Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bernie Sanders for President? Another View…

By Tom Hayden

Progressive America Rising via

Feb 28, 2014- Should Senator Bernie Sanders run for President in 2016? (Photo: AP, 2014.)Senator Bernie Sanders is preparing a presidential run. While it can still be called off, volunteers already are eyeing Iowa and New Hampshire, a database is being prepared, and factions being formed, and its only winter 2014.

The chief question being debated internally is whether Hillary Rodham Clinton needs a challenge to her present dominance. The Hillary defenders say the Democrats need to pave a smooth path through the Democratic primaries and avoid the crippling divisions in the Republican Party. They warn that an independent Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016 will siphon enough votes from Hillary to elect the Republican nominee, thus locking up every branch of government. That would be a disaster for the Democrats and every advocate of women's rights.

Progressive Democrats who share Bernie's agenda are likely to be troubled and divided if he runs as an independent. They say he needs to get over his emotional hostility toward the Democrats, which is rooted in their long-ago opposition to him in Vermont. They point out that Bernie already caucuses with the Senate Democrats, so that entering the Democratic primaries would be a reasonable step towards maximizing his influence.

However this is sorted out, there is a vast discontent among the Democratic rank-and-file alongside the recognition of the historic moment for women. The discontent is being channeled into a sharp progressive shift in Democratic politics, originating in the 2008 Wall Street Recession, the rise of Occupy Wall Street, the elections of Mayor De Blasio in New York, Senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Senator Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts, Senator Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, and even in recent socialist stirrings in Seattle.

This shift is decidedly away from the neo-liberal, pro-Wall Street economics implemented in the Clinton era. Those Clinton policies split the party over NAFTA, the Seattle WTO protest, financial deregulation and the role of derivatives, the 2009 Wall Street bailout, the stimulus versus deficits debate, and campaign finance reform. As an immediate example of the shift, Paul Krugman, who says, "I am in general a free trader," is hoping that the NAFTA-style Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), "just fades away.” Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are already scuttling any vote on the proposal until after the November election.

Adding to the rejection of Clinton-era economic policies, Hillary also has been more hawkish on Iraq, Afghanistan and the drone wars than President Barack Obama, the congressional Democrats, and the rank-and-file. That widens the gap further.

So which Clinton will it be in 2016? More than any personalities in American politics, the Clinton family knows how to adapt. Perhaps they will slide quickly to the left. They showed up with smiles at De Blasio's inauguration, solidly supporting one of their many protégés. But at the same time, a rival Clinton protégé, Governor Andrew Cuomo, of New York, is supporting tax benefits for the ultra-rich, advertising New York as a corporate investment haven, and opposing De Blasio's plan for permanent funding for pre-K based on taxing the wealthy.

Choices, choices. How far can Hillary "adjust" before the accusations of flip-flopping and opportunism consume the media space? Perhaps she will select someone like Ohio's Senator Brown as her vice-presidential nominee to appease the parties, and the AFL-CIO's populist hunger. Other deals are possible.

Meanwhile, the vacuum is there for Bernie Sanders, the most genuine representative of the party's New Deal and Progressive traditions, and the newer opposition to climate change, to hold high office in years. His commitment to Medicare-for-all is unmatched. Bernie is not as outspoken on issues like Afghanistan and Iraq, but he is a thoughtful dove in comparison to Hillary. Democrats like Bernie, which is no small asset. Additionally, he is free to run in 2016 and, if he loses, return to the Senate floor with a louder voice and longer email list.

Two things seem clear at the moment: Hillary will beat Bernie in a primary, while Bernie will pull Hillary towards a mandate for more progressive stands than she will take if running unopposed. It's unclear how much momentum Bernie might generate, but he might well amass a significant delegate bloc and, like Howard Dean, contribute to building "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

If Bernie runs as an independent, however, the picture is cloudy, with storms predicted.


Thoughts on a Bernie Sanders Run

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Progressive America Rising via Black Commentator

To the Point

I first met Bernie Sanders in the late 1980s. He was contemplating a run for Congress and had chosen to take time to study and teach at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. We went out to lunch one afternoon.

Sanders was already a legend. An avowed socialist who had served as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he struck me as someone who was quite thoughtful and prepared to listen to views other than his own. We chatted about a matter that has preoccupied me for much of the last thirty years: How to build a national electoral project that is truly progressive and also focused on the fight for power.

Sanders went on to win election to Congress and, ultimately, the U.S. Senate. He has been outspoken on virtually every issue that matters to working people and is unapologetic in his critique of capitalism. At the same time, he works to build unity among progressives rather than simply staking out his claim and expecting people to rally to his flag.

I don’t live in Vermont, but without question, Bernie Sanders is my Senator.

For the last few months, the word on the street has been that Sanders is contemplating a run for the Presidency. Sanders has hinted at the possibility but has not confirmed or denied that he may take the plunge.

Excitement around a possible Sanders run is palpable. After more than one term of the complicated, neoliberal Presidency of Barack Obama—combined with the relentless assaults by the political right on all that for more than sixty years appeared sacred—there is a deep and clear desire among many for a different direction.

Yet a Sanders run brings its own complications.

One issue is whether Sanders should run as a Democrat or as an independent.

There are many progressives and leftists who will automatically suggest, out of disgust with the Democrats, that Sanders should make a “pure” run as an independent. Yet this raises an even more fundamental question: Why should Sanders run at all?

It only makes sense to run for the Presidency of the United States—as a progressive or leftist—if the person is both running to win and running as part of a broader electoral project. A run just to “show the colors” or make a statement is a waste of time. Running for President is both too expensive and time-consuming for that.

On the other hand, if the candidate has a real mass base, is building a broad progressive front around a clear, transformational program, and sees the candidacy as one step in a multitiered process, then it might be worth going for it.

But in suggesting this, I do so with qualifiers. Too many candidates who suggested that they were interested in building a grassroots movement that would transcend their campaigns only to see such candidates close up shop afterwards. A Sanders run as part of a longer-term effort at movement-building and energizing a progressive front only makes sense if there is a demonstrable commitment by the candidate to do the right thing after the election.

Let’s take an example of what not to do. After Obama’s successful 2008 run, there were many people who assumed he was going to keep his campaign organization together as a sort of independent force. But Obama moved it into the Democratic Party instead.

Then there was the choice that Jesse Jackson made in March 1989 when, following the 1988 elections, he completely reorganized the National Rainbow Coalition into an organization that he totally controlled rather than the mass democratic organization that many of its members had thought that they were building.

If a run makes sense, and I think Sanders might be the candidate who would turn his campaign into something lasting, the question is how to do it. I believe that Sanders needs to make a strategic decision to run within the Democratic primary system for the nomination. Despite the discontent with the electoral system among so many people in the United States of America, it is not likely that an independent candidacy at this moment can win. Should the Republican Party fracture, which is a real possibility over the next few years, all bets would be off. But as long as the Republicans stand firm as a hard, rightwing party, it is unlikely that at the national level an independent candidacy can win.

Quite explicitly, I am suggesting that winning must be a major objective of the campaign. The campaign needs to be organized in such a way that it aims to build an electoral coalition that is interested in gaining power, is committed to winning, and has a plan for governing.

Contrary to the contention of some of my friends on the left, there is no contradiction between running as a socialist and running as a Democrat—with the real intention of taking office. Former Massachusetts state representative and two-time mayoral candidate Mel King was an independent socialist, yet ran for state office as a Democrat. Former Congressman Ron Dellums of California was also a socialist and a Democrat. Sanders could run as a Democrat yet be very clear and open about his socialist politics. Such a candidacy would send a bolt of lightning throughout the Democratic Party and change the discourse within it. An independent candidacy would not have anywhere near that impact.

A Sanders candidacy would need to also take on race. We live in a moment that is reminiscent of the period of the Southern coups in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when white supremacists usurped the franchise from African Americans and poor whites, and when Chicanos (in the Southwest) were treated to de facto segregation and voter exclusion. The political right, fearing the future, is moving to exclude millions of voters and ensure the ongoing supremacy of a quite xenophobic Tea Party-esque Republican Party. This is being orchestrated through the brilliant usage of racial symbols, all at a time when people of color have been suffering from the worst effects of the transformation of U.S. capitalism.

For Sanders to run and to make a real difference, he will need to tap into the African American, Latino, and Asian electorate and inspire them with a vision. This has to be far more than a “rising tide lifts all boats,” but must acknowledge race and class as integrally connected. Sanders would need to speak out on the anti-immigrant hysteria of our times, as well as address the manner in which so many workers, particularly workers of color, are being rendered redundant in today’s economy.

He would also need to be a candidate who denounces the misogyny that has pervaded U.S. politics. This is more than the question of abortion. It really goes to women’s control over their own bodies, expectations of women in today’s economy, who is to blame—and not to blame—for the declining living standard of male workers, and basic issues of equality.

I have no worry that Sanders will speak out on behalf of workers. Yet doing so will be insufficient for a campaign to gain traction. Sanders would need to be a spokesperson for a different path, one that addresses not only the issues mentioned above, but also a non-imperial foreign policy and an environmental policy that brings us back from the cliff of climate change. His voice would need to be the voice of the future—the voice of the progressive bloc that seems to be assembling to prevent a dystopian future.

A primary challenge is worth it, even if he just pushes the victor to the left.

The last thing we need is another symbolic candidacy that, while touching our hearts and minds, brings us no closer to clobbering the political right and winning power for the dispossessed and the disengaged.

It can be done.

This commentary originally appeared in The Progressive Editorial Board member and Columnist, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfricaForum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” - And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He is also the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice, which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Other Bill Fletcher, Jr. writing can be found at


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Does America Need a Robin Hood Tax?

A tiny fee charged to the biggest banks could generate hundreds of billions of dollars every year for social services, but what effect would it have on Wall Street?

By Kyle Chayka

Progressive America Rising via Pacific Standard

In a video released last month by an organization called The Robin Hood Tax, an increasingly frantic U.K. prime Mmnister (played by British actor Bill Nighy) is forced to defend his decision made 10 years ago back in 2014 not to pass a tax on banking transactions. While Nighy hems and haws, a trio of polished European Union leaders extoll the tax. They say that the revenue, drawn largely from investment bankers, has “restored health services” and “helped fight extreme poverty” in the wake of the global financial crisis.

The video, which has over 250,000 views, is clearly satire, but it comes at the forefront of a burgeoning political movement to do a little more to curtail the excesses that caused the 2008 crisis. The Robin Hood Tax also hosts an international petition with over 650,000 signatures that proposes levying a tax every time a bank trades in commodities like stocks, bonds, foreign currency, or derivatives. The fee would be small—just 0.03 or 0.05 percent of each transaction—but enough to raise $416 billion globally, the organization suggests.

That money would go toward solving basic social issues like public education, affordable housing, and public services—in other words, taking from the rich, as epitomized in the kind of hedge-fund gamblers depicted in Wolf of Wall Street, and giving to the poor, just like the initiative’s namesake.

By trading in risky commodities, the banks lost everyone a lot of money, so why not punish them for it by targeting the very transactions that caused the problem in the first place?

A Robin Hood-style tax, also known as a financial transaction tax, is on track to be finalized by a coalition of 11 European Union governments before May of this year, including Germany and France, where the tax has 82 and 72 percent approval respectively. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for progress on the tax before the May 2014 E.U. parliamentary elections; European lawmakers are actively pushing their United States counterparts to join the effort.

The idea of a financial transaction tax has a certain visceral appeal that the Robin Hood rhetoric reinforces: By trading in risky commodities, the banks lost everyone a lot of money, so why not punish them for it by targeting the very transactions that caused the problem in the first place? Yet it’s important to weigh the impact the proposed tax would have on Wall Street and Main Street alike.

One benefit of the tax is that it’s designed to make large banks bear the burden (as opposed to consumers or small business owners). Spot currency transactions—tourists switching from U.S. Dollars to Euros, for example—won’t be counted under the tax, nor will transactions with governmental banks, trades in physical commodities, and transactions involving private households, explains a briefing on the bill.

Yet critics fear that any restriction on the flow of investment capital could damage the economy for everyone, not just redistribute some of the wealth away from banks and bankers.

A report from London Economics points out that many households have savings invested in financial instruments that would be impacted by the tax. “In Italy, there is a high level of direct investment in financial markets, with 40 percent of household savings being held directly in the form of equity or debt,” the report notes, with 23 percent of household savings in Spain. The financial transaction tax would quickly make these investments less valuable by slowing down trading and, theoretically, growth.

Another fear is that taxing trading transactions in the European Union, or in the U.S. or U.K. where such a law is less imminent, will cause capital flight from the region as investors look to funnel their money through countries that don’t tax. A recent report by the U.S.-based Financial Economists Roundtable argues that the tax wouldn’t make as much money as has been suggested, since it would provide a disincentive for future business. “Volumes—and thus tax revenues—would shrink as trading dropped or moved to other locations or to lower-taxed vehicles,” the report reads. “A transaction tax imposed at any economically meaningful rate by only some countries would cause many transactions to be shifted to other countries.” What’s currently happening with corporate profits being shuttled through Ireland and the Caribbean, losing billions of dollars in tax revenue, could also occur with investment capital.

The Financial Economists Roundtable report cautions against a kind of cascade, where taxes on transactions would lower financial liquidity, meaning “less capital per worker in the long run and thus lower wages throughout the economy.” Though likely over-exaggerated in the report, the threat of capital flight, which would lead to more difficulty securing loans and start-up funding, is real. But there’s another way to structure a financial transactions tax so it’s even more tightly focused.

IN SEPTEMBER 2013, ITALY became the first country to pass a tax on high-frequency trading, the technology that hedge funds often use to buy and sell financial commodities in fractions of seconds. The tax is tiny at 0.02 percent, and it’s only levied on trades occurring every 0.5 seconds or faster (the Robin Hood tax plan includes a high-frequency tax along with wider-reaching measures).

The high-frequency trading tax is meant as a way for banks to pay for the damage they’ve caused to the economy, but it’s also meant to make trading more efficient rather than less. Driven by computational algorithms rather than human beings, high-frequency trading is less about allocating capital to the businesses that can use it best and more about gaining a competitive edge over other funds. The algorithms that control trading likely aren’t even completing trades, as Felix Salmon points out—they’re putting out buy or sell orders then rescinding them immediately in order to confuse the other algorithms they’re competing against. They might as well be called “high-frequency spambots,” Salmon writes.

Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Peter DeFazio have repeatedly introduced a U.S. high-frequency trading tax, most recently around a year ago. They propose a 0.03 percent tax on trades that excludes initial public offerings and bonds in order to dampen the tax’s impact on capital raising, which they say will amount to $352 billion in revenue over 10 years. The bill has repeatedly failed, and no plans have been announced to bring it back (Harkin declined to comment for this article).

We’ve already come to the point that stock exchanges are building laser networks to shave extra microseconds off their high-frequency trading. Though our country might benefit from seeing how the European Union’s full financial transaction tax plays out, perhaps it’s time for a little bit of Robin Hood to curtail the worst of the excesses that aren’t benefiting anyone but the banks.

Kyle Chayka is a freelance technology and culture writer living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @chaykak.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Right Wants Workers on Their Knees

'They're Not Dead Yet': Planning The Demise Of Labor Unions At CPAC

By David Jamieson

Progressive America Rising via Huffington Post

March 8, 2014 - NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Any right-wing confab probing the power of "big labor" suffers from an inherent contradiction: The ranks of unionized workers in the U.S. have never been so thinned, with less than 7 percent of the private sector now belonging to a labor union. A successful anti-union discussion therefore needs to strike a delicate balance, celebrating unions' diminished state while simultaneously insisting they pose as grave a threat as ever.

This rhetorical needle was ably threaded on Saturday morning by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, who moderated a panel at the Conservative Political Action Conference entitled "On Wisconsin! Turning Blue States Red." The panel sought to answer a strategic question for the right: "After Wisconsin and beyond right-to-work laws, what’s possible now to free workers and students from unionism?"

While acknowledging that union membership has fallen to a historic low, Norquist began the discussion by claiming that unions are the greatest political force in America at the moment.

"They're not dead yet -- they're in decline," Norquist said. "They raise maybe $7 billion a year in dues. Imagine how much they spend of that on politics. They are the largest political player in American politics and will be for some time. What can we do about it?"

Better known for his tax work, Norquist has quickly become a major figure among anti-union activists through the Center for Worker Freedom, an arm of his group Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist's crew bankrolled the anti-union billboards plastered throughout the Chattanooga, Tenn., area in the runup to the United Auto Workers' ill-fated union vote at a Volkswagen plant there last month.

The UAW's narrow loss, by a 53 to 47 margin, was a stinging defeat for organized labor and a major setback for the union's plans in the South. The UAW has accused Norquist and a host of Republican politicians -- including Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) -- of unfairly meddling in the election as third parties and possibly tainting the results.

Many UAW opponents on the right said they were concerned the union's presence would hurt the plant's expansion plans or make it harder to attract new businesses to Tennessee. But one of Norquist's panelists, Terry Scanlon, president of the Capital Research Center, seemed to acknowledge Saturday that the true fight in Chattanooga was a political one. This was the "unmentionable" that Scanlon nonetheless mentioned.

"What is really good here is the unmentionable: There will be so much less money without all these dues, 90-some percent in most cases, going to Democrats," Scanlon said during the panel. "Without the money there, it's not going to happen. This is great news. It's great news."

Norquist didn't dwell on his Tennessee victory, instead steering the discussion toward a larger picture: how the right can fundamentally weaken unions through state legislation. That includes collective bargaining rollbacks like the monumental one carried out by Gov. Scott Walker (R) in Wisconsin in 2011, as well as right-to-work laws like those recently passed in Michigan and Indiana. Right-to-work laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf, thereby diminishing unions' clout.

The panelists agreed that after seeing Michigan, the cradle of the U.S. auto industry, go right-to-work in 2012, almost anything seemed possible.

"The good news is you have 24 states today with a Republican governor and both houses of the legislature who are Republican," Scanlon said. "You have a shot at right-to-work in any of these states. ... It can be done. It takes time, and you have to set the mechanism up even if you don't have a majority of Republicans."

F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the free-market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said Republican governors and state lawmakers needn't worry about political repercussions from fast-tracking a right-to-work law through the legislature. Republicans are still standing in places like Indiana, he said.

"When a politician says right-to-work is simply unattainable and they're worried about their job, look at the states that passed right-to-work," Vernuccio said.

Public-sector union membership remains robust, at 35 percent, but anti-union conservatives smell vulnerability. As Norquist noted, the prevailing attitude used to be that "you can't do anything about the public sector." That's no longer the case, particularly after Wisconsin, where most public-sector workers have lost their collective bargaining rights (and where public-sector unions have since lost many of their dues-paying members).

Panelist Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that the key to gutting public-sector bargaining rights in Wisconsin was deference to the cause throughout Wisconsin's right flank. It was agreed that they would all share mutually in the glory, Priebus said.

"Americans for Prosperity, Tea Party groups, the GrandSons of Liberty, the 9-12'ers were involved -- it was a total and complete agreement that nobody cared who got the credit, that everyone was going to run down the tracks together and help each other where we could," Priebus said.

Despite such victories, Norquist warned that Obama "owed" something to unions after failing to shepherd through Congress the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would have made it easier for workers to unionize. Norquist said it was a political mistake for Obama to prioritize the Affordable Care Act before EFCA, since he could have helped grow the ranks of organized labor to Democrats' benefit. But that failure has left him with a debt to unions, Norquist argued.

"That's why you're seeing the National Labor Relations Board out there putting their thumbs on the scale, and that's going to be a big problem for us in the next three years," Norquist said of the independent agency that enforces labor law. Obama has "stacked" the five-member board, in Norquist's words. (He has appointed three members of his own party and two from the opposition, in keeping with tradition.)

With Democrats holding a majority in the Senate and Obama in the White House, there's little chance of any anti-union laws coming out of Washington anytime soon. But the panelists said they see plenty more opportunity at the state level. When Norquist asked Vernuccio to rattle off some right-to-work targets, he didn't hesitate.

"We're looking at Ohio. We're looking at Missouri. We're looking at Kentucky," Vernuccio said. "The fire of worker freedom is shining brightly, and it is spreading."


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