Bernie Sanders: A True American Hero

I was filling my car with gas the other day when a truck driver saw the “Bernie 2016” sticker prominently displayed on my back windshield and yelled out, “Will Bernie win?”

“No”, I responded. “I think he’s a little too old.”

To which the truck driver shot back, “Bernie has already won. His ideas have won.”
And, of course, the truck driver is spot-on.

Whether Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination in 2020 or not, he is a genuine American hero whose willingness to fight for progressive ideals over decades has completely upended the political debate: Medicare for all, free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage – we wouldn’t even be talking about these issues today if it weren’t for Bernie Sanders.

The wages of working people in this country have stagnated over decades. Poverty levels in the U.S. are among the highest in the industrialized world. Our politics has descended into chaos. And we have hugely regressive tax system and a federal budget that prioritizes defense spending over the needs of real people.

Bottom line: we need more people, like Bernie, willing to stand up and fight for the right of all people in this country to a decent job, a livable wage, debt-free education, and quality health care.

To so-called “moderate” Democrats, like Joe Biden, “here’s the deal, man”: cozying up to radical right-wing Republicans, holding big-dollar fund-raisers with the very monopolists you are supposed to be regulating, and tinkering around the edges of public policies that are heavily skewed in favor of the wealthy and big corporations may have been acceptable in decades past, but it is no longer good enough.

We need to fix our broken economy and dysfunctional political system, and to do that you have to get down in the trenches, as Bernie has done for his entire career.

So fight on Bernie (along with other progressive Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren) for truckers like the one I talked to, and working people everywhere.

Joe Biden and the Need For Unity

Joe Biden held a campaign rally yesterday at Eakins Oval near the Philadelphia Art Museum and the iconic “Rocky” statue. It was a glorious day. The sun was shining brightly while the Triumph Baptist Church Choir kicked off the rally with a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” among other gospel classics.

People of color, African Americans in particular, were out in force. Working people, including union members, wore blue Biden T-shirts and helped stoke the crowd with chants of “We Want Joe.”

The rally started with a inclusive, optimistic vibe. That is until Joe mounted the podium.  His message of unity in opposition to Trump came across as a bit scripted – long on campaign rhetoric, short on specific policy proposals and the fervor needed to bring about real change.

Progressives want more. Among other things, we want someone who will stand up to the moneyed interests and restore some fairness to an economy that favors the rich while hammering the poor and working class.  

It was telling that the Comcast building in downtown Philadelphia (see photo as left) was a towering backdrop to the event. On the very day he announced his campaign a week ago, Joe attended a big dollar fundraiser at the home of a senior Comcast executive in Philadelphia. It is going to be hard to push a progressive agenda when you take large contributions from the very people you are supposed to regulate.

Joe Biden says he believes in standing on principle, but also in working across the aisle, with Republicans, to get something done. Then he talked about free “community” college. Memo to Joe: the principle at issue is free college tuition so students are not strapped with huge debt to get an education that is increasingly essential to making a decent living.  By limiting your proposal to community college, It sounds a lot like you have compromised on that basic principle before the debate has even begun in earnest.

But there is reason for optimism.  Three years ago, Hillary Clinton preached “Stronger Together” while she and her campaign organization relentlessly attacked Bernie Sanders and the Progressive wing of the party.   Rather than bring the party together, she tore it apart, tragically paving the way for the election of Donald Trump.

Joe Biden has his flaws, but he is unlikely to make that same mistake. Nor is he totally out-of-touch with working people as was Hillary Clinton. Even if he does lean a little too “centrist” for many Progressives, he has strong support, as the Philadelphia rally demonstrated, among minorities and working people.  These are the very folks Democrats need to win the 2020 election and restore American democracy to some semblance of decency.

Joe Biden may not be perfect, but he is likely someone Progressives and others can work with. Regardless of who eventually gets the nomination, we need candidates who will help unify the Democratic Party, and the country, not tear them apart. 

A Government Captured by Corporations and the Wealthy

US Capitol with Sale Sign

The Republican tax bill passed the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday along straight party lines.  The legislation now goes to the full Senate.  It is one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation ever to be introduced in Congress, and yet it looks increasingly likely to pass the Congress and be signed into law.

The bill contains huge tax breaks for corporations and wealthy individuals while it hammers the poor and middle class.  Instead of stimulating economic growth, as Republicans claim, it is much more likely to hurt the economy over the longer term by exacerbating income inequality.

How did we get to this place where legislation of such immense importance and negative effect now seems likely to pass the Congress along straight party lines?

Well, you can blame Republicans and Democrats alike who have so contorted the budget process as to allow major legislations to pass on party line votes, instead of the 60 votes needed to ensure bipartisan support.

Or, you can blame the corporate media which is busy “reporting” on Donald Trump’s latest tweets – and totally out of its depth on most complex issues including taxation and the economy.

You can even blame the Democratic Party establishment which is mostly content to simply oppose Donald Trump rather than advance a coherent policy agenda of its own.

But if we are going to play the blame game, let’s get to the root cause: big money, mainly corporations, have so completely “Captured” the U.S. Government and they are now advancing legislation that clearly benefits them at the expense of the American middle class and the U.S. economy as a whole.

How do they do it: well, for one thing, they take advantage of court rulings such as Citizens United, and a lack of public disclosure requirements, thanks to Republican opposition in Congress, that allow corporations and wealthy individuals to operate out of public view while spending huge sums to lobby the government and influence elections.

Perhaps we should heed the words of Jeremy Grantham, a British born financier from Boston.  Grantham is a bit of a legend in financial circles, having predicated the last two financial bubbles in 2000 and 2007.  Here is Grantham quoted November 6, 2017 on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal:

“The U.S. form of capitalism has lost it way.  The social contract was previously in good shape.  Corporations looked after their employees.  They were more paternalistic.  Great pension funds were starting up.  The CEOs were increasing income alongside their workers.  CEOs earned more than 40 times workers.  Today that number is 350 times, and the system has gone to hell.  Keynes, Schumpeter – and Marx not to mention—thought, by their nature, corporations and capitalism would overreach simply because they could.  Corporations would use their advantages to get more power and more money.  Their share of the pie would increase, and cause society to push back.  Sooner or later there will be pushback.”

Well said, Jeremy.  But the time for “pushback” is not sooner. It is certainly not later.  It is now.

Oh when, oh when, will it ever end

Arise and fight!

Ever hopeful

God save our Nation once again

 

A Middle Class Under Siege

Tony Auth, Philadelphia Inquirer

As Republicans roll out the details of their disastrous tax plan, it is not a bad time to take a step back, tune out the media hype , and contemplate what is really going on in our democracy.

Since the 1700’s, America has led the world in the development of democratic processes and institutions.  It is hard to admit that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.  And yet it has.

For one thing, we elected Donald Trump President of the United States.

But, in our view, that is just a symptom of a much larger malaise.  The economy is in long-term decline and our government no longer works for the benefit of most Americans.

For decades after WW II, the American middle class was the envy of the world.  Today, that same middle class is struggling just to make ends meet.  Wages are stagnant; the level of income inequality is extreme.

Donald Trump tapped into this angst to get elected; Democrats, sadly, were oblivious to the struggles of the very people they were supposed to represent.

The tax debate currently taking place in the United States illustrates a big part of the problem – our political system has been hijacked by big money interests proposing to do just the opposite of what is actually needed.

Slashing taxes on the wealthy and major corporations, as Republicans have proposed, will almost certainly exacerbate income inequality and force cuts in services that primarily benefit the poor and middle class.

Many wealthy individuals, who rely primarily on capital gains and income from assets, already pay less as a percentage of their income than people who work for a living.  That is not fair.  It is almost certainly the reason Donald Trump will not release his tax returns.

Out tax system is already regressive.  Let’s not make it even worse.  Better yet, let’s fix it so the wealthy actually pay their fair share.

You don’t have to be a big-shot Ivy League economist to know that the American middle class has historically been the engine of economic growth in the U.S.  Yet under Republican proposals, by targeting additional tax breaks to the rich, the economy is more likely to shrink further, not grow.

Are you listening Democrats?  Will you take a stand up against the big money interests, oppose so-called Republican “tax reform” in all its nefarious forms, not get drawn in when Republicans throw you a bone like keeping deductions for state and local taxes, and finally do what is right for the American economy and its beleaguered middle class?

Let’s help fix our democracy by making damn sure this latest incarnation of tax cuts for the wealthy is consigned to the dust bin of history where it belongs.

Capturing the Spirit of Democracy

Museum of the American Revolution
Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, PA (source: Wikipedia)

 The Museum of the American Revolution opened in April of this year, funded largely by private donations.  Located in Old City Philadelphia, the museum is just blocks from Independence Hall and across the street from the First Bank of the United States founded by Alexander Hamilton.

The museum documents the history of the American Revolution through numerous exhibits, short films and reenactments, including hundreds of artifacts ranging from pamphlets to clothing to ships and weapons used by both sides.

But what really sets this museum apart is that, through pictures and short videos, it also tells the stories of real people, of farmers, African and Native Americans. And in so doing, it seems to capture the “spirit” of a Revolution where ordinary people rose up to oppose the oppression of a distant monarch and claim the “right” to govern themselves.

Upon entering the museum, an exhibit recounts how George Washington deliberately chose to live in a tent, to demonstrate that he was not above his men, and that he would share the hardships of long and brutal winters that nearly destroyed his army.  At the end of a video presentation, the curtain rises and the actual tent Washington used is revealed.

Another exhibit documents the contributions of Thomas Paine, a Philadelphian who helped spark the Revolution with the pamphlet “Common Sense” and whose later rallied troops on the brink of defeat with a series of pamphlets, “The American Crisis” (see excerpt below), written in part while Paine was encamped with Washington’s army near Trenton.

At one point, there’s a video reenactment of patriots tearing down a statue of King George III in Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan.  Its serves as a timely reminder that we must oppose tyranny in all its forms, and that the symbols of tyranny matter, whether kings or Confederate generals who fought to preserve slavery.

At another point towards the end of the museum’s self-guided tour, the question is posed: “What Kind of Nation did the Revolution Create?”  The answer suggests a tension that continues to this day:

“The Revolution is not over yet … ever since the adoption of the Constitution, Americans have struggled to balance their ideals of Liberty with the practical need for governmental authority.”

Later, as you exit the exhibition halls, there is a wall covered with mirrors.  Standing before the wall, with your image reflected in the glass, a caption asks you to gaze upon “the Future of the American Revolution.”  It gets you thinking.

Today, the spirt of the American Revolution is being challenged as never before.  It can be subtle as when our elected officials manipulate the media to cast tax breaks for the rich as health care or economic reform.  Or it can be more overt, as when those same officials denigrate and arrest minorities.

But subtle or overt, such actions betray the values of our founders fought for.  The Museaum of the American Revolution reminds us we have a duty as citizens to look in that mirror, and to fight to reaffirm the principles of justice and equality for all that are the foundation of our great democracy.

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. (Thomas Pain, the American Crisis, December 23, 1776)

O Canada, Health Care, Glorious and Free

It is smooth sailing for Canadians accessing quality health care at reasonable cost. Shelburne Harbour, Nova Scotia, Sept. 14, 2017. TheDemocraticView.com

My wife Mary and I recently took a short vacation to the Maritime provinces.  We visited Yarmouth and Shelburne, among other small towns along the South Coast of Nova Scotia.  We reveled in the natural beauty of the landscapes and the warmth of the people we met.

The only time it got even remotely strained was when a Canadian customs agent asked “the purpose of our trip” and I joked that “I was seeking asylum from Donald Trump.”  Oops! As a veteran of the Vietnam War protests, I was remembering a time when Americans did flee to Canada to escape the draft, and were mostly welcomed.

Today, I am told, Americans are fleeing once again, but this time many are seeking access to the Canadian health care system which most closely resembles the single payer, “Medicare for All” approach advocated by Bernie Sanders and other Democrats.

But unlike the Vietnam War era, the welcome mat is not out.  The custom agent (and wife Mary) were visibly upset with my half-assed humor.  Before letting me through, the agent made me prove we had travel reservations for the return trip to the U.S.  Canadians, understandably, do not want to bear the costs for Americans looking for access to affordable health care.

The Canadian health care system is not perfect.  Some services are not covered, like dental, vision and mental health. Users must pay out-of-pocket or carry private insurance.  Still, basic health services are free; total per capital costs are significantly lower than in the U.S. and health outcomes, such as life expectancy and infant mortality, are better.

All citizens, Franklin Roosevelt once proclaimed, have a “right” to a living wage, housing and health care.

Obamacare was a positive step in that direction.  In their latest effort, the Graham-Cassidy bill, Republicans are trying to roll back Obamacare not because they believe in “states rights,” as their latest, repackaged rhetoric would have you believe.  Rather, Republicans simply want to avoid paying higher taxes to subsidize low income folks – even if that means effectively denying basic health coverage to millions of people.

Well, democracy has a price.  Franklin Roosevelt understood that.  Canadians understand it and are living it every day.  But somewhere along the line, many Americans lost sight of basic democratic values of justice and equality.  People struggling to make ends meet should never have to choose between food on the table and a visit to the doctor.  Never.

Republicans, motivated by big money and corporate interests, are once again assailing our basic rights – and we need to fight back.

O Canada! Our home and native land!

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

Hillary Clinton: The Blame Game Revisited

What HappenedHillary Clinton’s new book, entitled “What Happened,” is due out later this month.  Based on excerpts circulating on the web, Clinton blames her loss in part on Bernie Sanders for repeatedly attacking her and setting up Trump’s refrain “Crooked Hillary.”  She also questions Sanders’ Democratic credentials and asserts that she, not Bernie Sanders, is the real Democrat.

Here’s another view:  the problem with Hillary Clinton was (and continues to be) that she is totally out-of-touch with reality and with ordinary Americans, having spent far too much time raising money from big donors rather than listening to, and addressing, the concerns of ordinary Americans.

And, by most accounts, Clinton ran a terrible campaign, one that was overly differential to her as an individual, to her ego, and not the important issues of our day, such as inequality and wage stagnation.

To make matters worse, all she really had to do to win the election was to embrace the Progressive movement and send a message of unity.  Instead, her campaign worked overtime to discredit and undermine Bernie Sanders, alienating his supporters, the very people whose energy and enthusiasm she needed to get elected.

And she continues to insult the Progressive wing of the Democratic Party by declaring that she’s the real Democrat and Bernie Sanders is some sort of interloper.  Well, the policies advocated by Hilary Clinton make it seem as if she is actually a Republican, or at best, a moderate Democrat stuck in a 1990’s time warp.

I have a message for Hillary – democratic politics is changing.   There is a new Progressive movement afoot in the land.   Maybe you, and other icons of the establishment, should get on board.  In the meantime, enjoy those book royalties from people naive enough to pay good money to hear the same failed message – over and over and over again.

Let’s Fix Our Broken Political System

Civility in Politics
Source: Pinterest.com

Back in the old days (and TDV remembers those days, barely) there was an ethos in politics: you were expected to be courteous and respectful of others, even those with differing points of view.

Well, those days, which lasted from roughly the Post-War period through the 1970’s, are long gone. Today, in American politics, it is not only OK to viciously attack those with whom you disagree, it is expected, a de facto prerequisite to participate in politics.

What happened? Well, the economy went south in the 1970’s and 1980’s and the purchasing power of working people in particular was hammered by inflation. Republicans cleverly exploited people’s angst by blaming it all on the government, and Democrats acquiesced.

Then came the internet and cable TV, and it was the people who shouted the loudest and attacked their opponents who got the most attention and were elected to public office.

To make matters worse, the Supreme Court in the Citizens’ United decision in 2010 held that money is an expression free speech, opening the floodgates to a tidal wave of special interest spending. This has only served to reinforce the shouting and mud-slinging that now passes for political debate in this country.

What to do about it? Well, the most obvious answer is to boot Donald Trump from office, since he is the culmination, the very epitome, of all that has gone wrong with our political system over decades since the 1980’s.

But we also believe it is not enough simply to oppose Trump. We must repair and rebuild our political culture and system so we treat people with respect; hold accountable those who don’t, and demand that elected officials actually do their jobs.

Here are a just a few obvious steps we could take to help heal a divisive culture and a broken political system:

  • We should ban political advertising on television because you can’t inform in 30 seconds. It has become all negative attack ads that only inflame passions rather than foster real debate.
  • We should give candidates free debate time on public television. After all, public television is subsidized by our tax dollars. Let’s use that subsidy to help foster a serious discussion of the important issues we face, rather than simply attack one’s opponents.
  • We should challenge Citizens’ United and limit the amount of money in politics.
  • We should insist that Congress actually do its job and require full disclosure of political contributions. There is simply no excuse for the amount of “dark money” in politics – except that our elected officials refuse to do anything about.
  • Also, and perhaps most importantly, let’s have term limits for those serving in Congress, so we routinely get fresh ideas and new blood from people who have not spent an entire career pandering to special interests for campaign donations.

And we are just warming up! Are you listening @TheDemocrats. It is not enough to simply oppose Trump. Tell us where you stand on the issues, and propose solutions, so we never, ever wind up in this place – ever again.

Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

Andrew Young
Civil rights icon Andrew Young appearing on Meet the Press

Andrew Young was interviewed on Meet the Press on Sunday (Aug. 20) in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Va.  Young, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement and protege of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., agreed with the essence of TDV’s point of view that we need to be careful not to let our outrage and condemnation drown out larger issues that may be in play including extreme poverty and lack of opportunity for too many Americans of all races.

Here are excerpts from the interview with Young:

The reason I feel uncomfortable condemning the Klan types is they are almost the poorest of the poor. They are the forgotten Americans. They have been used and abused and neglected …

We need to keep our eyes on the prize, and the prize is not everyone getting even. The prize is redemption …

Our job is not to put down white people. Our job is to lift everyone up together, to learn to live together as brothers and sisters, rather than perish together as fools.”

In addition to advising and marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement, Young formerly served as Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was also a congressman from Georgia; UN ambassador during the Carter Administration, and the Mayor of Atlanta.

Here’s a video of the full interview at nbcnews.com

Beyond Charlottesville: Addressing Underlying Causes of Racism and Violence

Racism and violence, of the kind we saw in Charlottesville, Va, this past week always merit our outage and condemnation.  But we have to be careful. Such attitudes pose a subtle danger: they can be overly simplistic and serve to obscure underlying issues that contribute to the unrest.

History has taught us that racism and violence are often symptoms of a deeper malaise rooted in economic hardship.  That was one of the lessons learned from the Nazis in W.W.II. They were able to exploit people’s economic anxiety and fear to create a police state that persecuted and killed Jews and other minorities.

America today is not Nazi Germany.  But there are parallels, not the least of which is an elected leader wiling to stoke fear and division for political gain rather than encouraging people to come together to pursue a greater, public good.

Meanwhile, economic opportunity and upward mobility have all but vanished for many Americans, rural and urban, white and black.  People feel trapped; there’s no place to go; the future looks bleak, and they lash out at everyone and everything that is different from them.

In a democratic society, we have a responsibility not only to condemn the racism and violence, but also to try to understand and address underlying issues – including pervasive poverty and a broken economy that leaves people feeling frustrated and trapped with few options for improving their lives.

Of course Trump has said many times that fixing the economy so it works for everyone is a central goal of his administration.  But his is purposefully misleading rhetoric designed to inflame passions rather than heal wounds.  The problem is all those immigrants and foreigners taking our jobs!  Trump and others like him are the problem, not the solution.  Scratch the surface of his policy proposals and its tax cuts for the rich that is at the core of Trump’s agenda (and that of his Republican allies in Congress).

The reality is that fixing the economy requires just the opposite: raising taxes on the wealthy, whose incomes have skyrocketed in recent decades while wages for working Americans have stagnated.   Taxes on high earners are at the lowest point in modern history.  The proceeds of the higher taxes should be invested in basic infrastructure, roads, bridges and transit systems – and in people, in health care, education and job training.  That would stimulate job creation and economic growth for all Americans.

Particular emphasis should be placed on investing in inner cities and rural areas where poverty and lack of opportunity are most pervasive.

Sounds like a heavy lift, and it is.  Politicians who propose higher taxes of any kind quickly become fodder for a flurry of attack ads.

Fortunately, there are some politicians willing to step-up:  Senator Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential nominee, for one; more recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York  proposed a tax on those earning over $500,000 to pay for long overdue subway repairs that primarily benefit working class New Yorkers.

We should always condemn racism and violence in all its forms, but we should never stop searching for the underlying causes and work to address those issues.  A rigged economy, that favors the wealthy while leaving working and poor people behind, is a contributing factor to the kind racism and violence we’re seeing in Charlottesville (and around the word).

The very fabric of American democracy is fraying.  It is time to fix it, with real, concrete economic reforms that improve the lives of all Americans, black, brown and white.

Crossing a Red Line

In the past, it has been rare that an event in American politics provokes such outrage. That’s because politicians are trained to offend as few as possible and appeal to a broad middle class and win elections.

So what is wrong with Donald Trump? He essentially won because the Democratic Party, (mis)led by Hilary Clinton, split in two – Progressives and moderates. The so-called moderates couldn’t seem to relate to working people or offer a positive message of change. Ultimately, they failed to generate the enthusiasm needed to counter Trump’s vacuous, populist bluster.

In this environment, one would expect Trump to move to the middle, to cement his support with disaffected voters on the margins whom he will need to win the next election.

Instead, Trump has doubled down with dangerous, “bomb”-bastic rhetoric targeted to his most ardent followers. In so doing, he has violated one of the most sacred pillars of American politics – America’s nuclear arsenal is intended as a deterrent, and you never, ever threaten nuclear war for political gain.

But that is just what Trump did and, in so doing, he has proven himself unfit for office.

He now needs to feel the “fire and fury” of the American electorate.

A Small Ray of Hope for American Democracy

Senator John McCain

Here at TDV we are Progressives. We believe in strong government that works for the people to improve their lives. That includes enabling a robust economy and providing educational opportunity and quality health care to all Americans. And, in the richest country on earth, no one, ever, should be forced to live in poverty.

Then, on the other hand, we are also realists. Not everyone is going to agree with us. Our point of view is more prevalent among young people in the big cities of our country. In rural America, the prevailing view tends to be much more conservative, libertarian, and anti-government.

This tension is not new. It has been a dominant theme in American politics since the founding when Jefferson and Hamilton faced off over the role of government, the creation of a central bank and the drafting of a constitution.

Yet, throughout our history, the political parties have usually found a way to reach compromise and to put the good of the people above partisan politics.

With the most recent election, however, any concept of compromise to achieve a higher public good seems to have gone missing. Trump and his allies, with few exceptions, appear to be in this exclusively for their own aggrandizement. Trump may be democratically elected, but he acts exactly like what he is: an oligarch.

Following the President’s lead, Republicans in Congress recently tried to ram through the repeal of “Obamacare”, President’s Obama’s signature health care legislation, with no Democratic support. During the debate in Congress, it started to become painfully obvious, and more than a little depressing, that our democratic system was floundering the shoals of abject partisanship. Are we really going to deny millions of people health care so we can cut taxes for the rich yet again?

Then one man, Senator John McCain, stood up, and joining two of his female colleagues, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, issued a “thumbs down,” to the repeal of Obamacare.

And in so doing so McCain, recently diagnosed with brain cancer, saved millions of Americans from losing their health care. Now, inspired by McCain, Collins and Murkowski, other Republicans such as Senator Lamar Alexander, who chairs the Senate committee responsible for health care legislation, have promised to work with Democrats to fix Obamacare rather than repeal it. And, so, after months of vicious partisanship, there appears to be a glimmer of hope that Democrats and Republicans can actually work together to get something accomplished for the good of the American people.

McCain is a conservative who supports high defense spending and the aggressive use of American military power.  TDV doesn’t agree with much of what McCain stands for, but we admire him as a hero and a patriot who endured torture during more than five years of captivity in North Vietnam’s infamous “Hanoi Hilton” (Hao Lo prison).  More recently, McCain has also proven himself a man of real principal who rebuffed the leaders of his own party to help save American democracy.

Thank you (again) Senator McCain for your service.  A few more people like you in Congress and maybe our troubled democracy can be still be salvaged.

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Here’s How Democrats Can Start Winning Elections Again

Mark Penn and Andrew Stein argue in a New York Times Op-Ed piece that Democrats should reject the “siren calls” of the left and move back to the center in order to win elections. Penn should know: From 1995 to 2008, he was the former pollster and senior adviser to those paragons of centrism, Bill and Hillary Clinton. Stein is the former president of Manhattan borough and New York City Council who was convicted of tax evasion in 2011 and endorsed Donald Trump for president last year.

The essence of their argument is not new: that Democrats have lost elections by advocating big government and failing to appeal to working class voters on the core issues they care about most: trade, immigration, jobs and the economy. In endorsing Trump, Stein wrote in a Wall Street Journal Op Ed piece: “He (Trump) is for strong pro-growth policies like reducing the marginal and corporate tax rates and eliminating thousands of job-killing and business-stifling regulations, the biggest of which is ObamaCare.”

That’s one point of view, mostly shared by Republicans and, sadly, too many so-called Democrats. Here’s another view: Democrats have lost elections because they became too centrist, caved to political expediency, and used polls to determine their positions on important issues rather than standing up for core Democratic principles. Those principles include the need to guide and regulate capitalism so the economic benefits of the economy don’t flow only to those at the very top of the income scale.

Ensuring that economic benefits are fairly distributed is not “big government” or “job killing regulation” as many Republicans and corporate Democrats, such as Penn and Stein, would have you believe. It’s fair government and we need more, not less of it.

When Democrats stand-up for equality and opportunity for all, without equivocation, in plain language, as they did in the earlier times after W.W. II and, more recently, as part of the Bernie Sanders campaign, maybe they will regain the mantle as “the Party of the People” and start winning elections again.

Fostering Terrorism, Selling Arms to Dictators and Screwing the Poor

This was a bizarre week in U.S. politics, and it wasn’t because of Donald Trump’s tweets. Two things happened that gave us more insight into who Donald Trump really is: Trump went on his first foreign tour, and his administration released its 2018 proposed budget.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, we witnessed Trump declaring war on “radical Islamist terrorism.” In the ridiculous extravagance of the Saudi Royal palace, Trump could be seen cozying up to the self-same autocrats and dictators who repress their own people, deny women rights, bomb civilians in Yemen and Iraq and support Wahhabi Islam, a fundamentalist strain that does more to foster terrorism than combat it.

Meanwhile, the avowed enemy, Iran, was holding what, by most accounts, was free and fair elections. So much for America being a beacon of democracy around the globe.

The real purpose of the trip was revealed when Trump, while in Riyadh, signed a $100 billion-plus arms sale agreement with the Saudis.  At least the President is being transparent.

While Trump was in Saudi Arabia doing the bidding of U.S. arms manufacturers, his administration back at home was releasing its blueprint for the 2018 federal budget. In a nutshell, the budget is another bonanza for the armaments industry with defense spending rising more than 10% while domestic discretionary spending is slashed. Many of the largest cuts are to programs, such as Medicare, that are intended to aid the poor and disadvantaged.

In addition, Trump’s budget proposal contains still more tax cuts for the rich, paid for by a presumed rebound in economic growth from 2% to  3% annually – a level not seen consistently since the 1990’s. The rebound assumes all those tax cuts he’s recommending will “trickle down” to the ordinary working people Trump claims to represent. More supply-side B.S.

Here again, the underlying strategy is pretty obvious: Let Congress fight over where and how to cut the budget, divert people’s attention and take the heat while more tax cuts for the rich slip through amidst the clamor and chaos of a dysfunctional Congressional budget process.

Note to Donald Trump : The American people are not as stupid as you think they are.

Are We Witnessing the Birth of a New Progressive Party?

TR 1902 State of the Union

Princeton Professor Cornel West and some former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers are trying to convince Sanders to lead a third party, a progressive “People’s Party.” Sanders has said he intends to work within the Democratic Party to bring about reform, but he has left open the door just a crack if the Democratic Party doesn’t get its act together.

But that just doesn’t seem to be happening: Lately, we have Hillary Clinton going around saying her loss in the November election was essentially everyone’s fault but her own. Former President Barack Obama may be even more tone deaf than Clinton, accepting a $400,000 “honorarium” for a speech to Wall Street bankers. Other Democrats seem content to simply oppose Donald Trump rather than put forth their own positive vision for moving the country forward.

The leadership of the Democratic Party just doesn’t seem to get it: it is time for real change, not more of the same-old, same-old coalition politics that courts the professional class at big donor fundraisers, but refuses to address (or even acknowledge) the concerns of millions of poor and working class Americans struggling to feed their families and make ends meet.

Perhaps Cornel West is right. A third party may be needed to give the Democrats a much needed wake-up call. The downside is that a third party could potentially split the Democratic vote and result in Republican victories in the short-term. Longer term, however, it might prove to be the only way to jolt the Democrats from their politics-as-usual, middle-of-the-road stupor.

Back at the turn of the 20th century, America had a third party – The Progressive Party – led by Teddy Roosevelt. The Progressives fundamentally altered the direction of American politics, simultaneously taking on the corporate “robber barons” and the corrupt, patronage ridden political machines that ruled the big American cities of the Northeast.

The Progressives sought to radically reform government, to professionalize it; to make it more efficient; to make it work for the people. And they largely succeeded.

Maybe the Democrats need to take a lesson from history and broaden their message: Big government is not evil, as Republicans have argued. Rather it is inefficient government captured by modern day corporate robber barons that is part of what has made American democracy so dysfunctional.

We can and must do better. Taking a lesson from Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives of the early 20th century is not a bad place to start.

Here We Go Again – More Supply-Side B.S.

Supply-Side B.S.

Donald Trump’s tax plan, unveiled Wednesday, calls for massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy (i.e. “small business”). He also threw a bone to the “middle class” in the form of increasing the standard deduction from $12,700 to $24,000 for a married couple.

All justified in the name of jobs and economic growth. Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has famously labelled the economic growth argument for tax cuts as “Voodoo Economics.” We think Krugman is being too kind. Our name for supply side economics can’t be printed, but the initials “B.S.” more accurately reflect our view.

As Krugman has pointed out on numerous occasions, there is no evidence that tax cuts stimulate significant economic growth. In fact, history has proven the opposite to be true: in periods when tax rates were high relative to today’s rates, economic growth was more robust than during periods of lower rates.

In the two decades after W.W. II, for example, personal income tax rates averaged more than 80% for the highest earners, and yet economic growth was robust, averaging more than 4%. In contrast, during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, personal income tax rates were slashed, but economic growth fell to 3.5% and 2.1% respectively.

Today, the top rate for personal income is 39.6% for married filers earning more than $466,950 a year, while growth is averaging an anemic 1.5%. Trump, for his part, wants to cut the top rate to 35%. The last thing we need is yet more of the failed policies of the past.

What’s wrong with the supply side theory? It sounds good, and it has popular political appeal (which is why Republicans have used the argument so successfully to justify tax cuts) but it doesn’t stand even a common sense smell test. It smells like, well, B.S.

Cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy may stimulate marginal investment, or, just as likely, more profits will be redistributed to shareholders in the form of dividends and increased capital gains. And, oh by the way, those dividends and cap gains are taxed at a top rate of 20% – a much lower rate than ordinary income, a double bonanza for the rich.

To make matters worse, Trump has proposed eliminating the “estate tax” on accumulated wealth (currently levied on estates valued at over $5.45 million for an individual and $10.9 million for a married couple). Triple bonanza!

“Supply side” economics is simply code language for redistributing income to the wealthy, including Donald Trump and most of his appointees.

If you really want to stimulate the economy, you should invest for growth – in job training and education; in infrastructure including clean power, roads, bridges, mass transit and high speed rail, the things that actually make our economy run. That is what we did in the period after W.W. II, when we educated veterans on the GI bill and built the interstate highway system, among other initiatives, and it worked.

To fund this investment without blowing up the deficit, yes, we would have to raise taxes. But maybe it is past time raise the rates on “unearned” income, such as dividends and cap gains, so the wealthy actually pay their fair share.

The Gorsuch Confirmation, Polarization and the Hollowing of the American Middle Class

The tragedy of the Gorsuch nomination is not that he is a conservative, an “originalist” who believes in a literal interpretation of the Constitution, although that will certainly add to the polarization in American politics.

The bigger tragedy is that Republicans employed the “nuclear option.”  Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate voted along party lines to repeal a long-standing rule that required a 60-vote super-majority to confirm a Supreme Court nominee.  The rule was designed to ensure that nominees to the highest court in the land have bi-partisan support between the two major political parties.  Sadly, that has come to an end.

It is just the most recent example of how polarized and dysfunctional U.S politics has become.  Why? Two reasons stand out:

  • Excessive money in politics, and
  • Economic stagnation and the hollowing of the American middle class.

A tsunami of money has flooded U.S. politics in recent years.  It has been enabled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens’ United ruling in 2010 that money is effectively the equivalent of free speech – and limits on political contributions are an unconstitutional infringement on that speech.  Today, there is so much money in politics that it has created an oppositional culture in which negative advertising and attack ads, rather than constructive dialogue, are increasingly the norm.

At the same time, also in response to Citizens United, legions of corporate lobbyists are flooding Capitol Hill and executive agencies.  Many are former elected and appointed officials “double dipping” on government pensions and benefits.  In seeking to curry favor on issues such as tax and regulatory policy, they are promoting narrow interests frequently at odds with what is best for the country as a whole and the American middle class.

The rise of social media has added to the polarization, encouraging people to communicate almost exclusively with others who think as they do.  The mainstream media continues to focus primarily on the back-and-forth of daily politics – largely ignoring the bigger picture – the reasons why politics in the U.S. have become so dysfunctional.

Meanwhile, on the economic front, growth has slowed, good paying middle class jobs are increasingly scarce, wages have stagnated for decades, and working people are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

What does all this portend? It is not just the economy that is bad shape; American democracy itself is in peril – and we, as citizens, need to take action.

Exactly what action to take is not entirely clear.  It is not easy to take back a government that corporations have “Captured”, as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse put in his book of the same name.  Nor is it easy to restore the economy so it works for everyone, not just corporate interests bent on paying as little as possible in taxes while promoting their narrow interests.

But how about this for a start – let’s vote out of office those who use social media to distract people’s attention while they advocate almost exclusively for more tax breaks for the rich, or others who absolutely refuse to engage in constructive, bi-partisan dialogue.

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell – see you at election time.

Gorsuch is Right: Congress Should “Pass a Law” Requiring Disclosure

Congress and Dark Money

In the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday March 22, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, if he would ask donors to the Judicial Crisis Network to identify themselves.

As reported by the The Hill, Whitehouse said the conservative group is spending an estimated $10 million to support the Gorsuch nomination and previously spent $7 million to oppose the nomination of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee, who was never given even the courtesy of a hearing before Congress.

“It would be a politics question and I’m not, with all respect senator, going to get involved in politics,” Gorsuch told the Committee in response to Whitehouse. “If you want more disclosure, pass a law,” he said.

Whitehouse is sponsor of “The DISCLOSE Act of 2015,” currently before the Senate Rules Committee, that would require large organizations, including labor unions, corporations and non-profits, to reveal the names of persons giving more than $10,000 during an election cycle. An earlier, identical bill, failed in 2012 to garner the necessary 60 votes to override a filibuster and was defeated in a near party line vote.

On the surface, it sounds as if Gorsuch was being at once clever and evasive. In reality, he was right on the money. As TDV has written in a previous blog, there are two major kinds of money in politics:

  • Big Money / No Limits
  • Dark Money / No Accountability

The Supreme’ Court’s decision in Citizens’ United (and similar cases) opened the flood gates to big money without limits, and that is a big problem that needs to be addressed by overturning Citizens’ United. But that could take years, if not decades, especially with Republicans in control of the White House and several more vacancies potentially coming up over the next several years.

In the meantime, let’s be clear.

As Gorsuch suggested, Congress has the power to require transparency in political donations – to shine a light on “Dark Money” – but it has failed to fully exercise that power.

In short, Federal legislation has not kept pace with a rapidly changing legal landscape, resulting in big loopholes. Currently, candidates and their Super PACS are required to report major contributors. Corporations and non-profits – such as social welfare agencies and trade associations – are not.

After the original DISCLOSE Act was defeated in 2012, and as the Obama Presidency drew to a close in 2016, 155 Democrats asked the President to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political contributions. The Obama Administration debated the issue internally, according to the NY Times, but ultimately failed to act.

Maybe that was because the defense industry, the biggest of the so-called “government contractors,” is an equal opportunity donor to Republicans and Democrats alike, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Whatever the reason, the flood of both big money and dark money into politics is undermining the foundations of our democracy, as previously discussed in TDV’s “A Call to Action.”.

For starters, Democrats should redouble their efforts in Congress to pass The DISCLOSE Act requiring full disclosure of all campaign contributions from whatever source.

It may not pass in the current Congress, but it would help keep the issue, where it belongs, at the forefront of public debate. There is no excuse whatsoever for a lack of accountability in political contributions.

We Have a Right to Know and Congress Has a Duty to Act.

It Is Not Rocket Science: Here’s How To Fix Obamacare

What’s wrong with Obamacare?  Is it rising premiums and lack of choice, as some Republicans would have you believe?  Or is it that insurance companies don’t like the increased transparency and competition that comes with health care exchanges?

Or, as Libertarians such as Ron Paul argue, is Obamacare just another expensive “entitlement” program that fosters a culture of dependency on government handouts?

To be sure, rising health care costs are a problem.  But that was the case long before Obamacare, and the recent Republican proposal is likely to make matters worse, not better.  Simply providing tax credits, as Republicans propose, does virtually nothing to constrain costs or improve quality of care.

Instead, the way the Republican plan controls costs is to pay individuals a fixed amount based on age.  This approach effectively cuts benefits and disproportionately hurts the poor and middle class.

What is really going on is Republicans (and some Democrats) appear most concerned about protecting insurance companies from competition – and from the government using its leverage to negotiate prices.  Others seem to want to limit health care subsidies in order to constrain the size and scope of government and avoid higher taxes – even if that means most Americans will not have access to decent, affordable health care.

It is not rocket science: To fix Obamacare, we should provide everyone with a Medicare buy-in option with subsidies scaled to age and income.  Government would continue to negotiate prices directly (or through subcontractors) with health care providers.

Medicare has the advantage of a network infrastructure already in place.  Providers are accustomed to using it.  It is efficient and cost effective and the quality of care, as many Medicare participants will attest, is excellent.

A similar proposal was debated when Obamacare was first introduced, but dropped because it was considered unlikely to pass at the time.

However, now is the time to act.  Democrats must push back hard on Republican orthodoxy that big government is universally bad.   Not only is single payer health care efficient and cost effective, it is good for the economy.  Providing health care to employees is a major cost of doing business, and lower overall costs have the potential to make American business more competitive.

Moreover, under a Medicare buy-in approach, individuals could still be given the option of using credits to buy directly from the insurance companies (although it would likely be more expensive), or purchase supplemental or “Cadillac” coverage.

By almost every major measure, costs are lower and overall health outcomes better in countries, such as Canada and the Netherlands, that offer single payer, universal health care.

What’s not to like about quality health care at affordable prices for all Americans – along with additional options for those who want it and can afford it?

Well, for one thing, insurance companies likely won’t make as much money.  And members of Congress would probably see a sharp reduction in campaign contributions from the insurance lobby.

It comes down to this:  high quality, affordable health care for all Americans v. bigger profits for insurance companies.

We’ll let you know how that works out.

Will Progressives Bolt the Democratic Party?

On Saturday, Democrats meet in Atlanta to elect a new chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  The leadership fight has been taking place largely behind the scenes with two main candidates, Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, vying for the leadership position.

Ellison, a Muslim, has the support of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and others in the Progressive wing of the Party.  Perez, who served in the Obama Administration, was the Hillary Clinton supporter and is the more mainstream of the two candidates.

Meanwhile, the U.S economy is in bad shape.  Growth and productivity have slowed significantly since 2000.  We now have a dual economy where the wealthy and highest wage earners are doing quite well, thank you, while average workers have seen their wages stagnate since the Great Recession of 2008.

We need policies that address these issues, including raising the minimum wage and trade and tax measures that encourage investment and job creation in the U.S.

But we also need major tax reform, so that the wealthy pay their fair share.  That will provide the resources needed to invest in infrastructure to create jobs, improve the quality of health care and education, and to end income inequality – in other words, to level the playing field and provide equality of opportunity for all Americans.

We did it in the decades after WW II when the U.S. enjoyed robust economic growth.   We can do it again.  Nickel and dime tweaks to the existing tax code and paltry increases in infrastructure spending, policies championed by Hillary Clinton during her presidential bid, just won’t cut it.

Into this Democratic policy vacuum, the Republican Party is gearing up – yet again – to cut taxes for the wealthy while simultaneously reducing coverage and raising out-of-pocket health care costs for average Americans.

Those in the mainstream of the Democratic Party, including Tom Perez, just don’t seem to get it.    Workers are getting hammered as never before.  But major tax reform, and robust investment in the economy and people, is not on the agenda of the Party they envision.

We suspect that’s because they spend too much time soliciting contributions and cozying up to the same moneyed interests that support Republicans.

Among the privileged in the U.S., policies that favor the wealthy seem to have bipartisan support.

So If moderates, led by Perez, win the race for DNC chair, look for Progressives potentially to bolt the Democratic Party.

A third party may not  be the a long term solution, but it could serve as a wake-up call to those Democrats who were (and continue to be) asleep at the switch, failing to acknowledge the pain felt by American workers, and allowing the likes of Donald Trump to become President.

We have had enough – it is time for real change.

This is Democracy. We, the People, Decide

On Wednesday, January 25, Donald Trump signed an executive order withholding Federal aid to “Sanctuary” cities such as Philadelphia.  The next day, as Republicans met in Philadelphia to set their legislative agenda for the upcoming year, the people of Philadelphia, protesting in the shadow of William Penn atop City Hall, took to the streets to protest the President’s order, and The Democratic View as there (see video below).   Philadelphia was founded by Quakers as a Sanctuary City.  It will always be one.  The President can’t unilaterally renege on the founding principles of this great country.

This is democracy.  We, the People, decide.

Now Let’s Get to Work: Reflections on the Women’s March

Women's March in New York

By Mary Noland

It was women of all ages, colors, and sexual orientation.  People came from everywhere and wanted to know where you were from.

Mary_MarchOnWasnington2The signs were homemade.  They were great.  One read: “One Step Forward for One Man, a Giant Leap Back for Mankind”.

There were four generations of one family from Maine. The marchers looked out for each other even when squeezed into a tiny space near Independence Ave.  A very short, seventy year-old mother was looking for her equally short fifty year-old daughter, and we all pitched in to help them find each other.

Unfortunately, the media let Trump distract attention from the overwhelming success of the March.  The size was clear: half a million in Washington, a quarter million in NYC, and four- plus million worldwide.

All were marching peacefully, now and for the long haul, for women’s right to equal pay for equal work, reproductive freedom, LBGT rights, and respect and economic justice for all.

I marched against the Vietnam War, worked for civil rights, and most vigorously for women’s rights in the 1970’s.  Part of me couldn’t believe that some of the signs at the March on Washington – “Protect our Reproductive Rights” – reflected words we wrote on signs some 45 years ago.

But there was a much stronger part of me that knew we were marching for this generation, for the wonderful young women in our lives, for my ”strong smart respectful and kind” granddaughter, Little Rosie, and her Mom, our loving daughter in law.

And we will continue to march for as long as necessary to protect their right to live in a decent, caring world.

The media needs to stop being distracted by Donald Trump’s ridiculous tweets and cover the real people, out in the streets, peacefully marching to protect their rights and those of their children and grandchildren.

A foreign reporter, French I think, was doing so much better on the Mall.  She tried to explain to her audience the principles of freedom and equality for which all these folks were marching. She said the marchers held these principles sacred.

We did. It was a great March. Now let’s get to work.

The Women’s Marches: Affirming Democratic Principles

In a BBC video (below), conservative commentator and author Andrew Sullivan, quoting Plato, argues that the very principles of freedom and equality inherent in democratic government inevitably descends into chaos which, turn, precipitates the rise of demagogues like Donald Trump.

“As the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, democracy willingly, inevitably repeals itself,” Sullivan says as the video concludes with a parade of smiling emojis, “the obedient mob,” as he derisively calls them.

Well, that’ one point of view.  Here’s another.  The very “elites” that Sullivan seems to hold up as protectors of democratic order against “the obedient mob” are the same ones who have systematically hijacked our government to advance their private interests at the expense of the public good.

Donald Trump is just the latest and most extreme example.

Drawing on history somewhat more recent than Plato, including the American Revolution and the Progressive Movement of the early 20th Century, we’re betting that Sullivan’s “obedient mob” will soon rise up and, exercising the power of the people in a representative democracy, throw the bums out.

The Women’s Marches taking place today across the country  are not, as some would have you believe, some random exercise in chaos by unwashed masses.  Rather, they are the forefront of a movement, an affirmation of democratic principles,  of freedom and equality.

 

The President’s Farewell Underestimates Threats to American Democracy

In his farewell speech at McCormick Place in Chicago earlier this week, President Obama delivered a rousing endorsement of the progress made in the last eight years.   And despite potential threats including economic inequality and continued racial tension, the President affirmed his faith in the future of American democracy.

But is Obama’s optimism misplaced?  Is he too complacent about the state of our democracy?  Indeed, one might reasonably ask: Is America still a democracy in the purest sense?  Despite the trappings of representative democracy, do we still have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people”, as Abraham Lincoln so famously put it?

The answer is not encouraging.    There is far too much money in politics thanks in large part to the Supreme Courts’ Citizens United decision.  Constructive dialogue across party lines is almost non-existent, drowned out by a flood of campaign-fueled attack ads and negative advertising.  There are too many lobbyists writing laws and regulations out of the public eye.  The Federal government, and in particular Congress, is largely dysfunctional.  We have a corporate media much too focused on the daily back and forth of he said, she said politics rather than the important issues of the day.  Meanwhile, despite Obama’s protests to the contrary, the U.S. economy is sputtering, with overall growth averaging less than 2% compared to 3% to 4% in earlier decades.

President Obama did about as good as one can do given the massive recession he inherited and the corrosive political climate under which he was operating.

But let’s not get carried away with unbridled optimism, Mr. President.  We still have many, many difficult challenges to overcome, including rebuilding our economy so the benefits accrue to all Americans, not just a privileged elite.    That will go a long way towards reducing income inequality and systemic racism in America.

But perhaps the greatest challenge we face is reclaiming our government from the crony capitalists, of which Donald Trump is just the latest example, and beginning the long, hard process of rebuilding a truly representative democracy – of, by and for the people.

Memo to Donald Trump: Want to Fix Our Crumbling Inner City Neighborhoods? Here’s How.

Philadelphia Mural Arts

Relocating Federal workers to inner city neighborhoods is one way to help revitalize those neighborhoods and stimulate much needed investment. Federal tax credits would also help …

America has one of the highest poverty rates in the industrialized world.  It is a living tragedy and a national disgrace, as TDV wrote recently.  Much of the poverty is located in rural areas, including Appalachia, the deep South and Southwest.  But many big cities also have high poverty rates, including Philadelphia, which ranks among the most poverty stricken urban areas in the country.

And yet in Philadelphia and other big cities it sometimes feels like a Tale of Two Cities.   Millennials are moving back and downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are booming.  Travel outside the downtown areas, however, and you will still find sections of the city that time forgot, with vacant houses, potholed streets and dilapidated buildings.

Donald Trump has called for increased investment in our inner cities, labelling them “ghettos” and  a “disaster.” He has also been roundly criticized, and rightly so, for overstating how bad things really are.

In many urban neighborhoods, there is a resilience and vibrancy that is easy to miss if you don’t get out of your car.  The “drug bazaars” of old are largely gone; crime is down, and commercial areas are coming back in many areas.

But Trump is right about one thing:  the infrastructure of many urban neighborhoods is in bad shape and now is a good time to invest, to build on the progress that has been made in reducing crime and revitalizing commercial districts.

But we need to throw out the old playbooks, think more creatively, and develop more comprehensive approaches.  These include, in addition to rebuilding infrastructure, attracting business, fixing the often broken school systems and providing quality support services including low and moderate income housing, job training and child care.

A good way to start the ball rolling is to move government agencies into those neighborhoods.  Such an approach provides an economic anchor that can be used to better deliver services while attracting additional investment and jobs.

One model is the Sharswood / Blumberg Transformation Plan in North Philadelphia where the Philadelphia Housing Authority intends to locate it headquarters, anchoring a revitalizing commercial district including low and moderate income housing and rehabilitated public schools.

But why limit it to just local agencies? How  about moving Federal agencies to our inner cities?  Such as approach was recently proposed by Fred Kupiec, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

Many towns and cities across America would welcome the economic development and stability that accompanies a well-paid federal-agency workforce like the FBI or the Labor Department. The expense of managing the federal government should be used to spread wealth beyond the nation’s capital and revitalize the economies of America’s ailing cities.

The Federal government should also provide tax credits to those who build affordable housing in our inner cities.  The burden for providing credits to stimulate investment in our inner cities falls too heavily on local governments whose budget is already strained by a diminished tax base and high demand for services.

Let’s hope Donald Trump keeps his word.  Our inner cities can use the help, and it is long past time for the Federal government to do its bit.

Book Review: Will the American Working Class Rise Again?

Sleeping Giant by Tamara Draut

For too many people in this country, the American Dream is a distant memory, something their parents aspired to, but which is now beyond their reach. Today, if you are working man or woman, you often find yourself toiling long hours for low pay in near poverty.  Even the college educated are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet as they leave school and enter the work world with extremely high debt burdens and facing an anemic job market.

What do you do about it? In “Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America” Tamara Draut provides some useful historical perspective.  Draut is Vice President for Policy and Research at Demos, a progressive “think tank” that advocates for political and economic equality.

Her book, published in the Spring of 2016, just as the presidential election was heating up, recounts a history in which big business launched a counter attack on the liberal activism of the late 1960’s and 1970’s by setting up think tanks and Super Pacs and flooding Washington, DC with high-paid lobbyists

The union movement was eviscerated starting in 1947 with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act. The law banned Communists from union leadership positions; established the principle of “right to work;” allowed workers to “opt out” of paying dues; banned secondary boycotts and sympathy strikes, and gave employers the power to hold anti-union meetings in the workplace. In later years, deindustrialization combined with the rise of the service sector made it increasingly difficult for unions to organize.

Meanwhile, what labor protections remained on the books have (and continue to be) largely unenforced.  Draut recounts how big companies in the ever expanding service sector routinely exploit employees by hiring mostly part timers and not paying benefits. Other companies require “on demand” scheduling and encourage off-the- books work to meet unrealistic production quotas.

The decline of the unions was abetted, according to Draut, by a Democratic Party which, beginning in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, began appealing more to college educated whites on high-brow issues such as environmental justice, largely turning its attention away from bread and butter economic concerns of working class voters.

For their part, Republicans cleverly exploited the division by appealing to racism and anti-immigrant prejudice, particularly in the South. The rift caused an historic realignment of the political parties with many working class whites and union members switching their allegiance to the Republican Party.

Draut’s book is well written and thoroughly researched. It contains many personal antidotes illustrating how misguided policies can affect the lives of ordinary Americans struggling to make ends meet. She also offers a number of familiar, common sense policy proposals including raising the minimum wage, revitalizing the nation’s infrastructure and reforming the electoral process.

At times, however, the book seems a little starry-eyed about the potential role of working class Americans and the resurgence of the unions to help turn things around and bring about change. The “Sleeping Giant” (i.e., the working class) awoke alright, but in doing so it seemingly reignited the politics of division and despair, scapegoating immigrants and people of color and electing Donald Trump.

To really bring about change in this country, Progressives must rally Americans of all classes and income groups who understand that an economy that rewards wealth and depresses wages for ordinary Americans is ultimately doomed to fail, and everyone loses, rich and poor alike.

Is the Democratic Party up to the task? Can it reform itself? Can it educate and motivate voters on the inherent dangers of economic injustice, broaden its appeal, transcend class and racial divisions and effect positive change?

Can we tear down the wall of big money donations, entitlement and privilege that so characterizes today’s Democratic Party? Bernie Sanders started to show us the way. He may not have succeeded this time, but he blazed a trail.

This was an election so profoundly negative in tone and substance that tears at the very fabric of American Democracy.  At its core, Draut’s book is a much needed antidote to the post -election blues. It reminds us that after more a half century of struggle, we are in this for the long haul, and that there’s hope for a better future.

Time to Reform a Tax System that Favors the Wealthy

It turns out Donald Trump has carried forward more than $900  million in business losses on his personal income taxes in 1995 and may not have paid taxes for up to 18 years, according to reporting by the New York Times.

What’s outrageous is not that Trump took advantage of existing tax law; it’s that a law allowing him to avoid hundreds of millions in taxes even exists to begin with.

Other provisions of our regressive tax code provide similar benefits to the wealthy and large corporations:

  • The owners of real estate can “depreciate” assets even if those assets are actually increasing in value;
  • Corporations can stash huge amounts of revenues overseas to avoid taxes, and
  • The incomes of hedge fund managers and other professional investors are taxed at lower “capital gains” rates than rates paid by hard working Americans on “ordinary” income.

These are just a few examples of a tax system riddled with loopholes that favor the rich.    But perhaps the most egregious provision of all is that dividend and capital gains rates top out at 20% whereas taxes on ordinary incomes go as high at 39.6%.

As a matter of basic fairness and common sense, the incentive (e.g. lower rates) should be on encouraging people to work hard, improve their lives and get ahead.

Instead, in today’s system, we discourage labor through high tax rates, but give huge breaks to people who invest in real estate or churn paper assets for a living.

In addition, since the Great Recession starting in 2008, an almost exclusive emphasis on monetary policy through the Federal Reserve Bank, including buying bonds and keeping interest rates low, has served primarily to inflate asset values while wages have stagnated for ordinary Americans.

These policies not only favor the wealthy.  They can lead to asset bubbles and put our entire economy at risk.

There is very little that comes out of “Lying Donald’s” mouth that remotely resembles the truth.  But Trump is “right on” in this respect –  the system is rigged and nowhere is that more evident than in our regressive tax system.

Democrats need to stand up and fight for tax fairness.  That starts not just with closing loopholes of the kind Donald Trump has used to avoid taxes.  It also means increasing the top rates on dividends and capital gains so the wealthy pay their fair share.

Has the Party of the People Become the Party of the Elite?

2016 Presidential Election Map

Once upon a time, the Democratic Party was the “Party of the People” and Republicans represented the well-to-do. Over time, that seems to have changed, probably starting with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 with the help of so-called “Reagan Democrats.”

2016electiontableToday, the shift in party alignments is evident in the polling numbers. As shown in the accompanying table, in states where Clinton is leading, the median household income is $64,634; in states where Trump is leading, median household incomes are significantly lower – $52,382.

Just as troubling for Democrats, perhaps, is that in “Toss Up” states, the demographics appear to favor Trump. Household incomes, the percentage of minority voters and educational attainment levels in Toss Up states more closely track to those states in which Trump, rather than Clinton, is ahead in the polls.

This is going to be a close election. The numbers suggest that to win Democrats are going to have to broaden their appeal to the very “People” the Party has left behind over decades of rightward drift.

A good place to start would be in the presidential debates beginning tonight. It would be nice to see Hillary Clinton step up to the podium and, instead of playing Trump’s game of negativity and fear mongering, reach out to people of all income levels and project of vision of how she is going to revive the economy so it works for everyone, not just a privileged elite.

An Appeal to Hillary Clinton – Lift Us Up; Don’t Tear Us Down

Hillary Clinton Deplorables

Dear Hillary:

As the debates approach, I am asking, no begging really, that you not attack ordinary people, group them into broad categories and call them names such as “deplorables”.

And yes, some of the so-called “deplorables” hold racist, misogynistic views.  But do we really need to go there? Must we attack our fellow Americans, many of whom, like the veteran pumping gas on the NJ Turnpike, are struggling to make ends meet in a faltering economy?

Instead, at the debates, please focus on telling people what you are going to do to stimulate the economy, generate jobs, and increase income for poor and working class Americans.

Tell us how you are going to constrain out-of-control military spending.

Tell us how you are going to end the tragedy of pervasive poverty across America.

Tell us how you are going to reign in Wall Street and limit the influence of big money in politics.

If “Stronger Together” is more than just a fancy campaign catch phrase, then please send a positive message of inclusiveness.

This is one of the most important elections in American history.  The outcome could profoundly alter the direction of this country for decades to come.

The real question is: Are we a country that pulls together to bring about positive change, or one that is divided into a million little subgroups each fighting for an smaller and smaller slice of an ever dwindling pie?

At the debates, please do not descend to Donald Trump’s level.  Please, no more talk of “deplorables”; no more pitting one group against another.

We can and must rise above petty name calling to lift people up, not tear them down.

Sincerely,

John Conlow, web facilitator

TheDemocraticView.com

Pumping Gas, a Military Veteran for Trump Loses Hope

NJ Turnpike Sign Exit Left for Political Revolution

It’s not easy to make ends meet these days, especially if you are a returning veteran, forced to work for minimum wage pumping gas on the NJ Turnpike.  Our elected representatives should open their eyes wide, listen to the distressed voices of people all over this country and the world (as the “Brexit” vote showed) and take heed – the political revolution has begun. 

Part of TDV’s “Eyes Wide on the Streets” series

We stopped for gas and a cup of java, Mary and I, as we made our way to Brooklyn to visit with family including the newest addition, Little Rosemary, our 4-month old granddaughter.

The station attendant, a white male, perhaps 35 years old, in addition to pumping gas, washes our windshield. I tell him it has been a long time since anyone has done that, and I appreciate it.

It may be my purposely friendly demeanor or perhaps the Bernie Sanders sticker pasted to my back window.  The attendant opens up as if we are old friends, telling me has served multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As he talks he becomes increasingly animated.  I can see the agitation welling up inside him. He looks me dead in the eye, as he gestures with his free arm, the one not holding the squeegee.

“I am voting for Trump”, he says.  “The Russians are flying jets right over our carriers.  We are the laughing stock of the world.  Everyone is laughing at us.

“I have lived down there (the Southwest).  I know what it’s like. I have seen it up close.  We need a wall. We need a wall.”

I plead with him.  “Please don’t vote for Trump.  He is a flaming racist, an embarrassment, not fit to be dog catcher, let alone President of the United States.”

He is having none of it.  I try to change the subject. It doesn’t work.

He repeats his mantra – “Everyone is laughing at us; we need a wall.”

It is time to leave, but he persists.  I’m finding it difficult to break off the conversation.  Eventually I do get in my car, breathing a sigh of relief.

Thankful for all that I have – A beautiful wife.  A loving family.  Economic security.

Sad that someone must struggle so mightily that it turns him against others facing similar challenges in their daily lives … concerned about what this implies for the future of our country.

But ultimately, selfishly perhaps, grateful that I have been fortunate enough not to have risked my life in unnecessary foreign wars, only to find myself on the New Jersey Turnpike working for minimum wage, barely able to feed myself, let alone a family, with little or no hope for the future.

It’s all too common, and nothing short of criminal.

To our elected representatives, TDV says – enough already.  Raise the minimum wage, invest in people – in health care, job training and education; fix our crumbling roads and bridges, and stimulate the economy so it works for everyone, including returning veterans, not just the privileged few.

To those who say it can’t be done, Republicans and Democrats alike, who pompously pretend to represent the people, but who in fact spend most of their time and effort raising money and doing the bidding of wealthy donors, TDV offers this advice:

Open your eyes wide, look around you, and take action … the political revolution has begun.

An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders: Thank You for Your Leadership

BernieSandersWithRaised_CroppedVer2Dear Bernie:

Got your Letter entitled “Transforming The Democratic Party.”  Completely agree that this election is not just about who wins the nomination, but about the future of the Democratic Party and the Nation.

In recent years, Democrats have lost down-ballot elections on a massive scale.  Even though a plurality of Americans identify as Democrats, Republicans control both houses of Congress and the majority of governorships and state houses.

Democrats have been ineffective in challenging anti-government and “supply-side” propaganda and countering Republican orthodoxy on issues such as taxes and gun control.

The Democratic Party platform is more an amalgam of justifications for current policies – not a blueprint for meaningful reform.  Mainstream Democrats, including President Obama and Hillary Clinton, often seem as if they are in denial.  They fail to acknowledge that excessive money in politics has created a rigged election system and an economy that is working only for those at the top of the income scale.

At a time when wages have stagnated, and more and more Americans are finding it difficult to find decent paying jobs and make ends meet, many in Democratic leadership positions seem intent on asking us to believe that all is well – it will just take a few tweaks to the existing system to make things right again.

Bernie, you have shown the ability to lead with a bold, clear message emphasizing that the system needs, not minor tweaks, but major reforms.  Among other things, we need to take excessive money out of politics; fight rising poverty levels; make education affordable all, and stimulate broad-based economic growth that benefits all the people, not a privileged few.

Your direct message has energized voters, particularly the young.  You have proven that you can compete by raising money in small dollar contributions from real people, not special interests.

That’s the future of the Democratic Party – engaging voters at the grassroots level by fighting for real reform – by letting people know we will no longer tolerate a system that favors special interests over the poor and working people of this country.

You have made an historic contribution to the future of our Party and the Nation.  Regardless of who wins the nomination, as President or as Senator from Vermont, we hope you will work to help rebuild the Democratic Party and make it once again into a vital and progressive force in American politics.

Thank you for your leadership, now and in the future.

Sincerely,

John Conlow

TheDemocraticView.com

Hillary – Time to Show Bernie a Little Love

DemocratsUnitWithLoveAfter her decisive win in New York, Hillary Clinton is the “presumptive” Democratic nominee for President, according to many in the mainstream media.

Still, the electoral terrain going forward is mostly Northeast and West Coast states that are favorable to Bernie. It may be a long shot that he overtakes Hillary in the delegate count, but he will keep it close.

Meantime, Bernie is running virtually even with Hillary in the national polls, an astounding 35% gain in just about 10 months. For her part, Hillary has been losing support at almost as fast a pace, and her “unfavorable” rating among Democratic and Republican candidates going back to 1992 is second only to – you guessed it – Donald Trump.

So Bernie will almost certainly compete all the way to the Democratic convention in July, and the nomination itself likely will be contested.

On the surface, the contest is about who will be the nominee. But, behind the scenes, there is already a big debate taking shape about the future of the Democratic Party. It is about how to harness the energy and enthusiasm that Bernie has generated, particularly among the young, not just to win the Presidency, but to take back Congress and the state houses. That’s the only way to really “Get Things Done,” as Hillary likes to say.

Given the acrimony that has characterized the campaign of late, Hillary may be tempted to forsake Bernie and his supporters, to go it alone against the Republicans.

That would be a mistake.

The Republican attack machine is already gearing up to tear her down, and it won’t be that difficult given her negatives. Even if she wins against the likes of Donald Trump, she and the Democratic brand could be permanently damaged, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to get anything done for years to come.

Hillary can help avoid that scenario. Among other things, she can call off her surrogate attack dogs, praise Bernie in public, and reach out to him behind the scenes to develop a common, progressive agenda that brings the Democratic Party together around a bold vision for the future.

With this Congress, most of the things likely to “Get Done” will only exacerbate income inequality and make matters worse for the poor and working classes of this country. That’s where Bernie and his supporters come in – it’s about the long haul – taking back Congress and changing the fundamental direction of the Democratic Party and the Nation.

Many Democrats are exhorting Bernie to stop criticizing Hillary to avoid further damaging her prospects in the general election. And that is probably not a bad idea.

But Hillary also needs to do her bit by showing Bernie (and his supporters) a little love.

Conservative v. Liberal Dems: A Healthy Debate, Long Overdue

BernieSanders_Roosevelt_Kennedy_Ver2First, a little history: Up until the late 1970’s, the Democratic Party had two main factions: Conservative and Liberal. Conservative Democrats were mainly in the South; Liberals mainly in in the North and on the West Coast.

Then came an historic shift: many conservative Democrats in the South switched party allegiance starting with the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan. In response, the Democratic Party also shifted right. Bill Clinton, fundamentally a conservative Democrat, was elected in 1992.

Examples of the party’s rightward tilt in the Clinton Administration include passage of the Crime Bill of 1994 that resulted in the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, particularly African Americans. In addition, the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999 allowing big banks to engage in both commercial and investment banking without adequate safeguards.

More generally, mainstream Democrats bought into Republican supply-side propaganda and the notion that government was inherently evil and only private enterprise could lead the way to continued growth and prosperity.

Conservative Democrats took over the party, and for much of the 1990’s, the conservative tilt seemed to be working. The economy grew at a robust rate. “Liberal” become a dirty word.

Then, starting in the early 2000’s, things began to change. The U.S. became mired in unnecessary and counter-productive foreign wars. Funds that should have been invested in the U.S. flowed overseas, helping stifle U.S. economic growth.  And then the deregulation of the big banks under Glass-Steagall, lax lending standards and mounting credit defaults, came home to roost with the stock market crash of 2008 and early 2009.

Since then, economic recovery has been slow and painful. Fed policies to stimulate economic growth have largely inflated asset values, primarily benefiting the wealthy and exacerbating income inequality. Fiscal policies that could have helped stimulate a broader and more robust recovery, such as increased investment in infrastructure, were much too tepid thanks to a “do-nothing” Congress.

Today, led by Bernie Sanders, we are witnessing the resurgence of the Liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

The conservatism that began with the Reagan revolution of the 1980’s has not worked, liberals argue, and it is time to re-think our priorities. We need a progressive system of taxation and more investment in infrastructure and in people, similar to policies that led to robust growth and rising wages in the post W.W. II period through the 1970’s.

We should also be looking beyond our borders, as Bernie frequently suggests, to countries such as Canada, the UK, France, and Denmark – countries that have managed to guarantee quality health care for all at much lower per capita costs than in the U.S.

Hillary is not just conservative; she’s a neo-conservative who would use Henry Kissinger as a foreign policy adviser and who refuses to criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians under Netanyahu. She does not favor progressive taxation, as she signaled in yesterday’s Brooklyn debate with her refusal to agree to lift the income cap on Social Security contributions, a small but significant step towards helping address income inequality.

Bernie, on the other hand, has demonstrated that liberalism can generate the kind of excitement that energizes voters and will likely lead to fundamental changes in the makeup and direction of the Party for years to come.

Sanders on Wall Street: Recalling TR and the Progressive Movement

progressivefatcatAfter Bernie Sanders’ interview with the New York Daily News last week, he was taken to task by many in the media and Hillary Clinton for not clearly articulating precisely how he would execute on his campaign promise to “break up the big banks.”

Setting aside the nit-picking minutiae of daily journalism, with its “gotcha” mentality, Sanders’ approach harkens back to a bygone era – one he alluded to it early in the Daily News interview:

“And I think that if somebody, like if Teddy Roosevelt were alive today, he would look at that. Forgetting even the risk element, the bailout element, and just look at the kind of financial power that these guys have, would say that is too much power.”

What Sanders is proposing is not a tweak to the existing system. It is akin to the trust busting era ushered in by Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive movement at the turn of the last century.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, favors strengthening the current system but not fundamentally altering it. She defends the repeal of Glass-Steagall in the late 1990’s which prohibited banks from engaging in both commercial and investment banking. And she supports Dodd-Frank which was passed in 2010 to regulate the risky financial behaviors that led to the crisis of 2008.

But under Dodd-Frank, as Berkeley economist and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out, the big banks – JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Well Fargo and Bank of America among others – have only gotten bigger, and many of the regulations that were supposed to mitigate risk have yet to be implemented.

There is a strong argument to be made that Dodd-Frank has been hijacked by the big banks. It isn’t working and is unlikely to prevent another major financial crisis.

Reich writes on his blog in a post entitled Bernie and the Big Banks:

“The bottom line: Regulation won’t end the Street’s abuses. The Street has too much firepower. And because it continues to be a major source of campaign funding, no set of regulations will be tough enough. So the biggest banks must be busted up.”

Hillary Clinton disagrees, but then, as Sanders repeatedly suggests, she is a major recipient of Wall Street campaign donations. Supporting the current regulatory system, as Clinton does, works to the advantage of the big banks because they get to write the rules.

Taking his cue from Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives, Bernie is right – it is time to break up the big banks.

Sometimes you need to think big and act boldly to get the job done.

Join the Revolution – Bernie Sanders for President

Get a Flyer to Hand-Out

democrticdonkey_cropped2Mainstream Democrats pander to Wall Street and fail to stand-up and oppose unnecessary and counter-productive foreign wars.

For decades, Democrats have acquiesced in regressive tax policies resulting in huge tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working class.

Democrats, like Republicans, accept big money donations from corporations and special interests. The result is government policy skewed in favor of the rich while wages for average Americans stagnate.

These problems are fixable. Among other things, the Democratic Party must:

·        Overturn Citizens United, cap political contributions at reasonable levels and encourage small donations ·        Invest in our crumbling infrastructure to create good paying jobs and stimulate economic growth
·        Raise tax rates on high wage earners and “unearned” income such as dividends and capital gains ·        Invest in people –  citizens have a right to a decent education, job training and quality health care.  Medicare for All!

These are not radical new ideas. They are common sense policies, similar to ones championed by Democrats since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. Starting in the 1980’s, however, the party lost its way. Not only did Democrats fail to oppose Republican “think tanks” spewing supply side propaganda, they tacitly bought into the premise that government is bad and only private enterprise can lead the way to growth and prosperity.

We need government that works for the people.

Only one candidate has consistently championed progressive policies designed to support the poor and working classes of this country.

Bernie-Sanders-164x230_KPFAorgBernie Sanders for President

 

 

Socialism is Not A Dirty Word

socialism-detail-onehorseshy-t1National defense, roads and bridges, police and fire protection: All are managed by government, and all have “socialist” elements.  Is Bernie Sanders really such an outlier? Is quality health care for all beyond our reach?  In balancing such questions, America has some things to teach other nations, but we could also learn from them as well.

By Ian Wachstein

As our presidential election moves forward with a candidate named Bernie Sanders invested in it, we American voters are becoming used to hearing the “S” word thrown at Sanders. I grew up thinking that socialism was a dirty word until I learned that pretty much every American is, in actuality, at the very least, part socialist in nature.

When I run into a voter who is determined to shrink the size of our government, my first question is always this. I ask my friend if they want to do away with our American armed forces? Of course not, is the immediate reply I always receive. At this point I accuse my friend of being a socialist.

Yes, most of my friends and acquaintances be they liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, want our America to have a military force, federal, state and local police forces, local public firefighters and a healthy infrastructure of roads and bridges that allow for us to move about our nation in safety. And we also want our America to be a home for private enterprise. In other words, we want our America to continue to be an example of socialist capitalism that has worked for us for over two hundred years.

As for my views, I think we have done well by our mix of capitalism and socialism. The most prominent example of our socialist actions, for me, is our decision to make the creation and health of our local, state and federal roads and bridges the responsibility of all of our local, state and federal governments. And the good news is our governmental infrastructures were a piece of our nation that allowed for so many private enterprises to create, expand and become successful businesses that relied on travel within our nation.

Now I admit that I go a little further than some of my more conservative/socialist friends when I acknowledge the wish I have that someday, my country, just like so many of our allied nations around the world, will provide each and every American citizen not only with the ability to travel everywhere on roads within our nation, but also the ability to receive health care that will be created for everyone through the same taxation system that currently provides us all with roads and bridges, military protection against outside forces and police and fire protection on local levels. I’ve been to places like Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and, believe me, the people of that country are overwhelmingly happy to be a part of a community that provides one and all with health care and seriously works to care for one and all within their nation. In my opinion, we have a lot that we can teach other nations and we could also learn a lot from them.

Reflections on the Need for Leadership that Serves the People

By Ian Wachstein

What’s happening to my country? That’s a question I ask myself almost daily these days. Think about our national leadership. I believe that President Obama has done many good things on behalf of our country, and if the Republican Party had actually acted on behalf of our people throughout our president’s current administration, our president could have gotten so much more done. But Republican Senator McConnell made it clear at the outset of our president’s administration that they would fight on every issue to see to it that President Obama’s administration would be a failure.

Think about our leadership in New Jersey. When Governor Christie arrived in office, he made it clear that he would be tackling our most serious problems in an effort to make certain that all of our New Jersey citizens would be the better for his efforts. But what has happened? In general, he has been a voice for anger and disrespect for any and all who might have an opinion different from him, and he has violated his own claims of ethics by signing off on agreements with his adversaries that required both parties to adhere to required actions only to renege on his obligations after his adversaries had fulfilled their part of the bargain. The most glaring example for this last point is the agreement he signed with his state employee unions which required said employees to pay more into their pension funds and the State of New Jersey to actually pay, for the first time in many years, it’s required annual contribution.

EisenhowerOn the national level, the Republicans did not succeed in every area of trying to undermine our president, and the facts show that our country has made positive strides for our well being. But we could have done so much more on behalf of our lower and middle classes if the Republicans had followed in the lanes created by their predecessor presidents like Dwight Eisenhower who had our people, and not our politics, at the top of his list of accomplishments to be achieved.

As for New Jersey, the facts here are clear as well. While our governor spends an incredible amount of time traveling outside of our state in an effort to become our nation’s next president, our state flounders financially, our governor continues to refuse to abide by his obligation as per an agreement with our state unions that he signed into law, and he uses our state’s tax revenues amounting, so far, to over a million dollars to pay for his security while on his road to his hoped for nomination for president by his Republican Party.

What’s happening to my country and to my State of New Jersey? My hope is that all of my fellow citizens will be asking this same question and will respond as well to our current challenges as my country has done in the past.

Newsflash to U.S. Chamber of Commerce – Dark Money Subverts Democracy

SunburstLogo1

“The real goal of the disclosure proponents is to harass, intimidate and silence those with whom they disagree. We continue to believe that one’s political activities should play no role in whether or not you get or keep a federal contract, and we encourage the administration to leave this bad idea right where it is.”

That  from Blair Latoff Holmes, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, quoted in the NY Times, January 19, on an executive order being considered by President Obama that would require federal contractors to disclose political contributions:

According to an analysis by Center for Responsible Politics at OpenSecrets.org.

 “The hundreds of billions of dollars the federal government spends each year on defense are part of the reason defense aerospace firms make millions of dollars in campaign contributions, a majority of which has gone to Republicans since 1989.”

How sad that it has come to this.  The once reputable U.S. Chamber of Commerce insults the intelligence of the American people by publicly stating that disclosure of campaign contributions by big defense contractors doing business with the federal government amounts to harassment and intimidation.

No, my friends, it simply amounts to transparency and accountability – foundational elements of our democratic system.

Dark Money Subverts Democracy – Americans Have A Right to Know!

For more:

An Appeal to President Obama: Help Shine a Light on Dark Money in Politics at TDV.

Book Review at DemocracyJournal.Org – The Influence Machine: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life by Alyssa Katz.

An Appeal to President Obama: Help Shine a Light on Dark Money in Politics

SunburstLogo1_2x_thumnmailAs President Obama prepares to give his final State of the Union Address, there are things he can do as President to help address the outsized influence money in politics.

But first, let’s be clear: the problems we face with money in politics fall into two broad categories:

  • Big Money / No Limits
  • Dark Money / No Accountability

Put the two together, and you have an unprecedented threat to the future of our democracy where Big Money can buy elections and influence government policy with  No Accountability.

The first category, Big Money / No Limits, is embedded in Supreme Court decisions, notably Citizens United in 2010, that effectively deemed unlimited political contributions by corporations and unions to be the equivalent of free speech and protected under the First Amendment.

The decision is an affront to common sense, let alone constitutional law: In modern society, money more closely resembles the exercise of raw power, not speech, and thus must be constrained in order to guarantee equality to all, a bedrock principle of our great democracy. Citizens United must be overturned. But, unfortunately, that could takes years if not decades depending on who wins the presentidal election in 2016.

The second category, Dark Money / No Accountability, has evolved because Federal legislation has not kept pace with a rapidly changing legal landscape, resulting in big loopholes. Candidates and their Super PACS are required to report.  Corporations and non-profits – such as social welfare agencies and trade associations – are not.

Democrats have proposed legislation – the Disclose Act – that would close these loopholes. In 2010, the legislation passed the House, but failed to achieve the 60 votes necessary to override a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Requiring government contractors to disclose their contributions is a much-needed step in the right direction to help shine a light on dark money in politics and introduce a measure of accountability.  We hope President Obama announces this initiative tonight as he delivers his final State of the Union message.

 

He’s a Leader, He’s a Fighter and He Will Win: Bernie Sanders for President

00_BernieSquirePic_Ver2America is facing a crisis of confidence. Our economy is broken, our neo-imperialistic foreign policy has proven an abject failure and our political system is for sale.

In the meantime, one candidate’s focus on income and wealth inequality, and how to fix it, has given voice to those disaffected by the politics of the both major political parties. That candidate is Bernie Sanders. He is leading an anti-establishment insurgency within the Democratic Party.

Such insurgencies are not new. Eugene McCarthy took on the party establishment in 1968 in opposition to the Vietnam War. Bill Clinton was the candidate from “Hope” in 1992. Howard Dean helped lead and anti-war insurgency in 2004 and later, as head of the DNC, championed the “50 state strategy” that paved the way for Barack Obama’s surprise victory in 2008.

Sanders’ message of inequality is resonating in part because more people are living in poverty, wages are stagnating, workers are not seeing the benefits of economic growth, and even young people coming out of college are saddled with huge debt and challenged to find decent paying jobs.

Sanders has been unequivocal in his commitment to help the poor and struggling middle class. He has been a leader in the growing movement to repeal Citizens United, the 2011 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates to “dark money” in politics, as well as reinstate Glass-Steagall and break up the big banks.

His proposals for universal health care and tuition-free public higher education are critical to rebuilding America’s middle class.

The $15 minimum wage Sanders supports is essential to ensure that people who work full time and raise families should not have to live in poverty. And his opposition to the disastrous war in Iraq and argument that the fight against radical Islamic terrorism should be waged on the ground primarily by Arab nations – with the U.S. and other nations lending support – is just plain common sense.

TDV has spoken with many Democrats who wonder aloud whether Sanders—a self-described “socialist”—can win in the general election. These people are inclined to support a candidate who has the best chance of beating the Republicans even if it means compromising on some issues. As one fellow Democrat put it, “I am probably going to hold my nose and vote for Hillary.”

It is true that a Republican administration in 2017 would be an unmitigated disaster. The racist bombast, xenophobia, and jingoism of the Republican Party currently on display is downright scary.

But history has shown that nominating the “candidate that can win” often backfires. Establishment candidates—like Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Al Gore in 2000, and John Kerry in 2004 — do not appeal to the general electorate because they don’t generate the kind of excitement needed to get people to the polls. Outsiders—like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama—did well because they motivated voters with a clear alternative to run-of-the-mill, establishment politics.

People don’t want more of the same. They want someone who will stand up and fix the deep rooted economic problems this country faces.

Sanders has shown real leadership in clearly articulating the problems and offering workable solutions. Clinton, on the other hand, has already begun to cave on core principles and the general election hasn’t even started. She says she can “get the job done,” but what is the job exactly? She doesn’t support progressive taxation; she wants to raise the minimum wage to $12 instead of $15; she does not support reinstatement of Glass-Steagall to regulate the big banks, and her proposed spending on infrastructure renewal is just a fraction of what is actually needed.

Clinton talks a good line, but when you get down to it, her proposed solutions are half-hearted, lacking in principle and real conviction. Reasonable compromise is a good thing; caving into vested interests who contribute large sums to your “Super PAC” is not.

All of which is to say, to my Democratic friends, worry not, Bernie Sanders will be a stronger general election candidate then Hillary Clinton. He has foresight, honesty and integrity and we believe the anti-establishment insurgency he is leading within the Democratic Party has the best chance to generate the excitement needed to win in the general election.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in announcing the New Deal: “Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.”

This country desperately needs a leader and president who will stand up and fight for the poor and middle class against the growing influence of big money in politics.

That person is Bernie Sanders.

Hillary’s Infrastructure Plan Comes Up Short

HillaryClintonCroppedHillary Clinton has proposed investing $275 billion over five years in American infrastructure – roads, bridges and transit systems. There is just one problem: $275 billion is just a fraction of what is actually needed to restore and repair American infrastructure. The amount that should be invested, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers in their 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, is $3.6 trillion through 2020, an average of about $450 billion a year.  That’s about 8x the annual average amount ($55 billion) that Hillary has proposed.

Now, Hillary says all the right things. Here’s and excerpt from the briefing materials on her website, Hillary Clinton’s Infrastructure Plan: Building Tomorrow’s Economy Today:

“According to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, every $1 billion in infrastructure investment creates 13,000 jobs. Moreover, the vast majority of the jobs created by infrastructure investment are good-paying, middle-class jobs — paying above the national median. And beyond creating good-paying jobs today, infrastructure investments promise to enhance the productivity of the American economy tomorrow — helping to boost the incomes of working Americans in the future. Every dollar of infrastructure investment leads to an estimated $1.60 increase in GDP the following year and twice that over the subsequent 20 years.”

The problem is if the need is so great, and the benefits so compelling, why invest so little? Is it because those on the Republican right will attack her for proposing higher spending levels? Probably. And therein lies the problem. Democrats, Hillary included, continue to be intimidated by tax cutting zealots of the Republican right and their big business allies.

Spending on infrastructure is not spending in the traditional sense that the term is used – done right, it is “investment” in the future of our country, in our children and grandchildren, in the creation of good, solid, middle class jobs, increased productivity, and future economic growth.

Democrats need to tell that story. Hillary’s plan is a step in the right direction, but it comes up way short on proposed spending levels.

An Open Letter to Congressman Norcross on Mideast Refugees

NorcrossVer4Note: The democratic view is based in Camden County, New Jersey, in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District, and represented in Congress by Donald Norcross, a Democrat. Congressman Norcross recently voted with Republicans and against President Obama for a bill that, by most accounts, would bring a halt to the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States. TDV believes Congressman Norcross’ vote is not consistent with our democratic principles, and, in the attached letter, sent to his office via email on November 23rd, has asked him to reconsider his position.

Dear Congressman Norcross,

When you voted, as you did last week, to effectively deny access to Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States, I believe your vote contradicted the basic principles upon which our country was founded.

Syrian and other Mideast refugees have been driven from their homes by sectarian conflict and incessant warfare.   Whole families – including the elderly and small children – have been forced to endure long and dangerous forced migrations.

The U.S. helped ignite this horrific situation by toppling governments in the region and then failing to restore order and effective governance. The result is that large portions of the Mideast have descended into chaos.

We helped bring about this crisis and we have a special responsibility as Americans to help these refugees – just as we have so many others throughout our history seeking to escape tyranny and conflict and build new lives in a free and democratic society.

By most accounts, the measures we have in place today for screening refugees entering the U.S. are adequate to ensure our security; if there are gaps, by all means we need to fix them.

But the bill you voted for last week seems more like a total roadblock than a carefully considered fix.

When and if this bill or a similar measure comes up again, please consider changing your vote.

Please vote to help those who we have failed in the past and who now desperately need our help to rebuild their lives – and to send a message that the U.S. will not be intimidated into renouncing the basic principles upon which our country was founded.

Sincerely,

John Conlow

Facilitator, the democratic view

Supply-Side Voodoo and the Need for Meaningful Tax Reform

For decades, Republicans and their wealthy patrons have outflanked the Democratic Party on the issue of tax reform. Republicans have successfully propagated the “supply side” myth that tax cuts stimulate demand and economic growth. And they have wrapped their bogus message in a veneer of anti-government rhetoric that has effectively resonated across the country.

Three of the top Republican contenders – Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio – have recently come out with detailed tax proposals and all contains additional large tax breaks for the wealthy in a system that is already heavily regressive. See “Democrats Need to Stand-Up to Special Interests and Reform Regressive Tax Policies”.

As Paul Krugman wrote in Friday’s New York Times in an Op-Ed piece entitled “Voodoo Never Dies”:

“Of course, once the Republicans settle on a nominee, an army of hired guns will be mobilized to obscure this stark truth. We’ll see claims that it’s really a middle-class tax cut, that it will too do great things for economic growth, and look over there — emails! And given the conventions of he-said-she-said journalism, this campaign of obfuscation may work.

But never forget that what it’s really about is top-down class warfare. That may sound simplistic, but it’s the way the world works.”

With the exception of Bernie Sanders, Democrats, meanwhile, have been largely silent or timid on the subject. Sanders has come out strongly for progressive tax policies, calling for, among other reforms, a rise in the top personal income tax rate from 39.6% to 50% and increasing the capital gains tax on the wealthiest Americans.

But other Democratic have not been quite as forthcoming. Hillary Clinton’s wishy washy approach was discussed in a recent TDV blog, “Progressive Taxation: Not on Hillary’s Agenda.”

With respect to Sanders, the “hired guns” that Krugman speaks of are probably keeping their powder dry for now, waiting to see if his candidacy actually survives. It will be interesting to see how the issue is handled in the upcoming Democratic debate on October 13.   Will other Democrats besides Sanders finally stand-up and be counted?  Or will they effectively duck the issue, unwilling to take on the hired guns or, in some cases, their own Wall Street contributors?

One thing you can be sure of: Without some sort of meaningful tax reform, it is going to be  difficult to pay for the investment that America so desperately needs to stimulate economic growth and improve educational opportunity and health care for all Americans.

Lessig Single-Issue Focus on Campaign Finance Reform Has Limited Appeal

Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and recently announced Democratic candidate for president, believes there is one issue in the presidential campaign that overshadows all others – campaign finance reform – and he has promised if elected to serve only until he can secure passage of his proposed legislation – “The Citizens Equality Act of 2017.” Once the legislation is passed, he vows to resign.

Lessig’s reform proposals would provide for automatic voter registration; stop gerrymandering of Congressional districts; implement a “ranked choice” system to give voters more options, and finance campaigns, not through big money contributions to Super PACS, but through “citizen vouchers” and matching contributions.

Lessig is well known and respected in tech circles and Silicon Valley as a long-time advocate for electronic freedom and net neutrality. His view is that little if anything will get done until we reform campaign financing and put a stop to excessive money in politics:

As Lessig writes in yesterday’s NY Daily News:

“But here’s the dirty big secret: The government we have is not a democracy. It’s nowhere close. Instead, a corruption in the very idea of a representative democracy has rendered our nation almost ungovernable. We have entered the age of the “vetocracy,” as political theorist Francis Fukuyama puts it, where very small numbers in America can block almost any sensible change.

Gridlock happens not because Americans want it. Gridlock happens because it pays — for that tiny minority.”

Meanwhile, both Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are aggressively courting wealthy doners, as noted in a recent New York Times editorial.

So, is it realistic to expect those who benefit from the system to reform it?

TDV is skeptical, as suggested in a recent blog on Hillary’s campaign finance reform initiatives. Lessig is skeptical as well.

“That’s why I am about one single issue and that is fixing this system so people will care again,” Lessig told The Guardian on Sunday.

The Guardian goes on to say that Lessig’s single issue focus “represents his critical difference with Sanders, whose platform takes on a range of issue including income equality and climate change.”

Lessig makes an important point: we no longer have a real democracy in this country, and campaign finance reform may be the key that unlocks other needed reforms.

But Lessig’s campaign approach seems very academic, geared primarily to a small cadre of technologists and academics. That may help boost his appeal on the lecture circuit, but it is not likely to win him support in primaries, where voters want to hear candidates address the range of issue that affect their daily lives.

Jeb Bush and the Special Interests He Serves

On Wednesday, an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “How I’ll Slash the Regulation Tax,” argued that President Obama was hurting the economy through excessive regulation. The article was primarily based on research conducted by the American Action Forum, a right-wing think tank closely associated with the American Action Network and its Big Business patrons.

But the author wasn’t the American Action Forum…or the Chamber of Commerce…or any other “pro-business” group. The author was Jeb Bush.

Citing a World Bank statistic that the United States ranks 46th in the world on ease of starting a business, Bush calls Obama’s handling of the economy “unacceptable.”

What Bush fails to mention is that starting a business was just one of ten inputs into a broader measure of “ease of doing business,” and that, according to that very study, the U.S. ranks seventh out of 186 countries.

Not too shabby.

From protecting small business from over-regulation, Bush leapfrogs to declaring all-out war on environmental protection, access to the internet, financial reform and “ObamaCare” – otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act – and on “liberals and regulators” generally. (Ouch, TDV is liberal!).

Bush writes:

As early as possible, I promise to roll back many of the most reckless and damaging rules promulgated under President Obama. As president, I will repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rule extending federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act over millions of acres of private land, its new regulation of carbon dioxide under the Clean Power Plan, and its new and costly coal-ash standards for power plants. I will also work to repeal the so-called net-neutrality rule forced on the Federal Communications Commission by the White House and the Department of Education’s “gainful employment” rule that punishes for-profit colleges. That’s for starters.

I will also work with Congress to repeal significant portions of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, and we will reform the complex set of rules that perpetuate too-big-to-fail financial institutions. Later this fall, I will announce a detailed agenda to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Most people, “liberals” included, agree that there is room for more efficiencies in how the Federal government carries out its regulatory functions.

But what Bush is proposing is an all-out assault on the environment, internet access, affordable health care and banking regulations.

That’s not regulating more efficiently; that’s called promoting the interests of the oil and gas industries, the big internet service providers, the pharmaceutical and insurance companies, and –perhaps worst of all—the financial services industry.

Bush says that “this culture of special interest access is a problem I plan to tackle as President.”

Having special interest groups appear to ghost-write your op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal is not a good start to “tackling special interests.”

Bernie Sanders and the Moral Imperative to Act

Liberal democrats have a long tradition of honoring the separation of church and state, religion and politics

You are free to practice your religion, liberals argue, but please don’t use politics to memorialize your religious beliefs or impose them on others.

But that may be changing.

Have poverty, stagnating wages and income equality become so extreme in this country that we have created a situation where our political systems violates a basic tenant of our religious beliefs, to “Do unto others and your would have others do unto you” ?

As recorded by Chris Chillizza in a Washington Post blog, that was essentially the question posed by Bernie Sanders in a recent speech at Liberty University, a conservative college in Lynchburg, VA, founded by Jerry Falwell:

“Do you think it’s moral,” Sanders asked, “when 20 percent of the children in this country, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, are living in poverty? Do you think it is acceptable that 40 percent of African American children are living in poverty?”

Bernie, the emphatic answer, in TDV’s view, is “No!”

We have created a system so unfair to the poor and working men and women of this country that we have “A Moral Imperative to Act”.

Stop the Media Circus Surrounding the Debates

CNN’s handling of the Republican primary debate last night was a disgrace.

  • The camera constantly on Donald Trump in split screen
  • Jack Tapper continually leading questions with the likes of: “He said ‘xyz’ about you, what do you say to that?
  • Large crowds constantly cheering and clapping.

Is this what politics in America has come to? – Political debates conducted like they were sporting events.

No wonder the system is broken – the media has reduced serious political debate to the equivalent of a football game …

No, scratch that, at least in football games, a lot of the over-the-top entertainment is concentrated at halftime.

In these debates, we get the Donald Trump comedy show laced throughout.

Let’s have a return to civility. Let’s put the debates on public television; set some reasonable ground rules; stop the cheering and clapping, and have a serious dialogue on serious issues.

To Win in South, Bernie May Need to Tone Down the Revolutionary Zeal

Bernie Sanders is leading Hillary Clinton by 10 points in Iowa, and a whopping 22 points in New Hampshire, but is trailing Clinton by 23 points in South Carolina, according to the latest polls at RealClearPolitics.com.

Campaigning has barely started in South Carolina. But it is still fair to ask: Why such a divergence?

One answer may be that Iowa and New Hampshire have a lot of diehard liberals fed up with the status quo, folks who are chomping at the bit to break the centrist mold and support a candidate who will stand-up for more progressive policies on issues such as campaign finance reform, regulation of banks and financial services, stagnating wages, unfair tax policies, and skyrocketing costs of drugs and education, among other issues.

Or, as Charles M. Blow eloquently put it in a recent New York Times op-ed piece, “Sanders’ message of revolutionary change to save a flailing middle class and challenge the sprawling influence of what he calls ‘the billionaire class’ has struck a nerve with a fervid following.”

But in South Carolina, according to the article, African Americans make-up more than half of Democratic primary voters, and the polls suggest the Sanders message is not yet resonating in the Palmetto state, particularly with black voters.

It is early – the South Carolina primary is not until February 27 – and the Sanders’ campaign is not yet fully ramped up. But it may also have something to do with economic status – many African Americans in South Carolina – like a lot of Democrats across the South and elsewhere – are more focused on bread-and-butter economic and social issues – and perhaps a little wary of the “revolutionary” zeal with which Sanders approaches many issues such as the need to take on “the billionaire class” and reign in the “Wall Street Banks”.

In the NYT article, Sanders said his organization would be reaching out aggressively to bring African-American and Latino communities into his campaign. He also blamed the media for being too consumed by political theatrics, and not widely reporting on the substance of his message, such as when he talks about issues like high unemployment rates among African-American youth.

Certainly, there are huge issues with the way the media generally conducts itself, as discussed in a recent TDV blog. But a reasonable reading of the South Carolina polls compared to Iowa and New Hampshire suggest the Sanders’ campaign might want to think about toning down the rhetoric a little to focus its message more positively on the core issues affecting people’s everyday lives – for example, how to fix a broken economy and stimulate wage and jobs growth for everyday Americans, minority and otherwise.

These are issues we know Sanders cares about deeply – and has thoughtful positions on – but sometimes the positive message of change seems to get lost in the revolutionary zeal of his campaign rhetoric.

Hillary on Campaign Finance Reform: A Step in the Right Direction

Excerpted  from the New York Times, Sept. 8, Hillary Clinton Announces Campaign Finance Overhaul Plan:

“Mrs. Clinton’s embrace of campaign finance reform might not only help her shore up support among liberals who are increasingly captivated by Mr. Sanders, but also help her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, shed their image as overly cozy with the donor class. In recent years, the Clintons have come under criticism for their paid speeches to Wall Street banks and foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. Under Mr. Clinton’s administration, donors were wooed with rounds of golf and nights in the Lincoln Bedroom.”

Note to Joe Biden – Please Don’t Run; It Will Only Tarnish Your Legacy

Joe,

You have been an icon of the Democratic Party for decades. Plain spoken and straight shooting. A man of the people.

So what’s not to love?

Answer – Candidate Joe Biden for the Democratic Nomination for President in 2016.  Someone who:

  • At 72 years old, should be passing the baton, not running with it,
  • Has already had a shot, back in ’08, and didn’t fare very well,
  • Is barely indistinguishable in policy positions from another major candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Joe, today, there are too many people in this country living at or near the poverty line;  too many people whose wages are stagnating;  too many people barely treading water to get by day-to-day.

The Democratic Party needs to tackle these issues head on. The Party needs new faces, bold and creative ideas, and people willing to challenge the established order to make things happen and bring about change.

Joe, that is not you, not at this point in you career anyway, and to run now would only tarnish your legacy.

 

Voices from the Past: Bernie Sanders on What it Means to be Socialist

Bernie Sanders at the time of his election to the Senate from New Hampshire in 2006:

“Well, I think it (socialism) means the government has got to play a very important role in making sure that as a right of citizenship, all of our people have healthcare; that as a right, all of our kids, regardless of income, have quality childcare, are able to go to college without going deeply into debt; that it means we do not allow large corporations and moneyed interests to destroy our environment; that we create a government in which it is not dominated by big money interests. I mean, to me, it means democracy, frankly. That’s all it means. And we are living in an increasingly undemocratic society in which decisions are made by people who have huge sums of money.  And that’s the goal that we have to achieve.”

–Sanders interviewed by Amy Goodman in Montpelier, Vt., for Democracy Now, the independent news programs.

(OK, Bernie, If that’s what it means to be a Socialist, where do we sign?)

With Hillary, Saying “Sorry” is Hard to Do

Many liberal Democrats are fed up; tired of the parsing and the double speak.

They want candidates who tell it like it is, and stand up for what they believe in.

In this environment, Bernie Sanders has picked up a lot of support, accounting for his recent rise in the polls. Sanders is direct and plan spoken – a breath of fresh air in toxic political environment where bigotry and racism reign among leading Republicans.

Hilary Clinton – a centrist – is wooing the liberal wing of the party.  She needs their support to win in the early primaries and give her campaign momentum.

But she and her advisors apparently don’t get it. Everything seems overly parsed, overly scripted, leaving you to wonder where she really stands on the important issues of the day.

The Email server issue is a case in point: in the beginning, she says she did absolutely nothing wrong when she conducted official business on private email servers; then, last week in Iowa, well, maybe, it “wasn’t the best choice,” she finally admitted.

This issue has been dragging on for months. It seems manifestly obvious to a lot of people that you shouldn’t conduct public business on private servers, outside any governmental scrutiny, when dealing with potentially classified information.

Hillary says the issue is “complicated.” TDV thinks it is Hillary’s reaction to the issue that is overly complicated and highly problematic.

How can you trust someone to be President of the United States, to stand up for liberal values, if that person can’t admit an obvious mistake?

With Hillary, saying “Sorry” is hard to do.

Donald Trump and the Sad State of American Journalism

Today’s news media seem to exhibit three main qualities:

  • Pandering – Telling people what they want to hear; never offending anyone, no matter the issue, ala the major news networks including PBS
  • Repetition – Repeating the same thing over and over ad nauseum, ala CNN
  • Rudeness – Shoutfests masquerading as dialogue, ala almost every cable news outlet

It is any wonder Donald Trump appears to exhibit these same qualities. His obvious strategy is to pander to the media which in turn gains him free publicity and allows him to rise in the polls.

Jorge Ramos of Univision wasn’t willing to play Trump’s little game Tuesday in Iowa. He dared to stand up and pointedly ask Trump to defend his positions on immigration. For his efforts, Ramos was removed from the press conference and, as Glenn Greenwald pointed out in an excellent article at The Intercept yesterday, was skewered by fellow journalists for being opinionated in his approach and aggressive in his questioning.

In his article, Greenwald labeled the phenomenon of journalists refusing to take a stand on major issues as part of the “Corporatization of American Journalism”.

Greenwald is putting a pretty fine point on the subject – maybe too fine in TDV’s view.   A once noble profession seems to have morphed into an arm of a pandering, repetitious and rude media establishment, with very little self-awareness that a problem even exists.

Kudos to Ramos and Greenwald for refusing to be part of the “Stupidification” of American Journalism.

Donald Trump Should “Go Back” to Whatever Race-Baiting Planet He Came From

Telling the journalist Jorge Ramos at a press conference on Tuesday evening to “go back to Univision” was a thinly veiled racist comment, and not Trump’s first by any means.

Whether Democrat, Republican, Independent or Other, we should not condone or ignore racist comments.

Even, as Democrats, taking delight in the stupidity of such comments by the opposing party is questionable.

Trump is an embarrassment, not just to the Republican Party, but to all thinking Americans (which apparently does not include much of the mainstream media).

For his part, Trump should “Go Back” to whatever foreign planet he came from, the sooner the better.

Beware Another March to War In Neoconservative Opposition to Iran Deal

Republican and neoconservative opposition to the nuclear accord reached between Iran and six global powers has been as unwavering as it has been nonsensical. It’s been unwavering in that they opposed it before negotiations began, they opposed it while negotiations were occurring, and oppose now it that negotiations have concluded.

The argument they have made against reaching an agreement is that Iran can’t be trusted. Neoconservatives have also argued that Iran will get nuclear weapons at the end of the deal–although Benjamin Netanyahu has been telling anyone naïve enough to listen that Iran will get the bomb in the few years … and he’s been saying that since the early 1990’s!

If we are really going to have bomb Iran anyway, wouldn’t this nuclear deal be the perfect strategic play for the United States and Israel? We’re giving up sanctions in exchange for regular inspections and valuable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program.

If Benjamin Netanyahu and neoconservatives in the U.S. were genuinely concerned with Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, they would want more intelligence on it. They would support this nuclear accord because it allows regular inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities.  To the argument that Iran will inevitably “cheat”, this agreement will make it easier for us to detect when and if Iran does cheat.

One suspects that Israel and its neoconservative allies in the U.S. don’t really care about gathering real intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program.

Just like the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was made based on trumped-up intelligence, for neoconservatives, one suspects the decision to bomb Iran has, likewise, already been made, and no amount of real intelligence is likely to get in the way of their proposed March to War.

Progressive Taxation: Not on Hillary’s Agenda

Hillary Clinton’s economic policy speech this past Monday at the New School of New York was a laundry list of progressive proposals– like raising the minimum wage, strengthening worker protections, social security and health care and investing more in infrastructure and early childhood education. See a video of her speech c-span.org.

HillaryClintonEconomicSpeech

Photo credit: http://blogs.newschool.edu/news/2015/07/hillary-clinton-economic-vision/

It was a speech, however, that was long on great ideas but short on specifics –for example how will she raise the revenue needed to implement all the initiatives she’s outlined.

It is one thing to talk about “tax reform” and another to detail specific revenue raising proposals.

Mrs. Clinton did talk about closing corporate loopholes and eliminating the special treatment of “carried interest” on profits paid out to executives and fund managers.

But these might best be described as nibbling at the edges of tax reform. When it came to broad-based reforms of the kind needed to pay for her many initiatives, Mrs. Clinton came up woefully short:

“… those at the top have to pay their fair share. That’s why I support the Buffett Rule, which makes sure that millionaires don’t pay lower rates than their secretaries. “

It’s a sad commentary that the best the Democratic front runner can muster is to say that millionaires should not pay lower rates than their secretaries.

Whatever happened to the concept of progressive taxation?

Have we forgotten a core Democratic principle – that people who earn more and benefit more from our economy should pay a higher effective tax rate?

Apparently we have, since virtually no one took Mrs. Clinton to task for effectively saying it is OK to tax millionaires and secretaries at the same rate.