On TAP: Kuttner + Meyerson

March 4, 2019

Big Business and Null Sets in American Politics. It’s not often that polls of American public opinion turn up positions that command roughly zero percent support. They don’t ask about collective farms any more, and have dropped the minuet from their surveys of popular dances. 

They do, however, ask questions about the preferred positions of big business, and it may be a sign of the times that these surveys reveal that some of the favored practices and beliefs of corporate America and the Enlightened Rich command virtually no popular support.

One such practice is forced arbitration—in which businesses require new employees and consumers to sign away their right to sue that business for any grievance, as a condition of being hired or purchasing that business’s services. Instead, those employees or consumers—if they wish to be employees or consumers—agree to submit all grievances to arbitration, a process that produces outcomes far friendlier and less costly to corporations and less remunerative and satisfying to the employees or consumers than having their day in court.

Recently, Hart Research Associates polled 1,200 of our fellow citizens and found that 84 percent supported legislation to end the practice of requiring arbitration as a condition of employment or purchasing services. Fully 83 percent of Democrats said they’d support such a bill, and so did 90 percent of the presumably more pro-business Republicans.

Pervasive though forced arbitration may be, then, the share of Americans supporting the practice is effectively zero.  The practice survives only because Republicans, and some Democrats, are in the pocket of big business. Indeed, Republicans have demonized trial lawyers for decades, even through the GOP rank-and-file would prefer turning to a trial lawyer than having to sit down in an employer-dominated arbitration process.

A number close to zero also comes up when measuring the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as sharing the political orientation of much of the American establishment: social liberalism and fiscal conservatism. To all appearances, this set of beliefs thrives in corporate boardrooms and haunts of the Enlightened Rich; it defines the politics of Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz and the Third Way Democrats.

It doesn’t define the politics of many actual Americans, however. When Gallup surveyed the belief sets of our compatriots in 2017, it found that a bare 4 percent of Americans said they were both socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Amid all the talk of the Democrats’ presumed need to move to the center, then, two questions must be asked. First, which center is that? And second, what if there’s no one there?

February 28, 2019

Republicans Disgrace Themselves, Yet Again. You do have to wonder what it would take for Republican members of Congress to break with Trump. 

Republicans were clearly exasperated by Trump’s wall obsession, which cost them dearly politically. They were not prepared to appropriate more money for the wall, either during the two years when they controlled both houses of Congress, or in the context of his brinkmanship over the government shutdown. But when it came to supporting a resolution to disallow his bogus declaration of a national emergency, just 13 brave Republican souls voted aye. 

And that would be 13 more than the Republicans in yesterday’s hearing of the House Oversight Committee. Instead of seeing Michael Cohen’s testimony as an opportunity to ferret out new details, Republicans played it solely in terms of a partisan defense of Trump’s sorry tush.

At what point, if at all, will Republicans decide they’ve had enough? Maybe if he shot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue? And maybe not.

February 26, 2019

AIPAC Welcomes Bibi. Bibi Welcomes Israel’s KKK. Among those determined to prove the questionable assertion that Zionism is racism, we now have to add Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Which raises the question of why some pro-Israeli American organizations—AIPAC, we’re looking at you—would want to marginalize Americans’ support for Israel by inviting Netanyahu to their conferences. (Bibi is scheduled to address AIPAC’s annual meeting on March 24 in D.C.)

Bibi’s announcement last week that he had prevailed upon three far-right parties to merge, so that together they could win enough votes to make it into the Knesset in the forthcoming Israeli election and thereby vote for him to continue as prime minister, has raised unprecedented hackles among stateside Jews. Most American Jews, of course, have long since had it with Bibi and his anti-two-state, anti-Palestinian, pro-Trump, pro-Orban etc etc policies and demagoguery. But the old line American Jewish establishment has clung like a barnacle to Bibi.

But Bibi’s latest maneuver proved a bridge too far even for that establishment. The establishment’s breaking point was that Bibi’s Gang of Three Far-Right Parties included Otzma Yehudit, which is the new name for the old party of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was behind violent attacks on Israeli critics both in Israel and the U.S., whose members included the murderer of 29 Palestinians at prayer in their mosque, and whose current members favor the expulsion of all non-Jews from Israel, and the criminalization of Jewish-Arab relationships. Under its old name, Kahane’s group made the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

This is now the party that Bibi wants to bring into the Knesset so it can vote to keep him in office, even if, as is imminently expected, Israel’s attorney general indicts him for a host of corrupt acts.

This proved too much for groups and individuals who’ve been reflexively pro-Bibi no matter what he’s done. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) released a statement condemning Otzma Yehudit and saying it would have no dealings with its members even if they ended up serving in the Knesset. AIPAC chimed in by saying in a tweet it supported the AJC’s condemnation. Malcolm Hoenlein, a longtime leader of the Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and a certifiable Bibi Bro, gingerly followed suit by telling the Associated Press that the prime minister’s action had created “a lot of concern” among American Jews.

All that said, all that was said by the above-listed groups sought to have it both ways. The AJC and AIPAC didn’t condemn or even mention Bibi in their statements, just Otzma Yehudit. But there was nothing new or different about Otzma Yehudit that had provoked this controversy. The only thing new and different was Bibi’s decision to try to bring them into the Knesset and, he hopes, his governing coalition.  In their statements, however, “Netanyahu” was the name they dared not speak.

By the way, not every American Jewish group condemned Bibi’s maneuver. The Zionists of America, a far-right group one of whose funders is Sheldon Adelson, actually took AIPAC, the AJC and numerous other U.S. Jewish organizations to task, at great length, for their condemnatory blurbs. (This may raise the question of whether condemning the vast majority of American Jewish groups, not to mention that politics of the vast majority of American Jews, is a form of anti-Semitism, but we won’t go there.)

The immediate question before AIPAC is why, given all this, Bibi is still scheduled to address its national conference in March. And for all the American politicians who customarily attend AIPAC’s annual get-togethers, the question is why they would show up at a gathering that features an appearance from a national leader who has brought Israel’s version of the KKK into his political tent.

FEBRUARY 25, 2019

In case you missed it, Rep. Adam Schiff channels Pastor Niemöller. In the middle of a Washington Post opinion piece the other day, Rep. Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, wrote this:

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

And now he comes for Congress... You may recognize the echo, presumably intended, of Pastor Martin Niemöller, who famously wrote this poem after his arrest by the Gestapo in 1937:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Now Trump is not Hitler, but he has alarming dictatorial tendencies, and the expedient failure of Republicans to speak out is appalling. Schiff is correct to flag the assault on one of the most fundamental pillars of American democracy, Congress’s power of the purse--yet still most Republicans refuse to speak out. It is to their everlasting shame.

Many people assume that Pastor Niemöller perished in the camps. In fact, he narrowly escaped execution, and survived the Nazi regime, living to the ripe age of 92. American democracy may yet survive, but it will be no thanks to most Republicans.

February 22, 2019

About that North Carolina Do-Over Election. As you have probably read or heard by now, the ballot fraud in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional district was so brazen and so toxic that even the Republicans on the state election commission felt compelled to order a new election.

Think about this for a moment. For years, Republicans have been justifying voter suppression measures on the bogus premise that ballot fraud was rampant among Democrats. A presidential commission on the subject, headed by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence, was abruptly shut down because, despite heroic efforts, no fraud was found.

Well, the Kobach commission was looking in the wrong places. The fraud was on the Republican side. 

And consider this. Ballot fraud of the sort that was rampant in North Carolina’s Ninth is the flip-side of voter suppression. You can actually go to jail for stuffing ballot boxes, but nobody goes to jail for suppressing the right to vote—even that steals votes just as surely as ballot tampering.

Indeed, if North Carolina were not one of the champion voter-suppressors, that election would not have been close. Now, with the Republicans having been caught red-handed, the Republican candidate shamed and the whole world watching, the Democrat might even win. 

February 21, 2019

The Two Emerging Types of Democratic Presidential Candidates. It’s still way early in the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, with a mere ten major candidates having entered the race while another half-dozen are still making up their minds. But it’s not too early to divide the field into two categories: The Yes-We-Can Democrats and the No-We-Can’t Democrats.

Leading the Yes-We-Cansters are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—champions of policies that would bring some systemic change to the way America works. Identifying himself as a democratic socialist, Sanders has always supported more democratic and egalitarian alternatives to American capitalism, but those alternatives have never really gone beyond those adopted by European social democrats. Indeed, in his 2015 speech at Georgetown University, he illustrated his concept of democratic socialism by referencing the reforms put through by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson—Social Security and Medicare—and the aspirations voiced by Martin Luther King Jr. Warren also points to Roosevelt as a model—the reformer who had to reform capitalism in order to save it—but her social democratic proposals, such as that for universal child care, which she unveiled earlier this week in California, as well as her tax plans are often as far-reaching as as Sanders’s. He calls himself a socialist and she calls herself a capitalist, but both fall well within the social democratic ambit.

That said, it’s their proposals (and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s) that are driving Democratic discourse. In 2016, Sanders pried open the Overton Window of acceptable policies and found that a clear majority of Democrats had been just waiting to embrace such ideas as Medicare for All, free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage. AOC and Warren are now finding similar levels of support for a Green New Deal and a fairer tax system. All three have also won substantial public backing when they’ve gone after the super-rich for their takeover of America’s economy, politics and government—a theme not sounded this clearly on the presidential campaign trail since Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election campaign of 1936 (which culminated in the most sweeping victory in U.S. electoral history).

Already, the 2020 Democratic primary process is shaping up as a referendum on the sweeping changes that the Yes-We-Cansters are proposing. The other candidates are being compelled to give their responses to both the spirit and the letter of the Cansters’ ideas. In the process, some have already become No-We-Can’tsters—their messages often being reduced to explanations of why we can’t afford free public college or universal public health coverage. Amy Klobuchar is bidding to lead the No-We-Can’tster pack, with seemingly daily cautions as to which reforms are unreachable. Joe Biden, should he enter the fray, may well strike a similar posture.

Kamala Harris and Sherrod Brown (should he run) have generally inclined toward the Yes-We-Can side of the party, though neither has expressed comfort with a Roosevelt-‘36-style excoriation of the plutocratic rich. Cory Booker’s career-long coziness with Wall Street plunks him down on the Can’tster side of the party, though he has embraced some halfway-house proposals—full-employment pilot programs, for instance—that suggest he understands he’s in need of reinvention.

Can’tster-ism isn’t a platform, however; it’s not even a basis for a candidacy, and certainly not at a time when more Democrats say they have a favorable assessment of socialism than they do of capitalism. In an early attempt to fill this void, Booker is opining that the nation needs universal love, while Klobuchar is turning out daily announcements of mini- or micro-reform pieces of legislation she has introduced with Republican co-sponsors—a reading of the Democratic zeitgeist I find bewildering, and one which holds unfortunate echoes of Hillary Clinton’s penchant for multiple policy-adjustment proposals, which didn’t exactly work wonders for her campaign.

As I noted at the top, it’s still way early, and there’s ample time for reformulating messages. The polls tell us that Americans are more in the mood for big, system-altering ideas than they’ve been in eons. No-We-Can’tsters, take heed.

February 20, 2019

Back to the Progressive Future. Elizabeth Warren keeps getting whacked by the right for proposing big, bold public programs. The latest is universal, high-quality child care

But take a close look, and you’ll see that Warren’s program is actually a bit more modest than the proposed Mondale-Brademas Comprehensive Child Development Act of 1971. That act was passed by both houses, overwhelmingly in the Senate, and was ultimately vetoed by President Nixon. 

In the proposed 1971 act, subsidy and certification of a range of local arrangements were viewed as a way station to universal public child care. In the nearly five decades since then, a wide range of makeshift arrangements have taken root, from family daycare to church basements. These will be hard to displace with a full public program. Thus Warren’s supposedly “radical” bill is less radical than the consensus bill of 1971.

So we’ve had five lost decades of right-wing dominance, with five decades of deferral of what the public really wants if given the option. Only with the allegedly radical leadership of figures like Warren and Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown are we at last heading back to the future that most Americans want. 

February 15, 2019

Remind Me, Why Does Amazon Get to Own Everything? Good for New York, especially for New York’s unions, for making it clear that the town was not for sale.

But everything else seems to be. I admit that I patronize Whole Foods, now owned by Amazon. There’s one in my neighborhood, and if you shop carefully and also go to the supermarket, it needn’t be Whole Paycheck. 

But lately, since Amazon bought the chain and started cutting corners to maximize profits, I’ve noticed a distinct deterioration in quality and variety, as house brands (“365”) crowd out competitors’ shelf space, and some items have been dropped. 

They’ve also just announced price hikes for some 700 products. I have vowed to shop there as little as possible.

There is a larger point here. It’s not good for the economy when a single company was so much market power to crush competitors. There is also a common carrier doctrine that you don’t get to provide the platform and also compete with (and crush or buy out) rivals who need to use the platform to market their wares.

Alert followers of my work may have discerned that I and a couple dozen other columnists just got unceremoniously dumped from HuffPost. That’s because the bean counters at Verizon (!) which now owns HuffPost, decided that we evidently were not enough of a profit center. But how does a phone company get to buy a media organ in the first place?

Ever since Reagan, the whole idea of anti-trust and fair competition has been euthanized, and the only rule is anything goes. Antitrust needs to be revived and brought up to date. Maybe the Warren-Brown Administration will do just that.

February 14, 2019

Which Presidential Hopefuls Understand That It’s Progressive Breakthrough Time? As Prospect readers have doubtless noticed, we seem to have entered a golden age of breakthrough progressive proposals. Democratic presidential candidates and members of Congress are advancing proposals for universal Medicare, wealth taxes and much more progressive income taxes, full employment, co-determination, more upper-bracket payroll taxes to fund more adequate Social Security payments, and a Green New Deal. Unions and think tanks are promoting a system of collective bargaining that covers all workers in a sector—whether unionized or not. And in California, Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed requiring social media companies that monetize their data to share the proceeds of that monetization with their users.

That which was off the table, or nowhere even near it, is now on.

Historians will doubtless credit Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign for prying open this Overton Window, as they credit Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for injecting rightwing ideas into the national discourse. They will also surely credit the 2008 financial crash and its long, unequal recovery for moving millions of Americans, particularly millennials, leftward, as they credit the 1929 crash and the ensuing Great Depression for creating the vibrant and powerful left of the 1930s.

As progressives and Democrats view the emerging 2020 Democratic presidential field, it seems to me the most important criterion (in addition to electability) by which to judge the candidates is simply whether they’re part of this dynamic. Do they grasp the need for curtailing our plutocracy, which requires not just political reform but serious taxes on wealth such as those that Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have proposed? Do they understand the disaster that shareholder capitalism has visited upon our middle and working classes, and seek to give workers much more power to bargain and steer their own companies? Do they get the need to break up the big Wall Street banks and establish a range of public banking alternatives? Do they understand that creating a healthier America requires moving to a Medicare for All system (which can be done in a multiplicity of ways)? Do they realize that the oncoming threat of catastrophic climate change requires something like the Green New Deal?

Some current presidential candidates (Warren) and some likely to become presidential candidates (Sanders) have checked off most if not all of these boxes; others (Sherrod Brown) have checked off many of them; and others (Kamala Harris) just some. Still others—Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke—are largely missing in action on these issues, which seems a sure way to depress Democratic turnout in November 2020. However, it’s early yet. 

February 13, 2019

Embarrassment of Riches. The word on the street is that Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders will soon join Elizabeth Warren as economic populists contending for the Democratic nomination. 

There has been a lot of argument in the press and among Democratic operatives and kibitzers about whether the party is better off with a populist or “someone who can win.” That’s a lot of hooey. It’s precisely a populist message and candidate who has what’s needed to win.

The risk is that Warren, Sanders, and Brown will crowd each other out and allow a more corporate Democrat to be nominated. Normally, a large field is winnowed down faster than one might imagine, because there is only so much money and so many volunteers to go around.

But these three could stay in for a while. Sanders has his loyalists from last time. Warren has an army of enthusiasts. And Brown will get a lot of labor backing. All will raise small money.

For almost half a century, not a single economic populist made it to the front of the pack. Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, and Hillary Clinton were all moderate liberals—decent people, but not committed to radical change. 

The result of the inattention to profound structural power grabs, rigged rules, and the steady erosion of economic prospects for regular working Americans was Donald Trump.

If ever America was ready to elect a progressive economic populist, 2020 is the year. But now we will very likely have three, and three's a crowd. 

If anybody can think of a way for two of these good people to unite behind one, speak now.