Thursday, April 28, 2016

Electing A Better Congress-- Part Of Bernie's Revolution Hillary And Bernie Should Embrace


I've never seen as many self-funders running for House seats with million dollar checks from their own accounts as I'm seeing this year. We looked into it a couple weeks ago and I'm sure everyone knows by now that David Trone's $12 million didn't buy him anything but second place. As of the April 6 FEC deadlines, he had spent $9,026,748 of the $9,968,000 he had self-funded. He's announced he was putting in around 3 million since then. In the same race, Chris Matthews ran his lobbyist wife and she put up $500,000 from her piggy bank and raised a fortune from people who wanted to be on MSNBC with Tweety. But she came in third, despite being EMILY's List top House priority and despite spending around $2.5 million, much of it from fellow lobbyists and from her corrupt, conservative New Dem allies. The biggest third party expenditure in the race was the $291,393 that EMILY's List wasted on their wretched conservative candidate. The leader of that Maryland race, though, was Jamie Raskin, one of the most accomplished and promising progressive leaders running for Congress anywhere. He wrote himself a modest $2,700 check and spent $1,243,114, most of it from small donors. He took no superPAC money and owes no one anything except Maryland voters.

The next mega-self-funder among fake Democrats running for Congress is the DCCC's repulsive recruit to replace another self-funder, Patrick Murphy in South Florida. The new version of Murphy is the vile recent party-switcher Randy Perkins, who has already written his campaign a check for $2,006,274. (One of the rich Republicans in the race, Mark Freeman, has also written himself a check for over a million dollars.) One of the grassroots Democrats taking on Perkins is Jonathan Chane, who has raised $505,230 so far. He's looking forward to beating both of the conservative multimillionaires running, the DCCC shill Perkins and the Republican Freeman.

Wednesday he let FL-18 voters know about how Trone had fallen on his face. "Last night in Maryland's 8th District," he wrote, "self-funder David Trone spent over $12 Million of his own money and still lost the Democratic Primary. Unlike Randy Perkins, he didn't even have a record of giving almost $2,000,000 to Republicans, including $200,000 to Rick Scott! How much is Perkins going to spend to lose? He's said up to $5 Million."

He asks Florida voters to "say no to mega-millionaires who try to buy themselves seats in Congress," a solid idea and a good campaign strategy. The DCCC is actively recruiting these kinds of garbage candidates all over the country-- and blackballing middle class and working class candidates who don't have the money to self-fund. Hopefully this will stop when Pelosi's and Hoyer's ancient hands are pried off the levers of power at the DCCC and the catastrophically failed committee is reworked to make it a more effective organization.

Chris Haas published a piece at In These Times highlighting some of the top progressive challengers running this cycle and trying them to Bernie's political revolution, something Bernie himself has been reluctant to do so far other than in 3 cases involving House seats, his 3 candidates being Jamila Jayapal (WA), Zephyr Teachout (NY) and Lucy Flores (NV), each of whom Blue America has been raising money for even before Bernie decided to get involved. Bernie, though, seems reluctant to help any Senate candidates-- after being specifically threatened with dire reprisals from Chuck Schumer-- or to help any reformers, Tim Canova, Alex Law and David McTeague are good examples, running against heinous incumbents, in those 3 examples, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Donald Norcross (NJ) and Kurt Schrader (OR). Haas, I'm afraid, avoided discussing some of these ugly realities and went straight for the susperficial.

"These challengers," wrote Haas in his intro, "range from first-time candidates to experienced lawmakers, from community organizers to law professors. Each is balancing the individual concerns of the voters they seek to represent alongside the larger mood of the nation. None of them is running because of Bernie Sanders, but they clearly benefit from the enthusiasm and sense of progressive possibility his campaign has created." And he does point out that "[some of the candidates] have endorsed Sanders, others remain neutral or even back Hillary Clinton. But they are coalescing around a set of progressive policies familiar to anyone who has heard Sanders speak, including single-payer healthcare, free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage and breaking up the big banks. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic platform more at odds with Bill Clinton’s centrist Third Way of the 1990s... Many of these candidates believe that voters are fed up with how the corporate capture of the party has pulled it to the right." Haas highlights 10 candidates, 2 of whom lost Tuesday in Maryland, Donna Edwards and Joseline Pena-Melnyk. The remianing 8 are:
Tim Canova (FL)
Tom Fiegen (IA)
Lucy Flores (NV)
Alan Grayson (FL)
Eric Kingson (NY)
Pramila Jayapal (WA)
Susannah Randolph (FL)
Jamie Raskin (MD)
Jamie won his Maryland primary Tuesday and his deep blue district will be sending him to Congress next year. The other 7 have tougher races ahead of them and 3-- Grayson, Kingson and Jayapal-- are top Blue America priorities. "It would be a mistake," wrote Haas, "to overlook the fact that this year's election is playing out in a moment when protest movements have interjected themselves into the national conversation in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, the climate movement and more have demonstrated the value of setting uncompromising demands and pushing the boundaries of what is politically possible.
It’s no surprise then that some of these progressive challengers come directly out of protest movements. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state senator running for the 7th District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, has a long history of activism and advocacy in Seattle. She founded the post-9/11 immigrant rights group Hate Free Zone (now OneAmerica), which has held massive voter registration drives.

“The only reason I got into politics was because I believed it was another platform for organizing,” she says, “and that’s what I want to do with my congressional campaign. We’ve brought in thousands of leaders, young people and people of color and women who never saw themselves as part of democracy.”

... The establishment, however, is not going quietly. In Florida, where Tim Canova is challenging Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her congressional seat, news got out in March that the Florida Democratic Party (FDP) had denied Canova’s campaign access to the party’s voter file. His supporters created an uproar; the file is crucial to any campaign’s get-out-the-vote efforts. The FDP eventually backed down in order to avoid, in the words of the state party executive director, the “appearance of favoritism,” but the policy remains in place for all other Democratic primary challengers in Florida. And not just Florida-- Democratic challengers in other states are routinely denied access to this data or charged extra for it.

“The DNC and state Democratic parties must stop favoring incumbents over insurgents in Democratic primaries,” Canova says. “We need to recruit activists committed to our progressive agenda to run for office, and that includes challenging incumbent Democrats.”

Given that these candidates want to rid the party of corporate influence, it’s no surprise that many are going head-to-head with big money. In Maryland, Jamie Raskin’s two biggest challengers in the Democratic primary are a wine mogul named David Trone, who has already spent more than $5 million of his fortune on the race, and Kathleen Matthews, who once oversaw the Marriott political action committee and is now herself the recipient of more lobbyist money than any Democrat running for the House in 2016.
“My [two] major opponents here have no real history of involvement in Democratic Party politics,” Raskin says. “They are creatures of the big money politics that have overtaken our country.” He’s won the endorsement of both liberal groups and a number of Democratic state lawmakers, and-- borrowing a page from Sanders’ playbook-- has relied on a surge of small-dollar donations to remain competitive. “Progressives are fired up here for a victory against big money,” Raskin says.
It worked for Jamie, let's help make sure it works for Grayson, Jayapal, Kingson, Canova and the others on this list:
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Morning Joe: "That campaign's not over. That campaign continues."


by Gaius Publius

Short and sweet. Play the video above (be sure to unmute the sound and ignore the framing in the crawl), then listen to the great point made by Joe Scarborough after the Sanders portion. Scarborough contrasts the end of most campaigns with this phase of the Sanders campaign. Most campaigns die a quiet death in a little room surrounded by friends.

Not this one. Scarborough recognizes the signs. This campaign continues:
"Do you remember the final scene from Marco Rubio's campaign, sort of a sad moment where they had to fill half of an atrium and it was mainly friends — that's how most campaigns end, sort of with a whimper.

(Pointing) "That campaign's not over. That campaign continues. And Hillary Clinton's people need to understand, those people last night knew things weren't going great, and [yet] they were out there screaming and yelling and fighting.

"And they're going to keep screaming and yelling, and they're going to keep fighting, and they're going to take it to the Democratic convention..."
And it won't be because of Sanders that the fight still continues. It will be yours, because you understand that the hour of resistance is now.

My favorite song about resistance:

  Damien Saëz performs "Fils de France" in concert at the Zénith in Paris, 12 November 2002.

A taste of the translated lyrics:
We are, we are ... the land of the Rights of Man
We are, we are ... the land of Tolerance
We are, we are ... the land of the Enlightenment
We are, we are ... at the hour of the Résistance
French lyrics in this version, but really, just enjoy the power and the sweetness of the song.

À la résistance,


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Should You Trust Hillary On Corporate Trade Agreements Like TPP?


Raise your hand if you think Hillary's "adoption" of Bernie's positions of anything is more than just soon-to-be-abandoned primary posturing with no significance regaring her adminisration's future policy agenda. Now go put on a dunce cap and sit in the corner. Sure, she no longer publicly insists that the TPP is the "gold standard" of trade agreements, but there are indications that she's never really changed her mind about the horrible treaty she helped negotiate. Ironically, Trump will hammer her if she backs away from the flip-flop Bernie's campaign forced her to make. So it won't be until after the election that she declares the TPP just needs a couple of minor-- and we mean MINOR MINOR MINOR-- adjustments before it's the gold standard again.

When she was Secretary of State, Kurt Campbell was her top lieutenant on East Asia at the State Department and is now a campaign advisor. He describes the TPP in the same terms Hillary sees it-- a "strategic commitment" to engage in Asia. Nothing to do with the pain and suffering inflicted on American workers or consumers. The 12 nations that are party to it, they insist, account for about 40% of global GDP, and "other" Asian nations are interested in joining. Campbell insists-- as does the entire American corporate/political elite-- that full-scale renegotiation will never happen. He insisnuates that "adjustments" could make it "more politically palatable in the U.S.," although it's worth remembering that many of the worst aspects of the TPP were pushed by the U.S. on behalf of American corporations. "There are always opportunities to adjust on the margins," said Campbell, "and figure out how to ensure that we’ve got an agreement which legislators can sell back home." He was speaking at the Truman Center think tank last week and, of course, refused to provide specifics.

According to Parliamentary testimony from the head of the New Zealand Medical Association, "The longer data protection the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would give biologic pharmaceutical makers will push up the cost of the fastest growing primary health treatment in the country... Biologic drugs account for more than 40 percent of new pharmaceutical products being developed and proposals in the TPP to extend the length of time manufacturers can retain the data in producing those products will delay the introduction of cheaper alternatives." The longer protections for pharmaceutical companies against generic drug makers was something the U.S. insisted on during negotiations, in case you were wondering.

The U.S. presidential election campaign might be a great time to debate the TPP, since Congress won't be permitted to according to the ground rules (Fast Track) passed by the GOP with the help of the New Dems. There are a couple of House races where corrupt TPP proponents like Debbie Wasserman Schultz (New Dem-FL) and Kurt Schrader (New Dem-OR) are facing challenges from progressives based on TPP votes. Tim Canova in Florida and Dave McTeague in Oregon are two of the best examples. But the issue is being studiously ignored by the corporate mass media, which would rather discuss Trump's polling numbers.

There seems to be more of a debate in other countries, at least in the media. In New Zealand, at least the citizens are getting a crash course in what the contours of the destruction headed their way is all about.
The TPP is the product of corporate lawyers converting "trade" to the protectionism sought by corporations for extended patent protections for films and pharmaceuticals at the expense of environmental regulation and worker protections.

The multi-national corporations, with their expanding power and loyalty to none but to profit, pose a threat to democracy and to the balance of planetary life.

It is the position of Pope Francis.

In his two encyclicals, Evangeli Gaudium and Laudato Si, he explicitly links bare-knuckle capitalism with ecological catastrophe and growing economic inequality.

Along with the role of relentless profit-seeking as an end in itself, is the ultimate threat posed by the combination of global warming and planetary plundering and economic inequality to the continuation of democratic government.

Basic to democracy is an informed electorate. Some corporations-- tobacco and fossil fuel industries, for example - have done their best to provide disinformation and to sow doubt about the scientific consensus on the harms caused by their products.

The efforts of tobacco companies to sow deliberate confusion over the harm of their products is now well established through litigation.

Likewise, Exxon is now under investigation, as their own scientists had evidence of atmospheric damage from emissions while the industry funded climate change deniers.

No one enjoys paying taxes, but taxes are necessary if government is to perform its functions of providing for the common well-being. Taxes should be fairly levied and everyone pay their fair share.

When corporations or wealthy individuals hide their assets to shield them from taxation (cf Panama Papers) the burden of making up the shortfall is laid upon the ordinary taxpayer.

A total of 358 of the 500 largest United States-based multi-national corporations have off-shored US$2.1 trillion of profits.

Those profits, if brought back to the US, would generate US$620 billion ($900 billion) in taxes-- that would pay for a lot of jobs repairing America's crumbling infrastructure; salaries for a lot of teachers and firemen; or alleviate the high costs of tertiary education.

Clearly not all corporations are such bad citizens-- some have been beneficial in terms of innovation and creating technology. They function well as long as they are competitive but, alas, corporations have the inherent drive toward monopoly with attendant destructiveness.

The six members of the Walton family, owners of Walmart, have combined assets of US$144.7 billion ($211 billion), more than the combined wealth of the lower 42 per cent of Americans.

Walmart's workers are paid such low wages that they must supplement income with food stamps and Medicaid-- which other taxpayers pay for.

Walmart's history puts the lie to the myth of corporations creating jobs. Jobs are created mostly by small local businesses.

In almost every instance in which Walmart has moved into a community, smaller retailers have been driven out and with them their suppliers-- and the pool of local jobs has dried up.

Beyond the disinformation campaigns, the tax avoidance and evasion, the hollowing-out of communities and the contribution to wealth disparities is the political power exerted.

In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons and that money equals speech. They spend unlimited funds to influence elections. The Koch brothers, owners of fossil fuel companies, have pledged to spend a billion dollars in 2016 to elect candidates of whom they approve.

Corporations are not necessarily good neighbours; they may not be good for your health or your pocketbook and certainly not for your job, which they will outsource to countries with lower labour standards.

The large multi-national corporations who negotiated the TPP have a track record. Those who advocate our getting into that shark tank need to have better reasons than simply throwing out bumper-sticker words "trade" and "jobs."
Paul Ryan has conspired with the Obama Adminstration to keep the TPP from being voted on until after the November elections. That way vulnerable-ish incumbents won't be accountable to their constituents. Example: if Wasserman Schultz voted for the TPP in October, she would lose her seat to Tim Canova the following month... or she'd be canny enough to vote NO. After the election is over, she's safe to vote in line with the corporate interests that finance her career without having to worry about any consequences until 2018 by which time, Tim Canova may not be running against her and few of her constituents will remember anyway. And so on around the country... forever and ever and ever. Maybe Hillary isn't really the lesser of two evils. And remember, the second TPP is passed, Hillary starts negotiations for a European version.

If you want to stop the TPP, don't vote for Hillary and her corrupt, conservative, corporate wing of the party; support opponents of it to Congress, like these men and women:
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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Democrats In Name Only


It was pretty awesome that Democratic primary voters in PA-07 (the suburbs south and southwest of Philly) so thoroughly rejected the DCCC-recruited candidate Tuesday and voted massively for Elizabeth Warren-wing local progressive Mary Ellen Balchunis. Local Delaware County Democrats were as pissed off about DCCC heavy-handed interference as Democrats are all over the country. And in PA-07 they expressed that by voting 51,525 (73.8%) for Balchunis to 18,276 (26.2%) for the DCCC's wealthy handpicked outsider, Bill Golderer. The DCCC helped Golderer raise $375,402 and he was able to spend $136,011 against Mary Ellen as of the April 6 FEC filing deadline. (She spent just $17,337 in grassroots donations to her campaign.) Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC are now likely to abandon the district entirely, preferring a Republican to a progressive Democrat. (Yes, Nancy Pelosi today isn't related to the Nancy Pelosi who was once in the Progressive Caucus; she's just all about Democratic Party, Inc now and should take Hoyer and retire ASAP before hse further muddlies her legacy.)

Other than that race in southeast Pennsylvania and Jamie Raskin's big Maryland win against David Trone's $12 million self-funded campaign and Chris Matthews' attempt to get his lobbyist wife into Congress, yesterday was pretty dismal, especially in regard to the two big Senate primaries, where Schumercrats Katie McGinty and Chris Van Hollen won nominations for the corrupt establishment wing of the Democrats. I noticed a hopeful e-mail Grayson sent out to his supporters as the Schumer forces were crushing Joe Sestak, John Fetterman and Donna Edwards. "At one time," he wrote, "Ronald Reagan was a Democrat (and, believe it or not, a union man). After he switched parties, he used to say that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party; the Democratic Party left him. Now, it seems, the Democratic Party may be leaving all of us. Party bosses and DINOs (Democrats in name only) are trying to morph it from a political party into a vending machine for special interests. Put the coins in the slot, and get your tax break, your “deregulation,” your no-bid contract, your bailout." I keep forgetting to tell Grayson to pick up a copy of Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal: What Ever Happened To The Party of The People, although he has a pretty intuitive grasp of the subject without the book.
It’s common knowledge that the Republican Party has continued to shift more and more to the extreme right wing. But they aren’t the only ones-- our own party has been moving to the right too, if “the right” means kissing corporate you-know-what.

More Democrats than ever are relying on Wall Street to fund their campaigns, and write their bills. More recently, our corrupt, incompetent and dishonest self-appointed party “leadership” has wasted donor money to try to defeat good Democrats in their own primaries, instead of husbanding our cash to defeat Republicans in the general election, and trying to win back the House and the Senate.

I’m not ready to give up on my party. And I hope you won’t either-- because we can make the party right again. Or to put it another way, we can make it left again... I once said this on national TV: "You’ve got only three friends in life: God, your Momma and the Democratic Party." I used to add, "And don’t be too sure about your Momma." It would break my heart to have to add, "And don’t be too sure about the Democratic Party."
Who will stand up to Schumer and McConnell in the Senate next year? Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley... probably Bernie... that's about it. We've got to elect Grayson, for the sake of the Democratic Party and for the sake of a democratic country. Please, if you can, contribute at the thermometer:
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Lila Garrett Is A Los Angeles Progressive Icon-- Want To Guess What She Thinks Of Hillary?


The Hillary-wing of the Democratic Party

A gaggle of professional pols in the L.A. area who identify themselves as progressives-- and sometimes vote in Congress as though they are-- are Hillary surrogates. Some are pretty slimy and none are especially trusted or even respected any longer, if some once were. They're just there, clawing their way up the political ladder like any other conventional careerist politician. Lila Garrett, on the other hand, is not a politician. But she is a mainstay of the progressive movement in Southern California. A screenwriter and KPFK radio host, she's never run for office but weilds far more influence than, say, a grubby political hack like serial office-seeker Janice Hahn.

This week, writing for TruthDig, Garrett explained why Hillary should not ever be considered a progressive and how Bernie never really held her feet to the fire. He's too polite, she insists, "obviously uncomfortable insulting his opponent, shooting from the hip, using sarcasm instead of facts. Clinton’s comfort zone is all of that. Her sarcasm slops over the brim, and facts vanish like so much fairy dust. She dismisses the effective Sanders, with the solid progressive agenda, as a dreamer, while she, the proud warrior, paints herself as the pragmatist."
She has been running hard as an anti-gun candidate. Really? Then why, in 2008, did her then-opponent, Barack Obama, refer to her as “Annie Oakley”? Clinton was far more lenient on gun control at that time then Sanders ever was. If he’s pro-gun, why does he have a D- rating from the National Rifle Association? And in case you think Clinton has completely turned around on the issue of guns, on March 19 she was given a whopping fundraiser by John Forbes, a major lobbyist of the NRA.

Not only is Clinton not the progressive she claims to be, she has consistently supported the agenda of corporations wishing to overrule government decisions (witness her strong previous support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which gives corporations exactly that power).

Another New Dem conservative from the Hillary-wing

Her foreign policy, endorsed not just by Henry Kissinger and neoconservative Robert Kagan, is lauded by Dick Cheney. Remember him? The Dr. Strangelove of the Bush administration?

Of course he would admire her. As secretary of state, she rarely, if ever, saw a war she didn’t love. She was the primary cheerleader on the lethal attack on and destabilization of Libya. She also strongly supported attacks on Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Syria. She gave her blessing to the administration’s weekly drone and bomb attacks on all of these countries and who knows how many more.

Until this presidential campaign, she strongly supported environmentally toxic policies, the Keystone XL pipeline and fracking among them.

She had no interest in raising the minimum wage until forced to by Sanders’ advocacy for $15 an hour, and even now she’s only willing go to $12.

Then there is the little under-the-table exchange of $900,000 from Boeing to the Clinton Foundation as the secretary of state granted the company the right to sell warplanes to Saudi Arabia; an additional $10 million has flowed into Clinton coffers from Saudi Arabia, which bought more arms from us than ever before while Clinton was secretary of state. The $10 million went to the Clinton Foundation. Where else would they hide it-- under their mattress? And while we’re on the subject, who knows what else is under that mattress? The Clintons are very wealthy people. You don’t get mega-rich on a president’s or a senator’s salary.

The Clintons’ habit of exchanging favors for payoffs is well known. Bill Clinton did it when he left office. He got $100 million from speeches after lifting the regulations on derivatives-- a major factor in the wild ride from Wall Street that we were victimized by. But the Clintons went on their way, bouncing merrily on their now-very-fat mattress.

In a TV interview, Hillary Clinton attributed some of her lethal decisions to “hard choices,” the name of her book. When her vote for war with Iraq came up, she admitted it was a mistake, but dismissed it as an example of “one of those hard choices.” She accompanied that dismissal with a laugh so loud, so sardonic, it could have come from a gargoyle in a horror movie.

She is not that fictional creature, however. She is the potential leader of the free world. And that makes the situation serious.

We like the idea of a strong woman as president. We agree it’s long overdue. Is Hillary Clinton what we mean by “strong”? Or is she simply an example of a hypercompetitive person driven by greed and a need for power and revenge?

CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked her the key question some months ago. Cooper said:

“You were against same sex marriage. Now you’re for it. You defended Obama’s immigration policies. Now you say they’re too harsh.You’ve supported trade deals dozens of times. Even called them the gold standard. Now suddenly you’re against it. Will you say anything to get elected?”

I have seen Hillary Clinton cry only once. The country loved her for that moment of vulnerability. I could understand it. The year was 2008, and she cried when she lost the presidential election.

It takes less to bring me to tears. I cry when I think of her winning this one.
These Democrats are backing Bernie's bid for the presidency and are running on his progressive platform. They're not corrupt and they're not running campaigns that perpetuate a corrupt, anti-democratic system. Please consider helping their campaigns.
Goal Thermometer

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Gentrification And Racial Injustice... In Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco


Dear (White) Liberal San Franciscan,

- by Denise Sullivan

I regret to inform, you missed it: The final day of celebration for the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church on Fillmore Street was Sunday. Aside from its usual meditation on "A Love Supreme" and a service to deliver the wisdom in its creator's words, there was even a bit of time that day reserved to remember Prince, a kindred spirit and sound messenger of love who transitioned last Thursday. But really, there is no need to cry for the Coltrane Church: Going strong for nearly 50 years, it will continue to thrive in one incarnation or another, in accordance to its creed proclaiming life everlasting. Armed with a faith that knows no bounds, no building is going to hold down Archbishop Franzo King and his congregation. He and his musically gifted family of ordained ministers will remain in the light of Coltrane consciousness and on the move for truth and justice. However, if you'd still like to grieve our losses, please consider the sorry state of San Francisco, and our complicity in the soul murder of the city the Church calls home.

Once dubbed Harlem of the West, christened the Fillmore Jazz District, and finally subtitled "The Heart and Soul of the City," with the exit of the internationally known destination for Coltrane fans and jazz pilgrims, so goes the last living breathing expression of Black culture on the street. When the people who make the neighborhood leave the neighborhood, we are all poorer for it. I know you know this because I've seen your passion, particularly at the rallies to support anti-displacement in the once-predominantly Latino Mission District. But as we continue to lose more and more of our friends, family, and neighbors to displacement, illness, unemployment, police violence and other consequences of over-gentrification, it would help if those of us who remain in opposition to these forces move as one body and one voice against the evil that has taken up residence here.

I mention your participation in regard to the Black communities specifically because over the past two years, when it came time to stand up for another cultural and community-serving institution in the neighborhood, America's oldest Black bookstore, Marcus Books (housed in a regal purple building that was also once home to the historic jazz club, Jimbo's Bop City), y'all may as well have been whistling Dixie. I know you have your reasons: Small businesses are supposed to be self-supporting. But in a city that is hostile to its working class residents, people of color, and the neighborhood businesses serving them, it's not that easy. There is not what we call a Twitter tax-break for sole-proprietorships. Small business is at the mercy of real estate speculators, and banks that set customers on a lending track that leads to foreclosure instead of away from it. There is no rent control on commercial space according to state law.  Add to that a customer base caught between cheaper prices online and three jobs that don't allow for leisure-time browsing and you've got a crisis. Just look at all the empty storefronts in the Haight, the Tenderloin, and even in (gasp) Noe Valley. In the Mission, the difficulties are far from over: Longtime businesses struggle to remain open; mysterious fires are all too common and police violence escalates. There is, perhaps as you've heard, a hunger for justice. A hunger strike, now on its seventh day, is occupying the area around the police station. At a rally organized by peace and justice workers calling for the firing of the chief of police and the mayor, a speaker asked, "Where are the Democrats?" She had a point, I thought, looking around for my peers. The Black and Brown communities however are working in solidarity: Last month they tied the knot in a symbolic ceremony conducted by Archbishop King.

Archbishop Franzo King, Mother Reverend Marina King, Deacon Marlee-I Mystic and Reverend Wanika King Stephens

The Kings of the Coltrane Church are simply too kind to use their spirituality as a weapon or to shame people into action, but I'm not that evolved and so I will. Perhaps you are holding back in supporting the cause for racial justice because you are not a joiner; you don't do street protest, you gave at the office. In the case of supporting a place like the Coltrane Church, maybe you opted out because you are an atheist, a non-sectarian, or wish to hold the line of separation between church and state. Maybe you're solid in your chosen faith, or otherwise committed on Sundays. I understand. Though surely the reason you resisted can't be that the Coltrane Church venerates a saint and a Holy Trinity that is rendered Black in its iconography-- I know you are way too open-minded to let pictures stand in the path between yourself and a higher purpose. So what is it?

The Archbishop and his family share a surname with the greatest, freedom fighting, God-loving American this country has ever produced, the one who connected the dots between racism, poverty and war, and the moral imperative to end them. But because you are a liberal San Franciscan, there is probably no need to invoke the memory of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement or to mention the people of faith embedded in it, who worked alongside students and a broad spectrum of allies on the grassroots and political sides to end segregation, then went on to contribute to the ending of the war. Some of these same people forged women's rights, gay liberation, well, you get the picture…You were in their midst or read about them in books. So why am I telling you this? I'm getting to it.

Certainly poverty and racism have never ended, and other wars have come and gone, but the political war in the Fillmore has raged on, unabated. Why? That is for people better equipped than I am to uncover, though the neighborhood's well-known history of oppression is a backdoor to understanding its sustained troubles. First settled by Jewish immigrants following the 1906 earthquake, Japanese settlers came next, but were interned during World War II. The next wave of migrants were working African Americans in the '40s and '50s. The razing of their homes began in earnest in the '60s. The decades of ousting residents from the area continued into the 21st Century even after the so-called Redevelopment Agency, a well-documented program of disaster  from top to bottom, was retired in 2014. Its effects are still being played out in the current rent strike at the Midtown complex and in the eviction case of 99-year-old Iris Canada, to name but two examples.

We know San Francisco has housing issues, but the details of the buildings ceded to the Fillmore as community benefits during and post-Redevelopment seem to have their own special circumstances that are not easily understood by people who live outside the community. Some would say it is not our business. Names are occasionally called, but inquiries are usually relegated to insular meetings of neighborhood councils, and overruled by a couple of pairs of iron hands. But what if the truth were to be discovered and prevailed? Chances are, the Coltrane Church's mission would not have been interrupted, nor would its space be contested, nor would the lives of all the folks who've been pushed from their neighborhood at center of the City, to the outer limits and beyond it be disrupted to this day. Who specifically is gaining when the Fillmore's cultural resources are repeatedly displaced?

Having a community's cultural cachet, its attractions, and its gathering places-- in this case its bookstore and jazz church-- moved out is tragic for all the reasons you can imagine. Jazz clubs Rasselas and Yoshi's are gone: With the absence of the Coltrane Church, the Fillmore is left particularly bereft. This Black community's cultural assets are no longer so readily accessed and all benefits to the communities exposed to them are suddenly ceased.

When a neighborhood corridor's artifacts and active existence disappears, only to be presented  encased in the steel and glass institutions of downtown and civic center (where the needs of the organizations there must comply to more monied, bureaucratic, and middle of the road interests) or get annexed to the Bay View (also battling gentrification), Black music and art and literature in the making cannot just be happened upon, discovered, or shared with neighbors spontaneously. Advance tickets are required, the cost may often be prohibitive, and the experience is mediated, with conditions attached. The revolution has been institutionalized. And yet Black culture, often born from pain and designed to transcend it, could and should be our greatest ally and friend right now. It is after all, America's great export, to use the crass language of commodification. I also realize describing a canon of arts so diverse and magnificent it cannot be cataloged, contained, or quantified with such a tiny brush stroke is my folly. What I mean to say is, here in San Francisco, Black Culture has become a destination rather than an integrated part of our cultural existence. We have become the mono culture we feared, much like the places you fled from, and the fault is ours to bear. We can no longer stand by and point the finger at Ed Lee, Ron Conway, Chief Suhr, Scott Wiener, the San Francisco Chronicle, Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, or any other villain du jour, as inept as they are and as easy as it might be. We the people of San Francisco need to take responsibility for this blessed mess.

We need to make room for inspiration and improvisation again; we need to live more of a jazz existence and less like squares or risk diving deeper into the jazz-free zone. We're already enveloped by "hipsters" who not only appropriated jazz words and clothes, but wouldn't know hip if it hit them upside the head, ya dig? We need to show them how it's done, San Francisco-style and we need everyone, Black and Brown, LGBTQ, Asian, Native, seniors, women, youth, homeless people, and yes, straight white men too (though we could use you to turn down the volume on yourselves). If you just moved here and work for a tech company and feel what you're reading, we need you, too. The City of St. Francis has always welcomed you, but it needs you to become an active participant in the lifestyles and values we prize.

For going on 50 years, the Coltrane Church has been there, to feed and cloth and tend to the spiritual and musical needs of San Franciscans. If ever you've traveled by car across town on a Tuesday afternoon or found yourself with time to listen to KPOO 89.5, and got lost in the notes from John Coltrane's saxophone or the voice of Sister Wanika, speaking his words and wisdom, then you know. Or if ever you've attended an event against police violence or during the banking and foreclosure crisis, you've heard Archbishop King speak. These are the ways in which the Church of St. John Coltrane has been woven into the fabric of our everyday lives and benefited all San Franciscans. They are examples of our best selves, moving in harmony in the name and sound of truth, justice, and love. This is Coltrane consciousness in action, attempting to better the conditions of the world around us.

"I know there are bad forces, forces out there that bring suffering and misery to the world, but I want to be the opposite force, I want to be the force which is truly for good," said John Coltrane.

People of conscience cannot and will not let the bad forces that have descended on us here prevail. Grieve if you must, but there is no better time than now to get involved in the movement for racial and economic justice. Now is the time to stand up and become a force for good, for the benefit of all San Franciscans.

Denise Sullivan is the author of Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip Hop. She writes from San Francisco on gentrification issues and the arts.

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Sanders Fighting to End of Primary; "Can't Snap" Fingers & Tell Supporters to Back Clinton


by Gaius Publius

I don't want this point to get lost. It was made in a longer piece I recently did, but it's important as a stand-alone.

After the New York primary, Bernie Sanders took a day off and appeared, to me at least, to take a moment to get his feet back under him (I like the athlete metaphor since he is one). Then he came back strong with these two messages:
  • I'm fighting until the last vote is cast (so don't keep asking me).
  • I'll back Clinton if she's the nominee, but she has to earn my supporters on her own.
We heard them again on the recent MSNBC Town Hall. Jane Sanders said the same thing here. His press release after the April 26 voting said exactly the same thing as well.

I think these will be his last words through the last contest in June, and I think we can count on him to stick to them. After that, the convention (what I've been calling the "crossroad in Philadelphia") will be what it is, based on the landscape in July. (For thoughts on that landscape, see here.)

Watch the Sanders interview with George Stephanopoulos above for the direct account. Yahoo News on that interview (my emphasis):
Following Bernie Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton in the New York primary last week, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, vowed that the Vermont senator would take his fight to the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in July.

But on Sunday, Sanders would only look as far ahead as California’s Democratic primary on June 7.
 From an edited transcript (emphasis original):
Stephanopoulos: If the contest doesn't go the way you hope, will you be able to follow the Clinton model of 2008, which she talked about on this "GMA" town hall this week, and make an enthusiastic case for her the way she pushed for President Obama?

Sanders: That is totally dependent on what the Clinton platform is and how she responds to the needs of millions of Americans who are sick and tired of establishment politics and establishment economics.

I can't snap my finger and tell people what to do. What I will do, is do everything I can to make sure that somebody like a Donald Trump, or some other right-wing Republican, does not become the president of the United States. We don't need more tax breaks for billionaires, more cuts to Social Security and Medicare, more ignoring the fact — Republicans don't accept the reality of climate change, let alone being prepared to do something about it.

So I will do everything that I can to defeat any Republican candidate. If Secretary Clinton is the nominee, she will have to make the case to the American people, not just to my supporters but all Americans, that she is prepared to stand up to the billionaire class....
I hope you noticed his emphasis of my second bulleted point —  "[Making an 'enthusiastic case for her'] is totally dependent on what the Clinton platform is and how she responds to the needs of millions of Americans ... I can't snap my finger and tell people what to do. ... If Secretary Clinton is the nominee, she will have to make the case to the American people, not just to my supporters but all Americans, that she is prepared to stand up to the billionaire class..."

Thus the battle continues, with Peter Daou saying on behalf of the Clinton camp that it's time for the mountain to come to Mohammad instead. Thus the battle continues. I wouldn't be surprised if the current Clinton third-quarter surge didn't go to their hubristic heads. If so, that won't work out as they want it to, I think, as the delegate game enters the fourth, pre-Philadelphia, quarter.

One step at a time is the smartest way to play this. No one can suss the situation in Philadelphia until we get there.

(Blue America has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. If you'd like to help out, go here. If you'd like to "phone-bank for Bernie," go here. You can volunteer in other ways by going here. And thanks!)


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Will Bernie Have An Impact Even If American Voters Elect A Status Quo Candidate?


Yesterday Bernie drew 43.6% at the polls in Pennsylvania and John Fetterman, the Senate candidate who had endorsed him and was running on his platform, drew a mere 19.3% of the vote (better than most polling had been predicting but still less than half of Bernie's voters). In Maryland Bernie took just 33.3% of the vote, while Donna Edwards only got 38.8%. Although Donna and Bernie were running on a similar progressive package of issues and values, she had endorsed Hillary. And Maryland was not one of the states that Schumer forbade Bernie to "interfere" with.

Although this is basically news being mostly-- though not entirely-- suppressed by the establishment media, Schumer threatened Bernie with the loss of the Senate Budget Committee chair if he did anything to help Fetterman, P.G. Sittenfeld in Ohio or Alan Grayson in Florida. Expect the story to go mainstream in the next couple of weeks... and, meanwhile, rejoice that you get your news here at DWT before the NY Times editors do. These are the presidential primary results from last night:

Connecticut: Hillary- 51.7%, Bernie- 46.5%
Delaware: Hillary- 59.8%, Bernie- 39.2%
Maryland: Hillary- 63.0%, Bernie- 33.3%
Pennsylvania: Hillary- 55.6%, Bernie- 43.6%
Rhode Island: Bernie- 55.0%, Hillary- 43.3%

Other significant results:
PA-02- Scandal-soaked incumbent Chaka Fattah lost to Dwight Evans-- 42.2% to 34.5%.
PA-07- In a stunning upset that caught the corrupt DC establishment off-guard, grassroots progressive Mary Ellen Balchunis slaughtered the DCCC candidate, Bill Golderer-- 73.8% to 26.2%
MD-04- Progressive Joseline Pena-Melnyk was defeated by both establishment candidates, Anthony Brown (41.6%) and Glenn Ivey (34.1%), to her 19.0%.
MD-08- The only great news out of Maryland was that progressive Jamie Raskin beat David Trone (27.4%)-- the rich beer seller who spent over $12 million of his own money on the race-- and Chris Matthews' lobbyist wife (23.8%) with 33.7%.

Monday I read Greg Sargent's Washington Post column about the possible impact of Bernie's revolution in light of changes in young voters detected by a newly released poll from Harvard's Institute of Politics. Let's go beyond the poll's findings that Bernie is the most popular politician among voting age Americans under thirty.

The Director of the Institute, Maggie Williams, pointed out that "millennials care deeply about their futures and in this election cycle they are laser-focused on issues like access to educational opportunity, women’s equality and the economy [and that the] survey reflects their passion, their worries and most importantly, a growing awareness that their voices have power."
In the Past Year, 18- to 29-Year-Olds Net Preference Nearly Doubled for Democrats to Maintain Control of White House. Young Americans prefer that a Democrat win the White House over a Republican in the 2016 presidential race. More than three in five (61%) prefer that a Democrat win the White House, while 33% prefer a Republican. The divide of 28 points is nearly double what it was in Spring 2015, when the divide was 15 percentage points (55% Democrat; 40% Republican). Among young white voters, Democrats now have a 2-percentage point advantage (-12: Spring 2015), among African American voters, that advantage grows to 78 percentage points (79: Spring 2015) and among Hispanics, the advantage is 55 points (41: Spring 2015).

...Sanders is Only Candidate with Net Positive Rating, Trump -20 With GOP.  Senator Bernie Sanders is the only one of the five candidates with a net positive favorability rating. 54% of 18- to 29-year-olds rate Sanders favorably and 31% view him unfavorably (+23 favorable: Net). On the other hand, Donald Trump’s net favorability rating is -57. Among young Republicans, 37% view him favorably and 57% view him unfavorably (-20 unfavorable: Net).

Men and Women Differ on Who Would Improve Women’s Lives the Most. When asked which of the five remaining presidential candidates would most improve the lives of women, Clinton leads 29% to 25% compared to Sanders, with 32% undecided. No Republican candidate received more than 5 percentage points (5%: Cruz; 4%: Trump; 2%: Kasich). Analyzing the results among men only, Clinton has an 11-point advantage over Sanders (32%: Clinton; 21%: Sanders). When we analyze the responses of women, identifying the candidate who would most improve women’s lives, Sanders edges Clinton (Sanders: 30%; Clinton: 26%).

Obama and Congressional Democrats Receive Highest Approval in 5 Years; 72% Believe President Should Fill SCOTUS Vacancy. Both President Obama and Democrats in Congress have seen their approval ratings increase by 5 percentage points since our last poll was released in Fall 2015. President Obama and Congressional Democrats received the highest approval rating since February 2011. President Obama’s approval rating improved in most major subgroups across the board, with the greatest increases on college campuses (61%: Spring 2016; 53%: Feb. 2011) and among African Americans (86%: Spring 2016; 78%: Feb. 2011).

72% of young Americans believe that President Obama should nominate a justice to fill the current vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Only 23% say he should not nominate. Among Democrats, 89% say he should nominate and of those, 53% say he should nominate whomever he wants and 36% say he should nominate a consensus pick. 49% of Republicans say he should nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy and of those, 12% say he should nominate whomever he wants and 37% say he should nominate a consensus pick.
Sargent underlined a key finding-- that young people see a robust role for government in guaranteeing a right to a basic standard of living, and majorities of them see a large or moderate federal role in regulating the economy and access to health care and higher education.

A plurality of these young voters agree by 48-21 that “basic health insurance is a right for all people, and if someone has no means of paying for it, the government should provide it.”

A plurality of them agree by 45-20 that the “government should spend more to reduce poverty.”

A plurality of them agree by 47-20 that “basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that the government should provide to those unable to afford them.”

A majority of them, 67 percent say the federal government should play a “large” (30) or “moderate” (37) role in the “regulation of Wall Street,” while only 28 percent say it should play little to no role.

A majority of them, 66 percent, say the federal government should play a large (32) or moderate (34) role in the delivery of health care, while only 31 percent say it should play little to no role.

A majority of them, 70 percent, say the federal government should play a large (35) or moderate (35) role in “providing access to higher education,” while only 27 percent say it should play little to no role.

A majority of them, 69 percent, say the federal government should play a large (27) or moderate (42) role in “regulating the economy,” while only 27 percent say it should play little to no role.
Harvard’s polling director, John Della Volpe said that Bernie is "not moving a party to the left. He’s moving a generation to the left. Whether or not he’s winning or losing, it’s really that he’s impacting the way in which a generation-- the largest generation in the history of America-- thinks about politics."

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

In The Wake Of Trump... How Bad Will The Destruction Be?


Bruce Bartlett was a Kemp guy who went on to work for Reagan and Bush I in policy positions that pushed the GOP's economics. During the Bush II term he strayed firther and further from Republican Party party line and helped write Bush II out of the conservative movement.

Last year he started warming to the idea of a Trump run for the presidency as a way to cure what ails the GOP. "I love Donald Trump," he wrote at the time, "because he exposes everything about the Republican Party that I have frankly come to hate. It is just filled with people who are crazy, and stupid, and have absolutely no idea of what they are taking about. And the candidates, no matter how intelligent they may be, just constantly have to keep pandering to this lowest common denominator in American politics."

Simon Maloy discovered that he's developed that theme as the months rolled forward and Trump started looking more and more inevitable, which Bartlett sees as a death sentence for the Republican Party as it has developed since the Reagan days. Bartlett hates those developments so much that he actually voted for Trump, who he clearly detests, in the Virginia primary. "I think the Republican Party is sick," he told Maloy. "it just doesn’t know it. And I think anything that speeds up its demise is to the good, because then it can reinvent itself and return as something healthy. Or you could use an addiction metaphor, where people have to hit bottom so that they can reach out and ask for help before they can cure themselves. I think that Trump is a symptom of a disease of rampant stupidity, pandering to morons and bigots and racists and all the sort of stuff that defines today’s Republican coalition. And I just think it’s awful. It’s terrible for the country in a great many ways that I don’t need to tell you. And I think that we need to have a healthy two-party system. We need to have a sane, functioning conservative party and a sane, functioning liberal party. And I think that half of that equation, at least, is not working, and it affects the other half."

He also told Maloy that "giving Trump the nomination is the surest path to complete and total destruction of the Republican Party as we know it. And I look forward to him getting the nomination for that reason. I think he will have a historic loss. I think he may well bring in a Democratic Senate. But more importantly, my hope is, at least, that he will lead to a really serious assessment of the problems of the Republican Party, and lead to some opening of thought, opening of discussion, conversation among groups that have been sidelined for quite a long time. Mainly moderates and people of that sort who have been just pushed to the sidelines in favor of ever more rabid, nonsensical, right-wing authoritarianism."

Better yet, he says he doesn't think it matter whether Trump gets the nomination or not at this point "because he’s already succeeded in destroying the Republican coalition as far as the general election is concerned. Because, look, if he doesn’t get the nomination, he’ll probably do everything in his power to guarantee that whoever does get the nomination is defeated. So either way the party is looking at historic losses, historic defeat. And I think that is really, really a wonderful thing." He goes so far as to say some conservatives will just give up on the GOP altogether and vote for Hillary.

Maloy: "One name I wanted to bring up is that of the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who’s been positioning himself of late as this Trump alternative, a voice of reason and rational discourse. He’s very popular within the party and seems like a natural candidate to shift into that post-Trump leadership role. Do you see any way in which someone like Ryan who has that popularity but is still extremely conservative, particularly on economic policy, do you see him as being able to effectively reform the GOP at all?" Barlett's response should send shudders down Ryan's spine:
No. I think Ryan is in a much more serious position than people think he is. He’s slowly sliding into the same problems that destroyed John Boehner, which is he has a bunch of lunatics in his caucus who are effectively able to be the tail that wags the dog. What Ryan would have to do is make peace with the Democrats and be willing to have a governing coalition made up of Democrats and enough Republicans to get legislation passed and be a Speaker for not just the majority party, but for some kind of fusion party.

But I don’t think he’s got the support and I also don’t think it’s in his nature to be that kind of leader. The only way he could get reelected as Speaker would be with Democratic votes, and that sort of thing simply doesn’t happen. So he would just be signing his own political death warrant if he tried to do something like that, and then he would disappear from view.

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Are Europeans Getting Ready To Overthrow The Status Quo?


The U.S. isn't the only country in the world where voters are frustrated by a rigged system enforcing the political and economic status quo. While timid and unimaginative Democrats seem to be backing away from Bernie's political revolution and embracing the craven and corrupt centrist their party establishment insists on and while Republicans grapple with the nightmare of Trump's incoherent, ego-driven negativity, voters in other countries are also sniffing around the edges in search of fixing something they know doesn't work for them.

Sunday's presidential election in Austria eliminated the candidtes from the two main centrist parties-- the right-of-center People's Party and the ever so slightly left-of-center Social Democrats-- which have been governing the country in a "Grand Coalition" since 2013, in favor of the far right neo-Nazi Freedom Party and an independent backed by the Green Party. Incomplete counts showed the neo-Nazis way ahead and suggest they will face the Greens in the May runoff:
Norbert Hofer (Freedom Party)- 36%
Alexander Van der Bellen (independent/Greens)- 21%
Imgard Griss (independent)- 18.5%
Rudolph Hundstorter (Social Democrats)- 11%
Andreas Kohl (People's Party)- 11%
Richard Lugner (a wealthy Trump-like clown)- 2%
The BBC somehow came to the conclusion that "the clear victory of the far-right candidate reflects widespread discontent with the status quo, as well as concerns about immigration and the economy." The Guardian was a little more analytic in their reporting on the election results.
Having a president in the Habsburg dynasty’s former palace in Vienna not from either of the two main parties could shake up the traditionally staid and consensus-driven world of Austrian politics.

“This is the beginning of a new political era,” the Freedom party leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, said after what constituted the best result at federal level for the former party of the late Joerg Haider, calling it “historic.”

The Oesterreich tabloid described Hofer’s victory as a “tsunami that has turned our political landscape upside down.”

Hofer is a “a kind, nice, protest politician who wraps the FPOe’s [Freedom party’s] brutal declarations against refugees in soft language.”

[Social Democrat Chancellor Werner] Faymann said on Sunday the result was a “clear warning to the government that we have to work together more strongly”. He said, however, that his party would not make any personnel changes-- including with regard to his own position.

...The rise of fringe politicians has been mirrored across Europe, including in Spain, Britain and Germany, and also in the US with the populist messages of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, who hopes to become president next year, tweeted her congratulations to the Freedom party for its “magnificent result”. “Bravo to the Austrian people,” she said.

Last year, Austria received 90,000 asylum requests, the second highest in Europe on a per capita basis, and Faymann’s government has taken a firmer line on immigration in recent weeks. But this has not stopped support for the Freedom party surging. Recent opinion polls put the party in first place with more than 30% of voter intentions ahead of the next scheduled general elections in 2018.
You probably recall that the French far right Front National made big gains in February and you probably don't recall that last month Slovakia saw it's racist, anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi party, the People's Party-- Our Slovakia, take it's first-ever seats in Parliament. Led by Marian Kotleba, the governor of central Slovakia, the uniformed rightists campaigned against the Roma (gypsy) minority and against immigrants fleeing wars in the Middle East. (The left-leaning ruling party is also virulently anti-immigrant and socially conservative as well.)

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White Collar Crime Epidemic And Our Lovely Political Elites


Saturday we asked if equal justice is ever possible with the kind of gigantic and growing economic inequality that disgraces America today. We were especially looking at the way our Wall Street fat-cats go unpunished no matter the scope of their criminal behavior, primarily because they pay off the corrupt conservatives from both rotten-out Beltway party establishments.

A friend sent me a post from the University of Chicago buisness school's blog, Pro-Market from last month that looked at the same question. And, like us, they went to Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jesse Eisinger of Pro-Publica for answers.
In January, Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a scathing indictment of the American justice system. The 12-page report, titled “Rigged Justice: How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy,” highlighted 20 criminal and civil cases from 2015 in which the federal government “failed to require meaningful accountability from either large corporations or their executives involved in wrongdoing.”

The cases cover numerous industries-- banks, car manufacturers, mining companies. Only one of them led to an indictment and conviction of an individual executive: following the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, in which 29 people were killed, former Massey Energy Company CEO Donald L. Blankenship was convicted of one misdemeanor.

According to Warren’s report, there are currently two legal systems in the United States: one for wealthy corporate executives, where impunity is the norm and accountability is “shockingly weak,” and a separate system for everyone else. In the latter, enforcement is far less timid and punishments are severe.

Over the past few years, ProPublica reporter Jesse Eisinger has interviewed dozens of Wall Street executives, defense lawyers, and former prosecutors and regulators in an effort to understand the roots of executive impunity, as well as to answer the question that has troubled millions of people around the world for the past eight years: how come, following the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, not a single financial sector executive went to jail?

Eisinger, senior reporter at ProPublica and regular columnist for the New York Times’s Dealbook section (currently on book leave), shared the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for a series of stories on the illicit practices of Wall Street executives prior to the financial crisis. He is currently writing a book about the failure of the Department of Justice to prosecute major corporate criminals.

In an interview with ProMarket, Eisinger shared insights from his forthcoming book and traced the rise of executive impunity, from its nascent stages following the successful prosecutions that followed the accounting scandals of the late 1990s and early 2000s, to the current state, in which, he says, prosecutors are bewildered and captured and corporate executive are all but immune. “The book is an explanation why the United States has lost the will and ability to prosecute top corporate executives,” he says.

Q: You describe the financial history of the United States as a series of boom and busts, followed by crackdowns. Before the financial crisis of 2008, we saw the biggest boom, followed by the biggest bust-- but no crackdown. We saw a significant crackdown after Enron, which was a scandal on a much smaller scale. Is it a lack of will or a lack of ability that leads to executive impunity, or do the two go hand in hand?

I think it’s both, they do go hand in hand. Over the last 15 years or so, prosecutors have lost a lot of tools that they used to combat corporate crime. For instance, one of the things they had was a charge they used to convict Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay-- the two top corporate executives from Enron-- called “honest services fraud.” The Supreme Court overturned that and threw out the charge, and as a result, a lot of prosecutions of top corporate executives got thrown out as well.

That’s a small example of the kind of tools that prosecutors were losing. Nothing was particularly cataclysmic, but there was a slow erosion. There were resource shifts as well: the FBI, which is charged with investigating these kind of cases, shifted away from white collar crime to domestic and international terrorism, and that affected the skill set.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) started emphasizing corporate settlements in the guise of something called deferred prosecution agreements (DPA). In doing so, they didn’t realize they were losing the skill set to do investigations of individual executives. If you’re expecting a settlement with a corporation, it’s not the same kind of investigation that you would proceed with if you were investigating an individual. It’s going to take much more time to investigate an individual, and you’re going to have to prepare for a fight, because an individual is going to fight much more than a corporation.

Q: The shift away from individual executives to prosecutions that involve the whole corporation was originally seen as an ambitious method of uprooting illegality, not as a mechanism to absolve individuals, right?

Exactly. There’s a sense the DOJ is completely corrupt, which is a misunderstanding. There’s the soft corruption of the revolving door, no question about that. But it’s not the only factor at play. One of the factors at play was that the prosecutors kept running up against institutions that were serially breaking the law. They would prosecute low-level individuals, and they would see that the institution was still a malefactor.

So they started to think that they needed to change the culture of the institution. Like the mob, you can’t just prosecute a soldier. You have to really go through the whole thing, get to the top but also change the culture of the entire organization. But that can’t be a replacement for the prosecution of individuals, because then you really have toothless enforcement and a lack of accountability. In lieu of prosecuting individuals, especially high-level individuals, they started to settle with corporations.

We have this notion in our culture that prison would deter criminals. When it comes to street crime, this is possibly less true, but in a white collar setting it seems very true. White collar executives have a lot to lose: their stakes in society, assets, reputation, families. They also pay attention to the news-- if their colleagues go to jail, they’ll pay attention. But it doesn’t work if a faceless piece of paper, their corporation, is paying in a way that doesn’t touch them at all, because the shareholders are shouldering the fine. Then they’re just untouched.

...Q: When you have a crisis on the level of the financial crisis, though, with millions of people losing their jobs, potential harm to employees seems hardly an excuse. The human cost of the crisis was far bigger.

Absolutely. It’s a puzzle and a scandal. One of the reasons there were no prosecutions in the wake of the financial crisis is that the DOJ is no longer set up to adequately and skillfully do it. They’ve lost the tools and the skills. They also don’t really have the will. They’re really nervous about it, very trepidatious.

The DOJ lost its first prosecution in the wake the financial crisis, in the Eastern district of New York: a case against two executives at Bear Stearns who ran some hedge funds and lied, or appeared to lie, about the performance of their hedge funds. They were acquitted at trial. The DOJ has been losing a lot of these cases: the Andersen case was reversed, there was a case against KPMG that was thrown out. They’ve been losing cases on stock option backdating, and now they’ve lost the Bear Stearns trial.

So they’re back on their heels, they’re hyper-cautious about investigating these things, and what they do is they investigate these cases to the ground, without being able to pull the trigger. When it came to financial crisis-era prosecutions, they did two things: they didn’t investigate many cases, and in some cases they investigated but could never make a decision. They left the Lehman brothers investigation to the Southern district of New York, which historically is the office you want to count on to lead these kind of things, because they have a lot of skill in these kinds of prosecutions, but the Southern district is distracted by a lot of insider trading investigations. So they basically starve the investigation of resources.

Q: Because it’s much easier to prosecute insider trading?

Insider trading is easier to explain to a jury. It’s easier to prove. It’s easier to understand. They have wiretaps, so the direct evidence of the wiretaps are very easy to convey to a jury. And very importantly, each individual hedge fund or executive at a hedge fund that you’re prosecuting is a discreet entity that is contained, so when they go out of business nobody gets hurt. You’re not putting thousands out of work, only a dozen or two dozen people are affected. So you are really not having a terrible, dramatic effect on the economy or the markets.

What happened at the Southern district of New York is that they do these investigations over and over and over again, and they neglect the financial crisis investigations. They don’t even start some of them, some of them are started elsewhere. They do very few serious investigations into residential mortgage-backed securities, into CDOs, these complex mortgage securities that were at the heart of the fraudulent activity on Wall Street. And nobody in Washington says “do those investigations, these should be a priority.”

Q: You’ve spoken to dozens of regulators and prosecutors for your book. How did they explain this?

The first mantra you hear generally is well, there was a lot of recklessness and stupidity, but recklessness and stupidity are not crimes. There was indeed a lot of recklessness and stupidity in the lead-up to the financial crisis. Not everybody on Wall Street was guilty of a crime, there’s no question, but it is clear that crimes were committed. We now have evidence that huge percentages of the mortgages did not conform to what they were supposed to be according to their official filings. They’ve settled these cases for billions and billions of dollars.

Did no one know that the filings were misleading? I just don’t believe that. We’ve seen emails from executives saying “what we’re selling is shit, it will blow up.” It’s very hard to find an honest prosecutor who will say he doesn’t think there were crimes committed in the wake of the financial crisis. What they’ll say is “I didn’t see any evidence personally, but that guy over there, I can’t believe he wasn’t prosecuted.”

The other thing they say is it’s very complex. That’s not really an excuse. You’re not allowed to say your job is hard, therefore you couldn’t do it. It is highly complex to prosecute international drug rings, but we do it anyway. Also, some of these cases are actually not that complex when you simplify them for the purposes of distilling what the crime was. I don’t think these things were aggressively investigated, I don’t think they tried to understand the evidence, and I don’t think they tried really hard to bring cases.

Q: Everything we’ve spoken about until now seems to echo the words of former Attorney General and current FBI director James Comey: “We have a name for prosecutors who have never lost-- the ‘Chickenshit Club.” Where does the part of capture, the lack of will, come in?

So when the Obama administration came in, they saw the DOJ in the late Bush era was full of hacks and cronies. They wanted to clean up, professionalize. Their notion of professionalizing was to bring in people with a lot of defense bar experience, people from Covington & Burling. People who up until then were defending corporate executives and now had to switch on a dime from defending corporations to prosecuting them. It’s very hard to make that switch. Some had prosecutorial experience, but many didn’t.

When it comes to prosecuting white collar crimes, everybody looks the same. They went to the same schools. They’re classmates, or they’re peers. You have to have a totally different mentality that says you’re going to relish giving these people discomfort. You have to be deeply unpopular, to risk your future career and weather accusations that you’re being overly aggressive. Anybody who prosecutes corporations, you see them attacked that they’re unfair or not playing by the rules. They have career difficulties later on. Eliot Spitzer got attacked. Ben Lawsky, the aggressive Superintendent of Financial Services of New York State, gets personally attacked. Neil Barofsky, who oversaw the TARP program, he got attacked.

So if you’re not playing the game, you get personally attacked for being overly aggressive, for seeking your own personal glory, for not knowing what you’re talking about. There is a concerted effort to take you down. To be a prosecutor, you have to be able to resist all that. It’s hard to find those people.

Q: And even when you do find people who are willing to go through this, you still run into a problem: they might be priced out of the city they work in?

There’s this other problem, which is you’re topping out at roughly $150 thousand per year as a prosecutor. And you’re wondering what you’re going to do next and trying to preserve your career viability. You have a very lucrative path to become a partner at a major law firm, where you can make 10 times what you’re making. As a partner, you can make $1.5-2 million.

But to do that, you have to preserve your reputation. You have to ultimately be seen as reasonable. You cannot be seen as a glory hound, or overly aggressive. You want to conform to these expectations. You want to show you’re smart and a tough negotiator…

...Q: The US has more people in jail than any other country in the world, yet executives who cause enormous economic devastation not only go unpunished, but are incentivized to do it again. Isn’t this is a huge inequality?

When we talk about inequality in this country, often we’re talking about jobs and wealth and economic opportunity. But I would say that the greatest perquisite of the power class in America is the ability to commit crimes with impunity. I think this profoundly undermines the sense that we live in a just and fair society when we see top corporate executives getting the kinds of protections from out legal system that are not available to people of lower means.

In one of the cases I am looking at in my book, corporate executives are found guilty, but their criminal charges are overturned because the prosecutors put up the wrong stock chart. They put up a stock chart that prejudiced the jury because the chart went down, when maybe it didn’t go down as much as they thought. For that, these guys get their charges thrown out. The courts have been very interested in reversing white collar convictions.

Q: How do you explain that? We can’t say that Supreme Court justices are captured in the same way as prosecutors.

It’s ideological. Some of that is real ideology, not just pure capture. Partly, this is due to the rise of libertarian judges. There’s been an ideological shift from old-line Republicanism that stressed law and order and being hard on crime, whether it’s white collar or street crime, to libertarianism. And libertarians don’t like government overreach, particularly with white collar crime.

In the Democratic party, there’s a technocratic elite that is also not friendly to, is even hostile to, corporate prosecutions. The Democratic elite has moved right, and the Republican elite has gone full libertarian. They’re just ideologically opposed, and probably captured as well, to some extent.

Q: What is the role of business media in this? The press is supposed to pressure prosecutors and regulators to pursue these type of cases, but how often does that really happen?

There has been some journalistic pressure on this, but there hasn’t been the kind of sustained drum beat on this that you’d expect. A lot of these stories kind of dissipated because the regulators didn’t pick them up. The press is really dependent on the regulator being aggressive. It’s hard for them to generate their own stories.

Q: Would you say the press is also captured?

In general, the business press is very captured by interests and is not in the kind of adversarial role it needs to be. There’s another problem that you can’t simply assert things in journalism. The odds are stacked against a journalist who thinks a crime was committed and wants to demonstrate these things.

Q: Another problem seems to be that big corporate settlements are seen as great accomplishments. If you manage to get a billion dollar fine, you’ll get great press.

They have these press conferences when they have these big settlements, and they get bigger and bigger because they want them to be especially attention-getting. But they’re still a fraction of the profits made by these businesses. In fact, companies often have profitable quarters despite some of these payments, because they are tax deductible. Their stocks also go up after settlements, because it clears the uncertainty.

Prosecutors have become so worried about collateral damage that they go to all the regulators and ask, “Are you going to pull your license if we charge this company criminally?”

Q: So prosecutors make sure they don’t cause too much damage before reaching a settlement?

Right. They take the teeth out of their settlements before actually implementing them

Q: Looking forward, what can we expect in terms of executive impunity? What is the endpoint?

I don’t see any change in the status quo for a long time. Loretta Lynch and her administration have tacitly admitted there’s a problem, and now they want to prosecute individuals. That’s a very good thing: you’re admitting there’s a problem, and you’re articulating your goals. We don’t know if they’re going to be able to succeed, and my suspicion is they’re just going to prosecute low-level executives, because the top executives are so isolated.

What they’re going to have do eventually is to overhaul the DOJ, to change both the skill set and the resources. You can’t flip a switch. There is no solution to it. You need a completely different ethos at the top.
Does anyone think Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump will do anything whatsoever to stop this kind of behavior or correct this systemic culture of corruption? If you do, this thermometer is probably not for you:

Goal Thermometer

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