Making it count.

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My reaction to Tuesday’s off-year political races is the same I always have with regard to elections: you can’t win by staying home. A lot of people on the left get frustrated with the Democratic Party (I certainly do), but in our current political system, only two parties have a reasonable chance to win elections, particularly on a national scale. We have to work within the Democratic Party even as we organize outside of it; and we have to vote Dem (when such a vote is available) even if the candidate is not our preferred choice.

Threatening the neighborsThe alternative (i.e. sitting on your hands) results in what we have today: a national government run entirely by the most reactionary Republican Party in history – a political cabal that is doing enormous damage by undermining the work of vital agencies, appointing right wing judges, and more. This destructive work is moving at such an alarming pace that it is doubtful as to whether we can regain sufficient political power to stem the tide, let alone reverse it, before some of our most vital public institutions are blown to hell. That’s why I am no fan of quixotic third-party detours. The downside risk is far too high, as we are now discovering.

I generally agree with Norman Solomon and his Democratic Party Autopsy report. And I think he might agree that the Democratic Party – like all national parties – is a broad coalition of factions that don’t always (or even often) agree with one another on key issues. It was that way back in the 1960s. It was certainly that way in the age of the Democratic Leadership Conference. The only difference now is that there is a strong left faction that nearly won the presidential nomination process last year. THAT is new, and frankly, exciting. I think that should be a cause for optimism – the inside strategy is mostly a matter of persistence and focus. We have to populate the party with people who think like us, recognizing that we will need a broad coalition to start winning again on a national level. So this can’t be a question of my way or the highway, on the left or the center. The corporate media likes to focus on factionalism. I think this is just the messy process of moving forward.

The left is the future of the Democratic party. It has nowhere else to go. We have to claim that future and continue to use the party as a means of advancing positions important to the well-being of the majority of Americans. Big project, but a necessary one … and we’d best get started.

luv u,

jp

Last battles.

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I listen to a few podcasts, mostly in my car. By the time I hear them, they’re usually about a week or two old – I download a raft of them and dump them on to my ancient iPod. One of the ones I listen to is Jeremy Scahill’s Intercepted, and it took me this long to hear his June 7 interview with Jill Stein, former Green Party candidate for president. This was billed under the headline “The Woman Democrats Love to Hate”. I have a lot of respect for Scahill, but I think this interview demonstrates another type of delusion; namely, Stein’s over-inflated sense of her own importance.

I have no doubt some Democrats blame her for Clinton’s loss last year, but I doubt it’s all that many – most of the Hillary-bots focus on Bernie Sanders when they look left. At least I hope Democrats don’t spend a lot of energy hating Stein, because she really wasn’t much of a factor at all. If Hillary Clinton was depending on Stein voters to carry her over the finish line – and there’s little likelihood many of them would ever have decided to support Clinton – then her margin was way, way too narrow for any Democrat to win the presidency. Most of the centrist whining I hear is about the Bernie wing of the party, that they were too critical of Clinton and didn’t work hard enough for her election or just withheld their votes. Nothing much about Stein at all, though they clearly don’t like her.

Really not a factor in '16. Really.I agree with Stein on a lot of issues. In fact, I think I’m well to the left of the good Doctor. But the notion that the electoral duopoly can be taken down by supporting quixotic third-party presidential candidates is ludicrous, as is the suggestion that changing the way elections work in the United States is somehow “easy”, as she suggests in this interview. The Green Party is a mess; they have yet to elect a congress member, senator, governor, or even lieutenant governor as far as I can tell. If they want to start contending in national elections, they need to start filling those seats first. They also need to organize around electoral reform, support instant runoff / ranked choice voting, and related proposals. Until that happens, Green Party candidates will split the center-left vote and throw our ridiculous first-past-the-post, winner-take-all elections to the Republicans, time and time again. Those changes would be years in the making – they should have focused their energies on that for the last 20 years instead of random, pointless runs for the White House.

And Jeremy, I love you, but no, there’s not constitutional provision instituting a two-party monopoly. There is, however, a constitutional electoral system that is antiquated and greatly favors the wealthy. We need to change that before any we can expect any meaningful opening for third parties.

Of course, there is a faster course to progressive change than spending decades building a new third party while simultaneously countering the tide of restrictive voting: occupy the Democratic party. Take over its local, state, and national committees. Transform it from within and push it from without through massive organizing. There’s no law that says the Democratic party must remain within the grip of corporate money; we can change that dynamic much faster than we can build a new party (and a congenial political environment for the same) from the ground up. Instead of re-fighting old battles, we should do that.

luv u,

jp

Three percent solution.

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Some election news this week. Jon Ossoff, Democratic party candidate in the Georgia 6th congressional district “jungle” primary topped 48% of the vote tally, which is impressive in Tom Price/Newt Gingrich territory but still a couple of points below an outright victory. As always, the Republicans furiously worked the refs on this race, establishing the easy-bake narrative that Ossoff needed to win an outright majority and that anything short of that would be an abject failure. The mainstream media, of course, adopted this line because it’s simple and requires zero analysis (a lot of stories run this way), so the news shows the morning after the election were full of Democrats falling short postmortems. Useful.

Actual Tenney quote.Okay, because I am at heart a fair person, I will admit that the likes of Joe Scarborough said something that I actually agreed with this past Wednesday – something to the effect that Democrats need to rediscover getting out the vote, knocking on doors, calling people, etc. I agree. If Dems are ever going to return from the electoral wilderness, they need to start building their ground game right now. With the Georgia race and the contest in Kansas for that open House seat (lost to the GOP by seven points), that point has now been underlined and circled in red. (Okay, you can go back to despising Scarborough again.)

This doesn’t amount to a repeat of the same “air war” strategy the national Democratic party keeps running over and over again, dropping TV ads at the last minute. Democrats need to be a factor on the ground; they need to be a positive force in people’s lives. In my region, the congressional seat is held by a tea party Republican, way to the right of her district. We have only elected one Democrat in my lifetime – Michael Arcuri back in 2006. The only reason why he won was that the Democratic party invested in the race. They sent paid, seasoned campaign organizers to the district. They invested in a sizeable call center. They ran phone banks and knocked on doors. That – not the ads – was what put Arcuri over the top. I remember one of the party organizers giving a pep talk to the volunteers, telling us that a good ground game can add three percent to the vote total on election day. “We’re going to need that three percent,” he said.

There’s a coda to that story: two years later, there was none of that. Calling was done out of a cramped room in the local labor council office, and Arcuri just barely squeaked by in a presidential election year. In 2010 he got knocked off; same problem. This past fall, I was dialing for the Democratic candidate at the labor council again, working from a pretty crappy list. It’s not just lack of investment – it’s lack of the right kind of investment that kills our chances.

We have to start winning elections. It’s not the only thing we have to do, but it’s goddamned important.

luv u,

jp

Ring out.

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It’s the year that wouldn’t die. I suppose it always seems that way – years, like any unit of measurement, are artificial divisions by which no natural or artificial phenomena need abide. Still, it feels like we’re accelerating to the finish line, and each day seems to bring more exaggerated indications of what a clusterfuck 2017 promises to be.

Yes, but what have you done for me lately?Probably the most prominent feature of a discouraging week was the fallout over UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which reaffirmed the longstanding principle that Israel’s settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem is “a flagrant violation under international law” as well as “an obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution”. The Obama administration abstained on this resolution (i.e. did not veto it), prompting hysterical reaction from Republicans and Democrats alike and a long speech by Secretary of State John Kerry, which triggered more hair-on-fire reactions.

The administration’s position on this is pretty standard – for decades, our government has been officially against the notion of settlement building and unilateral annexation of occupied territory in Israel/Palestine, while at the same time funding Israel to the tune of billions of dollars a year and – aside from a few rhetorical clucks here and there – doing nothing to pressure them to stop this illegal and destructive activity. Resolution 2334 will be ignored by Israel, just like all the rest, back to 242 and 338, and we will continue to send them money and arms, and defend them when they go on another tear in Gaza or elsewhere. Still: not good enough for Netanyahu, who is obviously using the transition to an even more congenial Trump administration to make a point.

Getting your face rubbed in it by Netanyahu is annoying enough. Hearing lamentations about the Obama administration’s abstention on 2334 from the leader of the Democrats in the Senate is just plain unacceptable. Is this the face of resistance for the next four years? A number of commentators on the left have complained about the degree to which the Democratic party seems to have no fire in the belly these days. When an issue like this appears to bring our leadership more in line with the incoming Trump administration, it becomes even more clear that the left is on its own. We can count on no one but ourselves.

So be it. Let’s work with one another. Let the leaders follow us for a change.

luv u,

jp

POTUS, inc.

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After shock comes anger. I don’t think I’ll move on to negotiating – anger seems about right, particularly with the news emanating from President-Elect Trump’s transition team. His closest adviser will be the spiritual leader of one of the alt-right’s most popular web sites, Breitbart, so you know this is going to be a volatile time from the standpoint of those issues Breitbart tends to report on. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, perhaps? That would certainly put black people’s minds at ease. I think Trump may be considering Cap’n Crunch for secretary of the Navy. Sounds like a good pick, though he’s rumored to have a crunchberry problem.

Meet the Trump cabinetOkay, so what will Trump’s victory mean from a policy standpoint? Well, if he’s anything remotely true to his word, we are likely to see the most reactionary policies ever advance in our lifetimes passed through congress and signed into law. This is not just about Trump – this is about a extremist Republican party that becomes even more virulent every time it returns to power. We had the Reagan-Bush cycle, which was far to the right of anyplace we had gone politically since the Great Depression. Then there was the George W. Bush presidency, shot through with neocons and a decidedly more autocratic approach to governance, powered by the disaster of 9/11. Now: a Republican electoral trifecta – president, senate, and house, all in the hands of an even more reactionary strain of this very destructive party.

What will that look like? Well, we have a pretty good idea. Look at Wisconsin when Blind Scotty Walker took the reins. Look at North Carolina when Pat McCrory was elected (though he may have lost this year, we’ll see).  Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and Trump will do something very similar – put together a pre-baked raft of reactionary programs into a series of bills, pass them over any objections, and sign them into law in the first few weeks of the ass-clown in chief’s administration. They will also do everything they can to lock in their gains, passing voter i.d. restrictions, confirming ultraconservative justices at various levels, and attacking the remaining institutions of the liberal-left: public sector unions, Planned Parenthood, and so on. That’s what we’re looking at, and judging by Ryan’s various activities over the past year, they are likely to use budget reconciliation on a lot of this legislation. My guess, too, is that the filibuster will be disabled or destroyed quite early on, as well.

So hold tight, people. We are going to have to fight like hell to preserve what ground we can. Elections have consequences, as we will soon see.

Veep debate postmortem.

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I know most people did not watch the quadrennial spectacle of the vice presidential debate this past Monday. For those who missed it, you didn’t miss much. That said, it appears as though the corporate media in particular is intent on scoring this match-up on the basis of style points, thereby awarding the debate to former right-wing talk show host Mike Pence, one of the most reactionary men ever to adorn a major party presidential ticket. He was smooth and relaxed, the commentary goes, whereas Kaine was somewhat agitated and even rude. Well … glad we’re focusing on what matters.

centrist, reactionaryI have, however, heard some more interesting points made outside of the beltway punditocracy. Majority Report has been particularly good on this. Much of it confirms the impression I had at the time that Kaine was basically setting Pence up to defend, point by point, the most ridiculous and intemperate statements Trump has made during the campaign. Not rocket science, right? He was being pretty systematic about it, getting Pence on the record as denying that he and Trump had said things they had obviously said on camera, getting him to take positions at odds with those of his running mate, and drawing him out on some of his own well-documented extremism. That content was subsequently cut together into Clinton campaign web videos. And all of Kaine’s interrupting? Some have suggested it was to deny Pence usable soundbites. Basically all the Trump campaign could do was clip together Kaine’s interjections in kind of a whiny little ad about him being rude. Kaine – so the thinking goes – basically threw himself under the bus for the good of the order. Why not? Does it matter who “wins” the veep debate?

This is completely aside from the content of what was discussed. That was abysmal, for the most part. The moderator had some kind of Russia obsession, asking at least three questions about it and zero about climate change. Even more irritating was the unchallenged claims by Pence that the Obama administration “paid ransom” to Iran for the release of a detained journalist, that they had some option with regard to the Iraq status of forces agreement George W. Bush had signed with Baghdad forcing a U.S. withdrawal in 2011 (or that to remain would have been either desirable or effective in some respect), and that the “Russia Reset” led to the annexation of Crimea and Russian involvement in Syria. Worse, both men appeared to endorse the creation of a “safe zone” in Syria, which would require a no-fly zone, which would demand a U.S. fighting force of tens of thousands, plus the destruction of Syria’s air defense capabilities and its aircraft. That would put us into direct conflict with the Russians. Something to look forward to?

So, yeah … it was pretty awful. But the fundamentals of this race are the same. We have to do the hard thing – vote for someone we don’t like in order to block someone who should never be president under any circumstances. Hard to swallow for many, but we should swallow hard, vote to elect Clinton, then continue the fight as soon as we leave the voting booth.

luv u,

jp

Purism deconstructed.

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There seems to be considerable interest in third party candidates this year, even though neither of the major/minor candidates is anything to write home about. Jill Stein is a smart person with whom I agree across a broad range of policies, but her notion of how presidential elections work is severely stunted and bizarre. Moreover, the party she represents is almost a total waste of space – an environmental activist party that only appears once every four years to compete in the presidential race. When it comes to organizing, they’re not exactly Saul Alinsky.

Just do it, then move on.Gary Johnson, on the other hand, is clearly not the brightest ex-governor on the porch and hasn’t made much of a case for why young people should give their vote to a ticket that’s floated in part with Koch money, most likely. Perhaps his supporters are not aware that he would slash spending on just about any program that ever benefited them in any way. If American style libertarianism is about anything, it’s about that. Not that it’s likely to be much of a problem – he, like Stein, have no conceivable path to victory in this election. All they have is an extraordinary opportunity to hand Donald Trump and the hyper-reactionary Republican party an electoral victory this November that they don’t deserve and that will have repercussions for many years to come.

That is not an exaggeration. Elections have consequences, and I am saying this as someone who voted for Nader in 2000 (in New York state, of course). We are still living with the consequences of the election of Ronald Reagan, from the fallout from his Afghan “freedom fighters” (now called Al Qaeda and the Taliban), to his reactionary Supreme Court picks, to his war on labor. We also feel the effects of Dubya’s clueless reign, with troops deployed in all of the countries he invaded, a massively outsourced national security state, and our national budget buckling under the strain of his tax cuts for the richest Americans. If Trump wins, it will be because Democrats and progressives sat on their hands or actively voted for someone other than Clinton. That would be a disaster for poor and working people here and around the world.

No, Clinton isn’t a great candidate. But voting is a shitty way to protest. Voting should be strategic, and there is no coherent rationale for withdrawing support from the Democratic ticket that will lead to better policy.

The student prince.

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I missed NBC’s “Commander in Chief Forum” thus week, but caught the aftermath, and it wasn’t pretty. For one thing, never have a discussion about war and peace on any deck of a warship. It’s like, I don’t know, riding an H-bomb Slim Pickens-style, like it’s a bucking bronco. Second, don’t hire Matt Lauer unless you plan on making it some kind of variety show with a quirky meteorologist and people standing outside the window holding signs. Then, of course, there’s the problem named Donald.

The Student PrinceTruth be told, I have seldom been so gob-smacked by the stupidity of a presidential candidate. Sure, Dubya was a tremendous dumb-ass. Sure, Dan Quayle couldn’t spell and thought Mexicans spoke Latin. Sure, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson apparently thinks “Aleppo” is the name of a new recreational drug. Donald Trump is in a whole other category. Basic concepts about the nature of the world appear to be beyond his grasp. At the forum, he repeated his opinion that we should have “taken the oil” when we invaded Iraq. Asked to elaborate, he poked around the notion of leaving a few people there to stand guard over it, as if it was a small, contiguous, manageable object and not a massive natural resource that’s part of the geology of that unfortunate country.

Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist David Kay Johnston says that Trump knows nothing, and the first time I heard that I thought it was hyperbole. But it really is true: the guy simply has no knowledge outside of what he absolutely needs to know to hold himself upright. His comments at the forum were evasive, full of blather, devoid of meaningful content, and remarkably incoherent. And yet people still support him for the presidency. Some of those attending that event later commented that they were still “undecided”. I can understand the reluctance regarding Clinton. But this is no longer a policy argument. This is different. Trump would be a learn-on-the-job president with very few constraints.

The salient issue in this campaign is now how to keep a rich-ass crackpot away from the most powerful office on earth. That is a simple binary choice, whatever ideology you subscribe to.

luv u,

jp

And the winner is …

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It seems like just yesterday we were staring at a line of 20 or more lunatics vying for the Republican nomination. And now, a few short months later, it’s all over bar the shouting. And there will be shouting, make no mistake. Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican party, as per Reince Priebus, and his two last competitors, “lyin'” Ted Cruz and “non-descript” John Kasich have dropped out of the race. Poor Kasich … he never did well enough even to get a decent Trump nickname. That’s got to hurt.

Trump's secret plan to stop ISIS.Kidding aside, we have a major problem – namely that one of the two people that can possibly become president of the United States is now Donald Trump. With regard to governing policy, foreign or domestic, this man is a monumental ignoramus and a congenital liar. Worse, he engages in these incendiary rants that stoke the flames of hatred and bigotry, recalling a violent past that he often invokes when urging his flock towards toughness. Perhaps most infuriating is the story about General Pershing and the execution bullets dipped in pig’s blood. Trump’s recounting goes something like this: We need to be tough, like in the good old days. Pershing was tough – he both desecrated and executed captured Muslims during the conflict in the Philippines at the turn of the last century. Ergo, we must follow the same standard as Pershing and abandon our squeamish “political correctness”.

Interestingly, none of the news networks appeared to look much closer at his story, nor the context within which it would have occurred. The American takeover of the Philippines was one of the bloodiest colonial conflicts we have ever engaged in. No one seems all that bothered by this. What I hear more about from the mainstream media is how Trump is likely to be “on the left” of Hillary Clinton on trade and on foreign policy. That is a hard circle to square. Yes, Clinton is a virtual neocon on a lot of this stuff and has an enthusiasm for intervention that outstrips that of her husband. But Trump is no pacifist. When he talks about destroying ISIS, it’s pretty clear what he means, and his hostility towards trade deals is conditional and not very principled. The left will have no influence on him whatsoever. But Hillary? That depends on us.

We will be working against the election of Trump this fall – that much is for sure. It’s likely to be a tough slog, but it’s one that must be won. We cannot afford a Trump presidency, and that particularly applies to the more economically insecure among us.

luv u,

jp

Round nine.

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Just watching the ninth Democratic debate. Debate, so called, though of course there is no proposition that’s being debated aside from who should be president. I’ve been watching it for a few moments, and I have to say … it’s kind of shrill. Lots of shouting, yes. Lots of finger pointing, accusations, counter-accusations. Lots of nasty looks, back and forth. Bad hairdos. You know the drill. Hoo boy. Our elections are way too freaking long. The process goes on for two years, pretty much. The debates are not very illuminating. It’s more like political speed dating – no particular depth.

Presidential debates: Shriller in vanillaThis is a media driven process. The horse-race coverage of the primary campaigns has pretty much swallowed up MSNBC, for instance. They basically pushed Melissa Harris-Perry out the door because she didn’t particularly want to be a campaign correspondent. Hard to blame her for that. Horse-race politics coverage is basically like sports journalism. The marketing approach is practically indistinguishable from that of sporting events – same kinds of music, graphics, etc. And this debate is a bit like Pacquio vs. Bradley. Except that it’s shrill white people.

I will be honest. I support Sanders, but I am not overly concerned with who wins the nomination. I am more concerned with the movement that supports his campaign – the broad public sentiment revealed by the strength of his primary and caucus performances, not to mention the attendance at his public events. The popularity of the Sanders campaign is based on issues, not on personality, likable as Bernie may be. The fact that these issues reflect the sentiments of the upcoming generation of young people, kids who have faced substantial economic headwinds from day one, gives me some hope for the future. My primary concern is that young people see some results from progressive policies in the near term, should a Democrat win this fall. If the left fails this generation, they are likely to turn right for answers.

So, this is a kind of race, but not the kind MSNBC wants to cover. It’s a race against time with respect to climate change, with respect to economic justice, with respect to social justice. Young people can bring about a more progressive future, if they get a chance.

Oh, boy. Hillary just said some pretty awful stuff about foreign policy. Dubya Bush in drag, frankly. I’ve heard enough.

luv u,

jp