about who won the 2016 presidential election. It was Hillary Clinton, who is currently ahead by about 700,000 popular votes with the counting still underway. More significantly, when all the votes are counted, most estimates have the final total at 1.8 million more votes for Clinton than for Trump. That’s 1.5% of total votes, which while not a landslide, is a greater difference than many elections in which the popular winner also wins the Electoral College. The raw total of 1.8 million is roughly twice the difference between the winners’ and losers’ vote in all four previous elections in which the loser in the popular vote assumed the presidency.

Almost everyone knows that two peculiarities of the American system lead to the loser in the popular vote sometimes assuming control of the White House: 1) Voters vote for electors who then vote for the president and vice president. 2) Electors vote as a block according to state. Without an Electoral College, or with one that voted proportionately, we would have our first woman president embracing the most progressive platform in American history. It’s what the American people clearly wanted, but what we will get instead is a mentally unbalanced know-nothing political novice guided on social issues by the alt-right and on economic issues by the greed of his social class.

The stated reason that the founders of the United States—you know, that handful of rich white male merchants and slave owning gentry—preferred the Electoral College to electing a president via the popular vote was to balance the interests of the states with those of the national government in the same way that the Senate does. I also believe some of them feared the votes of the mob and thought they could manipulate the Electoral College to keep real power in the hands of the few, which worked for maybe two decades.

What the Electoral College really does is put more power in the hands of rural areas because it rations out votes based on geography. Rural areas are less populated than urban areas, so a state with a large rural population has greater influence on elections than one with an urban population. Note that in the entire recorded history of mankind in all parts of the earth, more densely populated areas have always without exception been more diverse, spun off more innovation and have had more rules governing interactions than less populated areas. The urban-rural divide goes back probably to the formation of cities. At the beginning of the 19th century, the U.S. voting population was primarily agrarian and either of Anglo-Saxon or German origins, so the urban-rural divide didn’t matter that much. Since about the 1880s, it has mattered a great deal.

Today’s situation is ridiculous. Let’s do the math: When you divide the number of electoral votes per state by the number of voters, we find that a vote by someone in Vermont, our smallest state in population and also one of our most rural, is worth more than twice as much as a vote by someone in California. (Vermont: 3 divided by 321,000 = .0000093; California: 55 divided by 13,600,000 = .0000040). Now in today’s topsy-turvy world, that’s a lack of taxation because of a lack of representation!

A significant ramification of the Electoral College is to make it seem at least in most instances that the presidential mandate to govern is stronger than it actually is. For example, while Lyndon Baines Johnson got 61.1% of the popular vote, his total in the Electoral College was in excess of 90%! This year while losing the popular vote, Trumpty-Dumpty (no, I will not give him the respect he doesn’t deserve and has not earned!) won the Electoral College with a landslide of 56.9%. 

Looking at the other four instances of the loser winning the popular vote for president is very illuminating. Here is a chart with the essentials:

Popular Winner/Edge
Declared President
Andrew Jackson (10.5%)
John Q. Adams
Samuel Tilden (3%)
Rutherford B. Hayes
Grover Cleveland (.8%)
Benjamin Harrison
Al Gore (.5%)
George W. Bush
Hillary Clinton (1.5-3%)
Donald Trump
* After negotiation over disputed electors

In every case, the Republican won, and in all but the selection of the brilliant John Quincey Adams over the ruthless, racist and sometimes lawless Andrew Jackson by the House of Representatives, the decision led to mediocre or disastrous presidencies.  Only the unmitigated disaster—Bush II—was reelected. Every one of these elections had one or more third party candidates who siphoned off at least one percent of the vote and enough votes to turn the tide. In two of the elections, the loser assumed the presidency in the very next election.

The similarity that is most noteworthy for the recent election is the fact that in all the popular-loser-wins elections, disenfranchised voters would have gone heavily for the candidate who won the popular vote but lost the election. Remember that one of the strands of American history is the gradual enfranchisement of voters, from white males with property to white males in general to African-American men in theory to women to African-Americans in practice to expanded voting hours and voting days. This history takes an anti-democratic turn in the 1990s, when one of the major parties implemented a long-term campaign to suppress voting by minorities and the young by purging voter rolls, gerrymandering states to create safe districts for their party, decreasing voting hours and polling places, not allowing ex-felons who have paid their debt to society to vote, passing new laws that mandate voter IDs and using dirty tricks against organizations such as ACORN that work to get out the vote. The largest voter suppression efforts were in the so-called swing states.

Voter suppression paid off in 2000 and again in 2016. While the will of a majority of the states was to elect Donald Trump, the will of the people was to elect Hillary Clinton. The people were thwarted by the Electoral College.

I recently signed a petition that demands that the Electors vote for Hillary instead of Trumpty-Dumpty. I urge all readers to sign it, but only as a protest act. The Electors virtually never vote against the will of the voters in their respective states, even though they could in 24 states.  They are just too interested in maintaining the stability to which I alluded before.

It would be wishful thinking to think we can replace the Electoral College with popular voting in the short term. It would take an amendment to the constitution and those are getting harder to pass with each decade. But first one or both of the two major political parties would have to get behind a move to abolition the Electoral College, and, to quote my father, that ain’t gonna happen!

The reason: stability. Once the election is over, establishing a peaceful transfer of power and communicating the long-term stability of the United States usually becomes the most important goal of the losing party. It’s why Nixon didn’t raise a stink about possible voter fraud in Illinois and elsewhere in 1960, why Gore didn’t protest the Supreme Court decision that gave Bush II the election in 2000, and why Clinton and Obama are striking such conciliatory notes towards the Donald and not encouraging the wave of protest that has broken out all over the country. It’s also why Trump’s accusations that the election was rigged were considered so destabilizing by so many elected officials and political scientists of both parties. By magnifying the victory of the winner, the Electoral College helps to assure stability by giving a false mandate.

The smarter play for the left would be to work at the state level in two ways:
1.      Register voters and get them to the polls. We can’t limit voter registration drives to presidential election years.
2.      Elect state representatives who will repeal the recent wave of voter suppression laws.

The goal should be to control all state legislatures in swing states and as many as possible overall by 2020, when the country next sets Congressional districts.

The left can’t take back this country until we take back the states.