Saturday, December 15, 2018

Editorial: Call Trump’s Bluff on Immigration Reform

Donald Trump and his Republican enablers clearly see their xenophobic immigration policy as a great way to divide working-class Americans from the Democratic Party. An economy with less than 4% unemployment, as exists today, is considered “full employment,” and nearly everybody can find a job — but getting a job with a living wage is the challenge.

Many working-class white Americans blame immigrants for keeping wages down, but the real culprits are corporate managers who like the current immigration chaos precisely because a ready supply of undocumented immigrants who will work hard for low wages reduce the pressure to increase wages and benefits.

There is a progressive populist case to be made for preserving jobs for Americans.

First, Democrats must not approve any appropriations to build Trump’s wall along the border with Mexico. It’s a stupid idea, which not only would waste billions of dollars, but also interferes with property rights, commerce and environmental concerns along the border.

If Trump claims a mandate to build the wall because he campaigned on it, Democrats should remind him that he also promised Mexico would pay for the wall. Democrats certainly should not allow construction to proceed until the check from Mexico clears the US Treasury — and that should end the matter, since we don’t expect new Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to approve spending more than $20 billion on a 1,000-mile wall to help Trump keep his unwise promises.

Instead, Democrats should support a bill calling for enforcement of sanctions on businesses that employ undocumented immigrants, including criminal penalties for employers who fail to withhold taxes for wages paid to immigrants. We have tried deporting undocumented immigrants when they are found, and that clearly does not stem the flow. Stiff fines and jail, when necessary, for bosses is the most effective way to reduce the numbers of undocumented immigrants in the US. If they can’t find work here, they won’t stay.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret: The US Chamber of Commerce and other industrial groups won’t stand for it. They like the current chaos because undocumented workers not only work hard for low pay, but also can be turned in for deportation if they cause any “trouble,” such as talking about joining a union.

So business lobbyists would put the kibosh on any effective immigration control. But it would be interesting to get Republicans on the record on employer sanctions. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 made it illegal to hire or recruit undocumented immigrants, but successful prosecutions are rare because the law included an “affirmative defense” that released employers from any obligation to check the authenticity of workers’ documents.

In 1996 the federal government established the E-Verify program, which allows employers to compare information provided by the prospective employee with government records to confirm identity and employment eligibility. But the program remains largely voluntary.

Reviving employer sanctions should be part of a “Fair and Humane Immigration Policy” Sen. Bernie Sanders is advocating that includes enacting and expanding President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) to allow the parents of DREAMers, who were brought here as children, the parents of children who were born here as citizens, the parents of legal permanent residents, and other immigrants who would have been given legal protections by the 2013 immigration bill reform that passed the Senate but died in the House. This would allow all undocumented people who have been peaceably in the US for at least five years to stay in the country without fear of being deported. Under this plan, Sanders has said, close to nine million of an estimated 11 million undocumented aliens would be able to apply for deferred action.

Sanders also has proposed establishing a whistleblower visa for workers reporting labor violations. An affirmative process would be available for these individuals to request deferred action. And any immigration proposal should include support for all workers’ rights to organize their workplaces.

We must reject fear of immigrants. If Trump seriously believed that the “caravan” of refugees from Central America, who are trying to lawfully apply for asylum in the US, really contained Islamic terrorists, as he claimed when he was stoking fear before the midterm elections, he should have sent Homeland Security agents to meet them with a pocketful of “green cards” to hand out to Central American refugees who could point out Muslim imposters. We don’t mean to be racist, but an Arab jihadist would stick out like a sore thumb in a crowd of Central Americans. Of course, Trump was lying when he made the claim, but again, Democrats should call his bluff.

Unfortunately, the right wingers will remain in control of the Senate next year. But Democrats in the House can show what pro-worker progressive immigration reform would look like if Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump would get out of the way.

Don’t Rush Impeachment

Many Democrats are urging the House to move on impeachment of the Great Misleader when the new Congress meets in January, but Democratic leaders need to consider the effect of passing an impeachment resolution in the House, when they would need 20 Republican votes in the Senate to reach 67 to convict Trump and remove him from office.

The report of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller III might move the needle, but there is an awful lot of denial in the Grand Oligarch Party. House Dems should start probing but hold off on judgment.

It’s not as if there aren’t enough judgmental Republicans in the Senate. Remember President Bill Clinton was acquitted Feb. 12, 1999, of both articles of impeachment for lying about a sex act with a consenting adult, with 55 “not guilty” votes for perjury and a 50-50 vote on obstruction of justice. That’s when Republicans controlled the Senate, 55-45. Clinton left office with 66% approval.

Current Republican senators who voted to remove President Clinton from office include Mike Crapo of Idaho, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Pat Roberts of Kansas. Who among them do you think would support the removal of Trump, even on much more serious charges Mueller is sorting through? (Hatch will be replaced in January by Mitt Romney, who has shown little inclination to criticize the Great Misleader, and Kyl is keeping the late Sen. John McCain’s seat warm, but is expected to quit the Senate early next year to let Arizona’s governor appoint an interim senator who Republicans think they can elect in 2020.

Mitch McConnell will be working with a 53-47 GOP majority in January, so only if Republicans in “safe red” states start feeling the heat will they consider making Trump expendable.

In the meantime, Trump has never reached 50% job approval as president in the average of 40 national polls. The Gallup Poll in December found 48% approval and 50% disapproval, while the Pollster average was 43.1% approval, 50.9% disapproval, as of Dec. 4. Sure, Trump could still get re-elected, but a competent Democratic candidate who is willing to campaign in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin ought to be able to beat him handily. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2019

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Copyright © 2018 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the January 1-15, 2018 issue

COVER/Art Cullen & Tom Cullen
Trump denies what farmers already know: Rains are heavier every year.

Call Trump’s bluff on immigration reform

Free the free press from Wall Street plunderers.
Putting the Trump stamp on the public.


David, Goliath and Sister Mary

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Farmers won’t like climate change, and neither will you

Treasury report nixes revival of postals banking, but proposes limits on postal unions.
Supreme Court punts on defunding Planned Parenthood.
Powerful House Dem supports Green New Deal.
Unemployment unchanged at 3.7%, but wage growth stays weak.
House GOP leaders resist reinstatement of net neutrality.
Trump boost of the coal industry has consumption down 4%.
Nebraska farmers say Trump trade war cost them $1.2B.
Trump's AG pick has a special record on special investigtions ...

Trump got rolled

Republicans don’t want your vote to count

Trump’s intriguing definition of ‘zero’

Disorder defines Trump’s world

GM offers proof to the world that slashing wages isn’t the ticket to profitability

The priest and the migrant: Meeting the caravan in the Advent season

Lessons from south of the border

Impeachable offense

10 Action items for Democrats

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
The gray wave rises

Letting go of industrial regulations isn’t bringing back the jobs

Executives make millions misleading cancer patients. Here’s one way to stop them.

Trump’s sugar high

Building a green new deal

Subsidize this

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Ordering the chaos

Traveling by tube

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
What to serve at a hanging

AFI Fest 2018: The Weekend, Stan & Ollie

What happened to a Wonderful Life?

Art by Robin Streichler

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

If Democrats want to win in 2020, they won’t nominate a woman for president and will nominate a woman for vice president

By Marc Jampole

The Democratic Party is full of smart, experienced and personable women who would do a great job as president. The list begins with Hillary Clinton, but obviously nominating her would court disaster, as the irrational “lock her up crowd” is still rather quite large. Why give Republicans another reason to come out to the polls? Hillary would perform particularly poorly against any Republican other than Trump, because none of them would have Trump’s baggage and Hillary would still have hers.
The four women I like for president are Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand. I personally think it’s about time that a woman served as president.
But nominating any of these truly competent woman or any other woman would be a mistake. About 34% of all voters, including 59% of Republicans, do not personally want to see a woman as president in their lifetime. That’s a steep demographic hill to climb. We know that any male Republican candidate, but especially Trump, will attempt to associate a female candidate with weakness. The news media is sure to exercise its double standard for female candidates: questioning them for past actions and family situations that go unspoken when the candidate is a male.
There is plenty of evidence that a backlash against the very necessary and important #Metoo movement has formed. Leading the anti-#Metoo-ist charge is Trump Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, who has pushed through new college regulations regarding claims of assault that favor the accused. Of particular interest is a recent Bloomberg News report that men at Wall Street investment banks, brokerages and other financial institutions are avoiding being alone with women, rather than risk an accusation of sexual harassment. These powerful business men, virtually all of whom had a mentor at the beginning of their careers, call it the Pence Effect, after Vice President Mike Pence, who will be alone in a room or at dinner with a woman only if it’s his wife. Now Pence can blame his squeamishness on his religion, but these Masters of the Universe blame it on the potential for a misunderstanding or false accusation. The article never mentions the fact that a mere 2% of sexual harassment or assault accusations are false. That means the likelihood of dining alone with a woman resulting in a false accusation is close to nil. That is, if the man keeps the conversation during business hours to business matters, and the dinner conversation to business or non-threatening personal matters. No physical contact beyond shaking hands, when appropriate. That these men don’t realize that all it takes to avoid assault charges is not to assault suggests a terrible truth about the lack of respect that women still suffer in the business and public worlds.
Whoever the Republicans run, it’s essential for Democrats to win in 2020. Why take a chance? What if the answer to the question, “Is America ready for a woman president?” is still no?
But on the other hand, it is extremely important that America moves forward. We have to lay the groundwork for a female presidency in the near future. A woman has twice run for vice president and once for president. Running a woman as a vice presidential candidate in 2020 keeps women in the presidential campaign limelight. And let’s face it, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren and Gillibrand are all more competent and presentable candidates than Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin were. A woman vice presidential candidate will make a Democratic ticket more attractive to millennial voters.
But whereas all four women would make wonderful presidents and vice presidents, I would not consider Elizabeth Warren as someone’s running mate, because she’s already 69. In four or eight years, she’ll be in her seventies, on the verge of being too old to run for our highest office.
Interestingly enough, running one of the three younger women as vice president makes Joe Biden a more appealing choice to head the ticket. Biden will turn 78 in 2020 and, if elected, figures to serve one term only. Whoever is his vice president will be the presumptive presidential frontrunner in 2024. Making it Harris, Klobuchar, Gillibrand or another woman sets up the probability that a woman is elected president in 2024, assuming the Democrats do what they say they’re going to do.
Biden wouldn’t be my first, second, third or fourth choice among Democratic men. I still don’t like the way he mistreated Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991. Moreover, I would rather see a younger, more vigorous person in office.
But who should it be? Tune in tomorrow for the last in my series of articles on who the Democrats should nominate in 2020.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

With a deep bench of talent, the Democrat’s mantra should be ABB: Anyone but Beto

By Marc Jampole
The Democrats are blessed with a large number of candidates whose experience, politics and personality make them qualified to assume the office of the presidency. Even if we rule out the most well-known but all fairly ancient Democrats—the septuagenarians Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—the Democrats’ cup runneth over with talented candidates.
Unfortunately Beto O’Rourke is not one of them.
Yet, Beto is the one that the mainstream news media want to focus on. The other day, MSNBC’s pseudo-progressiveChris Matthews pumped up O’Rourke’s candidacy. This week, The New York Times ran a front-page feature focused  focused on his potential candidacy. The only other possible candidates mentioned in the article are those the writer believes Beto particularly threatens—Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Joe Biden
What’s more, strong anecdotal evidence exists that large numbers of probable Democratic voters are intrigued by Beto. Other than Biden, Bernie and Hillary, O’Rourke attracted the most support in a recent national poll, although he won a mere 9% of participants. My Facebook universe of more than 3,500 friends, which is decidedly Democratic and progressive, generates at least two dozen updates a day about the 2020 election. About a sixth of the posts wail over the possibility of Hillary running and another sixth propose Bernie as the top choice. A handful of posts mention other candidates, while the remainder—about two-thirds—propose Beto as the top candidate.
Yet what has he done? Not much, as it turns out.
He served three undistinguished terms as a back bencher in the House of Representatives. Between forming an environmental coalition, speaking out (sometimes inaccurately) on many issues and paying her interns a decent wage, the spunky Alexandria Octavio-Cortez has already had a greater impact as a congressional representative than Beto did in six years, and she hasn’t even taken office yet. Before he ran for office, he had an undistinguished career in business.
Beto, like JFK, both Bushes, Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown and Mitt Romney, does have the advantage of coming from a politically connected family. His mother is the stepdaughter of the Secretary of the Navy under JFK, while his father served as county commissioner and county judge and is a longtime political crony of former Texas Governor Mark White. We can assume that Beto called in decades of chits in first running for office as an unknown mediocrity.
When the news media and social media gush about O’Rourke, they focus on one fact and two feelings. First and foremost, they mention his charisma, which is, to quote Webster’s “a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure.” Charisma is an amorphous feeling that has been applied to JFK, Reagan, Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush (only in comparison to his 2000 opponent, Al Gore). No one likes to use the “c” word when talking about Donald Trump, Adolph Hitler, Huey Long or Mussolini, but we know that large numbers of people were irrationally devoted to these individuals. Some individuals with charisma were decent leaders, but most were fairly mediocre like JFK or Clinton, or full scale disasters like Ronnie and Georgie. Then there are the manipulative, lying demagogues. Many Democrats seem very likable, especially Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar and Corey Booker. Others have the gravitas that I prefer in a leader, including Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee and Sherrod Brown. All have greater credentials and have accomplished more in their lives than Beto.
Beto-heads like the fact that O’Rourke raised so much money from so many small donors for his failed campaign to unseat Texas Senator Ted Cruz. That’s the fact. We’ll never know, however, what portion of the small givers were as much anti-Cruz as they were pro-O’Rourke. A lot of people despised Cruz before they ever heard of Beto. Remember that Cruz is considered unctuous, hypocritical and untrustworthy by large numbers of people, and is even disliked by many of his allies in the Senate. No one has ever written that Ted has even a modicum of charisma, charm or even likeability.
Finally, supporters of O’Rourke believe that his great showing against Cruz in Texas demonstrates that he can beat Trump nationally in 2020. The implicit reasoning behind this feeling seems to be that the nation as a whole is more liberal than Texas. Yet Texas has a lot of minorities. Its demographic future seems to be similar to the path taken in Nevada, Virginia and Colorado, all states that are turning or have turned blue. Besides, it is Trump not Cruz who commands the so-called Republican base of evangelicals, those opposed to immigration and racists. They preferred Trump over Cruz in the 2016 primaries. If Beto couldn’t beat a despicable Cruz, why does anyone think he can handle the more formidable Trump?
Compare Beto to the last newcomer anointed as a charismatic Democratic savior who leaped ahead of more experienced Democrats, Barack Obama. First of all, Obama had far more relevant experience. He had been a prominent Senator who had made noises during his four years representing Illinois, and a Constitutional law professor before that. When we focus only on domestic affairs, Obama turned out to be a good president, but during his first few years in office he made several mistakes stemming from his lack of experience as an administrator. Can we expect the less experienced and less well-educated O’Rourke to do any better than Obama?
It’s not just that Beto is at best marginally qualified to be president. It’s that the Democratic bench is so deep and talented that it makes little sense to put the nation’s future in Beto’s hands.
In a related column tomorrow, I will consider some of these other Democrats from the standpoint of what should be the most important factor in 2020—electability.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Editorial: Turn Rural America Purple

It took a blue wave, partly motivated by the need to check Donald Trump’s authoritarian impulses, to unseat 40 Republican members of Congress in the midterm elections and give Democrats the House majority for the first time since 2011.

Democrats have faced an uphill battle in the House since a Republican wave in 2010 gave the GOP control over drawing new congressional maps in a majority of states in 2011. Those maps drawn by Republicans allowed Democrats to get huge margins in urban districts, but they gave Republicans healthy partisan margins in more suburban and rural districts.

A Brennan Center analysis of the 2012 election showed that in states where Republicans controlled redistricting, their candidates won 53% of the vote and 72% of the seats. That year, Republicans won 48% of the vote nationwide while taking 54% of House seats. In 2016, they won 49% of the vote and 55% of the seats — a 6 percentage-point gap.

In the November midterms, a combination of shifting populations, high voter turnout, a revolt of suburban female voters, and court-ordered redrawn congressional maps in key states allowed Democrats to capture seat totals closer to their share of the vote, Bloomberg News noted..

Republicans added to their narrow Senate majority, Dan Balz noted in the Washington Post, as Trump and his allies maximized support in red states among voters in rural areas and small towns. But the Trump-centric strategy backfired in the race for control of the House, as suburban voters — particularly women — revolted against the president, delivering a rebuke to his party’s candidates in district after district.

Among the 11 most rural districts considered competitive by the Cook Political Report before the election, Republicans held nine of the 11, Balz noted. When the new Congress assembles in January, they’ll still hold eight of the 11.

GOP losses in the next category, suburban-rural districts, were also modest, as seven of 19 districts in this group changed parties, with five shifting to the Democrats and two to Republicans, and one remaining to be decided.

The damage to Republicans grows in suburban-grounded districts. In 30 districts categorized as suburban-sparse, Republicans went into the election holding every one of them. Democrats won 16 of the seats in the election.

In 15 districts described as suburban-dense, something similar happened. Republicans held all 15 before the election. In January, they’ll represent just three. In nine districts categorized as urban-suburban, Republicans go from holding seven to holding just one.

Democrats will have a better chance of winning a Senate majority in 2020. While Democrats and independents who caucus with them were defending 26 Senate seats this year, only nine Republican-held seats were up for election. Democrats flipped two Republican seats while Republicans flipped four Democratic seats, and likely have a 53-47 majority (the Mississippi seat was up for grabs when we went to press). In 2020, the GOP is expected to defend 22 seats, including a special election for the late Sen. John McCain’s seat, while 12 seats held by Democrats are up.

Among the most endangered senators in 2020 are:

• Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who won a special election in 2017 to replace Jeff Sessions. Unless he can get the GOP to renominate Roy Moore, Jones will have trouble in a state Trump won by 28 points in 2016.

• Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has been a faithful Trumper in the Senate despite his state’s increasingly blue lean.

• Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was appointed to the seat in September after John McCain’s death. But Kyl indicated he’ll step down early next year, so another Republican will run in 2020 in an increasingly competitive state, where Kyrsten Sinema (D) narrowly defeated Martha McSally (R).

• Susan Collins (R-Maine), a four-term senator who faces criticism from Republicans for her vote against Obamacare repeal while Democrats, spurred by her support of Mean Drunk Justice Brett Kavanaugh, have already crowdfunded $3 million for a challenger in a state Democrats have carried in the past three presidential elections.

• Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) has been a faithful Trumper who may seek a second term in a swing state that Trump won by three point in 2016 but narrowly elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on the same ballot. Tillis is rumored to be considering running for governor.

• Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) would be seeking a third term in a state that has gone from reliably Republican to a swing state as Democrats have moved into Boston’s outer suburbs.

• Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is seeking a second term in a state that Barack Obama carried twice but Trump carried by nine points.

Other Republicans who are potentially vulnerable include David Perdue in Georgia, Mitch McConnell in Kentucky (OK, we wish) and Steve Daines in Montana, particularly if term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock (D) runs. Republicans also likely will target Tina Smith, seeking her first full term in Minnesota, and Mark Warner in Virginia, who would be seeking his third term.

Republicans are counting on the urban-rural divide, as well as racially polarized voting, to keep Republicans competitive in 2020.

Democrats used to be competitive in rural areas and they should be again. Tom Vilsack, a Democratic former governor of Iowa who was Barack Obama’s agriculture secretary for eight years, told The Guardian his party needs to connect with the rural voters to win the next presidential election.

Vilsack said Democrat J.D. Scholten worked hard in his challenge of right-wing Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), losing by only three points in a rural western Iowa district that King won by 22 points two years ago. Vilsack said Scholten was let down by the failure of the Democratic Party, particularly its national leadership, to offer a vision to rural voters who feel the party has little to say to them and is focused on urban supporters.

Vilsack thinks the party should talk more about rural challenges, such as the rapid contraction of small family farms, the disappearance of factory jobs, and shrinking populations as small towns are left with boarded-up businesses and aging residents. Democrats should have a plan for a future beyond an extraction economy and the kind of jobs that will keep young families in rural towns. He also wants the party to challenge the GOP’s anti-government rhetoric by championing the role of federal programs in helping rural communities by guaranteeing property loans, expanding access to clean water and reaching millions of people with broadband internet access.

Vilsack is right. Rural America hasn’t gotten much in return for its support of the Republican Party, which has neglected rural schools, health care facilities and economic development — and now Trump’s ill-considered trade war with China has left farmers with bins full of corn and soybeans and no place to sell them. Trump promised a $12 billion emergency farm aid package, but the average payment to farmers is $7,236, according to the Environmental Working Group, and many of the checks are less than $25, as corn growers are getting only a penny a bushel. “The corn payments are a joke. Someone at USDA made a mistake” in determining the formula for assistance, said Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University economist, to the Des Moines Register (Nov. 28). Farm bankruptcies are up in North Central states, and experts fear the trend will get worse as farmers cope with the fallout from Trump’s trade war with China.

Had enough? Vote Democratic.

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2018

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Copyright © 2018 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the December 15, 2018 issue

COVER/Art Cullen
‘Vaya con dios’: the impossible life of a judge on the US immigration frontline 

Turn rural America purple 


Dennis Kucinich, the blue wave and hope for the Dems 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Winning on issues is consolation prize 

Centrist Dems work with Wall Street to block Pelosi House Speaker bid.
After Trump threat, Mexico announces asylum agreement may be off.
White House admits Trump climate policies will cost US $500 billion a year.
GM plant closings contradict Trump rhetoric.
Health care drives new voters.
Dirty farm water makes US sick, but Trump's FDA delays testing rule.
Arkansas Medicaid work requirement fiasco actually causes man to lose job.
Gowing Latino vote could make Texas 'fully competitive' in 2020 ... 

California is on fire. Trump’s solution: rakes? 

We call BS, now, will you please get over this partisanship? 

Mexican saints and trumps emerge in migrant/refugee drama 

Can we talk about guns? 

Losing Paradise 

The Trump tax cut: Heavy costs, little benefit to the markets 

Pax Vobiscum. Who are the patriots? 

Cash buys elections — and continued fossil fuel dominance 

The demise of American denim? 

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Hubris at the feast 

With Amazon HQ2, be careful what you wish for 

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
What’s wrong with the economy, and what can we do about it? 

Now the hard part 

Defeating the Fasclican Party 

US-led ‘great power rivalry’ causing instability in Asia 

‘Big victory’: Another Trump whopper 

Declaring war on bad Christmas music 

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
The big o’s drive-by 

Foreign affairs at AFI: ‘Nonfiction’ and ‘Roma’

Friday, November 16, 2018

Editorial: Good Day for Democracy

American voters made an important first step toward restoring democracy on Nov. 6 when they overcame a decade of gerrymandering to elect a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives.

It would have been better if Democrats had defied the odds and regained control of the Senate, too, but voters in Florida, Indiana and Missouri rejected moderate Democratic incumbent senators in favor of Trumpist Republicans. Democrats Jacky Rosen and Kyrsten Sinema flipped Republican seats in Nevada and Arizona, but it was not enough to tip the balance, so Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley will be free to ram Trump’s right-wing judicial nominees through the Senate for the next two years.

Some on the left are calling for new blood to lead the House in January, but this is no time for on-the-job training. House Democrats should elect Nancy Pelosi as Speaker because she knows the levers of power and she performed ably as speaker of the House in 2007-8, in opposition to George W. Bush. Pelosi also played a key role as Speaker in 2009-10 in passing the bills Barack Obama needed to come out of the House in the first two years of his administration.

Much media attention has been on the newcomers, such as Reps.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Presley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, and Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, but, as of January, Donald Trump will have to answer subpoenas from House committee leaders such as Elijah Cummings, D-Md., incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., new chair of the Judiciary Committee; and Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who will take over as chair of the Intelligence Committee from Devin Nunes, who was one of Trump’s biggest enablers in the House.

Trump, in his petulant press conference the day after the election, said he would negotiate with the Democrats on plans for infrastructure improvements, health care and “whatever they’re looking at,’’ as long as they don’t push investigations of his administration.

“They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate,” Trump said. “I could see it being extremely good for me politically because I think I’m better at that game than they are, actually, but we’ll find out.”

Pelosi on Election Night indicated she is ready for a fight with the White House. “Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans. It is about restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances to the Trump administration.”

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post noted that the government is due to run out of money on Dec. 7. “Don’t be surprised if a continuing resolution passed during the lame-duck session becomes the new majority’s headache when it expires next year. By March 2019, the suspension of the legal limit on federal borrowing (the debt ceiling) will expire. Raising the debt ceiling has gone from a must-do no-brainer to a Republican bargaining chip in a high-stakes game of fiscal roulette nervously watched by global financial markets.”

Then there is the replacement, probably illegal, of Attorney General Jeff Sessions with party hack Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’ former chief of staff, less than a day after the midterm elections. Whitaker’s apparent task is to shut down the investigation of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The Democratic House should hit the ground running and not only protect Mueller’s investigation but also move bills that would help workers and small businesses, regardless of whether they stand a chance in the Senate or the White House.

House Democrats should hold hearings and pass bills to enact a $15-an-hour minimum wage, expand Medicare to cover all Americans — and improve the coverage for seniors — stop price-gouging by pharmaceutical corporations, rescind the 2017 tax break for billionaires and big corporations and instead cut taxes for workers and small businesses; and pass a new Voting Rights Act establishing that every citizen of voting age has a right to vote, and to have that vote counted, and providing criminal penalties for voter suppression.

As for the 2020 presidential race, the election shows how vulnerable Trump is to a competent challenger. shows the average of Trump’s approval ratings for recent polls was 43.9% on Nov. 6 while his average disapproval ratings was 51.8%. Those are not healthy ratings for re-election.

Trump in 2016 won the White House based on extremely narrow victories in three Great Lakes states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Trump won Wisconsin by 0.7 points (22,748 votes), Michigan by 0.2 points (10,704 votes) and Pennsylvania by 0.7 points (44,292 votes). All three states had Democratic incumbent senators who were thought to be vulnerable, as well as gubernatorial races. This year Democrats won all of them, including the long-sought ouster of labor-busting Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who was seeking a third term in Wisconsin. Walker finally lost to Tony Evers, a former school teacher who ran with the support of the unions the governor had conspired to crush.

While some lefties would like to recruit a celebrity, such as Oprah Winfrey or Tom Hanks, to run for president, Democrats should nominate someone who actually has served in a public office and can restore public trust in the White House. If Lyin’ Donald Trump hasn’t put to rest the foolish canard that government should be run like a business, we don’t know what will — but government certainly should not be run like a reality TV program.

With the election over, some senators who had deferred on making their ambitions known — particularly those who were up for re-election — are now stirring. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar have locked up new six-year terms as senators, and they are widely expected to check out opportunities in Iowa and New Hampshire. Joe Biden appears ready to run, Hillary Clinton might give it another try, and many Beto O’Rourke supporters hope he’ll eye a White House run. But another possible candidate who bears watching is Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Andrew Romano noted at Nov. 10, “Of all the Democrats who could plausibly play a part in the looming drama of the next presidential campaign, the raspy, rumpled populist emerged from Election Day with by far the most to brag about.”

Brown managed to win in a state that backed Trump by 8% two years ago, and where Republicans swept all of 2018’s other competitive contests, from governor on down.

In fact, Brown received 280,000 more votes than his party’s gubernatorial candidate, Richard Cordray, and 100,000 more than Cordray’s victorious Republican rival, Mike DeWine.

Brown has compiled one of the most liberal and pro-worker voting records in the Senate. He has played down his interest in running for president. But he has released progressive populist policy proposals that would strengthen labor standards and expand collective bargaining rights. And he would implement what he calls a “carrot and stick” approach to big companies that slash labor costs to pad their profits, charging a Corporate Freeloader Fee to companies that pay less than a living wage so that their employees need food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 housing vouchers.

In his victory speech Nov. 6, Brown noted that he won even as Trump had carried Ohio by eight points in 2016. “That is the message coming out of Ohio in 2018, and that is the blueprint for our nation in 2020,” he concluded. He should offer that blueprint to a national audience. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2018

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Selections from the December 1, 2018 issue

COVER/Steven Rosenfeld
It was a blue wave election — and Republicans got drenched

Good day for democracy


A theological treatise from Pittsburgh

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Strange poll results

Trump observes Veterans Weekend by shunning war dead, pushing to disenfranchise overseas military voters.
White House screams ‘fraud’ in Florida while Repubs await final counts in other states.
VA secretary plans budget cuts Trump requested.
FBI says Neo-Nazi militia in Ukraine trains US white supremacists.
Beto narrows gap in Texas.
Enfranchised cons might close gap in Florida.
People sickened by largest coal ash spill may finally get justice.
First priority for House Dems: Strenghtening democracy and ensuring voting rights ...

Map to White House starts on an Iowa blacktop road

Getting past Gingrich

2018 Midterms: Blue wave, red undertow

The day after

Midterm takeaway: We need a lot more democracy

NAFTA 2.0: The US Mexico Canada agreement is a fraud

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Race regimes

Ten midterm takeaways

How veterans changed the military and built the middle class

NAFTA 2.0 will help corporations more than farmers

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Common-sense food stamps

Political brain games

Where are prison reformers?

Volcker at twilight

Mars and other fantasies

Tourists in the White House

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
The re-education of Kanye and The Donald

Celebrities in politics

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
The high stakes of today

A funny thing happened on the way to the politicon: Socialism without socialists?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Midterm Madness

Graphic by Kevin Kreneck (updated  11/23/18 4:54 pm CST

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Great victory for Dems & the American people last night no matter what mainstream media says, but we have to start preparing for 2019

By Marc Jampole
Media pundits are trying to shade the election as a wash, but I see it as a major victory for Democrats, everyone who believes America is a multicultural society, and the 99.5% of us who don’t have a lot of money.
The central outcome of the 2018 midterm election is that the Democrats won back the House. The Dems will now be able to block obnoxious Republican legislation and open a series of investigations into Trump and Trump administration corruption and lawbreaking. For example, it’s a cinch that one or more House committees will now subpoena Trump’s past tax filings. The Democrats will also be able to wrestle concessions from Republicans in some no brainer areas such as criminal justice reform and repairing our frail infrastructure of mass transit, roads, bridges and sewer systems. While it’s doubtful progressives will see progress on the big issues such as healthcare and raising taxes on the wealthy, we also won’t face defunding of Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
Perhaps most important, control of the House means that something is now blocking the Trump and GOP’s path towards authoritarian control by a minority party. That the Republicans picked up a couple of Senate seats does not change the balance of power the way the Dem’s House victory does. It was always a pipedream to think that the Senate could change hands with so many Democratic seats open this year. On the bright side, a lot of GOP Senators will be up for reelection in 2020, vulnerable to Trumps’ unpopularity among a large majority of voters. The Trump agenda is now effectively blocked, except when it comes to installing rightwing judges.
One reason why the results look so much more balanced than actuality is that the GOP won many of the races the mainstream media focused on: Florida Governor and Senate, Georgia Governor, Texas Senate. Many of the vilest of Republican candidates won, like Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis and Marsha Blackburn, and at this point Brian Kemp and Rick Scott, too. To the good, Scott Walker and Chris Kobach, two of the most deplorable of the deplorables, did lose. But many of the most attractive Democrats went down, mainly Beto O’Rourke and Andrew Gillum (and maybe Stacey Abrams), all christened by the news media as rising stars. Pundits on multiple cable stations salivated at the thought of Beto running for president in 2020.
Luckily, the Democrats have plenty of attractive possible candidates who could prove formidable in 2020, including Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Gavin Newsom, Chris Murphy, Corey Booker, Martin O’Malley, Andrew Cuomo and Jay Inslee (not to mention yesterday’s news such as Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine). All, except maybe Bernie, would make competent presidents. All would tack left on healthcare, Social Security, infrastructure development, public education, social inclusiveness, a foreign policy paced on cooperation with other countries and action to address global warming. One will catch fire with Democratic voters. Let’s then hope that before too long the cable analysts stop pushing Beto. Someone who couldn’t even defeat Ted Cruz won’t have a chance against the Donald.
But before 2020 comes the very important off off year of the 2019 local elections that will do much to determine whether we continue to become an autocratic government whose sole objective is to enrich those already wealthy. If Democrats can continue to grab state legislatures, they can be in firm control to implement the results of the 2020 census. Remember that Dems lack of competiveness in 2010, the last election to determine who set the boundaries of Congressional districts, led to the current dire situation. Democratic state legislatures will also be able to end the wave of voter suppression laws that in all likelihood caused the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016, and of the statewide candidates in Georgia and Florida this year. Finally, state legislatures can serve as a bulwark against an increasingly conservative federal court system.
Participation in the electoral process can never be a one-off activity, like a vacation to Machu Picchu. You have to keep voting for Democrats at every level in every election and keep participating to drive the Democratic Party further left. I urge all readers to begin now to investigate the open offices and who is running as a Democrat in their 2019 local races and communicate to everyone you know how important it is to keep coming out to vote for Democrats in 2019.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A lay sermon on voting against Trump and for Democrats on November 6

By Marc Jampole

In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Life, the name of the synagogue where an anti-Semite with an AR-15 killed 11 worshipers, is the Torah. For example, the final song before closing the synagogue ark after reading from the Torah calls the Torah a “tree of life. The passage goes ”It is a tree of life onto them that lay hold of it, and happy is every one that retaineth it.” (from the 1958 Hebrew Publishing Company edition of the Synagogue Service New Year and Atonement)
The Torah—or the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch, as it is also known—records the mythic history of the Jewish people from the birth of the universe through the exodus from Egypt and the wandering in the desert for 40 years before entering the Holy Land. But beyond the narrative, the Tree of Life is a guide for how to live one’s life. Rabbis have identified 613 specific commandments in the five books, most of which have been subject over the centuries to repeated interpretation to bring them up to date to cover situations, technologies and times that have changed dramatically since the original writing of the Torah, about 2,600 years ago. Each time someone follows any one of the 613 commandments, he or she performs a “mitvah,” a good deed. The idea of the Torah as a book of action as much as a book of history is central to all branches of Judaism.
I don’t believe I’m wrong to propose that action in the world—be it prayer, acts of kindness or bravery of making your voice known, dominates the way Jews live in the world, be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist or atheist. Moses stresses the importance of acting in the world in his very last speech to the Jewish people, at the end of Deuteronomy. I’m going to give two translations, first the standard one you can find on the internet: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.
Now the slightly more formal translation in the 1962 Jewish Publication Society of America translation: “Concealed acts concern the Lord our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching.”
There’s a double message here. First that our salvation and our objectives on earth can only manifest themselves through action. It doesn’t matter what you say or what you think. You are judged on what you do. It sounds very existential to me, which may explain why so many atheists of Jewish background insist they are good Jews and that there are a number of Synagogues for atheist Jews across the country.
The second message is just as clear: Our actions should depend on the real world—the things that are revealed. This affirmation of science and the application of facts stands in stark opposition to certain other religions that expect us to ignore facts in favor of faith, which, as Emily Dickinson once pointed out, “is a fine invention when gentlemen can see, but microscopes are prudent in an emergency.”
The countdown of the 2018 midterm election has seen so many truly disturbing events that the more religious among us may have come to believe we are living in apocalyptic times. The brutal assassination of Jamal Khashoggi; the wave of pipe bombs sent to public figures whom Donald Trump has constantly demonized in speeches and tweets; the racist murder of two African-Americans outside a supermarket in Kentucky; the dreadful Tree of Life slaughter. Many others probably feel as I do—as if I’m on the ropes of a fight ring and am being hit on the jaw time and again by a heavyweight boxer. That the violent and hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and the Trumpites running for office has engendered an atmosphere of permission for the crimes and hate speech is hard to dispute. Since the latest mass murder and hate crimes, Trump and his administration have put the pedal to the metal in advocating various forms of racism both directly and using coded language and action. In talking with Pittsburgh Jewish leaders, Trump said that he, like them, likes to negotiate, an anti-Semitic slur. Mike Pence invited a spiritual leader who is a Jew for Jesus to pretend to be a rabbi and give a speech at a memorial ceremony for the Tree of Life dead, a poke in the eye to virtually every Jew. Trump used his authoritarian streak to ratchet up the hate when he asserted that he could overrule the 14th amendment and outlaw birthright citizenship with an executive order. We wake up each morning asking ourselves, what fresh hell will come today?
While the Torah is clear that we shouldn’t wait around for a miracle of faith, but act, its writers could not have anticipated the complex challenges of a post-industrial world in which the ultra-wealthy have made a devil’s pact with racists and the authoritarian right. But I infer a very clear application of the Torah’s message: Vote, and do not vote for liars and those who dispute scientific truth.
Scientific truth, of course includes a belief in global warming and the idea that racial constructs are meaningless. It includes an understanding that immigrants—legal and illegal—raise the wages and employment of everyone and commit fewer crimes than the native born. It recognizes that single-payer universal healthcare leads to lower healthcare costs; that lowering taxes on the wealthy does not create jobs; and that the more guns in a society, the more people are killed and injured by guns. It dismisses outrageous lies like the Saudi arms deal will create a million jobs, the caravan of refugees 900 miles from the border represents a national threat, or the United States is the only country to grant birthright citizenship. It discounts all racial and cultural stereotyping. In other words, to vote for truth requires us to reject Trumpism in its whole and its parts.
For Americans of good faith, be they Jewish or non-Jewish, believers or atheists, that means one thing and one thing only: wherever you are, vote straight line Democratic. I know that no Democrat will align exactly with your positions, but 2018 is one year when must vote by party, not individual, if we are to defeat the evil of Trumpism. Hold your nose and cast your ballot for that imperfect candidate, as long as she/he is a Democrat. The future of our country depends on it.
And you’d be doing a mitzvah.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Editorial: Can Truth Catch the GOP?

Republicans across the country have followed Donald Trump’s lead in lying their butts off about everything from the threat of immigrant invasion to the Republican role in improving the economy. Trump has been a nonpareil in the field of mendacity, making more than 5,000 false or misleading claims as president, as of mid-September, by the Washington Post’s count. He has told as many as 125 lies in one day. Trump has lived in a “post-truth” world since he got into politics, but he stepped up the pace since Labor Day as he campaigned to support Republicans for the mid-term congressional elections. Among his most outrageous lies were claims that, after 10 years of opposition to the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans will help Americans with pre-existing conditions keep health insurance coverage and they will protect Medicare from Democratic efforts to expand the single-payer health coverage.

Trump wrote a column for USA Today Oct. 10 that claimed “Democrats want to outlaw private health care plans, taking away freedom to choose plans while letting anyone cross our border.”

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post noted that “almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood,” including many claims that already had been debunked.

“Medicare-for-All is a complex subject, and serious questions could be raised about the cost and how a transition from today’s health-care system would be financed,” Kessler wrote. “Trump correctly notes that studies have estimated that the program — under the version promoted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — would cost $32.6 trillion in costs to the federal government over 10 years.”

But if that means Medicare for All Would cost an average of $3.26 trillion per year, the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates that the US already spends nearly $3.5 trillion on health care annually. And that’s with nearly 10% of the population uninsured, and the uninsured portion expected to increase after Republicans last year upended Obamacare’s “individual mandate” and removed subsidies to health insurance companies that kept premiums down.

Under Medicare-for-All, costs in theory would go down for individuals, state governments and others, so overall national health expenditures may not increase and could even decrease.

On paper at least, Sanders’ plan would improve benefits for seniors, not take them away. He would eliminate deductibles and cover dental and vision care and hearing aids, which are not covered under current law. Then, over the course of four years, the eligibility age would be lowered in stages until every American was covered.

Trump claimed he kept his campaign promise to protect patients with pre-existing conditions. In fact, he lobbied the Republican Congress to repeal the ACA, which would have gutted regulations prohibiting insurers from charging more, withholding benefits or denying coverage to people with serious medical conditions.

The ACA repeal failed by one vote in the Senate, but Trump used his executive authority to undermine pre-existing protections in other ways — by reversing regulations that kept cheap, skimpy plans off the insurance market, for example, and by asking the federal courts to deem the existing regulations unconstitutional.

Trump claimed “Democrats have already harmed seniors by slashing Medicare by more than $800 billion over 10 years to pay for Obamacare.”

In fact, the ACA strengthened the near-term outlook of the Medicare Part A trust fund. The law includes a 0.9% payroll tax increase on wages and self-employment income of wealthier Americans — above $250,000 per couple or $200,000 for a single taxpayer. That was estimated to raise an additional $63 billion for the Part A trust fund between 2010 and 2019. The net result was that the “insolvency” date was extended by 12 years.

Far from protecting Medicare, Trump proposed $350 billion in cuts to the Medicare budget — and about $540 billion in Medicare cuts were assumed in the budget plan the House GOP approved. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said Congress would need to cut back Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to reduce the federal deficit that has soared since the Republican Congress approved $1.5 trillion in tax breaks for billionaires.

For years, House Republicans, led by Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) have pushed for a significant overhaul of Medicare that would switch the program to “premium support” — or vouchers for retirees to pay for a range of plans offered by insurance companies through a “Medicare exchange.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that, under the House Republican Medicare plan, by 2030 the government would pay just 32% of health care costs, less than half of what Medicare currently pays. The other 68% would have to be shouldered by retirees.

Republicans recognize that the protections for pre-existing conditions are very popular and they are now trying to rewrite history on their opposition to the regulations.

US Rep. Martha McSally, Republican nominee for Arizona’s open Senate seat, last year voted for repeal of the ACA, including regulations that blocked insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. She reportedly stood up in the GOP conference meeting May 4, 2017, and told her colleagues it was time to “get this f***ing thing done!” In an Oct. 16 debate with US Rep. Krysten Sinema, the Democratic nominee, McSally insisted that she voted to protect people with pre-existing conditions, because the GOP replacement bill included some funding for states to help people with pre-existing conditions pay for higher premiums insurance companies would be allowed to charge — and she accused Sinema of lying when she brought up McSally’s ACA repeal vote.

The Republican animosity toward the ACA caused 20 Republican state attorneys general to file a lawsuit trying to eliminate protection for pre-existing conditions. and the Trump administration is declining to oppose the suit — in effect endorsing it. One of the attorneys general suing to dismantle the ACA is Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who is now running for the Senate posing as a defender of Missourians with pre-existing conditions. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, voted for a similar bill that would have destroyed Obamacare but he’s also misrepresenting himself in his re-election campaign.

And the Republican assault on affordable comprehensive health care continued Oct. 22 when the US Department of Health and Human Services announced new rules that will give state governments more leeway to gain waivers from some of the federal health-care law’s core requirements, giving residents access to cheaper, skimpier plans

The mainstream corporate media must step up its efforts to hold Trump and other Republicans to account for their reckless disregard and even contempt for the truth. But even when a Democrat calls Trump on his lies, pundits make excuses for Trump. That happened when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called Trump’s bluff and published results of a DNA test that showed evidence of her Native-American ancestor. As her mother had told her and her siblings, Warren’s grandparents had to elope to get married, because her grandfather’s family didn’t approve of her grandmother’s Native blood. Trump mocks her as “Pocahontas.”

Vote Democratic Nov. 6; or vote early if you can, and get a couple frienda to vote, too. This is no time to complain about “the lesser of two evils.” A Democratic Congress at least can mitigate the damages Lying Donnie would do during the next two years, and they might just save your health care. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2018

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Copyright © 2018 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the November 15, 2018 issue

COVER/Thom Hartmann
Republicans are coming for your Social Security and Medicare

Can truth catch the GOP?


The Kavanaugh ‘Victory’

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
You want Big Pigs across from your back yard? 

Journalist murder apparently won’t sour Trump relations with Saudis.
GOP seeks to weaponize Central American immigrant threat.
GOP’s desperate strategy: Mimic Trump’s fear of immigrants.
Civil rights organizations ramp up election effort to protect voting rights.
Deficit due to GOP wars and tax cuts, not Social Security and Medicare, Dems say.
Trump pullout from arms treaty rankles Russians.
Two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
Justice says Trump claim thast Obama had his 'wires tapped' was unfounded.
Global warming causes climate change ... 

Hear no climate change; speak no climate change; see no climate change

Voting matters, but staying engaged matters more

Dysfunctional display in Farm Bill standoff

Commons vs. Capitalism

Do Republicans hate all protesters?

Americans want a manufacturing overhaul and they want it now

Is the World Trade Organization unfair to the US?

Pressing concerns

Global climate change comes home

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Gullible patients, gullible voters: The tale of ketamine

Aging well can be expensive

America’s conservative judiciary

Democratizing the court — and the entire body politic

Growing up with Vietnam

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Bringing back the backlash (as if it ever went away)

‘The Oath’ plays totalitarianism for laughs

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Reckless: Kissinger and the Vietnam War

California union nurses help with Hurricane Michael recovery

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Our Middle Eastern policy favors Saudi Arabia over Iran and that makes absolutely no sense

By Marc Jampole

The reaction of Donald Trump and other administration officials to the butchering of U.S. resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian security staff illuminates the larger absurdity of American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Whether it’s not believing it happened, accepting the Saudis’ several sanitized versions of the brutal assassination, or minimizing the transgression and soft pedaling the reaction to this barbarism, Trump, his factotums and right-wing pundits give two reasons for putting their faith in the Saudi version: the money Saudis pay U.S. companies for arms and the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in U.S. foreign policy. In the age of fracking, few talk about Saudi oil.
Putting money above morality and a free press merely demonstrates—for what seems like the five hundredth time this year—the amoral corruption of Trumpism. Democrats, mainstream journalists and many government officials across the globe rightly see the depths of depravity in going easy on the Saudis. Perceptive commentators have noted that Trump’s frequent violent language against reporters may have made the Saudis believe that they had “permission” to use torture and murder to silence one of the regime’s strongest critics while issuing a de facto warning to other journalists questioning Saudi actions in Yemen and elsewhere. Strangely, no one has yet compared the dismemberment of Khashoggi—likely initiated while he was still alive—to the ISIS beheadings of a few years back.
But I’ve yet to see any U.S. politician or pundit push back on the assertion that Saudi Arabia holds a strategic importance in U.S. policy. That strategic importance is tied to constraining Iran, the Saudis fierce rival in the region for the hearts and minds of Moslems. Thus what most people, including Democrats, really mean by “strategic importance of Saudi Arabia” is “we’re choosing Saudi Arabia over Iran.” And what a crazy decision that is in so many ways.
Let’s start with past harm to the United States. An ally of the Unites States before the 1979 revolution, Iranian students took 52 Americans hostage a few days after that revolution started. Iran held the 52 Americans for 444 days. Although the hostages were beaten and lived in fear, every single one of them came back alive. Since then, there has been no documented case of any American dying at the hands of the Iranian military or police. It is true that Iran has supported political groups engaged in violence against America and its allies, but giving groups money and arms is far different from pulling the actual trigger. If it wasn’t, we couldn’t justify our support and military sales to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and other countries which have committed atrocities.
Compare the harm inflicted on the United States by Saudi Arabia. It is common knowledge that virtually all of the 9/11 hijackers who killed almost 3,000 Americans were Saudis who received monetary support from other Saudis. Less well-know are the many direct and indirect ties between the 9/11 perpetrators and financers and Saudi government officials.  can now add Jamal Khashoggi to the toll of dead American residents attributable to Saudi Arabia.
Now let’s consider the assets of our friend the Saudis compared with our enemy the Iranians. Saudi Arabia is a desert country of 33 million with lots of oil and no other natural resources. It has no history of democracy and its educational system does not produce graduates with marketable skills. Besides oil, Iran has a wealth of natural resources, an historically strong, Western-looking middle class, and a well-educated population of 81.5 million. Iran held elections with real meaning for decades until a U.S.-supported coup d’état helped to install Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as dictator in 1953; today there are semi-free elections in Iran. Saudi Arabia occasionally has local elections to offices without any power.
While neither country offers the freedoms we are used to in the West, Iran is definitely a more open society than Saudi Arabia. The cultural history of Saudi Arabia—dominated by nomadic tribes and Islam—has little in common with the West, whereas Iran is Persia, whose civilization is one of the foundational precursors of European thought and culture. Persian/Iranian history is rich in important non-religious thinkers and writers. Other than Mohammed the Prophet and his first prominent followers, who has the Arabian Peninsula produced? Look at the Wikipedia articles titled “List of Saudi Arabian Writers” and “List of Persian Writers.” The Arabian list has 37 names; the Persian has 188, including some I recognized as literary masters: Ferdowski, Omar Kayyám, Saadi, Hafez, Leila Kasra, Muhammad Iqbal.
As usual, our foreign policy has no basis in history. Our saber-rattling for years only goaded Iran to invest more in its military and to developing nuclear weapons. Economic sanctions, however, brought Iran to the table and led to the Iran Nuclear Treaty, which the Trump Administration has unfortunately shredded. Theocrats may often have the last word in Iran, but the middle class and business classes put enormous pressure on the elected government and the religious leaders to provide a growing economy. (The Saudis, of course, don’t face that demand since the sheer wealth of the Saudi Princes enables them to put more than half the population on welfare.) So why the heck do we need to arm anybody to counter Iran, when economic threats have worked just fine? Sure, the military arms industry will suffer, but that shouldn’t matter to any government that feels a responsibility to its people and the world. A foreign policy based on bellicosity often leads to war.
But don’t expect the horrific killing of Jamal Khashoggi to change basic U.S. policy. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Prince Muhammad bin Salman, AKA MBS (as in “more BS”) step down as head of government, maybe returning in five or 10 years, maybe forever exiled from political leadership for committing the sin of not covering up his bloody tracks. But the U.S. will continue to consider the Saudis as allies and Iran as a mortal enemy, at least as long as the industrial military complex dominates our political process.