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If Bernie Sanders Runs in 2016: Dem, Indy, or Green?

By: Scott McLarty Thursday February 13, 2014 2:55 pm

A Democratic or Independent Sanders campaign for the White House won’t ignite a “political revolution.” But a Green Sanders campaign might.

Should Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind.-Vt.) run for president?

Official portrait of Bernie Sanders in front of flags

Sanders: A Green Party President?

The creeping realization that the next Democratic nominee may be Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has already picked up $400,000 in speaking fees (i.e., unofficial campaign contributions, i.e., bribes) from Goldman Sachs, is making a progressive alternative increasingly attractive for 2016. Sen. Sanders is mulling the idea and a few Draft Sanders efforts are underway.

By progressive, I mean favoring an immediate shutdown of Guantanamo and the NSA surveillance dragnet, Medicare For All to replace Obamacare, a ban on fracking, cancellation of the tar-sands pipelines and Trans-Pacific Partnership, prosecution of banksters responsible for the fraud that triggered the 2008 economic crisis, a livable wage for working Americans, a reversal of the redistribution of wealth to the One Percent, and an end to military adventures and drone warfare, among other things.

Despite campaign promises and occasional rhetoric, President Obama has proved himself on the wrong side (or inadequate side, in the case of wages) of all of the above. The ferocious partisan hostility between Dems and a Republican Party determined to march off the cliff of extremism shouldn’t blind us to the retreat of the Democratic Party’s mainstream from FDR-era progressivism. We have two parties of war and Wall Street.

Ms. Clinton is likely to be even friendlier than Mr. Obama to the plutocrat sector. She’ll enjoy a progressive makeover to disguise her record and appeal to the amnesiac voting bloc. She’ll win the support of Dem voters who place hope in the illusion of her incremental progressivism (“Her heart’s in the right place!”) and those for whom Dems are the eternal lesser of two evils (“We have nowhere else to turn!”).

Some of those with more realistic expectations about a Clinton presidency have appealed to Sen. Sanders, who acknowledges the need for a “political revolution” to change the country’s direction, to consider running.

There are two questions regarding a Sanders candidacy, the second contingent on the first: whether he should run, and how he should run. I’ll leave aside “whether” for now and skip over to “how.”

Independent?

Here’s the problem with independent campaigns: they leave no legacy. An independent might call public attention to a few big issues ignored by the D and R candidates, but there exists no institutional means to carry the independent’s ideas forward after Election Day.

John Anderson’s independent campaign drew nearly 7% of the vote in 1980, above the FEC’s 5% threshold for partial public funding in the following presidential election, if Rep. Anderson had established an alternative party or run on an existing alternative party’s ballot line.

In some cases, candidates create party labels for their ballot lines, such as Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson’s Justice Party in 2012, but such campaigns are in effect independent, with the ad hoc party folding when Election Day is over. Independent campaigns are historical footnotes, with nothing to show for the candidates’ efforts.

Democrat?

We know what happens to progressive Democratic contenders for the White House. Just ask Dennis Kucinich. Or Rev. Jesse Jackson. Their campaigns serve mainly to keep progressives within the Democratic fold during the pre-primary period, ensuring that most of the latter will vote for the party’s corporate-money nominee in the general election.

Progressive Dems have tried for decades to steer their party back towards its alleged principles. Despite their best efforts, the Democratic Party continues to slide to the right. The party’s leaders assume they can take progressive votes for granted, while adapting to compete with the GOP for corporate campaign checks.

Much of President Obama’s agenda and accomplishments would have been recognized as Republican ten years ago. The long list of examples includes the individual mandate, an idea that was introduced by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans until Dems made it the basis of Obamacare in 2009.

The fact that groups like MoveOn.org have defended or acquiesced to the Dems’ embrace of conservative agenda proves that instead of pulling the Democratic Party to the left, progressives have been pulled to the right.

When a Democratic president proposes cuts in Social Security and secretly negotiates an anti-labor trade pact (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) while publicly bemoaning income equality, when Democrats from the party’s left flank defend the kind of military strikes and surveillance that they protested under a GOP president, it’s a sign that the party is beyond rehabilitation.

Why Not Green?

Several articles and one online poll limit Bernie Sanders’ options to running Dem and running Independent, if he decides to run at all. They seem to go out of their way to ignore a third option staring them in the face: running Green.

A quick comparison of Sen. Sanders’ positions with the Green Party’s platform and principles shows a close match.

Like Sen. Sanders, the Green Party measures the health of the nation’s economy according to the level of financial security enjoyed by working Americans and the number of people lifted out of poverty — in contrast to the Ds and Rs, who judge the economy by the Dow, GDP, and corporate profit margins. Democrats cite economic gains since 2009 as evidence of a recovery, while Sen. Sanders and the Green Party advocate deep changes to a system that has allowed the top One Percent to enjoy 95% of these gains.

Big Government for Dummies: Food-stamp cuts, bloated military budgets, and state-cartel capitalism

By: Scott McLarty Monday December 16, 2013 1:46 pm

It’s hardly a surprise that the coalition of social-justice groups that held a press conference in Washington, DC, on December 10 had no influence on the latest lurch into austerity.

The press conference in the Cannon House Office Building demanded that Congress make deep cuts in the nation’s military budget, reject reductions in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and redirect funds into sorely needed social safety-net programs. Along with other political and community leaders, members of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign talked about how joblessness, hunger, foreclosures, and economic distress were hurting their families.

After the press conference, they walked in the snow to the office of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), co-chair of the Budgetary Committee, to present a “People’s Budget” and supporting petitions (see the video).

Unfortunately, the austerity agenda, premised on the idea that working Americans should shoulder economic losses caused by Wall Street’s criminal recklessness, required that Congress decree otherwise. The bipartisan budget deal reached later on Tuesday exempted the Pentagon from sequestration, while allowing proposed food-stamp cuts to move forward and blocking unemployment extensions.

For Republicans, austerity represents a step towards economic freedom and ending the tyranny of Big Government. For Democrats, austerity means responsible fiscal policy and deficit reduction. Or so the usual media narrative tells us. Don’t believe it.

Conservative politicians don’t want smaller government. They adore Big Government. For Republicans, moderate Democrats, and the lobbyists who sustain them with fat campaign checks, the ideal is powerful government that serves the One Percent more efficiently, generously, and exclusively.

They favor massive government intervention that feeds the corporate sector through taxpayer-funded subsidies, handouts, bailouts, insurance to cover losses in the stock market, boondoggle contracts (manna for the defense industries), privatization of public resources and services, and international trade deals that privilege big business at the expense of democratically enacted labor, environmental, and public-health protections. In short, a massive redistribution of wealth and power to the top.

We can discard the idea of an eternal struggle between government intervention and freedom. The real choice is intervention for the benefit of most of the population or for wealthy elites. The pure no-government libertarian ideal is a pipedream, existing only in places like Somalia. The U.S. came close during the Gilded Age, a time of endless sweatshop drudgery, poverty, and destitution for tens of millions of Americans before the corrections of the Progressive Era. That’s what conservativism means now, a return to the Gilded Age and the reign of the Robber Barons.

Food-stamp cuts represent a propaganda victory for this ideal. Millions of Americans complain that the lady at the supermarket who pays for groceries with food stamps is a drain on our tax dollars, probably living in the lap of taxpayer-funded luxury. Meanwhile, arms manufacturers, banks, oil companies, and other industries suck up billions from the public coffers with hardly a peep.

The era of deregulation, globalization, privatization, slashed safety nets, and bloated military budgets commenced with the Reagan Era, with some precursors under President Carter, such as the relax of airline industry regulations. It persists whether Democrats or Republicans control the White House and Congress.

Ronald Reagan’s administration made a special effort to enact the anti-regulation economic theories of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, even after the deregulation of the savings and loan industry, inspired by these theories, inflicted a catastrophe that ultimately cost the public over $370 billion. For all his rhetoric about shrinking government, President Reagan expanded the federal government’s size and power and tripled the national debt.

The libertarian dogmas of Messrs. Hayek and Friedman don’t supply freedom as most of us understand the word — the capacity of all people to act and determine the course of their own lives, without coercion. Instead, they provide a license for wealthy elites to exploit, plunder, pollute, and commit crimes with impunity.

Of course, corporations themselves don’t care much about academic theories and political ideologies. Their sole interest is profit and power.

The State-Cartel Ideal

The capitalist libertarian model has two effects. First, it allows big business to consolidate into a small number of corporations (cartels) with the monopolistic power to control the market, killing competition and turning the “free market” into an illusion.

Obamacare and Other Republican Ideas

By: Scott McLarty Tuesday November 19, 2013 5:39 pm

A column by Hugh Hewitt published in the Washington Examiner on Nov. 10 reveals a likely Republican talking point as the next presidential election approaches: “Hillary is Obamacare’s grandmother. Put another way: Obamacare is Hillary’s grandchild.” Mr. Hewitt’s goal, of course, is to pin the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on a likely Democratic candidate for the White House in 2016.

While it’s true that Ms. Clinton endorsed the individual mandate during her 2008 presidential campaign, the ACA’s pedigree isn’t Democratic at all. It’s Republican — which raises questions not only about GOP accusations like the one from Mr. Hewitt, but also about progressive support for President Obama’s health-care reform legislation and abandonment of universal health care, i.e., Single-Payer national health care (“Medicare For All”).

The individual mandate is the foundation and most controversial part of the ACA, requiring all of us to purchase health coverage from private insurance companies. It was introduced in 1989 by the Heritage Foundation, a rightwing pro-business think tank allied with the GOP.

Mr. Hewitt wishes to associate the individual mandate with the managed-care proposal that was crafted by the Jackson Hole Summit convened by Ms. Clinton and offered by President Clinton in 1993. In reality, the individual mandate was the basis for two GOP alternatives to the Clinton plan: the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act (“HEART Act”), sponsored by 20 Republican Senators, and the Consumer Choice Health Security Act sponsored by Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.).

The half-dozen largest insurance companies favored the Clinton plan, which they helped write (consumer advocates were excluded), while smaller firms represented by the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA) favored GOP proposals. HIAA ran the famous “Harry and Louise” ads against the Clinton plan.

Gov. Mitt Romney signed the individual mandate into law in Massachusetts in 2006, drawing praise from Senators Jim DeMint and Orrin Hatch and other Republican leaders because of the mandate’s boost for private business. It was even part of a bipartisan bill co-written by Senators Bob Bennett (R-Ut.) and Ron Wyden (D-Oreg.) in 2007.

Some Republicans and the Cato Institute opposed it, but there’s no doubt that the individual mandate was a Republican scheme, until Democrats grabbed hold of it in 2009. After that, Republicans denounced the mandate and called it socialism.

Insurance companies, whose reps attended the health-care reform panels hosted by Dems in 2009 and helped draft the ACA, knew that the new legislation was designed to provide them a massive windfall. Whether the ACA was passed or defeated in Congress, they’d be the real winners. The ACA debate was rigged from the beginning by insurance and other corporate lobbies whose profits and high overhead, burdening the US with the highest medical costs of any nation on earth, would be maintained.

In the real world, no genuine socialist would ever jump on board a bill that imposes a direct public subsidy for the financial sector. Neither can the ACA be compared with Social Security or Medicare, which are administered efficiently by government agencies with minimal overhead costs.

The ACA is far more comparable to the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (“Medicare Modernization Act”), a Republican “reform” bill signed into law by President Bush in 2003. This legislation turned Medicare into a corporate cash cow and imposed a complex semi-privatized Medicare system that funnels over $500 billion to Big Pharma and Big Insurance.

The Medicare Modernization Act accomplishes this giveaway through increased payments to Medicare Advantage plans, which converts Medicare funds into insurance company profits, and through Part D, which provides drug benefits for seniors. Part D is only available under a private drug plan provided by (what else?) an insurance company.

Partisan Loyalty vs. Substance

If Obamacare is the rejected grandchild of the Heritage Foundation and betrayed love child of the pre-2009 GOP, then we should also ask: Why did so many progressives, unions, and liberal advocacy groups suddenly endorse legislation that they had recognized earlier as a handout to the insurance industry?

Why did progressives abandon the demand for Single-Payer and the idea that the right to enjoy good medical care should trump the right of private insurance firms to make a profit? (Not all progressives went along with the ACA. Physicians for a National Health Program, the California Nurses Association, the Green Party, and some other groups criticized Obamacare and continued to insist on Single-Payer.)

The obvious answer is post-inauguration loyalty to President Obama. By electing a new Democratic (and first black) president and Democratic Congress, we took back our country from the Bush-Cheney Gang. The health care crisis and other problems would be solved by Change We Can Believe In.

The Supreme Court upheld the individual mandate (National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 2012), but I can’t help wondering how the liberal justices would have ruled on it if the new health care law had been promoted and signed by a Republican president, a plausible scenario given the mandate’s history. Would progressive Dems in Congress, all of whom voted for the ACA, have voted yea on a Republican bill with all the same planks?

Such loyalty implicates progressive apologists for the ACA in the rollout mess, including the web-site fiasco, the broken promise that everyone can keep their existing insurance plans, the sorely inadequate and prohibitively expensive policies offered in the insurance exchanges that will leave millions of Americans vulnerable to financial ruin if they face a medical emergency, the looming penalty for those who fail to purchase coverage that they can’t afford, and the estimated 31 million who’ll still lack insurance.

The history of the individual mandate should lead us to two conclusions:

(1) The debates over health care and other big issues are very often less about substance and more about partisan allegiances. The main criterion for judging any policy or piece of legislation is which side of the aisle introduced it. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars and other military ventures, answered with vociferous protest when George W. Bush occupied the White House, provoked little outrage after Barack Obama moved in, even after the expansion of civilian-slaughtering drone warfare.

(2) While the GOP wallows in extremism and partisan obstruction, Democrats are embracing traditional Republican agenda.

Like the individual mandate, most of the Obama Administration’s major proposals and accomplishments would have been recognized as Republican ten years ago: the plan to slash Social Security, the Wall Street bailouts, refusal to prosecute bankster crimes that triggered the economic crisis, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, school privatization, the NSA’s massive surveillance dragnet, unprovoked military attacks on other countries, “clean coal,” permission for continued mountaintop removal mining and fracking, even greenhouse-gas emissions trading (introduced by the George H.W. Bush Administration and supported by Newt Gingrich and John McCain before the 2008 presidential race).

This tendency was already at work in the two Clinton terms. Bill Clinton’s legacy would make any Republican president proud: NAFTA, the Welfare Reform Act, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the antigay Defense of Marriage Act, consolidation of media ownership under the Telecommunications Act, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, expansion of the private prison-industrial complex and war on drugs, training of civilian police in military tactics, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. (The last two set the stage for the Subprime Mortgage Crisis and 2008 economic meltdown.)

A pattern emerges: Democrats enact Republican policies that Republicans can’t enact by themselves. This doesn’t mean there’s no difference between the two, but it demonstrates that the parties are in a symbiotic dance that’s drifting steadily to the right, with the Dems a few steps behind the Repubs. Sometimes they simply flip-flop, as in the case of the mandate, but the bipartisan game keeps profit-driven health insurance — too expensive, low-quality, and inaccessible for millions of Americans — firmly in place.

Thus Democrats in Congress fell into line behind the ACA, which offers some limited positive reforms but maintains the insurance industry’s bureaucratic control over medical care, imposing modest regulations that are offset by the individual mandate’s profit pipeline. The ACA isn’t a government takeover of health care, it’s a financial-sector takeover of government.

Single-Payer doesn’t sustain the private insurance industry, so Dems declared it “off the table.” It doesn’t have to stay off the table. The current mood of consternation and frustration with the rollout gives us a perfect opportunity to campaign vigorously for Single-Payer as the solution to Obamacare.

Reasons to Lose Sleep over the Shutdown and Obamacare

By: Scott McLarty Sunday October 6, 2013 2:42 pm

Sure, the government shutdown and Republican demands regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are reprehensible, but let’s not delude ourselves about the ACA itself.

It’s needlessly complex. It preserves medical treatment as a commodity rather than a right: low-cost policies will provide low-quality insurance. It imposes a direct public subsidy to feed the insurance industry, which helped write the legislation. It isn’t universal.

Millions of people who lacked it will now have health insurance, but the coverage they get won’t approach the level of health-care access guaranteed to every citizen in every other democratic nation.

Obamacare is a Republican idea. It’s based on the individual mandate, an idea introduced by the conservative pro-business Heritage Foundation, promoted by Republican leaders, and enacted in Massachusetts by Gov. Romney. Republicans only began to detest it circa 2009 when President Obama and Democrats made it part of Obamacare.

Conversely, progressives only began to support it when the ACA was introduced. Barack Obama opposed it during his first presidential campaign but changed his mind in 2009.

Is it obnoxious to suggest that the dispute over Obamacare was always more about partisan loyalties than substance?

The shutdown will probably end when establishment Republicans convince Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his fellow Tea Partiers that they’ve had their fun and now it’s time to let adults run the show again. The main GOP objection to Obamacare is the “Obama” part. The legislation’s real defects aren’t important to the GOP.

GOP Agenda and Obamacare

Republicans are expert at aggravating crises and using instability to ram through their agenda: destroying social programs, privatizing resources and services, deregulating big business, recreating the dismal economic conditions of the Robber Baron Era. (Naomi Klein described this in her book Shock Doctrine.)

Republicans can usually count on Democratic presidents and congressional leaders (who are subject to the same lobby and campaign-contribution influences as the GOP) to capitulate or compromise, sometimes without a fight, as President Obama did during the summer 2011 budget talks that resulted in sequestration.

They often rely on Dems to pursue GOP agenda without GOP help. President Obama’s secretly negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, proposed Social Security reductions, and debt-expanding military actions would have been recognized as Republican ten years ago — as would the ACA.

The ACA became a capitulation from the moment Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, declared single-payer national health care “off the table” during health-care reform panels in 2009. Single-payer advocates were barred from the panels, while insurance and other health-care industry representatives were invited to make sure their own interests were protected in the new legislation. Even the public option was dropped.

The capitulation has serious consequences, a few of which I mentioned above. One consequence was reported in the New York Times on October 2: “A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor blacks and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance, the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help…. Because they live in states largely controlled by Republicans that have declined to participate in a vast expansion of Medicaid, the medical insurance program for the poor, they are among the eight million Americans who are impoverished, uninsured and ineligible for help.”

By sacrificing universal health care, the new law accommodated Republican disregard for the poor in the 26 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion. The ACA isn’t a victory for the millions, maybe tens of millions of Americans for whom insurance and medical costs will remain beyond reach or require a hefty percentage of their income. Or for those who will still face financial ruin over a medical emergency. (For a more detailed critique, see Scott Tucker’s interview with Dr. Don McCanne of Physicians for a National Health Program.)

These consequences won’t be disturbed when the shutdown ends and immediate funding for the ACA prevails. The ACA was designed to be partial solution to the crisis of skyrocketing medical costs that bankrupt working Americans, even those with insurance, and the lack of insurance for millions more.

Useful Idiots

The context of the government shutdown is a dispute within the GOP between traditional types and “kill the government” fundamentalists associated with the Tea Party.

The Tar Sands Pipeline and Independent Eco-Politics

By: Scott McLarty Wednesday April 17, 2013 2:16 pm

Bill McKibben of 350.org says we don’t have time to challenge two-party rule and build a political alternative like the Green Party that takes the climate threat seriously. In reality, we don’t have time not to.

Obama: Lead on Climate banner

Can the climate struggle succeed within the two-party system?

Those of us who participated in the #ForwardOnClimate Rally against the tar-sands pipelines in Washington, DC, on Feb. 17 witnessed the environmental movement at its best and worst.

It was at it best because tens of thousands turned out in freezing weather to demand that President Obama kill the proposal for the Keystone XL and Enbridge pipelines that, if approved, will route highly polluting crude oil from the Alberta tar sands through the US. The PR justification is that the oil will help meet domestic energy needs, but it’s evident, given the pipelines’ destination (Gulf and Maine coasts), that the oil is meant for export to enrich the fossil-fuel cartel. The State Department’s environmental review of the pipeline is being handled by the same experts who were earlier hired as consultants by TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline.

The movement was at it’s worst because speaker after speaker at the rally confirmed his and her allegiance to President Obama, to cheers from the crowd.

The message that the President and Democratic leaders heard on Feb. 17 was “We hope you’ll say no to the pipelines, but if you don’t we still support you.” Which tells them that they risk nothing by greenlighting the pipeline.

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and perhaps the most prominent writer on the global climate threat, agrees with a Time Magazine soundbyte that the pipeline question might be the “Selma and Stonewall” of the movement to curb climate change and writes of his frustration with the Democratic Party in his essay “Is the Keystone XL Pipeline the ‘Stonewall’ of the Climate Movement?” (TomDispatch, April 7, 2013)

President Obama has made it clear, despite assurances to the contrary, that global climate disruption is a backburner issue. He identifies “energy independence” as a top goal and promises to tap all available domestic (or at least North American) sources, which is why offshore drilling in US coastal waters, hydrofracking, and mountaintop detonation mining continue despite the damage they cause.

The President has also insisted on deletion of the 2C goal for keeping the world’s average temperature from rising more than two degrees Centigrade from international climate-change negotiations and has secretly negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an international trade pact designed to serve corporate lobbies by overrriding environmental and labor protections. The climate crisis (like the TransPacific Partnership) was never mentioned during the Obama-Romney debates during the 2012 presidential race. It’s no secret that Dems covet those generous Big Oil campaign checks.

The Democratic Party will not provide leadership against climate disruption. Democrats are continuing to slide to the right on most issues, tailoring their positions to satisfy corporate lobbies and donors. The same tendency explains the Obama Administration’s plans to cut Social Security and Medicare, failure to prosecute too-big-to-fail banks for their criminal recklessness, and the individual mandate on which Obamacare is based — a Republican scheme introduced by the rightwing Heritage Foundation.

Mr. McKibben wants to believe that “taken as a whole, [Democrats are] better than the Republicans,” as if being not quite as awful as Mitt Romney or John Boehner is a virtue.

“Republicans are worse.” That’s the mantra of progressive and pro-environmental Dems while their party marches the US into the climate abyss a few steps behind the GOP. Republican climate-change denial and contempt for science enable Democratic politicians to claim they’re taking the lead on the crisis. In multi-party countries, such leadership would be recognized as an impediment to action just a few degrees removed from denial.

Progressives have fantasized for decades that they’ll pull the Democratic Party to the left some day. Instead, the Democratic Party has pulled progressives to the right. Barack Obama’s 2008 victory ended the antiwar movement, as anti-Bush peace activists acquiesced to an Obama foreign policy that incorporated the belligerent neocon postures of the Bush-Cheney Administration. Progressives cheered a Supreme Court decision upholding the individual mandate, which blesses the health insurance industry with a direct public subsidy.

Where are the massive public demonstrations against proposed Social Security and Medicare cuts, civilian-slaughtering drone warfare, erosion of civil liberties, prosecution of whistleblowers, Guantánamo, record-high incarceration rates in the prison-industrial complex, the TransPacific Partnership, privatization of the TVA, the corporate takeover of public education, continuing multi-billion-dollar taxpayer subsidies to Wall Street banks… all of which might be happening right now if a Republican were in the White House?

By refusing to consider an alternative to the corporate-money two-party choice, progressives have participated in the consolidation of capitalist oligarchy.

The Green Imperative

The idea of a third-party alternative makes Bill McKibben fidget. He writes:

Open the Debates: Demand inclusion of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson!

By: Scott McLarty Thursday September 20, 2012 11:33 pm

It’s time for Americans of all political persuasions to unite and demand real presidential debates, with the participation of Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

Three debates are planned, the first on October 3. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which controls the debates, is determined that only Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will be allowed in front of the microphones.

That’s because the CPD is owned and run by the Democratic and Republican parties and the two parties’ corporate funders. The CPD took over the debates to limit the stage to their own candidates and to make sure that no challenging questions get asked.

The League of Women Voters, which sponsored the debates before the CPD took over, has called this situation “a fraud on the American voter.”

But we don’t have to remain silent about this affront to democracy and fair elections.

• Challenge the Commission on Presidential Debates!

Visit the ‘Occupy the CPD!’ web site and sign on to the statement. Tell the CPD that the debates must include every candidate who is on enough ballots to win the White House and who has demonstrated a minimal level of support — either 1% of the vote in a credible national poll or qualification for federal matching funds or both. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson meet all of these criteria.

• Challenge the Media!

Tell TV and radio stations that Americans voters are not stupid, that our heads won’t explode if we see more than two candidates or if we hear more than two sides (or even just one side, sometimes) on important issues.

Tell them that media organizations don’t have to play by the CPD’s rules, that they can schedule their own debates that include the Green and Libertarian candidates. They can also schedule off-site follow-up debates and interviews with Stein and Johnson after the CPD debates.

Tell them that news broadcasts and talk shows should invite alternative party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson who express ideas that are outside of the narrow Democratic-Republican spectrum.

• Challenge Progressive Organizations and Web Sites!

Any progressive, ecological, or antiwar web site, periodical, radio station, or organization or labor union that doesn’t demand a real progressive voice — Jill Stein — in the presidential debates is engaging in self-censorship.

Too many of these groups are so married to the Democratic Party that they’re willing to silence their own ideals by pretending that only Obama speaks for them.

Don’t let them get away with this hypocrisy. Give them a piece of your mind, by writing letters and comments in response to their articles. Give them another piece of your mind when they come around asking for contributions.

• Challenge the Polls!

The CPD has used results from public opinion polls that only ask questions about Democratic and Republican candidates and exclude other parties to justify its arbitrary debate policies. Such polls are misleading.

• Challenge Yourself!

Stop believing the media hype and lies that we only have two choices on Election Day.

Stop believing nasty and dishonest political ads on TV and the radio, a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (2010) that allows wealthy and powerful corporations to advertise without limit for their favored candidates.

Stop believing that American politics is limited to two parties, both of which accept millions in corporate contributions.

Stop believing that we can fix the economy, that we can fight global warming, that we can stop invading other countries by voting for either a pro-Wall Street pro-war Democrat or a pro-war pro-Wall Street Republican.

Start believing that you have the power to change the direction of our country!

“Obama has betrayed our hopes for change, but I’m worried that Romney might win.” Many of us fear a Republican victory, but it’s time to be afraid of the Democrats too.

Both parties keep moving further to the right. The result is more war, more redistribution of wealth from working people to the One Percent, more erosion of the Constitution, more disregard of global warming and other threats to our planet. This describes Obama as well as Romney.

We can keep rubberstamping the two-party status quo for the rest of history. Or we can build a strong pro-peace pro-environment party that supports working Americans and accepts no corporate money.

We can start by demanding a place in the debates for Green presidential nominee Jill Stein. We can be true to our democratic principles by demanding inclusion of all qualified presidential candidates, like Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, in the debates.

Democracy and fair elections mean the right to know which candidates best represent our ideals and interests — and the right to vote without being told we only have two choices.

• Challenge Your Family, Friends, and Neighbors!

Please forward this message widely so that we can build a movement for opening the debates that the CPD and the media can’t ignore!

More information:

Occupy the CPD!

Jill Stein Campaign
Green Party

Gary Johnson Campaign
Libertarian Party

Romney, Obama, and the Bipartisan ‘Free Market’ Scam

By: Scott McLarty Tuesday September 11, 2012 9:31 pm

“Ryan’s a corporatist. Ryan is anything but a conservative. ['Corporatist'] is my word for what they’re calling crony capitalists — they expand government in the service of corporate interests. It’s the merger of big business with big government where the big government is in the service of big capitalism.” — Ralph Nader

“In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.” — Fran Lebowitz, Social Studies

No election year is complete without a parade of politicians telling us that the free market is the panacea for the country’s economic woes.

Republicans are more blatant in their promotion of market solutions. Mitt Romney, in his nomination acceptance speech, declared that the White House should be inhabited by a business-oriented president, i.e., one who understands and bows to the market. Democratic Party leaders are more nuanced in their language, until you peel away the rhetoric and consider their actual policies and actions.

It’s time we took a look at what Gov. Romney, his fellow Republicans, and their Democratic opponents mean when they talk about the market.

If we examine the legislation that Congress and various presidents have promoted and passed, it’s clear that “free market” for politicians of both parties is code for something quite different from what most people believe it means.

For most Americans, the model for market competition is a group of similar businesses, perhaps located on Main Street, that compete for customers. Two shoe stores on the north and south ends of town both want customers, so they compete by adjusting their prices, offering more and better merchandise, and advertising. Why should government interfere, when both shoe shops, the employees they hire, and customers’ feet benefit from such competition?

At the level of major corporations — multinational companies, Wall Street, Big Oil, agribusiness, defense contractors, and various conglomerates — the Main Street model is a propaganda tool.

The deregulation that Republicans and Democrats have enacted has little to do with popular conceptions of the free market. On the contrary, deregulation enables corporations to buy up their competition, especially smaller companies. The result of leveraged buyouts and other forms of acquisition is that businesses combine to form monopolies and virtual monopolies, with economic (and political) power concentrated in fewer and fewer boardrooms.

Monopolies are the enemy of competition. When a single company or a tiny number of companies (ExxonMobil and Chevron, for example) possess so much horizontal and vertical control over markets, no real competition takes place.

This is hardly a secret, but politicians of both parties still pretend that such concentration benefits everyone, despite so much counter-evidence. A good example is Comcast’s exclusive ownership of cable TV rights in Pittsburgh and other communities, allowing it to get away with high prices and poor customer service. Another example is the 1996 Telecommunications Act, signed by President Clinton, which deregulated ownership of media and allowed a small number of large media firms to buy up several TV, radio, and newspaper companies in single cities, giving them greater control over what news we’re allowed to see, hear, or read.

The proliferation of Walmarts in recent decades is classic faux free market: supported by local Democratic and Republican elected officials with tax breaks, subsidies, and taxpayer-funded changes in infrastructure, Walmart undercuts small local businesses with dirt-cheap prices, draining the area economy and turning Main Street into a ghost town, while paying employees sub-liveable wages with no benefits.

What Mitt Romney means by “free market” is unrestrained power for corporate bureaucracies. He has a special affinity for this idea, as co-founder of Bain Capital, a private equity and public market investment firm.

We shouldn’t confuse companies like Bain Capital with Main Street businesses like the shoe-store example above. For companies like Bain and execs like Mr. Romney, small businesses exist to become fodder for larger companies. The damaging effect of this kind of predatory capitalism on jobs and local economies in the US has been reported by Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone and other journalists.

Sam Smith, in the August 25 edition of Undernews, wrote ‎”Personal to campaign media: Please stop referring to Mitt Romney as a businessman. He’s not; he’s an investment banker who makes money off of businessmen and through buying and selling their businesses. As any business owner can tell you; this is miles from the same thing.”

The “Market” Agenda

Bain Capital, like many financial sector firms, is less a business in the usual sense and more the blunt expression of an idea — the free movement of capital, without regard for its effect on civil society or the environment. Both Republican and Democratic parties serve the doctrine of unrestrained corporate power and it’s easy to see why. Browse the web site of the Center for Responsive Politics for a glimpse at the hundreds of thousands of dollars that top corporations contribute to politicians of both parties to maintain their influence.

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (2010) affirmed the legal status of corporations as “persons” under the 14th Amendment and allowed them to advertise without restriction for favored candidates, granting corporate elites even greater leverage over major-party politicians. As a result, the differences between the two parties are mostly factional: within a narrow and sometimes nonexistent range of disagreement, they compete over the best way to serve their top benefactors. (See “Closer Than You Think: Top 15 Things Romney and Obama Agree On” by Bruce A. Dixon in Black Agenda Report.)

They render this service with various kinds of legislation and public policy:

Massive taxpayer-funded subsidies and tax breaks: If we judge by the money they make from heavily subsized energy firms, the Koch brothers are welfare queens par excellence. Citizens for Tax Justice has published lists of major corporations, like Verizon, General Electric, and Pacific Gas & Electric, that pay zero or near-zero taxes despite billions in profits.

Deregulation: The classic example is President Reagan’s loosening of laws governing the savings and loan industry in the 1980s, which led to a crisis that vaporized the life savings of hundreds of thousands of Americans. President Clinton’s signature on the 2000 Commodities Futures Modernization Act and repeal of Glass-Steagall eliminated rules that would have prevented the 2008 meltdown, a fact missing from the visionary speech he delivered at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Bailouts: Americans are still outraged at the unconditional multi-trillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street in 2008, which was supported by both John McCain and Barack Obama. Some of the bailed out firms used the money to buy up smaller companies, further consolidating themselves as “too big to fail.” President Obama went on to appoint Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, economic advisor Larry Summers, and Chief of Staff Mike Daley — Wall Street operatives and advocates of the policies that triggered the crisis.

Impunity for corporate crimes: At least the savings and loan execs whose actions caused the crisis in 1980s were investigated and brought to trial. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney intends to hold the Wall Street fraudsters behind the Subprime Mortgage Crisis responsible and ensuing meltdown accountable, nor will they allow anything more than token aid for homeowners who face foreclosures.

Privatization of public services and resources (often for free, at fire-sale prices, or with no-bid contracts): When Atlanta and Detroit handed their water utilities over to private contractors, the results included brown water and higher bills for consumers. Wall Street firms and their pet politicians, including top members of President Obama’s Simpson-Bowles Commission on Fiscal Responsibility (“Catfood Commission”), seek reductions in Social Security that will force working Americans to invest their retirement savings in the high-risk Wall Street casino. Both Romney and Obama favor cuts in Social Security and Medicare. The privatization of prisons has created a financial incentive to lock up more Americans, to the point where the US has the highest rate of incarceration of any country in the world, with black, brown, and poor communities devastated by the numbers of young people behind bars for nonviolent offenses.

International trade cabals that favor corporate demands over labor, human rights, and environmental protections and democratic sovereignty: NAFTA (signed by President Clinton after promising to oppose it during his 1992 campaign) is the most famous example. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), negotiated in secret and supported by both Romney and Obama, is the most recent.

Overreaching intellectual property rights that privilege corporations: Think of the war between Monsanto and small farmers over genetically modified seeds and actions by the recording industry to exploit artists and censor the Internet by legal intimidation.

Offshore accounts that allow wealthy corporations and individuals to escape paying US taxes, while Washington looks the other way.

Plutonomy versus Economic Democracy

There are some names for the ideology that says the chief purpose of government is to serve the demands of top corporations and help them consolidate power. Republicans call it promoting the free market and “ending big government.”

Democrats use equally obfuscating language (“win-win situation,” “public-private partnership”) and try to dress up their actions as compromise or even progressive reform. For phony progressivism, there’s no better example than the individual mandate imposed by the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), an idea that was introduced by the rightwing Heritage Foundation, advocated by GOP leaders as a national plan in the 1990s, and enacted by Gov. Romney in Massachusetts.

The ACA (also known as Obamacare, more properly ObamaRomneycare) was crafted by Democrats with the participation of health insurance company reps. Despite the factional debate over health care reform, Obama and Romney and their fellow party leaders agree on the premise that the private insurance bureaucracy must maintain its control over our health care, without disturbing the skyrocketing medical costs that feed their bottom lines.

Occupy Wall Street protesters understand the radical, anti-democratic ideology of government-corporate convergence. Members of the movement who haven’t allowed the Occupy grievances to be shoehorned into “Reelect Obama” recognize that the solution lies outside the two-party election paradigm.

We should discard the “free market” claptrap and call it what it really is: corporatism, plutocracy, oligarchy, redistribution of wealth from bottom to top, rule by the One Percent, socialism for the rich, turbo-capitalism, Robber Baron Era redux, neo-feudalism. My favorite term is plutonomy, a word introduced in an infamous leaked Citibank memo on “global equity strategy” that fretted over “society demanding a more equitable share of wealth.”

We must develop a new and independent kind of politics to take America in a different direction. The Occupy Movement, joined by unions and community organizations, is doing so in the streets. The Green Party, with 2012 presidential nominee Jill Stein and running mate Cheri Honkala, has made inroads at the ballot box. Progressive Democrats are fighting the good fight in a party that may have drifted beyond rehabilitation.

There are plenty of alternatives to the current corporate-capitalism model: aid and redesign of municipal infrastructure to assist small businesses instead of Walmarts; support for family farms instead of Monsanto; worker-owned and community-owned companies and cooperatives; break-up of too-big-to-fail Wall Street behemoths into smaller regionally based firms (which the federal government had every right to undertake, since the 2008 bailout was in essence a government buyout); reversal of privatization of public properties and services like Social Security and public education; punishment for corporate criminals; renegotiation of trade pacts to ensure that local economies, the rights of working people, and the environment will be protected.

One of the best alternatives is Medicare For All. Politicians like to denounce Medicare For All as socialism. If fact, there’s more ‘free market’ with Medicare For All than under our current insurance system (or under ObamaRomneycare), since Medicare For All allows us to choose the physicians and hospitals that serve us, motivating them to compete for our visits — unlike private insurance and HMO policies, which tell us which physician or hospital to go to.

The first step towards winning real economic security for our country will take place when Americans figure out that “market-based solutions” are too often a bipartisan scam that masks a dangerous ideology. The constant repetition of the free-market ideal by politicians and talking heads in the media doesn’t make it any less fraudulent or extremist.

The Occupy Movement Must Also Become a Voters’ Rebellion

By: Scott McLarty Monday December 19, 2011 11:12 pm

To vote or not to vote — that is the question for Occupy Wall Street protesters and for Americans sympathetic to the Occupy movement taking place in cities throughout the US.

For many of those who intend to vote, it means casting a ballot for Democratic candidates, including President Obama. For those who don’t plan to vote at all, the outcome of elections is irrelevant, because nothing will change under the current political system. Are these the only two choices?

The US is in a crisis, a political holding pattern in which Democratic presidents and party leaders keep adopting more and more Republican agenda while Republican politicians sink deeper into irrationality and borderline fascism.

The crisis won’t be solved by intoning “We must vote to reelect Obama and other Dems because Republicans will be worse” or by denial that voting can have any effect on the future.

Are we locked into a rightward-sliding two-party paradigm for the rest of history? What if millions of voters began to think outside of the two parties?

We’ll never interrupt the bipartisan assault on protections for working people and the environment until we change the political landscape. Wall Street banksters have nothing to worry about as long as Ds and Rs keep getting voted into office. The status quo will be validated in 2012, as it is in every election cycle, in three ways:

(1) Non-voting and anti-voting: Nonvoters have no effect on the political landscape. Occupy activists and others who have ruled out voting as a way to effect change ensure that they’ll have no collective influence on who gets elected or the policies of the candidates who get elected.

(2) Zombie voting: mindless votes for incumbents and party lines, regardless of a candidate’s platform, background, and qualifications. For such voters, Election Day is an empty but necessary ritual undeserving of critical thought.

(3) The mistaken belief among liberals, progressives, antiwar voters, and others that the Democratic Party offers change, that things will get better if we just keep voting to elect Democrats, or that we have to keep voting for Dems because they’re not as awful as the GOP.

By justifying votes for a party that long ago abandoned its “party of the people” principles, progressive, antiwar, environmentally-minded, and pro-labor voters have participated in their own political demise. We are long past the point at which lesser-of-two-evils voting has turned into self-defeat.

The position of progressives in the Democratic Party was clarified recently when President Obama scolded the Congressional Black Caucus for daring to complain about the White House’s numerous capitulations to the GOP. Rahm Emanuel, when he was White House Chief of Staff, called progressive critics “retards.”

The Democratic Party expects progressives to continue voting for a party hostile to their ideals on the assumption that they have no one else to vote for and that a Republican victory would be far worse. When genuine progressives, like Rep. Dennis Kucinich, run for the Democratic nomination, their loss is assured and their campaigns ultimately serve to herd supporters into voting for a nominee that rejects nearly everything they stand for.

As Les Leopold argues (“Don’t ‘Occupy the Democratic Party’ — Four Lessons From the Populist Movement,” AlterNet, Dec. 13), there is no hope for a rehabilitation of the Democratic Party. If anything, the Democratic Party is likely to jump even further to the right in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which struck down limits on corporate advertising for favored candidates, increasing the influence of business elites over both major parties.

Republicans are already trying to discredit the Occupy movement. We can predict that pro-GOP ads will slander the Occupy movement, and that, based on their usual tendency to retreat when challenged by the GOP, Obama and Dem leaders will dissociate themselves from the protesters and their demands. (See this.) If the 2012 presidential race is limited to D vs. R, the grievances and demands of the Occupiers will be banished to the margins by late spring 2012.

Beyond Protest

Electoral activism and street activism both have their limits and both are necessary. (Other strategies, like targeted boycotts, are effective too. Why rule out any nonviolent strategy?)

Street protest can be successful at capturing public attention, as demonstrations have proved throughout history. But it can be easy to mistake the vigor of protest movements, numbers of participants, and public sympathy with real success in changing the world.

The protests against the Iraq War during the last decade collapsed after Barack Obama’s inauguration, because so many Democrats, believing they had just elected a progressive antiwar president, decided that protest was no longer necessary — just when we needed it most.

What will happen in 2012 when pro-Dem unions and liberal groups and other Obama supporters are forced to decide whether to continue participating in Occupy protests against the Administration’s policies or help get President Obama reelected? Organizations like MoveOn.org and Van Jones’ American Dream are already trying to coopt the Occupy movement and spin it into “Reelect Obama.” These groups will be reluctant to join the angry demonstrations that many of us hope to see outside the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina (as well as the Republican Convention, of course).

Participants in protest movements often espouse a variety of sometimes inconsistent ideals and tend to offer very general complaints and ideas for change. Demanding economic justice or an end to a war isn’t a program for systematic change. The Vietnam War protests focused public opposition to the war and may have hastened the pullout of US troops. In the end, however, the protests didn’t overturn the military-industrial complex or imperial culture of Washington, DC. Subsequent administrations, beginning with Jimmy Carter, maintained the pattern of US intervention in countries around the world.

In some cases, those in power simply ignore protest. The mass rallies throughout the US against President George W. Bush’s order to invade Iraq in 2003 had no effect at all.

The Occupy movement must continue. We should look forward to its survival through the winter and renewed vitality when spring 2012 rolls around. But we must also find ways to make systematic changes and rebuild the political culture of the US so that wars of aggression, capitalist depredation, ecological irresponsibility (exhibited by the Obama Administration in early December during the UN meeting in Durban, South Africa, on climate change), assaults on the US Constitution, and other evils don’t keep repeating every few years. In other words, we must replace people who are in power.

Vote For Yourself

The good news is that more and more Occupiers are showing interest in electoral action outside of the two Titanic parties. They’ve begun to embrace the vote as a strategy for challenging the corporate corruption and the erosion of democracy, in efforts like Occupy the Ballot.

Occupy Cincinnati demonstrators are already working to establish their own party. Carl Mayer, public defender and long-time supporter of Ralph Nader and the Green Party, recently spoke before Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park and expressed “his hopes of the OWS movement’s becoming a viable third party in the future.”

On December 13, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson launched a presidential campaign, via his newly founded Justice Party.

Alternative parties have been responsible for introducing urgent changes, whether the parties themselves have succeeded (the anti-slavery Republican Party in the mid 1800s) or failed. The list of reforms introduced by third parties and initially rejected by the political establishment includes abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the eight-hour day and other workers’ rights and protections, and civil rights for Blacks. If you’re worried that the US is drifting into a new Robber Baron Era, remember that the Populist and Progressive parties helped end the last one in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Who will represent the important ideas on the electoral stage in the 21st century?

The Green Party holds promise as an established national party, having laid a foundation for willing Occupy candidates to run for public office. In many states, Greens have accomplished the difficult task of achieving ballot status, overcoming prohibitive rules enacted by Democratic and Republican politicians to hinder alternative parties and candidates. Greens have spent more than two decades building party infrastructure and gaining campaign experience. The demands of Occupy protesters are clearly reflected in the Green Party’s platform and refusal to accept corporate checks.

In New York, the Green Party achieved major-party status through Howie Hawkins’ campaign for governor in 2010, fulfilling the state’s stringent requirements and earning Greens their place on the 2012 ballot. New York Greens have been active in Occupy Wall Street since the protests began in September. In the 2011 general election, Cheri Honkala, a long-time housing activist and founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, ran for Sheriff of Philadelphia as a Green on an anti-eviction platform. Ms. Honkala spoke publicly at Occupy events about her pledge not to cooperate, if elected, with banks attempting to foreclose on Philadelphians’ homes.

Speaking on the party’s hope of emerging as a permanent independent political force in the 21st century, 2008 Green vice-presidential nominee Rosa Clemente said “The Green Party is no longer the alternative, the Green Party is the imperative.” Some Greens have challenged Rocky Anderson to run for the Green nomination, noting that the Green Party already has ballot lines. (Greens will choose their nominee during the party’s 2012 national convention in Baltimore, July 12 to 15.)

Whether Occupy activists decide to go Green or some other partisan route, they have the potential to lead a national voters’ rebellion against the Titanic parties and trigger a sorely need seismic shift in US politics.

The day a few non-corporate-money Occupy candidates are elected to Congress is the day Democratic and Republican politicians are no longer each others’ sole competition. The public debate on any given issue would open up to new ideas outside of the narrow D vs. R spectrum of policies and legislation approved by Wall Street, the oil companies, arms manufacturers, insurance companies, and other corporate interests.

There is no such thing as two-party democracy. Two-party elections are a single step removed from one-party states like the Soviet Union and China. At the heart of the voters’ rebellion is the right to choose whichever candidates best represent one’s own interests and ideals, without being told our choice is restricted to Big Mac vs. Whopper.

Refusing to vote and insisting on loyalty to Democrats will have the same effect — a future limited to the parties of war and Wall Street. Thanks to the momentum of the Occupy movement, 2012 gives us an opportunity to save the US from the demise of our republic, collapse of the middle class, and descent into terrain that would be familiar to Benito Mussolini in the 1920s.

Given the increasing entrenchment of corporate-money politics in the age of Citizens United and accelerated redistribution of wealth and power to the one percent, this opportunity might be our last.