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California Fighting Back on Colombia Free Trade Act

By Tim Robertson, California Fair Trade Coalition

Since 2005, more than half the trade unionists murdered in the world have been killed in Colombia. That's more in Colombia alone than in the other 190+ countries combined. Just last year, 51 more trade unionists were murdered bringing the total since 1986 to over 2700. Unfortunately, President Obama is ignoring these facts to push for the long-stalled Colombia Free Trade Agreement, a relic of the Bush Administration, in a move that can only be seen as an affront to his union base.

Not only is Colombia the most dangerous place in the world for union activity, an implied complicity with Colombia's government, in particular the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), has led to an approximate 96% impunity rating. Could you imagine the U.S. response if over the course of 2010, there were one CEO murder per week in Colombia with little investigation and few convictions or punishments? It certainly wouldn't be to liberalize trade rules.

Sadly, the President knows and understands the plight of unionists, peasant leaders, Afro-Colobians, and other organizers in Colombia. He even campaigned against the FTA because of such violence.

Since then, nothing has changed in Colombia, with 47 union assassinations in 2009 in addition to the 51 from 2010, more than even in 2007 when the FTA was initially negotiated (ironically, some view FTAs as incentives for good behavior). The President shouldn’t support a corporate-first FTA with Colombia, while glossing over the violence he lamented during the election.

That's why the AFL-CIO, the California Labor Federation, the California Democratic Party, and most major unions are calling on their members to stand up and fight to stop the President's free trade expansion plans. Along with FTAs with South Korea and Panama, the Colombia FTA constitute the President's extension of the Bush-era trade agenda which is poised to cost more American jobs, and endanger the lives and livelihoods of our brothers and sisters around the world.

California, with its 53 Members of Congress, is key to stopping these FTAs and protecting worker power both in the U.S. and abroad. Unfortunately, they will easily pass if our representatives don't hear from us, which is why the California Fair Trade Coalition is hosting two organizational calls this Tuesday, May 24, and distributing info and lobbying guides to arm activists to stop the corporate takeover of trade.

Joining the call will be Sacramento Central Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Bill Camp, to discuss his personal experiences with union violence in Colombia. Other speakers include a brief guide to lobbying and organizing on trade issues by the California Fair Trade Coalition.

All three FTAs could be introduced to the House within weeks. If we're going to stop them, now is the time.

Please RSVP for the calls, Tuesday, May 24, so that we can ensure we have enough lines. Can't make it? Sign up here and we'll send you an info and lobby guide.


Uhm no : Peterson Summit

Via Atrios, I see the speakers list for the Pete Peterson Fiscal Summit is out:


Nation’s Lawmakers and Budget Experts to Convene at Fiscal Summit in Washington on May 25 to Discuss Elements of Potential Fiscal Bargain

Participants in Peter G. Peterson Foundation’s 2nd Annual Fiscal Summit to Include President Bill Clinton, Members of Congress, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, Governor Mitch Daniels, National Fiscal Commission Co-Chair Alan Simpson and Member David Cote, New York Times Columnist David Brooks and The Atlantic Business and Economics Editor Megan McArdle

Gosh I wonder what they're going to say? It's a little bit odd that they were unable to find even one person who hasn't advocated cuts and partial or total privatization of Social Security but I guess it's possible that all 70% of the American public who are against that already had plans.

*Yes Bill Clinton certainly did entertain that idea.



Sacrificial Ham: Limbaugh demonstrates why everyone should be making Jared Bernstein’s point

Former Vice Presidential economic adviser Jared Bernstein's new blog is very entertaining and informative. I urge you all to check it out daily.

Today he responds to a piece in the Washington Post by Robert Samuelson and adds this, which seems to me to be extremely important and something that Democrats would need to start pounding into people's minds before the next election:

[H]e doesn’t stress enough the caveat that growth, while reliably positive, is still too slow. To generate the number of jobs needed to bring the unemployment rate down more quickly, we need some GDP quarters well above the recent average of about 3%.

But most importantly, anyone thinking about the nature of this recovery needs to be very clear about this: the economic well-being of the broad middle class is not simply a function of macroeconomic growth. Such growth is, of course, necessary and welcomed. It is not sufficient.

The question is whether the growth is reaching the middle class and lower-income families. The data on where growth is ending up arrive with a lag so we can’t fully answer this question yet, but some indicators are clearly worrisome. For example, corporate profits have been doing a lot better than average wages (the former has made up most of the ground lost over the downturn; the latter are recently declining in real terms).

Now, profits often lead more broadly shared gains—that certainly was the story of the 1990s expansion, which ultimately did reach the middle class and the poor, at least for a New York minute in the latter half of the decade.

But it was demonstrably not the case in the 2000s, the first recovery on record where the typical household’s real income went nowhere despite years of GDP and productivity growth. In stark contrast to the 1990s, poverty was actually higher at the end of the 2000s expansion than at the beginning.

And as long as we’re worrying about the distribution of growth, as opposed to just its creation, let’s not make things worse by extending budget-bashing tax cuts that enrich those who already appear to have climbed out of the hole and are outpacing the rest. If one goal of the nascent economic expansion is to achieve more broadly shared prosperity than the last one, to renew the high-end Bush tax cuts, as in the Republican budget plan, is to start the race with an anvil around our necks.

There's more at the link. People need to understand that they have a personal stake in the fair distribution of taxes beyond an abstract notion of fairness. They need to know that the great growth in wealth of the super-rich is literally coming at their expense. I don't think they know that.

Certainly Rush Limbaugh's audience doesn't know it. Get a load of this exchange from a couple of months ago when I happened to come across this morning:

CALLER: I keep hearing on TV and you, "We just can't afford it, and the sacrifice is gonna have to be shared." And I've got a decent memory. I remember just a couple months ago when we couldn't have increased taxes on the most wealthy, the people that have made more money over the last decade, over the last 40 years, really --

RUSH: Yeah, yeah.

CALLER: -- than anyone else in America.

RUSH: Yeah.

CALLER: Well, wages have, you know, kinda remained flat. What I want to know is when Andrea Mitchell, Mrs. Alan Greenspan, and when Rush Limbaugh say we need to share the sacrifice, what kind of sacrifices are you guys making? I mean, really?

RUSH: What do you mean by you guys?

CALLER: Well, like I said, you, Andrea Mitchell, all the rest of the rich folk in the media that love to get up on TV and radio and talk about how the sacrifice must be --

RUSH: I'm not avoiding your question. I'll answer it here in just a second. I am not a proponent of shared sacrifice. I don't believe in sacrifice, period. I think that's an absolutely defensive, stupid, self-defeating way to go about life. This whole sacrifice business is a Democrat trick. It's nothing more than a political spin game: We must have joint sacrifice. That means we must accept, we must universally accept bad times, must just accept them, and then all share equally in them. Sorry, I don't participate in recessions. I am not gonna sacrifice to make somebody else feel good. I'm gonna keep doing what I do, and I hope to prosper at every moment of my life. I mean that's what this country's all about. Now, what do you think, what kind of sacrifice should I be doing?

CALLER: Well, I just want to know who's gonna pay for the oil subsidies, and who's gonna pay for these wonderful wars you love so much? I mean if we're going to have these things that you want, Rush, somebody has to pay for it, and I'm sick and tired of --

RUSH: Wrong.

CALLER: -- the people paying for it are the people making $50,000 a year. You're making $25 million a year.

RUSH: I don't look at life the way you do. There's a reason somebody makes $25 million and there's a reason somebody makes $25,000, and it's not the guy who makes $25 million's fault. There's a reason and it's not your job to come along and say that somebody is at fault, and it's none of your business to come along and say it isn't right and that somebody has got to make it fair by giving something up.

You are destined to fail in your own life if that's your attitude about success. That somebody's success is owing to somebody's misery, therefore the misery must be honored. Wrongo, pal. Somebody in misery's gotta be shown how to get out of it, not have it shared equally. It's what I've never understood about people on the left. Okay, so you have misery out there, but not everybody's feeling misery. Unfair. Solution? Make everybody miserable. Ergo, give us liberalism, it works. But sorry, I don't participate in it.

...Whether you know it or not, we're all sacrificing what otherwise could be a great life because of liberalism running this country right now. And of all things that you could call here to talk to me about and learn from, you're sidetracked on $25 million versus $25,000 and somehow it's unfair to spend money defending the country against people who want to kill you...

So I checked the e-mail during the break after this last caller and all this joint sacrifice business, and people are suggesting, "Rush, you do sacrifice. Why didn't you tell that guy how much you pay in taxes?" That would not be classy, folks. That's not the way to deal with this.

I mean to tell him that I pay more in taxes in one year that he's gonna earn in his worthless life is not the classy way to do this, because that's not what this clown actually means by sacrifice. You gotta understand this.

Joint sacrifice to liberals means more government. Even now with massive spending, high unemployment, foreclosures, to this liberal that called here and all the rest of them, the problem is not enough government; it's not enough bureaucrats; not enough government benefits; not enough government. That's what the left means.

The question is, when is it time for Washington to sacrifice? When is it time for unions to sacrifice? When is it time for government to sacrifice? When is it time for bureaucrats to sacrifice? When do they ever sacrifice? When does the government sacrifice? The government never sacrifices. Zilch, zero, nada.

I'm beginning to think that the best way to handle this is to have the government declared a "person" just as corporations are "persons." Limbaugh already seems to think it is one --- a sociopathic criminal, but a "person" nonetheless. The whole concept of democracy is obviously lost on him.

But just read the utter BS and understand that people listen to that and believe it. I have written before about the guy I once heard call in to thank Rush and tell him that he was happy to pay more in taxes if it meant his boss didn't have to --- it meant he was more likely to get a raise.

Let's just say that if you listen to that disembodied voice droning on and on like that every single day you're likely to get a little bit confused. At some point someone is going to have to challenge this brainwashing.



Where to turn?

If their elected officials depend on the corporation for campaign funds, there is no one to whom the miners can turn to make sure their workplace is safe.

-- GIIP Report: "Upper Big Branch"

In this week's Sift:

  • Jobs of the Future. Two consecutive jobless recoveries raise a question: Does the economy work differently now? And is concentration of wealth the culprit or technology?
  • Why I Hate Vouchers. Private-sector competitors to public programs achieve their "efficiency" by skimming off the easy-to-serve. That begins a vicious cycle of erosion, which continues until the public program serves only a small group of very needy, very powerless people -- who can then be ignored. If we had the stomach for it, we could achieve the same savings by ignoring the needy without going through the voucher charade.
  • Short Notes. An independent report lays it on the line: Massey Energy's calculated neglect killed 29 miners. What can we learn from the Rapture? Obama offers substance -- and is mostly ignored. Now that we have a Democratic president and a Republican Senate minority, judicial filibusters are back. The Catholic Church's Woodstock defense. I refuse to care about Arnold. The Onion outs the Facebook-CIA connection. It's OK to be Takei. And more.
  • This Week's Challenge. If not "plastics", then what should we tell this year's graduates?

Jobs of the Future

We've now had two jobless recoveries in a row. The 2001 recession technically ended in November, 2001 (see Wikipedia's list of recessions), but the total number of American jobs didn't return to its pre-recession level until October, 2003. And while the 2007-2009 recession ended in June, 2009, we're still nearly 7 million jobs short of the March, 2007 peak.

So recessions end, but jobs return slowly. Worse, the new jobs aren't as good as the old ones. Laid-off welders don't get rehired at Chrysler, they become shelf-stockers at WalMart.

As different as they seem otherwise, both Bush and Obama followed the widely accepted get-the-jobs-back formula: run deficits and cut interest rates. Interest rates plunged near zero. Bush got his deficit mostly by cutting taxes; Obama mostly by increasing spending. Both fought wars. But neither got a clean bounce in jobs.

What's up with that?

Some economists blame the workers: They don't have the right training for the new jobs. (Structural unemployment, it's called.) But if that were the whole explanation, some industry would be begging for workers, and some credential would be a magic ticket. What is it? If you were remaking The Graduate today, what word could plausibly replace "plastics"?

What if it's not the workers? What if the economy has changed in some sinister way?

Wealth and demand. Regular Sift readers have been down this road before. In November, I explained the argument Robert Reich makes in Aftershock: Concentration of wealth is the underlying problem. A mass-production economy requires a massive number of people with disposable income. If wealth gets too concentrated, demand lags, and then no one wants to invest in new production -- because who's going to buy the new products? So instead of productive investment, capital gets sucked into speculative bubbles like the dot-com bubble that popped in 2000 or the housing bubble that popped in 2007-2008.

Reich's theory solves the jobless-recovery mystery like this: Ordinary recessions start because investment and production get ahead of demand -- builders overbuild, factories over-produce, stores over-order. Then everybody puts the brakes on at once, and times are tough. But after six months or so, the over-stocked inventories run out, new merchandise gets ordered, factories start up again, and workers get re-hired.

By contrast, the expansion phase of a bubble isn't just over-optimistic, it's delusional. (The high-flying start-ups of the dot-com bubble had no business models. No amount of economic growth would have made them profitable.) When the bubble pops, the fantasy is exposed and there's no going back. So it takes longer for the unemployed to find jobs again, because so many of them will have to do something genuinely new.

Reich's diagnosis and prescription focus on politics: Since Ronald Reagan, tax cuts and de-regulation have tilted the playing field to over-favor the rich, leading to an over-concentration of wealth and a bubble economy. Undo that, and you return to the broadly shared prosperity of 1950-1980.

But what if it's not that simple? What if something other than politics has its thumb on the scale?

Technology and the neo-Luddites. Martin Ford's recent book The Lights in the Tunnel argues that concentration of wealth is itself an effect of something else: technology.

His argument is a refinement of the one Luddites made 200 years ago and that was made most entertainingly in the 1951 Alec Guinness film The Man in the White Suit: Eventually, automation and technology will eliminate the need for workers.

200 years ago, it didn't work out that way. Instead, demand expanded to match the increased productivity, which is how the average American or European now lives at a level of luxury that was unimaginable then.

Why won't that keep happening? Most economists are confident it will, but Ford makes two counter-arguments: First, we are approaching a game-changing point where machines become autonomous. The wages of machine-operators won't keep pace because there won't be any machine-operators. Second, the acceleration of technology may reach a point where economic forces can't keep up. In theory new markets would continue to be created, but those too would automate faster than human workers could be trained to fill the new jobs.

Low-demand dystopia. In either case, an unregulated market leads to a low-demand dystopia, where production depends entirely on capital, labor is irrelevant, and so only people with capital are economically viable. In short, income depends entirely on owning things, not doing things. So production shrinks to accommodate the needs of owners, and the unemployed masses subsist on welfare and charity.

If this seems incredible, Ford gives one very good historic example: the slave-holding South. Economically, slaves are capital, not labor. (The are bought and maintained like robots, not hired and incentivized like workers.) So the South was a society in which virtually all production came from capital. The result was a stagnant economy that worked well for the small owning class, but in which an ambitious young person without money had few opportunities. And the South only worked as well as it did because of exports -- external demand. An entire world based on such a model would be a low-demand dystopia.

Marx addressed a similar dystopian vision by having the government own the means of production. In practice, that didn't work out so well -- whether government takes over business (communism) or business takes over government (fascism), the combination becomes totalitarian because it's too powerful to control.

Instead, Ford proposes a complex system in which taxes shift away from wages to focus on capital and production, funding a complicated set of incentives for citizens to live in society-enhancing ways -- thus keeping income widely distributed and maintaining the mass market. I'm not sure this is any more workable than communism, but it does have the virtue that it can be implemented within our current economy, with the incentives supplementing wages rather than immediately replacing them.

Future jobs vs. futuristic jobs. Personally, I believe that Ford's vision is worth keeping in mind as a thought experiment that shows what's wrong with conservative economic policies. But I believe his dystopia is further off than he thinks, because economic forces have quite a bit of resiliency left if we stop sabotaging them by favoring capital over labor.

A short post by Matt Yglesias makes an excellent point: Most "jobs of the future" will not be futuristic. It has never been the case that new industries created the mass of new jobs needed. We're fooled by looking at the huge factories of the 19th and 20th centuries. They employed a lot of people individually, but collectively they didn't come close to absorbing the jobs lost when agriculture automated. (You can see the same phenomenon in China today. Even with a massive export market, Chinese factories are barely keeping up with the flow of peasants into the cities.)

Technology creates jobs through economic growth, not through new industries. For example, one of the growth professions of the 19th century was teaching. Teachers had been around forever, but until the 19th century only rich children had them. The growth industries of the late 20th century weren't rocketry or nuclear power, but health care and food preparation -- because prosperity let people live longer and eat out more.

Rich families today employ lots of trainers, coaches, therapists, decorators, and advice-givers of all sorts. If many more people suddenly became "rich" by today's standards, the economy would need a lot more such advisors -- and not a lot more nano-technologists.

I know it seems crazy to imagine an economy full of people advising each other -- who will make stuff? But it was just as crazy in 1800 to imagine an economy where hardly anybody farmed.

Why I Hate Vouchers

In an LA Times story running down the Milwaukee teachers' union, we get one small fact that sums up why I hate voucher programs.

Low-income parents can use vouchers to send their children to private and parochial schools, a decades-long experiment that [Governor Scott] Walker proposes expanding. That has left the [Milwaukee public school] district with a disproportionate share of students with learning disabilities — 19%. In voucher schools, which can return students to the Milwaukee district if they don't behave, the figure is 1% to 8.6%.

I'll bet it now costs the Milwaukee public schools more to educate their "average" student than the private schools spend. And no doubt voucher supporters are wielding such statistics to prove that private schools are more "efficient". But the underlying phenomenon isn't government inefficiency. It's that vouchers encourage the easy-to-teach students to leave while the hard-to-teach students stay.

That's how vouchers work -- not just in education, but in general. Government programs are based on the idea that we are a community, so we're all in this together. Voucher programs are based on the idea that we are all individuals, so if you can get a better individual deal, you should go for it.

The result is always the same: Fortunate people who are easy to serve can take their vouchers into the private sector and get a better deal. The pool that is left behind in the public program is harder to serve, so average costs go up, making the private-sector voucher a good deal for even more people, in a vicious cycle.

The Walker education-voucher program is eroding Milwaukee's public schools this way. The Ryan healthcare-voucher program will do the same to Medicare and Medicaid.

In the long run, there is only one way that vouchers will save taxpayers money: Eventually the public-program pool gets so small and so needy that it has no political power. Then we can lock them away in some cheap hellhole institution that doesn't serve their needs at all, and what are they going to do about it? Cha-ching!

Of course, we could get the same savings without involving the private sector: Just let public programs throw hard-to-serve people out on the street to fend for themselves. But that would be horrible and heartless, wouldn't it? The rest of us will sleep better if we achieve the same result by sleight-of-hand.

The same shell game is happening in states that privatize their prisons. Do private prisons save money? No. Even though (like private schools and private health insurance programs) they "steer clear of the sickest, costliest inmates", they cost more.

Back in the 90s, Newt Gingrich owned up to the erosion strategy, saying that he favored letting Medicare "wither on the vine" rather than attacking the popular program directly. Afterwards, pundits agreed that it was scare-mongering to quote Newt accurately on this subject.

Now he wants to declare another mulligan: He retracted his criticism of Paul Ryan's Medicare-slashing voucher proposal after a firestorm of protest from the Right. So he says that it's unfair if Democrats use the tape: "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate."

Democrats, as we all know, get to retract any gaffe they make, and no one ever mentions it again. Just ask Howard Dean and John Kerry and Bill Clinton.

Short Notes

The Governor's Independent Investigation Panel has issued its report on the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners a little over a year ago. Let's skip to the conclusions on page 108:

Ultimately, the responsibility for the explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine lies with the management of Massey Energy.  … The April 5, 2010 explosion was … a completely predictable result for a company that ignored basic safety standards.

Massey didn't ventilate the mine properly, let coal dust build up, and eventually the inevitable spark came that it all set off. Massey was warned, battled federal safety regulators tooth and nail, paid some wrist-slap fines, and did things its own way until 29 miners died. How could that happen? Easy.

Many politicians were afraid to challenge Massey’s supremacy because of the company’s superb ongoing public relations campaign and because CEO Don Blankenship was willing to spend vast amounts of money to influence elections. … If their elected officials depend on the corporation for campaign funds, there is no one to whom the miners can turn to make sure their workplace is safe.

And that's a lesson for all of us. Corporations are sociopaths. If they can make money by killing people, they will. And if elections depend on corporate money, governments will let them.

The failed Rapture prediction triggered two Interesting articles: When Prophecy Fails in Slate and Rapture-Ready: the Science of Self-Delusion in Mother Jones.

Summary: Rationalization has great power to resolve contradictions of all sorts, and religious people aren't the only ones who use it.

While the media has been focused on the antics of Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich, President Obama has given substantive and informative speeches on immigration reform and the Middle East and education.

Out of this, only one line drew national attention: "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps." The furor over this -- MIke Huckabee said "The President of United States betrayed Israel" and many other Republicans expressed similar feelings -- is a little mysterious. When has a U.S. president said anything significantly different?

In the spirit of Emma Goldman ("If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution"), here are the biting-but-entertaining political videos of the week: John LIthgow performs a Newt Gingrich press release, a hippyish chorus on a hillside reminds us that the issue with the Koch brothers is "the evil thing", and George (Sulu) Takei offering his name to counter Tennessee's new don't-say-gay law. Also, WhoWhatWhy recalls the classic George Carlin "I'm a Modern Man" routine.

The Onion News Network reveals that Facebook is actually a very efficient CIA program.

BTW, the don't-say-gay bill got watered down before it passed. Now it's only prepared materials that can't mention homosexuality; teachers can still answer questions about it. [Full -- and proud -- disclosure: My nephew Mike Stephens interned for State Senator Andy Berke, who is quoted criticizing the bill.]

Media Matters totals up the partisan split of Meet the Press guests, going back to the Clinton years. Conclusion: When Democrats control the White House, MTP splits its guests almost evenly between the two parties. Under Republican administrations, Republicans get a 60/40 advantage.

Ask yourself: Which failed presidential candidate have you seen more often on national networks: John Kerry or John McCain?

I just shook my head sadly during the John Edwards debacle, so I'm going to similarly restrain my reaction to Arnold Schwarzenegger. We'll have plenty of time to discuss their sex scandals if either of them runs for office again. And if they don't, I don't care.

On his NYT blog, college professor Stanley Fish comments on the deals Florida State has made with the Koch brothers and BB&T, which I wrote about last week.

Is the [Koch] foundation funding the study of free-market economics — a perfectly respectable academic subject — or is it mandating that free-market economics be promoted in the classroom? Is it a gift intended to stimulate research the conclusions of which can not be known in advance, or is it a gift intended to amplify a conclusion — free-market economics is good; regulation is bad — the philanthropists have already reached and want to broadcast using Florida State University as a megaphone?

… If, in the judgment of an instructor, “Atlas Shrugged” will contribute to a student’s understanding of a course’s subject, there is every reason to assign it. But if assigning “Atlas Shrugged” is the price for the receiving of monies and the university pays that price, it has indeed sold its soul.

It was fun to watch Jon Stewart debate Bill O'Reilly about the Fox-promoted, scary-black-guy controversy over the rapper Common (seen here with his monstrous friend Elmo). But I wonder if Stewart lost just by showing up, because his appearance helped Fox keep the story hot.

Remember 2005, when the Democratic minority had just enough Senate votes to filibuster judges nominated by a Republican president? The Republicans threatened the "nuclear option" -- eliminating the filibuster -- until a bipartisan "Gang of 14" rode to the rescue with a compromise under which only "extraordinary circumstances" would justify a judicial-nomination filibuster.

As a result, centrist Democrats did not support a filibuster of the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito, who turned out to be the deciding vote in Citizens United. (Justice O'Connor, the Reagan-appointed judge Alito replaced, has said that she still supports the decision that CU overturned.)

Well, now the Republicans have a Senate minority and a Democratic president is nominating judges, so of course that agreement is toast. Dahlia Lithwick assembles all the that-was-then-this-is-now hypocrisy.

A church-funded study of sexual abuse by Catholic priests attributes the scandal to the social turmoil of the 60s and 70s. The NYT refers to this as the "blame Woodstock" theory.

I agree with Matt Yglesias: It's fine if you want to make the case that a government program isn't working or costs too much. But once you have an arbitrary spending cap, what ends up mattering is the political clout of the beneficiaries, not the effectiveness of the programs.

This is why I get a chill in my bones any time I hear discussion of “caps” on federal spending. … Capping things is code for “let’s keep all the spending that lobbyists love and make up the difference by slashing the incomes of poor people.”

Evidence: Even at a time when the deficit is supposedly Public Enemy #1 and Exxon's profits are at an all-time high, the Senate can't muster the votes to eliminate tax subsidies for the oil companies. Let's take the money out of Medicaid instead, or cut more Pell grants.

Lawrence O'Donnell relates the history of "starve the beast".

This Week's Challenge

Several high school and college students are regular Sift readers. What advice would you give them about preparing for the future economy?

The Weekly Sift appears every Monday afternoon. If you would like to receive it by email, write to WeeklySift at Or keep track of the Sift by following the Sift's Facebook page.


Janice Hahn Won The Battle For CA-36 In 2011. Could She Lose The War In 2012?

What you're about to read won't be an exercise in sour grapes.

The candidate I supported, Debra Bowen, lost fair and square to a better-funded candidate with far more institutional support and a well thought-out strategic path to victory.  

Janice Hahn is unequivocally our best choice now to represent us in CA-36.  

Her competitor, Tea Party Republican Craig Huey, is a nasty piece of work. Fortunately for us, Janice Hahn and our union allies have the resources to make sure he won't get elected in 2011.  

However, 2012, after CA-36 is redistricted, might be a different story altogether.  That's why I'm writing this final piece on the election.

To better understand what might happen in 2012, I first need to tell you how we got here, and how Janice Hahn's strategic choices, coupled with Marcy Winograd's ego, may have created a perfect storm in which to bring a previously unknown Tea Party candidate to national prominence.
Splitting the Vote

Back in February, when Bowen announced she'd compete with Hahn to replace Jane Harman as our congress member, Hahn's number one priority was to get Marcy Winograd in the race. Not only did Winograd have significant name recognition after running two unsuccessful campaigns against Jane Harman, her base of support drew from the same pool of voters Bowen would need to win - progressives who lived north of LAX.

So Hahn's campaign used a story that appeared in the Jewish Journal, "Harman's departure: what does it mean for Jews?" to manufactured a narrative of concern for the district's Jewish community about Jane Harman's potential replacement in congress.  I say manufactured, because the article itself expressed no such concerns, concluding,  

Harman's departure may mean one less Jewish player in the game, but the impact of that loss on Jewish influence will likely be negligible. While the landscape for Jewish politics in the next two years includes fewer safe districts for Jewish elected officials, the community can be assured of holding sway on numerous fronts as its high level of civic involvement continues to stand out in the city and region.

But that hardly mattered to Hahn, who just needed an excuse to create a wedge between Winograd and Bowen.  

Using the article as a launching pad, Hahn's campaign demanded that Debra Bowen sign on to a pro-Israel "pledge" genetically designed to ram a red-hot poker through Winograd's eye. The pledge called out Winograd by name, sited some of her harshest rhetoric against Israel, and concluded with this quote from Henry Waxman,  

"In Marcy Winograd's foreign policy, Israel would cease to exist. In Marcy Winograd's vision, Jews would be at the mercy of those who do not respect democracy or human rights."

At that moment Bowen had a choice to make; ignore Hahn, (and risk creating an issue with the district's Jewish community) create her own statement of support for Israel minus the Winograd-bait, or sign on to Hahn's pledge.

Bowen chose to sign on to Hahn's pledge. And walked right into the buzzsaw that is Marcy Winograd's ego.  

Two days later, Winograd, who had previously told key supporters she wouldn't run, told those same supporters she was furious that Hahn and Bowen had tried to "silence dissent in the 36th district", and asked them to withhold endorsements from Bowen.  Four days after that, Winograd announced she would run, specifically citing the Hahn/Bowen pledge as the reason.  

Let Loose The Dogs Of War

Hahn's strategy worked better than she could have hoped. Despite no institutional support, anemic fundraising, and polls showing she'd be lucky to get even 6% of the vote, Winograd nevertheless ran the most aggressive campaign she could given the circumstances. Even better, Winograd and her supporters barely mentioned Hahn, but attacked Debra Bowen, Winograd's closest competitor, relentlessly.  

One "passionate" and prolific Winograd surrogate wrote scathing posts on progressive listserves and blogs questioning Bowen's progressive credentials, others accused her of being a closet Republican and (bizarrely) a Jane Harman clone. A paid Winograd campaign staffer, Peter Thottam, wrote a widely distributed and unsourced hit piece on Bowen, accusing her of trading votes in exchange for Enron campaign contributions  while she served in the State Senate.

In effect, Winograd's campaign became the opposition research farm-team for Hahn, who used their attacks in her own campaign, even using Thottam's hit piece verbatim in one of her attack mailers against Bowen.  

Republicans? What Republicans?

While Hahn, Bowen, and Winograd duked it out on the Democratic side, a previously unknown evangelical millionaire named Craig Huey from Rollings Hills Estates was quietly consolidating the Republican vote.  

Huey, who made his fortune in direct marketing, poured half a million dollars of his own money into the campaign, giving him more resources than any other candidate in the race.  

The money allowed him to blanket the district with more than just lawn signs - with it he bought cable TV and radio time,  and ran a targeted mailing campaign which rivaled Janice Hahn's.

Backed by prominent Republicans Dana Rohrabacher, Tom McClintock, and former Assemblyman Chuck Devore, in the final few weeks leading up to election day Huey simply overwhelmed the anemic and underfunded campaigns of his closest Republican competitors, Mike Gin, the gay, moderate, pro-choice mayor of Redondo Beach, and Redondo Beach City Attorney Mike Webb.  

Yet right up until election day, the media largely ignored Huey - even as they fell all over themselves to cover stunt candidate Dan Adler, who's entire campaign consisted of a series of bizarre YouTube videos staring himself and campaign manager/actor Sean Astin (Adler got a grand total of 355 votes)

But not everyone was ignoring Craig Huey. In fact, Janice Hahn and her campaign were paying very close intention.

The Best Opponent Money Can Buy

A couple of weeks before election day, Hahn's campaign reportedly ran a tracking poll which showed Huey surging in the polls and consolidating Republican support.

However, Bowen's aggressive, state-of-the-art field campaign (1,100 volunteers, 350,000 phone calls, 15,000 doors canvassed) still kept Bowen solidly in second place and Huey out of the runoff.

So Hahn, who believed Huey would be a far easier candidate to beat in the runoff than Bowen, chose her moment.

Five days before election day, Hahn invested heavily in a multi-pronged direct mail attack. A series of negative campaign pieces targeting Bowen arrived in voter's mailboxes - one mailer appeared to support Winograd's campaign, another hit Bowen for old campaign contributions, and yet another used attacks from the Winograd campaign staffer who accused Bowen of selling her votes to Enron.

In part, that mailer read, "Some people went to jail for this. Debra Bowen wants to go to Washington."  

The tone and deceptive nature of the mailers stunned Bowen and Hahn supporters alike. Bill Brand, a Redondo Beach City Councilman who endorsed Hahn in the race, told supporters in a GOTV email he "wasn't happy with the last minute negative pieces."  With a runoff still to come, many activists in the district were dismayed Hahn had gone so negative so early against the well-liked Secretary of State.  

But Hahn's strategy worked. Bowen's support lagged in the final few days, even as Huey's surged. In the end, Huey beat Bowen by 750 votes in an election where only 18% of eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot.

Hahn was clearly happy with the result, telling the Daily Breeze,  

"I would rather run against him than Debra Bowen. I think the choice for voters is more clear."

Winograd, who had received 41% of the vote when she ran against Jane Harman in 2010, barely received 9% of the vote this time around.  

Ironically, it was more than enough to ensure that Janice Hahn, who claimed to be Jane Harman's hand-picked successor would be the district's next representative in Congress.

Be Careful For What You Wish For

Without a doubt, Janice Hahn will be our next Congresswoman in CA-36.  

But that victory has, and will, come at a price.  

Nearly a week after defeating Bowen in a bitterly contested race, Hahn has shown little interest in mending fences with her activist supporters. Bowen herself declined to endorse Hahn, citing a long-standing policy as Secretary of State. So I don't see this rift healing any time soon. To be frank, it really doesn't have to, the specter of a Tea Party Republican taking the seat is motivation enough for most people. And as I said at the beginning of this piece, Hahn has more than enough resources and institutional support to beat back a challenge from Craig Huey regardless (although unions will have to commit resources to defend this seat in a way they wouldn't have had to if pro-union Debra Bowen had been in the runoff).

But Hahn's margin of victory probably won't be a landslide. In 2010, Assemblywoman Betsy Butler - whose district covers most of CA-36 - had an uncomfortably close call with Tea Party candidate Nathan Mintz. In a district that has 18% more registered Democrats than Republicans, Mintz took 43% of the vote.  

In that race, over a 100,000 voters cast a ballot. The May 17th special election had only about half that turnout, and the runoff in July will likely be even worse. So barring any unforeseen scandals involving farm animals, Craig Huey has a good chance of building on Mintz's success. Not enough to win certainly, but enough to get everyone's attention.

But the real problem isn't this year and this election. It's next year, when CA-36 becomes significantly different, and potentially much more conservative, after redistricting.  

From what I've heard and read, CA-36 is probably going to lose everything north of  LAX, and potentially gain back Palos Verdes. Palos Verdes, connected to an Orange County district by a block-wide strip in Long Beach and a narrow strip of San Pedro, is profoundly gerrymandered. Those Republicans have to go somewhere.

If this happens, it would significantly cut into Democrat's voter registration advantage, and create a district that more closely resembles the one in which Janice Hahn previously ran for congress in 1998.  

Hahn lost that race, to Republican Steve Kuykendall, 47% to 49%.

Janice Hahn got the opponent she wanted. But by helping to advance Huey into the runoff, Hahn has elevated him from an unknown evangelical advertising consultant to a national figure in the Tea Party movement. The media isn't ignoring Craig Huey anymore. He has two months to build up his name recognition and base of support. And when he loses in July, he can turn right around and start stumping for the June 2012 primary race in a district likely to be far more receptive to his message.

Janice Hahn will be our next representative in Congress. She has indeed won that  battle.  

But in doing so, she may have put herself in a position to lose the war.


7 Ways to Create Your Own Unique Style in Design

Let’s be honest: the big secret to becoming a well-known and super successful designer is to have your own unique style. Sure you’ll bag some clients by perusing tutorial sites, but when you really develop your own style, that’s when you’ll own the world! For some, this is fairly easy, but for some this is a tough task. Well 1WD has compiled a list for you so you can  get started on creating your own unique style.

1. Take Your Own Pictures

Chances are, if you’re using a stock site (especially a free one), you aren’t the only one who has used that particular stock picture. While designers may have their own style, there’s something a bit unsettling about finding two different designs using the same stock photos. If you have the capability, go out there and take your own pictures. Digital cameras nowadays are becoming more and more affordable with better technology. This really allows you a chance to be unique by not just using original pictures, but your shooting technique may be something worth watching out for. A bonus for taking these pictures is the ability to offer something new to the design world. This can help contribute to your popularity by submitting your photos to stock photo websites and popular design blogs.

2. Use Your Scanner

I’ve seen many designers (including myself), who use this technique: when you are almost finished with a design and it still needs that ‘umph’, whip out some printer paper and draw some stuff on it, whether it be characters or scribble lines. Fire up your scanner and scan in it into your project. You can doctor up your image a bit by using your filters or by live tracing it in Illustrator. Either way, you get something that is entirely from you and represents your artistic side. Don’t just stop at drawing things either, scan in different textures or items. If it can fit, try scanning it! You never know what kind of effect or look running it through the scanner gives. Using this technique can give a design a very individualistic feel, whether you can draw or not!

3. Edit Your Fonts

Don’t get me wrong. There are a ton of great fonts out there, some of which are free. Font designers are also pretty consistent in releasing fonts, so there’s a lot to choose from. However, the truth is, when the design world finds a good font, we kind of latch onto it and it spreads like wildfire. Everyone uses it. In an attempt to change the monotony of typography, why not edit your fonts so the look may change a bit. Whether you decide to just change your tracking or leading or adding or subtracting something, make it your own. And what happens when you can’t find that PERFECT font? Make your own! You don’t have to create a whole type set, but oftentimes, when I feel stuck looking for that perfect typeface, I’ll just grab my pen tool and make my own font.

4. Use Other Design Programs

It’s pretty popular to use  Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator in the design world, and while are industry standard, you may not be able to do everything in them or at least get the look you are going for. Do some research and look for programs that are specific to the types of techniques you’d like to incorporate in your designs. Try pairing your designs with different programs such as Cinema4D or any other design programs. You have the potential to make really complex yet stunning designs people can’t try to copy by using just Photoshop. The outcome could be greatness!

5. Make Your Own Patterns

There are plenty of tutorials on how to create your own patterns, so why not make your own? If I am looking for some uniqueness, I will quickly and easily make my own patterns. Making your own patterns works the same way as snapping your own photos does. There are tons of patterns online and pattern designers (like myself) release designs almost constantly. Once one gets really popular, though, it becomes the new standard quickly. Creating your own can not only give you a sense of uniqueness, but if the pattern is really good and useful, why not release it and give variations of it to the world? Whether you decide to share or not, if you just use some creativity, you can come up with some crazy beautiful patterns no one has ever seen (or thought of) before.

6. Break the Rules a Little Bit

In the design world, there can be a lot of different rules about where to put what and how to make whatever. There are different styles that you can design within that may or may not have more rules than another. Break the rules a bit and create something you wouldn’t normally see. Blend different styles and forms and come up with designs that need their own category. Breaking the rules is really about being a trendsetter and creating a bit that people wouldn’t normally consider. Don’t go too nuts or try to reinvent the wheel, but use subtle differences that could mean the difference between one style and another. Taking the time to cultivate this technique could really end up being a part of your signature style.

7. Use Filters Subtly

This one is particularly for the newbies; when you get into your design program (we’ll use Photoshop as the example), it’s easy to want to use the filters and use them heavily. The result can sometimes end up being a very cheesy look, but I say use your filters subtly and see what you can come up with. Sometimes when using your distort filters and artistic filters lightly, you can end up with some really nice sophisticated looks. Some of those ‘cheesy’ filters when used lightly can create a pretty neat look!

This is just a short list, but the idea here is to just be as creative as possible! And as technology increases, try to incorporate as much as possible into your designs. If you are really working on trying to create your new style, try going into your design program and not use a thing that doesn’t belong to you. Create your own patterns and your own brushes and fonts. Don’t rely heavily on design resource aggregate sites to take your work to the next level. After all, that is someone else’s work which are just trying to pass off as yours. Do your own thing. No holds barred!

Do you have any tips and tricks that have taken your work from cookie cutter to standout?


Add Notes to Code Snippet and Share Them Easily

Giving one-off feedback on coding errors is a pain. You just want to share a quick, contextual note with someone, but there aren’t any good tools out there to help you do it.

Chop is a simple way to add notes to a code snippet and share them. Chop is a quick and easy way to let the offending engineer know the error of their ways. Just copy and paste the lines in question, add your notes and share them with a unique URL.

The person you share with will have the chance to pull out their Chopper and comment right back. You can keep the conversation going and even add more people to the mix if need be.


Requirements: -
License: License Free


Using What Font is you can identify the font you are looking for!

Aactis Shopping Cart: easy, fast and reliable. Check for special offers.


Darmok and Jalad

I wonder how often Patrick Stewart has Darmok flashbacks when talking to Star Trek fans.

The Voice of Empire, Ctd.

The Mouse Circus: where craven overcompensating for non-existent Liberal Bias is always Job One!

The only real "news" of any kind was that Mitch Daniels has refused the Siren's Song of hot three-way Presidential action with his wife and Uncle Sam, despite the fact that, as the video below clearly explains (begins with commercial), "It's okay when it's in a three-way, it's not gay when it's in a three-way. With some honey in the middle there's some leeway...":

Hand's down, the most astute prediction this Sunday was made by Rachel Maddow when she notes that Conservatives might very well just fucking bypass the Mainstream Media altogether this cycle. That as mindless adherence to perfect ideological purity becomes the baseline-norm within GOP, any conversation with non-Hate Media employees will be seen by the Pig People who now own the Party as "capitulation".

Everything else was a grainy, exhausted, 10th generation photocopy of every other Mouse Circus you have ever seen. Poo was flung. Beltway Common Wisdom extolled. The usual suspects were trotted out to read the same bullshit scripts you have heard a hundred times before. And nowhere was anything remotely resembling a genuine Liberal was permitted within a 1,000 miles of any of it.

Or, as they say at Miss Brooks Finishing School for Young Pundits

Mission Accomplished!

"Paul Ryan opens the window to come to the middle!" (Andrew Ross Sorkin on "Meet the Gregory")



If only the Democrats...

If Democrats would just...

The problem is, Democrats are unwilling...

If only Both Sides...something something.

It's about the math!

It's a jobs-election.

A more pragmatic candidate!

Does that raise questions about his authenticity?


Newt "Big Adjectives" Gingrich once again (Dramatically!) used his Infinite Wonka Golden Ticket Backstage TeeVee Pass to (Fundamentally!) commandeer the "Fa[r]ce the Nation" program to (Fecklessly!) lie some more (Newt Gingrich, it turns out, single-handedly wiped out the deficit and created millions of jobs!)...

...while elsewhere the Sunday Puppets continued to (Remarkably!) pretend that while Gingrich is now (Basically!) all but dead as a candidate, he remains "a powerful intellectual force...a factor...a catalyst" (Mike Murphy).

What they failed to mention -- what they always fail to mention -- is that Gingrich remains "relevant" only because these fuckers continue to let him jerk off on camera on their dime week after week after week.

After which -- in what has become an unintentionally hilariously regular feature -- David Gregory continued his efforts to drag "Meet the Gregory" as far away from real journalism as possible by drooling over his Very Big TweetDeck to see what the Great Unwashed are ook-ooking about.

Over on the Rupert Murdoch Network, Herman Cain (Fox's latest Candidate Deadmeat) embarrasses himself right on cue.

Finally, across the Cableverse, the poor-relation Mouse Circus sideshow acts were doing their bit to destroy any scraps of American teevee journalism that might escaped the Mainstream Villager steamroller: David Frum crawled off of his hot rock long enough to blink seethingly (I used to justify illegal wars for fucking White House!) at me from my teevee, as did pure cartoon characters like Stephen Hadley (I used to help start illegal wars for fucking White House!) and Dick Armey.

Dick Fucking Armey.

Honestly, fact that Armey -- former House Majority Leader and the Teabagger's own gin-soaked Marshall Applewhite -- is permitted anywhere near the business end of a camera to babble things like "Paul Ryan is doing more to save grandma's health care than anyone I know right now!" instead being exiled for the rest of his miserable life to where he belongs -- passed out in his own week-old shit on some 3rd rate Renaissance Fair dunk-tank stool while children heave bean-bags at him for a-nickle-a-throw -- tells you exactly how far face-down into the dung-pit the Mouse Circus has fallen.


Conservatives, Communication and Coalitions

The latest round of argument within the progressive coalition over the Obama Administration - touched off by Cornel West's scathing criticism - has generated a lot of heated discussion. Most of it seems to simply repeat the same arguments that have been played out over the last two years: Obama is a sellout, Obama is doing the best he can, you're not being fair to him, he's not being fair to us. Leaving aside for this article the personality issues at play here, what's really going on is a deeper fracture over the progressive coalition. Namely, whether one exists at all.

Whenever these contentious arguments erupt, a common response from progressives is to bemoan the "circular firing squad" and point to the right, where this sort of self-destructive behavior is rarely ever seen. Instead, the right exhibits a fanatic message discipline that would have made the Politburo envious. Grover Norquist holds his famous "Wednesday meetings" where right-wing strategy and message are coordinated. Frank Luntz provides the talking points, backed by his research. And from there, and from numerous other nodes in the right-wing network, the message gets blasted out. Conservatives dutifully repeat the refrain, which becomes a cacophony that generates its own political force. Republicans ruthlessly use that message, that agenda, to shift the nation's politics to the right, even as Americans themselves remain on the center-left of most issues.

(more over the flip)
"Can't we be more like them?" ask these progressives who understandably grow tired of the Obama wars. The conservatives' disciplined communications strategy typically gets ascribed to one of these factors. Some see it as an inherent feature of their ideology - the right is hierarchical, the left is anarchic. (Of course, the 20th century Communist movement disproved that.) Others see it as an inherent feature of their brains - conservatives are said to have an "authoritarian" brain where everything is black and white and where values and ideas are simply accepted from a higher-up, whereas liberals have brains that see nuance and prize critical thinking, making them predisposed to squabble instead of unite. And still others just see the conservatives as being smarter, knowing not to tear each other down, with the implication that progressives who engage in these bruising internal battles simply don't know any better, or are so reckless as not to care.

Perhaps some of those factors are all at work. But I want to argue that the truth is far simpler. Conservatives simply understand how coalitions work, and progressives don't. Conservative communication discipline is enabled only by the fact that everyone in the coalition knows they will get something for their participation. A right-winger will repeat the same talking points even on an issue he or she doesn't care about or even agree with because he or she knows that their turn will come soon, when the rest of the movement will do the same thing for them.

Progressives do not operate this way. We spend way too much time selling each other out, and way too little time having each other's back. This is especially true within the Democratic Party, where progressives share a political party with another group of people - the corporate neoliberals - who we disagree with on almost every single issue of substance. But within our own movement, there is nothing stopping us from exhibiting the same kind of effective messaging - if we understood the value of coalitions.

A coalition is an essential piece of political organizing. It stems from the basic fact of human life that we are not all the same. We do not have the same political motivations, or care about the same issues with equal weight. Some people are more motivated by social issues, others by economic issues. There is plenty of overlap, thanks to share core values of equality, justice, and empathy. But in a political system such as ours, we can't do everything at once. Priorities have to be picked, and certain issues will come before others.

How that gets handled is essential to an effective political movement. If one part of the coalition gets everything and the other parts get nothing, then the coalition will break down as those who got nothing will get unhappy, restive, and will eventually leave. Good coalitions understand that everyone has to get their issue taken care of, their goals met - in one way or another - for the thing to hold together.

Conservatives understand this implicitly. The Wednesday meeting is essentially a coalition maintenance session, keeping together what could be a fractious and restive movement. Everyone knows they will get their turn. Why would someone who is primarily motivated by a desire to outlaw abortion support an oil company that wants to drill offshore? Because the anti-choicers know that in a few weeks, the rest of the coalition will unite to defund Planned Parenthood. And a few weeks after that, everyone will come together to appease Wall Street and the billionaires by fighting Elizabeth Warren. And then they'll all appease the US Chamber by fighting to break a union.

There are underlying values that knit all those things together, common threads that make the communications coherent. But those policies get advanced because their advocates work together to sell the narrative.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is primarily a fiscal conservative. So why would he attack domestic partner benefits? New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is not an anti-science zealot. So why would he refuse to say if he believes in evolution or creationism? Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger supported marriage equality and refused to defend Prop 8 in court. So why did he twice veto a bill passed by the state legislature to veto marriage equality?

The answer to the above is simple: because they knew the importance of keeping the coalition together. They know that each part has to be looked after, or else the thing will fall apart as different constituencies turn on the person who failed to advance their agenda.

Members of the conservative coalition do not expect to get everything all at once. An anti-choice advocate would love to overturn Roe v. Wade tomorrow. But they don't get angry when that doesn't happen in a given year. Not because they are self-disciplined and patient, but because they get important victories year after year that move toward that goal. One year it could be a partial-birth abortion ban. The next year it could be defunding of Planned Parenthood. The year after that it could be a ban on any kind of federal funding of abortions, even indirect. (And in 2011, they're getting some of these at the same time.)

More importantly, they know that even if their issue doesn't get advanced in a given year, they also know that the other members of the coalition will not allow them to lose ground. If there's no way to further restrain abortion rights (Dems control Congress, the voters repeal an insane law like South Dakota's attempt to ban abortion), fine, the conservative coalition will at least fight to ensure that ground isn't lost. They'll unite to fight efforts to rescind a partial-birth abortion ban, or add new funding to Planned Parenthood. Those efforts to prevent losses are just as important to holding the coalition together as are the efforts to achieve policy gains.

Being in the conservative coalition means never having to lose a policy fight - or if you do lose, it won't be because your allies abandoned you.

This is where the real contrast with the progressive and Democratic coalitions lies. Within the Democratic Party, for example, members of the coalition are constantly told it would be politically reckless to advance their goals, or that they have to give up ground previously won. The implicit message to that member of the coalition is that they don't matter as much, that their goals or values are less important. That's a recipe for a weak and ineffectual coalition.

There are lots of examples to illustrate the point. If someone is primarily motivated to become politically active because they oppose war, then telling them to support bombing of Libya in order to be part of the coalition is never, ever going to work. If someone was outraged by torture policies under President Bush, you'll never get them to believe that torture is OK when President Obama orders it. If someone is motivated by taking action on climate change, then Democrats should probably pass a climate bill instead of abandoning it and instead promoting coal and oil drilling. If someone supports universal health care and wants insurance companies out of the picture, you need to at least give them something (like a public option) if you're going to otherwise mandate Americans buy private insurance.

The LGBT rights movement offered an excellent example of this. For his first two years in office, not only did President Obama drag his feet on advancing LGBT rights goals, he actively began handing them losses, such as discharging LGBT soldiers under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy or having his Justice Department file briefs in support of the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama argued that he could not advance the policy goals of DADT or DOMA repeal, but even if that were true, he was breaking up his coalition by also handing the LGBT rights movement losses on things like discharges and defending DOMA. It was only when LGBT organizations, activists, and donors threatened to leave the Obama coalition that the White House finally took action to end DADT.

A good coalition recognizes that not everyone is there for the same reason. The "Obama wars" online tend to happen because its participants do not recognize this fact. For a lot of progressives and even a lot of Democrats, re-electing President Obama is not the reason they are in politics. And if Obama has been handing them losses, then appealing to them on the basis of "Obama's doing the best he can" or "the GOP won't let him go further" is an argument that they'll find insulting. This works in reverse. If someone believes that Obama is a good leader, or that even if he isn't perfect he's better than any alternative (especially a Republican alternative) then they won't react well to a criticism of Obama for not attending to this or that progressive policy matter.

Cornel West has basically argued that he is leaving the Obama coalition because Obama turned his back on West's agenda. That's a legitimate reaction, whether you agree or not with the words West used to describe what happened. Cornel West won't sway someone whose primarily political motivation is to defend Obama if he calls Obama a "black mascot" and an Obama defender won't sway Cornel West if they're telling West that he's wrong to expect Obama to deliver on his agenda.

The bigger problem is that it is very difficult to successfully maintain a coalition in today's Democratic Party. Michael Gerson has identified something I have been arguing for some time - that the Democratic Party is actually two parties artificially melded together. I wrote about this in the California context last fall - today's Democratic Party has two wings to it. One wing is progressive, anti-corporate, and distrusts the free market. The other wing is neoliberal, pro-corporate, and trusts the free market.

These two wings have antithetical views on many, many things. Neoliberals believe that privatization of public schools is a good idea. Progressives vow to fight that with every bone in their body. Neoliberals believe that less regulation means a healthier economy. Progressives believe that we are in a severe recession right now precisely because of less regulation. Neoliberals believe that corporate power is just fine, progressives see it as a threat to democracy.

The only reason these two antithetical groups share a political party is because the Republicans won't have either one. The neoliberals tend to be socially liberal - they support civil unions or outright marriage equality, don't hate immigrants, and know that we share a common ancestor with the chimps. 35 years ago they might have still had a place in the Republican Party, but in the post-Reagan era, they don't. So they came over to the Democrats, who after 1980 were happy to have as many votes as possible - and whose leaders were uneasy at the growing ranks of dirty hippies among the party base.

As to those progressives, destroying their values and institutions is the reason today's GOP exists, so they clearly can't go to that party. They don't have the money to completely dominate the Democratic Party. Neither do they have the money to start their own political party, and right now they don't want to, given the widespread belief that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the 2000 election and led to the Bush disaster.

To our north, the neoliberals and progressives do have their own parties. The Canadian election earlier this month gave Conservatives a majority, but it also gave a historic boost to the New Democratic Party, home of Canada's progressives, while the Liberal Party, home of Canada's neoliberals, lost half their seats. Those parties have an easier time holding together their coalitions, and that enabled the NDP to break through and become the party that is poised to take power at the next election once Canadians react against Stephen Harper's extremist agenda.

Still, for a variety of structural, financial, and practical reasons most American progressives are not yet ready to go down the path of starting their own party. And that makes mastery of coalition politics even more important.

Cornel West needlessly personalized things. He would have been on stronger ground had he pointed out, correctly, that Obama has not done a good job of coalition politics. Progressives have not only failed to advance much of their agenda, but are increasingly being told to accept rollbacks, which as we've seen doesn't happen on the other side and is key to holding conservatism together as an effective political force. Obama told unions to accept a tax increase on their health benefits, and promptly lost his filibuster-proof majority in the US Senate in the Massachusetts special election. While Republicans are facing a big political backlash for actually turning on members of their coalition - for the first time in a long time - by proposing to end Medicare, Obama risks alienating more of his coalition by promoting further austerity. Civil libertarians have seen loss after loss under Obama (which explains clearly why Glenn Greenwald does not feel any need to defend Obama). Obama has consistently sided with the banks and has done nothing to help homeowners facing foreclosure. Hardly anybody has been prosecuted for the crimes and fraud at the heart of Wall Street during the 2000s boom.

There's no doubt that any Democratic president faces a difficult task in holding together a political coalition made up of two groups - progressives and neoliberals - who distrust each other and are in many ways fighting each other over the basic economic issues facing this country. But Obama has not made much effort to keep progressives on his side. He halfheartedly advocated for their goals, did some things to roll back progressive gains and values, and expects progressives to remain in the coalition largely out of fear of a Republican presidency. That's a legitimate reason to stay, don't get me wrong. But it won't work for everybody, and nobody should be surprised when some progressives walk. Everyone has their limit.

It has been clear that Obama is of the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party. He always was (and so too was Hillary Clinton). It's far easier for a neoliberal Democrat to win over just enough progressives to gain the party presidential nomination than vice-versa. Progressives are debating amongst themselves whether it makes sense to stay in that coalition if the terms are, as they have been since the late 1970s, subservience to a neoliberal agenda. I do not expect that debate to end anytime soon.

What we can do - and what we must do - is ensure that within the progressive coalition, we DO practice good coalitional behavior. If we are going to stay inside the Democratic Party, then we have to overcome the neoliberal wing. To do that, we have to be a disciplined and effective coalition. And to do that, we have to have each other's back. We have to attend to each other's needs. We have to recognize that everyone who wants to be in the coalition has a legitimate reason to be here, and has legitimate policy goals. If we have different goals - if Person A cares most about ending the death penalty, if Person B cares most about reducing carbon emissions, and if Person C cares most about single-payer health care, we have to make sure everyone not only gets their turn, but also make sure that each does not have to suffer a loss at our hands. If we find that we have goals that are in conflict, then we have to resolve that somehow.

One thing is clear: no coalition has ever succeeded with one part telling the other that their values are flawed, that they are wrong to want what they want, that they are wrong to be upset when they don't get something. We are not going to change people's values, and we should not make doing so the price of admission to a coalition. Unless we want to. In which case we have to accept the political consequences. I'd be happy to say we will never, and must never, coalition with neoliberals. But that has political consequences that many other progressives find unacceptable.

If we are going to address the severe crisis that is engulfing our country, we need to become better at building and maintaining coalitions. That means we have to decide who we want in the coalition, how we will satisfy their needs, and what price to maintain the coalition is too high to pay. Those are necessary, even essential political practices. It's time we did that, rather than beating each other over the head for not seeing things exactly the way we do ourselves.

Only then will be become the disciplined and effective operation that we want.


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