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

Victory dance.

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Okay, can we all agree on something, people? Try this: the President of the United States is a remarkable dolt who knows nothing about anything outside of – perhaps – real estate and licensing his trademarks. His grasp of American history is tenuous at best and indicative of illiteracy at worst. He always seems to return to the subject of slavery and the Civil War, perhaps because he is surrounded by crackpot white supremacists who fill his empty head with their hateful opinions and convenient factual inaccuracies. The comments about Andrew Jackson are just the latest example, though when he talks about people like “Sharpknife” Jackson he seems actually to be talking about himself.

Spot my useless congressmember.It’s not at all surprising that Trump thinks that he himself could have prevented the Civil War. As a master-level narcissist, he thinks himself capable of anything. And even when he can’t accomplish anything, he celebrates and brags about it like he did. This week, when the House of Representatives passed their latest version of the Affordable Care Act repeal and replace debacle, Trump had the GOP House caucus come to the White House for a little victory dance. (My own representative, Claudia Tenney, could be seen in the second row, right behind the doltish Kevin McCarthy, taking selfies with another Republican congresswoman. Watch for that in an opposition campaign ad next year.)

Okay, so maybe that just proves that Republicans – including the massively overrated pseudo-wonk Paul Ryan – never watched Schoolhouse Rock and maybe they really just don‘t know how a bill becomes law. (They haven’t passed a real lot of them since taking control of the House.) Or maybe this is just Trump’s way of rubbing our faces in the fact that he got his way this time. It’s the kind of tactic Trump is famous for, of course. I suspect if he ever stopped bragging about himself, he’d fly around the room like a toy balloon someone let loose. The facts don’t matter – this is an attitudinal presidency, running on gall and braggadocio, tossing steaks out to the base pretty much every week.

It’s not a joke. The policy implications of this president will be enormous, maybe irreparable. We’re obviously going to have to fight for every inch, and this week the prize went to them.

luv u,

jp

For the people.

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I live in New York’s 22nd Congressional district, a sprawling, largely rural riding that stretches from the Pennsylvania border to just a stone’s throw from Lake Ontario. On the map, it looks a bit like the silhouette of someone in a Klansman get-up standing on a soapbox with his/her arms out stretched, crucifixion style. In reality, it’s a lot less dramatic than that, though through the decades I have seen more than a small number of confederate flags stuck to bumpers (and one full-size battle flag waving at me from the back of a pickup truck just a few months back). Cook has us as an R+3 district, meaning strong lean-Republican – NY22 went for Trump 55-39% in 2016, which is pretty lopsided even for us, though it suggests a solid 6% independent vote.

Who's intimidating whom?Our current Congress member, Claudia Tenney, won a three-way race with about 47% last Fall. Since her election, she has been a little hard to pin down. It took some weeks to open a district office in the Utica area – she blamed this on the bureaucracy, of course. Up until this week, Tenney has been knocking down any suggestion of holding a town hall-style meeting in the district, having seen what’s been happening to her colleagues. Her big announcement this past Wednesday was that she would call a town hall, though no announced date. Also, she says she’s been receiving threats. Well, welcome to being famous, Claudia. Anyone who raises their head above obscurity in this culture gets threatening emails, Tweets, posts, etc.

Like her colleagues in the House, she does not want to answer directly to constituents for the policies she has supported or plans to support, particularly the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”). When you hold one of these town halls, it’s hard to maintain the fiction that you actually care about what happens to people. And it is plainly that – a fiction. This whole “repeal and replace” line is their way of finessing a very harsh reality; namely that they are taking votes that will result in the loss of coverage for millions of Americans. I don’t just mean people who will be thrown off of their health insurance – I also mean people who will be subscribed to something that’s called “health insurance” but that, in fact, doesn’t cover anything. I had a policy like that, long before the ACA, and it was pretty awful.

Let’s face it: Tenney and her GOP colleagues only see the ACA as a political tool. Flawed as it is, it has, in fact, saved lives, and should be improved upon, not scrapped. If Tenney wants to do something for the people who sent her to Washington, she can start by concentrating on that.

luv u,

jp

No justice.

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Trump has named his nominee to the Supreme Court, with a reality show-like flourish, and we spent a couple of days hearing about how eminently qualified the honorable judge Gorsuch is, how pleasant a man he is, what a great colleague and … and … fuck all. Frankly, his qualifications are irrelevant. Much as the Republicans would like to pretend that time began Tuesday evening at 8:00pm, we all know what happened over the last year after the unexpected passing of Justice Scalia – basically, Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP invented a new obstructionist rule, saying in essence that President Obama had no right to name a replacement justice in the final year of his second term.

I agree with Oregon Senator Jeff Merkely on this. That seat on the Supreme Court was stolen by the Republicans on the then-long chance that they might win the 2016 election. Now they expect everyone to just forget all that and proceed with the swift confirmation of a man who is significantly to the right of the reactionary justice he would be replacing. I am not alone in saying, fuck that. Eight is a nice, round number – let’s just stay there, shall we?

Favorite photoThe notion that the Democrats need to allow this one to go through unchallenged is truly a case of playing by the last decade’s rules. Here’s the argument: Give Mitch McConnell his vote and he won’t blow up the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. If you don’t, he’ll invoke the “nuclear option” and you won’t have the filibuster should another vacancy – this time perhaps left by a more liberal justice – comes up in Trump’s tenure. That is just magical thinking. If the filibuster can be shot down that easily, what’s to stop them from doing that next time around? The suggestion that they would somehow refrain out of collegiality or gratitude is laughable. At least filibustering Gorsuch would demonstrate to the majority of people that you’re willing to stand for something. Do nothing and not only will their man be seated on the Court, but next time you try to use the filibuster they’ll just toss it out. You gain nothing – and lost much – by being accommodating.

Now for what really irks me. Who knew that the filibuster was so easily disposed of? I had a suspicion when the Republicans threatened the “nuclear option” during the Bush years, but almost all the way through the years of Democratic Senate majority they wouldn’t touch it. You mean to tell me that in 2009-10, all the Dems had to do to get (1) the public option, (2) card check, (3) a bigger stimulus and more was to do a rule change in the Senate? What. the. fuck. That is a titanic political fail, and we are all the losers for it.

luv u,

jp

Small “d”.

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You’ve already heard enough about Tuesday’s election, I know. My feeling since that night has been pretty much, the struggle continues – move on. I’ll take a few moments, though, to share a few thoughts about Trump’s win.

First, this was a low turn-out election, plain and simple. Though Clinton won the popular vote by about 400,000 ballots Tuesday night, she received about six million fewer votes than Obama did in 2012. Trump received a million less than Romney’s 2012 totals. Some of that difference can be attributed to turnout in large states like California, but many of the swing states – Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, for instance – were significantly down from 2012. People did not show up to vote for either party, but their absence was most keenly felt by the Clinton campaign, which was trying to call out the Obama coalition and failed miserably. So don’t let anyone tell you this was a historic groundswell of support for Trump – far from it. He under-performed his party’s unsuccessful (and notoriously uninspiring) candidate from 2012.

All is forgiven? Well ... Second, there’s some reason to believe that Trump’s success, in the absence of a traditional ground GOTV campaign, was based in large measure on free media in the form of speeches and appearances that ran on practically every news channel for hours a week over the last year. I have heard NBC reporters (sometimes referred to as “journalists”) connect this Trump phenomenon with the large number of Trump signs they saw in rural communities. That, of course, was just a symptom of the mental disease that afflicts non-rich Trump supporters. The vector by which the disease spread was their own “reporting” – namely, serving up hours of this man’s bullshit on multiple platforms to millions of hungry minds, hence the signs. But they are no more reliable an indication of the level of support than the number of people showing up at Trump rallies. Sure, he had large crowds. So did Bernie. So did Ralph Nader in 2000. When the day came, the numbers were pretty flaccid.

So there was no phenomenal groundswell on either side. The warning signs for the Democrats were apparent during the primary season, when voter turnout was relatively low. There has obviously been an enthusiasm gap, but that is a failure of organizing – we need to work harder to convince people of how vital it is to vote as a means of advancing policy goals, not as some kind of rough demonstration of your values. We may never know why tens of thousands of Democratic voters in key swing states – people who put Obama over the top twice – didn’t show up last Tuesday. There are no exit polls on no-shows. But it places in stark relief the fundamental injustice of our presidential elections, which value some voters over others. There is no justification for not having one-person, one-vote nationwide; we no longer need the training wheels of the electoral college. Pundits are fond of describing our presidential elections as a series of 50 different elections, but if that were the case, the winner would be president of only those states that supported him/her.

The presidency is a national office: as Americans, we should all have an equal say in who holds it. If you agree, find one of the petitions circulating for abolishing the electoral college and sign it.

Next week: The consequences of Nov. 8, 2016 (part I).

 

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

Good reads.

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Instead of making you read through my usual rantings and ravings, I wanted to share a few items I saw on the Web that I thought were particularly good, eye-opening, useful, etc. Let’s see if you agree.

Thinking About the Election
Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom
Z Magazine, September 2016
https://zcomm.org/zmagazine/thinking-about-the-elections/

This is one of the best-written, most thoughtful arguments in favor of strategic voting in the 2016 elections from a distinctly radical-left perspective. As someone who considered his support for Bernie Sanders a rightward compromise, I think this piece provides some really valuable answers to the Bernie-or-Bust obsession, as understandable as that sentiment may be. No one can accuse Z Magazine of watery liberalism or crypto-Clintonism. This article demonstrates that they have looked seriously at the current political moment and understand the full potential costs of a Trump presidency. It made me proud to be a longtime Z subscriber.

Ratfucked
Interview with David Dailey
Majority Report podcast, August 26, 2016
https://youtu.be/a-9giSMnVW0

Still more to be said about this.I am a fan of the Majority Report, particularly of their interview segments. This one is a must read for anyone frustrated with the state of legislative politics both on the state and the national levels. Dailey has done a deep dive into the Republican strategy to control redistricting after the 2010 census. Their calculated assault on the democratic process was wildly successful and will probably guarantee them House majorities for the rest of this decade and beyond. Using big data, sophisticated demographic mapping, and enough money to tip the balance in key state-level races in key states (i.e., states that would be redistricted after 2010), the GOP ran the table, catching the Democrats flat-footed. It’s a sobering indictment of the Dems’ lack of engagement and a real must-listen.

Remember the Iraq War? (Chilcot Report Episode)
Best of the Left Podcast – 2016/07/26
http://www.bestoftheleft.com/

This episode of BOTL goes runs through much of what was contained in the British report on their government’s rush into the Iraq war. I think the most valuable part of this is that it reminds us of how much was known before the invasion, and how much of what was argued by the left at that time turned out to be true. It’s worth listening to if only to remind ourselves that we must not be swayed by criticism, we must not be turned back by accusations of un-Americanism … we must fight on.

I’m also finally getting around to reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which is amazing.

luv u,

jp

Newsitis.

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Time to face facts: I’ve got newsitis. Can’t take my mind off of the ongoing cycle of awful public policy stories. In homage to this obsession and temporary ADD, I will run through a few top of mind items and attempt to keep them brief.

Motor mouth cityNuclear summer. Here in New York State, our always forward-looking government recently decided to sink up to around $7 billion over the next dozen years to subsidize our aging nuclear power plants, particularly the Fitzpatrick plant up in Scriba, NY. Part of an effort to advance so-called “clean” energy, we will now be further subsidizing this moribund industry, underwriting the transfer of this 40-year-old plant to another massive electrical utility. Meanwhile, in my home county, they have canceled a major solar energy generation project. What’s wrong with this picture? (Actually, what’s right with it?)

His ass said it. Trump is making that pivot all right… pivoting right into where he was before. I think some of the pundits got a little excited when he delivered that sorry-sounding speech to the Detroit Economic Club last week – an overly long amalgam of wild, unfounded promises and tired old GOP favorites, like the three-tiered tax system and the 15% top rate for business. Pappy tax cut is back, folks! Then, of course, being a good cartoon neo-fascist, he piped up with this:

Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way, and if she gets to pick — if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day, if — if — Hillary gets to put her judges in.

Being the bad comedian that he is – essentially, all set up and no punch line — it’s not hard to see how he would get around to this. He’s playing the crowd, of course, and many standup comedians riff on a certain topic, try to get a little edgy. Suggesting assassination is just where you would expect a comedian/politician to go.

Assholes vs. Fuckers. There was a fair amount of Clinton news this week as well. A lot of it was just email fodder about what amounts to the usual networking bullshit anyone who has worked in an office runs into almost constantly. Other stuff relating to the Clinton Foundation is more problematic, and I have little doubt that there would be plenty for the GOP to mine through four or eight years of Hillary. I tend to think concentrating on the Clinton’s finances is shaky ground for Trump, seeing as his own “billionaire” finances are pretty much opaque, but we’ll see.

As for me, I’m still voting for the assholes. Why? Because they’re better than the fuckers, that’s why.

luv u,

jp

Lookout, Cleveland.

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That was quite a convention, am I right? I’m just listening to what seems like the closing strains of Trump’s acceptance speech, a veritable greatest hits reel of the more boring parts of his stump speeches. A lot more waving the bloody shirt, a full-throated exhortation of the new nativism, and a bizarre admixture of vague populist economic rhetoric (that is probably scaring the hell out of some in his own party) and core GOP positions on fossil fuels, school choice, military spending, etc. Over an hour at the podium and still going. Holy shit.

Most reactionary agenda ever.I can’t believe how badly they miffed that introductory video, though. An amazingly bad production, narrated by an ossified Jon Voight (last seen praising Giuliani), it seemed like a farce fit for John Oliver’s show. I had to shake my head a few times – it was a jaw-droppingly lame attempt to make Trump’s life resemble a Horatio Alger story, evidently written by someone in his inner circle, perhaps a family member. He really has to widen that circle.

Okay, so … the convention can be boiled down to a handful of items. One is that Hillary put the nation in peril with her email server. (No, seriously. Priebus said this on the last night.) The second is that Hillary killed those guys in Benghazi, just like Vince Foster. Third, Hillary and Obama gave $200 billion of “our money” to Iran as part of the nuclear pact (incidentally, no one in the corporate media to my knowledge has called bullshit on this yet – the money is not from the United States; it is Iranian assets from oil exports that were frozen as part of the ongoing sanction regime).

But I think what the whole grisly spectacle boils down to is what Trump outlined in his closing argument: we are in a firestorm of crime and terrorism, and it’s all because of them foreigners and their enablers in our political class. To hear Trump say it, you would think that criminal illegal aliens are all around us, striking at will, raping our grandmothers, etc. This is a toxic, xenophobic trope that has already done tremendous damage, from Latino and Muslim kids being harassed at school to thug-like attacks on adults of the Wrong Color. No one in the corporate media is calling this out, as far as I can see. The other side of the deadly coin is total denial on climate change. Trump is the king of drill, baby, drill. If he wins this fall, it’s game over for the climate, friends.

With respect to this election, we have to do the hard thing: convince as many people as we can to vote for the ass so that we can defeat the fucker. This is a test, friends – an intelligence test, to some degree – and we dare not fail.

luv u,

jp