Barack Obama delivered a lyrical State of the Union message on Jan. 25, with words of conciliation and promise and appeals to a bipartisan solution to the challenges that face our nation. He called for investment in biomedical research, information technology and clean energy as well as much-needed rebuilding of our nation’s schools, bridges and highways. Obama noted that South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do. Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given US infrastructure a “D” grade. We have a lot of catching up to do. Unfortunately, Obama also bought into the GOP talking point about the crushing national debt that makes such investments unlikely to clear the Republican House. ... (read the whole editorial)
We won’t go so far as to say right wingers such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are responsible for the massacre at Tucson that left six people dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in critical condition with a head wound. At this writing, the motivation of the accused shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, is left to be divined from the rambling statements he left on the Internet. But Loughner is only the latest unhinged person to take aim at liberals and/or Democrats (in the right-wing mind there is no distinction between progressive and centrist Democrats).
Conservatives were quick to distance themselves from the assassin. They even labeled him a liberal/leftist because he included The Communist Manifesto among his favorite books (along with Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Ayn Rand’s first novel, We the Living and several other classics, from Peter Pan to Plato’s Republic). But it’s hard to figure why a liberal would have determined to kill Giffords, while teabaggers vilified her support of health care reform.
Corporate media have portrayed violent rhetoric is a problem on both sides, but the fact is that Republicans — not Democrats — have encouraged the idea that armed insurrection is an alternative to elections. Republican leaders implicitly — and in some cases explicitly — approved the tactics of “Tea Party” shock troops in the past two years. Appeals to the fear, violence and paranoia of the loose-hinged is increasingly part of the GOP brand. ... (read the whole editorial)
Barack Obama really should be more careful about who he lets into the White House. But he set up the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform last January to identify “…policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run.” He named Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, as co-chairs.
Unfortunately, what Simpson and Bowles really wanted to do is cut Social Security benefits and extend the retirement age in order to finance more tax breaks for the wealthy. The fiscal commission has become popularly known as the Catfood Commission because its organizers appear determined to privatize Social Security and reduce retirement benefits for the elderly. Those cuts would force seniors to make tough budgetary choices — such as eating cat food and turning down the thermostat into teeth-chattering range — choices that the deficit commissioners, with their generous pensions from public and private treasuries, will never have to make.
The Simpson-Bowles plan also calls for job-killing austerity measures to begin in October 2011, even though most economic forecasters expect unemployment to remain high through next year. And some members of the 18-member commission see an opportunity to privatize Medicare.
Obama made a mistake in setting up the “bipartisan” commission. He should repudiate Simpson and Bowles, particularly after they floated their proposal on Nov. 10 while he was on a trip to South Korea. ... (read the whole editorial)
There is no need for panic at the mid-term election results. Democrats lost 60 seats and their majority in the House because the unemployment rate is still near 10%, not necessarily because voters rejected Democratic policies. Independent voters simply don’t trust Democrats any more than they trust Republicans, so they opted to neuter Congress, putting the House in opposition to the Senate and the White House.
Of course, many of those disgruntled voters either ignored the lack of a coherent Republican economic recovery plan or believed the lies put out by Fox “News” and right-wing talkers on the radio and in pulpits about what the Democrats have accomplished in the past two years.
It would compound the mistake if Democrats panic and try to compromise with Republicans who clearly do not believe in compromise. Indeed, the GOP’s right wing, exemplified in the Tea Party, has shown that it will punish any Republican who tries to reach a true compromise with the Dems. And Democrats who move right will further alienate their progressive base. ... (read the whole editorial)
Some progressive critics of the Democratic Party are fond of saying there is not a dime’s worth of difference between the Dems and the Republicans, but they might need to recompute in light of the scorecard from the midterm election.
If the health reform bill was a gift to the insurance companies, as has been charged, you couldn’t tell it by the way those corporate interests fought the reforms and then punished the Democrats who voted to interfere with their profiteering. The same goes for financial reforms which progressives felt didn’t go far enough in regulating the Wall Street bankers who wrecked the economy, but those financial overlords certainly seem to think a Republican Congress is the best bet to loosen those regulations. And oil and chemical companies were never shy about throwing their weight around to block Democratic attempts to control their pollution through the ill-fated “cap-and-trade” bill.
The Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors election funding sources, found that Republican candidates got $34 million from the finance, insurance and real estate sector since January, compared to $23 million given to Democrats. Overall, Republican House candidates have outraised Democrats by $30 million through Sept. 30, according to the Public Campaign Action Fund. ... (read the whole editorial)
No sooner had the Supreme Court issued its partisan 5-4 decision last January, setting aside a century of restrictions on corporate involvement in political campaigns, than Republican strategists started figuring out how to open the floodgates to organized money. Since the notorious Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission ruling, hundreds of millions of dollars have been targeted at congressional and state races to punish Democrats and much of it is untraceable.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) on Oct. 4 reported that former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove and former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie have helped conservative groups coordinate at least $300 million in ads and get-out-the-vote drives. Rove and Gillespie launched American Crossroads, which plans to spend $52 million this year to help a few dozen GOP Senate and House candidates with TV ads and get-out-the-vote drives, and they have met with other groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, which has a $75 million election budget and has drawn fire for soliciting money from foreign corporations; the American Action Network, headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., which plans to spend $25 million; and the Business Industry Political Action Committee, which aims to spend $6 million to boost the “pro-business” vote.
Republican partisans have built a huge lead of almost five to one in ad spending compared with their Democratic counterparts, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which reported that GOP-affiliated groups spent $24.8 million on Senate and House ads from Aug. 1 to Sept. 20 while Democratic rivals spent just $4.9 million. The Chamber of Commerce alone has aired 8,000 attack ads against Democrats through Sept. 15, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said. ... (read the whole editorial)
We wish we could credit the Tea Party movement with having populist instincts, but the evidence so far shows that these insurgents have been little more than a tool for corporate interests as they seek to take down Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress.
Teabaggers supposedly rose up spontaneously, inspired by CNBC commentator Rick Santelli’s Feb. 19, 2009, rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange against government bailouts of Wall Street banks, Detroit carmakers and struggling homeowners. We understand the resentment against bankers and corporations whose bad gambles wrecked the economy but then got bailed out by the government. But the teabaggers’ first major fight was in defense of insurance companies during the health reform debate. Then the teabaggers were uncommonly silent when it came to the Republican defense of Wall Street bankers in the financial reform debate.
It appears that teabaggers are more concerned with protecting the “free-market” system against Big Government than with protecting the working stiff against Big Corporations. The teabaggers don’t recognize the deregulation of the banking system in 1999 as the reason the economy got warped. Instead, many blame ACORN for organizing low-income neighborhoods and the Community Reinvestment Act for tempting bankers to make subprime loans in those neighborhoods. (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chair Sheila Bair noted that 75% of subprime loans originated from mortgage lenders not regulated by the CRA, which she called a “scapegoat” — nowhere did it say banks should make loans to homebuyers who couldn’t afford it — but the facts hardly seem to matter.) ... (read the whole editorial)
The Supreme Court opened the door to plutocracy — rule by the rich — with its Jan. 21 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. A narrow right-wing majority on the court set aside a century of laws and court precedents to allow unlimited corporate spending in elections and grant corporations the same free-speech rights as individuals.
Big corporations and right-wing donors have anted up $300 million for groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads to slime Democratic candidates before the midterm elections.
In reaction, MoveOn.org is leading an effort to get candidates for Congress to endorse a three-part “Fight Washington Corruption” agenda that includes:
• Overturning the Court’s Citizens United decision through an amendment to the Constitution.
• Passing the Fair Elections Now Act in Congress, which would allow people of modest means to run for office by offering public matching funds for candidates who agree to limit their fundraising to small individual donations. The bill would allow lawmakers to do their jobs without having to constantly beg for campaign contributions.
• Enacting tough new laws cracking down on the revolving door between government officials and lobbyists. It would prohibit individuals form switching from corporate lobbying to government service, or vice versa, within a three-year period; stop corporate lobbyists from providing gifts and free travel to government officials; and post online the attendees and content of all meetings between lobbyists and government officials. ... (read the whole editorial)
For 75 years Social Security has been keeping senior citizens out of poverty. For that entire time the Republican Party has been scheming to get rid of the retirees’ safety net, the crown jewel of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
In 1999, Republicans in Congress managed to repeal the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banks, with their federally-insured deposits, from investment banks and insurance companies. As was predicted at the time, Wall Street bankers became casino managers and economic chaos resulted. We’ll be cleaning up the mess from the 2008 meltdown for years; in the meantime millions of Americans are out of work.
Now the same plutocrats who pushed for deregulation of banks are pushing for the privatization of Social Security and Medicare, the last hurrah of the New Deal coalition. (Lyndon B. Johnson got Medicare passed 45 years ago as an amendment to the Social Security Act.) Republicans are reluctant to talk about their plans, for fear of alienating elderly voters, but the “Road Map for America’s Future,” prepared by the GOP numbers man, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), calls for privatizing both popular “entitlements.” ... (read the whole editorial)
It is more than a little frustrating to watch Republicans on the verge of being rewarded by voters for their obstruction of President Obama’s economic recovery program.
John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have done damage to the United States that Osama bin Laden could only dream of as they seek to prevent our nation’s economic recovery.
Obama entered the White House in January 2009, inheriting from the Bush/Cheney administration a $1.3 trillion deficit, two wars and rising unemployment. The economy was in free-fall due in large part to the Republican deregulation of the banking system that turned Wall Street into a casino. But where most economists saw the most dangerous recession since the Great Depression, Republican leaders in the House and Senate saw the opportunity to divert the blame to the new guy, and they determined to fight Obama’s economic recovery program at every step. ... (read the whole editorial)
You’ve got to give the Republicans credit for sticking to their talking points, no matter how far-fetched. But it’s hard to believe that they don’t know when they’re lying.
Republicans delayed the extension of unemployment benefits for 2.5 million Americans for nearly two months because Democrats would not agree to cuts in the economic stimulus program that is supposed to put some of those unemployed people back to work. (This was after the GOP had raised the trial balloon about how the government should not be encouraging hobos.)
When Carte Goodwin (D-W.V.) was sworn in July 20 to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), Goodwin gave the Democrats the 60th vote to break the GOP filibuster and the Senate proceeded to pass the extension bill. (Two Republicans — Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — voted to shut down the filibuster, while Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., supported the filibuster.) ... (read the whole editorial)
Now is the summer of our populist discontent. But we’d better get over it, or else this winter will be a disaster.
The Senate is preparing to finally pass the Wall Street reform bill. As Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said, “it doesn’t go anywhere as far as it should” to break up the huge financial institutions or to limit interest rates that banks may charge credit card customers, but it is “a step forward” and has some important regulation of the financial industry.
It’s a similar caveat that we heard earlier this year after passage of the health care reform, and last year after the passage of the economic stimulus package. ... (read the whole editorial)
Events this past spring in the coal country of West Virginia and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico have proven that corporations cannot be trusted to act in the interest of their employees or in the interest of the public. Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where an explosion claimed the lives of 29 coal miners April 5, was only the most fatal workplace disaster in April. Seven workers died in an explosion at the Tesoro refinery in Acortes, Wash. (April 2), 11 oil workers were killed following an explosion of BP/Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico (April 20), one coal miner died of injuries from an accident at the Pocahontas Mine in Beckley, W.V. (April 22), and two coal miners were killed in a roof failure at the Dotki Mine in western Kentucky (April 28). All three mines were non-union, as was the offshore drilling platform. ... Two bills before Congress would take positive steps to improve workplace safety. The top priority for organized labor is the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to be represented by a union, but Republicans and the business community appear to be unrelenting in their hostility to organized labor, so reaching 60 votes in the Senate appears unlikely. Unions also are promoting the Protecting America’s Workers Act (HR 2067), which would be the first major strengthening of the Occupational Safety and Health Act since it was enacted in 1971. The bill would expand OSHA to include state and local public employees and federal government workers, as well as airline and railroad employees and government contractors. It would raise penalties for health and safety violations, allow felony prosecutions of employers who commit willful violations that result in death or serious injury and requires OSHA to investigate all cases of death and serious injury on the job. ... (Read the whole editorial)
The Wall Street reform bill that passed the Senate May 20 is a lot like health-care reform — a good start, but not enough to make an immediate difference in the lives of average Americans. ... a year and a half after the nation’s largest banks panicked Congress into lending them hundreds of billions of dollars to bail them out, Wall Street has recovered and bank profits are back on the rise while millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Now they face the loss of unemployment benefits and health insurance and foreclosure on their homes. ... In the months remaining until the mid-term election, Congress must pass a major jobs bill to put jobless Americans back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, dams, schools and sewers. The Obama administration also proposes to transform our energy system and break our dependency on foreign oil by investing in renewable technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass generation. Congress can pay for the jobs bill with a tax on securities trades. A tax of 0.5% on stock exchanges, similar to one levied in Britain, would raise an estimated $150 billion annually. It would have minimal impact on working people investing in mutual funds for their retirement, but it would curb short-term speculators. (Read the whole editorial.)
Many people confuse the demagoguery of politicians such as former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Tea Party movement with populism. They have turned the definition of populism around and it’s time that progressives reclaim the good name of populism. ...
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won a major victory May 11 with approval of his amendment to the Wall Street reform bill, to audit the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending activities and disclose which banks received some of the $2 trillion in special loans from the Fed since December 2007. The Sanders amendment, approved 96-0, also requires the Fed to disclose future emergency lending programs. In the face of opposition from the White House, Wall Street and the Fed, Sanders compromised from the House version, which called for continual and more comprehensive audits of the Fed. House conferees may still push for their version, but Sen. David Vitter’s amendment to restore the House language in the Senate bill failed, 37-62. ... If Democratic members of Congress can’t be populist in reining in Wall Street banks that nearly wrecked the world economy, then we need better Democrats.
The Obama administration is way off base if it proceeds with Attorney Gen. Eric Holder’s proposal to carve out broad new exceptions to the Miranda rights established in a landmark 1966 Supreme Court ruling. The procedure now generally forbids prosecutors from using as evidence statements made before suspects have been warned that they have a right to remain silent and they may consult a lawyer. ... Congress cannot waive a terrorist suspect’s Fifth Amendment rights. Only the suspect can do that. Obama and Holder know better. (Read the whole editorial.)
Arizona Republican legislators knuckled under to the increasingly influential nativist movement in their party in April when they passed the “Show Your Papers” bill to require local police to stop Latino residents and force them to prove they are in this country legally. (Read the whole editorial.)
The ink was still drying on the new Affordable Care Act when insurance executives were claiming that they could not comply with the requirement that they offer coverage to children regardless of pre-existing conditions. Some insurance executives floated the idea that the law does not actually require insurers to cover all child applicants this year. ... President Obama and Congressional Democrats should make it clear that insurance companies are on probation for the next three years. If they can’t clean up their acts, or if they claim they need to increase their premiums to comply, that will show us they cannot do the job. In that case, Congress should exercise the option to expand Medicare to cover everybody. ...
The next fight is over financial reforms. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) wasted months watering down the bill in search of a compromise with Republicans. Then, in a replay of the health insurance reform process, Dodd kept the compromises in the bill even after Republicans refused to sign onto it. ...
When John Paul Stevens was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975, Stevens was a Republican in the middle of the ideological spectrum. Since then, the court has moved so far to the right that Stevens is considered on the left wing — though he still considers himself a conservative. When it comes to replacing Stevens, Obama’s first rule should be “Don’t move the court any further to the right.” ... (Read the entire editorial.)
Now that the health insurance reform bill is signed into law, perhaps the mainstream media can get to work calling down the Republicans and teabaggers for the lies they have been telling about the reform efforts over the past year. ... The Democrats — without a single Republican vote — managed to pass the health insurance overhaul fair and square. It is expected to add more than 30 million Americans to the ranks of the insured. That coverage perhaps will save the lives of 30,000 people annually who will be able to afford timely medical attention that previously they might have been put off until it was too late. And a person with a medical condition will be able to change jobs or even start his or her own business without fearing being left without insurance coverage. Republicans think they can win in November by urging voters to reject those reforms. I think Democrats can win that debate. (Read the whole editorial)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is the face of progressive resistance to a scaled-down health reform bill. He is a co-sponsor of HR 676, which would expand Medicare to cover all Americans but has yet to get a committee hearing. He says he will not vote for the Senate health-care bill because it mandates that people buy private insurance but does not contain a public option and he feels it does not protect consumers. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who sponsored a similar Medicare for All bill in the Senate — also to no avail — told Ed Schultz on his radio show March 9 that his advice to progressives is “take the deal.” He noted that the deal could be a lot better, but there is still a lot of good in the bill: It not only would help 30 million Americans who are now uninsured, but it also would provide access to community health centers for 20 million Americans who have trouble getting primary health care. And he noted that the Senate bill gives states the opportunity to set up their own single-payer plans (after 2017, if the health secretary signs off). ...
Wall Street browbeat Congress into enacting a bipartisan bailout of banks and investment firms in September 2008 to avert a threatened worldwide depression. Now the too-big-to-fail banks are reporting profits again but 8.4 million Americans have lost their jobs since the Great Recession started in December 2007. Small businesses report problems getting loans from these same banks that the taxpayers bailed out. ... (Read the whole editorial.)
President Obama has gone over his plan for health-care reform as he met with Democratic and Republican leaders for what we hope is the last attempt to hammer out a bipartisan deal that provides a path to universal health coverage.
Obama and Senate Democrats have leaned over backwards to accommodate Republicans. The Dems made one last try Feb. 25. Among the hundreds of Republican suggestions that already have been incorporated into the Senate bill that is the basis for Obama’s health care plan, one of the most objectionable features to progressives — particularly to labor unions — is the excise tax on expensive health plans. (In his presidential campaign, John McCain wanted to repeal tax breaks for employer-provided insurance, which would have been much worse for workers and small businesses.)
Republicans so far have replied with obstruction and demagoguery. They were polite Feb. 25, but no more interested in cooperating on health reform than they’ve been for the past year. ... (Read the whole editorial.)
There are a lot of angry people out there, and we have plenty of reasons to be mad. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stupid. The Tea Party movement claims to be a populist organization that spontaneously erupted from the grassroots to protest Barack Obama’s usurpation of the White House and his “socialist” attempt to provide an economic stimulus and health insurance for the 44 million working poor who earn too much for Medicaid but are too young for Medicare.
But those “grassroots” were groomed by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks, political advocacy groups linked to oilman David Koch and other Republican operatives. Events were promoted by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox “News” and the Wall Street Journal. Also, there are several Tea Party groups, but Tea Party Nation, a for-profit corporation, charged $549 for a convention in Nashville that drew about 600 teabaggers to hear such luminaries as former US Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who longed for the good old days of literacy tests for voters, and former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), who thinks we should abandon hope for change.
We have been disappointed in President Obama’s performance so far, but, unlike the teabaggers, we give him credit for trying. When he entered the White House in January 2009, he inherited a Wall Street bailout to avert a possible economic meltdown. Without that bailout, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson now says, we might be struggling with a 25% unemployment rate instead of just under 10%. “If the system had collapsed, millions more in savings would have been lost,” Paulson said at a congressional hearing Jan. 27, according to MarketWatch. “Industrial companies of all size would not have been able to raise funding and they would not have been able to pay employees, this would have rippled through the economy.” ... (Read the whole editorial.)
As expected, the right-wing majority on the Supreme Court issued a ruling Jan. 21 that corporations are entitled to engage in political debate. Writing for the majority in Citizens United v. F.E.C., Justice Anthony Kennedy tried to frame the decision as an affirmation of First Amendment free-speech rights, but make no mistake: This was an affirmation of corporate rights at the expense of individual rights. ...
Democrats in Congress and the White House appeared to panic after Scott Brown upset Martha Coakley in the special election to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s old Senate seat. Dems should settle down and get to work passing what progressive bills they can in the next nine months because there’s no telling what the anti-incumbent mood, combined with corporate campaign ads, will produce in the next Congress. Democrats still have a 59-41 majority in the Senate — which actually is one more than they started the session with. Some news media seem to believe that the Republicans are in charge with their “superminority” of 41 in the Senate and being only 81 seats down in the House, But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid need to show that they are setting the agenda and moving progressive legislation that helps working people and small businesses recover from the Bush II Recession.
After a year of Barack Obama in the White House, progressive euphoria is nearly gone. But exaggerated hopes for Obama and the Democrats is giving way to the realization that it takes hard work to get a progressive agenda through Congress in the face of a worldwide recession, an opposition party determined to sabotage the president’s initiatives and conservative Dems who see shakedown opportunities.
In our Nov. 15, 2008, editorial (published before the election), we said we were under no illusions about Obama being a progressive messiah. Republicans called him a socialist with plans to soak the rich and spread the wealth. In fact, Obama restrained his progressive instincts and sought moderate compromise. He was willing to reach across the aisle to seek bipartisan deals. We expected Obama to operate in a centrist manner, similar to that of Bill and Hillary Clinton. That prediction has proven true — but Obama’s challenge has been in dealing with conservatives in the Democratic Party, not with the GOP, which has contented itself with demonizing him.
Recall that Obama had the Democratic nomination only a few weeks before George W. Bush’s Treasury secretary dropped the bomb on Congress, warning that Wall Street was in danger of a meltdown that could cause a worldwide depression. ... (Read the rest.)
There is more than one way to reform health care. And as long as Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) or Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) or any other conservative Democrat can frustrate efforts to pass a strong health reform bill through the regular order of business, Democrats should be prepared to pass as much reform as they can by any means necessary.
There’s a lot of bluster from people who are not in Congress about walking away from the deal and starting from scratch next year. Won’t happen. There are, at best, 58 Senate votes for health reform with a strong public option and/or Medicare buy-in for people from age 55 to 64. But 60 are needed to get to a final vote under the current Senate rules. And probably another half-dozen centrist Democratic senators are wobbly. If those Dems aren’t feeling the heat to pass a strong bill now, there is no reason to expect they’ll be convinced next year. ... (Read the rest.)
One of the reasons we named this publication The Progressive Populist was to restore the good name of populism after years of ill-use of the term by right-wingers.
Michael Linds cover story and Jim Van Der Pols essay on page 8 provide some background on the populist movement in the United States.
The teabagger movement, whether its members realize it or not, is largely in the service of corporate interests in its campaign against “big government” and health-care reform.
Their hero, Sarah Palin, has embraced the right-wing dogma that big government is bad and that the free market is the best judge. That is the opposite of progressive populism, which dates from the late 19th century and believes that the government should protect working people, farmers and small businesses from predatory corporations.
Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which regulated Wall Street, provided support for family farmers, gave workers the right to organize and provided Social Security for senior citizens, among other accomplishments, was the culmination of progressive populist power in the 1930s. Roosevelt in 1944 even proposed an economic bill of rights that included the right to a job with a living wage; freedom from unfair competition and monopolies; a home; medical care; education; and recreation. But Roosevelt died before he could pursue the economic bill of rights and ever since World War II Big Business has set about systematically to repeal the New Deal, starting with passage of the union-busting Taft Hartley Act, over Harry Truman’s veto, in 1947. The populist wing survived to promote John Kennedy’s New Frontier and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which won the enactment of civil rights and the War on Poverty in 1964 and federal aid for education as well as voting rights and Medicare in 1965 and establishment of Medicaid to cover low-income Americans in 1966. ... (Read the rest.)
The House finally passed a compromise health-care reform bill on a 220-215 vote Saturday night, Nov. 7. We call it a compromise because progressive Democrats had to give up on the most comprehensive reforms — first, expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans, then the fallback of a robust government-run public option that any business or individual could buy into — in favor of a hybrid plan that would subsidize private insurance but insist on national standards for coverage.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised single-payer advocates that they would get a floor vote on their alternative bill to expand Medicare to cover everybody, but she reneged on that promise and convinced Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) to withdraw the Medicare-for-All amendment. She also stripped from the bill, HR 3962, a provision authored by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that would allow states to enact their own single-payer insurance plans — which are now banned by federal law.
In her defense, Pelosi could afford to lose up to 40 Dems and still prevail — and she ended up losing 39. While most were conservative “Blue Dogs,” they also included Kucinich, who said, “instead of working toward the elimination of for-profit insurance, HR 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care,” and Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) who said, “At the highest level, this bill will enshrine in law the monopolistic powers of the health insurance industry.” ... (Read the rest.)
Progressives won a victory Oct. 26 when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the health-care reform bill he will send to the Senate floor will include a government-run national health insurance plan — the “public option.”
Democratic leaders in the Senate and the White House had been dithering for months over whether the health reform bill should include a nonprofit “public option” to compete with the for-profit health insurance companies. Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), with White House support, kept negotiating with Republicans through the summer in case weaker reforms might attract some moderate Republicans to sign onto the bill and give it the cover of bipartisanship. But as Republicans continued to balk, progressive activists worked to revive the reform movement, targeting Reid and wavering Democrats. Then President Obama’s Organizing for America supporters and allied organizations made a show of force on Oct. 20, placing 315,000 calls to Congressional offices to urge movement on the reform bill. Many callers also urged that the bill include a public option.
Finally, Reid realized that there were only a couple moderate Republicans left in the Senate and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the best hope for a GOP sign-on, just wasn’t that into health care reform. ... (Read the rest.)
When the Senate Finance Committee finally approved its version of health care reform on Oct. 13, three months after four other congressional committees had produced their health reform bills, the way was cleared for movement toward the long-awaited floor vote.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) finally got Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to give his conservative bill bipartisan cover as she joined the 13 Democrats on the committee to move the process forward. Snowe cautioned that she could withdraw her support if the Democrats make it more liberal to satisfy their constituents, but she added, “The majority has the votes. It has the votes in the House. It has the votes in the Senate. So it shouldn’t be about the mathematics of vote counting, but rather the mechanics of getting the best policy.”
Exactly right, which is why the Democrats should keep the needs of working families, not insurance companies, in mind when they merge Baucus’ bill with the more liberal bill that emerged from the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in July. ... (Read the rest.)
New Justice Sonia Sotomayor proved herself to be a good hire in her first appearance with the Supreme Court when she challenged the idea that corporations have broad First Amendment rights that the court should expand. She suggested that the court should instead reconsider the 19th-century usurpation of constitutional rights on behalf of corporations.
The Supreme Court is considering overturning not only the recent restrictions on electioneering by corporations and labor unions within 60 days of an election, but also restrictions that go back a century to prohibit corporations from contributing to federal political campaigns ... (Read the rest)
Health reformers were put on the defensive in August, as critics of reform ambushed congressional Democrats at town meetings with jeers, chants and wild accusations of what a socialized government health plan would do to their beloved insurance plans.
Never mind that neither President Obama nor congressional leaders have proposed a socialized medical plan. Nor that many of the protesting “teabaggers” are seniors who are covered by Medicare, which actually is a socialized insurance plan. Nor that far from creating government “death panels” to determine who would get treatment and who would die, the reforms Obama supports would set standards for coverage that would stop private insurance company bureaucrats from arbitrarily denying expensive medical treatments in order to fatten corporate profits.
But the insurance companies, which desperately want to prevent the government from setting up anything like a viable public option to compete with them, have managed to sow doubts about reform with the general public. And as the White House and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) continue to seek a compromise that would attract at least some Republican support in the Senate, progressives feel disillusioned about reported backroom deals with insurance and pharmaceutical lobbyists that protect their corporate profits but don’t seem to advance universal health coverage. ... (Read the rest)
When Republicans try to set themselves up as the protectors of Medicare, they should be laughed out of the forum. But apparently that is too much to expect from our nation’s premier news organizations.
A recent example is the Washington Post, whose editors chose to give Michael Steele, the zany Republican national chairman, space for an op-ed column Aug. 24. In it he proposed a “Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights,” which would “ensure that our greatest generation will receive access to quality health care.” ... (Read the rest)
For sheer, unmitigated gall, it’s hard to beat the conservatives who are mounting a last-ditch campaign to derail meaningful health care reform.
First, the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies bribed Congress members with millions of dollars in campaign contributions to keep expansion of Medicare — the most efficient way to provide affordable health coverage to every American — “off the table.”
Then their allies in Congress held up the progress of a compromise health reform bill past the summer recess. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) continues to negotiate with Republican senators who have indicated that they will never support a final bill that liberal Democrats could support.
At the same time, rightwing organizers are coordinating mobs that have disrupted attempts by Democratic Congress members to discuss health care reform in their home districts. Protesters have showed up at congressional town meetings armed with Republican talking points that the President Obama’s plan would threaten Medicare and veterans’ health programs, put government bureaucrats between patients and their doctors and set up “death panels” to deny care for seniors and the disabled.
In fact, as Mike Madden notes in “Dispatches,” the “death panels” already are operated by private health insurance companies, who wield insurance-policy fine print to deny expensive treatments for stricken customers who thought they were covered. The bureaucrats earn bonuses and their bosses fatten their corporate profits at the expense of unlucky patients. ... (Read the rest)
After six months in the White House, President Barack Obama is still looking good as he settles in. But he needs our help.
Some liberals have lost hope in Obama because he has failed to fulfill some of his campaign promises. He hasn’t closed Guantanamo. He hasn’t stopped the military from discharging gay service members. He hasn’t thrown Dick Cheney in jail. (OK, he never promised that, but we had hopes.)
We cut Obama some slack, considering that he was elected during the meltdown of the financial industry worldwide, amid warnings of an economic collapse that could rival the Great Depression of the 1930s. Wall Street demanded and got a bailout, first from the Bush administration and a bipartisan Congress last year. The financial wizards got a second helping from the Obama administration, which followed up with a $787 billion stimulus package that was approved by the Democratic Congress in February over the almost unanimous opposition of Republicans.
We wish Obama was listening more to Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman instead of Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, but banks apparently have stabilized and are reporting profits again. The stimulus program may have been too small to reverse the recession — but it has done some good: Economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com wrote June 22 that without the stimulus plan “real GDP would have declined nearly 6% in the second quarter” rather than the 3% decline that is now estimated. And the stimulus will continue to be spent over two to three years to sustain long-term economic recovery.
The best thing Congress could do for the economy is pass a universal health care bill that enables entrepreneurs and small businesses to obtain health coverage at a reasonable price. ... (Read the rest)
Al Franken finally was sworn in as the junior senator from Minnesota on July 7, eight months after the votes were cast, but only after the state Supreme Court on June 30 unanimously rejected former Sen. Norm Coleman’s appeal of a lower court ruling upholding Franken’s election. Republicans bankrolled the appeal to deny the Democratic caucus its 60th vote that could foreclose GOP filibusters of progressive bills.
Unfortunately, there are still at least 20 Democrats who cannot be counted on to support President Obama’s initiative on health care reform, which is why Democrats might have to tackle filibuster reform first. ... (Read the rest)
Congressional leaders are working on health-care overhaul, with an eye to getting a bill that will provide “universal coverage,” or something like it, to the president’s desk by Oct. 1. Meanwhile, health industry lobbyists see conservative Democrats in the Senate as their best hope for preventing real reform that threatens billions in corporate profits.
The best reform, in our view, would be adoption of a single-payer health plan, which could be accomplished by expanding Medicare to cover everybody in the US. That would threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs in the insurance bureaucracy, which makes it a tough sell in a recession. But the $167.6 million spent by the health industry on federal candidates in the last election cycle would really be missed by Congress members.
In May, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) shut single-payer advocates out of Finance Committee hearings and ordered 13 protesters arrested. Since then, Baucus has met with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and some single-payer advocates. He reportedly said he’d try to get the charges dropped. It looks like single payer will get a hearing in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee June 11 as well as the House Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions subcommittee chaired by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) on June 10. But single payer is still the longest of shots. The real battle is shaping up over whether the health reform includes a government-run “public option.”
[Update: Hearings on single payer were held in House Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee, where four of the five witnesses favored single payer, and in the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where one of 24 witnesses favored single payer. David Swanson reports on the single-payer hearings in Truthout.] ... (Read the rest)
It’s bad enough that President Obama has to clean up the Bush administration’s mess in Guantanamo. Apparently it is too much to expect the Democratic caucus in the Senate to watch his back.
Polls show support for the Republican Party is plunging nearly across the board, while Obama’s approval rating remains over 60% in Gallup polls through May 23.
But Republicans believe they can revive their fortunes by stoking fears that terrorists will be released from Guantanamo and they will be allowed to roam throughout the United States.
Walter Mears wrote for the Associated Press (May 22). “In political debate, the side that keeps its arguments simple and repeats them again and again is likely to gain the advantage. It is an easier sale, especially when the topic is as scary as terrorism. That’s how Republicans got the edge in the dispute over President Barack Obama’s planned closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison. And it put former Vice President Dick Cheney on a separate but almost equal platform with the president of the United States, which is a plus any time the party out of power can manage it.”
Mears noted that there is a downside to Cheney’s premier role: his 25% approval rating and his status as the most unpopular top figure in an unpopular administration. But, unlikely as it seemed, the GOP talking point that Obama planned to let terrorists move next door to Americans scared the Democratic majority in the Senate to join a 90-6 vote on May 19 to deny Obama $80 million to close the notorious prison camp.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed to buy into the GOP talking point after the Senate vote, saying Obama won’t get the funds until he comes up with a satisfactory plan for transferring the 240 detainees held there. “We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States,” Reid said. A reporter noted, “No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.” Reid replied, “Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.” ... (Read the rest)
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said May 5 that he deeply respects the views of those who want a single-payer health plan. He just doesn’t want to hear from them. He had eight advocates arrested May 5 when they disrupted his “health care roundtable discussion” to protest the exclusion of single-payer advocates from the discussion. Another five single-payer protesters were arrested at a May 12 hearing.
One of the few references to single payer during a hearing ocurred May 12 during a discussion of the Republican proposal to eliminate the tax deductibility of employer-sponsored health plans. Baucus said he was not in favor of such a radical change. In response, Gerald Shea of the AFL-CIO said “If we’re going to do a radical change, I think that single payer is really the way to go.” At least Shea was not arrested.
Baucus’ attitude toward single payer doesn’t do much for our confidence in his good faith, but reform is highly unlikely without his imprimatur.
At least the chairman has indicated he is open to a public health insurance option as part of the health reform bill. One approach would be to allow the public to buy into a plan similar to Medicare offered through an exchange and administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. Another approach would be to administer a Medicare-like plan through multiple regional third-party administrators. A third approach would be to allow states to set up and administer their own insurance plans—which is scant comfort for residents of skinflint states, such as Texas or most of the South. ... (Read the rest)
After eight years of the Bush administration denying the impact of climate change, the Obama administration is trying to steer energy policy toward a more sustainable model before it’s too late.
Dick Cheney ridiculed calls for conservation, muzzled scientists who tried to raise alarms about climate change and modeled energy policy to suit his friends in the oil and gas industry. New Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson on April 17 confirmed that “the case for finding that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger public health and welfare is compelling and, indeed, overwhelming,” resulting from decades of research by thousands of scientists from the US and around the world. “The evidence points ineluctably to the conclusion that climate change is upon us as a result of greenhouse gas emissions, that climatic changes are already occurring that harm our health and welfare, and that the effects will only worsen over time in the absence of regulatory action,” she announced.
With historic droughts straining water supplies in the West, glaciers and ice shelfs melting around the world at unprecedented rates and increasingly fierce hurricanes wracking the Gulf Coast, climatologists warn that there is no time to waste.
President Obama has called for Congress to authorize a cap-and-trade program to use market forces to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In his address to Congress Feb. 24, Obama asked lawmakers to send him legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution. He has set targets for reducing US emissions of 14% below 2005 levels by 2020, and approximately 83% below 2005 levels by 2050.... (Read the rest)
A moron in Pittsburgh who reportedly was convinced that President Obama planned to take away his guns ambushed two police officers who responded to a domestic disturbance call on April 4. The 22-year-old gunman, Richard Poplawski, who was wearing a bulletproof vest and was armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a .22 long rifle and a pistol, shot the two responding officers in their heads, then killed another officer who arrived to back up his comrades. The moron wounded at least one other officer as he reportedly fired more than 100 rounds at reinforcements who finally brought him out alive.
Poplawski was affiliated with Stromfront.org, a white supremacist Web site. His friend, Edward Perkovic, told the Associated Press that Poplawski feared “the Obama gun ban that’s on the way” and “didn’t like our rights being infringed upon.” Poplawski was convinced that the nation was secretly controlled by a cabal that would eradicate freedom of speech, take away his guns and use the military to enslave the citizenry, Dennis Roddy reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Where did Poplawski get such ideas? The National Rifle Association spent more than $10 million last year circulating materials and running ads making unsubstantiated claims that Obama would ban the possession and manufacture of handguns, close 90% of gun shops and ban hunting ammunition, the non-partisan FactCheck.org reported. The NRA continued that campaign against Obama as he took office. In fact, Obama has said he “respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms” and “will protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport and use guns.” ... (Read the rest)
Pity the Grand Old Populists. One day the Republican grandees are railing against President Obama’s Treasury secretary for standing by while AIG gave bonuses to the traders who helped to wreck the economy. Then the memo comes from GOP Central that they are opposed to the Democratic move to claw back those hateful bonuses with a 90% tax. It appears that Republicans and their ideological mentors hate tax increases a lot worse than they hate nameless greedy insurance company executives.
But Wall Streeters really resent it when we rubes stick our noses in their doings. They were alarmed when the House, with 85 Republicans joining the Democratic majority, passed a bill that would slap a 90% tax on bonuses for executives of government-rescued corporations whose family incomes exceed $250,000.
That tax rate would not be the highest in history—the record marginal tax rate was 94% during World War II. But some scholars believe the bonus tax bill could run afoul of the constitutional prohibition against Congress enacting a “bill of attainder.” Such a bill singles out an identifiable group for punishment. It’s an intriguing point of law, but the only way to find out for sure is for the Senate to go ahead and pass the bill and let the AIG bonus babies take it to court.
It would be fun to see how grandstanders like Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), would vote on the bonus tax. After all, they were insistent last year that autoworkers were overpaid when they made $57,000 a year. But when Congress in February debated limits on executive pay for bailed-out businesses, McConnell declared, “I really don’t want the government to take over these businesses and start telling them everything about what they can do.” Shelby said Congress has no role in determining corporate compensation: “It should be up to the board of directors of a private corporation to set the compensation of an executive.”
McConnell and Shelby reflected the general view of Republicans, which turned around a month later to ride the popular outrage at the AIG bonuses, which apparently were authorized by the AIG board last year. Republican spokesmen demanded to know what Obama knew and when he knew it.
Unfortunately, these faux populists in the Senate might escape that troubling vote on the bonus tax. Wall Street financiers apparently spooked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner when they warned him that they might not cooperate in the government’s rescue of their banking industry if the Senate proceeded with the bonus tax bill. Senate Democratic leaders sidelined the bill. ... (Read the rest)
Right-wing broadcasters, who outnumber liberal/progressive talkers by more than 9 to 1, have been up in arms about the possibility that the Federal Communications Commission under Barack Obama might try to restore the Fairness Doctrine, which until the 1980s required the holders of broadcast licenses to provide some balance in the presentation of controversial issues of public importance. Ronald Reagan’s FCC in 1987 abolished the Fairness Doctrine and Reagan vetoed a bill to reimpose the doctrine.
We think changes in media technology have made the doctrine largely irrelevant but we still don’t understand why Senate Democrats knuckled under to Republican demagogues Feb. 25 to pass a measure that would prohibit the FCC from restoring the doctrine. The 87-11 vote was on an amendment to an unrelated bill giving the District of Columbia a voting member of Congress.
We’d rather see the Obama administration move toward promoting more diversity in radio and TV stations, including repeal of rules that allow media conglomerates to own multiple stations in a market and approval of community radio stations and low-power radio stations that operate at 100 watts or less.
We also think Congress should create a permanent, independent funding mechanism for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports PBS and NPR, and change the governance structure to prevent partisan meddling by political appointees, as occurred under the Bush administration when the CPB chairman sought to meddle in programming.
We also believe the FCC should support public access cable TV channels against telecoms such as AT&T that community media groups accuse of relegating the nonprofit channels to second-class status, in violation of the 1984 Cable Act and FCC rulings and policies.
But the most revolutionary new outlet for public media is the Internet, as technology makes it possible for any website or blog to reach across the World Wide Web. ... (Read the rest)
We should not talk ourselves into a Depression, but in a time when factories are shutting down because consumers won’t buy their goods because people aren’t sure they’ll have a job in six months and the banks are pulling back on lines of credit, the government must be prepared to step up as the employer and lender of last resort. And those of us who still have jobs should be prepared to step up and support programs to put jobless Americans back to work, fixing streets and bridges and investing in other public works, if necessary, to get the economy moving again.
President Obama stepped up Feb. 24 in his speech to Congress. “What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more,” Obama said. “[A] day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here. Now is the time to act boldly and wisely—to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”
He outlined ambitious proposals to develop renewable energy resources to free the United States from dependence on foreign oil, to give working-class families a shot at higher education for their kids once again and to make health care available to everybody. We’ll use government to get us out of the current economic slump by proceeding with progressive initiatives.
Republicans, on the other hand, are still complaining that Herbert Hoover didn’t get a second term. ... (Read the rest)
Republicans are having trouble coming to terms with the collapse of their ideology as they plot their resistance to President Obama’s economic recovery plan. They still have faith that tax cuts and free markets will revive the economy, despite the evidence that tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of financial markets fed the current troubles.
Republican leaders in the House and Senate rejected Obama’s pleas for bipartisanship. Instead they put up their own amendments to replace the Democratic version with an alternative consisting mainly of tax cuts. When those amendments failed, Republicans unanimously voted against the $819 billion economic recovery bill in the House; only three of 41 Republicans were finagled to vote for the $838 billion Senate version. ... (Read the rest)
... If Obama should win a second term, kids who are in the fourth grade this year will graduate from high school thinking there is nothing unusual about having a president who is black. Of course, we’re a long way from Obama’s second term—although a wag at ThePoorMan.net noted that Obama already has been sworn in twice. But the 44th president got a fast start on his first term, issuing executive orders trying to undo much of the mess left by his predecessor during the closing days of the Bush regime, and working to gain approval for his economic recovery plan. ...
Citizens can strengthen Obama’s hand by keeping pressure on Congress members to support the economic stimulus and push for more progressive initiatives to follow. The citizen’s job doesn’t stop with the election. House Republicans in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are particularly vulnerable to persuasion. “Their constituents want them to take action to save the economy, not block progress,” a White House aide told Politico.com.
As more people lose their jobs, and the rest of us wonder how secure our jobs are, the time is ripe for Congress to expand Medicare to cover all Americans. People who lose jobs may assume health insurance costs paid by their former employers, under federal law, or they can shop for insurance for themselves and their family. But unemployment benefits won’t cover private health insurance as well as the rent, utilities, groceries and other bills. Medicaid provides health coverage to low-income families, but as local economies deteriorate more states will have trouble coming up with their share of the costs. Republicans cite emergency rooms as the safety net for the unemployed, but that leaves charity hospitals or local governments to pick up the unpaid bills. ... (Read the rest)
As we wait for the most highly-anticipated inauguration in a generation, President-elect Barack Obama has demonstrated that he belongs in the Oval Office. His approval ratings have topped 70% in Gallup polls as he has put together a Cabinet that should provoke lively debates but it also will keep progressives worried about who's got Obama's ear.
Obama's choices for labor secretary and trade representative are a good example of the potential for creative tension: Organized labor applauded the selection of Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) as labor secretary. The daughter of immigrants, whose father worked at a battery recycling plant and was a member of the Teamsters union, Solis has been a steady pro-labor and progressive representative in four terms in the House from the Los Angeles area. She took a leadership role in fights to help workers organize and bargain collectively, to reframe the trade debate and to defend the rights of workers in the US and abroad during eight years of the most anti-labor administration in modern history. Solis has voted with the AFL-CIO labor federation 97% of the time since coming to Congress-which some Republicans think is an argument against her.
More troubling is Obama's choice of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk as trade representative. Kirk is a "free trader," a pro-business Democrat who supported the North American Free Trade Agreement and Permanent Normal Trade Relations for China but he opposed fast track for trade deals in an unsuccessful 2002 Senate race. Sure, he looked good against John Cornyn but now he will be responsible for implementing Obama's pledges to create a new trade and globalization policy for Americans. ... See the rest.
Republican senators let their hatred for organized labor overwhelm the need to keep more than two million Americans working in the automobile industry when the Republicans blocked a loan package to help American carmakers stay in business into 2009. This is just one more case of Republican abuse of the filibuster, a practice that has become an excuse for Democrats not passing more progressive legislation in the Senate. But it is within Majority Leader Reid's power to stop the abuse. ... (Read the rest)
Also, Barack Obama has assembled veterans of the Clinton and Bush administrations to handle the economic crisis and national security. His “Team of Rivals” philosophy reassured the Washington, D.C., pundits of his centrist inclination just as it has raised questions among progressives and reformers as to whether he still stands for change. ...
Momentum to enact health-care reforms in the next Congress seems to be building. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the pro-business moderate chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, proposes to make health insurance more affordable by providing a public health insurance exchange to offer coverage to individuals and businesses in competition with private companies. Such a plan would be a great improvement from the patchwork private insurance system that now leaves 47 million Americans uninsured and an estimated 50 million underinsured, who think they have coverage until they need it. Still, progressives should not give up on the goal of expanding Medicare to cover all Americans. ... (Read the rest)
Also, as critical as we have been of US carmakers, we see little choice for Congress but to lend the Big Three the money to retool their factories so they can produce fuel-efficient models and make payrolls into the New Year. ...
Who was not moved by the sight of hundreds of thousands of people of all colors gathered in Chicago’s Grant Park to cheer Barack Obama’s election as the 44th president of the United States?
Obama needed to win by a big enough margin that the Republicans couldn’t steal the election again, and he did it with a campaign that harnessed the populist power of the Internet and an indefatigable army of young volunteers. Now the corporate pundits are trying to limit the damage Obama can do if he follows through on his promises. ... (Read the rest)
We’re under no illusions about Barack Obama being a progressive messiah. We hear Republicans call him the most liberal senator—even a socialist with plans to soak the rich and spread the wealth! Don’t you wish! Obama has learned to sublimate his progressive instincts and seek moderate consensus. His legislative record shows he will reach across the aisle to seek bipartisan deals. We expect him to operate in a centrist manner similar to that of Bill Clinton and we’re sure he’ll frustrate us in the process. We don’t like that his economic advisers include Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, but his circle also includes progressives such as economist Joseph Stiglitz. Democratic voters passed over more populist candidates Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards during the primaries. But after eight years of Bush and Cheney messing things up, it is worth the fight to get Obama elected. ...
How’s that Wall Street bailout working out for you?
Even after Wall Street panicked Congress into approving up to $700 billion to buy “toxic” mortgage-backed securities, the stock market continued to plunge and credit markets tightened. But a week after Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson reportedly told President Bush “There is no Plan B,” it turns out there is one: The Federal Reserve, on its own authority, plans to buy unsecured short-term debt (“commercial paper”) to corporations needing credit to maintain operations. ...
It’s easy to say that taxpayers should not bail out the robber barons who made obscene profits on Wall Street over the past decade. But it’s hard to listen to lectures on fiscal responsibility from John McCain and other “conservatives” who got us into this economic mess with their blind faith in right-wing “free-market” ideology. ...
Democrats did what they needed to do in Denver as the Clintons offered Barack Obama their full-throated endorsements and the delegates closed ranks and set their sights on putting the Obama-Biden ticket over the top. ...
Hillary Clinton surely put all doubts to rest in her speech at the Democratic convention: She really does support Barack Obama for president and she urged her “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsuits” to get in line behind the Democratic nominee. “You haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership,” she said. “No way. No how. No McCain.” ...
Obama also helped himself with his choice of Joe Biden as his running mate. Biden is not without sin. (In addition to his vote for the Iraq war resolution, one of the big blots on his record is his vote for the bankruptcy deform bill in 2005 that made it harder for individuals to clear their debts. Well, he is a senator from Delaware, after all.) But he is a solid progressive with a working-class background and he knows his way around a union hall and a factory gate....
Progressive groups complain that Democrats have not pursued an aggressive agenda after they regained the majority in the current Congress. Congress did some good, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted in her convention remarks Aug. 25. Among the accomplishments she cited were increasing the minimum wage for the first time in 10 years, requiring better fuel efficiency for the first time in 32 years, expanding college aid, increasing veterans’ health-care funding and enacting a new GI Bill over the Bush administration’s objections to let veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan attend college....
The Netroots Nation conference drew more than 2,000 liberal/progressive bloggers and activists to Austin in July. Many of the participants brought laptop computers as well as iPhones, Blackberries and other devices to the sessions so they could “liveblog,” surf the Web, send email or otherwise multitask during lulls in the action (or even during speeches). All I had was a reporter’s notebook, a pen and a backpack with a few samples of our tabloid newspaper. When I introduced myself to some of these netizens, as they style themselves, I felt like a representative of an archaic profession. Bloggers do great work providing a sounding board for progressive politicians and organizations and truth-squadding neocon scalawags. But I came away with the stubborn conviction that there is still a role for dead trees in journalism.
The Bush/Cheney administration and John McCain’s presidential campaign are engaging in fraudulent demagoguery that the US can drill its way out of high gas prices. Barack Obama and the Democrats have taken advantage of voter alienation with neocon economic policies and the Bush administration’s disastrous occupation of Iraq. It looks like the only chance McCain has to turn the presidential race around in states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire is if he can tie high gas prices to Obama and the Democrats.
Civil liberties narrowly survived the recent term of the Supreme Court, but libertarians should be concerned about the way they shook out. In 5-4 decisions in June, the high court affirmed the rights to habeas corpus in the courts and keeping shooting irons at home. But the only common vote in those decisions was Justice Anthony Kennedy.
After a year and a half of hard campaigning, and $212 million down the drain, it’s hard to pivot and embrace the rival who dashed your ambitions. But Hillary Clinton made that pivot on June 7 with her gracious concession and endorsement of Barack Obama. She cleared the way for his inevitable nomination. If some diehard Hillary supporters were still booing Obama during her concession speech, those hard feelings should loosen up in time for the general election in November.
Hillary’s campaign drew 18 million voters, many of them women inspired by her historic attempt to become the first female candidate to crack the ceiling of a major party. ... Democrats cannot afford to nurse grudges over the defeat of Hillary Clinton—or any of the other Democratic candidates who were overcome by Obama’s juggernaut in the past six months. The most important consideration is that Obama’s positions track Hillary’s pretty closely on most issues. Both want to get us out of Iraq and both support the concept of universal health coverage. Neither one goes far enough on calling for a single-payer national health program, but our bet is that, unlike the Current Occupant or John McCain, Obama would not veto Rep. John Conyers’ bill expanding Medicare to cover everyone, if the Michigan Dem’s bill got it through the House and Senate. ... From all available evidence, Obama is a first-class intellect with a first-class temperament to match. He is superior to McCain in both respects. But George W. Bush has set the bar so low that if Obama just gets us out of Iraq and doesn’t start another war, that would be enough reason to vote for him.
It was jarring to hear that Sen. Ted Kennedy—the liberal lion of the Senate—had been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Kennedy was elected in 1962 at age 30 to the Massachusetts seat his brother, John, gave up when he was elected president. The kid brother of John and Bobby grew up the Senate, during the heady days of the New Frontier and the Great Society when the government was capable of great things such as Medicare and the War on Poverty. Kennedy grew into the role of a progressive stalwart who would cross the aisle to make bipartisan deals that helped working families. If he’s heading into the sunset, other progressives need to step up to take his place. Progressive Democrats must reject the free-market ideology that has ruled Washington for the past generation. Republican revisionists claim that George W. Bush veered from the Reagan formula, but don’t let the Great Communicator off the hook. George Bush I rightly called the supply-side schemes Reagan espoused “voodoo economics” in 1980, before Bush signed on as Reagan’s running mate. But Democratic Congresses kept Reagan and Bush I from fulfilling much of the neocon excesses.
Also, Dems currently have a 236-199 majority in the House, but it’s one thing to elect a Democratic Congress and quite another to elect a progressive majority. Too often, House Republicans can peel off 20 or more conservative “Blue Dog” Dems to join them on controversial issues, making it important to send more progressive Congress members.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have been fighting tooth and nail for the Democratic nomination, as Democrats are wont to do, and they have left some hard feelings along the way. A substantial percentage of Clinton supporters have told pollsters they would not vote for Obama in the general election—and vice-versa for Obama supporters who balk at switching to Clinton. This is ironic, to say the least, since Obama and Clinton have similar positions on many issues, including health care, taxes, trade, energy, the environment and extracting US troops from the disastrous misadventure in Iraq. Both have progressive voting records in the Senate. Clinton has aimed some low blows at Obama, but at least she has given Obama the opportunity to show he can take a punch.
Also, the Farm Bill that emerged from conference committee reduced the federal tax credit for ethanol producers from 51 cents per gallon to 45 cents, but some, including John McCain, would like to wipe out the subsidies entirely. Ethanol is viewed as a threat by the petroleum industry because it is used not only as an alternate fuel source but also to replace petroleum-based MTBE as an additive to burn gasoline cleaner. Demand for ethanol has made corn farmers prosper, but it’s hard to see the link between ethanol and high rice prices in Egypt, Haiti and Vietnam. McCain opposes ethanol and other subsidies in the farm bill, although he expressed support for ethanol as a renewable fuel in 2006 as he ramped up his campaign in Iowa. But he got back on the ethanol skeptics’ bandwagon on May 5, joining other Republicans in urging environmental regulators to ease ethanol blending requirements that were part of the 2007 energy bill. Obama, coming from a corn-producing state, supports the ethanol subsidy and increased use of renewable fuels (as does Clinton). If McCain wants to make war on ethanol, it could undercut his rural support in key corn-growing states such as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin—perhaps even Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma. The agricultural economy had languished since the mid-1980s until ethanol made corn crops profitable. Even the conservative Farm Bureau might have second thoughts about supporting a Republican who wants to pull the plug on ethanol.
Higher fuel costs are vexing most of us, but John McCain’s proposal to suspend the federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon and diesel tax of 24.4 cents per gallon this summer is irresponsible and probably ineffectual. The “tax holiday” would cost the federal government $9 billion—and McCain hasn’t said how he would replace that revenue. It also wouldn’t give drivers much relief unless oil companies also were banned from raising pump prices to swallow the difference. Oil companies have shown time and again that they have neither conscience nor national loyalty. Since the market has established that people will pay upwards of $3.50 a gallon—the average price for gasoline in mid-April—there is nothing to stop Exxon from treating McCain’s “tax holiday” as just another windfall for petroleum retailers.
Also, Hillary Clinton will continue her campaign after her win in Pennsylvania, despite the fact that she still has little hope of catching Barack Obama in the delegate count. Perhaps Hillary’s supporters have a sense of how Ralph Nader felt in 2000 when he was told by Democrats that he must quit the race. When Barack Obama was asked during the shoddy ABC debate in Philadelphia about his failure to wear a flag lapel pin, his relationship with the controversial former pastor and his acquaintance with a college professor who was a member of the radical Weather Underground when Obama was in grade school, Obama said he trusted the American people to sort things out. We wish we shared that trust, but the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 strained our faith. ... While some may question Obama’s populist credentials, he was pursuing a populist critique of why people have lost faith in their government when he made those controversial remarks in San Francisco: “You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them,” Obama said. “... And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” ... This is a classic case of a candidate committing a “gaffe” by telling the truth. If there is one thing the corporate media will not tolerate, it is a politician who suggests that working people do have a grievance against the monied classes in the United States.
President Bush ignored the advice of Democratic leaders and sent the Colombia free trade agreement to Congress on April 7. Bush’s action forces lawmakers to vote the pact up or down within 90 days. Bush is pushing a 600-page trade agreement that, among other things, would give Colombia duty-free access to the US market for most of its goods and require Colombia to remove tariffs on US exports. It also would give US companies incentives to move offshore and expose basic environmental, health, zoning and other laws to attack in foreign tribunals. If that isn’t bad enough, Colombia’s government has been linked to paramilitary death squads that assassinate trade union activists. ... Congressional Democrats should call Bush’s bluff and reject this misguided Colombia pact if for no other reason than Bush is entirely unworthy of confidence. Democrats also should keep their distance from the “Security and Prosperity Partnership” that is the cover for Bush meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon as well as corporate oligarchs April 21-22 in New Orleans. The group is exploring ways to expand North American trade (see “What Corporate Takeover Means for the Heartland” by Ruth Caplan and Nancy Price, page 10). Organized labor has not even been invited to participate in the talks. So much for transparency, but Bush’s motives are clear enough.
Barack Obama had his populist moment in Philadelphia with his landmark speech on racism in America.
Obama’s speech on March 18 was reminiscent of John F. Kennedy’s meeting with Protestant ministers in Houston in September 1960 to confront the prejudice that, as a Catholic, he was unfit to be president. His speech arguing for the separation of church and state defused that issue. Obama had tried to avoid being pigeonholed as the “black” candidate for president until Geraldine Ferraro, who was with the Clinton campaign, all but accused the Illinois senator of being an “affirmative-action” candidate. Meanwhile, Fox News dredged up a clip of Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, criticizing the US government in inflammatory terms. Facing the undercurrent of race in his campaign for president, Obama went to Philadelphia to address the controversy over remarks made several years ago by Wright. ... As Obama framed it, we face the choice of accepting the politics of division, conflict and cynicism or we can address issues such as crumbling schools, the lack of affordable medical care, the corporations that have shuttered mills that once provided decent jobs in this country and shipped those jobs overseas, and how to bring US service members home from a war that never should have been authorized and never should have been waged. ... Monied interests have used racial tensions to keep whites and blacks apart ever since they broke up the biracial Populist movement in the 1890s and convinced poor whites that they could keep their status by keeping blacks in a lower status with segregation laws. With his Philadelphia speech, Obama showed progressive populist instincts tempered by a pragmatism that he probably got from his Kansas grandparents. He also demonstrated leadership qualities that neither Hillary Clinton nor John McCain has revealed so far.
Also, Obama still looks good in comparison with Hillary Clinton, who voted to authorize President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq despite flimsy evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Then, five years later, Clinton credited John McCain with having the experience to be commander in chief, only to find out that her GOP friend still does not know the difference between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Iran. Clinton’s repeated lapses in judgment do not give us confidence in her potential as Democratic nominee for president.
And when authorities in Florida and Michigan moved their primaries ahead of the dates set by the Democratic National Committee, they were warned that the votes would be invalid for selection of delegates to the Democratic national convention. They did so anyway. Michigan and Florida had what amounted to straw polls that the Democratic candidates at the time agreed would not count toward delegate selection. Now Clinton wants those primaries honored and Republicans—wishing to fan dissension among the Dems—are blocking efforts to allow new votes, which the DNC is open to, but which require legislative authorization. If Florida and Michigan Democrats have complaints, they should address them to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), respectively.
The debate over the need to revisit the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) before the March 4 primaries was welcome, but Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still short on the specifics needed to deliver on Americans’ demand for real change to failed globalization policy. Obama started more than 20 points behind Clinton in Ohio and nearly caught up to her with his call to renegotiate NAFTA. But Obama’s momentum appeared to drop off when Canadian officials leaked that Obama’s top economic adviser reportedly had given Canadian diplomats assurances that the criticisms were not aimed at Canada. ... We still need less free trade and more fair trade.
Hillary Clinton has shown a disregard for the good of the Democratic Party when she first said “Sen. McCain has a lifetime of experience, I have a lifetime of experience, Sen. Obama has one speech in 2002,” then claimed she and McCain were qualified to be commander in chief of the armed forces. ... Hillary is throwing everything she can at Obama, but he has been able to deflect her attacks so far. Under delegate allocation formulas, her prospects for the sort of blowouts it would take to make up the gap are slim, but her disparaging statements about Obama’s national security credentials probably will survive in Republican attack ads in the general election.
The Clinton and Obama campaigns have been tossing brickbats at each other over the details of their attempts to make health insurance affordable for the 47 million Americans — mainly the working poor — who do not have coverage. In brief, Hillary Clinton would mandate individuals and employers to buy insurance while Barack Obama would only mandate employers to contribute to insurance coverage. Both Democrats are better than John McCain, who only recently put up a health policy page on his Web site that basically parroted the Bush administration’s proposal of tax credits to help individuals buy insurance with high deductibles, which would cover catastrophic illness but would discourage people from seeing a doctor for routine ailments. The US spends about twice as much for health care as the average among industrialized nations. HR 676, the “Medicare For All Act” proposed by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), would result in savings estimated at $350 billion a year — which would pay for the coverage of the uninsured as well as fill in the gaps for the underinsured and those at risk of being put out of a job in the coming recession.
Also, Ralph Nader once again is running for president. That is his inalienable right. It is your right to decide whether or not you wish to support him, but neither you nor I can stop him from running. That’s the way democracy works. Nader believes he can organize citizens and raise progressive issues via a political campaign. We support much of what Nader believes in, but we don’t believe he will be a significant factor in this election, particularly if Obama is the party’s nominee. If anything, Nader’s candidacy might blunt far-fetched Republican claims that Obama represents the “far left.” (Of course, we don’t think Nader is that “far left,” but that’s another editorial ...) Obama has the right attitude toward Nader’s challenge — and one with which we think Nader would agree: “I think the job of the Democratic Party is to be so compelling that a few percentage [points] of the vote going to another candidate is not going to make any difference,” the Illinois Democrat said.
We can hardly blame John Edwards for suspending his populist Democratic campaign for president. The former senator from the Carolinas made fighting poverty a priority of his campaign, then he raised millions of dollars and spent them fighting the good progressive fight but he was unable to get traction running against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as well as the national news media. Edwards struggled to keep his support in double figures. Both Obama and Clinton have run campaigns that are too centrist for our taste, but now that the race has narrowed, we think Obama, the former community organizer and civil rights lawyer, is the more progressive candidate who also has the best chance to win the general election. We have wondered about his ability to stay on his feet when the going gets rough, as it surely will in the general election race. But in the past few weeks against the formidable Clinton organization he has shown that he has a fighter’s instinct. Obama also has shown he can inspire young people, independent voters and even moderate Republicans who have seen enough of neocon economics and foreign policy that have threatened America’s prosperity at home as well as its good name abroad.
Also, progressives may well wonder what recourse they have when Democratic congressional leaders seem more eager to please the Bush White House than their base. In the latest case, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) enabled Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to knuckle under to the White House on the bill to legalize warrantless spying on telephone calls and emails of Americans and provide retroactive amnesty to lawbreaking telephone companies, “thus forever putting an end to any efforts to investigate and obtain a judicial ruling regarding the Bush administration’s years-long illegal spying programs aimed at Americans,” as Glenn Greenwald lamented at Salon.com Feb. 12.
Barack Obama got in trouble for mentioning Ronald Reagan in a way that could be construed as complimentary when he told the editorial board of the Reno, Nev., Journal Gazette that “Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not. ... He tapped into what people were already feeling, which was we want clarity, we want optimism, we want, you know, a return to that sense of dynamism and, you know, entrepreneurship that had been missing.” Bill and Hillary Clinton saw their opportunity to rain fire upon the Illinois senator, who looked like he was still on the learning curve, which is one reason why Democrats should be wary about putting him at the top of the ballot this year. Democrats should never miss a chance to repudiate the nearly 30 years of “supply-side” economics espoused by Reagan and the neocon movement, which preached that tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of industry would stimulate economic growth. George H.W. Bush derided it as “voodoo economics” in 1980 but embraced the voodoo in order to become vice president and later to succeed Reagan as president. His son, George W., finally got a Congress to go along with the Voodoo and look what a mess we’re in now.
The verdict from the first two states in the Democratic nominating process is in: Barack Obama is for real; Hillary Clinton is not inevitable but won’t give up; and John Edwards is the progressive populist in the race. Now that the Democratic presidential race has practically narrowed to those three candidates, Edwards remains the progressive populist choice for change. Many progressive voters would be proud to vote for a black candidate or a female candidate with a solid chance to occupy the Oval Office, but while Obama and Clinton have been occupying the middle of the road, Edwards, a former North Carolina senator who comes from a working-class background and made his bones as a trial lawyer challenging reckless and abusive corporations, has been challenging the status quo. Although he has been derided by some for his wealth, he made his fortune by winning verdicts for his working-class clients who were injured by those corporations that are unregulated by the Republicans and lightly regulated by the D.C. Dems.
Also, it was fun to watch the Republican establishment react with horror when Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses. His focus on economic inequality and his appeal to class-based populism departed from the GOP playbook, but the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor is no friend of workers, as he showed Jan. 2 when he crossed a Writers Guild union picket line to appear on NBC’s Tonight Show on the eve of the caucuses. Huckabee dropped to third in New Hampshire as John McCain earned a victory that revived his flagging hopes, which likely will be dashed again in South Carolina. Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, couldn’t win in his backyard. Perhaps best of all, blowhard Rudy Giuliani was stuck in the single digits again with Ron Paul, who was judged too marginal to participate in the Fox News debate. And 1-percenter Fred Thompson must be wishing he hadn’t given up his Law and Order gig.
Mitt Romney had his Come-to-Jesus moment on Dec. 6 at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, when he defended his Mormon faith as he seeks the nomination of a party that has been largely taken over by Christian fundamentalists. Romney compared himself with a previous candidate from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, who went before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960 to confront hostility to his Catholic faith. But the similarities end there.
Also, it is just one more disgrace that President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney continued to beat the drums for war with Iran until the revelation that US intelligence agencies knew at least several months ago that Iran had stopped work on a nuclear weapons program in 2003.
It is increasingly clear that the invasion of Iraq was the worst military miscalculation in US history. It was based on specious connections with the 9/11 terrorists, an assumption that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction and, more importantly, it was based on a neoconservative theory that ousting Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq would show the Arabs who was boss and cause Western-friendly democracy to bloom throughout the Mideast. The American public recognizes the whole thing stinks. It’s time that Democratic leaders face up to it as well.
Also, a reader asks “How could you call yourself Populist and not mention Ron Paul?” Well, in our opinion Rep. Paul, R-Texas, is not a populist (at least under our definition that a populist believes the government should protect working people and small businesses against corporations and monopolists). Paul is a libertarian who believes in a lot less government than we think is prudent, but we give the good doctor credit for being perhaps the only true conservative in the Republican race for president.
The good news from the off-year general election on Nov. 6 was that immigration is not the wedge issue Republicans had counted on to distract voters from the disastrous effects of six years of neocon misrule. The bad news is that Democratic leaders are still more scared of Fox News than they are of progressive voters. Republicans hoped immigrant-bashing would be the silver bullet to knock down Democrats in 2008. But that bullet appeared to be a dud in elections in Virginia and New York, as Dems gained control of the Virginia Senate and expanded control in the New York City suburbs of Suffolk County, Long Island.
Also, when a recent Democracy Corps poll found that 70% of the public says the country is on the “wrong track,” the poll found that this derived from feelings of “big business getting whatever they want in Washington, leaders forgetting the middle class, and America doing nothing about problems at home.” Congressional Democrats owe their majority in no small part to freshmen who pledged opposition to “free trade” deals that encourage manufacturers to send jobs overseas. But on Nov. 8 Democratic leaders once again knuckled under to the Bush administration when they brought up the Peru Free Trade Agreement for a House vote despite the opposition of a majority of the Democratic caucus. The House voted 285-132 in favor of the US-Peru trade deal despite opposition of organized labor in the US and Peru. House Democrats opposed the agreement by 116 to 109 but Republicans supported it 176 to 16.
President George W. Bush has shown that with support from his dead-ender Republican allies in Congress he can prevent good bills from becoming law. Now let’s hope that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can stop bad bills from becoming law. But don’t count on it after the Democratic leaders’ gutless performances in the last week. House Democrats from the Judiciary and Intelligence committees drafted a bill that would revise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to replace a stopgap measure that was hurriedly passed this summer. The new bill would maintain court jurisdiction over domestic wiretaps. The Dems refused to consider the White House’s demand of immunity for US phone companies that cooperated with the administration’s illegal wiretaps, at least until the White House produces long-sought documents on the origin and extent of the eavesdropping. But when the Dems tried to bring the bill to the House floor, House Republicans tied it up in procedural knots. Rather than vote down the GOP, and risk being accused as “soft on terrorists,” the Dems pulled their own bill. That left the initiative to the Senate, where Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), the Intelligence chairman, okayed a Republican bill that went along with the White House demands, not only allowing warrantless wiretaps but also providing retroactive immunity for telephone companies.
Also, House Democratic leaders are frustrated that the public seems to be unaware that bipartisan majorities have passed lobbying and ethics reforms, an increase in the minimum wage, an increase in student aid, legislation to implement 9/11 Commission recommendations and other initiatives that President Bush has signed into law. Polls show that public approval of Congress remains lower than that of President Bush. As Markos Moulitsas wrote at DailyKos (Oct. 23), “People don’t want to know where congressional Democrats and Bush agreed. They don’t like Bush. They don’t want Democrats to agree with him. They’re not happy with where Bush has taken our country. They want to pick a fight with him.
“So oblige. Democrats should send good bill after good bill to Bush, and force him to deliver on those dozens of veto threats. Force him to veto withdrawal legislation. Force him to veto SCHIP. Force him to veto efforts to restore our Constitution to its intended glory.”
And Al Krebs, our longtime columnist, died on Oct. 9 after a long struggle with agribusiness. He was 75.
With acceleration of the presidential nominating process and front-loaded caucuses and primaries starting in early January, progressive populists need to get their act together now. It looks like Iowa will hold its caucuses as early as Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary will be toward the end of January. Nominations could be all but wrapped up Feb. 5, leaving us nine months to complain about the general election choices. If you want the Democratic presidential candidates to move left, you can support Dennis Kucinich, the Cleveland Democratic congressman who is the most progressive populist in the race. If, as expected, the race narrows to the top three — Clinton, Barack Obama and Edwards — our choice is Edwards. He comes from a working-class background and made his bones as a trial lawyer challenging reckless corporations to bring them to account for their abuses. If he made a fortune along the way, that means he made more money for his working-class clients who were injured by those corporations.
Also, once again, congressional Democrats appear to be playing chicken with the Bush administration on national security wiretaps vs. the Fourth Amendment. Senate Democratic leaders reportedly are nearing a deal with the White House to extend authority for the National Security Agency to conduct warrantless wiretaps.
The top Democratic presidential candidates have embraced the concept of health care for all, which is a good thing in an era when the Republican preference is health care only for those who can pay for it. The health care reforms proposed by Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama satisfy the main points of Health Care for America, which the progressive Campaign for America’s Future drew up with the assistance of Yale Professor Jacob Hacker as part of the Agenda for Shared Prosperity (sharedprosperity.org). It called for a Medicare-style system for all Americans under 65, where the uninsured and underinsured could buy into the plan, with federal or state government assistance if necessary. Medicare and Health Care for America would then join forces and wield enormous bargaining power, driving down costs and raising the bar on quality. Private employers could provide insurance coverage for their workers or enroll their workers in Health Care for America at a modest cost. One way or the other, affordable, quality health coverage would be guaranteed for all Americans. But Democrats will need a supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate and a Democrat in the White House to pass health care reform. In that case, they might as well go for single-payer health care, such as that proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, the progressive congressman from Ohio. Kucinich supports HR 676, the US National Health Insurance Act, sponsored by John Conyers (D-Mich.), which would expand Medicare to cover all Americans.
The attacks that al Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalists have mounted on the United States and other Western interests, culminating in the 9/11 horror, are infamous. But Osama bin Laden could never do the damage to the United States that an unscrupulous president can, who is determined to exercise executive powers regardless of Congress or the Constitution.
It’s bad enough that the Democratic Congress went along with the Bush administration’s demands to limit court reviews of foreign wiretaps. As more details emerge of the rushed revisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which were approved before Congress left town for its August break, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau reported in the Aug. 19 New York Times that the new surveillance powers allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval, and in apparent violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records.
So much political reform depends on access to the media. When a few corporate executives consolidate control of the popular media, they can strangle democracy or make it dance to their tune. When the Founders set up the Constitution, they made sure the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guaranteed that anyone could set up a newspaper — which was state-of-the-art in 18th-century information technology. Anybody can set up a website on the Internet and blog to their heart’s content. Some, like DailyKos.com, which started on a shoestring five years ago, now reach hundreds of thousands of viewers every day. We must never let Wall Street put a gatekeeper on the Internet, as it now has on radio and TV.
The Bush administration provoked a constitutional crisis when it advised former members of the administration to ignore Congressional subpoenas and said it would block Congress’s attempts to pursue contempt charges. The White House is trying to block Congress from performing its constitutional role in oversight of the executive. The Bush administration advised former White House counsel Harriet Miers to ignore a congressional subpoena. She didn’t even show up at the House Judiciary Committee to assert the claim of “executive privilege.” House leaders were unsure of their recourse, since the administration claims the Justice Department is not required to pursue contempt charges, even in cases where Congress is investigating the politicization of federal law enforcement.
Also, United Auto Workers recently started talks with the Big Three carmakers on a new contract. Carmakers are pressing the union for more concessions in health benefits. GM, Ford and Chrysler would like to get rid of $90.5 billion in unfunded liability for retiree health care by getting the union to assume liability for $1.2 billion in health care costs. A better solution would be for the carmakers and other manufacturers to get behind a national health care plan that would provide comprehensive care at lower costs than the current inefficient private-insurance model.
Michael Moore’s movie, SiCKO, shows all you need to know about the faults of the US health care system. In addition to the plight of the nearly 50 million Americans who are uninsured and dependent upon charity hospitals and clinics for rudimentary health care, Moore’s movie focuses on the problems faced by the 250 million Americans who have health insurance. Members of the middle class might think they are safely covered until they go to the hospital and find they must battle the insurance bureaucracy as well as infections. Or until their job is “outsourced.” Meanwhile, citizens of Canada, Britain, France and other industrialized democracies, regardless of employment or income status, simply show up at clinics and get treatment free of charge, with prescription drugs furnished at a fraction of the cost paid by Americans. Even Cuba does a better job of providing health care for its citizens than the United States.
Also, the White House is pushing for confrontation with Congress over executive powers. It is past time for Congress to call the president on his abuse of power. The Constitution gives the president considerable authority but it also sets up Congress as a co-equal branch of government with authority over the purse and oversight of the executive. The president might have the right to fire US attorneys, for example, but Congress has the authority to investigate what prompted those firings. Congress also ought to question the ill-considered invasion of Iraq, the apparent repeated violation of wiretapping laws, the use of “signing statements” to refuse to follow the law, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.
George W. Bush played “chicken” with the troops in Iraq and Congressional Democratic leaders blinked. The Democrats may have lacked the votes to override a presidential veto of the supplemental appropriations bill funding the Iraq war, but Bush also lacked the votes to get the “clean” appropriation he demanded. We agreed with presidential candidate John Edwards that a “take it or leave it” appropriation was the preferable course for the Dems to take, but we can’t say we were surprised at the interim resolution that Congress approved before they left for the Memorial Day recess. Democratic leaders chose a cautious approach that funds the war through September but imposes benchmarks on the Iraq government to shape up by then.
Also, If the immigration reform bill can’t survive an amendment to “sunset” the guest worker program, it deserves to die. The same goes for other improvements needed to make the bill more worker-friendly.
Congress could vote to legalize the estimated 12 million undocumented aliens tomorrow but unless it addresses the economic gap between the US and Mexico it will only start the next chapter in the illegal immigration problem.
Congress won't pass an immigration bill tomorrow, of course, but under a deal a bipartisan group of senators reached with the White House, undocumented workers who were in the US before Jan. 1 would be eligible for a new "Z Visa" that would let them live here indefinitely if they pass a background check and pay a $1,000 fine. Those who want to get on track for citizenship would have to return to their home countries, pay an additional $4,000, show proficiency in English and wait up to eight years for a green card.
The deal-breaker for organized labor is a separate, temporary-worker program that would import 400,000 migrants a year. Each temporary work visa would be good for two years and could be renewed up to three times, as long as the worker leaves the country for a year between renewals.
It has been nearly two years since Hurricane Katrina showed what conservative "every-man-for-himself" government means for ordinary working people.
New Orleans survived Hurricane Katrina only to nearly drown when the storm surge broke the levees on Aug. 29, 2005. While Louisiana's National Guard served in Iraq, US military resources in the Gulf of Mexico were placed on standby. Local and state authorities and civilians were left for three days to rescue those who were stranded in the flood.
Now the White House is blaming Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for not following procedure to document gaps in disaster coverage when Kansas National Guard troops were sent to Iraq and then expecting the federal government to fill in after a giant tornado leveled Greensburg, Kan., on May 5.
House Democrats are drafting a plan to provide tax relief for the upper middle class, the Washington Post reports. The Alternative Minimum Tax was created in 1969 to nab 155 super-rich tax filers who made more than $200,000 a year but were using loopholes and deductions to wipe out their tax bills. Because the exemption was not indexed for the inflation, which has reduced purchasing power by 500% in the past 38 years, the AMT's reach expanded. It caught 3% of households this year -- fewer than four million taxpayers.
President Bush has submitted "free trade" deals with Peru, Colombia and Panama to Congress, hoping to put some life back into the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. He also is submitting a deal with South Korea, just under the deadline to get "fast track" consideration by this summer.
Democratic Congressional leaders have demanded changes to some of the worst aspects of the trade deals the Bush adminstration has negotiated. For example the Democrats would require that trading partners adopt and enforce International Labor Organization standards. The Bush deals only require countries to enforce their own labor laws, which may or may not meet ILO standards. On the environment, the Dems insist that nations implement and enforce common environmental agreements.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi won a major victory on March 23 when the House of Representatives narrowly passed a special funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a provision that requires the president to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq by August 2008. The bill passed 218-212, with only two Republicans joining the Democratic majority. Of the 14 Democrats who voted with the GOP in opposition to the bill, several were anti-war Dems who didn't think the bill withdraws troops quick enough.
George W. Bush appears determined to place his legacy prominently in the annals of political corruption and incompetence. The past few weeks have been filled with stories of "lies, damn lies and the White House." A federal court jury found Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for the vice president, guilty on four felony counts of lying and obstruction of justice. The FBI was been caught misusing special powers unwisely granted by Congress under the Patriot Act. Now it appears that Department of Justice officials have been lying about politicization of federal prosecutors.
Mike Gravel, who opposed the Vietnam war as a senator from Alaska in the late 1960s and '70s, is running a populist campaign for president. Now he's calling for Congress to end another ill-conceived war. "Iraq's oil is not worth the life of one more American," he said recently.
John Edwards got the discussion of health-care reform moving in Democratic circles. His proposal to set up government-run "health markets" to compete with private insurers might move the US toward a more efficient national health program. But his talking point for next year's presidential campaign is no reason progressive populists should stop promoting expansion of Medicare for all Americans in the current Congress. ...
First Republicans crowed about their success in shutting down the Senate debate about the escalation of the Iraq war. Then they complained that they were being blamed for stifling the debate. ... All this fuss, mind you, is over a non-binding resolution, but as far as we're concerned the filibuster vote accomplished the same thing: It put senators on record opposing the "surge" by a 49-47 margin. (Now 56-34 with the vote on Feb. 17) Both the House and Senate, in effect, have voted no confidence in the president. It won't stop Bush from continuing the surge; he and Cheney have contempt for Congress and the rule of law and it appears that nothing shot of impeachment of the pair of them will do the trick. But that will not happen until Republican voters turn on their senators.
Somebody must be getting the message that the people want a national health-care fix. Just don't expect any meaningful reforms from the Bush administration.
Perhaps to head off the possibility of Medicare expansion, the insurance industry has put together a coalition to promote more government subsidies for private health insurance. Certainly congressional Dems would rather proceed with a bill that does not make enemies of the insurance racket as well as the doctors. That is, unless you, the people, can persuade them to expand Medicare. Now. ...
Bush showed up in the House Chamber Jan. 23 for his State of the Union Address. He went through his wish list for the 110th Congress, but he missed a few issues. New Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., went over some of these points in a populist Democratic response that was strong as an acre of garlic. Among other things, he called on Bush to address domestic priorities such as restoring New Orleans as well as the endangered American middle class, which "is losing its place at the table. Our workers know this, through painful experience. Our white-collar professionals are beginning to understand it, as their jobs start disappearing also. And they expect, rightly, that in this age of globalization, their government has a duty to insist that their concerns be dealt with fairly in the international marketplace." ...
Nancy Pelosi has settled into the Speaker's Office. With richly deserved congratulations to the first female speaker, the clock has started on the 110th Congress. Democrats plan to increase the minimum wage, adopt 9/11 Commission recommendations and remove the ban on Medicare negotiating lower prices with drug companies. They also plan to cut interest rates on student loans, cut oil industry subsides and broaden federal aid for stem cell research, among other things. But that's only the agenda for the first 100 hours.
After that it's up to the Dems to get us out of the hole Republicans spent the past six years digging us into. Of course, the first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging. So one of the Dems' first acts was to restore the "pay as you go" budget rule, which means that any future tax cuts or spending increases must be paid for by other tax increases or spending cuts.
But Congress must also look for ways to expand health coverage for all Americans. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has proposed the Healthy Americans Act of 2007, which would provide health coverage to all Americans through a pool of private insurance plans. We prefer a simpler Medicare for All proposal by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., which would to expand Medicare to cover all Americans.
Any health initiative will cost big money to implement, so Congress should not reduce any tax revenues, including the Alternative Minimum Tax that threatens an increasing number of middle-class Americans this year, or extend the Bush tax breaks that expire in 2010 unless every American is guaranteed quality health care. ...
Those who wanted Nancy Pelosi to include bills of impeachment in her 100-hour plan were bound to be disappointed, but Congressional leaders should proceed with hearings to document what exactly the Bush/Cheney administration has been up to for the past six years. They should be prepared for stonewalling by White House officials who know what they have done and have no intention of sharing those details with Congressional Democrats, much less the general public. And Congress should be prepared to follow up with appropriate legislative remedies, including impeachment, if that proves necessary.
The Iraq Study Group has spoken. The Washington elders, led by Bush family fixer Jim Baker III, were brought in to give Dubya a reality check. But while the eminences pointed out that Iraq is a bad situation that is getting worse, Bush is unconvinced and is seeking more input. ...
It won't do the Democratic Party any good to try to impeach the president until the Republican Party decides it can no longer afford to defend George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
The election is over, but the battle continues over What It All Means. As far as we're concerned, the election of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate is a mandate for economic populism and a call for the Democrats to protect the interests of working- and middle-class Americans against the depredations of Big Corporations. ...
If "net neutrality" sounds arcane, that's what the telecoms are hoping you will think as they work on their long-term plans of putting toll-booths on the Information Highway. But net neutrality is about ensuring a free press for the next generation.
The mid-term elections showed that voters finally had their fill of Republican arrogance, incompetence and corruption. Now the Democrats have two years to show that they can do better for the middle class.
President Bush admitted he got a thumping and, like a good sport, invited presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to the White House for lunch on successive days to try to establish a working relationship he never needed before. In their public remarks they were polite, and voters want them to get along, but it will be hard for the White House to rebuild trust after the president and his people have lied repeatedly to Democratic leaders as well as voters.
Victory certainly was sweet. In the days before the election, when polls showed Democrats with enough support to win a House majority and within striking distance of a Senate majority, some Dems started sounding like Chicago Cubs fans, thinking up reasons they couldn't win. Misleading ads run by the Republican National Committee and dirty tricks such as harassing and intimidating robocalls leading up to the election reinforced the suspicion that, once again, the fix was in.
But this time it was Republicans as well as Democrats who fell afoul of complicated voter registration rules and cantankerous electronic voting machines and Democratic wedge issues such as stem cell research and a higher minimum wage were used to bring working people to the polls. Even in the days after the election, when the returns from Montana and Virginia sent Jon Tester and Jim Webb to the Senate and gave Reid the Senate majority, some wondered if the Dems had been suckered into taking over Congress so that Karl Rove could blame them for the bad things that are bound to happen in the next two years as the bad decisions of the Bush years come home to roost. ...
If Democrats take over Congress, they plan quick action to hike the minimum wage, reform the Medicare drug plan, make it easier to finance college and call the Bush administration to account for the debacle in Iraq.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who would become the next speaker, has promised to pass within the first 100 hours of a new Congress an increase in the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, from the current hourly pay of $5.15. Pelosi also would enact the recommendations made by the 9/11 commission, which the GOP Congress has ignored.
On health care, Democrats would remove the Republican ban on the government negotiating lower prices with pharmaceutical companies. Bush said recently he would resist changes despite the potential for great cost savings. Dems also would dare Bush to cast a second veto against one of the most popular bills passed by Congress last year, to allow federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research.
On education, Democrats also hope to revamp the No Child Left Behind bill, which comes up for renewal next year. Bush worked with Democrats to pass the bill in 2001, but reneged on a promise to fully fund it. Dems also will try to restore the Head Start program as well as money Republicans cut from college aid programs. ...
Pelosi's "First 100 Hours" plan is good as far as it goes, but Democrats should go further in taking the fight to the Bush administration. Dems should pass the National Health Insurance Act, a bill sponsored by Conyers to expand Medicare to cover all Americans. Nothing would help working-class Americans and small businesses more than the federal government assuming responsibility for health coverage. ...
The Bush administration has its problems confronting foreign enemies. Dubya's invasion of Iraq turned that country into a magnet for anti-American jihadists and has ignited a civil war with US troops in the middle. In the face of Bush's bluster, North Korea just tested a nuclear weapon and Iran is working on its own nuke. But Bush has been much more effective in waging war against US workers.
Wall Street is doing well, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached a new record in October, but it's done little good for Main Street. The New York Times' Paul Krugman noted that economic growth since early 2000, when the Dow reached its previous peak, hasn't been exceptional. But after-tax corporate profits have more than doubled, as US industries are squeezing more productivity out of workers while keeping wages low and cutting back on other costs, such as health insurance.
The GOP has conducted a two-pronged attack on American labor: "free-trade" agreements allow industries to move factories overseas to take advantage of lower costs and less regulation. Then, as workers scramble for the service-sector jobs remaining in the US, regulatory officials have hamstrung the ability of unions to organize them. ...
The US House of Representatives, on a near-party-line vote on Sept. 20, passed a bill to require every voter to present a government-issued ID card to cast a ballot. The bill's sponsors claimed the law was needed to protect election integrity, although they have been unable to produce any actual evidence of widespread fraud. Opponents suggested that the bill was an attempt to suppress poor, minority and elderly voters, who are least likely to have a driver's license and most likely to be intimidated by an election official.
With House Republicans' professed interest in standing up for the integrity of the ballot, we wonder why they continue to block a bill by Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., that would require a paper audit trail in all federal elections so that we can be assured that our vote will be counted. H.R. 550 was originally introduced in 2003 and Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee, has been sitting on it ever since. (It's uncertain what effect Ney's pending departure from Congress as a result of his guilty plea on federal corruption might have.) ...
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Chris Dodd, D-Conn., on Sept. 26 introduced emergency legislation to amend the Help America Vote Act to offer funding to states and counties that make contingency paper ballots available to voters as an option instead of electronic voting systems. Similar legislation is expected to be filed in the House, Bradblog.com reported, but no action is expected before Nov. 7.
Urge your Congress member and senators to support these bills but demand that your local election officials uphold the right for every voter's ballot to be verifiably counted.
Ann Richards was the most progressive Texas governor since World War II. Admittedly, she had a pretty low bar to clear for that distinction, but she opened the gates of the Governor's Mansion to the people, including blacks, Latinos and women, who were appointed to state boards and commissions in unprecedented numbers. ...
Nearly lost in the runup to the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Sept. 8 finally reported that US intelligence analysts were disputing alleged links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda while Bush administration officials were claiming those links justified invading Iraq. A 400-page report made it out of the intel committee despite the opposition of Republican leaders who blocked the report from appearing before the 2004 election -- and continue to block even more damaging revelations of what the administration knew before the Iraq invasion. ...
But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who as national security adviser in 2003 also hyped the Iraq threat, couldn't let go of a good lie as she brushed aside the official reports that there was no evidence Saddam's regime was helping al Qaeda obtain arms. "There were ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda," she insisted on Fox News Sunday, Sept. 10. ...
ABC should be ashamed of its $40 million mockumentary, Path to 9/11 -- but stockholders and customers should demand accountability from The Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC. ...
Corporations are not required to have consciences. But the rest of us are not required to patronize Disney products or ABC programming. And a Democratic Congress should make restoration of the Fairness Doctrine one of its priorities.
Five years after the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Bush administration has failed miserably in its mission to protect Americans at home and abroad. From New Orleans to Baghdad to Kabul there is ample evidence that the Bush administration is ill-equipped to defend against threats both foreign and domestic and disasters both natural and man-made. In the shock waves of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Democratic and Republican officials pledged to work in a bipartisan manner to fight terrorism and bring the attackers to justice. Then the Bush White House saw political opportunity in the rubble of the attacks....
The Republican credo is that a rising tide lifts all boats. But in New Orleans, a rising tide a year ago drowned the poor, the infirm and the helpless while federal officials stood by. While the slack-jawed president dodged war protesters in Texas and strummed a guitar in California, Gulf Coast residents were left to fend for themselves when the backwash from Katrina breached the levees of New Orleans. ...
Republicans must pay at the polls for the incompetence and corruption of the past five years. Democrats must demand a return to the rule of law that checks Bush's grab for war powers. They also must not only rebuild New Orleans but demand a responsible plan to deal with global warming.
Any Congress member who tells you he or she is in favor of restricting immigration and securing our borders but then votes to expand "free trade" and put foreign corporations in charge of our ports is either a fool or a liar. But they sure seem to think voters are fools.
Even as they set up hearings around the country to whip up anti-immigrant feelings, House Republicans on July 20 narrowly approved a "free trade" deal with Oman 221-205 in a largely party-line vote. All but 28 of 232 Republicans voted against the deal, while only 22 out of 202 Dems supported it.
The Oman deal goes even further than NAFTA and CAFTA in giving foreign investers the right to challenge many US government decisions about federal contracts, leases or concession agreements affecting a covered foreign invester.
US trade negotiators inserted language in the deal that would grant any company incorporated in Oman the right to acquire and operate port facilities in the US. Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., noted that it would allow companies to "drag the US before a UN or World Bank tribunal" to demand compensation if Washington blocked it from acquiring and operating US ports, as Dubai Ports World, based in the United Arab Emirates, was forced to abandon its planned purchase of terminal operation rights at major US ports earlier this year because of security concerns.
The United States should lead the world back to the drawing board to create a trading system that will improve the lives of workers and farmers and protect the environment around the world. A fair trade system can be devised, but multinational corporations cannot call all the shots, as they have so far.
The Supreme Court has made its decision: The president of the United States is not a dictator. Now it is up to the voters of the United States to enforce it.
Our current Congress, to which the Constitution assigns the responsibility of calling the executive to account, is plainly not up to the task. The Republican majority has stood by and averted its eyes from the Bush/Cheney power grab for five years now.
Thank goodness there are still five justices on the Supreme Court who have read the Constitution and are willing to affirm its principles. But the addition of John Roberts and Samuel Alito leaves a hard-right bank of four on the high court. They are as rigid supporters of right-wing presidential prerogative as had been feared. (Roberts did not participate in the Supreme Court's 5-3 decision, but he sided with the Bush administration on the same case as a member of the D.C. Court of Appeals before he was promoted.)
The balance now is held by conservative Anthony Kennedy and justices on the moderate wing are aging or ailing. It is vital that Democrats regain the Senate majority this fall, with determination to hold the line on any more Bush judicial appointees that do not pass bipartisan muster.
The Bush administration would rather distract us with the "war on terror," gay marriage, flag burning or an invasion of Spanish-speaking immigrants than address real crises like the climate changes that threaten our future.
A green industry initiative could create 3 million new, clean-energy jobs to free America from foreign oil dependence in 10 years, the alliance says. While $300 billion is a little more than what we've spent on the invasion and occupation of Iraq so far -- and what the Republican Congress proposes to spend on tax breaks for the rich in the next decade -- we really have no choice. But first, we must face the truth.
Democrats had high hopes that voter disgust with corruption of Republican leaders in Congress would help them win a June 6 special election in San Diego, but the GOP wrote the checks, brought in the troops and deployed the wedge issue of immigration invasion to show they won't give up control of Congress without a fight.
The spin was fast and furious after the election in California's 50th Congessional District in San Diego to fill the seat vacated when Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) left for federal prison after pleading guilty in a bribery scandal. Republicans managed to eke out a narrow victory for Brian Bilbray, a former congressman turned lobbyist who got 49% of the vote to beat Democrat Francine Busby's 45%.
Matt Stoller noted at MyDD.com that Bilbray actually ran on a progressive platform and his record of environmental protection, economic development and immigration control while Busby ran a "D.C." campaign, downplaying ideology and party. Instead she made the campaign about GOP corruption and Democratic competence in delivery of government services.
One way to get working people's attention is to address one of their biggest concerns -- the threat that catastrophic health problems might drive their families into catastrophic debt or put them at the mercy of charity care. With more than 45 million uninsured Americans and another 50 million who are underinsured, it is long past time to reform our inefficient $2 trillion health-care system that costs more than other industrialized nations but offers fewer benefits to fewer people.
Democratic Reps. John Conyers, Dennis Kucinich, Jim McDermott and Donna Christensen have filed HR 676, the US National Health Insurance Act, which would expand the Medicare program to cover all residents of the US and its territories.
Unfortunately, the D.C. Democratic establishment doesn't want to touch single-payer health care. Insurance companies spent $36 million on federal candidates in 2004 and have favored Republicans by a 2 to 1 ratio since the Democrats lost Congress in 1994, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. If the Dems get anywhere near expanding Medicare, you'll find out how much cash the insurance companies and HMOs can shovel at the GOP. But if Democrats actually promised to improve the lives of working people, they'd draw those neglected voters back to the polls.
Some of our readers take us to task for our sympathy for immigrants in the immigration reform debate. "True Populists would never advocate or defend policies that resulted in depressing the wages of working men and women in the United States," Gilbert Fite writes. We share his frustration with the economic forces that have drawn as many as 12 million immigrants to stay in this country illegally. But we don't think immigrants are the enemy. Blame those who take advantage of the immigrants.
It is no accident that an estimated 11 to 12 million people have come into the US in search of a better life in the 20 years since the last immigration reform, during the Reagan administration. That migration accelerated with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
Ross Perot predicted in 1993 that as manufacturing in northern Mexico expanded, hundreds of thousands of Mexican workers would be drawn north. "They will quickly find that wages in the Mexican maquiladora plants cannot compete with wages anywhere in the US. Out of economic necessity, many of these mobile workers will consider illegally immigrating into the US," Perot wrote.
If anything, Perot underestimated the threat. But this year Republicans were looking for an issue that could excite working-class whites, since it was apparent that tax cuts for the rich weren't doing anything for them. It looks like they decided that they could stir up the rednecks by ginning up an immigration "crisis." Never mind that Republicans in Congress voted overwhelmingly last year to expand NAFTA to Central America and the Dominican Republic. That trade bill will further increase the economic squeeze on US workers as well as their Latin American counterparts.
But the threat of a brown horde of illegal aliens was thought to be an excellent distraction. House Republicans, working with the White House, produced a bill that not only made undocumented aliens criminals; it made everyone who dealt with illegal immigrants felons as well. The House bill offers no path to citizenship, which nativists say amounts to amnesty for lawbreakers.
A compromise bill emerged in the Senate that would give some immigrants a path to citizenship but would force others to return to their native countries or go back underground. But in the hyper-partisan atmosphere in the House, what passes for GOP leadership refuses to advance a bill that Democrats might be able to support. Speaker Dennis Hastert insists that major legislation reach the House floor only if it appears to be backed by a "majority of the majority."
The reason Republicans don't want Latino immigrants to become citizens -- and it's the Latinos that they object to -- is because two-thirds to three-quarters of them who show up to vote will vote Democratic.
Even if Republicans keep a third of Hispanic voters, Democrats win because Latinos are growing as a share of the electorate. The Hispanic Voter Project at Johns Hopkins University conducted a study that showed, if past voting patterns hold, Democrats will increase their 2004 vote totals by nearly half a million votes in 2008. Hispanic vote growth would move two Southwestern battleground states -- Nevada and New Mexico -- into the Democratic column by 2016 and add Iowa and Ohio by 2020. Democrats also hope the Latino vote could put Texas back into play and push Arizona and Florida into the solidly blue column.
Border security is important, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, but it will not fix our broken immigration system. "Immigration reform must include the protection of rights and standards for all workers including permanent relief to the millions of undocumented workers currently living and working in this country; it is long past time to put this struggling underground community above ground and recognize their enormous contributions. To do otherwise guarantees a secondary class of workers easily subject to exploitation," he said.
We agree. Instead of joining Senate Republicans in a flawed immigration bill, Democrats should let intra-GOP divisions prevent a bad bill from passing this year. Matthew Yglesias recently wrote, "Nobody knows exactly how the midterms will play out, but Dems are all-but-certain to pick up some seats and be able to pass a bill in 2007 that's better than any possible compromise in the current Congress."
See the whole editorial.
Democratic leaders plan to push for an increase in the minimum wage, reform the Republican prescription drug law, shore up homeland security measures and reinstate lapsed budet deficit controls if they regain control of the House of Representatives this fall.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told the Washington Post a Democratic House would launch investigations of the Bush administration, starting with its first-term energy task force that has been cloaked in secrecy. They would look into the use and abuse of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Pelosi denied the House would move quickly to impeach Bush, but she said of the probes, "You never know where it leads to."
It's a good start, but if Democrats really want to get something moving, and show that the party is concerned about improving the lives of working people, they should promise a bill expanding Medicare to cover all Americans.
Also, Bush offers little more than lip service on immigration reform and the D.C. pundits' reaction to Steven Colbert's satire illustrates why no journalist should aspire to become a White House correspondent.
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were supposed to be energy pros, so when Laurence Lindsey -- Bush's senior economic advisor at the time -- claimed in 2002 that the Iraq war would increase oil supplies and lower prices, people tended to believe it, even as pundits derided the idea that the invasion had anything to do with oil. Now Bush's energy plan has resulted in $3 gas, which is generating record profits for the oil companies and further riches for the Arab sheiks who bankrolled Osama bin Laden.
The Iraq war, which cut oil production in that nation to a trickle and unsettled other Mideastern producers, has contributed in no small part to the 68% increase in US gas prices since January 2005. As economic expansion in Asia increases the demand for gasoline, prices will continue to rise. No amount of drilling in arctic wilderness will change that. But even with oil prices at record highs, the Energy Department predicts that US motorists will consume 1.5% more gasoline than they did last summer.
Democrats should promote biofuels and embrace the Apollo Alliance's plan to make America independent from foreign energy in 10 years. The Alliance, (apolloalliance.org) a broad-based progressive coalition that estimates that a crash program for clean energy will create three million new jobs and rid America's dependence on Middle-Eastern oil. It would make American industry competitive, rebuild our cities, create good jobs for working families and enable good stewardship of the economy and our natural environment.
Also, citizens should be alarmed at a bill moving through Congress that would give telecom corporations more control over the Internet.
Republicans saw their chance to bash immigrants and, sure enough, they took it. Senate leaders appeared to have a bipartisan compromise that would toughen border security, create a new "guest-worker" program and give 12 million undocumented immigrants a path to a green card and eventual citizenship. But Democratic leader Harry Reid wanted assurance from Majority Leader Bill Frist that the bill would not be hijacked with amendments into a punitive measure similar to the one already passed by House Republicans. That version would build a wall the length of the US-Mexico border and make it a felony to enter the country illegally or to aid an undocumented alien.
Why did Reid distrust Frist and his minions? As Ron Brownstein noted in the Los Angeles Times, "Repeatedly in recent years, the Senate has forged bipartisan agreements on issues such as energy policy, the Medicare prescription drug plan and renewal of the PATRIOT Act, only to see much more conservative approaches emerge from conference committees with the House." Reid has been burned enough times that he smelled another double-cross coming.
For months President Bush stayed out of the congressional negotiations except to call for a "guest worker" provision to provide a cheap-labor valve. Then he had the gall to claim that Democrats were standing in the way of immigration reform.
The sudden crisis over immigration is suspicious. Republicans played the race card to great success in the South in the 1970s and '80s. They apparently hope immigration will be a new wedge issue in the Southwest and Midwest. Not only does the influx of millions of Mexican and Central American workers and their families raise fears among white citizens; GOP strategists hope the debate drives a wedge between black and Latino voters who increasingly form the Democratic base. ...
Thank goodness for Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., one of the good guys, who is willing to stand up in Washington and fight for liberty, justice and other attributes listed in the Declaration of Independence, defense of which used to be a no-brainer for politicians of both major parties.
ALSO: When Republicans last November put forth a resolution to immediately withdraw troops from Iraq, fraudulently representing it as the position of Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., House Democrats should have refused to vote on it. Instead, they took the bait and joined the GOP in voting against the straw-man resolution. When on March 1 the Senate Rules Committee considered two different reform proposals, it rejected the Democrats' lobbying reform bill with a 10-8 party-line vote. Then Sen. Trent Lott's watered-down version was passed unanimously, with support of the Democrats. ... Democrats should not settle for a feel-good bill that probably will end up sticking it to progressive interest groups.
Bush administration defenders of the deal to let a Dubai-based company operate six major US ports have cast critics of the deal as racists and xenophobes. This from an administration that ordered wholesale roundups of Arabs in the US after 9/11, arbitrarily deported thousands of them and continues to hold hundreds of Arabs and other Muslims without charges or documentation in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo, Cuba. You won't find any billionaires in that crowd. Rich Arabs are the sort who were allowed to leave the country on Sept. 13, 2001, without suffering the indignity of an FBI interview. So when George W. Bush heard that Dubai Ports World (DP World) was buying the British company that operates ports in New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia, he saw no problem. The Bush family has business dealings with the United Arab Emirates (Dubai is one of seven emirates) and Dubya's trade representative is finishing up a trade agreement with them. He viewed questions about the Dubai ports deal as a threat not only to his authority, but also to globalized commerce that free-trade fundamentalists revere.
We don't think it's racist to note that the chairman of DP World is a sultan who works for the crown prince of Dubai. The UAE was one of the few governments that recognized the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which harbored al Qaeda. Some of the UAE's sheiks reportedly went hunting with Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s. It's notable that Dubai was a major transit and money transfer center for al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks and Qaeda operatives are still believed to use Dubai as a logistical base, even though the UAE has made high-profile arrests, passed an anti-money laundering law, and imposed monitoring procedures on charity organizations within its borders. ...
Also: The supposedly liberal media are playing down Democrats' chances of regaining control of Congress this year. The New York Times on March 6 front-paged "For Democrats, Many Voices, but No Theme Song," airing complaints that Democratic candidates from Congress are reading from their own scripts, frustrating the D.C. Democrats' efforts to forge a national message. ... Democrats should run against the crooks and incompetents that are in charge of Congress and the White House. They should run against the Medicare drug debacle and the arrogance and cronyism of the GOP congressional leadership that has reversed the Clinton-era budget surpluses and failed to exert oversight of the Bush administration.
If they really want something to stand for, Democrats should promise to pass a bill that expands Medicare to cover every resident of the US, or at least know the reason why such a bill cannot go forward.
When Dick Cheney shot his buddy while hunting quail, then ducked from public view for three days while he let the victim take the blame, it was a perfect illustration of the incompetence and arrogance of the Bush-Cheney administration. As we all know by now, the vice president sprayed 78-year-old Harry Whittington with birdshot at a canned hunt on a South Texas ranch, then withheld word on the shooting for 18 hours, giving his buddies time to get their stories straight. Local law enforcement authorities were not allowed to question Cheney until the following day, when he could present a sober appearance. When word finally leaked out, the Kool-Aid Republicans, who are trained to parrot the party line from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, blamed the victim and excused Cheney. ...
We realize that accidents can happen and we are glad Whittington, who suffered a "minor" heart attack from birdshot that lodged near his heart, apparently made a full recovery. Rich Republican lawyers don't deserve to be killed by Cheney's mistakes any more than Iraqi kids deserve to be killed by them. But Cheney, like his putative "boss," appears to be congenitally unable to admit to mistakes. So they keep on happening. Maybe not so much to rich Republican lawyers, but we'll see who gets invited to Dick's next hunting trip....
While Bush administration functionaries were dissembling about the reasons the president's counselors felt they were above the law when it came to eavesdropping on US citizens, participants at the Independent Press Association conference in San Francisco recently got to hear two intrepid reporters, Amy Goodman and Greg Palast, talk to the choir about the need for an independent press that calls the government to account.
"It's important to state the facts and let the people draw their own conclusions," she said. "People absolutely care -- they care if they know."
Americans have a special role in making sure their government does the right thing, Goodman added. She witnessed the massacre of 270 Timorese by Indonesian forces in 1992 and was injured along with colleague Allan Nairn. She believes the reason she and Nairn weren't killed was that she made it clear to the Indonesian troops that she was an American, not an Australian, whom the Indonesians treated with contempt.
"We represent two things to the world -- the sword and the shield," Goodman said of the United States' reputation around the world. "They see the American people as a shield and every little thing we do has a tremendous effect, a ripple effect all over the world. ... We have a decision to make every day, whether to represent the sword or the shield."
While Republicans and Democratic leaders propose to tinker with lobbying and ethics rules, Democratic Reps. David Obey (Wis.) and Barney Frank (Mass.) have taken the lead in offering legislation for public financing of campaigns for Congress. "You can talk all you want about nibbling at the margins about ethics and House rules and all the rest," said Obey, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, "but unless we deal with the nexus between politics and money, damned little is actually going to change over time."
Taxpayers must recognize that they end up with the tab for the billions of dollars of tax breaks that politically-connected industries don't pay. They're also stuck with bad public policies that lobbyists buy with the current "pay to play" system.
We propose that Clean Elections -- publicly financed elections for Congress -- be financed with a tax on broadcast advertising. TV and radio stations, which do not pay for their use of public airwaves, are the main beneficiary of campaign spending. A tax of 10% on commercials would generate $5 billion. Those revenues could pay for public financing of congressional and presidential campaigns and also fund expansion of public broadcasting services.
In the past decade, Republicans have taken Congress to new lows of corruption. Democrats may not have been choirboys when they controlled Congress for most of 40 years before the 1994 election, but at least they allowed the money to flow on a bipartisan basis, as long as they got the majority share.
When the GOP took over they decided to shut off the spigots to the Democrats. Grover Norquist, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, came up with the "K Street Project," which made "pay to play" explicit for lobbyists while Democratic lobbyists became persona non grata. The warning went out that lobbying firms that employed Democrats in positions of authority would not get a hearing in the Republican Congress. And the GOP leaders would keep an eye on lobbyists' campaign finance flows.
DeLay, who was then the majority whip, provided the muscle for the project. ...
Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to regain control of the House and six seats to regain the Senate majority. Gerrymandering in the House and the powers of incumbency in the Senate make such a turnover extremely unlikely. To pull such an upset, Democrats need to regain the solid support of working people. They can do that by promising that the first orders of business under a Democratic Congress next year would be to expand Medicare to cover everybody and to increase the minimum wage to a level at which a full-time job would raise a family out of poverty. ...
If Republicans can run against Big Government, Democrats should run against Big Insurance Companies. And if the US can commit more than a trillion dollars to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, we can commit to spend what is necessary to provide quality health care for every American.
Expansion of Medicare to cover every American would help workers and their families, it would help small businesses who can't afford health insurance for their employees and level the playing field with stingy corporations such as Wal-Mart, it would help state and local governments that are wrestling with ways to pay for health care for the uninsured, and it would hurt major Republican funders. What's not to like?
And if the Republican president and Congress won't get off the dime, unions and small-business groups should take the initiative in getting Democrats at the state level to promote universal health coverage. Health care could be financed by a modest payroll tax that in most cases would cost less than what responsible businesses now pay to insure their employees. Progressive states would have an advantage in economic development.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has started what is expected to be a weeklong encounter with Samuel Alito in which the right-wing judge appears to back off some of the most extreme positions he has taken as a Reagan administration lawyer and appeals court judge without precluding a return to those views if he gets onto the Supreme Court. Although most of the attention has been paid to his prejudice against abortion rights, Alito also could swing the Supreme Court to the right on issues such as affirmative action; the role of money and corporations in politics; voting rights; family and medical leave; civil liberties; labor and consumer regulations; and presidential powers. Democrats should be prepared to filibuster Alito's nomination and call Bill Frist's bluff on the threatened "nuclear option" of doing away with judicial filibusters.
There are many reasons why the state should not execute people. One of the most compelling reasons for me is that courts and juries, much less prosecutors and governors, cannot be trusted to sort the innocent from the guilty.Stanley "Tookie" Williams was dispatched by the state of California early Tuesday morning, Dec. 13, after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger denied clemency. I can't say that the state didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the co-founder of the Crips gang at least participated in the killings of four innocent people during two robberies, even if he reformed himself in prison. But California still should not have taken his life.For those who are unpersuaded by arguments about the morality of the death penalty, Cory Maye, on death row in Mississippi, offers a better case for why the state can't afford to risk capital punishment.
Also, when we started The Progressive Populist, we were looking for troublemakers and Eugene McCarthy's name came up. He contributed "The Caesarian Solution" to our premiere edition, and he continued providing monthly essays for the first two years of our publication, and occasional columns thereafter from his home in Woodville, Va. I never got to meet him again, but talked with him a few times by phone and he was very gracious, good-humored and supportive of our enterprise.
As a young man, McCarthy was a semipro baseball player who reportedly was a pretty fair hitter in the minor leagues. He tried the seminary but stuck with poetry, philosophy and politics. He probably wouldn't have made a very good president, truth to tell, but he was a hero and a contrarian who followed his conscience and never bowed to convention. As the classic campaign poster said, "He stood up alone and something happened." Corporate media and political consultants nearly have wiped out senators such as McCarthy but some of his stripe may still occasionally be found. We must restore their habitat so that politicians such as Eugene McCarthy can thrive again.
After Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., a decorated Marine veteran of Korea and Vietnam and a renowned advocate of military veterans, came out in favor of an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, Republicans hit the roof. House GOP leaders replaced his thoughtful resolution with a one-sentence call for an immediate withdrawal. It was designed to split Democrats, so the GOP sent it to the floor for a vote. Democrats refused to take the bait, as all but three Dems rejected the GOP resolution, but not before first-year Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio, scolded Murtha that "cowards cut and run, Marines never do."
But the cowards are not the Congress members who are having second thoughts about trusting the president when he said Saddam Hussein presented a threat to the US. The cowards are those in power who "fixed" intelligence to support the case for a war that they thought would benefit the oil companies and help them regain control of the Senate.
Also: Public opinion polls show that Republicans are vulnerable heading into next year's elections but people don't have much confidence that Dems would do much better. Murtha's resolution on withdrawing US troops from Iraq is a good start toward ending the debacle in Iraq, but if Democrats want to establish their bona fides with the working class once again, they should promise to expand Medicare to everyone, so that health insurance is no longer dependent on your employer. One of the reasons GM is laying off 30,000 workers in the US is the $1,500 it spends on each vehicle to provide health insurance for the workers that built it. Carmakers in other countries don't have to pay those costs because they have national health coverage.
Lying has been standard operating procedure of the Bush administration for so long that some Republican operatives may not have gotten the memo that lying to the FBI and/or grand jury is where they draw the line. Now that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, in his investigation of the administration's role in "outing" undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, has traced the lies and liars to the White House, those who supported the election and re-election of George W. Bush owe the rest of us an apology. ... Democratic Congress members finally are admitting that they voted to support the war in Iraq because Bush and other administration figures lied to them about the threat. They should not take anything the administration tells them at face value anymore.
Also: After Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid took the Senate into a closed session on Nov. 1 to demand action by foot-dragging Republicans on an overdue report from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Majority Leader Bill Frist complained that Reid's move was "a slap in the face." In fact Frist deserved a kick somewhere lower on the body after his high-handed attempts to railroad the Senate to conform with right-wing ideology.
United Auto Workers is one of the strongest unions in the United States. In the past century it humbled the nation's largest corporations with hard bargaining and strikes to carve out the wages and benefits that made American auto workers the envy of the world. But now Wal-Mart is the world's largest corporation and US automakers can build their cars in Shanghai if they run into labor trouble in Detroit. So UAW leaders had little leverage when GM executives called them in and said the union could either give up some of the wages and health coverage they had negotiated in the current contract, or the corporation would go to bankruptcy court to get a judge to extract more onerous terms. The union agreed to submit the concessions to the rank and file. Ford and DaimlerChrysler are expected to demand similar concessions, as more corporations adopt the scam of extorting wage and benefit givebacks to get their profits back in line. Democratic candidates for Congress should not let a public event pass without concluding that "Medicare must be expanded to provide health care for every American!"
Also: Progressive organizations have formed the Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities (ECAP) to fight the resurgent Republican push for more tax cuts for the rich and cutbacks in domestic programs for the poor.
Trying to divert the narrative from GOP ethics problems, Republicans are using the Gulf Coast hurricane disasters to promote the right-wing agenda that had stalled in Congress. Bush suspended requirements that federal contractors pay locally prevailing wages and comply with affirmative action requirements. To pay for the estimated $200 billion costs of rebuilding the Gulf Coast, Bush and congressional Republicans are rejecting tax increases. Instead they are pushing for cuts in domestic spending programs, such as Medicaid, food stamps and soil conservation programs. Republicans proposed to cut agriculture spending by $3 billion, including cuts in the dairy price support program as well as other commodity supports and closing farm service offices. Democrats should stand up for farmers, working poor and small businesses.
Any Democrats who fail to tie Social Security privatization to their Republican opponents' tails are making a mistake that Republicans would not make if the issue turned their way. Bush's plan for health care, meanwhile, is to call out the Army to enforce quarantines in case of a pandemic, so that Republicans in gated communities are not infected. With health care costs rising for businesses and workers, Democrats should put the expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans at the top of their agenda.
Also: When George W. Bush announced the appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, many fundamentalist Christians and other right-wing activists wondered if Bush lied to them in his proclaimed devotion to life and the war against liberal culture. The National Association of Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce have no such qualms.
When the water spilled over the broken flood walls in New Orleans and filled the Crescent City with the backwash from Hurricane Katrina, it was a perfect metaphor for what the Republican Party has done to the federal government. After all, George Bush's mentor, Grover Norquist, famously said the party's goal was to reduce the size of government by half so that they could drown it in a bathtub. We just didn't realize he meant it literally.
New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen. The city knew it, the state knew it and the feds certainly knew it as they embarked 40 years ago on a project to strengthen levees and flood walls around the city. On Aug. 29, the Big One finally hit with Hurricane Katrina. The city at first appeared to dodge the Category 4 storm, but the backwash from Lake Pontchartrain broke through flood control walls and the Lower 9th Ward began filling up with brackish water, a scenario that had long been feared. But the Federal Emergency Management Administration sat on the sidelines and watched while city and state officials struggled to save 100,000 unfortunates who had been unable to evacuate as the megastorm approached. Democrats should also use the experience of this debacle to remind Americans that the federal government is supposed to protect people who cannot protect themselves.
Cindy Sheehan exposed George W. Bush for the coward he is. Bush showed his colors when he ran like a scared rabbit in the hours after the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11. Now he can't face up to a grieving mother who wants to know why her son had to die.
We believe that Bush and his aides lied to Congress and the American people about the reasons for going to war with Iraq. But Republican leaders in Congress have no intention of investigating the conduct of the war or other discrepancies in the Bush administration. With 14 months until the mid-term election, progressives must recruit candidates for the House and Senate now. Otherwise the right-wingers in charge of the GOP will continue to run roughshod over the US and the world for two more years. Progressive candidates need to do more than demand that Bush bring the troops home from Iraq. But we believe progressive populist campaigns can win. We propose a dozen issues Democrats can win on.
When the Republican leadership held the vote open for 47 extra minutes to twist arms of House members to pass the Central American Free Trade Agreement on July 27, the result put American farmers, textile workers and manufacturers at risk. Multinational corporations got the green light to move factories into Central American countries with poor records on human rights and few protections for poor families or workers. The House GOP virtually guaranteed that more Central Americans who are displaced from farms in their native lands will be moving north in the next few years to compete with Mexicans and American citizens for minimum-wage jobs in the USA.
Democrats held together most of their members, as the bill passed by a razor-thin margin of 217-215. But as David Sirota of WorkingForChange.com noted, the switch of one vote from yes to no would have forced a tie and killed the bill, so each of those 15 Dems who voted for CAFTA can be blamed for its passage. For the record, they are Melissa Bean (Ill.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Norm Dicks (Wash.), Ruben Hinojosa (Texas), William Jefferson (La.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Greg Meeks (N.Y.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Jim Moran (Va.), Solomon Ortiz (Texas), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Vic Snyder (Ark.), John Tanner (Tenn.) and Ed Towns (N.Y.)
Next up is the Free Trade Area of the Americas to further the globalist agenda through South America. Bush already has run up against formidable opposition from leftist leaders in Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. Conventional wisdom seems to be that CAFTA is a Pyrrhic victory that gives the administration no momentum to pick up that fight again, but multinational corporations won't give up. Neither should populists.
When Karl Rove called the Democrats wimps in the face of 9/11 and the Democrats replied, "we're not wimps," linguist George Lakoff scored it as a victory for the GOP machine. It was as if Democrats took the bait and Rove reeled them in, changing the discourse from the ongoing disaster in Iraq to support for Bush after 9/11. When Democrats defended themselves from Rove's attack, they wound up expressing support for Bush's going to war, with implicit support for the conduct of the war.
Lakoff, who wrote the bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values, Frame the Debate, said progressives can learn a lesson from Rove, not in how to distort and exploit tragedy but in how to voice clear values. But you also need to know where conservatives are coming from. As a linguist Lakoff examined the metaphors used by conservatives and progressives and found that they have two different understandings of the nation. He found that conservatives identify with the "strict father" while progressives identify with the nurturing parent.
The Rockridge Institute (rockridgeinstitute.org), which Lakoff co-founded, did a study that found that people still believe in the use of the commonwealth for common good so that all of us can pursue our individual goals, an idea that goes back to the Pilgrims and has nothing to do with Moscow communists. People use roads, the Internet, drugs that are developed with government support, banks that are regulated by the federal government and courts to enforce contracts. "Nobody makes it on their own in this country," he said. "No businessman has ever succeeded on his own."
Progressives no longer can let the right wing define values, such as making opposition to abortion "pro-life" while cutting health care for poor people that results in the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world. We just have to figure out how to explain it to them in terms they can relate to. We all know there is no reason for working people to vote for a GOP that consistently promotes the interests of the wealthy, corporate class. But Dems need to re-learn how to, as the late Sen. Ralph Yarborough said, "put the jam on the lower shelf where the little man can reach it."
Democrats should let George W. Bush's Social Security "Fix" crash and burn. Bush blames the Dems for being obstructionists, but the truth is that GOPers have been unable to come up with their own Social Security plan. Democrats want no part of the foolishness, and the public is increasingly skeptical of the GOP scam to chip away at the guaranteed benefits of the retirement and disability system. The Washington Post on June 16 reported that the Finance Committee does not have Republican votes to approve Bush's plan that would divert payroll taxes to private investment accounts. But the committee also lacks the votes to address GOP alarms about Social Security's long-term solvency without personal accounts, because too many right-wingers insist on them.
Democrats shouldn't be shy about advertising the fact that the GOP's plan to privatize Social Security requires massive benefit cuts that would devastate rural America. Bush's assurances that current retirees won't see any benefit cuts are as worthless as his assurances that the war in Iraq could be fought without cost to US taxpayers.
One of the most popular canards about illegal immigrants is that they don't pay taxes but put a stress on health and social services. Immigrants might hold down wages for manual labor and are useful to union-busters, which contributes to resentment among working-class citizens, but immigrants have no way of avoiding sales taxes on the goods they buy. They also pay property taxes indirectly through their rents. And although many employers choose to hire illegal aliens in the "underground" economy that is not reported to the IRS, reputable companies deduct payroll taxes from their employees. Undocumented aliens just don't get credit for it. But the New York Times reported April 5 that an estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the US are providing Social Security with a $7-billion-a-year subsidy.
The influx of illegal aliens also has serious medical consequences, wrote Madeline Pelner Cosman, author of a report in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. She wrote that "many illegal aliens harbor fatal diseases that American medicine fought and vanquished long ago, such as drug-resistant tuberculosis." All the more reason to implement a single-payer health insurance program that gives every resident -- whether citizen or alien -- access to primary-care physicians, so they don't have to show up at the emergency room when their condition becomes acute. After all, 45 million Americans -- mainly the working poor -- also are uninsured because their employers cannot or will not pay for health care. Hospitals don't fare much better collecting from citizens who have exceeded their insurance coverage, which is why illness and medical debts are the cause for 50% of bankruptcies in the US.
We've been spending the last two months fighting to save democracy and all we get is a lousy compromise and three hacks as federal judges? Democrats are touting it as a win -- and in the power politics calculus of Washington, D.C., it probably is -- but Senate Dems gave up a lot in their agreement to let three right-wingers onto the federal bench in return for "moderate" Republicans agreeing not to let their more rabid colleagues dismantle the filibuster of judicial nominees. Seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed onto the deal on the eve of Majority Leader Bill Frist's planned power play. Compromisers include Democrats Robert Byrd (W.V.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Daniel K. Inouye (Hawaii) and Republicans Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine), Mike DeWine (Ohio), Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John McCain (Ariz.) and John Warner (Va.). They are enough to derail both Democratic filibusters and Frist's attempts to employ the "nuclear option" to change Senate rules in mid-session. So the show will go on. Still ...
George W. Bush has made it as clear as he can: He wants the Republican Congress to pass a bill that dismantles the egalitarian guaranteed benefits of Social Security -- the most successful government retirement system in the world -- and replaces it with a complicated multi-tiered, needs-based program that ultimately reduces the incentives for middle-class taxpayers to support the program. Establishment pundits have called upon Democrats to come up with their own plan to rescue Social Security. But Democrats and honest Republicans should not feel any obligation to participate in this charade -- in fact they would be foolish to cooperate with these charlatans who have trumped up a possible Social Security shortfall in 35 years if the economy tanks to record lows. Instead they should pay attention to the health care crisis. The Center for American Progress has developed a blueprint for affordable, quality health coverage, made available and affordable for all Americans, through either employee-sponsored insurance, Medicaid or a new group insurance pool modeled on the system used by federal employees and members of Congress. The pool, based on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, would assist all those who lack access to job-based insurance -- a problem for about 80% of all uninsured people. Almost two-thirds (63%) of US adults cite lowering health care costs and health insurance. They deserve better from the president and Congress.
Bush struck another low blow May 7 in Riga, Latvia, when he accused the US of appeasement in agreeing to the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe after World War II. Bush said the February 1945 agreement at Yalta among President Franklin Roosevelt, Soviet leader Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill "followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact."
Republicans appear dead set to throw out two centuries of Senate rules in order to seat some of George Bush's most right-wing nominees on federal appeals courts.If the Republican majority goes ahead with the "nuclear option" to change the rules to stop the minority's ability to filibuster judicial appointments, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats will not shut the Senate down, but they will "stop giving deference" to the majority's agenda. They will move forward with a Democratic agenda that addresses the concerns of regular Americans. Invoking the little-known Senate Rule XIV, the Democrats put nine bills on the Senate calendar. They plan to bypass committee hearings and move the bills directly to the Senate floor.
It's about time Senate Dems got some backbone. They got rolled by the financial industry when they let the bankruptcy bill through but they're standing up to Bush's Social Security privatization scam, the public is behind them and they're finding that when they stick together they can beat the bastards.
We have mixed emotions about the filibuster. It has prevented a lot of bad bills from being enacted, but it also has been the bane of a lot of good reform bills. However, if requiring a supermajority has any value, it is when it comes to reviewing court nominees. The Democrats have approved 205 Bush nominees and have drawn the line at 10. Bush picked a fight when he resubmitted those partisan hacks. If the GOP can't get five Democrats to break a filibuster, it's a pretty clear signal that the nominees don't represent the qualities that deserve a lifetime appointment to the bench. But if Republicans corral the votes and do away with the filibuster for judicial nominations, Democrats should make it clear that they will do away with the filibuster on all legislation.
Also, Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is a conservative in church doctrinal matters; possibly less so on social and economic issues. At 78 years of age, expect him to continue and consolidate John Paul II's policies, which he played a large role in formulating.
Republican leaders made a choice in the 1980s and '90s to appeal to fundamentalist Christians and Catholics with opposition to abortion and promotion of government payments to church-related social welfare organizations. That appeal apparently paid off as evangelicals mobilized for Bush's 2004 re-election. Now it's the GOP's turn to affirm its belief in the separation of church and state.
We take some comfort that public support for Bush and the GOP dropped sharply after the Terri Schiavo debacle. A Gallup poll showed Congress' approval rating sank to 37%, lower than any time since Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton in 1998. A March 23 CBS News poll found 66% thought Schiavo's feeding tube should be removed. And Bush's approval rating dropped to 44% in early April, the lowest of any president at this point in his second term. That hasn't stopped many pundits from insisting that Bush is still a popular president. But Americans are getting a good look at today's GOP and they don't like what they see.
Also: How low will George W. Bush go in his attempt to undermine public confidence in Social Security? After Bush went to the Bureau of Public Debt in Parkersburg, W.V., on 4/5/05 and said the Social Security Trust Fund didn't exist and Treasury notes that make up the trust fund won't be paid back, economist Max Sawicky worked up the numbers and reported at MaxSpeak.org that Bush has passed $639 billion in "worthless IOUs" to the Social Security Trust Fund since 2002. "Over the next five years, our president proposes to add another $1,061 billion to this crime spree," Sawicky noted. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the projected 10-year total Trust Fund swindle (2006-2015) is $2.5 trillion.
The cruel, cynical grandstanding in the Terri Schiavo case is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. While Republicans in Congress plotted how they could intervene to stop the highly-publicized removal of Schiavo's feeding tube -- first with a subpoena to force the vegetative invalid to appear at a congressional hearing and later with a special bill to invalidate previous Florida state court rulings in Schiavo's case -- Wanda Hudson of Houston watched her 6-month-old baby, Sunny, die in her arms after doctors, against her wishes, removed the breathing tube that kept the infant alive. As Jon Stewart said on Comedy Central's Daily Show: "If you want to know just how sick you have to get before Congress is willing to do something about it, well, now you know."
Expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans without regard to their wealth or employment status is the only "pro-life" health care plan that makes sense for the US. If Congress has to take over the health insurance business and rescind tax breaks for the wealthy to pay for it, so be it.
Also, a caller objected to the headline on the cover of our Feb. 15 issue: "Fog of phony war." The war in Iraq, which marked the start of its third year March 19, is not a phony war, she noted; it is a real war with tragic consequences for American and Iraqi casualties and their families. In addition it drains the US treasury and diverts resources that could be used to address pressing domestic problems.
It took eight years, but the credit card industry finally gots its bill establishing bankruptcy peonage. In two days' work, March 7-8, the Senate rejected Democrats' amendments to S. 256, the Bankruptcy Peonage Act. The bill would make it harder for middle-class families to discharge overwhelming debts through bankruptcy. Rejected amendments would have closed loopholes for the rich as well as violent abortion protesters, cracked down on predatory lending practices, protected the homes of those who were facing bankruptcy from medical bills and given the working poor an increase in the minimum wage.
The Center for American Progress noted that the credit card industry put together a bipartisan coalition to protect the $30 billion in profits the industry took in last year under the old bankruptcy rules. Not a single Republican voted against cloture and 14 Democrats sided with the bankers and the GOP. They should be ashamed. Democrats who had been voting with the Republicans on this bill include Sens. Tom Carper and Joe Biden, both of Delaware, Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Sen. Tim Johnson (S.D.). Other Democrats who voted for cloture included Robert Byrd (W.V.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). They sold out their working-class constituents for credit-card cash. Courtney Mabeus reportes on page 13 that during the 2004 election cycle the finance, insurance and real estate interests donated $306 million to federal candidates, with 59% going to Republicans. At least 14 Dems couldn't say no to Big Money. Let them know you care.
Also, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney on March 2 won a showdown with dissident union leaders who wanted to divert more of the labor federation's money to organizing. Andrew Stern of the Service Employees International Union and James Hoffa of the Teamsters wanted to return $35 million of labor federation dues to unions for organizing efforts. They also had the support of the UNITE HERE (textile, apparel, hotel, restaurant and retail workers), United Food and Commercial Workers, Laborers and Auto Workers, representing 40% of the AFL-CIO's members. But the AFL-CIO's executive committee rejected the organizing emphasis on a 15-7 vote. Instead on a 14-8 vote the committee approved Sweeney's plan to rebate $15 million for organizing, but to increase spending on political and legislative activity by one-third, to $45 million a year.
Working people must organize politically and at the workplace. They no longer can afford the illusion that politics is not a vital part of their lives. A corporate president, a corporate Congress and a corporate judiciary can cause problems for working people for a generation or longer.
George Bush and his Social Security privatizers are still trying to put pressure on Democrats to sign onto a bill that the White House hasn't even unveiled yet. Democrats should keep up their resistance. Let the House GOP leadership come up with a privatization bill they can bull through the House, preferably with a minimum of Democratic votes.
Howard Dean has his work cut out for him as he takes on the challenge of rebuilding the Democratic Party. Dean's grassroots organization, left over from the presidential campaign, overwhelmed the Washington pros who tried to install a centrist insider such as former Rep. Tim Roemer as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Dean plans to make the Democrats a party of reform. In that he nominally agrees with the pro-business Democratic Leadership Council, which advises the party to take away the reform mantle from the GOP, and Carville, who also has been pushing a reform agenda. But there is a difference between reform and revolution, and the pros fear that revolutionary rhetoric will reinforce the stereotype of Democrats as radicals.
A friend confessed that he was not looking forward to more replays of Dean's infamous Scream on right-wing talk shows. But the right-wingers and their media allies will ridicule anyone who speaks truth to power, so don't expect an even break from them. Also remember that, the caricatures notwithstanding, the Scream after the Iowa caucuses was one of defiance. The Democratic Party needs that kind of passion today. We think Dean is the right man for the job.
Also, some "pro-choice" Democrats were nervous when Sen. Hillary Clinton called on family planning advocates to try to find "common ground" with pro-life groups on issues such as emergency contraception, more funding for prenatal care and other ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies. What's up? Democrats must regain their appeal to mainstream churchgoers -- particularly Catholics, whose hierarchy pursues a hard line against abortion.
Officials of the National Right to Life Committee, which is practically an adjunct of the Republican Party, have rebuffed Democratic initiatives. This sort of reaction marks NRLC as the pro-birth wing of the pro-life movement, interested in a fetus only until it is born. The pro-birthers hope this year to make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines to seek an abortion. Another measure would require abortion clinics to inform women seeking late-turn abortions that the fetus will feel pain during the procedure.
NRLC has not, to our knowledge, mounted an outcry against Republican budget cuts to programs that helped low-income parents and their children find adequate food, housing, education and health care. So it is hard to take seriously NRLC's claim as defenders of the "right to life."
At least the Catholic bishops -- much maligned on the Left -- are consistent in their support for social welfare programs.
If the battle is over abortion, Catholics will side with the bishops and Democrats will lose. If the battle is over the right to a full and decent life, some bishops will still pitch in with the GOP but the priests, sisters and the rank and file might be persuaded to come home to the Democrats
As Republicans dig in for the fight to privatize Social Security, Democrats have to wonder if the best they can do in government these days is defend the 69-year-old centerpiece of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Republicans usually do an expert job framing the debate and putting Dems on defense. In the public mind, the GOP is for cutting taxes, promoting gun rights and family values -- as long as those families don't include homosexuals. They depict Democrats as wanting to stop kids from praying in school, promoting abortion, sending gays out to collect our guns and raising taxes to let lazy people live off welfare checks. What do you say to a neighbor who has spent a generation listening to talk shows depict Democrats as pro-abortion, anti-prayer, pro-gay, anti-gun, pro-tax and anti-work-ethic?
It would help if Democrats had a list of principles that could be cited and easily understood. The Democratic National Platform, adopted last summer in Boston, was a typically useless document with 43 pages of platitudes designed mainly to avoid offending people (see democrats.org).
Senate Democrats under new Minority Leader Harry Reid took a step toward establishing concrete principles Jan. 24 as they unveiled their opposition agenda. They presented 10 bills that reflect legislative priorities, including adding as many as 40,000 military troops by 2007; improving veterans' benefits; increasing college aid; allowing prescription drugs to be imported; creating national standards for federal elections; restoring overtime pay benefits to workers who lost them under a 2004 labor rules change; and increasing access to family planning services and insurance coverage of birth control products.
It's a good legislative package but it consists of half-measures that won't get a hearing anyway. So if they want to lure back the working class that lately has had a hard time figuring out what the Democratic Party would do for them, party leaders might as well take the offensive against the plutocracy.
Our proposals to rebrand the Democratic Party:
1) Preserve full Social Security benefits at age 65;
2) Enact universal health care. Expand Medicare to let all Americans see the health provider of their choice.
3) Rebrand social welfare policies as "pro-life" policies.
4) Ensure free, quality public education for all through the university level.
5) Promote a demilitarized foreign policy that features human rights and multilateral cooperation through the UN, NATO and other international organizations. Turn Iraq over to the UN as soon as possible and bring US troops home.
6) Make worker rights and environmental standards part of all trade accords.
7) Repeal the USA PATRIOT Act, much of which violates the Bill of Rights anyway.
8) Make corporations accountable. Establish a Bill of Rights for workers, including the right to a job, a safe workplace, decent wages and benefits. Secure the right to organize and be represented, grieve about working conditions, strike, get fair compensation for injuries and have secure pension and retirement benefits. Enforce antitrust laws to protect small businesses from large corporations.
9) Promote clean energy and natural resource conservation. Repeal right-to-pollute laws. Toughen environmental enforcement against polluters; reduce oil dependence; spur investment in alternative energy sources, including hydrogen, solar, wind, biomass and hybrids. Encourage clean energy technologies that produce new jobs.
10) Promote rural communities and sustainable family farms and ranches.
We also support media reform, of course, but after the mugging of Howard Dean and then John Kerry last year, don't expect an even break from the networks.
George Bush, his 2-point mandate in hand, is going full-steam ahead with his scheme to privatize Social Security. This fraudulent plan is a gift to Wall Street; Democrats should treat it with the scorn it deserves. If Democrats can't drive this privatization campaign back into the hole where it belongs, they don't deserve to govern.
Republicans won a majority in Congress in 1994 in large part because they assured seniors that they would not do anything to harm Social Security Insurance. But now that they have a firm hold on the White House and both chambers of Congress, a White House aide wrote Jan. 3 in a memo leaked to the press, "for the first time in six decades the Social Security battle is one we can win." That is, surrendering guaranteed retirement benefits to the whims of stock markets. But to win, White House aide Peter Wehner wrote, the public must be convinced that "the current system is headed for an iceberg."
Also, George Bush also tortured the truth in his recent junket to Illinois Jan. 6 when he labeled Madison County and neighboring St. Clair County (commonly known as Metro-East, across the river from St. Louis) "judicial hellholes," He claims that limiting the damages juries can award to injured patients will fix the nation's health-care problem.
Public Citizen and Victims and Families United advocate a new approach to the medical malpractice impasse: It's called "Sorry Works!" This program encourages doctors to apologize quickly for medical negligence and errors, and it offers fair compensation to families and their attorneys. Sorry Works! is proven to reduce anger, lawsuits and medical liability costs, but victims receive swift justice, constitutional rights are not limited, and repeat medical errors are reduced.
Conservatives have spent the past 20 years consolidating control of the news media -- particularly radio and TV -- since Ronald Reagan's Federal Communications Commission did away with the Fairness Doctrine. The past few election campaigns show progressives can't expect to get a fair shot from Disney's ABC, General Electric's NBC or Viacom's CBS, much less Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, New York Post or Weekly Standard.
Wall Street may control who owns the airwaves, but the First Amendment still lets the rest of us start our own newspapers (and nowadays, produce our own websites and weblogs to connect far-flung progressive media).
Our survival is a tribute to your hunger for news that you can't get from the corporate media. We will continue to send you the meat and potatoes, as well as dessert and snacks.
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