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A Step Forward for Democracy in D.C.

By: Scott McLarty Tuesday September 16, 2014 11:59 am

“The capital of the nation is the last plantation!” “Free D.C.!”

For decades, residents of “America’s last colony” have clamored for the same irrevocable rights as other citizens of the United States.

The movement to bring democracy to the District of Columbia took a step forward on Monday, September 15, when local political leaders and representatives of pro-democracy groups testified in favor of statehood for the nation’s capital city before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

The subject of the committee hearing, which was led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), was the “New Columbia Admissions Act” (S. 132; with counterpart bill H.R. 292 in the U.S. House).

Among those testifying were D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who holds a nonvoting seat in the House, and Mayor Vince Gray. The hearing is unlikely to lead to passage of the two bills any time soon, given Congress’s ongoing gridlock and Republican hostility to D.C. statehood.

But the hearing represents an advance for the statehood movement because a new unity behind the goal of statehood was on display.

Until recently, many of the same officials who now seek statehood preferred another goal, “D.C. voting rights,” which meant a single voting seat for the District in the House of Representatives. Ten years ago, Del. Norton and other Democratic leaders who favored D.C. voting rights tried to discourage D.C. democracy advocates from demanding statehood. Endorsement of statehood was removed from the Democratic Party’s national platform in 2004 and still hasn’t been restored. The promotion of D.C. voting rights legislation led many people to confuse voting representation in Congress with statehood.

This was a mistake. Self-determination and self-government, not representation in a legislature, are the true measures of democracy. Colonies in Africa and Asia and conquered European nations like Ireland held voting seats in the legislatures of nations that ruled over them, even while they suffered exploitation and oppression. Many of these colonies, like Algeria, a French possession until 1962, became free only after violent revolutions.

Our own Founding Fathers and Mothers in the thirteen colonies fought for independence, not voting rights. Patrick Henry never said “Give me a vote in Parliament or give me death.”

The D.C. voting rights legislation went nowhere, and not only because of Republican contempt for the rights of D.C. residents. Even when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, most recently in 2009 and 2010, no meaningful expansion of the rights of D.C. residents has taken place after limited Home Rule was granted in 1973. Legislation to grant statehood to D.C. was defeated in the U.S. House in 1993 by a vote of 277 to 153.

Statehood advocates (those not distracted by D.C. voting rights) have always understood that the lack of voting representation in Congress is just one of several reasons for statehood, and that self-government and full equality under the U.S. Constitution for the District with its black majority remain part of the unfinished business of the Civil Rights Movement. (For a more thorough history of the D.C. democracy movement, see “The D.C. Statehood Papers: Writings on D.C. Statehood & Self-government” by Sam Smith.)

Until D.C. becomes a state, Congress holds the power to veto locally passed decisions and impose unwanted laws, policies, and budgets on D.C. residents. Congress threatens to nullify a local marijuana legalization measure: in July, 2014, a Maryland Republican Representative inserted an amendment into the District’s 2015 Appropriation Bill that would stop decriminalization of marijuana from taking effect and remove the initiative from the D.C. ballot in November. In June, House Republicans blocked funding for a law passed by D.C. Council that would eliminate the threat of jail time for marijuana possession. In 1998, Congress overturned a ballot measure for medical marijuana (Initiative 59) that had passed with a 69% majority.

Congress has imposed zero-tolerance laws and a charter-school program; outlawed needle exchange in D.C. to prevent HIV transmission; and prohibited District government from taxing commuters, a source of revenue for all other cities. Congress members have tried to enact the death penalty, impose a school voucher program, and deny benefits for same-sex couples. In 2001, Congress, through an appointed Financial Control Board, ordered Mayor Anthony Williams to dismantle D.C. General Hospital, the District’s sole full-service public health facility.

In the only public referendum on the issue, over 60% of D.C. residents voted in favor of statehood in 1980.

Groups that have consistently advocated statehood, like the Stand Up! for Democracy in D.C. Coalition, the D.C. Statehood Green Party, D.C. Statehood — Yes We Can, and Neighbors United For D.C. Statehood are encouraged that Democratic leaders have seen the light and embraced the call for genuine democracy in the form of statehood.

Weaving a New Star

The New Columbia Admissions Act is consistent with arguments by statehood advocates that statehood for the District can be achieved by an Act of Congress (requiring a 51% simple majority), without a constitutional amendment (requiring ratification by 2/3 of states). In 1846, an Act of Congress removed Arlington from D.C. and ceded it to Virginia, proving that Congress can legally alter the District’s borders.

Congress may therefore reduce the constitutionally mandated federal enclave to encompass only the federal properties (White House, Capitol, Mall, etc.), after which D.C. would be admitted to the union as a state, just as all other states were admitted after the initial thirteen colonies. Along with freedom from Congress’s control, D.C. residents will enjoy the same voting representation in Congress as all other Americans: one Representative and two Senators.

For many D.C. activists, the goals of statehood and economic, social, and racial justice are inseparable.

“Within the constraints of colonial Home Rule, we must be determined to push its limits by putting in place a progressive D.C. tax structure, expanding funding of our low-income budget, and establishing a D.C. public bank holding our revenue instead of Wall Street. These measures would help energize our local movement for D.C. statehood,” said David Schwartzman, D.C. Statehood Green Party activist and candidate for “Shadow” U.S. Senator.

“The opportunity to become a state and enjoy full constitutional rights and citizenship will also be an opportunity to further reduce income inequality and better the quality of life for all D.C. residents. We won’t suffer Congress’s veto power over our laws and budgets. We can assert control over our own school system, rather than tolerate the imposition of charter schools by Congress.”

D.C. statehood has been the D.C. Statehood Green Party’s most conspicuous plank since its founding as the D.C. Statehood Party in 1970 by Julius Hobson and other local civil rights leaders. The D.C. Statehood Green Party is an affiliate of the Green Party, which has endorsed D.C. statehood in its national platform since the party was founded.

Ten years ago, the D.C. Statehood Green Party and Stand Up! for Democracy in D.C. Coalition helped draft a petition that was sent to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights and the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which monitor compliance with treaties that the U.S. has signed and ratified. In 2006, the Human Rights Committee found that the District’s lack of voting representation in Congress violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ruling was the result of a decade of work by democracy advocate Tim Cooper.

The achievement of statehood ultimately depends on two things. First, the current enthusiasm among D.C. leaders for statehood must be sustained. Any dilution of the New Columbia Admissions Act, in the name of negotiation and compromise, must be resisted.

Second, statehood will require vociferous support from Americans who live outside the District. People who live in cities across the U.S. have good reason to join the demand. City populations are underrepresented in Congress, especially in the U.S. Senate, where sparsely populated states have the same representation as states with dense urban centers. (D.C.’s population is larger than Wyoming’s and Vermont’s.) The District’s new Reps and Senators would thus speak for city-dwellers in other states, whose interests are often similar to those of D.C. residents.

The admission of a state whose population is slightly more than half black (50.1% in 2012) would incrementally help correct another severe form of underrepresentation in Congress.

President Obama, when asked recently about D.C. statehood, said “I’m for it.” But the White House declined to send a representative to the September 15 hearing. As the November 4 midterm election approaches, the movement to weave a 51st star into the flag will benefit from speakouts and rallies in Washington, D.C., as well as challenges from people living in states across the country directed at their Congress members and the Obama Administration: “If you support democracy and human rights for all Americans, help enact D.C. statehood.”

 

Stop Capitulating, Start Converging: The Global Climate Convergence

By: Scott McLarty Monday April 21, 2014 12:25 pm

 

In early April, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim issued a dire warning about the consequences of global climate change and increasing economic inequality. The combination of the two, he said, are likely to result in violent clashes around the world: “Fights over water and food are going to be the most significant direct impacts of climate change in the next five to 10 years. There’s just no question about it.”

Mr. Kim urged scientists and environmental activists to produce a coherent plan and challenged the World Bank and world leaders to take immediate action:

Is there enough basic science research going into renewable energy? Not even close. Are there ways of taking discoveries made in universities and quickly moving them into industry? No. Are there ways of testing those innovations? Are there people thinking about scaling [up] those innovations?… [The climate change community] kept saying, ‘What do you mean a plan?’ I said a plan that’s equal to the challenge. A plan that will convince anyone who asks us that we’re really serious about climate change, and that we have a plan that can actually keep us at less than 2C warming. We still don’t have one.

Around the same time, Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century began to draw public attention. The French economist compares the increasing concentration of wealth and power among the super-rich to the revival of a new Gilded Age comparable to the Gilded Age, also called the Robber Baron Era, of a hundred years ago.

For the U.S., it means that the prosperity that Americans enjoyed between 1945 and 1980, spawning a huge and affluent middle class, was temporary and has been replaced by a massive redistribution of wealth to the top One Percent. Mr. Piketty’s conclusions aren’t new — Occupy Wall Street activists, progressives, and others have been warning of the collapse of democracy and economic fairness for years — but his book, according to reviews, tracks the evolution of capitalism over the past two centuries in unprecedented detail.

A pair by professors from Northwestern and Princeton universities made news a few days ago when they published a study confirming our suspicions that oligarchy has replaced democracy. The profs found that “policies supported by economic elites and business interest groups were far more likely to become law than those they opposed…. [T]he preferences of the middle class made essentially no difference to a bill’s fate.”

Let’s state the obvious: the combination of climate change and neo-Gilded plutocracy is the defining crisis of the 21st century and it is a political crisis that requires political solutions.

The “Global Climate Convergence: Earth Day to May Day 2014,” subtitled “People Planet Peace Over Profit,” is designed to address this dual crisis with a worldwide “education and direct action campaign.” Running from April 22 to May 1, it will be the first in a series of yearly actions to effect an “emergency green economic transformation.”

Many environmentalists and progressives fail to grasp that the crisis can’t be fixed under the status quo. It’s not reasonable to believe that systemic changes will occur without profound changes in the American political landscape.

By status quo, I mean the exclusive control over government and policy by two parties that swim in corporate money and influence. The GOP denies that climate change is a problem and clings shamelessly to the libertarian capitalist ideology that’s at the root of inequality. Dems only accept ideas that accommodate corporate special interests: emissions trading schemes that allow businesses to trade licenses to pollute; health-care legislation that imposes a direct public subsidy to sustain insurance industry profits; a proposed minimum-wage hike that falls short of a livable-wage standard; modest Dodd-Frank reforms that don’t restore the Glass-Steagall Act and impunity for banksters whose criminal greed triggered the 2008 financial meltdown.

Some Democratic ideas and policies are nearly indistinguishable from Republican: a proposal to slash Social Security; privatization of education (through the charter-school movement) and other public resources and services; a “NAFTA on steroids” trade pact (the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated in secret by the Obama Administration) that threatens labor and environmental protections.

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party’s candidate for Governor of New York, sums it up: “The Democrats want to repeal the New Deal and the Republicans seem to want to repeal the Enlightenment.”

President Obama wants us to believe he takes global warming seriously, but the legacy of his administration will include fracking, mountaintop detonation mining, pipelines, “clean coal,” no steps to reduce car traffic, and an emphasis on domestic energy independence instead ending fossil-fuel addiction.

The corporate stranglehold over both parties tightened after two Supreme Court rulings, Citizens United v. FEC (2010) and McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), removed important limits on the flow of money into election campaigns. The result is a bipartisan slide, a few miles per hour faster or slower depending on which party controls the White House and Congress, into the abyss.

What’s Left?

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