Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Are Powerful Voices for the Left


Hillary Clinton may be the front-runner, but the tandem of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren is offering liberals a powerful voice.

Sen. Bernie Sanders waves to supporters as he arrives to kick off his presidential campaign on May 26, 2015, in Burlington, Vermont.Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

By Jamelle Bouie
LeftField at

Looking at the Democratic primary as a movie, a film critic might say that Sen. Bernie Sanders is a little “on-the-nose” as an antagonist to Hillary Clinton. He is her reverse. Where Hillary is well-known (and to many women, an icon), he is obscure. Where she embodies the establishment, he is on its outskirts, a self-identified “socialist” from the liberal enclave of Burlington, Vermont. Where she gives six-figure speeches, he is among the “poorest” members of the Senate with a net worth of roughly $460,000. She plans to run a $2 billion campaign; he hopes to raise $50 million.
Jamelle Bouie Jamelle Bouie

Jamelle Bouie is a Slate staff writer covering politics, policy, and race.

And where Clinton is in the middle of the mainstream, Sanders has been an iconoclast for decades. As a House member, he co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus, opposed both wars in Iraq, and voted against the Patriot Act. As a senator for Vermont since 2007, he’s criticized the bank bailouts, voted against Tim Geithner’s nomination for Treasury Secretary, and gave a nearly nine-hour speech against a partial extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Now, as a candidate in the Democratic nomination race, he’s an advocate for the left wing of the party. “I am not running against Hillary Clinton,” he said in a recent interview with the Washington Post. Instead, he’s launching a crusade—against inequality, against Wall Street, and against the “billionaire class” that he claims dominates American politics. “Billionaire families are now able to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy the candidates of their choice,” he says on his campaign website. “These people own most of the economy. Now they want to own our government as well.”

This is more than rhetoric. To Sanders, the economy isn’t just unequal, it’s rigged, with the richest Americans using their resources to tilt the board in their direction. “Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent,” he said in a recent interview with CNBC’s John Harwood. “Top one-tenth of 1 percent owns as much as wealth as the bottom 90 percent.” To reverse this “massive transfer of wealth” from the middle class to the very top, Sanders wants high tax rates (“If my memory is correct, when radical socialist Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the highest marginal tax rate was something like 90 percent”) and substantial redistribution.

This agenda, and Sanders’ diagnosis, has real appeal in the Democratic Party. Seventy-one percent of Democrats want high taxes to fund programs for the poor, and 37 percent blame tax and economic policies for the gap between the rich and everyone else. As for the senator himself? Of the non-Clinton candidates in the Democratic primary, he’s the most popular, holding more support than Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee combined. Then again, this is a bit like being the best featherweight boxer in a ring with Mike Tyson. You are going to lose, and it will be painful.

Indeed, it’s hard to see how Sanders and his left-wing advocacy can pull Clinton to the left when, outside of debates, she can safely ignore his campaign.

If Sanders is pushing at Clinton from inside the primary, than Warren is doing the same from the outside.

The answer is twofold. First, Sanders is so distant from the Democratic establishment that he’s uninterested in traditional fundraising. This makes winning impossible, but it’s also an opportunity. Describing Clinton and others, Sanders told Harwood that “when you hustle money like that … you sit in restaurants where you’re spending … hundreds of dollars for dinner and so forth. That’s the world that you’re accustomed to, and that’s the worldview that you adopt. … I think that can isolate you—that type of wealth has the potential to isolate you from the reality of the world.”

Sanders isn’t isolated and he hasn’t adopted that world. He’s not beholden to it. He doesn’t have to flatter the opinions of wealthy lawyers, profligate bankers, or powerful businesspeople. In turn, he’s free to raise the kinds of issues—on the economy, on campaign finance—that Clinton wouldn’t get from a more traditional candidate. Debates are often overrated, but don’t underestimate the power of an uncomfortable question.

And second, Sanders isn’t the only left-wing Democrat with a pull on the presidential race. Far from running alone, he’s working in tandem with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who already influenced the race by denying—but until this year, never fully disavowing—a presidential run. If Sanders is pushing at Clinton from inside the primary, than Warren—a de facto party leader for the Democratic left with her own base of money and support—is doing the same from the outside. In particular, Warren is making the case against the present economy, in terms that echo Sanders (and vice versa). “When the top 10 percent gets 100 percent of the income growth over the course of a generation, then the America of opportunity is vanishing,” said Warren in a recent speech at a small celebration in honor of the 25th anniversary of the American Prospect, a left-leaning magazine. (Disclosure: I worked there for three years).

Warren’s argument—shared by progressive leaders like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and articulated in new work from groups like the Roosevelt Institute—is that the rules of our economy favor the wealthiest Americans and the most powerful corporations. In that environment, growth isn’t enough. To fix inequality, you need to rethink those rules and recalibrate them for broad distribution of economic prosperity. And in the meantime, you also need to stop any new rules that rig the game even further.

For liberals, the test of the 2016 Democratic race is whether the left needs a strong candidate to pull the establishment to its side. Sanders and Warren are promising, but there’s no guarantee they can do the job. But then, that’s not the only gauge for success. So far, Clinton has been silent on the economy, focusing on issues like immigration and criminal justice reform where there’s broad consensus in the Democratic Party. For the likely nominee of the party, this is unacceptable.

If they do anything, Sanders and Warren will challenge Clinton to give her full views on inequality and articulate a vision for the shape of the American economy. It will open up the conversation. And compared with a world where Clinton is tight-lipped on her commitments, that’s a win.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Iowa Working Families Summit Advances Push for Progressive Agenda


By Emily Foster
Campaign for America's Future

May 25, 2015 - While well-heeled conservatives watched Republican presidential candidates make their pitches for support in an Iowa convention hall at the GOP’s Lincoln Dinner on May 16, grassroots progressives gathered in a much less lavish college auditorium to discuss pressing issues for America’s struggling middle class.

The Iowa State Campus University in Ames, Iowa, was where people from more than 50 organizations (including co-sponsors of groups endorsing CAF’s Populism 2015 Platform) gathered for the Iowa Working Families Summit. The summit had a huge turnout of more than 600 people from all over the state. Their focus was on showing that progressive policies, such as investing in infrastructure, raising the minimum wage and strengthening labor unions, are the key path to American prosperity.

Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America and vice president of the AFL-CIO, elaborated on the cohesive ideas shared at the conference by the participating groups, and said he has never seen a “better statewide effort” to advance ideas important to American workers. He also explained how important it was for the groups to “get out of the silos and into the streets.”

“It’s not just about the choices of our candidates” Cohen said when asked about the impact of the conference on the 2016 elections. “It’s also about how we’re building our agenda for the middle class.”

The keynote speaker – Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor (1993-1997) – noted that the U.S. economy has grown twice as large in the past 30 years, but wages for the middle class have gone “nowhere,” due to a political system that rewards the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

Essentially, we have an economy “that’s rigged against the average working people.”

Reich emphasized that Americans in the middle class need to “stand up together,” and rebuild the strength of the middle class through raising support for labor unions, education, and infrastructure.

Sue Dinsdale, executive director of the Iowa Citizen Action Network, said her organization plans to build on the ideas considered at this past weekend’s summit. Throughout the upcoming election cycle, the organization plans to “take the summit on the road – take ideas out into communities and towns throughout Iowa, and to organize similar events.”


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Congressional Progressive Caucus Plays Hard-to-Get with Hillary Clinton

Keith Ellison (D-MN) of the Congressional Progressive Caucus

Many progressives are withholding endorsements in the hopes of pushing her left.

By Lauren French

May 19, 2015 - More than 30 members of the House Progressive Caucus still aren’t ready to back Hillary Clinton’s campaign, saying she has a ways to go to show she would champion their agenda as president.

The resistance comes even as they acknowledge she’ll likely be the party’s nominee, and her campaign has mounted an early, aggressive courtship of lawmakers.

“Ultimately, she simply needs to … not [be] a Republican for me to endorse her,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of the 70-member House Progressive Caucus. “I will support the Democratic nominee, there is no question about that. The real question is: What is going to make me get excited? I want to hear her talking about the most pressing issue in America today, which is the concentration of wealth at the top.”

Ellison and other House liberals hope that by holding out on a formal endorsement, they can nudge Clinton to the left, not only on income inequality but poverty, trade, criminal justice and college affordability — essentially, the Elizabeth Warren agenda. Progressive Caucus members have asked to meet with Clinton aides soon to discuss their policies.

So far, there are close to three dozen House progressives who already have endorsed Clinton. But most House liberals want to see a stronger commitment to their platform.

“I want her to declare a war on poverty,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. For Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus, it’s climate change and the role of government and trade. “Progressives are looking for definitive positions on the issues,” he said.

Both have withheld their endorsements, at least for now.

The resistance to her among liberals isn’t a direct threat to her campaign so much as another reminder of the wariness among the party base toward its presumed nominee. The lawmakers aren’t so disillusioned that they would get behind Martin O’Malley or Bernie Sanders. In the end, they’re all but sure to come around to Clinton, but like other activists on the left, they want her to earn it.

Still, their lack of enthusiasm for Clinton has practical implications. If she fails to energize progressives, it could depress turnout and hurt Democrats’ chances of eating into the GOP’s 245-seat House majority — a major priority for the party in an election year that should favor Democrats. (Continued)


Saturday, May 9, 2015

How A Ragtag Group Of Lefties Mainlined Debt-Free College Into The Democratic Primary

Could Progressive Change Campaign Committee help ignite the youth vote for Democrats?

By Sahil Kapur

Bloomberg Politics

May 8, 2015 - A group of two dozen young activists working out of homes and coffee shops around the country has achieved something rather unusual: mainlining an idea into the upper echelons of the Democratic Party—including its top presidential contenders—in just four months.

The phrase "debt-free college" was hardly present in the national political lexicon until the Progressive Change Campaign Committee launched a campaign in January to push Democrats to support the idea of federal assistance to help Americans graduate from college without debt.

Why this idea? The group concluded that the abysmal Democratic turnout in 2014 was due to a lack of bold ideas in the national debate that excited progressives. So it did some polling and found not only strong support but that helping lower the cost of college was the number one issue that would have moved Democratic turnout, said PCCC spokesman TJ Helmstetter. It's easy to understand younger voters' interest: Outstanding student loan debt is currently $1.16 trillion and rising, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, averaging $28,400 per college graduate.

"I'm hopeful that debt-free college is the next big idea." --Senator Chuck Schumer

The PCCC partnered with the left-leaning think tank Demos to write a white paper on the idea, which featured three components: federal aid to states to lower tuition costs, federal need-based aid to students, and other patchwork reforms to cut costs such as putting textbooks online.

Then the gears started turning.

In March, the 70-member Congressional Progressive Caucus endorsed debt-free college education in its budget blueprint. On April 21, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader-in-waiting, cosponsored a resolution embracing the idea with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz and the House progressive leaders.

"When it comes to making college affordable, I'm hopeful that debt-free college is the next big idea," Schumer said.

The presidential hopefuls also jumped aboard. On April 13, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders came out for making four-year public colleges free of tuition. Ten days later former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley e-mailed supporters to say that Democrats' "ultimate goal should be simple: every student should be able to go to college debt-free." And this week Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton's campaign manager touted the idea—down to the exact phrase. "What voters are looking for is someone to be a champion for everyday people. For young people, that's debt-free college," Robby Mook said Wednesday on CNBC.

Outdoing Obama

The plan is more sweeping than recent Democratic proposals. President Barack Obama in March signed a "Student Aid Bill of Rights" to order federal agencies to explore ways to offer students more repayment options and help them better understand their loan plans. On the legislative end, he has proposed two years of free community college, at a cost of $60 billion to the government. Warren has pushed a bill to slash interest rates for undergraduates and post-graduates. Both have gone nowhere in Congress. (Continued)


Monday, May 4, 2015

Baltimore: Race, Class and Uprisings

A protester on a bicycle thrusts his fist in the air next to a line of police, in front of a burning CVS drug store, during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland April 27, 2015. This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: http:/, Reuters

By Bill Fletcher Jr
TeleSUR via Portside

April 30, 2015 - A broad united front for justice and power, in addition to protesting atrocities, is guided by a sense of hope and a vision of a new day.

It is not enough for us on the Left to comment favorably on the right of oppressed to rebel, to validate the rage that took a very destructive form. Rather, we must support those that engaged in efforts to redirect the rage to preserve their communities as part of a larger movement for justice for Freddie Gray.

A protester on a bicycle thrusts his fist in the air next to a line of police, in front of a burning CVS drug store, during clashes in Baltimore, Maryland April 27, 2015. This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: http:/, Reuters,

There was little about the Baltimore uprising following the funeral of the murdered Freddie Gray that surprised me. Tensions had been building ever since word broke that he had died after his spine was severed while in police custody. It was not just that this atrocity had taken place under the most suspicious of circumstances, but that the city government appeared nothing short of anemic in its response.

It did not surprise me that Black youth took to the streets in rage or that there were opportunists within the mobs that took advantage of the strife in order to carry out thefts. It was a riot or uprising. It was not an insurrection and it had neither an ideology nor coherent leadership.

What I found most noteworthy in recent events is something that received limited coverage: the fact that there were organized groupings of men and women who were actively working to redirect the anger of the youth away from the destruction of their neighborhoods. The Nation of Islam, for instance, deployed its members to walk the streets, speak with the youth, and attempt to dissuade them from violence. It was not alone. There were other groups, including gangs as well as ad hoc community groups that set out to both protest the police killing of Freddie Gray but also to try to convince the young rebels that there needed to be a different path. (Continued)


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Playing the Rightwing Populism Card

Enter Scott Walker, Stage Right

Thomas B. Edsall
Progressive America Rising via New York Times

April 29, 2015 - As Scott Walker has transformed himself from a three-time statewide winner in blue-leaning Wisconsin to a hard-right Republican primary candidate, he has jumped to the head of the pack in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Walker’s re-creation of his political identity is a test of whether a Republican presidential candidate can win on the basis of decisive margins among whites (while getting crushed among minority voters).

Walker hopes to stand apart from Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, and Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, who are both taking a more centrist approach. Walker intends to stake out the right side of the Republican spectrum and trump competitors for this niche like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Even as he shifts to the right, however, Walker, a preternaturally careful candidate, is avoiding any explicit suggestion that he is the champion of disaffected white voters. Still, key policy positions — particularly his changing stance on immigration and his attacks on public sector unions — reveal a thoughtfully directed appeal. In 2011, Walker successfully sponsored legislation repealing most collective bargaining rights for government employees. Walker’s anti-union initiative has made him a folk hero to conservatives concerned about what they see as the expanding power of government.

In a recent paper, “The Whiteness of Wisconsin’s Wages,” Dylan Bennett, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, and Hannah Walker, a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Washington, argue that “Governor Walker and his allies activated the racial animus of white workers.”

Bennett and Walker contend that gutting the power of public sector unions serves as a vehicle to disempower African-American workers, “for whom the public sector is the single most important source of employment.”


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Baltimore Is Burning

By Kevin Powell
BK Nation

I am from the ghetto. The first 13 years of my life I grew up in the worst slums of Jersey City, New Jersey, my hometown. If you came of age in one of America’s poor inner cities like I did then you know that we are good, decent people: in spite of no money, no resources, little to no services, run down schools, landpersons who only came around to collect rent, and madness and mayhem everywhere, amongst each other, from abusive police officers, and from corrupt politicians and crooked preachers, we still made a way out of no way. We worked hard, we partied hard, we laughed hard, we barbequed hard, we drank hard, we smoked hard, and we praised God, hard.

And we were segregated, hard, by a local power structure that did not want the ghetto to be seen nor heard from, and certainly not to bring its struggles out in plain sight for the world to see.

Indeed my entire world was the block I lived on and maybe five or six blocks north south east west. A long-distance trip was going to Downtown Jersey City on the first of each month so our mothers—our Black and Latina mothers—could cash their welfare checks, buy groceries with their food stamps and, if we were lucky, we got to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken or some other fast food restaurant on that special day.

When I was about 15 I was badly beaten by a White police officer after me and a Puerto Rican kid had a typical boy fight on the bus. No guns, no knives, just our fists. The Puerto Rican kid, who had White skin to my Black skin, was escorted off the bus gingerly. I was thrown off the bus. Outraged, I said some things to the cop as I sat handcuffed in the back seat of a police car. He proceeded to smash me in the face with the full weight of his fist. Bloodied, terrified, broken in that moment, I would never again view most police officers as we had been taught as children: “Officer Friendly”—

Being poor meant I only was able to go to college because of a full financial aid package to Rutgers University. I did not get on a plane until I was 24-years-old because of that poverty and also because I did not know that was something I could do. These many years later I have visited every single state in America, every city big and small, and every ghetto community you can name. They all look the same.

Abandoned, burnt out buildings. Countless churches, funeral parlors, barber shops, beauty salons, check cashing places, furniture rental stores, fried chicken spots, and Chinese restaurants. Schools that look and feel more like prison holding cells for our youth than centers of learning. Playgrounds littered with broken glass, used condoms, and drug paraphernalia. Liquor stores here there everywhere. Corner stores that sell nothing but candy, cupcakes, potato chips, soda, every kind of beer you can name, loose cigarettes, rolling paper for marijuana, lottery tickets, and gum, lots and lots of gum.

Then there are also the local organizations that claim to serve the people, Black and Latino people. Some mean well, and are doing their best with meager resources. Others only come around when it is time to raise money, to generate some votes for one political candidate or another, or if the police have tragically killed someone. (Continued)


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Paul Krugman Demolishes the 'Zombie' Ideas That Have Eaten Republican Brains


By Janet Allon
Progressive America Rising via AlterNet

April 24, 2015 - Paul Krugman has a little fun in his Friday column [3], using an extended zombie metaphor to express a rather serious point. The question the columnist seeks an answer to: why is it that Republicans and the right refuse to recognize the reality, evidence and facts that discredit their ideas? Must be something supernatural. Or more likely Koch and Adelson money. But more on that in a sec.

"Last week, a zombie went to New Hampshire and staked its claim to the Republican presidential nomination," Krugman begins. "Well, O.K., it was actually Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. But it’s pretty much the same thing."

Christie gave a speech [4] in New Hampshire once again positioning himself as a roll-up-your-shirtsleeves, tough fiscal conservative. But his ideas are largley, well, zombies. Things that are dead, but somehow refuse to acknowledge they are dead. Christie thought he was being so smart when he proposed that the minimum age for Social Secutiry and Medicare be raised to 69. Here is Krugman's explanation of the problem with that oh-so-brave idea.

    This whole line of argument should have died in 2007, when the Social Security Administration issued a report showing that almost all the rise in life expectancy [5] has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers, who are precisely the Americans who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore, while lawyers and politicians may consider working into their late 60s no hardship, things look somewhat different to ordinary workers, many of whom still have to perform manual labor.

    And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. In fact, a 2013 report from the Congressional Budget Office [6] found that raising the Medicare age would save almost no money at all.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Guns, Settlers & Race

Black Panthers made headlines.

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Z Communications Daily Commentary

A front page story in the Washington Post struck me. [David A. Fahrenthold, “GOP field backs gun rights with both barrels,” March 29, 2015]  As one would expect, the potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination are jumping all over themselves to show how ‘pro-gun’ they are.

In the USA we have discussions about guns that pretend to be based in history, but actually miss certain key features. In so doing, the heart and soul of the gun debate is overlooked and the issue devolves into questions of morality and gun safety.

The gun issue in the USA is related to history but not particularly to the 2nd Amendment (the supposed right to bear arms). The debate precedes the 2nd Amendment by more than a century and it revolves around settlers and race.

The gun debate in the USA started in the 1600s and, while there were always matters of safety and hunting, the key question was actually one of who had the right and authority to possess weapons. The second question centered on why the centrality of weapon possession at all.

The settlement of North America, and specifically the original thirteen colonies, was not a non-violent act.  It represented an invasion.  There immediately arose the question of the protection of the invaders, i.e., the colonists.  Thus, weapons, at all costs, had to be kept out of the hands of the indigenous population—the Native Americans or First Nations.  Severe penalties were created for any settler who sold or traded weapons to the Native Americans. This notoriety made its way into the popular media over the years with stories about so-called mavericks who supplied Native Americans with weaponry. During much of the colonial era, and into the 19th century, by the way, this form of activity was frequently associated in the minds of much of the white public with Irish dissidents who were in opposition to the British colonization of Ireland.

Weaponry was also essential for handling an ‘internal’ problem within the emerging settler state:  indentured servants and slaves.  The 1600s was a period of regular uprisings carried out by indentured servants and slaves.  The indentured servant workforce was originally composed of Africans, Europeans and some Native Americans.  It was the turmoil during this period that drove the colonial ruling elite to identify the need to splinter the workforce in order to retain power.  In that context arose the modern usage of “race,” based largely upon the successful experience of the British in the occupation and suppression of the indigenous population in Ireland. (Continued)


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Year-Round, Locally Based Precinct Organizing Is Essential for Moving the Democratic Party (Or Any Other Group) Leftward

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and his wife Loretta chat with precinct captain Joe Poelsterl

"The most important job I ever had was Precinct Captain." —Harry S Truman

By Meteor Blades
Progressive America Rising via DailyKOS

March 22, 2015 - In the past few months, starting shortly before Christmas, the founder of this blog has several times made comments about future elections that make me grind my molars.

He has said Democrats likely will win the elections of 2016, but we will lose in 2018 because "our voters" turn out for presidential elections but not in the midterms. He has said we will be stuck in this conundrum until we figure out how to change the dynamic.

I hate this message. Because Markos is right. And making him wrong will require lots of what used to be called shoe leather and what my grandfather called "organizational calluses." 

We are stuck in a rinse-repeat cycle in which a relatively large percentage of Democratic and Democrat-leaning voters turn out in presidential election years followed by a steep fall-off in said voters every midterm year. Nobody needs persuading that this has massive and massively damaging consequences for the progressive agenda and the vast number of rank-and-file Americans who would benefit if that agenda were turned into policy.

It's true that the older, whiter, richer, more conservative, more male cohorts in America who turn out big in presidential years also don't vote in as high of percentages in midterm elections. But their fall-off is not as precipitous. This Republican advantage is added to (and helps make possible) other right-wing advantages. Two of those: the impact of gerrymandering, which is analyzed here here by Jeff Singer using a Daily Kos-developed metric premised on the "median district"; and the impact of a move away from split-ticket voting, analyzed here by Steve Singiser.

These aren't the only advantages for a Republican Party that has become increasingly right wing. For instance, young people when they do vote, are more likely to choose candidates who campaign for liberal rather than conservative policies. But young people are the least likely age cohort to be contacted to vote.

As we know all too well, chief among the right wing's advantages is the deluge of money—much of it now delivered from secret sources, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court. While it's not, of course, going to be true in every contest, overall the Democrats will never be able to outspend the Republicans. Plenty of examples show that money—even well-spent money—doesn't always win a race. But it confers a big edge. So, to win more races, we need to engage in an asymmetric electoral approach. In blue states and red ones.

Don't get me wrong. There is no silver bullet. Good candidates at every level of government for every office are a must. And we definitely have too few of those. Good policy ideas are crucial. We've got them, but it's hard to get some elected Democrats to support them. Those are problems to be solved.

But year-round, locally based organizing in each of the nation's 176,000 precincts is a crucial element for the future success of the Democratic Party. Not the party as we now know it, but one that is more progressive and more willing than it has been to fight vigorously for the economic, social, and environmental interests of the working classes that make up the vast majority of Americans. (Continued)


Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Christian Right Still dominates the GOP -- Is There Any End in Sight?


By Amanda Marcotte
Progressive America Rising via AlterNet

March 18, 2015 - In a recent interview on Fox, Christian right writer [3] James Robison went off on a rant about how Christian conservatives need to take over the government: “There are only 500 of you,” Robison said of Congress. “We can get rid of the whole bunch in one smooth swoop and we can really reroute the whole ship!”

He added that this takeover would cause "demons to shudder" and the "gates of hell to tremble," but what was really delusional about it was the idea that Congress is somehow devoid of Christians. In reality, 92% of Congress people identify [4] as Christian. More to the point, nearly every Republican, regardless of their sincerity in saying so, aligns with conservative Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant, an affiliation reflected in their policy preferences. (One solitary Republican is Jewish.) The Christian right might not own all 535 members of Congress, but with Republicans in the majority, the Christian right is also in the majority.

And yet, as New York Times writer Jason Horowitz explained in a recent profile piece about evangelical organizer David Lane, Lane feels quite similarly: “For Mr. Lane, a onetime Bible salesman and self-described former “wild man,” connecting the pastors with two likely presidential candidates was more than a good day’s work. It was part of what he sees as his mission, which is to make evangelical Christians a decisive power in the Republican Party.”

Say what, said any reader who has cracked a newspaper, the New York Times or otherwise, in the past four decades. Making the Republican Party beholden to the Christian right is like making the sky blue or making cats stubborn. Can you really make something be what it already is?

That the evangelical right already controls the GOP shouldn’t really be in dispute. Not only do the Republicans do exactly as the Christian right tells them on every social issue, such as reproductive rights or gay rights, but Republicans also pay fealty to the Christian right by targeting Muslim countries with their hawkish posturing or using [5] Christian language to rationalize slashing the social safety net. If you were trying to come up with a quick-and-dirty description of the Republican Party, “coalition of corporate and patriarchal religious interests” would be it. (Continued)


Friday, March 6, 2015

The Racialization of Murder

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Z Communications Daily Commentary

I remain very disturbed by the entire set of circumstances surrounding the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina this past February. I cannot seem to shake not only the horror but the anger that has arisen within me in the aftermath of the murder.

It is not simply the brutality of the killings, though that is enough to unsettle anyone. After all, the three students were, in effect, executed with bullets to their heads. What particularly unsettles me has been the manner in which much of the mainstream media (a) initially ignored the murders, and later (b) sought to find a way to explain the murders away as anything but the hate crimes that they were.

The response in the mainstream media and political circles to the killings should not have come as a surprise. It was only an ‘uprising’ on Twitter that compelled the mainstream media to pay attention to the murders in the first place.

Yet what is worth examining is the manner in which the mainstream media and political circles were willing to treat the killings as terrible but unusual. This includes, by the way, the baffling response of the White House whereby they initially refused to issue any specific comment.

Only a few short days later, however, shootings in Copenhagen resulted in an almost instantaneous response by the media as soon as the shooter was identified as carrying out the attacks for political/religious reasons and, of course, was a Muslim. In Chapel Hill, however, we were offered an alternative explanation for the killings focusing on an alleged fight around a parking space. A parking space? Despite evidence offered that the students had earlier been made to feel very uncomfortable by the alleged murderer, the mainstream media proceeded to treat the parking space explanation as if it has any genuine credibility.

There is a consistent pattern in the manner in which racial murder is handled by the mainstream white media and political circles. Although the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 was not exclusively aimed against people of color, what remains fascinating is that the initial assumption was that it was a terrorist attack by a Muslim. When, however, it was discovered that this was a home-grown white, right-wing terrorist attack, the entire discourse on the attack changed.  The mainstream white media became interested in the motivations of the terrorist—Timothy McVeigh—and desperately attempted to seek an explanation as to how and why he would have conducted such an attack. Rather than focusing on the horror of the attack, or the fact that there is a well-organized and well-armed white, right-wing populist movement in the USA, attention was paid to Timothy McVeigh in almost psychological terms.  There is no comparable example when a military or terrorist action has been carried out by a person of color or a Muslim.

There is also something else that does not happen:  there is no generalization whenever there is a terrorist action carried out by a white right-winger. There were no vast and extensive conclusions about white men as a result of the Oklahoma City bombing, nor where there any questions about Christians.  In fact, I have no memory of Christian religious leaders being asked to distance themselves from McVeigh, his actions, or the paramilitary political right-wing.  In almost every case, when terrorism is conducted by white right-wingers, mainstream media and political circles do all that they can in order to isolate the experience; to treat it as if it were exceptional rather than part of a larger pattern.

The killing of the three Muslim students in Chapel Hill is, in fact, part of a larger pattern. We see it in the demagogic attacks on mosque construction; we see it in racial profiling; we see it in harassment and killings; and, yes, we have seen it in the aftermath of killings. In fact, one of the scariest aspects of the Chapel Hill murders were some of the responses on the web where individuals supported the murders, and in some cases, called for more.

And now the Chapel Hill murders seem all but forgotten. It is as if they happened, not a few weeks ago, but more like a few years ago. There has been no further discussion and comment. The White House finally spoke out on the killings, calling them brutal, but was not prepared to address them as hate crimes.

The racialization of murder, which is what we have seen in the case of Chapel Hill, can only take place when the subjected population—in this case Muslims and non-Muslim Arabs—are seen as an indistinguishable mass of scary outsiders.  Their experiences are not legitimate, as far as the mainstream is concerned. It is less a question of whether the ‘Other’—in this case Muslims and non-Muslim Arabs—are considered or thought to be inferior.  It is more, according to the neo-racism with which we live, that this population is unacceptable in that it cannot be absorbed. They are not accepted as “white” but are, in effect, de facto enemy aliens, irrespective of their point of origin.

In this environment there must be responses and not simply the shaking of our heads and hands. First, those who tweeted must be applauded.  Utilizing social media to carry out an ‘uprising’ is proving, time and again, an effective means to contribute to the reshaping of the news. This must be expanded.

Second, progressive opinion-makers in every major media market need to be identified to respond in the mainstream and alternative media in cases such as the Chapel Hill murders. We need letters to the editor, op-eds, call-ins, TV interviews, etc., by progressive opinion-makers on these issues. In doing this, it is critical to reshape the story and, among other things, that means introducing history into our narratives. People in the USA are almost allergic to history…until they are exposed to a genuine, historical analysis. Progressives must put incidents, such as the Chapel Hill murders, in an historical context. We should also identify the manner in which the handling of such incidents contrasts with media and political coverage of actions carried out by ‘suspect populations.’

A third response, particular to the circumstances in Chapel Hill, is that we must develop campaigns that identify such murders as the hate crimes and lynchings that they are. That means more than statements to the media, whether mainstream or social. It means actions that are taken to demand that the authorities prosecute such incidents expeditiously and energetically. We need no repeats of the travesty demonstrated in the case of the Ferguson grand jury whereby the prosecutor, for all intents and purposes, adopted a position of agnosticism.

Nothing will bring back Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salhausband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Nothing will ease the pain, sorrow and frustration of their families and friends. It is through, however, a struggle around the racialization of murder that we have the opportunity to change not only the manner in which crimes are addressed, but the fact that certain types of crimes are implicitly tolerated by the larger society. You see, after all, the crime only happened to “them”…

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist.  Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

'People Are Really Getting Angry': How Bernie Sanders Just Electrified Iowa — And What It Means for 2016

At an under-the-radar town hall in Des Moines, Sanders had the crowd begging for more. Here's why it matters

By Robert Leonard
Progressive America Rising via

Feb 24, 2015 - DES MOINES — Bernie Sanders has neckties older than most of his audience at last Friday’s Drake University Town Hall in Des Moines. Yet the age differential didn’t matter. His college-age audience loved him. Organized by Drake progressive students, Sanders and his audience seemed to have a near telepathic connection. His issues are their issues, and if anything, they are more pissed off than he is.

Several Drake students set the stage for Sanders in brief topical introductions, laying waste to money in politics, Citizens United specifically, the reality and dangers of climate change, the importance of pay equity for women, immigration reform, and the crushing burden of the cost of college and debt. Then Bernie nailed it, touching on all of these topics and more.

Unlike the speeches at the recent Republican Iowa Freedom Summit, Sanders was long on ideas, and short on chest-thumping, fiery rhetoric. He also didn’t have an audience mostly old enough to vote when Ronald Reagan was running for president.

At first it was unclear who the bigger enemy of the people were to Sanders — the Kardashians or the Koch brothers.  The Kardashians, or rather our public fascination with them, represents America’s apathy. Sanders was clear that nothing progressive can happen until people start paying attention.  Sanders told his audience that Americans are getting screwed, and that we had better pay attention and get off our asses.

According to Sanders, our government is bought and paid for by the Koch brothers, and we are living in an oligarchy. He illustrated the point by reminding us of the recent announcement that the Kochs plan to spend $900 million on the next presidential election, when Obama and Romney each spent approximately $1 billion in 2012.  He feels that soon, they will have more power than either the Democratic or Republican parties, just because of their wealth and the leverage the 5-4 Supreme Court Citizens United decision gave them and other billionaires.

The question and answer session took an interesting turn when a stocky young man with the voice of a broadcasting major asked Sanders, “Will you run for president in 2016?”

If he had asked, “Are you going to run…” Sanders might have responded differently. “I don’t know yet,” would have been a good answer. But since he was asked, “Will you run…” Sanders apparently heard it as a request for him to run. 

“That’s a good question that you’ve asked,” Sanders said.  “Let me throw it back to you… do you think there is the support in this country?” To which the young man replied, “ I think I do. I do. I think there is the support out there … people are really getting angry about this income inequality, climate change…we’re tired of it.”  (Continued)


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why the Country Needs a Populist Challenger in the Democratic Primaries

By Robert Borosage
Campaign for America's Future

Feb. 17, 2010 - Polls show Democrats want a contest, not a coronation, for their presidential nomination. The press yearns for a primary contest, if only to have something to cover. A raft of reasons are floated for why a challenge would be useful, most of them spurious.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t need a contest to get her campaign shipshape. She’s already been central to three presidential campaigns, as underdog, incumbent and, disastrously, overwhelming favorite. She has every high-priced operative in the party. If she doesn’t know how to put together campaign by now, an upstart challenger won’t help.

Some suggest a challenger could move Hillary to the left, as if Hillary Inc. were a bloated ocean liner needing a plucky tugboat to put it on the right path. But the Clintons are adept at running more populist than they govern. Hillary found her populist pitch in 2008 when it was too late to save her. She’s knee deep in pollsters and speechwriters. She won’t need a challenger to teach her the lines.

There are two compelling reasons for a challenge in the Democratic primaries: We need a big debate about the direction of the country, and a growing populist movement would benefit from a populist challenge to Hillary.

The Divide

This isn’t conventional wisdom. Matt Yglesias argues that Clinton is the prohibitive favorite for the nomination not because of experience, name recognition or the Clinton money machine but because no large ideological divisions separate Democrats. New Dems have embraced the social liberalism they once dreaded. Foreign policy differences are minimal. All Democrats sing from President Obama’s populist songbook. All favor raising the minimum wage, pay equity, investment in infrastructure, bank regulation.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer agrees that the “differences among Democrats are small compared to the chasm on the Republican side.” Democrats, he argues, are united on “fundamental issues,” like the minimum wage, pay equity, paying for college.

In fact, there is a deep divide between the party establishment and the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. All affirm, finally, that this economy works only for the few and not the many. But after that, the differences are immense.

The center of the party – which Hillary occupies – argues that our extreme inequality just happened, sort of like the weather. Globalization and technology did it. Republican trickle-down economics made it worse. We can fix it with sensible reforms packaged as “middle-out economics.” We’ll give everyone a “fair shot,” as the president puts it, echoing Bill Clinton, “with everyone playing by the same set of rules.”

The Democratic wing of the party understands, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren has put it, that extreme inequality is the result of the “rules being rigged” by the few to favor the few. The deck is stacked. Playing by the same set of rules doesn’t change the outcome if the rules are rigged. The core structures of our politics and our economy have to be changed to get a clean deal. (Continued)


Monday, February 16, 2015

Moral Mondays’ Barber Says America’s Political System Suffers From a ‘Heart Problem’

Saturday’s Moral Mondays march once again brought a multicultural crowd of thousands to Raleigh, N.C., protesting budget cuts and voting restrictions enacted by the state’s Republican Legislature.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards and NAACP National President Cornell Brooks (far right) listen to the North Carolina NAACP’s the Rev. Dr. William Barber speak at the Moral Mondays march in downtown Raleigh, N.C., Feb. 14, 2015.

By David Swerdlick
The Root

Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 14: An African-American Muslim imam, Oliver Muhammad, offered the call to prayer; members of black Greek-letter fraternities served as event marshals; and as marchers in North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement began their walk across downtown Raleigh, the state’s capital, Chapel Hill Town Council member Maria Teresa Palmer announced—in Spanish—that “interpreters will be available at the intersection of Hargett and Fayetteville.”

It’s that kind of come-one, come-all event. And even though this year’s ninth annual march wasn’t as big as last year’s—one that The Nation’s Ari Berman reported as “the largest civil rights rally in the South since the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965”—organizers again brought together a diverse coalition of activists on a chilly Valentine’s Day to protest what movement leader and state NAACP President the Rev. Dr. William Barber II described as the state’s—and the nation’s—“heart problem.”

And while the Moral Mondays movement is left-leaning, Barber told supporters that he wanted them to be political “defibrillators” because “we find we’ve got, not a left problem or a right problem or a conservative problem or a liberal problem. We’ve got a heart problem. When money and greed and political hubris and pride and ego and beating your opponent become more important than working together to uplift humanity, we’ve got a heart problem.”

For the movement, the stakes haven’t changed.

Barber called on legislators to “fund Medicaid expansion, raise the minimum wage, index it with inflation—put it on the ballot and let the people vote,” as well as “restore cuts to public education,” reject “the attacks on women’s health and environmental protection, repeal the death penalty, reform the criminal-justice system,” enact “fair immigration reform, and respect the constitutional rights of all humanity, regardless of race, creed, color and sexuality.” (Continued)


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

If Voting Means Little, Why Is the Right Working So Hard to Suppress It?

Selma and Shelby: The Fight for the New South

Progressive America Rising

Feb 10, 2015 - What time is it?  It’s important to be clear.  Is it mid-day and our labors still have hours to go?  Or is it evening, our work done, and we can rest our weary heads?  What time is it for the New South?  Is it time to celebrate Selma, Alabama – and the triumph of the Voting Rights Act?  Or is it time to mourn Shelby, Alabama – and the radical backlash against voting rights?

Fifty years after Selma’s Bloody Sunday that led directly to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, many will gather to celebrate that victory.  But we should understand that our work is not done. With the Shelby decision of the Supreme Court, the struggle for equal rights must go on.

Too often, we remember the triumph and ignore the backlash.  In 1870, the 15th Amendment, codified in in the blood of the Civil War, was ratified to give African Americans the right to vote.  It declared that the right to vote shall not be denied “on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

But the triumph was immediately challenged by the backlash.  Across the South, states controlled the structure and laws of voting.  They immediately set up seemingly neutral barriers to voting – poll taxes, literacy tests and more – that were used to disenfranchise black voters.  The reconstruction of the South was ended as the Supreme Court ratified legal apartheid, and segregation was brutally enforced.

It took nearly a century, a mighty civil rights movement, Bloody Sunday and other sacrifices, to pass the Voting Rights Act that gave the Justice Department the right to pre-screen any changes to voting laws in states with a history of discrimination, and ban those that would have a discriminatory effect, even if they looked neutral on their face.

Two years ago, however, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, the five conservative judges on the Supreme Court effectively gutted preclearance laws, arguing in essence that there as a new South that had moved beyond racism.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Will ISIS Debate Get Us ‘War Without Limits?’

By Tom Hayden
Progressive America Rising
The Republican Congress is expected to take up an authorization bill for the war against ISIS even though the U.S. bombing and ground escalation campaign has been underway for months.
The specter of the Islamic State has silenced Congressional criticism and marginalized anti-war voices on the outside. The looming question is whether an open-ended authorization will extend the War on Terror for years to come.
The most critical issues are these:
First, whether an authorization will include a narrow or a broad definition of the "enemy". Will it be ISIS in Iraq and Syria or ISIS and associated groups? The broader definition, similar to "Al Qaeda and associated groups" in the 2002 authorization, will allow US military action in any region where Islamic State loyalists raise a flag, like northern Egypt. Even the narrower definition  is ambiguous, since the "Islamic State" is a category based on shifting loyalties among battlefield factions. A new authorization for a global war on terrorism therefore may be in the making.
Second, whether the president's prohibition on US ground troops will prevent another Americanized war. Obama already has sent hundreds of advisers and at least 1,500 new US ground troops. All reports indicate that Baghdad's armed forces are incapable of fighting on their own, even with American bombing, with the exception of some Kurdish units and sectarian Shiite militias. Obama's military advisers and Republican senators are urging the deployment of ground troops.
Third, whether the authorization will be for 18 months before another Congressional debate or extend for three or four years, into the next presidency. Secretary Kerry and Rep. Adam Schiff both are proposing a three-year extension, which would contain serious Congressional debate until 2017. That would continue the war as onecarried out by the executive branch and CIA except for annual debates on appropriations.
Fourth, whether the authorization will include mandatory independent reports on metrics of progress, casualties [including civilian casualties] and costs in US tax dollars. History indicates that such reports are useful if done by an independent inspector general with specialists in budgeting and wartime civilian casualties.
The most important test will be whether a majority votes to bloc US ground troops, or whether the gates of hell will be left open.
Rep. Barbara Lee is attempting to inject limiting amendments and non-military alternatives into the floor debate. On her left, many peace advocates want a vote opposing the use of US military force altogether. On her right are the McCains and Grahams who blame Obama for withdrawing UStroops in the first place. The unknowns include presidential aspirants of both parties.
Lee argues that her Dec. 16 bill intends to "ensure that the U.S. pursues a comprehensive diplomatic, political, economic, and regionally-ledstrategy to degrade and dismantle ISIL, including working through the U.N. The bill would also repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMF) to ensure that they are not relied on for authority in lieu of an ISIL-specific AUMF passed by Congress. Lastly, the bill would require a report from the Administration on its comprehensive strategy to degrade and dismantle ISIL and information on human rights vetting for partner elements the U.S. is supporting in Iraq and Syria."
According to Lee's legislative director Diala Jadallah, "The underlying point is to ensure that the non-military solutions to the crisis in Iraq and Syria are included in any debate on the war. Right now, no one is talking about that, and all other legislative proposals are simply putting limits on a possible AUMF rather than trying to end the war through diplomatic, humanitarian, and political means. We are not prescribing a [new] AUMF."
The Congressional vote also will define a core peace bloc willing to stand firm during a moment when the winds of escalation are


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Greece Proves Populist Movements Can Fight And Win

By Terrance Heath
Campaign for America's Future

Jan 27, 2015 - After five years of protests, demonstrations and strikes, Greek citizens voted to throw off five years of crushing austerity. Their victory has emboldened populist parties across Europe, and should inspire Americans to resist austerity here at home.

The victory of Greece’s leftist anti-austerity Syriza party, and Alexis Tsipiras’ ascension to prime minister ushers in a government that will push back against the austerity measures devised by the troika of Greece’s international creditors and the International Monetary Fund, and accepted by the country’s economic elite, after the crash of Greece’s economy in 2009.

Greece’s new leaders left little doubt about their intentions as they celebrated victory.

    Alexis_Tsipras“Greece leaves behind the austerity that ruined it, at least behind the fear, leaves behind five years of humiliation, and grease moves forward with optimism and hope and dignity.”
    ~ Alexis Tsipiras, Greece’s new prime minister

    “We are going to destroy the basis upon which they have built, for decade after decade, a system, about a network that viciously sucks the of energy and economic power from everybody else in society. ”
    ~ Yanis Varoukis, Greece’s new prime minister, on Greece’s oligarchy.

The International Monetary Fund assumed the Greek government could impose austerity without significant impact on economic growth and unemployment. In fact, the IMF assumed Greece’s economy would grow as a result of the 2010 aid package, for which the troika and the IMF demanded austerity measures. The results were disastrous.

  •     Greece’s economy shrunk by 25 percent, and wages dropped about the same amount.
  •     Along with shrinking the economy, austerity increased Greece’s national debt.
  •     Unemployment has reached depression levels. Overall unemployment is at 28 percent. Youth unemployment stands at 60 percent — even after the government lowered the minimum wage for youth by 32 percent, to encourage job creation.

Wealthy Greeks got off scot-free. Cocooned in suburbs, austerity cuts didn’t touch them until mid–2013, when the government ruled that wealthy Greeks were no longer entitled to free police bodyguards. Since 2009, businessmen and journalists threatened by anarchist groups received personal police protection.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Uphill Fight: Taking on Finance Capital in Congress

How Bernie Sanders, In New Role, Could Make Wall Streeters Very, Very Unhappy

By Ari Rabin-Havt
Progressive America Rising via American Prospect

Jan 26, 2015 - Big banks now have to contend with an old enemy in a new position of power.

Bernie Sanders, the United States senator from Vermont, plans on using his new position as ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee to take on too-big-to-fail financial institutions by advocating for their dissolution. Though a registered independent, Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, allowing him to assume the ranking member role representing the minority party.
Sanders knows how to draw the media spotlight when advocating for a cause.

While normally the domain of the Senate Banking Committee, the oversight of Wall Street, Sanders and his staff believe, is a critical budgetary issue. Democrats need to directly challenge Wall Street’s power, they assert, by boldly reframing the argument against the consolidation of financial institutions in terms of its cost to the national coffers. Though the term “ranking member” might not ordinarily have the barons of finance quaking in their custom-made oxfords, Sanders knows how to draw the media spotlight when advocating for a cause.

“Being the ranking member of the budget committee gives Senator Sanders the opportunity to say, look, people on food stamps didn’t cause the economic crisis, people that lost their jobs weren’t responsible for the economic crisis that we faced,” explained Warren Gunnels, director of the committee’s minority staff, during an interview in his office. “Average ordinary Americans weren’t responsible for the financial crisis we had.”

While centrist Democrats have expressed displeasure with progressives' forceful defense of regulations included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Sanders plans on pushing the boundaries of the debate in the other direction. This potentially puts Sanders, who is seriously considering a run for the White House, in a head-on conflict with Hillary Clinton, Wall Street’s favorite presidential candidate.

As media types muse over Sanders’s prospective presidential campaign, the focus of the minority Budget Committee staff, hard at work in a corner suite on the sixth floor of the Dirksen Senate office building, is elsewhere. Such a run by the senator would no doubt shine a light on the mission he’s set before his committee staff, but the work in this office has no connection to that effort.

Packed boxes are stacked almost randomly as the staff focuses on more important matters—unpacking would be just a temporary process, anyway. Republicans, having won the Senate in the midterms, will take over the office in a few months after the rush of budget season subsides.

Warren Gunnels’s office has a sweeping view of the Capitol dome, but for most of the hour I spent speaking with him about Sanders’s plans for the upcoming Congress, the blinds remain closed.

Gunnels has worked for Sanders in a variety of capacities since 1999, journeying with the Vermonter from his House staff to his Senate staff, when Sanders won the office in 2006, and now to the Budget Committee. There Sanders has recruited a hard-charging group that is by far the most progressive of any committee on Capitol Hill. Instead of sulking in the Democrats’ new minority status, Sanders is preparing to use his staff to advocate aggressively on behalf of a progressive agenda.

Even late on a Friday afternoon, with the senator back in Vermont, there is a sense of hustle in the office, with several meetings taking place around desks.

Gunnels put the blame for our economic collapse squarely on Wall Street. “The people responsible for the financial crisis were the CEOs in charge of the largest financial institutions in this country,” he said. “That nearly drove the economy off a cliff. We are still paying for that today.” (Continued)


Sunday, January 4, 2015

States’ Minimum Wages Rise, Helping Millions of Workers

Fast-food and health care workers, and supporters, demonstrated in Los Angeles on Dec. 4 in a nationwide rally for higher pay.
Robyn Beck / Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Progressive America Rising via New York Times

Dec 31, 2014 - For some low-wage workers, everyday tasks like spending money for bus fare to get to and from work also involve deciding which bill to pay or delay, or what to give up.

Rita Diaz, 26, who works two low-wage jobs, sometimes walks the three miles home from her job serving chicken at a Popeye’s fast-food restaurant in Roslindale, Mass., when she doesn’t have money for all of her expenses. Her plight is one of many highlighted by labor advocates who have been pushing for higher minimum wage levels.

In January, with an increase in the minimum wage in Massachusetts taking effect — raising hourly pay to $9 from $8 an hour — Ms. Diaz envisions being able to walk less and ride more.

“I need to make a decision to buy clothes, or pay the rent or pay my cellphone bill,” she said. “Now I’ve got to do that decision, but I’m going to have more money for me, too. A little bit of money for me.”

By Thursday, minimum wage increases will go into effect in 20 states, including Massachusetts, as well as in the District of Columbia. A few other states will enact a pay bump later in the year.

All told, 29 states will exceed the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour at the beginning of January, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The initial changes will enhance minimum pay by as little as a few pennies to as much as $1.25 an hour, affecting about 3.1 million employees, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group.


Monday, December 29, 2014

Black Lives Matter Must Move Beyond Protests — Or Risk Losing the Fight for Racial Justice


By Zeeshan Aleem

Witness the rupture.

Once the worry of minorities and leftists, the ease with which a white man with a badge can end the life of a black person is finally on America's mind. The realization that police practices can be brutish and unfair to black men has become a matter of serious concern for many whites, bourgeois liberals and some conservatives — apparently even George W. Bush. Law enforcement is undergoing a crisis of legitimacy.

But the window of opportunity for the racially equalized institutional changes, which we desperately need, is wider than it's been in decades. The recent non-indictments for police killings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, have reignited awareness of the systemic nature of racial discrimination. Riot, protest and media pressure has made the White House anxious and piqued the interest of a generally useless Congress. Some modest reform is in the works.

But all of this is fragile. When there is a long enough pause in the rate at which black men are killed by the police, the cameras will point elsewhere. If there is any hope of reaping lasting change from this moment, it must take shape in the form of something more durable than rage.

"Black Lives Matter" is the closest thing we have to a unified rallying cry for this movement. It's a slogan, a website and a Twitter hashtag, which first surfaced in 2012 in response to vigilante George Zimmerman's acquittal after he killed unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin. At this point, the phrase has become shorthand for the various streams of resistance to police brutality across the country.

The Black Lives Matter movement resembles Occupy Wall Street in 2011, which is cause for both celebration and concern: Both establish a polarizing antagonist — police, bankers — who serves as an entry point for structural critique (systemic racism and politico-economic inequality, respectively). Both have given birth to and mobilized highly decentralized, politically diverse and fairly spontaneous protest movements. Both operate amid contentious politics and feed off friction — or the threat of it — with the state. And just as Occupy mostly dissolved during its first winter, so too could Black Lives Matter. 

So now the movement must evolve. Here are three ideas for those interested in carrying on with campaigns under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter:

Public protest is a tactic, not a strategy: Protesting is vital, but it's not a substitute for the organization, discipline and grit needed for long-term change. Groups small and large need to organize locally and coordinate nationally on specific programs with short- and long-term goals. Resources for political, economic, legal and cultural advocacy need to be pooled and employed strategically. Campaigns for reform — whether assigning special prosecutors for police homicide trials, disarming public servants or closing the white-black wealth gap — must be focused. Local community efforts should be paired with efforts engaging the federal political process.

Past efforts with similar agendas provide useful case studies. One example worth considering is the rise of the Black Panther Party in response to police brutality in the late 1960s through the early '70s. Typically depicted as armed separatists, the Black Panthers were antiracist and committed to building interracial coalitions. Their most divisive position, advocacy of armed self-defense, was only one relatively short-lived element of their complex political program. Soon after they developed a nationwide following, they focused on community programs providing free services to neighborhoods; their most popular nationwide initiative was the Free Breakfast for Children Program. The Panthers' other communitarian programs — which included free clothing, medical care, transportation, housing cooperatives and much more — highlighted the shortcomings of the state and economy, while empowering ordinary citizens to conceptualize and participate in an alternative political economy.


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