Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bernie's Dream Is Set In A Nightmare

  1. (1) Demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes. As president, Sen. Sanders will stop corporations from shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. He will create a progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. He will also enact a tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings.

  2. If you go to this is the first proposal in his plan to reduce income and wealth inequality. Bernie, like many progressives, hasn't accepted the fact that the kind of economic revolution he's calling for can't take place in America alone. Billions of dollars travel through digital networks everyday. We live in a world where lawyers in New York and politicians in Washington craft policies that affect people in India. Globalization isn't just a catchy word used by slightly inebriated undergrads. The monster we call capitalism has grown into a hulking beast that no single government can contain. This doesn't mean we should give up and wait for the wealth gap to grow so wide it takes down the whole system, but we need to be honest: either we advocate for a shift to a more nationalized government run capitalism or we admit that tinkering around the edges, in order to delay the inevitable, is our only play. 

    Sen. Sanders will stop corporations from shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes.

    The first (and most fatal) flaw in his program is [D]emocracy. Democratic participation was down in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada. In contrast, the Republicans have had their best turnout through four states ever. I don't think this is a reason to panic for the presidential race, but it makes me very pessimistic about the likelihood of a major shift in the House of Representatives. I hope I'm wrong, If Bernie wins, and the Democrats take back the senate there would still be enough southern Republicans with a "mandate" to stop his agenda. It's safe to say that southern Republicans won't work with Bernie against the wishes of Fox news and their constituents. Bernie authored S. 922: Corporate Tax Dodging Prevention Act on April 14, 2015; it was assigned to a congressional committee where it sits with a 1% chance of getting out of committee and a 0% chance of being enacted. This is the legislative reality either of our candidates is likely to inherit. 

    But for the sake of argument, let's imagine a scenario where some form of this bill makes its way through congress and lands on President Sanders' desk: What would be the response of the multinationals? Human nature leads me to believe that capital would move outside of the country before one of those ceremonial bill signing pens ever touched paper. This is one time where the conservative talking points are right. If such a bill passed an up down vote in the senate: capital markets around the globe would go into free fall. This is why you have to kill baby Hitler. We might be a quarter century to late to make any meaningful changes to the system without hurting those most vulnerable to it. As progressives, how do we prevent an inevitable economic disaster without creating one, or do we burn it all down and start over?  

    Bernie's tax plan has three components: stop corporations from sheltering profits and sending jobs overseas, tax Wall Street speculation, and tax inheritances. The only component with a chance of ever being passed is his estate tax on inheritances worth more than 3.5 million dollars. Conservatives who've signed pledges to never raise taxes could, in theory, hide behind bipartisan populism to pass this kind of bill, but this is a stretch.                                                                                                          
    One attack Bernie supporters use against Hillary is that she's too entrenched with the banks. Maybe she is; having never met her, I don't know where her loyalties lie. But if she's heavily influenced by Wall Street then my hunch is that she isn't alone. This gets us back to the Democratic vain inside our Republic. Even if we get a major electoral shuffling of the legislative deck nothing guarantees that the new faces won't take the money. Making Hillary Clinton the face of this systematic problem is useless. This is the kind of thinking that allows someone like Bernie Madoff to be sacrificed for a system that, in many ways, facilitated his actions. I'm not saying Hillary Clinton is on the take, but if she is what's worse: being influenced by money or having a system where money can influence? 

    The size and scope of this problem doesn't easily fit on a tee-shirt or bumper sticker. We will NEVER get money out of politics. There will always be people with money seeking power and people with power seeking money. Getting money out of politics is a bigger dream than thinking we can radically change capitalism while remaining in capitalism. I don't fault Bernie for being ambitious; I fault progressives for being naive. If Bernie's ultimate play is to push the country so far left that compromise yields incremental shifts inside the system then he's a genius, but if he believes his platform can be enacted then he's as myopic as the #BernieBros who occupy my social media with feeds with campaign rhetoric.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Bernie Can't Win Virginia: Neither Can Hillary

This election cycle has provided more than its share of political theater; however, after Iowa and New Hampshire there are still some questions we aren't any closer to answering. Can the GOP establishment sabotage Donald Trump without alienating the right-wing of their party? Can Bernie Sanders win electoral support in minority communities? When will Jeb Bush admit defeat and suspend his campaign? Can Hillary Clinton win the Democratic nomination after three decades of personal and political attacks from conservatives and liberals? But for me, the biggest question is: can Bernie or Hillary keep the Commonwealth of Virginia blue?

In 2008 President Obama won Virginia with 53% of the vote; It was the first time Virginia went blue since President Lyndon Johnson won here in 1964. In 2012 the president defeated Mitt Romney winning just 51% of the vote; Mitt Romney received almost 100,000 more votes than John McCain did four years earlier. In 2008 third party and write-in candidates received 38,000 votes a figure that amounted to roughly 1% of the total vote; by 2012 those fractional factions received 60,000 votes. There's a very real possibility that Democratic turn out will be down this November. If a strong democratic leaning independent or Green Party candidate were to make a serious run, third party and write-in totals could exceed 100,000 votes. Either of these factors alone could hurt the Democrats, but if both happened it would be game over. With that said, is Virginia (with all of our coal mines) the canary in the Democratic coal mine?

I live in a very rural, conservative part of Virginia. President Obama got trounced by large margins in many of the sparsely populated areas similar to where I live. President Obama's victory was a result of dominating high density urban areas like Richmond, Petersburg, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, and Norfolk. I've lived in Richmond and Norfolk. I travel to northern Virginia a few times a year; I would be shocked if northern Virginia and my former neighbors in Richmond and Norfolk came out and supported Bernie or Hillary with the level of enthusiasm they had for president Obama. The 20% African American population of Virginia will decide who gets our 13 electoral votes- whether we want this responsibility or not.

In the last week Hillary and Bernie received strong criticism from powerful figures inside the African American community: Michelle Alexander and Charles Blow. Their critiques were met with opposition inside the campaigns, and vitriol by some of their supporters, but in reality, the two articles were a microcosm of the kinds of (barber shop/ beauty salon) conversations that don't get media attention. Michelle Alexander wrote a thought provoking article that was published in The Root questioning whether or not Hillary Clinton deserves the black vote. Without being nasty she asked a few serious questions about the Clintons: Did they take extreme political risks to defend the rights of African Americans? Did they courageously stand up to right-wing demagoguery about black communities? Did they help usher in a new era of hope and prosperity for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization and the disappearance of work?

Michelle's questions carry weight with people who read and respect her work. Hillary's supporters have to understand that this line of questioning is fair. Hillary's staunchest supporters are similar to President Obama's staunchest supporters in that both groups have a knee-jerk reaction to defend criticism without engaging it. If Hillary is going to excite younger black voters she has to, in an authentic way, engage these types of questions forcefully. Like it or not, the three decades of attacks on her character have caused some people to view her as calculating and manipulative.

Charles Blow published a New York Times Op Ed piece titled Stop Bernie-Splaining to Black Voters in it he writes: Tucked among all this Bernie-splaining by some supporters, it appears to me, is a not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage that I find so grossly offensive that it boggles the mind that such language should emanate from the mouths — or keyboards — of supposed progressives.

In my opinion, this sentiment is what John Lewis was channeling when he made his statement about never seeing Bernie Sanders in the midst of the civil rights movement- a statement he's since softened. While some of our progressive allies are hoping for a utopian shift in our economic and political system, the black experience is rooted in the reality that change, even small shifts, is the result of fighting for a cause over a protracted period of time. More pre-Civil War abolitionist died trying to get emancipation than ever saw it come to fruition. This doesn't mean progressives should avoid trying large scale projects, but it does mean we have to come to grips with the reality that our role in progress may be to build a solid enough foundation for the next generation to finish the work. In some ways Bernie's rhetoric diminishes the steps President Obama has made. None of the gains made by the left have been the result of immediate actions.

I don’t think either candidate can win Virginia. I hope I’m wrong. If Hillary wants black voters in the 18-35 demographic to vote for her she’s going to have to do more than “whip and Nae Nae” If Bernie wants that demographic to come out for him he’s going to have to measure his tone as it relates to his criticism of president Obama. This slice of the electorate has watched the first black president be viciously disrespected by his political opponents for the last seven years. I don’t think it behooves Bernie to engage in this new progressive pastime of being let down by President Obama. That doesn’t mean he should avoid legitimate criticisms of the president and his policies, but he can’t continue to negate his accomplishments either. Virginia and North Carolina are very similar in some respects. President Obama narrowly won in Virginia in 2012; that same year he lost North Carolina by 2 points. The electoral map could change faster than our suburban and metropolitan progressive allies can order their next Grande Skim Milk No Foam Latte.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

This Election Is About More Than Fear

One minute you were sitting quietly in a cafe eating a croissant and enjoying the Kenny G inspired serenity when, out of nowhere, the corner of heaven you found was violated by the repeated firing of a semiautomatic rifle. The silence wasn't the only thing disturbed by the gunshots; bullets ripped through your flesh tearing your vital organs as they passed through your body. You were weeping, gasping for air, and looking for answers when your executioner yelled  ALLAH AKBAR! Milliseconds before being hit by a blast of energy you saw the brightest light you'd ever seen; you wondered if this is the bright light people who've had near death experiences talked about. This was supposed to be an ordinary day. You left the house with a list of goals to accomplish and none of them included dying in a terrorist attack. 

The odds that anyone reading this will meet their demise under such circumstances are astronomically minuscule, yet we have people in our country who've been conditioned by politicians and the media to be more afraid of this kind of subjective violence than the objective and systemic violence that are constitutive parts of our everyday life. The reality is: more Americans will die from the side effects of industrial pollution than terrorism; far more Americans will be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality than die in a hail of bullets; more of us will suffer a prolonged illness that ravages our bodies and assets than face beheading in an American city. We know this, but many of our fellow citizens could care less. As a nation we have more people afraid of abstract statistical anomalies than the concrete realities of our time. This fear is pervasive in the "home of the brave". 

The Conservative call to take back their country is rooted in this fear. I've watched people hem and haw their way through some basic questions associated with the notion of taking the country back. Who are you taking it back from? When did you lose it? How far back are you trying to go? Hiding among the throngs of alpha males who attend militia meetings, gun shows, and Trump rallies are beta males who aren't sure of their place in a rapidly changing America. Most of us know some of these angry Americans; some were Democrats until 2008, some were Libertarians, and others waved Gadsden flags at Tea Party events. Many of them have embraced Donald Trump's mantra of making America great again. They say they're mad, but rarely do they admit their fear. If you push them hard enough they'll say they're afraid of the direction the country is headed, but even that admission comes with a qualifier: they say they're afraid for their children. I don't dismiss the rational fears a parent has for their children, but I question that fear when structurally nothing in our society has changed enough to lessen or intensify it. I can't think of one thing a parent would be afraid of today that they wouldn't have been afraid of ten or fifteen years ago. If someone can help me with this I'll listen, but the threats of terrorism and random acts of violence have been part of our lives since 911. The fear of radical Muslims, Black thugs, and illegal Immigrants has caused too many to lose sight of the systemic economic violence that is at the core of their hardships.

This election (like so many in the past) will be decided by fear, and, depending on what you're afraid of, there's a candidate for you. If you're afraid of subjective violence then vote for one of the hawks in the GOP. Electing Donald Trump or Ted Cruz won't decrease your odds of  being the victim of gang violence or terrorism, but you'll be able to sleep better - even if your chances of dying at the hands of Ahmed, Tyrone, or Juan are statistically the same as they are now. If Ted Cruz's promise to, "find out if sand glows" excites you then cast your vote for him. The fear that's become part of the political rhetoric on the right has allowed people to casually call for genocide. If the Republican strategy is, to in the words of Donald Trump, "bomb the hell out of them" they have two choices; they can take half measures that decimate cities and almost guarantees the rise of a new generation of fighters, or they can do what they say and commit mass genocide throughout the middle east killing everyone in their path. Those are their choices. There's no path to the security they're selling that doesn't involve the mass murder of concrete people or the betrayal of our stated principles, yet this is what passes for a viable foreign policy platform. As progressives we have to make them admit their plans in specific terms. We need to ask them who digs the mass graves for their victims? Will our soldiers have this duty, or will one of the private sector defense contractors get the job? We have to match their rhetoric with questions that have equally brutal answers.

I'm afraid of the threats I face from systemic violence. Too many Americans will lose their homes due to economic factors outside of their control, more people will be pushed into bankruptcy because of medical bills, and too many people will lose their job based on market analysis and shareholder's demands. These are the terrors underlying so much of the fear I see, yet they don't inspire people the way a 1 in 20 million chance of dying at the hands of a terrorist does. This divide is what separates us. I don't know if it can be bridged.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are talking about these issues, but I'm worried about the growing tensions among progressives and centrist Democrats. In hindsight I think it would have been better for the party if Jim Webb, Lincoln Chafee, or Martin O'Malley had been a more formidable candidate. Having more of the Democratic support split between a larger group early on could've made it less contentious between Bernie and Hillary supporters now. Iowa didn't get us any closer to a nominee. It intensified the growing distrust inside our party. Yes we need robust debate, but we also need to keep in mind that either candidate would be leaps and bounds better than what the Republican party is offering. We should avidly support our candidate, we should vent when our candidate isn't treated fairly, and we should engage in vigorous debates about the issues, but it  become socially acceptable for the left to savage itself. In reality: the far left is responsible for holing on to many of the gains progressives have made over the years, and centrist Democrats at every level of government have won races progressives couldn't have. We've needed each other. Centrist Democrats are the only electable Democrats in many areas of Virginia. If we want to take back the House in 2016 we need to drop our ideological purity test come election time. The systemic violence I'm worried about needs votes to be counteracted; let's not forget why we're here.