Saturday, July 25, 2015

Senator Bernie Sanders and America's 'Mainstream'

July 25, 2015, 8:45 a.m.

Like Mark Twain's Mississippi River, the "Mainsteam" Has Shifted


Face the Nation Exchange

Senator Sanders' Uniqueness

The Media's Problem with Senator Sanders

Senator Sanders' Positions

Just Where Is America's Mainstream?


Face the Nation
JOHN DICKERSON: What do you think . . . of Bernie Sanders and his challenge to Hillary Clinton? . . .

SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: . . . [H]ere you have got one of the most liberal people in the Democrat Party running against Hillary Clinton . . ..

DICKERSON: What does it say about the Democratic Party?

BOEHNER: That they're out of step with mainstream America.
. . .
SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: All right. Well, let me respond to that issue by issue. And you determine who is out of the mainstream.

I want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. A recent "Wall Street Journal" poll said a majority of the American people want to do that. . . . [M]any of [Speaker Boehner's] members want to do away with the concept of the minimum wage.

I want to see this country expand Social Security benefits, not cut them. John Boehner, his party, want to either privatize Social Security or cut Social Security benefits to the elderly and disabled vets. . . .

I want to create millions of jobs by rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. And I have introduced legislation to do that. [The] Republican Party is very reluctant to spend a nickel to rebuild our infrastructure.

DICKERSON: Senator, you ...

SANDERS: I want -- so, I think in terms of who is out of touch with the American people, I would say the Republican Party is. They want to give tax breaks to billionaires, not help the middle class.

-- "Face the Nation Transcripts, July 12, 2015: Boehner, Sanders, Cotton,"
Senator Sanders Uniqueness

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont sent out a letter in June 2015 explaining why is is running for president. This is a serious campaign, make no mistake. But it is otherwise relatively unique among presidential campaigns in general -- and amongst this year's mob of candidates in particular. See generally, "Bernie! Why the 99% Should Support Bernie's Campaign," June 1, 2015.

Sanders is neither someone who runs every four years, nor someone running the first time who has hired expensive, professional campaign managers, media manipulators, pollsters, and fundraisers who tell him what to say and do. For starters, he won't take money from billionaires, PACs, or others seeking to enrich themselves through their campaign contributions. (Years ago I once calculated such contributors get a 1000-to-one to 2000-to-one return on their money; give a million dollars, get a billion dollars or more in return: "Campaigns: You Pay $4 or $4000," Des Moines Register, July 21, 1996. I simply assume, with today's $1 billion-plus campaign seasons and unlimited Citizens United corporate contributions, it's probably worse.)

Even more important, he neither engages in new-found, crafted slogans, nor does he change positions with the political winds. Senator Sanders is still saying what he has been saying all his life as mayor, as a member of Congress, and as a U.S. Senator. "Authentic" is a word often used by political junkies who have spent their lives in a world of political "shuck and jive" and are now hearing Sanders for the first time.

He's not a college professor (though he could be). He's a politician running for the presidency. But he believes democracies are supposed to serve the 99%, not just the 1%, and that in order to do that campaigns need to include serious efforts to explore and resolve the more serious challenges facing the people, and to build the multi-million-member political organizations that will make possible the implementation of solutions.

The Media's Problem with Senator Sanders

This poses a double-barrelled problem for the media -- and therefore for Senator Sanders.

First, the media's owners are, by definition, well within the 1%. They have every possible financial, political, ideological, and social motive to try to prevent him being taken seriously. Savvy media employees who wish to stay employed can't help but be aware of the advantages offered them if they will cut back on or eliminate coverage of him (see description of the shameful exclusion of him by "Meet the Press" in "Bernie's Media Challenge," June 19, 2015), and when unavoidable (perhaps because he is getting the largest number of contributors and audience members of any candidate) diminish his reputation with ridicule, marginalization, and dismissal as "a socialist" whose views are "out of the mainstream."

Second, with rare exceptions, profit-driven media do not have the space or time, or a sufficient number of highly educated, informed and analytical journalists, to present lengthy print, online, or televised discussions of major public policy issues in a way that will involve, inform, and hold an American audience. (See "Three-Legged Calves, Wolves, Sheep and Democracy's Media," Dec. 1, 2014.) Thus, even if media owners were supportive of Senator Sanders' views, they aren't really set up to present anyone's views at length. Thus, political coverage tends to focus on fundraising (e.g., Senator Rand Paul's mediocre contributions; Jeb Bush's $100 million), poll results (e.g., leading Republicans excluded from Fox News debate), gotcha moments (e.g., Governor Rick Perry's 2012 "oops" moment), the bizarre (e.g., Donald Trump's behavior, characterized by Dan Rather as somewhat similar to "a manure spreader in a windstorm"), physical appearance (e.g., the Donald's hair; women's clothing), and those portions of candidates' past history they'd rather forget (e.g., Hillary Clinton's Arkansas Whitewater, 1990s healthcare efforts, Benghazi, 50,000 emails).

Senator Sanders' Positions

So what is this establishment-bucking Senator Sanders talking about? That brings us back to the June letter referenced above. This is certainly not the only written source, you should also check his campaign Web site generally, (Issues).

For now, here is just a brief summary of the headings for the topics he touches upon: jobs, wages, income inequality, progressive taxation, Wall Street reforms, campaign finance alternatives, climate change, universal single-payer health care, poverty programs, college for all, opposition to endless war, and finally "a political revolution." Here is where you can read a pdf of the entire Bernie Sanders' June 2015 3-1/2-page letter. A more current (yesterday) comparable and updated statement was included in a July 24, 2015, email from the campaign which you can read here.

Just Where is America's Mainstream?

Which brings us back to the question of whether his proposals position him in or out of the mainstream. The problem with conducting that inquiry without data, of course, is that the discussion tends to disintegrate into 'tis-'taint shouting matches.

That's why it seemed to me useful to find out precisely what recent polling on Americans' views actually reveals on the matter. Here are some of those results, either directly from the polling organization or as reported by others:
Josh Hakinson, "America's Views Align Surprisingly Well With Those of 'Socialist' Bernie Sanders," Mother Jones, May 19, 2015 (Wealthy should pay more taxes -- 68%; Close offshore tax havens -- 85% (small business owners); Public funding of elections -- "half" Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions - 64%; Universal single-payer healthcare -- 50%+; Breaking up big banks -- 58%; Free community college (2 years) -- 63%; Oppose fast-track for TPP trade deal -- 61%; Raising minimum wage to $15/hour -- 63%; Make union organizing of workers easier -- 53%; Expansion of Social Security and Medicare -- "majorities")

Philip Bump, "Bernie Sanders Says Americans Back His Agenda -- and He's Mostly Right," The Washington Post, June 12, 2015 (Support infrastructure spending -- 50%; Trade restrictions to support domestic industries -- 50%; High quality preschool programs -- 50%; College student loans, lower costs, longer to pay off -- 50%)

Drew Desilver, "State of the Union 2014: Where Americans Stand on Key Issues," Pew Research Center, Jan. 27, 2014 (Dissatisfied with income inequality -- 67%; One year extension of unemployment benefits -- 63%; Path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- 71%). And see, Drew Desilver, "5 Facts About Social Security," Pew Research Center, Oct. 16, 2013 (support for increases varies by party).

"Poll: Most Americans Support Raising Investment Taxes for Wealthy; More Than Two-Thirds Say the Rich Pay Too Little in Federal Taxes, Most Back Obama's Proposed Tax Hike on Investments,"> Associated Press-GfK Poll, Aljazeera America, Feb. 23, 2015.
Senator Elizabeth Warren presented comparable numbers in a recent speech as evidence that a majority of Americans can, in fact, be accurately labeled as "progressives."
• Last November, when Democrats across the country had a terrible day, four -- four -- Republican states voted to raise their minimum wage. In South Dakota, 55% of voters supported a minimum wage increase. In Nebraska, 59%. Arkansas, 66%. And in Alaska, 69%. That shouldn't surprise anyone: 70% of Americans across this country support an increase of the federal minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. Republicans may vote to keep workers in poverty, but on minimum wage, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that students shouldn't be crushed by debt and the federal government should not make a profit on student loans. And so do 73% of Americans. Beltway Republicans may vote to stomp on people who are deep in debt, but on student loans, the American people are Progressives -- and to them debt-free college sounds pretty darn good.

• Progressives believe people should be able to care for sick family members without fear of losing their jobs, and so do 80% of Americans. Republicans may pander to their big business pals, but on paid sick leave, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that millionaires and billionaires should pay the same tax rates as their secretaries, and so do two-thirds of all Americans. Republicans may support special breaks for the rich and powerful, but on tax fairness, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that after a lifetime of work, people deserve to retire in dignity and that means a commitment to strengthening and expanding Social Security -- and 79% of likely voters in last year's election also supported increasing Social Security benefits. Republicans may try to cut benefits, but on Social Security, the American people are Progressives and they are ready to take on the retirement crisis in this country.

• Progressives believe in trade, but not the kind written behind closed doors by corporate lawyers that leave American workers eating dirt. Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor some sort of trade restrictions, and more than half oppose fast tracking trade deals. Republicans -- and some Democrats -- may want to make it easier for multinational corporations to ship jobs overseas, but on trade, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that powerful corporations and billionaires have far, far too much influence over our politics and their stranglehold over our government rigs the game. Nearly three-quarters of America agrees. Republicans may cozy up to their billionaire sugar-daddies, but on campaign finance and Washington reform, the American people are Progressives.

• Progressives believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher legal enforcement -- and that, five years after Dodd-Frank -- it's time to stop pretending and really end "too big to fail" with rules like the Glass-Steagall Act. And 79% of Americans believe Wall Street should be held accountable with tougher rules. Beltway Republicans may be willing to let the biggest banks break our economy again, but on Wall Street reform, the American people are Progressives.

• And finally, I want to make one more very important point: Progressives believe that it shouldn't take a revolution on YouTube to drive a revolution in law enforcement. It shouldn't take a hurricane in New Orleans or a massacre in Charleston for Americans to wake up to what is happening -- what is still happening -- to people of color in this country. And it sure as heck shouldn't take poll numbers to unite us in our determination to build a future for all our children. House Republicans may still want to fly the Confederate flag and Republican leaders may cower in the shadow of Donald Trump, but the American people understand that black lives matter and America is not a country that stands for racism, bigotry or hatred. To build an economy that creates real opportunity, that doesn't lock up millions of our fellow human beings and that uses the talents of all our people, Americans must prove that on equality and justice, the American people are Progressives.
Amber Ferguson, "Elizabeth Warren's Message At Netroots Nation," Huffington Post, July 17, 2015 (as prepared for delivery).


Of course, merely because a majority of your fellow Americans hold one view or another doesn't mean that it is "right," or that you are obliged to follow. Clearly, most who number themselves in the establishment's wealthiest 1% disagree, and you may be among them -- or agree with them even though you are not so financially blessed. Nor does it mean that no one should be elected who is not "in the mainstream."

But these polling results, and others that are comparable, should at least put to rest that, whatever else Senator Sanders may or may not be, he is clearly waist deep in the mainstream.

Today's "radicals" who really are out of the mainstream, as he has pointed out, are those who want to hold down, or even eliminate, the minimum wage; continue endless wars in the Middle East; deny climate change; oppose universal single-payer health care, federal jobs programs to rebuild infrastructure, increases in unemployment benefits, and want to repeal "Obama Care;" want to reduce taxes on the wealthy, continue college student debt, cut back on Social Security.

Wherever they may be on the river bank, it is they who are clearly not in the mainstream. Senator Bernie Sanders is.
# # #

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Militarization of America

July 5, 2015, 8:30 a.m.

Note: This column was written as a part of one of the Gazette Writers Circle projects; in this case, the militarization of local police in Iowa and across the country. I saw the issues as merely a sub-set of those raised by "the militarization of America," and best understood and addressed within that context.

Having done so, it is useful to make clear by way of this note that I fully recognize: (a) the United States needs a military, (b) there are occasions when our national interests do require that it be used (such as World War II), and (c) that those who volunteer to serve, and do so with skill and honor, deserve our respect, thanks, and far more GI-Bill-style practical support on their return than we seem willing to provide. At a minimum, they should not be blamed for the foolish decisions of our elected officials. One way of honoring them is to discuss and question those decisions, as I attempt to do, below.

Text below [in brackets] was submitted to The Gazette, included in its online version, but omitted from its hard copy edition. -- Nicholas Johnson

The Militarization of America

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, Gazette Writers Circle, July 5, 2015, p. C3

Philadelphia police crowd control 30 years ago? Dropping a bomb from a helicopter; 60 homes burned.

Not the typical response of the thousands who do “protect and serve.” But today’s militarization of local police with hand-me-down Army equipment is worth examining — in context.

Because it’s only a small part of the militarization of America.

We are the world’s pre-eminent military power. Of the top ten military nations we spend more than the other nine combined. With our military presence in over 150 countries, and provision of weapons to others, we have militarized the world.

Expenditures reflect values. There is little political objection to the trillions of debt from credit card military adventures. We accept the opportunity costs as we reject universal, single-payer health care, starve our public schools, cut programs for the poor, and watch our infrastructure crumble. “We’re number one!” we cry, notwithstanding low international rankings for test scores, infant mortality, and life expectancy.

Our national anthem celebrates “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Our sporting events often begin with a vocalist and spectators singing that song. Athletic contests in many cultures serve, in part, to prepare young men for battle. Our most popular sport is our most violent: football. Those games sometimes begin with a flyover of military fighter planes. [Photo credit: Brian Ray, The Gazette.] See footnote, "Fighter Planes Flyover of Kinnick Stadium," below.

We have a [“ready, fire, aim”] militarized media, its cheerleaders for war ready to support every military action. [Never mind we haven’t been attacked, and there’s no realistic threat.] War coverage is dramatic and improves ratings, whether baby wars (Granada), “pre-emptive” wars (Iraq), or perpetual wars elsewhere. [TV stations used to “sign off” at night with visuals of flags and fighter planes. As Mason Williams said, “Every night, before it goes to bed, television gets down on its knees and prays to war.”] [Photo credit: unknown.]

We have militarized our homes and ourselves. Our children play with video games that train them as military sharpshooters and drone operators. Roughly 40 percent are living in homes with guns. The U.N. reports America’s gun death risk per 100,000 population is 20 times the average for other countries.

There are 50,000 suicides and homicides each year; 60 percent involve guns. (Homicide is the second leading cause of death of 15-25 year olds.) Some estimate guns in homes are 16 times more likely to harm occupants than intruders.

Given those odds, Americans must really love their guns a lot — a love that surpasses all understanding.

It’s natural such a nation would have a National Rifle Association (NRA) opposing virtually every form of gun regulation, including restrictions on owning assault weapons, retention of databases of gun purchases, background checks on purchasers at gun shows and changes in the registration of firearms.

With the expansion of permits to carry, we see the militarization of other institutions as well. There are guns on college campuses, in schools, malls, movie theaters, bars and even churches. And there are the all-too-regular reports of deaths — genuinely grieved, but all too quickly forgotten.

We have militarized our politics and governing. Few elected officials are defeated for supporting increased defense appropriations or the NRA’s agenda. Many have military bases or defense contractors in their districts. Coupled with the NRA’s campaign contributions, large membership, and ability to defeat its opponents, military-industrial complex and NRA victories are not surprising.

We’ve already militarized law enforcement.

The 1878 posse comitatus act makes it a federal crime to use “any part of the Army ... to execute the laws.” However, with many exceptions, plus the Insurrection Act, it’s a low hurdle.

In 1932, President Hoover ordered Army General Douglas MacArthur and Major Dwight Eisenhower to use the infantry to disburse the WWI Bonus March veterans from their Mall encampments. President Eisenhower used the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to integrate the Little Rock schools in 1957. When riots followed Dr. King’s 1968 assassination, President Johnson ordered 2,000 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers flown to Washington.

Sometimes Army intervention aids big business. In the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, President Harding ordered the Army to support mine owners against 10,000 miners. Since the 1890s union organizing and strikes have often yielded to government force — including the Army.

In October 2002, the activation of USNORTHCOM marked the first time since George Washington that a military commander’s mission is our own homeland.

Militarized nations need blanket surveillance of their civilians. We have that, too. The NSA plus 15 other spy agencies we know about.

That’s the context. Now let’s talk about the militarization of police.

Nicholas Johnson, as U.S. Maritime Administrator, had responsibility for military sealift to Vietnam.,,


Fighter Planes Flyover of Kinnick Stadium

The two photos, above, were taken in Kinnick stadium in Iowa City during the Iowa-Ohio State football game, November 20, 2010.

The flyover demonstrated America's militarization by blending the Star Spangled Banner, being played at the time, with the low, swooping flyover of the stadium by four T-38 fighter jets.

For the most part, the crowd seemed to love it: "The military flyover came at the end of the 'Star Spangled Banner' and was followed by loud cheering and a standing ovation by many Hawkeye football fans."

Although I've not thoroughly research the matter, I am unaware of any writing at the time (beyond my own) questioning the propriety of an institution of higher education promoting militarization. "UI spokesman Tom Moore [chose to specifically acknowledge that] 'The purpose of the flyover was to honor all of our military personnel."

The primary focus of objections only related to the height, and clearance of the stadium, at which the fighter jets were flying at such high speed. Haley Bruce, "Officials Say Kinnick Flyover Too Low," The Daily Iowan, December 13, 2010 ("Officials said a flyover at Kinnick Stadium during the Iowa-Ohio State football game last month may have violated Air Force regulations by being hundreds of feet too low, the Associated Press has reported"). [Photo credit: Rob Johnson, The Daily Iowan; "Four T-38 jets fly over during the national anthem at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010."] And see the follow up, "Pilot in Low Kinnick Flyover Blamed Other Air Traffic," Associated Press, The Gazette, March 31, 2014.


James Edward Johnson, Comment on Facebook, July 5, 2015, 10:11 a.m.

Generally, I agree, but with one exception. Allowing people to privately possess the tools of self-defense is an acknowledgement that total control (through mass surveillance, overwhelming force, and general denial of our Constitutional rights) by the police is an undesirable goal. This is the heart of the values represented by the Second Amendment - particularly as extended thought the 14th. We should not have standing armies or a militarized police force. But, to secure the rights that may be protected by state power, the people should be directly enabled to secure those rights.

Since moving to Chicago, it has become clearer that disadvantaged people are, too often, both unprotected or threatened by the police, and at risk from a small number of criminals who terrorize their communities. The individual right to self defense, and the ancillary right to retain the tools for that purpose, exist so that people are not dependent on forces that threaten their liberty just as much as they promise to protect the people from other threats.

As a society, we should work to improve the integrity of our police, repeal laws against victimless crimes that enable police harassment of the people, and ensure educational and work opportunities that strengthen communities against such state and criminal threats.

However, the people hurt by these systemic problems should not have to wait on the rest of us to take remedial action. I support the Huey P. Newton Gun Club because I believe they take these rights seriously. We should not conflate their actions with the actions of a militarized police that acts offensively.

# # #