Will the Democrats reject "centrism"?

Democrats fear that voter turnout will be low in 2012 due to dissatisfaction with President Obama’s policies and due to a feeling that change is hopeless.

If Democrats want progressives’ votes and help, they should stand up to the corrupt, corporatist Democrats by openly criticizing centrists such as President Obama and Governor Gregoire, and by pressuring centrist legislators to mend their ways.

Otherwise, millions of voters (especially progressives) will distrust the Democrats and will either not turn up to vote or will vote third party. Democrats can’t expect progressives to “place nice” and forget and forgive, even if the Republicans are far worse (which they are, especially on women’s rights and taxation). Democrats can’t put the genie of centrism back in the bottle.

This battle may tear apart the Democratic Party, but who wants to support a compromised Democratic Party that aides Republicans? Many of my progressive friends tell me that you can’t trust the Democrats. But I see no viable alternative, so I want progressives to take over the party, the way religious conservatives and Teabaggers took over the GOP.

Most of the party activists and PCOs I know in Washington State are quite progressive, but they’re fearful of criticizing centrist Dems, lest they aid the Republicans.

Perhaps things will get so bad that the voters will stop voting Republican. Already the Republicans seem to have overreached, for example in Wisconsin. A sad hope.

Failed KCDCC Resolution a Good Idea

Last night, King County Democrats narrowly voted down a “resolution to cut corporate tax exemptions rather than cutting school funding”. [Here is a link to the resolution, by David Spring: http://fairschoolfundingcoalition.org/joomla/.]

The purpose of the proposed resolution is to support elimination of tax breaks for corporations earning north of $1 billion, and use that money to fill the State’s $500 million gap in the current biennium, which is penciled in to be filled by delaying the June payment to schools, which is about $500 million.

“Whereas corporate tax exemptions for Microsoft are about $200 million per year and tax exemptions for Boeing are about $300 million per year”

The $500 million from Microsoft and Boeing would come not from a new tax, but from the elimination of tax breaks for the two giants which other Washington corporations do not enjoy. $500 million represents less than 2.5% of the combined profits of Microsoft and Boeing. According to the author of the resolution, Microsoft and Boeing would not be harmed financially because the taxes could be deducted from their Federal tax bill, the result being not a transfer of money from Boeing and Microsoft to the State, but a transfer from the Federal Government to the State.

We simply cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class and at the expense of our schools, while asking absolutely nothing from the richest individuals and corporations, which are faring better than ever.

Our State is 49th in the nation in per-capita spending on education. That is a disgrace and an affront to the “paramount duty” of the Legislature as proscribed by the State’s Constitution.

The resolution variously failed because it was too specific, too vague, poorly worded, and wasn’t properly vetted.

Hopefully it will be tweaked and adopted next month. But of course that is as far as it will go. The truth is, the State’s “paramount duty” has been openly and shamelessly usurped by the duty to serve the wealthiest among us.

The Libyan Question

I was really concerned that the international community would simply stand by and watch as Libyans were slaughtered by their own military forces. Think Rwanda and Burundi and those awful type of events and outcomes all over again. The US and the international community stood by as human beings were exterminated. If you need background on that I recommend the PBS video – Ghosts of Rwanda – as definitive coverage.

This is always a problem when an armed force decides to slaughter or exterminate a civilian population. Should “we” get involved or should we step back and let the local conflict be decided by local forces? The German attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe was accompanied by territorial encroachment and domination of neighboring European countries and was confronted, but the truth is that the international community was very slow to come to the aid of the groups that were identified for extermination. It wasn’t just Jewish folks, the Romas, gays, communists, and more were targeted for their ethnicity, their politics, their orientation to the mainstream culture.

Jump forward to the Cambodian holocaust. The international community sits on its hands. Jump forward to Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo. No effective action. Look at the Sudan.

Yet we (the UN, the US et al) intervene in Bosnia and I am not sure why. I read and listen to Andrei Grubacic and I am not sure the intervention really worked to further goals that I have about the elevation of persuasion over coercion.

So, here we go. I felt we should intervene when the rebels in Libya were in danger of being crushed and exterminated. But once Western forces start bombing the country I am very uneasy. Can this work out well? Is there an end in sight? Are we there because Libya has sweet oil?

Want to hear Grubacic? You got it. Anarchism and Marxism, Part I.

Report on the LAC meeting with Rep. Hasegawa

Sunday afternoon I attended the King County Dems’ Legislative Action Committee meeting in Renton, where Rep. Bob Hasegawa was the guest speaker. He is awesome: a strong progressive and an unpretentious, nice guy.  The meeting was riveting, for political junkies like me anyway, and well attended.  I guess the attendees all felt like fellow comrades in arms.

The battle is to deal with the fallout from Tim Eyman’s anti-tax initiatives that passed last year and to figure out how to stop the voters from supporting such destructive initiatives that are against their own self-interest.

Hasegawa lamented the lack of leadership by Democrats in Olympia, especially with regard to raising revenue. Missing In Action and Gone South were words that came up with respect to some issues at least. Hasegawa also expressed dissatisfaction with President Obama’s leadership on some issues. (Who isn’t dissatisfied?)

Governor Gregoire has talked like a Republican in her opposition to raising revenue, citing last fall’s votes on tax measures as her reason.   Policies she’s pushing would have a disproportionate impact on the poor and on communities of color. For example, she wants to allow colleges to raise tuition. To offset it she wants to start up corporate scholarship programs, funded by a 50% tax write-off — which would further decrease available state funds.

Hasegawa said we need a long-term strategy to build up both a progressive marketing machine and political power.   The strategy needs to be both inside and outside the legislature/Democratic Party.  But if we propose something (a referendum, for example) that’s been poorly designed we’ll get trounced and set ourselves back.  We need to lay the groundwork.

It appears that the WEA has given up on revenue (presumably because the voters are just so opposed to taxes).  If the major beneficiaries of tax revenue have given up on revenue, we’re in trouble.

Someone asked “How do we get through the voter’ blinders about taxes?”

One part of the solution is to drive a wedge between small and big business. Most of the tax write-offs benefit Big Business. Small businesses should actually support us on this.

During the meeting, we reviewed the high priority bills that Dems are interested in this year in Olympia.  A lot of good ones didn’t make it out of committees.  Senator Kline heroically sponsored a joint Senate memorial to overturn Citizens’ United.  But it failed to be reported out of committee, because not enough committee members were in the room.  Big Pharma was able to kill a pharmaceutical bill 24 to 25, by pressuring a wavering Republican.  Johnson & Johnson lobbied hard against a toxics bill. Senate Bill 5506 is bad news for Workers’ Comp.

On the good news front, it appears that Trans Alta, the governor, and the electrical worker’s union IBEW have come to a compromise on a schedule for shutting down the Trans Alta coal plants in phases, ending in 2020 instead of 2015.

There are six Democrats in the state Senate who regularly vote with Republicans to squash progressive legislation, especially on fiscal matters.   They “hold the key to everything.” Many bills in the Senate are decided by a couple of votes. I was wondering if the Left in Washington State needs someone or some people to be attack dogs — willing to say impolite things that others can’t easily say.   Can groups like WA Liberals, or FUSE, or others on the left  apply pressure on these Dems to do the right thing? Can LDs kick out centrist Dems or would those Dems just be replaced with even worse Republicans?

Speaker Frank Chopp spoke at an earlier LAC meeting. I was impressed by his smarts and his desire to do progressive things. Hasegawa also spoke highly of him. Chopp suggested that all Dems cancel their Seattle Times subscriptions, something I’ve suggested too. Hasegawa said that Chopp is powerful but he’s not a miracle worker: if the Democratic caucus(es) strongly support something, Chopp can’t overrule them.

Sarajane Siegfriedt mentioned that Chopp once said, “They’ll take away the Disability Lifeline OVER MY DEAD BODY!”  This year, due to the budget shortfall and the inability to raise revenue, we may see a dead body.

Even some Republican legislators see the need for Basic Health.   But some of them really do think government is evil, Hasegawa said.

The blue-green Working Family caucus of progressive Democrats was quite effective last session.  It has morphed somewhat since last year.

The State Bank is actually a bipartisan issue: some Republicans support it.  Of course the private banks oppose it, and so does the State Treasurer. The GOP is holding legislators to strict party discipline and insisting they oppose it.

$57 million was spent on state-wide initiative campaigns last year — four times the previous record.    Senate Bill 5021 (The Disclose Act) would enhance election spending disclosure to promote transparency.  The bill is very much alive and deserves support. It’s not as good as a constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens’ United ruling, but it’s a step in the right (left) direction.

During the question and answer period, someone mentioned that some GOP governors want states to declare bankruptcy, so that states can renege on funding employee pension plans.  Hasegawa said that the state legislators would NOT allow that to happen here. If the state declared bankruptcy, it could not borrow any money.

David Spring presented a resolution calling on the legislature to end tax breaks for corporations with more than $1 billion in yearly profit.  Such corporations would include Boeing and Microsoft.  The funds would be applied to public education, in accordance with the state constitution’s dictum that the “paramount duty” of the legislature is to support education.    Everyone at the meeting agreed with the intent of the resolution, but some people said that it wasn’t timely and that it was politically infeasible (Boeing!).  Also, someone questioned whether all the funds should go to education, since Basic Health and other social services need funding too. The resolution passed (by 13 to 7, I believe).  The LAC can only recommend resolutions to the King County Central Committee.

Spring’s resolution says “House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter recently stated that a delay in the June payment to public schools is a ‘forgone conclusion — unless something more attractive comes up’,” due to the budget shortfall.  That means that about $500 million may be cut from education, according to Spring. That’s about equal to the tax giveaways to Boeing ($300 million per year) and Microsoft ($200 million per year).  “The paramount duty of the legislature is NOT providing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax exemptions for the richest corporations in the history of our planet.”  Also: “school funding in our State has already been cut by more than $2 billion in the past two years while not a single penny has been cut in tax breaks for wealth corporations.”

All very true. If the people only knew and understood…

Even if bills don’t become law, there can be value in bringing them up for votes, since it raises peoples’ awareness of the issues and since it can force legislators to cast votes on controversial measures.

Hasegawa suggested changing the Voter’s Guide pamphlet to be more informative about the cost of tax breaks (“tax preferences”).

Conservatives are winning the war to destroy government, by cutting taxes for the rich and slashing state budgets. The voters are voting against their own self-interest, because conservatives control the agenda through clever marketing, through corporate money, through better media access, and through weak Democratic leadership.

Hasegawa mentioned that the Democratic Party has a wonderful platform. The problem is that it’s often ignored by the legislators.

Our leaders don't lead, Tim Eyman leads

Our leaders don’t lead. Governor Gregoire and the legislators have punted on the issue of raising revenue. If you ask legislators, they say “the people” have to demand fair taxation and an end to corporate tax giveaways.

Though the Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both houses in Olympia, they don’t use their positions of power and influence to exert power and influence. They don’t educate the public about economic justice. Instead, they allow Tim Eyman to lead, just as President Obama has allowed Republicans to set the national agenda.

Progressives need to fight the good fight and take over the Democratic Party, the way religious conservatives and Teabaggers took over the GOP. Don’t just attend MoveOn and other advocacy group meetings, get active in your local LD!

Fight the Good Fight to make the Democratic Party more progressive?

Millions of progressive activists give time, money, and energy to advocacy groups, because they don’t trust the Democratic Party. Shouldn’t progressives take over the Democratic Party the way religious conservatives and Teabaggers took over the GOP?

The Republican Party is united behind a hard right agenda that keeps becoming more extreme. Often GOP lawmakers vote unanimously.

The Democratic Party is divided between “centrist” corporatist Dems, on the one hand, and progressives and labor on the the other. This is true both nationally, where President Obama often sides with corporatists, and in Washington State, where Road Kill Dems and other centrists vote with Republicans on many issues.

Due to the (perceived or actual) centrism and unreliability of the Democratic leadership, millions of progressives donate their time, money, and energy to advocacy groups like MoveOn, NARAL, Sierra Club, and scores of other groups. This weakens the Democratic Party, forces it further to the right, and dis-empowers progressives, because third parties rarely have much positive influence in our non-parliamentary form of government. Twould be better, I think, if progressives took over the Democratic Party, the way religious conservatives and Tea Partiers took over the GOP. I’m not (yet) in favor of going the third party route, though some progressives, or socialists, are.

Many people active in the advocacy groups are in fact also active in the Democratic Party. Still, I’d rather have a progressive Democratic Party than a centrist one with a bunch of advocacy groups snapping it its feet.

In order to reform the Democratic Party, it seems to me that it needs to be, uh, “purged” of centrist Dems. That will inevitably be a painful and difficult battle. But it happened in the GOP, and it’s not something progressives should shy away from: The Good Fight.

Some will say that progressives should shut up and stop criticizing President Obama, lest Republicans win in 2012. I understand that way of thinking. But perhaps the better approach is to acknowledge Obama’s failings, show how much worse the Republicans are, and work to support progressive Democrats in down ticket races. Democrats can’t hide from the truth. The people won’t support them if they’re perceived as being supportive of Wall Street more than Main Street. Unless Democrats serve the people, they’re little better than Republicans.

In Washington State, our leaders don’t lead. Governor Gregoire and the legislators have punted on the issue of raising revenue. If you ask them, they say “the people” have to demand fair taxation.

Though the Democrats control the governor’s mansion and both houses in Olympia, they don’t use their positions of power and influence to exert power and influence. Instead, they allow Tim Eyman to lead.

People (especially young people) don’t trust the Democrats, and it’s understandable why. Either the Democrats reform themselves or the country will continue to be screwed over by conservatives.

But it’s possible that this Good Fight will be too disruptive and will lead to GOP victories. If so, it’ll be so sad that the hard right was able to take over the Republican Party but progressives couldn’t gain significant share in the Democratic Party.

Economics, Politics and Folly

Let’s be blunt, shall we? The Republicans are committed to winning elections and regaining the majority no matter how much harm they do to the country making that happen. When in power, the republicans govern like drunken sailors. We get unfunded wars, tax cuts, corporate social programs like Medicare Part D and deregulation that allows for the possibility of one economic bubble after another. Bubble economies (think the dot.com frenzy, followed by the home refi and ownership society craziness) allow for the appearance of wealth generation and create annual bonuses for bankers that are only slightly taxed.

Not that the Democrats are much better. They get an opportunity once in a blue moon when the country manages to overcome the propaganda of Fox, Comcast, Clear Channel et al and the vagaries of vote-counting systems that have no mandated papertrail to assure integrity. The Clinton era of 1992-1994 and the Obama era 2008-2010 are the two times that has happened and look how those two year stints turned out.

When they are out of power (which is most of the time) the Democrats do better than Republicans do when they are out of power. They do not seize every opportunity to make things go wrong for country for political gains in the next election, they appear to function somewhat responsibly, working with the party in power to negotiate legislation and policy toward the mainstream, but the upshot is the political situation we have today, where US citizens and soldiers who have been convicted of no crime are tortured in the brig by deprivation of contact, by systematic humiliation, and more in the hope of breaking the mind and spirit of an individual. This will break most of us. Human beings are social animals. Where State governments work to strip unions of collective bargaining power.

All of this negotiating and compromising creates a meek Democratic party that cannot remember its own principles when the stars align to give them a majority. The party is so unfamiliar with governing from a majority position that it can’t figure out that the solution to an economic downturn of the scale of the great depression or the great recession is keynesian economics directed at job creation and infrastructure, not the stabilization of the economic status quo. Nothing is too big to fail as the Democrats have proven in 2008-2010 as they governed themselves and the country further into the ditch as they protected financial institutions that are the fount of electoral politics. They were completely inept in their understanding and response to the ultimate SCOTUS corporate decision – Citizens United. There were legislative fixes that should have been in place even before the Supreme Corp announced its unsurprising decision.

And health care? Yes, health care needs fixing. The system we have is a private enterprise mess. The health care fix is in moving to single payor. This isn’t rocket science. In the absence of the fortitude and votes to go to single payor, you have to keep it on the table in the form of a public option or you might as well not waste the time and effort on the reform battle. Sure, it’s a good thing to have new rules that allow “children” up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ insurance policies and to reduce corporate profit-taking by rescission and pre-existing condition sleight of hand, but 2008-2010 screamed for a job program, for the bankruptcy court cramdown solution to the housing mortgage crisis, for an all-out push to reduce our energy dependence on foreign oil and look what we got instead.

It’s not too late for the Democratic party to learn how to lead, even from a minority position, but they have to be ready next time to speak the truth. We need to raise taxes and regulate the economy and industry. We have to be true to our founding principles regarding human rights instead of bending to the pull of commerce and profit.

Set Bradley Manning free. Put Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld in jail (and ct scan to determine once and for all if they are human or reptile). Stop the wars. Bring the troops home, close down at least half of our foreign bases. Reinstate the tax structure that existed under President Nixon, if not the one that existed under President Eisenhower.

Johnson, Sanders, McKenna: Blacks Commit More Crimes

Since we are on the subject of Rob McKenna, there is something that has been weighing on me for a while that I’d like to get off my chest.

Last fall, Washington Supreme Court Justice James Johnson and former Justice Richard Sanders caused quite a stir when they denied racial discrimination was a factor in prison population race disparity.

Earlier in the year, during a KZOK radio interview, Attorney General Rob McKenna appeared to be on the same page with Johnson and Sanders when, in response to a direct question about prison race disparity, he answered: “unfortunately, our prison population is disproportionate based on race, but disproportionality isn’t in and of itself an indication of racial discrimination.” That was all he had to say on the matter.

The comment was particularly troubling in light of the context of the interview. The subject was Farrakhan v. Gregoire, a case in which the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled that systemic racial bias within the criminal justice system caused our State’s felony disenfranchisement law to be in conflict with the Voting Rights Act. That ruling, which was overturned on appeal, temporarily granted voting rights to incarcerated felons.

During the trial, plaintiffs relied heavily on two University of Washington studies that found that racial discrimination was evident throughout our criminal justice system. Specifically, they found that blacks are more likely to be investigated, searched, charged, held over for trial, convicted, and given harsher sentences.

These studies were not in dispute. Defense accepted the conclusions and presented no evidence to the contrary. Instead they argued that even though systemic racial discrimination exists, the Voting Rights Act is nevertheless inapplicable to the State’s felony disenfranchisement provision. McKenna won that argument on appeal. (The court ruled that inmates would individually have to prove they were victims of racial bias in order for the VRA to apply and their voting rights restored.)

Armed with the facts that racial discrimination plagues our criminal justice system at all levels, and asked a specific question about racial disparity in prison, Attorney General McKenna not only failed to acknowledge the problem, he implied it does not exist.

Which means we can forget about making much progress towards ending racial discrimination in the criminal justice system so long as Rob McKenna is Attorney General. Or Governor.