It Ain’t Heavy

 

In the first of two presidential campaign debates in 1988, when Vice President George H.W. Bush referred to his opponent, Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, as a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” (American Civil Liberties Union), he was actually citing Governor Dukakis’s own words from his speeches during the Democratic primaries, when he wanted to appeal to the left wing of the party. Governor Dukakis’s choice of words were unfortunate for him given the connotations of the phrase “card-carrying member” ever since the red-baiting days of the early 1950s Joseph McCarthy era, and the Bush campaign probably couldn’t believe their luck in that Governor Dukakis handed them such a juicy gift with which to smear him.

 

They knew and counted on the reality that most of the public do not delve deeply into the true meaning of things, and instead are all too eager to fall back lazily on shorthand terms. Conservative independents, to the extent they understood at all what the ACLU was about, had only to hear that the organization had the words “civil liberties” and “union” in it, and that Governor Dukakis was a “card-carrying member” of it, to jump to the conclusion that the man from Massachusetts with the foreign sounding name was practically a Communist, resulting in their bolting toward Vice President Bush. Governor Dukakis spent the rest of the campaign explaining himself regarding that and other blunders, and once he went on the defensive the campaign was over. Ever since then, mainstream Democrats have been careful to define themselves as Republicans Lite, rather than being card-carrying members of any organization other than Corporate America.

YDS-NewLogo
A logo designed in 2010 by Sean Monahan for a wing of the Democratic Socialists of America. Since 2016, about 24,000 people have joined the DSA, most of them under age 35.


A public service announcement from the ACLU in reaction to the use in 1988 by the Bush campaign of the phrase “card-carrying member” as a smear tactic. Interesting to note the mentions of the ACLU defending Oliver North.

In good news for people who would still like to work within the Democratic Party but who see it as hopelessly beholden to corporations while cynically throwing identity politics bones to the left wing in order to appease them, candidates for local and state offices around the country who are endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) are having success in elections since 2016. The DSA is not a political party. It is an activist movement within and sometimes without the Democratic Party, and it endorses candidates who push its policy goals such as a $15 an hour minimum wage and getting the corrupting influence of corporate money out of politics. Michael Harrington founded the DSA in 1982, and the organization had not seen much success until the past two years, when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders openly avowed socialist principles in his presidential campaign, for many people doing away with the stigma of socialism that Governor Dukakis had tried to wipe off himself in 1988.

Noam Chomsky in a 1989 speech analyzes the 1988 election “card-carrying member” smear.

Most of the people inspired to become members of the DSA by Senator Sanders’s example, even though he himself had never joined, were not yet born in 1988 when the Bush campaign found it incredibly easy and profitable to brand Governor Dukakis an extreme leftist and make it stick with the public. For these downwardly mobile Millennials, some of them highly educated and many of them underemployed, the myth of capitalism raising all boats is for suckers. These were the people who formed the core of the Occupy movement in 2011, and when the establishment in the Democratic Party pushed everyone to accept their Republican Lite candidate, Hillary Clinton, while using subterfuge to undermine Senator Sanders’s candidacy, leading ultimately to the debacle of the general election, some of these same politically active young Democrats turned to the DSA to work to change the Democratic Party from the grass roots on up.

As the 2018 mid-term elections approach, Cenk Uygur delivers an astute analysis of the Democratic Party establishment from a perspective to the left of the mainstream. As always in keeping a wary eye on politics and politicians, it is good advice to follow the money.

The national Democratic Party establishment is too compromised and seduced by corporate money to listen to what working class and middle class people in places like western Pennsylvania are concerned about, the same people who essentially cast protest votes for Orange Julius in 2016, as ill-advised as that may have been. The Democratic establishment will try to make the 2018 midterm elections a referendum on Orange Julius, and to a certain extent they should, but what they are missing in their tone deafness to the needs of Americans in places like western Pennsylvania and Flint, Michigan, and the dairy farms of Wisconsin, is the desire of citizens there to see Democrats demonstrating real intentions to implement policies once they are in office that will improve the lives of the majority, instead of just big money corporate donors. The national Democratic Party establishment is hopelessly out of touch with those citizens. Card-carrying DSA members, working with local and state candidates, understand positive change will only come by listening to and serving citizens directly, and ignoring the cumbersome Democratic Party establishment, which is interested only in perpetuating itself by offering the easy way out by criticizing the current president’s disastrous administration, and in replacing his corporate water carriers with their own.
— Ed.

 

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The Art of the Steal

 

The Republicans have passed their tax bill in the House of Representatives, and next week it goes to the Senate for a vote. This week the Senate Finance Committee held hearings on the tax bill, and Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) became so upset with Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) criticism of the bill and of Republicans’ motives in trying to pass it, that he exclaimed “Bullcrap!” in response. “Bullcrap” seems to be a favored light curse among Republicans in public life. The last time the term made headlines was when a self-absorbed Republican representative from Oklahoma used it earlier this year to rebuke some critical constituents.

 

Senator Brown’s criticism of the bill was entirely accurate and to the point, which of course was why Senator Hatch called it “bullcrap”. No need to respond with strong language like “bullcrap” if Senator Brown’s remarks weren’t close enough to the mark that they might alert the slumbering masses they were about to be screwed so that a handful of wealthy people and corporations could stuff even more money in their pockets at the expense of everyone else. Like any old master at shilling for wealthy patrons, Senator Hatch understands that the game is pretty obvious to anyone who is halfway paying attention, even mainstream journalists, but it lacks decorum to point it out to the rubes, who must always be led to believe there is something in it for them.

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An illustration of income inequality. Map by Stephen Ewen.

The tax bill plainly enough steals from the poor and gives to the rich. The question remains whether the Republicans will get away with it, not only by passing it in the Senate, thereby making it the law of the land once the Capitalist-in-Chief signs it, as he certainly will, but in the 2018 congressional elections. Americans have notoriously short memories, at least for the dry details of economics.

Orson Welles as the plutocrat Charles Foster Kane in his 1941 film Citizen Kane campaigns for governor of New York with the usual palaver about the “working man.”

The conventional wisdom says people vote their pocketbooks, but that has been disproved over and over again in recent elections. The wealthy vote their pocketbooks, but since there are relatively few of them and therefore their actual votes don’t amount to much, they open their pocketbooks to their favored candidates, who then convince the rubes to get fired up about social issues like gay marriage, and never mind that in the long run they are voting against their economic self-interest. Getting screwed by the very people who profess to be your friends has been a time honored strategy that works, just ask the Native Americans not long after the first Thanksgiving with the Pilgrim settlers, and again and again to their misfortune through the years after that.
― Ed.

 

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Casino Banking

 

The passage of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act separated commercial banking from investment banking, and for 75 years there were no enormous financial meltdowns in the United States originating from the banking sector of the economy. In 1999, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the main provisions of Glass-Steagall and, in the view of critics of the repeal, the countdown to financial meltdown began, culminating in the Great Recession which began in 2008. The meltdown, like the Great Depression which gave birth to Glass-Steagall, had worldwide repercussions, but in the aftermath there have been only watered down reforms of the banking industry in the US such as the Dodd-Frank Act, and no high level banking executives have gone to jail, been taken to court, or even been indicted. It’s only a matter of time therefore before a similar financial crisis strikes the US, particularly since the new presidential administration is talking about dismantling Dodd-Frank.

 

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Crowd gathering on Wall Street after the stock market crash on October 25, 1929.
Like other European nations, Iceland was swallowed up in the 2008 financial crisis. Like the United States, it had its own unruly banking sector contributing to the crisis – casino banks, in the sense that they used the money from depositors in their commercial operations to gamble on dubious investments, always passing along losses to customers while reaping the profits mostly for themselves. As in casinos, the house rarely loses, and in the case of casino banks when it appears they might lose the government will be there to bail them out. That’s the deal banks have come to count on, particularly if they are “too big to fail.” Unlike other European nations and definitely unlike the United States, Iceland allowed its casino banks to fail and then vigorously investigated and prosecuted the casino bankers responsible. In Iceland, 26 top bankers have gone to jail since 2008, and moreover their economy has rebounded robustly. In the US, 0 top bankers are wearing orange jumpsuits as a consequence of causing the 2008 financial meltdown, and the economy has limped slowly toward recovery ever since.

 

It’s interesting to note that the 2016 Republican Party platform included a plank about reinstating Glass-Steagall. Wall Streeters were alarmed at first, but then everyone realized it was merely politics as usual and that the incoming Republican administration and Congress had no intention of taking the idea seriously. They have been proven correct. Democrats make rumbling noises occasionally about reinstating Glass-Steagall, but even if they had the will, they don’t have the votes. It’s all just politics at this point, since Wall Street money has long since turned heads in both major parties.


“Let them eat cake!”

There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party … and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt – until recently … and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.

― Gore Vidal, from his 1975 essay “The State of the Union”.

Social reforms wrought from identity politics are all to the good, but as always in our culture the primary fixation should be on the money. Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this when he traveled to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 to speak to striking African-American sanitation workers. Without work and the personal dignity that comes from a living wage, people cannot begin to address their social situation and have the energy to improve their lot within society as a whole. For the poor and the middle class it all starts with money, and for the rich it ends there as well. The oligarchic elite take advantage of social issues like gay marriage to divide and distract the majority while they continue to concentrate wealth and power in their own hands. There are two financial reforms which would go a long way toward stemming the rising power of the corporate oligarchy and restoring power to the majority of Americans: reinstatement of Glass-Steagall or something very much like it, and the legislative or constitutional rescission of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010.
― Vita

 

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