Would Norman Thomas or Eugene Debs been more effective...

...if they'd run as Democrats?

Many of us who support him against Hillary Clinton now, warned before he declared that, by running as a Democrat instead of an independent, Bernie Sanders risks legitimizing the candidate from Goldman Sachs. Come September 2016, when most voters will be just starting to pay attention to the campaign, he will be either silenced or in the uncomfortable position of supporting a candidate for president he knows will pursue policies against which he has stood for his entire career. As Chris Hedges argues,
If you want change you can believe in, destroy the system. And changing the system does not mean collaborating with it as Bernie Sanders is doing by playing by the cooked rules of the Democratic Party. Profound social and political transformation is acknowledged in legislatures and courts but never initiated there. Radical change always comes from below. As long as our gaze is turned upward to the powerful, as long as we invest hope in reforming the system of corporate power, we will remain enslaved. There may be good people within the system -- Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are examples -- but that is not the point. It is the system that is rotten. It must be replaced.
The rest of the story: Make the Rich Panic by Chris Hedges (TruthDig).

Bernie's All In

Here's where you can sign up for Sen. Bernie Sanders's campaign emails and, should you wish, to make a financial contribution to his effort: https://berniesanders.com/

Robert Borosage of The Campaign for America's Future offers a savvy assessment of the upsides of Sanders' run. "Sanders," he writes, "is in many ways the mirror image of Hillary Clinton, the favored candidate in the race. She has universal name recognition, unlimited funds, and a campaign operation rife with experienced political pros. He is not widely known, has little money, and has never run a national campaign. But in a populist moment, he is the real deal – a full-throated, unabashed, independent, uncorrupted, straight-talking populist. And that is a big deal."

Borosage suggests supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren should be full bore for Sanders, on the premise that he could be Eugene McCarthy to her Robert Kennedy.

The rest of the story: The Sanders Challenge by Robert Borosage (The Campaign for America's Future).

The story is not THAT citizens are in the streets. The question that needs to be addressed is WHY.

I think that we've got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. -- Rev. Martin Luther King
The mainstream media is shocked -- shocked! -- by the damage caused by the protestors in Baltimore, but the real story is the grinding poverty and neglect wrought by capital and the powerlessness of citizens living under the thumb of oligarchy.

"Baltimore," Shawn Gude writes, "is like so many other cities with their own Freddie Grays: a place in which private capital has left enormous sections of the city to rot, where a chasm separates the life chances of black and white residents — and where cops brutally patrol a 'disposable' population."

(Photo: The Baltimore Sun)
Observers have long puzzled over the passivity of average Americans suffering impoverishment and disenfranchisement at the hands of a kleptocratic elite.

Is this the beginning of the American Spring?

The rest of the story: Why Baltimore Rebelled by Shawn Gude (Jacobin).
10,000 Strong Peacefully Protest In Downtown Baltimore, Media Only Reports The Violence & Arrest of Dozens by AJ Woodson (Black Westchester).
Eyewitnesses: The Baltimore Riots Didn't Start the Way You Think. Baltimore teachers and parents tell a different story from the one you've been reading in the media. By Sam Brodey and Jenna McLaughlin (Mother Jones)

Reading list: “A corrupt, unresponsive and plutocratic disaster”: How Mitch McConnell and the GOP remade Washington in their image. Now that the GOP's in control, Mitch McConnell is letting some things pass — and taking all the credit. By Elias Isquith (Salon).
Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless by Robert Reich (robertreich.org).
American Political Passivity, Anti-Authoritarianism, and Building a Base by Bruce E. Levine (WarIsACrime).
Rise of the New Black Radicals by Chris Hedges (TruthDig).

Izzy Stone on Earth Day

Thanks to Naomi Klein for unearthing this:

I.F. Stone: “Con Games,” speech delivered at Sylvan Theater, Washington, D.C., April 22, 1970

In the ancient world, the Caesars did it with bread and circuses. And tonight, I’m afraid, is the first time that our Caesars have learned to do it with rock and roll, and idealism, and noninflammatory social issues. In some ways, I’m sorry to say, we here tonight are being conned. This has many of the aspects of a beautiful snow job. The country is slipping into a wider war in southeast Asia, and we’re talking about litterbugs. The secretary of defense, on Monday, made a speech to the Associated Press sabotaging the SALT talks, presenting a completely false picture of the world balance of power, ending what little hope we had of progress in those talks, preparing the way for a bigger, more expensive arms race at the expensive of mankind, and we’re talking as if we needed more wastebaskets.

The divisions of white and black in this country are getting to the point where they threaten our future, and we’re talking about pollution. And it’s not that pollution is not an important subject, but if the Nixon administration feels so deeply about it, why don’t they do something substantial about it?

One important thing about this town is that you can never take very seriously what the officials say. They’re the prisoners of a vast bureaucracy. Much of what they say is merely rationalization of their lack of momentum. But in particular, the president said, and I think quite rightfully and quite truthfully, that in the next ten years it’s now or never for the air we breathe and the water we drink. And then, after making that speech, he put in a budget in which 52 cents out of every general revenue dollar goes to the military, and barely four-tenths of one cent goes to air and water pollution. And that’s a real con game. And that’s a real snow job.

We are spending, on new weapons systems alone, more than ten times as much, in this coming fiscal year, in the Nixon budget, than we’re going to spend on air and water. We’re spending a billion dollars more a year on space than all our expenditure on natural resources. The priorities of this government are lunatic—absolutely lunatic. And we’re not going to save the air we breathe and the water we drink without very many fundamental changes in governmental policy and governmental structure.

Before I came down here tonight, I heard a TV announcer say with great satisfaction that he hadn’t heard a word said about Vietnam all day. Well, I’m going to say a word about Vietnam. We’re not going to be able to save our air and our water, and the resources of our country, for our children and our grandchildren, until we end the militarization of our society, until we bring to an end the effort of American imperialism to rule the world and to waste our resources and our honor and our kids on a futile and murderous and insane task.

The problem of pollution is not going to be solved in isolation. The basic and most important pollution problem that we have to deal with is to prevent the pollution of the atmosphere of free discussion by the Nixon-Agnew-Mitchell administration. A society can only progress and deal with its evils if it is prepared to allow the widest measure of free speech, including free speech for radicals who are completely opposed to the basis of that society. Any society allows you to agree with the government. A free society allows you to disagree fundamentally. And it takes a lot of disagreement, and a lot of hollering and a lot of demonstration, to shake any establishment out of its accustomed ways. And the main menace to the solution of these problems is an administration that thinks they will go away if they just put a few radicals in jail.

The problems are enormous. The source of pollution is man. And man’s technology. And the enormous institutions he has built up that make him a prisoner. And somehow we’ve got to shake loose. And the biggest menace—the institution that ties us down most—that wastes our substance—that threatens to waste more of our youth—is that great big, five-sided building across the Potomac—the Pentagon. They are preparing to do to us at home what they tried to do in Vietnam.

Only this week, General Wheeler, the retiring chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, gave an interview to U.S. News and World Report in which he said that criticism of the military was due to a Communist plot. This is an effort of the military to revive McCarthyism, to preserve its enormous power and privileges in our society. And until its power is broken, until the military is reduced sharply in size, we’re not going to be able to solve these problems.

You know, there is no use talking about Earth Day unless we are prepared to make these fundamental changes. Everybody’s talking about Earth Day, and it comes out of the mouths of so many hypocrites it turns your stomach. What kind of an Earth Day can we celebrate in a country that is spending so much of its money to destroy the Earth? How can we talk of reverence for life when we’re spending so much on our enemy, our genius, our money, and our youth on building up new means of destroying life?

What’s the use of talking about the pollution of air and water when we live under a precarious balance of terror which can, in an hour’s time, make the entire Northern Hemisphere of our planet unlivable? There’s no use talking about Earth Day until we begin to think like Earthmen. Not as Americans and Russians, not as blacks and whites, not as Jews and Arabs, but as fellow travelers on a tiny planet in an infinite universe. All that we can muster of kindness, of compassion, of patience, of thoughtfulness, is necessary if this tiny planet of ours is not to go down to destruction. Until we have a leadership willing to make the enormous changes—psychological, military, and bureaucratic—to end the existing world system, a system of hatred, of anarchy, of murder, of war and pollution, there is no use talking about buying more wastebaskets or spending a couple of hundred million dollars on the Missouri River. If we do not challenge these fundamental causes of peril, we will be conned by the establishment while basic decisions are being made over which we have very little control, though they endanger everything on which our future and the world’s depend.

More at The Website of I.F. Stone.

Block the Kochs

When Dylan sang "Your old road is rapidly agin'/Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin'," he was sending out a warning to the establishment of the day, the old order, the holders of the reins of authority, the guardians of business-as-usual.

And the times changed all right, just not the way he predicted. Now, it is we the people who need to heed the warning. The counter-revolution is nearly over. The oligarchs' final victory is around the next turn the road. Despite the valiant resistance of individuals all over the planet, there are still too few willing to lend hand. Difficult as it will be, we must find the way to collective action.

"We must all hang together," Franklin said, "or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

They're baaaaack!

Having failed to inflict sufficient damage on Santa Monica's planning process last year with its ill-conceived but successful referendum to hogtie the development of the admirable Hines project (you can see the not-unexpectedly mediocre aftermath of that effort here), nimby-oid Residocracy is back with a
26th Street as it might have been
non-binding digital petition designed to short circuit the reasonable, common-sense updating of the city's zoning ordinance, recently advanced by the planning commission after many months of study and debate.

According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, "Residocracy is asking for a 25 percent reduction of all proposed heights and densities under the first and second tier development standards. They want an amendment to another planning document (The Land Use and Circulation Element or LUCE) that eliminates third tier developments. They’d like a second amendment to the LUCE that would eliminate all activity centers, which would allow larger scale development. And finally, they want an ordinance requiring that all development agreements be approved by Santa Monica voters."

This is not how representative democracy works. In fact, representative government was established precisely to prevent the highjacking of the political system by highly motivated minorities. Even the heart of Residocracy's complaint -- that the proposed ordinance and LUCE are complex 500 page documents that took seven years to put together -- points to the inadvisability of deciding complex issues by referendum. The other complaint -- that, despite extensive public input in Santa Monica decision-making, the outcomes seem predetermined by city staff -- has some merit, but the solution is to give elected representatives more sway over city employees (council members need their own staffs, for example, or, shy of that, there should be a full-time independent auditor with his or her own staff).

Residocracy presents itself as the voice of Santa Monica residents. but in actuality it is a single-issue interest group with a very specific and very negative agenda. Using intimidation, sloganeering, over-simplification and scare tactics. it attempts to bully its way to its desired outcomes (go to a public meeting where its members have been turned out in numbers and you'll think you're at a cage fight not a civic event). During the lead up to the Hines ballot initiative, out off curiosity I took a walk around town randomly asking people what they thought of the project. Although it is anecdotal not scientific, what I found is nonetheless instructive: of the people I spoke to who'd heard of Hines. not a one was opposed to it as approved and a number expressed the hope that it would be built.

Maybe this time the city council -- charged with looking out for the general welfare,  after all, not the interests of one group, however clamorous -- will not let itself be bullied. And before you allow yourself to be bullied into endorsing Residocracy's abstinence appeal ("just say no" to all development it dislikes, whether useful, necessary, desirable or popular), consider this: what do you know about land use; tax law and revenue generation; infrastructure and utilities; zoning; federal and state regulations affecting development; the influence of local bylaws, ordinances and regulations on our environmental, economic and housing goals and whether such rules are prescriptive or proscriptive; the effects on traffic, air quality and other elements of urban life of concentrating development near transportation hubs; the mix and condition of the city's housing stock; public benefits that can be achieved from easements and development agreements; the possible differences, relationships and sound mix of residential, commercial and industrial uses; the need for public facilities; and how your concerns dovetail with others who have an equal claim on what happens here? That's what a city council is for.

By all means, participate! Go to community workshops, express yourself at planning commission and city council meetings, call and write your elected and appointed representatives. And when Residocracy turns up again, as they will, with a plebiscite on a complex development matter, don't play along. Just say no.

Follow: Santa Monica Mirror; Santa Monica Daily Press; City of Santa Monica.

Background: How the 2012 Presidential Election Demonstrated Why the Electoral College Must Be Reformed...

...and One Way It Can Be Done

"The United States has reached an unprecedented level of inequality in presidential elections. In 2012, only 10 states drew the major party presidential candidates for post-convention campaign events, and those same 10 states attracted 99.6% of all general election television advertising spending by the campaigns and their allies. The remaining 41 spectator states (counting the District of Columbia) included all 38 states that had been similarly overlooked in 2008. This article details these inequalities and their roots in state statutes allocating electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. It argues that states should end this inequality by enacting the National Popular Vote interstate compact, which would ensure that it is the popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia that determines who becomes the president." -- Robert Richie and Andrea Levien of FairVote.

The rest of the story: The Contemporary Presidency - How the 2012 Presidential Election Has Strengthened the Movement for the National Popular Vote Plan by Robert Richie and Andrea Levien (FairVote).


Bill Clinton is angling to seat a surrogate in the Oval Office. George Bush I is jumping out of airplanes. George Bush II is painting pictures of his feet. And Jimmy Carter?

"I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be 'subservient' to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service. The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views." -- Jimmy Carter, president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

How does our economic system work?

George Carlin is always worth watching:

"... From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy and disease could be eliminated within a few generations. ... But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction - indeed, in some sense was the destruction - of a hierarchical society. ... the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would... already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. ... But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. ... Ignorance is Strength ..." -- George Orwell ("1984")

Frank Little: The Hobo Agitator (PBS)

The summer of 1917: the war of the Copper Kings was winding down, a highly charged time for Butte, which had a socialist mayor and no unions. This extremely well done profile of Frank Little, the hobo agitator, brings that summer to life, when vigilantes roamed freely though the city and dominated the mines. Little was one of the major IWW leaders of the time; he was lynched at Butte on August 1 1917. The doc also provides background on Butte and copper, the emergence of militant unionism, and some of the radicalism of the times. Don't pass this up.

Rail: Fail

One measure of American political dysfunction is the not-so-slow collapse of infrastructure during the last four decades, including passenger rail service, an area where the U.S. is dead last versus all its economic rivals.

"In the 1960, the United States had an extensive network of passenger rail trains. All the major cities in the Midwest and South were linked by regular train service. You could get service on smaller routes, like the one from Boise, Idaho, to Portland, Oregon, three times a day. Then a lot of lines got shut down in the late 1960s and 1970s, as this animation shows."
(Maps from the National Association of Railway Passengers and Malcolm Kenton. Animation by Joss Fong)

Source: Watch American passenger rail shrivel up and die in this animated map by Timothy B. Lee (Vox).

Resource: National Association of Railroad Passengers

The appearance of corruption is as corrosive to public trust as actual corruption.

Or, what is there about a seat on the Santa Monica City Council that makes it worth $173,762.98 to Sue Himmelrich?

Corollary: Is it time for local campaign finance reform?

The rest of the story: More than $1 million spent on council race (Santa Monica Daily Press).

Draft of an Eight-Point Platform for Making a Major Breakthrough on 'Left Unity'

By Carl Davidson, Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Pat Fry

Introduction: The following eight-point proposal is designed to initiate both a discussion and a process. The points can be further refined, and subtracted from or added to. Given the scope of the challenges ahead of us, there is a certain degree of urgency, but it is also wise to take to time to start off on a sound footing, uniting all who can be united. The main things it wants to bring into being at all levels—local, regional, national or in sectors—are common projects.
Some of these already exist, such as the Left Labor Project in New York City, a good example of what we are advocating here. It brought together organizers from CCDS, CPUSA, DSA, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and other independent left trade unionists and activists. Over a few years work, it was able to build a far wider alliance bringing together the city’s labor organizations and allied social movements to bring out tens of thousands on May Day.

We know that many of us are already involved in a wide variety of projects. But is there any compelling reason we have to do this separately, behaving like a wheelbarrow full of frogs trying to win a common goal? A good case in point is Chuy Garcia’s mayoral campaign in Chicago. Wouldn’t this campaign be better served if we worked together in a planned way to draw in and skillfully deploy even more forces? Or take the labor-community alliance projects building solidarity for labor strikes or the campaign for an increase in the minimum wage? We can all make a long list here, but the core idea should be apparent, at least for starters, and we invite your responses and queries.

1. We need something new The left is not likely to find critical mass through mergers of existing groups, although any such events would be positive. But a new formation to which all would be equally cooperative in a larger project -- call it a Left Front or Left Alliance -- would have a greater impact. Groups participating in it could retain whatever degree of autonomy they desire, such as keeping their own newspapers, national committees, local clubs meeting separately, and so on. Every group involved can exercise its own independence and initiative, to the degree it finds necessary. But all would be striving in common to help the overall project succeed. While the US situation is not strictly comparable, the Front de Gauche in France, Die Linke in Germany, PODEMOS in Spain and Syriza in Greece serve as examples.

2. We need a ‘project based’ common front. At the grassroots level, it would be comprised of joint projects—electoral, union organizing, campaigns against the far right, for a living wage or reducing student debt, for opposing war, racism, sexism and police violence, and many others. The existing left groups in a factory, a neighborhood, a city or a campus, would be encouraged to advance the joint projects.

3. We need a ‘critical mass’ at the core that is both young, working class and diverse. While people from all demographics are welcome, the initial core has to be largely drawn from the Millennials, those born after 1980 or so. And the core also has to be a rainbow of nationalities with gender equity, and well-connected to union and working class insurgencies. If the initial core at the beginning is too ‘white’ or too ‘1968ers’, it will not be a pole with the best attractive power for a growing new generation of socialist and radical minded activists.

4. We need a common aspiration for socialism. That’s what makes us a ‘Left Front or Left Alliance’ rather than a broader popular front or people’s coalition. We are strongly supportive of these wider coalitions and building the left is not done in isolation from them. But we also see the wisdom in the concept: the stronger the core, the broader the front. Moreover we do not require a unified definition on what socialism is; only that a larger socialist pole makes for an even wider, deeper and more sustainable common front of struggle.

5. We do not need full agreement on strategy. A few key concepts—the centrality of fighting white supremacy, the intersection of race, class and gender, the alliance and merger of the overall workers movement and the movements of the communities of the oppressed—will do. We can also agree on cross-class alliances focused on critical targets: new wars, the far right and the austerity schemes imposed by finance capital. Additional elements, perspectives, nuances and ‘shades of difference’ can be debated, discussed and adjusted in the context of ongoing struggle.

6. We need a flexible but limited approach to elections. We can affirm that supporting our own or other candidates is a matter of tactics to be debated case-by-case, and not a matter of ‘principle’ that would exclude ever voting for any particular Democrat, Green or Socialist. We see the importance for social movements to have an electoral arm that presses and fights for their agenda within government bodies.

7. We need to be well embedded in grassroots organizations. Especially important are the organizations of the working class and in the communities of the oppressed—unions and worker centers, civil rights and women’s rights, youth and students, peace and justice, churches and communities of faith, cooperatives and other groups tied to the solidarity economy, and other community-based NGOs and nonprofits.

8. We need to be internationalists. But we do not have to require support for any particular countries or bloc of countries and national liberation movements, past or present. But we do oppose the wars of aggression, occupations and other illicit interventions of ‘our own’ ruling class, along with the hegemonism, ‘superpower mentality’ and Great Power chauvinism it promotes. That is the best way we can promote world peace and practice solidarity and assistance to forces beyond our borders.

Posted originally on February 3, 2015.

[Carl Davidson and Pat Fry are national co-chairs of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Bill Fletcher Jr. is a member of several socialist organizations and author of ‘They're Bankrupting Us! And 20 Other Myths about Unions.’ Comments can be sent to carld717@gmail.com ]

Turf War

Former mayor and assembly-speaker Antonio Villaraigosa will likely announce his candidacy for U.S. Senate this coming week. If Tony runs, he'll be taking on the Democratic front runner, California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris is coffee-colored and from the Bay Area and Villaraigosa is an Elay homeboy with an Hispanic name, so the media have made the sensible decision to present the competition in a way that's simple and easy-to-understand: black against Latino, SanFran vs SoCal. The alternative would be to waste endless column inches and seconds of airtime evaluating the candidates' records and explaining their policy differences, and no one wants that. The only snag in the epic ethnic showdown scenario is that the candidates don't fit the required templates -- Harris is the offspring of an Indian physician mother and Jamaican economist father and Villaraigosa was still struggling with español as recently as his run for mayor -- and may balk at being cast as ethnic stereotypes.

Oh, well. It's not their choice to make.

Civilization does not depend on the automobile

Probably our closest cohort among nations, Germany has a lot to teach us: "Compared to Americans, Germans own fewer cars, drive them shorter distances and less frequently, and walk and cycle and ride transit more often. They have slimmer waistlines to show for their active transport habits and suffer fewer traffic deaths whether in a car or not. They spend less household income on getting around even as they pay much more in driving costs. They use less energy per person on ground transport, resulting in lower carbon emissions."
(Source: The Atlantic)
The rest of the story:
All the Ways Germany Is Less Car-Reliant Than the U.S., in 1 Chart: There are rather a lot of ways, as it turns out. (The Atlantic/CityLab)

Alternative and shared-use bridges

While we await the opportunity to cap the I-10 and reunite Santa Monica's neighborhoods, we can do a lot for the city's walking and biking populations by building three or four pedestrian/bike bridges. The I-10 overpasses at 4th St. and at Lincoln Blvd., also, are in especially desperate need of makeovers to make them safer and more attractive to walkers and cyclists.

(Credit: CityLab.com)
The Bright Future of the Pedestrian Bridge: Top engineer Ted Zoli says the era of shared-use structures has arrived.
Can a Beehive-Inspired Overpass Unite a City?: New Britain, Connecticut, is split by a highway overpass—which is also the city's main street. Will a high-design walkway bridge deep divisions?

Little Libraries: Threat or Menace?

Nanny-state nags and freelance busybodies (of the sort who drove the kid-pleasing petting zoo from the Main Street Farmers' Market in Santa Monica) are now targeting Little Libraries as the latest peril to public order and property values: "Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities
have recently cracked down on one of the country's biggest problems: small-community libraries where residents can share books. Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana, have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they're in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections."

The rest of the story: The Danger of Being Neighborly Without a Permit: All over America, people have put small "give one, take one" book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down. (CityLab)

Planning tool

Santa Monica has introduced an online interactive tool to evaluate various options for the future of the Civic Auditorium. Anyone interested in the costs and benefits of public investment in amenities such as parks, theaters, restaurants, retail spaces, offices, hotels, parking, etc., can get a better understanding through playing with the options. Plus, it's possible that you will help influence the outcome of the Civic Auditorium development process. The tool will be available through February 14th.

Go to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium website.

Resource: Left Labor Project

"Left Labor Project works to build a mass movement of working people who share the goals of progressive movements across the country and the world. We believe that the real basis for a democratic future is the working class, in its diversity – all colors, ages, creeds, whatever sexual orientation or legal status, employed and unemployed. Within that shared view, we work through our differences, learn from one another, and look for flexible and effective strategies and tactics to change the city and the world for the better." Visit Left Labor Project.

Scutage: $738.8 billion

Buried in the Magna Carta is the forgotten word scutage, a feudal tax to pay for war. With America in decline because more than half its taxes are thrown away on military expenditures, scutage should be revived. It has the perfect onomatopoeic ring to it.

Washington is trying to drive down oil prices by flooding the market with crude but risks collateral damage to its own shale industry

The Long War: "U.S. powerbrokers have put the country at risk of another financial crisis to intensify their economic war on Moscow and to move ahead with their plan to 'pivot to Asia'....Washington has persuaded the Saudis to flood the market with oil to push down prices, decimate Russia’s economy, and reduce Moscow’s resistance to further NATO encirclement and the spreading of US military bases across Central Asia. The US-Saudi scheme has slashed oil prices by nearly a half since they hit their peak in June. The sharp decline in prices has burst the bubble in high-yield debt which has increased the turbulence in the credit markets while pushing global equities into a tailspin. Even so, the roiled markets and spreading contagion have not deterred Washington from pursuing its reckless plan, a plan which uses Riyadh’s stooge-regime to prosecute Washington’s global resource war."

The rest of the story:
The Oil Coup: US-Saudi Subterfuge Send Stocks and Credit Reeling by Mike Whitney (CounterPunch)
Stakes are high as US plays the oil card against Iran and Russia by Larry Elliott (Guardian)

Won't be fooled again?

According to Gallup, 60% of Americans want a third party candidate for 2016. Even so, in the fall of 2016, we will be warned once again (by The Nation, Daily Kos and their ilk) that -- once again -- we must must must vote for the Lesser-of-Two-Evils -- a Wall Street-militarist-security state Democrat -- or face Catastrophe -- a Wall Street-militarist-security state Republican.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result isn't really the definition of insanity. But it is the definition of stupidity.

See, In U.S., Perceived Need for Third Party Reaches New High: Twenty-six percent believe Democratic and Republican parties do adequate job (Gallup).

The Duopoly

A provision "Congress snuck into the spending the bill will be more galling to some, because it amounts to a pay raise for the two unpopular political parties: It raises the $32,400 maximum that donors could give the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee to a whopping $324,000 per year, gutting what’s left of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law. The Washington Post says this was inserted on page 1,599 of a 1,603-page bill."

The rest of the story: Sneak Attack? Congress Slips Controversial Measures Into Spending Bill (PopularResistance)

The United States of America is at moral crossroads

The CIA should be shut down.

The spy work, if there was any, can be carried on gamely by the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Air Force Intelligence, the FBI's National Security Branch, the Army Intelligence and Security Command, the Department of Energy's Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Coast Guard Intelligence, the Treasury's Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (sic), the National Reconnaissance Office, the Office of Naval Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to say nothing of all the state and local police spooks.

Military operations should have been handled by the Department of Defense all along.

But it will be a further crime if all that happens now is that a few relatively-low level functionaries, however blood-soaked their uniforms, are scape-goated, Abu Graib-style. This fish was rotting from the head. The only way that these and other crimes can be prevented from happening in the future is to hold the perpetrators accountable. If this were some failing garrison in the Third World, instead of the failing Leader of the World, the State Department would be piously scolding them to clean-house. The United States needs to be live up to its ideals. If we can't clean our house, if we can't prosecute the criminals ourselves, as domestic and international law requires, then we should turn Bush, Cheney, and their co-conspirators over to the International Criminal Court and let the world community help us out.

CIA tortured, misled, U.S. report finds, drawing calls for action by Mark Hosenball (Reuters)

Return of the CIA's 'Rogue Elephants': The Senate's report on torture shows U.S. intelligence agencies need to be reined in again by Peter Fenn (US News)

There Is Something Worse Than Torture in the Senate Torture Report: It's not the torture—it's the CIA lying by David Corn (Mother Jones)

U.S. under fire over Senate's report on CIA torture by Bill Trott (Reuters UK)

Every important movement faces significant push-back

That doesn’t mean it won’t succeed.

One of the hardest things for activists to hold in mind is that they are not alone. Most people, however well-intentioned, will wait for what Martin Luther King called a "more convenient season" to move to action. So the activist must not only organize but represent.
'It’s worth remembering that the civil rights protesters of the 1950s and ’60s faced as much derision then as the Ferguson and New York protesters do today … probably more. In 1964, the American National Election Studies, as part of its biennial survey, began asking Americans whether they thought civil rights leaders “are trying to push too fast, are going too slowly, or are … moving about the right speed.” The responses are most telling. Among whites, 84 percent of Southerners, and 64 percent of non-Southerners, said that civil rights leaders were pushing too fast."
The rest of the story: For most, there's never a right time to protest by Seth Masket (Pacific-Standard)

Rectal feeding and rehydration...

Something new to think about.

Oliver Laughland takes a look at some of the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ used by the agency: How the CIA tortured its detainees: Waterboarding, confinement, sleep deprivation (The Guardian).

The Future of Wi-Fi Could Run Through Old TV Infrastructure

Free, high-capacity Internet access using old television frequencies

"Two academics are recommending that governments develop free, public Wi-Fi networks using obsolete TV frequencies. The researchers believe this could potentially lead to 'Super Wi-Fi' systems popping up across the globe.

"Broadcasting TV via old-school frequencies received through antennas has almost entirely given way to digital services, leaving blank channels or 'white spaces' -- TV frequencies that are no longer in use. In a new study, researchers suggest transforming these abandoned frequencies into a 'wireless commons.'

"Distributing public Wi-Fi through underused TV infrastructure, they say, has many potential benefits: Wi-Fi traveling through antenna and radio frequencies can extend beyond six miles, according to a recent report. Moreover, it may have the capacity to penetrate through walls, buildings, vegetation, and other obstacles that often disrupt current Wi-Fi infrastructure. This range, coupled with public access, could result in 'unprecedented low-cost,' the new study suggests, because 3G and household wireless services would likely be less in demand.

"'Individuals, institutions, and companies would be far less dependent on expensive mobile communications networks in conducting their digital communication,' says Arnd Weber of Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and a co-author of the new report."

The rest of the story: http://www.citylab.com/tech/2014/11/the-future-of-wi-fi-could-run-through-old-tv-infrastructure/383231/

Santa Monica: Roll back executive pay

The hiring of a replacement for exiting city manager Rod Gould provides Santa Monica with the chance to begin -- at the top -- the difficult but necessary task of reducing the outrageous salaries paid at upper levels of city staff.  

Gould's annual haul -- at least $352,889 -- beggars the imagination. For comparison, the compensation paid the mayor of the City of New York -- you know, with its $70 billion budget and its 325,000 employees -- is $225,000, and the People get to do the hiring! In 2012, Governor Jerry Brown took home $165,288  -- it shouldn't require a sacrifice to go from running the City of Santa Monica to governing the State of
California. Even limiting comparison to other charter cities, Santa Monica's salary schedule is out of whack: the city manager in Culver City, for example, tops out at $256,139.00 and Newport Beach's at $282,318.00. The National League of Cities latest figures (for 2009 -- five years ago, so inflation may have pushed some numbers higher; but, also, not reflecting the implosion and stagnation of the economy since) show the national average remuneration for chief administration officer/city manager as $106,408 and, by way of comparison, for chief law enforcement official as $82,015, in stark contrast to pay in Santa Monica for jobs like city attorney -- $294,878 -- and assistant city attorney -- $295,243, or assistant city manager -- $283,312 (not to mention a police sergeant racking up $293,264 with overtime). While the League of Cities averages include municipalities in areas of the country that have lower costs of living than west Los Angeles, they also include towns that are much bigger, much more problem-riddled, and much less pleasant and prestigious to work in. 

Typically, when a city bureaucracy tries to lower its costs of doing business, it begins by cutting services, reducing staff or getting lower-level employees to accept less in pay and benefits. With the change of administration, Santa Monica has a unique opportunity: reducing the burden of staffing at the executive level is -- economically, politically, morally -- the right thing to do.

2016: Winning

The Daily News reports that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, moving ahead with his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination -- "It's Jeb's turn!" bumper stickers are already at the printers, is meeting with potential donors and lining up support in the downtown Manhattan financial community. Since Hillary Clinton has also been engaged for many months in regular seances in the offices of Goldman Sachs, it's already clear who is not going to lose the 2016 election: Wall Street.


The New York Times says that "people familiar with the president’s thinking say that in 2015 he might use Keystone as a bargaining chip: He would offer Republicans approval of it in exchange for approval of one of his policies."

No learning curve. None. Zero. Zip. 

Oh, the humanity

"... all the folks agree that this is terrible, this is one of the worst catastrophes in the world. It's–it's–it's the flames, oh, four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it ... it's a terrific crash, ladies and
gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's flames now ... and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring-mast. Oh, the humanity and all the passengers screaming around here. I told you, I can't even talk to people whose friends are on there. Ah! It's–it's–it's–it's ... o–ohhh! I–I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest, it's just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk, and the screaming. Lady, I–I'm sorry. Honest: I–I can hardly breathe. I–I'm going to step inside where I cannot see it. Charlie, that's terrible. Ah, ah—I can't. I, listen, folks, I–I'm gonna have to stop for a minute because I've lost my voice. This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed."

Sen. Sanders and the Democrats

Centrist Democrats would like nothing better than to have independent socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.

But the effect of drafting the Vermont senator into the Democratic competition would be to neutralize him.

If he runs, Sen. Sanders will be forced to pledge allegiance to the party's eventual nominee and we will enter the fall of 2016 with the strongest voice on the left either silenced or looking like a hypocrite by shilling for Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo or some other servant of the corporate elite.

The way to maximize Sander's influence is to give all-out support for a run as an independent so that in the fall of 2016 in the debates and in the media he can continue to educate the public on alternatives to the status quo and to reveal that the emperor's surrogates have no clothes.

Bernie Sanders will never be the Democratic nominee.

But he can play an important and honorable role in building support for progressive policies in state and local elections, in congressional contests, and for a serious try for the White House from the left in the future by someone else. All a Democratic primary challenge by Sen. Sanders will achieve this round is to help the presidential Democrats maintain the illusion that they are an instrument of change.

Economic Populism at Heart of Emerging Debate Among Democrats

Published on Friday, July 11, 2014 by

[Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), center, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, make statements introducing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) seated at left, to the committee during his confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, replacing Clinton, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)]

by Robert Borosage

Over at The Washington Post, the usually sensible Greg Sargent endorses the notion that divisions among Democrats are “mostly trumped up.” The tension between the Wall Street wing of the party and the Warren (as in Elizabeth) wing is an overblown fiction of a press corps desperate for some action.

It’s true that the prior divisions on social issues have dissipated, as liberals have swept the field. Obama’s halting attempts to wean the US from its foreign wars have garnered widespread support. And on economics, Sargent argues that Democrats “largely agree on the menu of policy responses to the economic problems faced by poor, working and middle class Americans — a higher minimum wage, universal pre-K, higher taxes on the wealthy to fund a stronger safety net, job creation and job training — whatever the broader rhetorical umbrella is being used.” Even Hillary says she agrees with Thomas Piketty that extreme inequality is a “threat” to our democracy.

There are differences on how aggressively to go after the big banks or whether to expand Social Security, Sargent admits, and a debate underway about “whether to push the Democratic Party in a more populist direction,” which he declines to define. But generally, he argues, there’s broad agreement that Hillary or any Democratic candidate will run on.

All of this is true except the conclusion. There is a broad agreement on what might be called a “populist lite” agenda — one that has been put forth repeatedly by Obama and frustrated by Republican obstruction. And the reforms — from the minimum wage to universal pre-K — are important and will make a difference.

But it strikes me as bizarre to suggest that there is no serious debate among Democrats when the National Education Association, the largest teachers union in the country and a key power in Democratic circles, has just called for the resignation of Obama’s education secretary. Democratic House and Senate leaders refuse to allow even a vote on fast-track trade authority sought by the president, and a majority of the Democratic caucus lines up against Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Progressives in both houses demand bold action on jobs, on taxing and investing that the president resists. Democrats revolt against the White House desire to trim Social Security benefits.

In fact, there is a fundamental debate brewing in the party, grounded on very different perspectives that lead in significantly different directions.

On one side are the passive voice populists, which include both Clintons and Obama. They argue that our Gilded Age inequality is the product of technology and globalization, as if these were autonomous forces like the weather. The effects — a declining middle class, stagnant wages, spreading misery — can be ameliorated by sensible policies, like the agenda Sargent ticks off. Most of all, Americans need to make certain the next generation gets better education and training so they can better compete in the global marketplace. Universal preschool is a first step to that. But the largest thrust — driven by the party’s deep pocket donors — is an assault on teacher’s unions and public schools, investment in charters, public and private, and a focus on high-stakes testing to measure teacher and school performance.

Undergirding this is an acceptance that we can’t really afford to do even the minimum in public education or child poverty, so the focus has to be on cheaper ways to make progress. This assumption also fuels the interest in cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits, experimenting with public-private partnerships to raise funds, and so on. All this assumes that we’re close to the limits on taxes, that corporate tax reform should be “revenue neutral,” (that is, companies should not contribute one dime more to our investment or budget needs), and that taxes on the wealthy can’t produce much additional revenue.

The activist-voice populists disagree fundamentally with both the analysis and the prescription. They argue that extreme inequality results from rules that were rigged to benefit the few and not the many. That leads to the demand for structural reforms to change the rules: fair and balanced trade and tax policies to replace those created by and for the multinationals; breaking up big banks and curbing Wall Street’s casino as opposed to accepting banks that are too big to fail and too big to save; progressive tax reforms to create revenue for the public investments that we need in everything from education to infrastructure to an expanded safety net; empowering workers and curbing CEO license to ensure workers share in the profits they help to produce; expanding Social Security and public pensions while moving further towards true universal, affordable health care.

These differences are only now emerging, as the failure of the recovery forces a bigger debate about our economy. The Wall Street wing presses forward with corporate trade deals that are opposed by a growing majority of voters. The bankers bear no accountability for their pervasive frauds and lawlessness, while most Americans are looking for perp walks. Well-heeled lobbies block any sensible tax reform, while polls show Americans strongly want the rich and the corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. Obama has already felt the revolt of the Democratic base against his plans to pare Social Security benefits. Clinton and Obama have been essentially AWOL in the war on labor and collective bargaining, essential elements of any strategy to rebuild the middle class.

Obviously, many of these questions pit the wealthy Wall Street and Silicon Valley donor class against the vast bulk of Democratic voters who are struggling in this economy. It’s not surprising that smart politicians have moved to adopt the populist lite agenda to appeal to the latter without offending the former.

But the divisions are likely to grow because most Americans are struggling in this economy. (Most still think it is in recession.) And with the deck still stacked against most Americans, little is likely to change without a new deal (to borrow a phrase).

And in addition to this is Hillary’s apparent intent to run to the right of Obama on foreign policy — to champion more interventionist and hawkish views at a time when Americans want to rebuild at home. If she pursues this course, it will likely spark a new debate around foreign policy that Obama’s relative caution largely avoided.

Democrats have always been a big-tent party. The divisions between Southern segregationists and Northern liberals were apparent. The battles over civil rights, women’s rights, choice, wars and gays and guns were fierce. Many of these debates now have largely dissipated as liberals have won and the party’s base has evolved. The New Dem scorn for traditional liberals and labor drove big primary fights.

But the new debates over economic direction and the likely battle over policing the world are just beginning to take shape. And if the economy continues to reward the few and not the many, the divisions won’t need to be trumped up.

[Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.]

Won't Be Fooled Again #257,963

Hey, you! Yeah, you with your "It's Hillary's Turn" bumper sticker. Has Obama taught you nothing? The Neocons -- knowing which side of the bread is buttered -- are lining up for jobs in the next Clinton administration, the one that will make Obama's look like the New Deal. It's not Hillary's turn. The One Percenters don't get another turn. It's the turn of the American people.

See, Hillary Clinton Flaunts Her Surveillance State Baggage (Robert Scheer -- TruthDig).

Damaged Collateral

U.S. banks are getting out of the business of international remittances -- cash transfers -- because law enforcement requirements to prevent and monitor terror funding and drug money laundering are becoming too irksome. Guess who will be hurt by this. Drug smugglers? Nope. Terrorists? Uhn-unh. Mexicans and to a lesser extent Central Americans? Yep. Because cash transfers to Latin America make up by far the largest share of remittances. And ordinary people are far less apt to have the resources to negotiate around petty bureaucratic obstructions.

Swamp in the Desert

As the course of events in the Middle East twists and turns, it's going to be fun to listen to the White House and the State Department try to explain how the Assad regime in Syria, less than a year ago so pestilent we were prepared to bomb it out of existence; Iran, charter member of the Axis of Evil, Assad's primary backer and, until just the other day, "the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism;" Hezbollah, Iran's Lebanese sidekick; and expansionist Russia, in the gunsights of US sanctions over its bullying of Ukraine, became our new best friends, and why our "ally," the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is on the opposite side of nearly every fight we pick.

Burger king

Worth noting: If you're headed out for fast food, keep in mind that In-and-Out Burger, whose fresh ground chuck burgers Consumer Reports lauds as "standouts," pays its workers at least $10.50/hour, well above the minimum wage and the White House's proposed boost to $9/hour.

Living big at $7.25 an hour

The Times spent a few column inches yesterday mulling over the mystery of why the poverty rate hasn't budged in 30 years. Gosh. I don't know. I'm sure it can't have anything to do with the systematic decimation of organized labor and the shipping of American jobs to China and Mexico. Can't see how starving the free universal education system could have anything to do with it. It can't be because of all that expenditure of public wealth on the liberal project of empire-building instead of on the building roads and bridges and harbors and airports and hospitals and schools and housing here at home. Can't be that. You can't blame the war on drugs, or the creation of a vast army of former inmates without jobs, or the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars on incarceration instead of education, on building prisons instead of schools. I'm sure it has nothing to do with Bill Clinton's welfare reforms. Surely it wasn't because the minimum wage wasn't linked to inflation or to worker productivity so that as the decades rolled by low end jobs were worth less and less. Couldn't be that. Certainly it had nothing to do with the mortgage crisis. Or allowing the banks to bleed us dry. Or slashing services for the poor and middle class so that taxes for the very wealthiest could be slashed, too. I can't think what the reason might be. Can you?

“The most valuable sense of humor is the kind that enables a person to see instantly what it isn't safe to laugh at.” -- Donald Rumsfeld

Many of you frequent flyers will recall that for a time TSA had signs and loudspeakers prohibiting humor attacks at security checkpoints. “You are reminded that any inappropriate remarks or jokes concerning security may result in your arrest,” warned one loudspeaker message in Dallas last fall. It's ironic that a sign at Burbank's Bob Hope Airport should say, "No jokes."

This came to mind because of the announcement this week by the U.S. Secret Service that it has issued an RFP for software that can detect sarcasm. Since we are decades from producing a computer with a sense of humor, it's likely the service will have to make do with a program that sorts through a giant database of pre-screened tweets and emails looking for tells: wannabe terrorists would do well to get in the habit now of putting smiley faces and LOLs in all their social media posts.

The fact that no one can be absolutely certain the Secret Service itself isn't kidding is evidence of how difficult a task deciphering snide remarks will be. The safest thing is probably to assume that, like TSA, the service is deficient in the skill set needed to detect and catalog gradations of wit, and to try to help them out with some practical alternatives. I started to suggest that, instead of wasting resources developing software that will never be operational, the service ask working comics to apply their expertise to the problem, until I remembered that the functionaries interviewing prospective government humor analysts would be the same ones who can't see the whimsy in an airport sign prohibiting jokes; they'd just end up with a government facility full of Dennis Millers.

More effective might be a change in staffing practices: the service should immediately stop hiring seminary dropouts and returning Mormon missionaries and limit their recruiting to inner city Jews, blacks, Irish and Italians.

This is a serious problem needing serious attention. We certainly don't want anyone arrested at a fund-raising dinner or a Fourth of July picnic for asking the agent groping him, "Do you want me to do you now?," let alone for bringing up his fling with Hitler's mother.

“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” -- William James

Watch the feet not the mouth

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It's not just Obama.

It's going to be important in 2014 -- in terms of manpower; donations; Green, Peace & Freedom and independent challenges; etc. -- to remember who is responsible for what.

Apparently, House Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi influenced Democratic members of whom we can usually expect better, such as Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX), Luis Gutierrez (IL), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Marcy Kaptur (OH), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Steve Israel (NY), Ami Bera (CA), Joaquin Castro (TX), Joe Kennedy (MA), Annie Kuster (NH), Nita Lowey (NY) and Louise Slaughter (NY), to vote to protect NSA's power. If only 12 of them had opposed the program, some spying would have been stopped.

That the vote was close is good news, however: it offers hope that opponents will be encouraged to keep fighting.

How Nancy Pelosi Saved the NSA Surveillance Program: "The obituary of Rep. Justin Amash's amendment to claw back the sweeping powers of the National Security Agency has largely been written as a victory for the White House and NSA chief Keith Alexander, who lobbied the Hill aggressively in the days and hours ahead of Wednesday's shockingly close vote. But Hill sources say most of the credit for the amendment's defeat goes to someone else: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. It's an odd turn, considering that Pelosi has been, on many occasions, a vocal surveillance critic...."

The rest of the story: http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/07/25/how_nancy_pelosi_saved_the_nsa_surveillance_program

More on possible congressional resistance to domestic spying: Six Ways Congress May Reform NSA Snooping
1) Raise the standard for what records are considered “relevant.”
2) Require NSA analysts to obtain court approval before searching metadata.
3) Declassify Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions.
4) Change the way Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges are appointed.
5) Appoint a public advocate to argue before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
6) End phone metadata collection on constitutional grounds.

Is there anyone in Congress or the White House, elected official or staff member, who would work for $9 an hour?

For someone so ept at electoral politics, President Obama has repeatedly shown himself to be artless when it comes to the political side of governance. On issue after issue, he has entered policy negotiations with low-ball proposals that set-up compromises that, in real terms, hand victory to his opponents.

Take the $9 minimum wage proposal. A person making $9 an hour will earn, before deductions, $360 a week. That's working a full 40-hour week, but many retail and service jobs offer much shorter hours. Even a worker lucky enough to land two full-time jobs -- 80 hours a week -- would take home less than $720 a week after deductions. Clearly, a minimum wage of $9 is not sufficient if the goal is to assure that, as the president said Tuesday in his address to Congress, no one with a full time job should have to live in poverty.

The problem with Obama's maladroit handling of negotiations with the conservatives is that he establishes benchmarks that, while they may achieve "compromise," not only don't fix the problem being addressed but make it less likely that a better result can be achieved in the future (think of health care reform). If a deal at all cost is your goal, $9 may make some sense; as policy, it's ridiculous.

Labor and liberals should have nothing to do with it.

Return of Medicare For All

Single-payer national health insurance is a system in which a single public or quasi-public agency organizes health financing, but delivery of care remains largely private.

Although Obamacare is an improvement over what existed before, it was clear from the beginning of the health care debate that the compromised plan would deliver neither truly universal nor truly affordable access to health care. The greatest fear of liberals who opposed it was that, by embedding the insurance industry in the health care infrastructure, it would prevent either of these goals from ever being achieved. As the deficiencies of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have become more recognized, however, a new opportunity has opened up for Congress to do what should have been done in the first place: establish a single-payer system.

The insurance industry will oppose single-payer with scalpels and skull saws, of course, but the fight will be somewhat fairer because the industry's reputation is even lower than that of Congress. Still, with little or no help to be expected from the White House, it promises to be a hell of a battle, one that will be won only if ordinary citizens are mobilized. You can help right
from the start by asking your representative today to become an original cosponsor of H.R. 676: "The Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act" (Capitol switchboard: 866-220-0044).

Rep. John Conyers will reintroduce national, single-payer healthcare legislation sometime this week. Before he introduces the bill, Conyers would like to have as many original cosponsors as possible. Please call your rep today and let them know you want them to cosponsor H.R. 676. Help them out by mentioning that in order to become an original cosponsor of H.R. 676 your member will need to contact Michael Darner from Rep. Conyers' office at michael.darner@mail.house.gov or 202-225-5126.

Already on board (thank them if you're in their district): Nadler, Schakowsky, Pingree, Grijalva, Ellison, Hank Johnson, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Takano, Holmes-Norton, Lofgren, Rangel, Moore, Chu, Al Green, Farr, McGovern, Welch, Clarke, Lee, Nolan, Pocan, Doyle, Engel, Gutierrez, Frederica Wilson, Cohen, Edwards, McDermott, Clay, Huffman, Roybal-Allard, Cummings, Yarmuth, George Miller, Honda, Christensen, Rush.

If you live on the liberal west side of Los Angeles, note the following absences from this list: Waxman, Hahn, Sherman and Bass (Capitol switchboard: 866-220-0044).

Resources: PNHP.org: Physicians for a National Health Program is a non-profit research and education organization of 18,000 physicians, medical students and health professionals who support single-payer national health insurance
Healthcare-Now!: Organizing for a National Single-Payer Healthcare System
PublicCitizen: the Health Research Group of one of the country's most effective citizen's organizations

Law-Abiding Citizens Have Nothing to Fear from Reasonable Gun Control Regulations

A system of registration and insurance would protect everyone from effects of gun violence.

A risk of the current gun control squabble is that people with a history of mental illness will be scapegoated ("Guns don't kill people. People with mental illness kill people."). But as is demonstrated by comparing the nearly simultaneous knife attack on school children in China with Connecticut's tragedy, guns do kill people; other weapons less so.

Alas, a prohibition of assault weapons and bullets will probably work as well as any prohibition; in this case, as gun advocates warn, it is likely to mean that the only persons in possession of assault weapons will be criminals (and the police, but that's an argument for another day). How much better -- instead of creating special classes of citizens or another highly profitable traffic in contraband -- to make firearms themselves the target of reform. The licensing of automobiles provides a model (although in contrast gun control, since we're starting virtually from scratch, offers an opportunity to create a national system instead of relying on a hodgepodge of state regulations):

1) People who wish to shoot would be required to take a course in firearm care, handling and safety (similar to Drivers' Ed). They would need to show proof that they had fulfilled course requirements and to pass a test.
2) People with no record of violent crime who wish to own a gun, like those who seek to own a car, would be required to register the weapon and show proof that the weapon is insured: if the gun causes injury in the commission of a crime or through accident or negligence, the victims will be compensated, even if through theft or loss the registered owner no longer possesses or controls the weapon.
3) A national database would track firearms. If you buy a car, truck or motorcycle, that vehicle's record of involvement in accidents, recalls, etc., is easily available to you by a simple check of the VIN. Gun manufacturers would enter the serial numbers of new guns into the database and that number would be reported each time the weapon changed hands as it moved through distribution channels to owners. Gun manufacturers and distributors would carry insurance on weapons under their nominal control. Except for a small additional cost in fees and insurance spread across the industry and the entire 40% of the population that is armed, this system would be no more onerous than auto registration and insurance (the reason to insure weapons instead of users is to guarantee that no matter what the particular situation a victim of gun violence will be compensated). A portion of registration fees or insurance charges would need to be set aside for persons injured by non-registered firearms.

A system of this sort would go a considerable way toward making guns safer -- by separating the criminal population more clearly from the mass of lawful guns owners; by lessening the likelihood of accidents; and by reducing the impact of gun misuse on victims by the application of personal injury liability insurance to firearms -- without creating new populations of second-class citizens (for example, by using such squishy notions as a "history" of "mental illness").

Download: Reframing the debate

[This is from the website of the Center for Economic and Policy Research]

The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive

By Dean Baker (2011)

Progressives need a fundamentally new approach to politics. They have been losing not just because conservatives have so much more money and power, but also because they have accepted the conservatives’ framing of political debates. They have accepted a framing where conservatives want market outcomes whereas liberals want the government to intervene to bring about outcomes that they consider fair.

This is not true. Conservatives rely on the government all the time, most importantly in structuring the market in ways that ensure that income flows upwards. The framing that conservatives like the market while liberals like the government puts liberals in the position of seeming to want to tax the winners to help the losers.

This "loser liberalism" is bad policy and horrible politics. Progressives would be better off fighting battles over the structure of markets so that they don't redistribute income upward. This book describes some of the key areas where progressives can focus their efforts in restructuring market so that more income flows to the bulk of the working population rather than just a small elite.

By releasing The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive under a Creative Commons license and as a free download, Baker walks the walk of one of his key arguments -- that copyrights are a form of government intervention in markets that leads to enormous inefficiency, in addition to redistributing income upward. (Hard copies are available for purchase, at cost.)  Distributing the book for free not only enables it to reach a wider audience, but Baker hopes to drive home one of the book's main points via his own example. While the e-book is free, donations to the Center for Economic and Policy Research are welcomed.

Read the book (other formats coming soon)
PDF | Kindle (.AZW) | NOOK (.EPUB) | .MOBI

Head count

Democrats got a boost of one in the Senate today.

The newly elected independent from the State of Maine, Angus King, said he will join the Democratic caucus: "Affiliating with the majority makes sense." That gives Democrats 55 seats in the upper house, with 45 seats for the Republicans. 

Time was when that would have been perceived as a majority. 

We'll see.

"Takin' Care Of Business":

What it means depends a whole lot on who says it.

A new organization is needed that will do two things:

1. provide training to ordinary citizens on the ins-and-outs of running for and serving in public office (this would not only identify potential candidates but help to train staff members for campaigns and officeholders); * and,
2. more crucially, grant subsidies to working people so that they can afford to seek office (an income cutoff of $250K would make 98% of the population eligible for some degree of help, depending on circumstances).

It is nearly impossible for a salaried person -- or a person bearing the burden of responsibilities (for children or elderly parents, for example) -- to expend without assistance the time and resources demanded by public service. The result is that we have a system of governance in which most elected officials are remote by reason of economic advantage from the people they purport to represent.

Take Congress. (Please.)

According to Capital Hill's Roll Call, Members of Congress had a collective net worth of more than $2 billion in 2010, quite a different sum than you could put together from 535 Americans chosen at random.

Not to pick on Democrats, but with a median net value of $878,500 in 2010 the self-described defenders of the middle class were worth more than nine times the typical American household (most of these figures are drawn from reporting on CNN). Twenty-one congressional Democrats have average assets of more than $10 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (Barack Obama's average net worth of $7.3 million is nothing to sneeze at either, especially when compared to the median household net worth in America, which in 2009 was $96,000).

Republicans are a little richer, but not by much. Their median net is $957,500 on average and 35 of them have assets totaling more than $10 million. **

That's net worth: congresspersons' $174,000 salary also blows away the median household income of $49,445 for 2010 -- for most people, being elected to Congress would result in a healthy jump in income. And members' net worth has been on the rise since 2004, unlike ordinary Americans, who have seen their wealth decline (the center's figures don't even include a primary home when calculating net worth for politicians, but the Census, in calculating net worth for average Americans, includes all real estate assets, meaning the divide between the people and their representatives is even more pronounced than it appears).

Dishearteningly though not surprisingly, less than 2% of the Congress comes from the working class, a figure that's stayed constant for the last century.

There's no reason not to think that similar disparities exist at every level of government.

This is not to say that it might not be easier for a wealthy person to be an effective advocate for the interests of poor, working and middle class Americans than for a camel, say, to pass through the eye of a needle. But it's pretty clear that in the aggregate, elected officials inhabit a rarified economic environment that at the least makes it more difficult to keep the struggles of ordinary folks in perspective. It seems obvious that politicians from the working and middle classes will be more likely to concentrate on bread-and-butter domestic economic issues than will people whose principal domestic issue is whether the help all have their green cards.

It will take more than training and funding average Americans to make representative government more democratic. We need publicly financed elections, controls on media access, weekend voting, and so on. In the meantime, the suggestion I made many years ago that that the only political reform we really need is to limit the income of every elected official to the level of the average person he or she represents is still a pretty good one.

* Organizations Right and Left already exist that offer assistance and training to people who have decided to run for office. But what's needed is a national network of training centers, possibly operated through existing organizations like churches and labor unions, that broadens its appeal to include people who are just beginning to entertain the idea of service in government.

** You are permitted a moment to savor the irony that the $448 million fortune of the richest rep, Darrell Issa, is built on vehicle anti-theft devices.

Class Unconsciousness

President Obama has gotten a lot of free advice since Nov 6 from progressives who think he should refocus his attentions on their priorities. But why should he? Since, when it appeared he needed them, they volunteered their support for his reelection without demanding anything in return, why should he now feel obligated to take their wishes seriously?

When he was first running for president, then Sen. Obama repeated the famous story about a delegation of progressives, led by the great labor organizer A. Philip Randolph of the railroad porters' union, meeting with another newly elected president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The delegation described the things they believed FDR needed to do to help fix the economy and improve the situation of ordinary citizens. As the story is told, FDR listened intently, then replied: 'I agree with everything you have said. Now, make me do it.'

Making Obama "do it" is going to take a lot more than op-ed pieces, open letters and online petitions. To move this administration in a more progressive direction, to overcome its leader's native caution and to beat back the relentless pressure it is under from the corporate class and the military-security state apparatus will require an equal or greater pressure from a national movement demanding economic justice and a restoration of the middle class. Such a movement can only be built if the identification that currently exists between the 99% and their oppressors can be broken. In other words, until Americans become class conscious there will never be a reason for Obama, or any politician, to do anything other than carry on with business as usual.

Building class consciousness won't happen -- can't happen -- by recruiting people to join the Peace and Freedom Party or the Greens (although third party mechanisms will be necessary in the future as the country continues its decline under the Democratic-Republican duopoly, so it's to be hoped that Jill Stein's paltry 396,684 tally is enough to keep the Green Party on state ballots). But class consciousness can be built by engaging in practical political work in our communities.

There are a number of local issues that are looming (or that are chronic, is more like it) -- repairing the public schools; providing universal access to public institutions of higher learning; keeping hospital emergency rooms and clinics open and accessible; raising local minimum wages to livable levels; restraining public transportation costs and assuring availability; resisting hand-outs to developers; opposing the crushing of local businesses by big-box stores and malls; increasing infrastructure spending; making state and local taxes more progressive; supporting labor actions by janitors, hotel workers, grocery clerks, teachers, factory workers -- that offer opportunities for common-sense, real-world discussions about capitalism and economic and social justice.

Also, reforms that would make our political system more democratic and thus more responsive to the majority -- weekend voting; instant run-offs; proportional representation; public financing of elections -- will only gain traction if they are tested and proven effective on the local level. And that won't happen, either, unless that majority begins to understand whose interests are served by the creaky, calcified, undemocratic political mechanism we use now.

This is not to say that we should give up attempting to affect national issues -- the security state; the war machine; our murderous and counter-productive foreign policy; the immoral drone campaign; climate change; free trade; protecting and expanding Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; the private health care insurance gravy train; control of the government by oligarchs; the kleptocracy -- but these are matters for discussion and op-ed pages; organizing around them will only make sense when people active locally begin to connect the dots between community concerns and macro issues, and local organizations join together to demand change on these national issues.

The Democratic Party as a whole has moved steadily to the right for four decades. But many people within the party who share our goals are potential allies in local fights; these engaged people also need and deserve support when they resist the pro-business, anti-labor forces that dominate the party. After the "change" election in 2008, many on the left suffered buyer's remorse when Obama adopted a business-as-usual attitude toward governing (and doubled-down on many of Bush's worst security-state policies); yet four-years later they found themselves with seemingly no choice but to push once again for the lesser-of-two-evils option. If we're going to use our limited personal energies in electoral politics going forward, it should be in local races and political institutions where we can build trust with our communities and demonstrate concrete results. If this country is going to begin down a new road, the journey will start at Neighborhood Watch and the PTA, in community organizations, planning commissions and city councils. Not only is it possible to make concrete changes in our lives at the micro-political level, but local successes will demonstrate the practical worth of our ideas.
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