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)


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