Political "best practices"

"A combination of the best features of capitalism and socialism has seemed to work well for the United States." -- online comment

That was true through the early 1970s; at least, up until then, we were headed in the right direction. But Richard Nixon was the last president to accept the goals and parameters of the New Deal.

Since then, the country has been in decline, with political power ceded to the corporate sector; infrastructure in decay; social services atrophying, including, appallingly, those provided by public institutions like libraries and schools; income stagnation for poor and working people and an ever smaller middle class; the creation of a prison-industrial matrix and the militarization of law enforcement; a kleptocratic transfer of public wealth into private hands (socialism -- but for the rich); a directionless militarization of foreign policy; the emplacement of a rigid, secret security state.

If there are models for societies that combine the best features of capitalism and socialism they reside in the social democratic areas of Western Europe and Scandinavia, not here.

Further reading:
Wealth and Power: The Bias of the System -- summary by Russ Long (Del Mar College) -- "Problems of U.S. Society result from the distribution of power and the form of the economy."
The Class-Domination Theory of Power by G. William Domhoff, extracted by the author from his book, first published in 1967 and now available in its 7th edition, is presented as a summary of some of the main ideas in that book (WhoRulesAmerica.net).
What is the Prison Industrial Complex? by Rachel Herzing. "'Prison Industrial Complex' is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political 'problems.'" (Political Research Associates).

Extra credit: Double Standard: Social Policy in Europe and the United States by James W. Russell analyzes how and why social policy and welfare states evolved differently in Western Europe and the United States. Exploring common social problems -- from poverty to family support to ethnic and racial conflict -- the book shows the disparate consequences of these different approaches. Frances Fox Piven calls it "a sober, well-informed, and temperate overview of the divergent development of social welfare programs" in the two regions.

What happens if Hillary Clinton stalls or stumbles?

At this point, with the Republicans in chaos and Bernie Sanders' insurgency her only significant Democratic opposition, Hillary Clinton should be dominating the polls. That she's not must be scaring the bejesus out of the Democratic establishment. But what are they going to do about it? It's not like they have a deep bench. They don't want Elizabeth Warren or Sanders, though either of them would be electoral gold in November. Joe Biden is older than dirt and goofier than a Shmoo. Andrew Cuomo gives cynicism a bad name and has not been seasoned by a previous national run. The idea of drafting Al Gore is fantastical, as is the thought that they'd find Jim Webb or Martin O'Malley fit to run (who's Lincoln Chafee, again?). That the party kingmakers should have seen this coming is beside the point. What are they going to about it now?
Here's the breakdown:
Bush leads Clinton 41-36 in Colorado; 42-36 in Iowa; and 42-39 in Virginia.
Walker leads Clinton 47-38 in Colorado; 45-37 in Iowa; and 43-40 in Virginia.
Rubio leads Clinton 46-38 in Colorado; 44-36 in Iowa; and 43-41 in Virginia.
These are all states Obama won both times and they are essential components of a Democratic victory next year. "Trustworthiness," or lack thereof, seems to be what's doing Clinton in, and there's little about her halting, content-less campaign so far to indicate she can overcome people's distrust and dislike. Instead of trying to protect Clinton in the primaries, the Democrats should designate a substitute now or face having her drag the rest of the party's congressional and state candidates down with her when she whiffs in November 2016.

The rest of the story: Hillary Clinton is trailing the 3 strongest Republican candidates in 3 key swing states by Brett LoGiurato (Business Insider).
Reading list: Why Liberals Have to Be Radicals by Robert Kuttner: The reforms needed to restore the country's shared prosperity are to the left of all the candidates, including Sanders.

Addendum: I am asked what I have against former Senator Jim Webb. I don't have any particular issues with Webb that I don't have with any likely Democratic nominee; but I think the party poohbahs would regard him as a minor candidate, too independent, too unseasoned, too Southern, too identified with the military to please the party base, and probably a little too difficult to brand plausibly as a progressive (despite the fact that he voted with the party most of the time that he was in the Senate), something any Democratic Party nominee will have to pretend to be in 2016.

A night to remember on Playboy After Dark

Accompanied by the Count Basie Septet, Annie Ross sings "Twisted," with her lyrics set to a Wardell Gray tune. Then Ross, Dave Lambert & Jon Hendricks draw the great Joe Williams into a definitive version of the classic "Everyday I Have The Blues."

The best of many great recordings by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: The Hottest New Group in Jazz (Columbia/Legacy 1996; remastered).
Also unbeatable: Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings (Verve 1956).

Books: Gaza Unsilenced

During and after Israel's 2014 assault on Gaza, voices within and outside Gaza bore powerful witness to the Israeli attacks -- and to the effects of the crushing siege that continued to strangle Gaza's people long thereafter. Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad are distinguished Palestinian writers and analysts from Gaza. In Gaza Unsilenced, they present reflections, analysis, and images -- their own, and those of other contributors -- that record the pain and resilience of Gaza's Palestinians and the solidarity they have received from the Palestinian diaspora and from others around the world. Contributors include: Ali Abunimah, Ramzi Baroud, Diana Buttu, Jonathan Cook, Belal Dabour, Richard Falk, Chris Hedges, Hatim Kanaaneh, Rashid Khalidi and Eman Mohammed.

Gaza Unsilenced, edited by Refaat Alareer and Laila El-Haddad (Just World Books).

Finding the needle in the GOP haystack.

Republicans are worried that having too many candidates in the race for president will confuse voters. So the party is planning to use the low standing in the polls of some contenders to exclude them from the debates.

But polls, especially at such an early stage in a campaign, are notoriously inaccurate yardsticks. Something more precise is needed.

Since there is no way to gauge hypocrisy, two widely used and accepted methods of assessing suitability are being proposed: all candidates must submit to drug and IQ tests. Only contestants with IQs over 70 and measurable amounts of cannabis in their blood streams will be permitted to compete.

In the event that none of the current aspirants can meet these standards -- not likely in the case of cannabis, the GOP will have time to recruit replacements. Since all the candidates have supported the use of such determinations by employers, they will welcome the application of these standards to their own jobs.

If some do object, perhaps that can be added as the missing hypocrisy test.

Bikeshare should help get people out of their cars.

Bike riding supporters might want to reserve next Tuesday for a visit to Santa Monica's City Hall. The city council will be considering how to proceed with the bikeshare program. As the Santa Monica Daily Press reports, the “bikeshare will allow riders to check out one of the system’s 500 bikes from one of 75 locations in the city and drop it off at another.”

As proposed, the pricing for the system does not seem to be designed to maximize bike use, presumably the intended goal. “For an hour of riding, a tourist or an infrequent user will pay $6....More frequent riders can pay $20 per month for 30 minutes of daily riding time or $25 per month for an hour of daily riding. A basic annual pass — which gives users 30 minutes of usage 365 days of the year — will run $119 and an extended pass, which bumps that ride time to an hour, would cost $149.” This seems like an extension of the metering model used for parking, which runs contrary to the goal of maximizing use.

Why have time limits on use at all? If we really want locals and visitors to use bikes as transportation, it would make more sense to allow people to ride as much as they want. Thus, a user could, for example, ride to work, ride to and from lunch, stop at the library, pick up some groceries, stop for dinner, go the movies, meet for a drink, and go home. System bikes would be required to be returned to stations when not being ridden, thus freeing them up for other users.

“For Santa Monica residents, the basic annual pass will cost only $79 and the extended $99. Santa Monica College students are offered the greatest discount: $47 for six months of 60 minute daily riding.The $6 an hour casual fee simply buys 60 minutes of ride time that never expires. For monthly and annual passes, however, daily minutes do not roll over.”

Why limit the discount to Santa Monica residents? There are many thousands of non-Santa Monica westsiders who will be within walking distance of stations and should be encouraged to take bikes when going to Bergamot Station, Third Street, the beach or the pier. Also, don’t we want to encourage as many of the people who live elsewhere but work in Santa Monica to use bikes? The same discount should apply to employees as to residents.

“One of the things that city officials loved about the operator they selected, CycleHop, is that their technology allows bikes to be returned to locations other than the 75 stations throughout the city. If a bike is returned to a regular bike rack — even if it’s not an official station — within the Santa Monica-area, riders will only pay an additional $2. If a rider hops on that bike, which is not connected to an official Breeze rack, and returns it to a Breeze station, she’ll get a $1 credit for bikeshare usage. If a bike is locked up outside of the Santa Monica-area, the rider will pay a $20 fee. If a bike is returned to a generic bike rack within 100 feet of a hub that is full, the rider won’t be charged $2.”

This is all well and good, but it raises another question. Technology has advanced since the first bikeshare programs were installed in other cities. One change is that there is no longer a justification for a capital-intensive investment in stations. Bikes can be fitted easily with wireless devices that keep track of bikes wherever they are and allow them to be locked and unlocked by a downloadable app that will also keep track of payments. Users would be able to see the location of the nearest available bike. Such a system might make it possible to eliminate passes altogether, replacing them with incremental micro-charges, either capped or greatly reduced by frequent use. Being a laggard should be made to work to Santa Monica’s advantage.

Parenthetically, technology is also available to make the bikes cease to function if they are removed from the city, further lessening the need for expensive stations.

Additionally, it would make sense to explore whether there is a need for a system that would allow employees to pay an extra fee to take bikes home. This might make particular sense for SMC and private school students who live in nearby cities. This would increase the number of bikes available during working (and school) hours and encourage employees (and students) to use bikes on their off days when they return to shop, eat, go to the movies, Pier concerts, the beach, etc. Even if it cost double or triple the standard annual rate (see, next paragraph), it still might be worth it to people who do not want to purchase, maintain and repair a bike of their own.

So, assuming the bike stations are here to stay, here’s a proposal:
$6/day available to anyone for an unlimited number of trips and no limit on time.
$15/month available to anyone for an unlimited number of daily trips and no limit on time. This would encourage tourists staying three days or longer to pay the fee to have use of bikes throughout their stay.
$60/annual pass available to residents and employees for an unlimited number of daily trips and no limit on time. A student discount should be considered for the annual fee.

The rest of the story: Santa Monica bikeshare still on schedule; rates proposed by David Mark Simpson (Santa Monica Daily Press).

From the Won't-Be-Fooled-Again Desk:

It's outrageous that America is the only developed country that doesn't provide paid family leave. If you agree join Hillary's campaign today! -- Daily Kos
Really? That's the criterion we're supposed to use to choose the next president?

How about out-of-control military spending? Is that outrageous? What's she going to do about that?

Banks too big to fail? Pretty outrageous, you'd think. Will Goldman Sachs let her do anything about them?

Economic injustice? Outrageous. She's a big populist now; what's her plan?

Aging, crumbling infrastructure: Outrageous. Will she rebuild it?

Surveillance State abuses: Outrageous. If she has a solution, it's a secret.

Her actions at State that helped to create outrageous messes in Afghanistan, Honduras and Libya. What will she do about them?

The chaos in Syria and Iraq: Outrageous. Does she have a fix?

The PATRIOT Act is still pretty much intact. That's outrageous, too.

More outrageous, even, than that America is the only developed country that doesn't provide paid family leave, outrageous as that is.

From the Government Transparency Desk: The dog that didn’t bark

"Watch the feet not the mouth." -- Gabree Family maxim

Despite paying lip service to open government, the administration of Barack Obama has been among the most secretive in our history.

In addition to prosecuting whistle-blowers in record numbers, the White House has dragged its heels over appointments to watchdog positions.
Seven of the 33 inspector general posts in the Obama administration are being filled by temporary appointees, according to [a Senate] panel. Permanent IGs have been nominated for just three of the vacancies.
Four of the agencies without nominees for permanent inspector generals -- the Department of the Interior, the Veterans Administration, the Export Import Bank and the Central Intelligence Agency -- are among those that need oversight the most.

The rest of the story: Senate Panel Says Obama Administration Lacks Watchdogs by Brian Naylor (NPR)

The Duopoly: They're not the same.

But does it matter?

Democratic Party apologists like to remind us that the two sides are not the same. And everyone to the left of Calvin "The business of America is business" Coolidge has a grand time pointing the finger at all the batty stuff Republicans think they have to say to appease their base.

But, meanwhile, the front runner on the other side is expressing perfectly reasonable but equally fanciful things about economic justice, peaceful foreign policy initiatives, and privacy protections.

This dance happens every four years.

But, at the end of the day, neither party has made a realistic effort to prevent the growth of the military-industrial complex and the rise of the security state, nor to arrest 40 years of disintegrating infrastructure and disappearing middle class.

On the contrary, they've walked hand in hand up Mt. Oligarchy.

You're standing on the street. A guy carrying a machete walks up to you and whacks off a hand and a foot. It's brutal and painful. A second guy approaches you with a chloroform-soaked rag and a scalpel. He knocks you out, carefully lowers you to the sidewalk, then slices off your other hand and foot. You don't feel a thing.

They're not the same, not by a long shot.

But, either way, you don't have hands and feet.

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.
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