Obama's Victory and the Progressive Work To Come

Barack Obama's carefully crafted economic populism carries the day
by Mark Weisbrot

President Obama's re-election was never much in doubt, except perhaps briefly when he took a plunge after the first debate and we didn't know where the bottom was. But by the end of the campaign, Sam Wang of the Princeton Election Consortium was giving Obama a better-than-99% chance of winning. Nate Silver of the New York Times, more cautious, put the odds Tuesday at about 90-10 in favor of Obama.

Those who point to the popular vote as evidence of a very tight contest, as much of the media did before the election, should consider two things: first, that is not the way the game is played here (unfortunately). If the popular vote determined the presidency, the Obama team would have put more resources into big states like California and New York to ensure that Obama would win the popular vote by a wider margin. Instead, the resources went into swing states, in order to ensure a victory in the electoral college vote.

Second, the country is nowhere near as closely divided as the popular vote indicates. That's because non-voters, who were about 43% of the electorate in 2008 (http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/socdemo/voting/publications/historical/a1...), favor Obama by a margin of about 2.5 to one (http://www.people-press.org/2012/11/01/nonvoters-who-they-are-what-they-...).

Indeed, the resources and political power (http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/2012_summary_of_voting_law...) that Republicans mobilized (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/republicans) in an effort to deny millions of Americans (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/29/121029fa_fact_mayer0 their right to vote, and to suppress voter turnout (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2012_11/your_voter_s...), raise serious questions about their legitimacy as a political party. A legitimate political party does not rely on preventing citizens from voting, in order to prevail at the polls, any more than a legitimate government relies on repressing freedom of speech or assembly in order to remain in power.

How did Obama win?

In this election, as in almost every presidential election for decades, the biggest block of swing voters has been white working-class voters (however defined: for example, without college education). No Democratic candidate has won a majority of white voters for decades, since the Republicans adopted their "southern strategy" in the wake of historic civil rights legislation, and became the "white people's party". (In fact, Obama did better among white voters in 2008 than John Kerry did in 2004 – his racial identity was not a handicap because most voters who wouldn't vote for an African American don't vote for Democrats.) But in this contest, Obama had to win enough of the white working-class voters in battleground states to win the election, while winning about 95% of African-American voters and a large majority of Latino voters.

This he did primarily by making a populist appeal to working-class voters, more populist than any major party presidential nominee in decades. In the last debate, which was supposedly about foreign policy, Obama repeatedly referred to Romney as someone who wants to make sure that rich people "don't play by the same set of rules" as everyone else. Throughout the campaign, his team attacked Romney for being a rich, unscrupulous politician who didn't care about working people.

Of course, it helped that Romney fit the stereotype – a rich corporate raider, a private equity fund CEO, who said he "like[s] being able to fire people" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBfWB64iHAs), and paid less of his income in taxes than millions of working Americans. His infamous secretly-recorded remark dismissing 47% of Americans as moochers – "my job is not to worry about those people" (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/secret-video-romney-private-...) – was a gift from God, and became one of the Obama campaign's most effective TV ads (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/27/obama-47-percent_n_1919157.html).

But for those who have followed Obama's political career, his re-election was always extremely likely – and indeed, it would hardly have been in jeopardy if he had actually debated in the first debate. We knew that he would be as populist as he needed to be (http://www.cepr.net/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1496&pop=...) in order to win. Even with 23 million people still unemployed or underemployed (https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:YEO_t4As8WoJ:www.bls.gov/news... - as Romney repeated endlessly - ), it's not that hard to convince a lot of working-class voters that Romney and his party don't have their interests at heart – if you are willing to make the kind of economic populist appeal that Obama ultimately made.

The downside risk, for a candidate, is the potential loss of rich campaign contributors and media; but Obama was willing to take these risks in order to win. This was a historic difference from previous presidential campaigns: Democratic candidates such as Michael Dukakis and Al Gore flirted briefly with economic populist appeals, but backed off in the face of media pressure.

The media are a huge factor in most elections in the US, and outside of Fox News and the rightwing press, most of the major news outlets were more sympathetic to Obama than to Romney. They still helped Romney quite a bit, however, especially with swing voters, with poor reporting on key economic issues (http://www.cepr.net/beat-the-press/). Most Americans didn't know that the federal stimulus had created an estimated 3m jobs (http://www.frbsf.org/publications/economics/papers/2010/wp10-17bk.pdf); in fact, they didn't even distinguish the stimulus from the unpopular federal bank bailout. They didn't understand the benefits that people would derive from Obama's healthcare legislation (http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/obama-he...). They didn't know that they'd had their taxes cut under Obama. And millions believed the hype that federal deficit spending and the US public debt were major problems. (For the record, the US currently pays less than 1% of GDP in net interest annually on the federal debt – less than it has paid during the past 60 years. http://www.cbo.gov/publication/43288)

The confusion on economic issues was probably the most important influence on swing voters (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2364/very-important-registered-voters-issues...), who supported Romney against their own economic interests, thinking that the economy might improve if he were elected. For this, and other misunderstandings, we can thank the major media, although we should also include the public relations blunders made by the Obama team. Perhaps the biggest strategic error was President Obama's refusal (http://www.cepr.net/index.php/op-eds-&-columns/op-eds-&-columns/the-econ...) to go after Romney's proposal to cut social security (http://www.mittromney.com/issues/social-security), thereby losing the majority of senior citizens' votes (a big vote in swing states like Virginia and Florida), which he could potentially have won by defending America's most popular anti-poverty program.

Obama's silence on social security is a bad omen for the future of his second administration, when – facing almost immediately the "fiscal cliff" – political, media, and business leaders will be pressing for a "grand bargain" (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83197.html) on budget issues that will screw the vast majority of Americans. It will take a lot of grassroots pressure to prevent the worst outcomes: likewise, to get us out of Afghanistan and to prevent another disastrous war, this time with Iran. Obama's foreign policy has been mostly atrocious (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/five-specific-questions-j_b_...) and the never-ending "war on terror" continues to expand (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/plan-for-hunting-t...), while most Americans' living standards have been declining.

It's going to be an uphill fight for progress, but it could have been a lot worse.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR - http://www.cepr.net/), in Washington, DC. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy. He is co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. E-mail Mark: weisbrot@cepr.net

Historic, Wondrous Night for LGBT Equality

Being pro-equality is no longer risky
by Matthew Breen

Wow, what a big, gay, historic night! Marriage won at the ballot box for the very first time, and we reelected Barack Obama, the most pro-equality president in our country’s history, to a second term as the 44th President of the United States of America. This election represents a landslide for equality — not necessarily in any one race, but in the aggregate, LGBT equality won handily at the voting booth in this historic election.

But before 9 p.m. on the West Coast, we could report with confidence that both Maryland and Maine had approved marriage equality on ballot measures, making them the very first states to do so by popular vote. In 32 popular votes, marriage equality had been rejected by voters. Finally the miserable 32-0 losing streak was soundly broken tonight.

Mainers voted in favor of Question 1, and Maine is expected to issue marriage licenses in mid-December. Voters approved Question 6 in Maryland, upholding the state's marriage equality legislation passed earlier this year.

And in Washington state, voters were on the verge of upholding marriage equality legislation signed by governor Christine Gregoire earlier this year. And in Minnesota early indications gave reason for optimism.

Tammy Baldwin was elected to the U.S. Senate from Wisconsin, making her the first openly LGBT senator. And in Baldwin’s old seat in the House of Representatives, Wisconsin voters elected openly gay Mark Pocan tonight, and that succession is also an historic first.

Out Rep. Jared Polis has won his bid for a third term representing Colorado’s second congressional district. David Cicilline, Rhode Island’s U.S. congressman, was reelected after a fiercely competitive race.

One of my first thoughts is to compare this night to election night four years ago. That was a night of heady highs, reveling in the historic moment of electing our first black president, and dismal lows, in the crushing defeat that was Prop. 8. We loosed victory balloons, confetti, and ticker tape for Obama in West Hollywood, and hugged one another through tears of defeat, knowing that the most populous state in the union had rejected our equal access to the rights afforded to all other taxpaying citizens. Our rights, our very existence, was used as a wedge issue to incite hate and panic.

This year felt very different, and though many of us put faith in the polling that indicated that President Obama would be reelected — holding the fate of the Supreme Court and the pro-equality executive orders in the balance — we still looked with baited breath at the exit polling, and examined the returns as they came in. And we erupted into cheers when Ohio was called in favor of Obama, cementing victory. This night was an unequivocal triumph for LGBTs, and we’d be damned if we weren’t going to celebrate it.

The White House will not change hands, nor will the Senate or House change much in terms of party composition. So we’re faced with a question: What will change? More specifically, what will change in the Republican party?

We know what trajectory the Democratic party is on, a path toward equality, a path that follows the lead taken by the county’s population. A majority of Americans want equality for their LGBT brothers and sisters, and we’ve indicated exactly that in our choice for a pro-equality president, in our voting on marriage rights on ballots, and in our election of openly LGBT congress people. Democrats, on the whole, recognize this. But the polarization is lopsided. The Dems haven’t moved to the left on this, they’ve simply expanded the embrace to include LGBTs in the rights granted other citizens. Meanwhile the GOP has frozen into an unmovable rigidity, and if it doesn’t thaw, it will splinter and crack.

Will the GOP be intractable on LGBT rights, continuing to enshrine hate in the party platforms? No longer can an aging, antigay, homogenous electorate determine any general election. Will the GOP retrench and ignore this fact, grasping at ever more hostile conservative positions, seeking to harness anxiety about a majority minority coalition, one that includes LGBTs? Will the GOP finally understand that the earth spins on, that an absolutist antigay position, such as Romney and Ryan held, is out of step with the country?

This election wasn’t simply about LGBT issues, but equality is the single most important thing we can ever vote for. If we don’t have equality, truly we have nothing.

One thing that’s certain since this election: Seeking equality for all Americans is no longer a risky proposition. LGBT candidates can win at the ballot box. And fighting for equality isn’t out of step with a nation that had its birth in the notion of the fundamental equality of all people.

© 2012 The Advocate

Matthew Breen is The Advocate's Editor-in-Chief.

For Obama, Bigger Win Than for Kennedy, Nixon, Carter or Bushx2

It wasn't even close. That's the unexpected result of the November 6 election. And President Obama and his supporters must wrap their heads around this new reality -- just as their Republican rivals are going to have to adjust to it.

After a very long, very hard campaign that began the night of the 2010 “Republican wave” election, a campaign defined by unprecedented spending and take-no-prisoners debate strategies, Barack Obama was reelected president. And he did so with an ease that allowed him to claim what even his supporters dared not imagine until a little after 11 p.m. on the night of his last election: a credible, national win.

“We’re not as divided as our politics suggest,” Obama told the crowd at his victory party in Chicago.

And he was on to something.

Despite a brief delay by Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and the commentators on Fox News, Obama claimed his victory on election night not the next day, as Richard Nixon did in 1960, or even later, as George Bush in 2000.

And it was a real victory.

Obama did not have to deal with the challenge of an Electoral College win combined with a popular-vote loss -- as even some of his most ardent supporters feared might be the case..

By the time Romney conceded at 1 a.m., Obama had a 250,000 popular-vote lead, and it grew to roughly two million by dawn.

He was on track to win a majority of states and more than 300 Electoral Votes – at least 303 and, with the right result in Florida, 332.

Obama's win was at least the equal of John Kennedy's in 1960 (303 electoral votes), bigger than Richard Nixon's in 1968 (303 electoral votes), bigger than Jimmy Carter's in 1976 (297 electoral votes), bigger than George W. Bush's in 2000 (271 electoral votes and a popular vote loss).

And, significantly, bigger than George W. Bush in 2004, when Obama's predecessor won just 286 electoral votes, and faced serious challenges to the result in the state that put him across the 270 line: Ohio.

Never mind, Bush claimed a broad mandate.

“When you win, there is… a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view," Bush said. "And that's what I intend to tell Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let's work."

Bush told reporters: "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style."

When Bush tried to spend his capital “reforming” Social Security, he failed. Obama would be wise to avoid making the same mistake.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid do not need to be “reformed.”

They need to be strengthened and expanded.

The president could spend some of his capital on that project.

But he ought not stop there.

As he embarks upon the second term that not all presidents are given, Obama would do well to take the counsel of National Nurses United executive director Rose Ann DeMoro, who said after the election, “The President and Congress should stand with the people who elected them and reject any cuts in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, strengthen Medicare by expanding it to cover everyone, and insist that Wall Street begin to repay our nation for the damage it caused our economy with a small tax on Wall Street speculation, the Robin Hood tax.”

That reference to the Robin Hood tax is worthy of note.

President Obama ought to get serious, in his second term, about finding the revenues to pay for the strengthening and expanding of necessary programs: ideally by taxing the wealthy as they were in the days of America’s greatest economic expansion, and also by imposing that “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions (http://www.robinhoodtax.org/0).

But Obama's first task should be to fix the broken political system that imposes so many burdens on America democracy.

In his victory speech, Obama referenced the long lines in which Americans waited to vote for him and declared: “By the way, we need to fix that.”

That’s good. The need of democratic renewal is great after an unnecessarily crude political campaign that was, as Obama acknowledged, frequently “small… and silly.”

The place to begin is with a project he mentioned just before the Democratic National Convention: amending the constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/29/13553020-obama-consider-am...). "Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it)," the president wrote, in response to a question about the court decision to allow corporations to spend as freely as they choose to influence elections. "Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."

Seeking to amend the constitution to reform our election system is an ambitious endeavor, especially for a president who has just beaten the combined power of Karl Rove and his billionaire boys club.

But it is a necessary endeavor.

And a president who has been comfortably reelected ought not think small. He should “spend his capital” on projects worthy of the trust Americans have afforded him.

© 2012 The Nation

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. His most recent book is The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again and Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy. Nichols' other books include: Dick: The Man Who is President and The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism.

Revenge Of The Pot-Smoking, Gay-Marrying, Women-Empowering...

Revenge Of The Pot-Smoking, Gay-Marrying, Women-Empowering, DREAMing Liberals

I have to admit, I did not write a concession column, just in case I needed it.

Seriously, a man running for the most powerful office in the country didn't bother to plan for one of the two contingencies that were guaranteed to happen last night? And he wanted us to let him make crucial decisions for all of us? Willard Mitt Romney's shocking lack of preparedness last night, when it came to speech time, was truly the icing on the sweet, sweet cake of Barack Hussein Obama's second victorious election, at least for me.

Then I looked around at the rest of the election, and saw that America hadn't just re-elected a black man to the White House, but the entire country lurched leftwards last night in a significant fashion. Which is what my title refers to (conceived in homage to the greatest subtitle on a book, ever: Geoff Nunberg's Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show). Because Obama wasn't the only big winner last night -- so was pot smoking, and gay rights, and women, and Latinos. And liberalism. We're now a center-left country, so don't let anyone tell you differently (at least for the next two years).

In the very same election, the citizens of multiple states voted to legalize recreational use of marijuana and to legalize same-sex marriage -- both for the first time ever. That is stunning, when you think about it. It's the beginning of the victorious conclusion to the Sexual Revolution and the triumph of the hippies of the 1960s. Both of which consisted mostly of liberals, as I recall.

Now, states have decriminalized marijuana before, and even flirted with semi-legalization of cannabis previously, but for the first time, Colorado and Washington states have poked a rather large blunt instrument into the eye of the federal government with their vote. Same-sex marriage is legal in a few states, but it has never been approved by voters before now. This is the arc of history -- you can see it bending before you.

Does this mean we're all about to enter a liberal paradise? Well, no. Things never work out quite that easily in the real world. The Justice Department will likely fight back against the concept of legal weed, and if history is any guide, they'll fight back rather fiercely. After all, an entire industry has been built around the "War On (Some) Drugs," and billions of dollars are spent every year to keep this industry humming. So I don't expect it to go away any time soon, or to suddenly declare defeat. The drug warriors are almost religiously committed to their cause, which requires them to have an absolute faith in their beliefs, even when concrete evidence contradicts such beliefs. The number of states which have legalized marijuana for medicinal use was increased yesterday, and is now approaching half of all the United States -- and yet, the federal government refuses to admit that anyone, anywhere is using pot to alleviate suffering. Even though there are people alive who still get marijuana as a prescription for glaucoma from the very same federal government. As I said, it's a matter of faith, not rationality. All of which will lead to a gigantic court fight.

But it's a fight that is long overdue. A legal case of "Scopes Monkey Trial" proportions. Even if the case is ultimately lost at the Supreme Court, it is going to spur a political discussion that every politician since Nancy Reagan's time has been doing their best to avoid (most famously, by Bill Clinton, who "didn't inhale"). That right there is going to turn out to be a good thing, in my opinion, no matter what the outcome. Let's haul the whole subject out into the light of day and have a big political debate. It's about freakin' time.

On the gay rights front, many who voted in this election for the first time may not even remember the recent history of this fight. Back in the 1990s and 2000s, gay marriage (and gay rights in general) were used as a heavy club in elections -- by Republicans. It was the wedgiest of wedge issues they had going for them. Their reasoning was: "The more we say the word 'homosexual,' the more the suburban moderate voters are going to be scared of the liberal Democrats, and they'll reliably turn out and vote Republican." This seems like a stupid thing to do, now, but it surely wasn't back then -- because it worked so well. Want to increase GOP turnout in a weak state? Toss an anti-gay amendment on the ballot. Worked like a charm for them, while gay activists were slowly making ground getting people to accept merely same sex "domestic partnerships" or "civil unions."

The voters would reliably turn out and vote against any sort of rights for gays. Proposition 8 passed -- in California, of all places -- just four short years ago. The same election Barack Obama won the White House, the supposedly-ultraliberal California voted down gay marriage. Anti-gay marriage ballot measures worked for the Republicans thirty-two times, remember. Until last night. Meaning putting gay marriage on the ballot is now going to come from liberals and not conservatives, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it can indeed win at the ballot box. There are several cases heading to the Supreme Court on gay marriage, and the federal ban on it in particular, and this is going to be another epic legal showdown. And for the first time, gay rights activists can point to victories and say "the voters approve." That wasn't possible before today.

In 2012, the Republicans waged a "War On Women." The knuckle-draggers came out from their dark spots to paint a vision for the future of women's health rights in this country -- moving us all right back to around the 1950s. They lost at the ballot box, and they lost big. By my count, the Tea Party has now snatched defeat from the hands of the Republican Party in five Senate races. The GOP could have five more seats today, to put it another way. Last night, women voters prevented at least two of these candidates from making it to Washington. Women voters everywhere broke in an enormous wave not just for President Obama, but for liberalism on women's health issues.

Finally, the Latinos of America have weighed both political parties in the balance and (not surprisingly) decided to go with the one who wasn't demonizing and demagoguing and scapegoating them constantly. Some Republicans have been crying in the wilderness for years now on this subject, and warning that the Republican Party is dwindling as it relies solely on older white men who really do want to return to the 1950s. Perhaps the Tea Partiers will listen, but I'm betting not. I'm betting that whenever immigration reform gets discussed the first, last, and only word out of their mouths will be "Amnesty!" The only thing that's going to save the Republican Party is when they lose Texas as a reliable state -- and any chance of gaining the White House with it. This could happen in 2016 or 2020, by some estimates. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush and all the rest of the moderates will be ignored until disaster strikes. And losing Texas would indeed be a disaster, because while Mitt Romney found it hard to put together 270 electoral votes, no Republican will ever be able to do so without Texas' 38 votes. Until the party rejects its anti-immigrant stance, that is, at some point in the far future.

We all woke up to a different country this morning. Barack Obama is going to be our president for the next four years. He'll have his ups and downs, but we know who he is and we all dearly hope he will be less restrained now in his own liberalism because he'll never have to run for any election again. The conservatives will fight him every step of the way, of course. The progressives will likely fight him from the other direction, whenever a compromise is detected. Maybe, through all of this, Barack Obama can finish some of the things he started in his first term.

America woke up more liberal this morning -- it's an undeniable fact. Legal weed. Rocky Mountain high, indeed! Voters approving of marriage equality. Anti-abortion extremists losing easy Senate races. Immigration reform a real possibility. America is, as the Obama campaign slogan said, about to move "Forward!"

But one note of caution. The political winds have indeed shifted, but they can shift right back again in the blink of an eye. America is basically getting sick of our two political parties, because neither ever seems to get much done. What this has meant, since George W. Bush's time, is a whirlwind of tacking back and forth. America's political pendulum swings faster and faster -- from Obama's first victorious wave in 2008, to the Tea Party election of 2010, to now.

Personally, I'm hoping Barack Obama now steals a page from the George W. Bush playbook. Because the obsession inside the Beltway is soon going to become "Does Obama have a true 'mandate' to govern?" You could feel it sprouting and taking root last night, when the idiots who pass for our national political chattering class got all in a tizzy over the fact that Mitt Romney was still leading in the national popular vote count even after Obama had clearly won the Electoral College. "Will Romney win the popular vote?" they all smugly asked themselves -- not noticing that California's votes hadn't been counted yet. I mean, it's pretty predictable that California was going to add millions to Obama's total, but nobody even mentioned this fact. This is inside-the-Beltwayism at its worst, folks.

So I'm hoping that Obama does exactly what George W. Bush did (twice, as I recall) when asked how he could possibly govern without a clear mandate. Bush replied that he had all the mandate he needed, since he won the election... next question, please. That was all it took to shut up the media obsession. He didn't get asked the question much after that point, since all the reporters knew what he would say. Obama should do exactly the same thing, the first time someone uses "mandate" in a question to him. "I won. That's my mandate. Next question."

That way, maybe we actually can move forward, starting immediately.

-- Chris Weigant

Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


From Liberal Victory to Disempowerment in Six Easy Steps

Obama and Progressives: What Will Liberals Do with Their Big Election Victory?
by Glenn Greenwald

The greatest and most enduring significance of Tuesday night's election results will likely not be the re-election of Barack Obama, but rather what the outcome reflects about the American electorate. It was not merely Democrats, but liberalism, which was triumphant.

To begin with, it is hard to overstate just how crippled America's right-wing is. Although it was masked by their aberrational win in 2010, the GOP has now been not merely defeated, but crushed, in three out of the last four elections: in 2006 (when they lost control of the House and Senate), 2008 (when Obama won easily and Democrats expanded their margins of control), and now 2012. The horrendous political legacy of George Bush and Dick Cheney continues to sink the GOP, and demographic realities – how toxic the American Right is (http://t.co/bdCPrcN8) to the very groups that are now becoming America's majority – makes it difficult to envision how this will change any time soon.

Meanwhile, new laws to legalize both same-sex marriage and marijuana use were enacted in multiple states with little controversy, an unthinkable result even a few years ago, while Obama's late-term embrace of same-sex marriage seems to have resulted only in political benefit with no political harm. Democrats were sent to the Senate by deeply red states such as Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, along with genuinely progressive candidates on domestic issues, including Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin, who became the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. As a cherry on the liberal cake, two of the most loathed right-wing House members – Rep Joe Walsh of Illinois and Allen West of Florida – were removed from office.

So the delirium of liberals this morning is understandable: the night could scarcely have gone better for them. By all rights, they should expect to be a more powerful force in Washington. But what are they going to get from it? Will they wield more political power? Will their political values and agenda command more respect? Unless the disempowering pattern into which they have voluntarily locked themselves changes, the answer to those questions is almost certainly "no".

Consider the very first controversial issue Obama is likely to manage, even before the glow of his victory dims, literally within the next couple of weeks. It is widely expected - including by liberals (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1112/83197.html) - that Obama intends (again) to pursue a so-called "Grand Bargain" with the GOP: a deficit- and debt-cutting agreement whereby the GOP agrees to some very modest tax increases on the rich in exchange for substantial cuts to entitlement programs such as social security and Medicare, the crown legislative jewels of American liberalism.

Indeed, Obama already sought in his first term to implement sizable cuts to those programs (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/11/obama-medicare-eligibility-age_...), but liberals were saved only by GOP recalcitrance to compromise on taxes. In light of their drubbing last night, they are likely to be marginally if not substantially more flexible, which means that such a deal is more possible than ever.

In other words, the political leader in whose triumph liberals are today ecstatically basking is likely to target their most cherished government policies within a matter of weeks, even days. With their newly minted power, will they have any ability, or even will, to stop him? If history is any indication, this is how this "fight" will proceed:

STEP ONE: Liberals will declare that cutting social security and Medicare benefits – including raising the eligibility age or introducing "means-testing" – are absolutely unacceptable, that they will never support any bill that does so no matter what other provisions it contains, that they will wage war on Democrats if they try.

STEP TWO: As the deal gets negotiated and takes shape, progressive pundits in Washington, with Obama officials persuasively whispering in their ear, will begin to argue that the proposed cuts are really not that bad, that they are modest and acceptable, that they are even necessary to save the programs from greater cuts or even dismantlement.

STEP THREE: Many progressives – ones who are not persuaded that these cuts are less than draconian or defensible on the merits – will nonetheless begin to view them with resignation and acquiescence on pragmatic grounds. Obama has no real choice, they will insist, because he must reach a deal with the crazy, evil GOP to save the economy from crippling harm, and the only way he can do so is by agreeing to entitlement cuts. It is a pragmatic necessity, they will insist, and anyone who refuses to support it is being a purist, unreasonably blind to political realities, recklessly willing to blow up Obama's second term before it even begins.

STEP FOUR: The few liberal holdouts, who continue to vehemently oppose any bill that cuts social security and Medicare, will be isolated and marginalized, excluded from the key meetings where these matters are being negotiated, confined to a few MSNBC appearances where they explain their inconsequential opposition.

STEP FIVE: Once a deal is announced, and everyone from Obama to Harry Reid and the DNC are behind it, any progressives still vocally angry about it and insisting on its defeat will be castigated as ideologues and purists, compared to the Tea Party for their refusal to compromise, and scorned (by compliant progressives) as fringe Far Left malcontents.

STEP SIX: Once the deal is enacted with bipartisan support and Obama signs it in a ceremony, standing in front of his new Treasury Secretary, the supreme corporatist Erskine Bowles, where he touts the virtues of bipartisanship and making "tough choices", any progressives still complaining will be told that it is time to move on. Any who do not will be constantly reminded that there is an Extremely Important Election coming – the 2014 midterm – where it will be Absolutely Vital that Democrats hold onto the Senate and that they take over the House. Any progressive, still infuriated by cuts to social security and Medicare, who still refuses to get meekly in line behind the Party will be told that they are jeopardizing the Party's chances for winning that Vital Election and – as a result of their opposition - are helping Mitch McConnell take over control of the Senate and John Boehner retain control of the House.

And so it goes. That is the standard pattern of self-disempowerment used by American liberals to render themselves impotent and powerless in Washington, not just on economic issues but the full panoply of political disputes, from ongoing militarism, military spending and war policies to civil liberties assaults, new cabinet appointments, immigration policy, and virtually everything else likely to arise in the second term.

Indeed, nobody takes STEP ONE in that depressing ritual even a little bit seriously. Nobody believes the declarations of progressives about what is "unacceptable", about what their "red lines" are, about how they will refuse to go along with what they are given if it contains what they declare intolerable. That's because STEPS TWO THROUGH SIX always follow, and until that pattern is broken, STEP ONE will continue to be viewed as a trivial joke.

With last night's results, one can choose to see things two ways: (1) emboldened by their success and the obvious movement of the electorate in their direction, liberals will resolve that this time things will be different, that their willingness to be Good Partisan Soldiers depends upon their core values not being ignored and stomped on, or (2) inebriated with love and gratitude for Obama for having vanquished the evil Republican villains, they will follow their beloved superhero wherever he goes with even more loyalty than before. One does not need to be Nate Silver to be able to use the available historical data to see which of those two courses is the far more likely one.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon. His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics, A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Voters Didn't Ask for Bi-Partisanship, They Demand Good Policies

After the Election, a New Mandate -- and New 'Fiscal Cliff' Math
by Richard Eskow

President Obama was reportedly planning to reach out to House Majority Leader John Boehner today to begin negotiating a deal to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff," a series of spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled take effect unless Congress rescinds the law that created it.

That overture is both appropriate and statesmanlike. The public expects its leaders to work together on important issues.

The question is, what kind of deal? Boehner's been acting as intransigent as ever, telling Reuters that Congressional Republicans will have "a mandate to not raise taxes."

Now Boehner's saying he's willing to raise "tax revenue," as long as tax rates are lowered even more. That's a coded way of saying he wants even more tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, and that Democrats should expect to get that "revenue" by eliminating tax deductions for struggling middle-class Americans. That's likely to mean losing deductions for dependent children and mortgages, and tax changes that will lead to even less health coverage for working Americans. He says he'll also demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare as part of any deal.

But Boehner isn't holding the cards in this situation. The president is. All the numbers say so -- in the election results, the polling data, and even in the stock market, if you read it correctly.

The New Math

As the Democrats were fond of saying this year: It's not politics, it's math. Here's some math that Congressional Republicans -- and austerity-minded Democrats -- are going to have to deal with:

2 to 1: Voters have given Democrats two of three branches of elected government. Two out of three aint' bad. In fact, it's a mandate to govern. Memo to John Boehner from the voters: When you've only got one out of three branches, you may be a partner in the political process -- but you're the junior partner.

12,744,844: Democratic Senatorial candidates got 12,744,844 more votes than Republicans this year. According to my rough calculations, Democratic candidates got 57.44 percent of the popular vote. Republicans only got 41.57 percent.

Harry Reid's been saying all along that he doesn't want to cut Social Security. The voters agree with him. Deal with it, Republicans.

Zero: That's the approximate number of candidates whose embrace for the "Simpson Bowles" austerity plan was a pathway to victory. That plan would cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, and sharply cut into all forms of government spending, while lowering taxes even more for millionaires and corporations. It would almost certainly raise taxes sharply, however, for the middle class.

As Zaid Jilani notes, three highly-visible candidates who openly endorsed the Simpson Bowles plan -- or who were endorsed by one or both gentlemen themselves -- unanimously went down to defeat this week.

On the other hand, Virginia Senate candidate Tim Kaine of Virginia openly rejected the Simpson Bowles plan. He pulled off an upset victory.

303: That's the number of electoral votes President Obama received. He won a decisive victory around the country -- and he won the popular vote, too. You lost, Republicans, fair and square.

And about that whole "fair and square" thing: As the New York Times noted today, the reelection of House Republicans had a lot more to do with gerrymandering, incumbency and big-money corporate campaign financing than it did with any mandate not to cut taxes.

A headline in the New York Times read, "Question for the Victor: How Far Do You Push?" The answer: As far as the voters have asked you to push.

Inside Job

But that process seems to disturb a lot of pundits, press and political insiders. They'd rather things worked out behind closed doors -- "just send your man around to see my man," as J. P. Morgan suggested to Teddy Roosevelt. The president's going to be under a lot of pressure to preemptively surrender on his stated principles.

Americans for Tax Fairness compiled polling data (http://www.americansfortaxfairness.org/press/2012/11/07/nov-7-press-rele...) which showed that 60 percent of voters wanted the Bush tax cuts ended for incomes of $250,000 and above. Voters said they wanted to see their Social Security and Medicare benefits protected, and the deficit addressed by increasing the rich instead, and they did so by the overwhelming margin of 64 percent to 17 percent. And 62 percent of those polled said that "the message [they] were trying to send to the next president and Congress with [their] votes this year" was: "We should make sure the wealthy start paying their fair share of taxes."

And yet election-night commentary was filled with talk about the president's need to find "common ground," something we never heard about George W. Bush's two victories -- one of which came without either a popular-vote majority or an unequivocal electoral college win. Expect a lot more of this talk from insiders in the days and weeks to come.

These insiders don't seem to know or care that voters elected the president and his fellow Democrats because of those principles.

Rated X

The morally-compromised "ratings agencies" -- actually for-profit corporations that abused their obligations for years, directly contributing to the financial crisis of 2008 -- wasted no time getting into the act once the votes were counted. Fitch Ratings immediately warned the president that there would be "no fiscal honeymoon," saying that a failure to avoid the "fiscal cliff" would cost the U.S. government its "AAA" rating.

But international investors still love our government. They're essentially paying our Treasury to borrow money. And despite what the fearmongers are saying, the stock market didn't plunge because they're afraid we won't cut spending. While it's true that markets dislike uncertainty, what they really hate are austerity measures that shrink the economy.

Despite the mythology, the stock market didn't fall the last time credit agencies frowned on the the government's credit. It was the deal itself that dealt it a blow:

You can see that the market began to fall in anticipation of a deficit deal, and fell even further when the deal was done. But it shrugged off a downgrade by S&P, another ratings agency and even climbed slightly. Why? Because investors know that spending cuts in this economic climate are recipe for disaster.

And after all those "agencies" gave all worthless mortgage securities a "AAA" rating -- apparently investors don't rate them very highly.

Stepping Up

At times during his first term, the president appeared to show disdain for ideology, for advocacy for the conflicts that are part of the political process. He sometimes spoke of emulating the compromises reached between Ronald Reagan and House Majority Leader Tip O'Neill, but without offering the fierce advocacy each of those leaders first gave for his own viewpoint.

But it was a newly energized president who addressed supporters on election night, saying "We will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there."

"I'm not talking about blind optimism," President Obama told the cheering Chicago crowd. "I'm not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight."

That's the process the public needs to see -- the disagreement, the debate, and the conflict, as well as the compromise and the forging of consensus. Voters need to know why they're getting the policies that affect them, and which politicians are pulling for (or against) them.

That's a promising sign. The absence of disagreement and ferocity has sometimes robbed the public of the opportunity to make informed choices in the voting booth. Would voters have given the reins of power back to Boehner and Congressional Republicans if they'd been able to see just how extreme their positions have been for the last two years?

The voters have asked President Obama and his fellow Democrats not to "shirk a fight" over economic issues. We look forward to seeing the democratic process unfold over the coming weeks, months and years, as a much-needed fight against economic injustice is played out in the public arena.

That's not partisanship. It's math.

© 2012 Campaign for America's Future

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician. He has experience in health insurance and economics, occupational health, benefits, risk management, finance, and information technology. Richard has consulting experience in the US and over 20 countries.

Richard has also worked in long-range forecasting. With the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, he participated in an online game where 10,000 players enacted future disaster scenarios. He has also done forecasting and analytical work for the Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations. He is among "fifty of the world's leading futurologists" whose "hopes, fears, and best predictions" are collected in a 2011 book entitled The Rough Guide to the Future.

He is a regular columnist for the science and culture blog 3 Quarks Daily and a Contributing Editor for Tricycle magazine. His reflections on blogging and spiritual principles were included in "Best Buddhist Writing of 2008."

Lunatic, Counterfactual Rantings of the Mythical "Center"

On the perils of blind bipartisanship
by John Atcheson

Seems like everyone is calling for bipartisanship. Voters, Democrats, Republicans... well almost everyone.

Apparently for Republicans, bipartisanship means do it our way. Witness Mitch Mc Connell’s take on the elections. After essentially calling the President a complete failure, and denying that he had a mandate of any kind, he said:

Now it’s time for the President to propose solutions that actually have a chance of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a closely-divided Senate, step up to the plate on the challenges of the moment, and deliver in a way that he did not in his first four years in office. To the extent he wants to move to the political center, which is where the work gets done in a divided government, we’ll be there to meet him half way.

Or take Bohner. He’s still pedaling the counter-factual. Asked about the fiscal cliff, he said, "Raising tax rates will slow down our ability to create the jobs that everyone says they want." He also claimed Obama didn’t receive a mandate on taxing the rich.

This less than a week after a comprehensive study by the Congressional Research Service showed that tax cuts for the rich do not spur economic growth (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/tax-cuts-rich-dont-spur-151649273.html). But it does create income inequality – the precursor to three of this nation’s worst economic crises.

In other words, Republicans are saying we’ll define the center by what we’re willing to pass, and you better acquiesce or we’ll hold the country hostage, even though the majority of Americans voted to move to the left in the election.

And why not? With the exception of Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann , Paul Krugman, and a few others, no one seems to care that the Republicans have replaced governance with brinksmanship and that this has cost the country dearly, bringing us to the verge of financial ruin on several occasions. No one even seems to acknowledge it. Their lunatic, counterfactual rantings are treated much like the mad uncle in the attic. There is an implicit assumption that we have to accept self-interested acts of betrayal and irrational outbursts as if they were serious and legitimate political discourse.

In reality, they are neither. Here’s how Ornstein – a conservative himself – and Mann put it:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/liberals-and-conservatives-dont-j...); and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

But because Democrats haven’t called them on it and the corporate-controlled news media has given them a cloak of secrecy, most Americans aren’t aware of how badly Republicans have undercut governance and government – how they have intentionally brought about the failures they point to as evidence that government can’t do anything. And as government failures mounted, people have been crying a pox on both their houses, and faith in government is now at an all-time low.

This explains one of the great conundrums of politics. A sizable majority of Americans hold liberal positions on an issue-by-issue basis (http://www.ourfuture.org/report/2011051806/american-majority-project-pol...), but most are loath to call themselves liberals. And exit polls confirm that the political narrative is still shaped by meta-myths created by Republicans. Big gubmint’ caint do nothin’ right. The magic markets and the private sector will provide all good things by pure serendipity. Taxes are always bad. Regulation stifles growth ya da, ya da, ya da.

As long as these myths survive, it will be difficult to pull the country back from the political cliff that has led to the fiscal cliff. And as long as Democrats fail to confront these issues, the myths will survive.

This campaign was a start. After ignoring the fundamental differences between the parties for three years and nearly compromising away core liberal and progressive values (http://americablog.com/2011/07/ezra-klein-more-on-obamas-compromising-cu...), this administration and this President were forced to stake out the liberal position. The embrace was reluctant, but they had no choice.

And Liberalism won.

Democrats now have an historic opportunity to put a stake in the heart of these destructive meta-myths and wrest control of the country from the clutches of the plutocrats. It they don’t seize this opportunity, they will continue to win battles while losing the war.

What must they do?

Take on the myths. Consolidate and extend the ground gained in this election, don’t retreat from them. Polls show that Americans would rather raise taxes than gut social security Medicare, and Medicaid in order to balance the budget. In fact, the vast majority of Americans don’t believe deficits should be our number one issue right now – they think job creation should be. So how much political courage would it take to stand up the Republicans when they start trying to raise a panic?

And how much would it take to embrace the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s Budget4All, which balances the budget sooner than any Republican proposal and uses popular measures to do it?

If Republicans choose to filibuster, make them wear diapers. Make them stand in front of the American people day after day, defending tax cuts for corporations and the rich and tax increases for middle and low income Americans; make them call for eviscerating social security, eliminating Medicare as we know it, gutting Medicaid, cutting Pell grants for students, deregulating industry, giving tax credits for shipping jobs overseas – the whole shebang.

By putting a spotlight on their policies, we’ll not only avoid a fiscal cliff, we’ll escape a much more serious political cliff we’ve been hurtling toward for 30 years now.

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Now the Work of Movements Begins

by Amy Goodman

The election is over, and President Barack Obama will continue as the 44th president of the United States. There will be much attention paid by the pundit class to the mechanics of the campaigns, to the techniques of microtargeting potential voters, the effectiveness of get-out-the-vote efforts. The media analysts will fill the hours on the cable news networks, proffering post-election chestnuts about the accuracy of polls, or about either candidate’s success with one demographic or another. Missed by the mainstream media, but churning at the heart of our democracy, are social movements, movements without which President Obama would not have been re-elected.

President Obama is a former community organizer himself. What happens when the community organizer in chief becomes the commander in chief? Who does the community organizing then? Interestingly, he offered a suggestion when speaking at a small New Jersey campaign event when he was first running for president. Someone asked him what he would do about the Middle East. He answered with a story about the legendary 20th-century organizer A. Philip Randolph meeting with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Randolph described to FDR the condition of black people in America, the condition of working people. Reportedly, FDR listened intently, then replied: “I agree with everything you have said. Now, make me do it.” That was the message Obama repeated.

There you have it. Make him do it. You’ve got an invitation from the president himself.

For years during the Bush administration, people felt they were hitting their heads against a brick wall. With the first election of President Obama, the wall had become a door, but it was only open a crack. The question was, Would it be kicked open or slammed shut? That is not up to that one person in the White House, no matter how powerful. That is the work of movements.

Ben Jealous is a serious organizer with a long list of accomplishments, and a longer list of things to get done, as the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 2013, he notes, is a year of significant anniversaries, among them the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, as well as the 50th anniversaries of the assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four young African-American girls. President Obama’s 2013 Inauguration will occur on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Jealous told me on election night, as Mitt Romney was about to give his concession speech, “We have to stay in movement mode."

Young immigrants are doing just that. Undocumented students, getting arrested in sit-ins in politicians’ offices, are the modern-day civil-rights movement. There are other vibrant movements as well, like Occupy Wall Street, like the fight for marriage equality, which won four out of four statewide initiatives on Election Day. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and despite the enormous resources expended by the fossil-fuel industry to cloud the issue, climate change and what to do about it is now a topic that President Obama hints he will address, saying, in his victory address in election night, “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. ... We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

It was pressure from grass-roots activists protesting in front of the White House that pushed Obama to delay a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, proposed to run from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. More than 1,200 people were arrested at a series of protests at the White House one year ago. Now a group is blocking the construction of the southern leg of that pipeline, risking arrest and even injury, with direct-action blockades in tree-sits and tripods in Winnsboro, Texas, two hours east of Dallas.

When those who are used to having the president’s ear whisper their demands to him in the Oval Office, if he can’t point out the window and say, “If I do as you ask, they will storm the Bastille,” if there is no one out there, then he is in big trouble. That’s when he agrees with you. What about when he doesn’t?

The president of the United States is the most powerful person on Earth. But there is a force more powerful: People organized around this country, fighting for a more just, sustainable world. Now the real work begins.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2012 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize.

After the Election: Time to Stop Settling for the Lesser Evil

by Mark Engler

There was a lot less dancing in the streets this Election Day than in 2008, when the nation celebrated the election of the first African-American president. But progressives can nonetheless feel great relief at the re-election of Barack Obama.

A far-left charge against those of us who rallied to support the incumbent was that we were fearful and lacked imagination. I plead guilty. I was fearful of energized conservatives eager to have the country run by an asset-stripping vulture capitalist. I was fearful of the vast waves of SuperPAC money that flooded Pennsylvania, where I live, with ads crucifying anyone who would challenge the goodness of the coal industry.

Probably because of my lapsed subscription to the Weekly Standard, I received a robo-call last week from Dick Morris, urging me to donate money to his favorite cause: none other than the infamous group Citizens United. Conservatives, Morris’s recorded voice intimated, not only had a chance to oust Obama; they had an opportunity to “decimate the radical left.” At that point, I was concerned that we had become fearful too late.

At the same time, I do not have illusions about what the White House will deliver in the next four years. Those who refused to vote for Obama may have been wrong if they argued that “there is no difference” between the two main parties, but they are surely correct that the Democrats have pushed dangerously to the right and that the left is hitched to them at its peril.

I supported voting for Obama on the grounds that social movements are stronger when they can battle against tepid centrists in office than when forced into rear-guard battles against elected conservatives with a rabid desire to attack unions, curtail reproductive rights, and shred the social safety net. Taking on Democrats, we can be bolder, more imaginative, less reactive. Moreover, people are less tempted to think that changing politicians will be an adequate remedy.

Doug Henwood (who is perennially crotchety but often right, too) put it this way:

I would prefer that Obama win the election—not so much because he’d be so much better than Romney on policy but because he will disappoint so many of his loyalists that it would be good for radical politics. Instead of people bellyaching about McCain’s awfulness, as they would have had he won in 2008, we got Occupy.

The presidential election is the realm in which social movements have the least power. Yet there’s a reason why, every four years, we are drawn into not particularly productive debates about it. The established parties spend billions to promote the contest. The media treats debate between the two parties as the beginning and end of political exchange. And, most important, for large numbers of people throughout the country, choosing a favorite and casting a vote during a presidential election represents a peak of democratic involvement.

The challenge for progressives is to change that—to foster and highlight the long work of extending democracy into daily practice. This is where realists who voted to avert Republican rule and radicals who abstained should agree.

For my part, I’m glad at the election’s outcome, and also glad to move on. On Election Day, opting for the lesser evil was the right call. The rest of our days, we have common cause with those who refuse to settle for evil.


Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008). He can be reached via the website http://www.DemocracyUprising.com

The Trojan Horse in the Debt Debate

Dozens of CEOs are running a misleading campaign that would just make matters worse.
by Sarah Anderson

It's budget showdown time in Washington. With various tax increases and spending cuts set to kick in at the end of the year, the pressure is on for Republicans and Democrats to make a deal.

A major player in this hot debate is a new corporate coalition called "Fix the Debt." They've recruited more than 80 CEOs of America's most powerful corporations and raised $60 million for a big media and lobbying blitz.

Their ads call for what appears to be a moderate agenda of balancing spending cuts with some tax increases in order to bring down the deficit and ensure a bright future for the United States. But a closer look suggests the Fix the Debt campaign is a Trojan Horse.

Behind their moderate slogans is an extreme agenda focused on further reducing corporate taxes and shifting the burden onto the poor and elderly.

Take a look, for example, at a slideshow presentation the campaign has prepared as a "CEO tool" for wooing supporters. You can check it out right on their web site. It says flat out that the so-called "fiscal cliff" is an opportunity to push for "considerably less" spending on Medicare and Medicaid. It also calls for a shift to a "territorial tax system," which would permanently exempt U.S. corporations' foreign income from U.S. taxes.

At the Institute for Policy Studies, we analyzed how much the Fix the Debt member corporations would have to gain from this particular corporate tax break. The results are staggering.

We focused on the 63 Fix the Debt member companies that are publicly held and therefore must report how much they've amassed in overseas profits. Combined, these firms stand to gain as much as $134 billion in tax windfalls if the territorial system is adopted. That's $134 billion that won't go towards fixing the debt. To put that figure in perspective, it would be enough to cover the salaries of two million elementary school teachers for a year.

One of the biggest potential winners from a territorial tax system is Microsoft, which could reap a savings of $19.4 billion on its $60.8 billion in accumulated foreign earnings.

Why does Microsoft have so much dough stashed overseas? A Senate investigation this year shed light on this question. They found that Microsoft takes the patents for software developed at its U.S. research facilities and registers them in tax haven countries. That way, when a U.S. customer buys a copy of Microsoft Office, a hefty chunk of the profits is recorded in no-tax zones.

Under current rules, Microsoft would have to pay U.S. taxes on such foreign earnings if they bring them back to the United States to invest or pay shareholder dividends. But under Fix the Debt's favored territorial system, they would be permanently exempted.

The Fix the Debt campaign's CEOs are attempting to portray themselves as the reasonable compromisers. Some of them have even offered to give up the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich in exchange for other parts of their agenda. But given the massive windfalls they could get from a shift to a territorial tax system and other corporate tax breaks, this is hardly surprising. If their companies save billions in tax dollars, corporate profits will soar — and their CEO pay will skyrocket too.

Beware of this Trojan horse. These CEOs may try to conceal their tired old agenda of more corporate tax breaks in a patriotic package. But if they're serious about helping America, they wouldn't be trying to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License


Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive multi-issue think tank, in Washington DC. She’s also the co-author of the IPS report, America’s Bailout Barons: Taxpayers, High Finance, and the CEO Pay Bubble.

Election Over, Time For Progressive Dems to Face the Truth

by Jeff Faux

Terrorized by the prospect of a complete takeover of the U.S. government by right-wing reactionaries—progressive Democrats swallowed their unhappiness with Barack Obama throughout the campaign. They gamely defended his policies on the economy, health care, budget priorities and other issues on which they felt betrayed in his first term.

We’ve now dodged the bullet of a Mitt Romney White House, so let’s get back to reality. Despite his campaign-trail populism, the president will continue the politics of accommodation to conservatives. Two of the three priorities he has set out for his next term are at the top of the GOP agenda: a “grand bargain” to cut government spending over the next 10 years and corporate tax reform that would cut rates—don’t hold your breath—and close loopholes. The third priority, rationalizing immigration law, is one of the few progressive ideas that also has the support of the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable.

Moreover, his next term’s policy advisers will be the same—or come from the same Washington/Wall Street executive personnel pool—as his last term’s advisers. Indeed, from the White House perspective, the election vindicated their first-term performance.

The core organizations of the Democratic base have vowed that after the election they will hold Obama’s “feet to the fire” with a Tea Party-style mobilization from the left—forcing votes on progressive proposals, organizing mass rallies and grooming their own candidates for the next congressional elections. They’ve sworn these oaths before, but after each election, they persuade themselves to give the leadership another chance. Soon the next election is upon them, and they line up for their marching orders.

If this time is to be different, progressive Democrats must start mobilizing their own agenda now. And the first step is to face the truth about the record of the president we have just re-elected. Here’s an initial reality check:
1. The economy still sucks

Three years into the recovery, we have an official unemployment rate of just under 8 percent (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/nov/2/october-jobs-report-likel...) and an underemployment rate of almost 15 percent (http://www.bls.gov/lau/stalt.htm). Incomes are declining and at least 12 million homeowners have mortgages that exceed the value of their houses (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/13/opinion/the-one-housing-solution-left-...). Consumers aren’t spending and therefore business is not investing. And we are still running a huge trade deficit with a sluggish global economy. This leaves government as the only possible source of substantial new spending to create jobs.

Yet there is no jobs program. President Obama says his top priority is a deal with House Republicans to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-kogan/three-charts-on-the-comin_b_...). His “liberal” position starts with a ratio of spending cuts to tax increases of 2.5-to-1. The only real dispute between the president and Republicans is whether the rich will have to give back the tax breaks George W. Bush gave them. So when the eventual deal is struck, the federal government will be taking more out of the economy over the next decade than it is putting in. This virtually guarantees that—even if we escape another recession or financial meltdown—we will not reach anywhere near full employment in the next four years.

2. The low-wage future

With no new substantial source of stimulus, our trajectory is toward a further erosion of living standards for the majority of Americans. Off-shoring and automation will continue to shed jobs with no offsetting increase in the demand for labor. Budget cuts—including cuts to Medicare and Medicaid—will widen the holes in the social safety net and further limit investments in education, infrastructure and technology upon which any chance at future prosperity depends. And the White House’s indifference to the dramatic erosion of organized labor (e.g., its reneging on promises to reduce the barriers to organizing) will continue to undercut the bargaining power of all workers—union and non-union alike.

The president’s Council of Economic Advisers will not admit it, but their default strategy for growth is to let American wages drop far enough to undercut foreign competition. That is the only possible policy rationale for Obama’s enthusiasm for the Trans Pacific Partnership (http://www.salon.com/2012/10/23/everything_you_wanted_to_know_about_the_...), a further deregulation of trade that will strip away the last protections for American workers against a brutal global marketplace of dog-eat-dog.

3. Obamacare: Health care dead-end

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a victory for corporate America. In exchange for giving up their rules against covering pre-existing conditions and agreeing to raise the age limit in which children could be covered under their parents’ policy, the health insurance corporations got the federal government to require every citizen to buy their product and commit to subsidizing those that can’t afford the price. The pharmaceutical industry received even stronger government protection of their price-gouging monopolies. The Congressional Budget Office estimates (http://cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/43472-07-24-2012...) that there will still be 30 million uninsured Americans by the end of the decade. Tens of millions more will be under-insured as the companies are free to raise their premiums and deductibles.

Although it abandoned the public option, the White House whispers to Democrats that Obamacare will pave the way for single-payer. Fat chance. The bill was inspired by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and largely drafted by a former insurance company executive precisely to stop single-payer from ever happening. Meanwhile, the corporate dominated health care system will continue to be a huge drag on our global competitiveness and long-term fiscal health.
4. The Dodd-Frank fig leaf

The Wall Street Reform Act required more transparency in the securities markets and marginally expanded the regulatory bureaucracy. But it did little to prevent a future return to the reckless speculation that exploded the economy four years ago. The largest companies now have a bigger share of the financial markets than they had in 2008 and their “too-big-to-fail safety net” is even more explicit.

Perhaps most important, nothing has been done to lengthen the horizons of U.S. investors from short-term, get-rich-quick financial speculation to the long-term investment in producing things and high-value services in America.
5. Big Money and the Democrats

The last four years have proven conclusively that corporations—especially from Wall Street—now dominate the most important economic policy decisions of the Democratic Party. With the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United (http://www.thenation.com/article/169915/citizens-united-and-corporate-court), the transformation from democracy to plutocracy is virtually complete. The corruption of our governing class goes beyond just campaign contributions. It can include the hint of a future job or lobbyist contract when you leave office, a hedge fund internship for your daughter, a stock market tip. But all this depends on your remaining in power, so nothing matches the importance of raising enough money to get yourself reelected.

Democratic leaders’ primary response to Citizens United has been a tepid proposal to require more transparency in campaign contributions. Even that, of course, could not succeed against Republican, and some Democratic, opposition. But even areas where the president could act alone—as with an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose political contributions or even filling vacant seats on the Federal Election Commission—Obama took a pass. In response to an interviewer’s question in August, he said that “in the longer term” we may need a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United (http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/29/13553020-obama-consider-am...). He is right. But the “longer term” certainly means sometime after he leaves office.

According to the White House, discontent on the left with these and other issues (e.g., climate change, civil liberties, military spending) represents little more than the carping of left-wing purists who don’t understand the need for compromise. But in fact, it reflects the harsh reality that the president’s intentions do not nearly reach to the level of the country’s serious problems. So the stakes for the nation are enormous. Without a radical shift away from the policies of the last four years, living standards of most people in the United States will continue to drop, with potentially ugly social and political consequences.

The stakes for Democrats are also high. Obama’s victory has reinforced the widespread notion among pundits that the projected future increase in the non-white voting population and the party’s advantage with women already makes it the favorite for 2016 and beyond. But it is precisely these constituencies that economic stagnation has hit the hardest. Whatever the demographic changes, if the Democratic Party produces another four years like the last four, it can kiss goodbye to the next election and probably several after that.

© 2012 Economic Policy Institute

Jeff Faux was the founding president of and now a current distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute

A Sign That Obama Will Repeat Economic Mistakes

by Robert Scheer

Please don’t tell me that these reports in the business press touting Sallie Krawcheck as a front-runner for chairman of the SEC or even a possible candidate to be the next Treasury secretary are true. Who is she? Oh, just another former Citigroup CFO, and therefore a prime participant in the great banking hustle that has savaged the world’s economy. Krawcheck was paid $11 million in 2005 while her bank contributed to the toxic mortgage crisis that would cost millions their jobs and homes.

Not that you would know that sordid history from reading the recent glowing references to Krawcheck in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News that stress her pioneering role as a leading female banker—a working mother no less—but manage to avoid her role in a bank that led the way in destroying the lives of so many women, men and their children. Nor did her financial finagling end with Citigroup, as Krawcheck added a troubling stint in the leadership at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America to her résumé.

A woman who would be an excellent choice as the most experienced as well as principled candidate to head the SEC or Treasury is Sheila Bair, former head of the FDIC, who labored to protect consumers rather than undermine them. Indeed, her outstanding book “Bull by the Horns,” chronicling her fight in the last two administrations to hold the banksters accountable, should be required reading for the president and those who are advising him on selecting his new economic team.

The SEC is supposed to supervise the banks rather than abet them in their chicanery. And although the Treasury Department has been a captive of Wall Street lobbyists for most of the modern era, one would expect something better from the second coming of Barack Obama. Those are key appointments in determining whether the president can turn around the still-moribund economy by channeling the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Or will he continue to plod along on the course set by George W. Bush, bailing out the banks while ignoring beleaguered homeowners and the many other victims of this banking-engineered crisis?

Obama was given a pass on the economy by voters only because Mitt Romney was an even more craven enabler of Wall Street greed. But the outlines of the Bush Wall Street payoff remain in place, with the Federal Reserve continuing to bail out the banks with virtually free money and the purchase of $40 billion in toxic mortgage-based bonds every month to add to the more than trillion dollars in that junk that the Fed previously had taken off the banks’ books.

The money printing by the Fed is at the heart of the massive debt crisis. But it has been great for the bankers, with compensation at the 32 largest banks slated to hit an all-time high of $207 billion this year, according to a Wall Street Journal estimate. This reward for ripping off the public is almost three times the amount the federal government spends on education. Once again the bankers are blessed for their failures, receiving such wildly excessive compensation despite the fact that banking revenue is down 7.2 percent over the last two years.

A prime example is Krawcheck’s old bank, Citigroup, whose new CEO this week announced that the company has been forced to engage in a major retrenchment, eliminating 11,000 jobs and closing 84 branches. The bank has been deeply troubled ever since the housing meltdown it helped trigger first began, and it was saved from bankruptcy only by a direct infusion of $45 billion in taxpayer money and a commitment of an additional $300 billion in underwriting of Citigroup’s bad paper.

The ugly tale of America’s Great Recession is inextricably entwined with the deplorable practices of Citigroup, the too-big-to-fail bank made legal by Bill Clinton’s signing off on reversing the Glass-Steagall law that prevented the merger of investment and commercial banks. The first beneficiary of the revised law was the newly created Citigroup, saved from bankruptcy a decade later by the taxpayers.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Krawcheck would be considered a viable nominee for a central position in managing our economy. After all, her colleague in the top ranks at Citigroup during the years of financial depravity, Robert Rubin, is considered a significant adviser to the Obama administration, and his protégés, led by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are still directing policy. It was Rubin who pushed through the reversal of Glass-Steagall, an act of betrayal of the public interest that was rewarded with obscene amounts of money when he ultimately took the job of leading the bank he made legal.

The very fact that these folks remain influential, as witnessed by Krawcheck being considered to head the SEC rather than being the subject of one of its much-needed investigations, gives further evidence of the enduring but ultimately terminal illness of crony capitalism.

© 2012 TruthDig.com

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

'GOP Crazies' Save Progressives from Obama (Again)

Playing Taxes Hold ’Em: 'GOP Crazies' Save Progressives from Obama (Again)
by Paul Krugman

A few years back, there was a boom in poker television — shows in which you got to watch the betting and bluffing of expert card players. Since then, however, viewers seem to have lost interest. But I have a suggestion: Instead of featuring poker experts, why not have a show featuring poker incompetents — people who fold when they have a strong hand or don’t know how to quit while they’re ahead?

On second thought, that show already exists. It’s called budget negotiations, and it’s now in its second episode.

The first episode ran in 2011, as President Obama made his first attempt to cut a long-run fiscal deal — a so-called Grand Bargain — with John Boehner, the speaker of the House. Mr. Obama was holding a fairly weak hand, after a midterm election in which Democrats took a beating. Nonetheless, the concessions he offered were breathtaking: He was willing to accept huge spending cuts, not to mention a rise in the Medicare eligibility age, in return for a vague promise of higher revenue without any increase in tax rates.

This deal, if implemented, would have been a huge victory for Republicans, deeply damaging both programs dear to Democrats and the Democratic political brand. But it never happened. Why? Because Mr. Boehner and members of his party couldn’t bring themselves to accept even a modest rise in taxes. And their intransigence saved Mr. Obama from himself.

Now the game is on again — but with Mr. Obama holding a far stronger hand. He and his party won a solid victory in this year’s election. And the legislative clock is very much in their favor, too. All the Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of the month.

A brief digression: I’ve become aware of a new effort by the G.O.P. to bully reporters into referring only to the “Bush-era” tax cuts, probably in the hope of dissociating those cuts, which they want to preserve, from a president voters now regard with disdain. But George W. Bush and his administration devised those cuts and rammed them through Congress, and it’s deceptive to suggest otherwise.

Back to the poker game: The president doesn’t hold all the cards — there are some things he and fellow Democrats want, like extended unemployment benefits and infrastructure spending, that they can’t get without some Republican cooperation. But he is in a very strong position.

Yet earlier this week progressives suddenly had the sinking feeling that it was 2011 all over again, as the Obama administration made a budget offer that, while far better than the disastrous deal it was willing to make the last time around, still involved giving way on issues where it had promised to hold the line — perpetuating a substantial portion of the high-income Bush tax cuts, effectively cutting Social Security benefits by changing the inflation adjustment.

And this was an offer, not a deal. Are we about to see another round of the president negotiating with himself, snatching policy and political defeat from the jaws of victory?

Well, probably not. Once again, the Republican crazies — the people who can’t accept the idea of ever voting to raise taxes on the wealthy, never mind either fiscal or economic reality — have saved the day.

We don’t know exactly why Mr. Boehner didn’t respond to the president’s offer with a real counteroffer and instead offered something ludicrous — a “Plan B” that, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, would actually raise taxes for a number of lower- and middle-income families, while cutting taxes for almost half of those in the top 1 percent. The effect, however, has to have been to disabuse the Obama team of any illusions that they were engaged in good-faith negotiations.

Mr. Boehner had evident problems getting his caucus to support Plan B, and he took the plan off the table Thursday night; it would have modestly raised taxes on the really wealthy, the top 0.1 percent, and even that was too much for many Republicans. This means that any real deal with Mr. Obama would be met with mass G.O.P. defections; so any such deal would require overwhelming Democratic support, a fact that empowers progressives ready to bolt if they think the president is giving away too much.

As in 2011, then, the Republican crazies are doing Mr. Obama a favor, heading off any temptation he may have felt to give away the store in pursuit of bipartisan dreams.

And there’s a broader lesson here. This is no time for a Grand Bargain, because the Republican Party, as now constituted, is just not an entity with which the president can make a serious deal. If we’re going to get a grip on our nation’s problems — of which the budget deficit is a minor part — the power of the G.O.P.’s extremists, and their willingness to hold the economy hostage if they don’t get their way, needs to be broken. And somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen in the next few days.

© 2012 The New York Times

Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, The Return of Depression Economics, and his most recent, End This Depression Now!.

Compare the 1912 Elections with the 2012 Elections

by Ralph Nader

Before the electoral year of 2012 slinks into history, it is worth a comparative glance back to the electoral year of 1912 to give us some jolting perspective on how degraded our contemporary elections, voter performance and election expectations have become.

One hundred years ago, workers were marching, picketing and forming unions. Eugene Debs, the great labor leader and presidential candidate that year, spoke to outdoor labor rallies of 100,000 to 200,000 workers and their families gathered to protest low wages and working conditions.

Farmers were flexing their muscle with vibrant political activity in progressive parties and organizing farm cooperatives, through their granges, and pushing for proper regulation of the banks and railroads.

On the presidential ballot were Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, Democrat Woodrow Wilson, and the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party’s choice former president Theodore Roosevelt. Taft would be repudiated for being far too populist and too critical of corporations by today’s Republican Party. He favored national, not state, charters for “national corporations.”

The Democrats were committed to their platform of 1908 which asked “Shall the people rule? Is the overshadowing issue which manifests itself in all the questions now under discussion.” The context was shaped by the giant corporations (“called the trusts”) and their lobbies in Washington, which had to be curbed. The Supreme Court in 1911 had just ruled to break up the giant Standard Oil trust.

Women’s suffrage, abolition of child labor, workers’ compensation; states adopting the initiative, referendum, and recall; the eight-hour work day, minimum wage laws (Massachusetts was the first in 1912), taxing corporate profits and the “inheritance of fortunes,” were some of the many hot issues of 1912.

Taft, Wilson and Roosevelt fought over who was the most progressive. Theodore Roosevelt in an August 1912 speech declared that “Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To destroy this invisible government, to befoul the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.”

While Wilson repeatedly said that the country’s “salvation required the dissolution of the evil partnership between the government and the trusts.”

Apart from how deeply these candidates believed in what they said, they repeated their campaign pledges again and again because the people were rising and breathing down their necks with demands.

Fast forward to 2012 to the far greater grip of big business on government and elections. So much so that both major parties offer no solution to the “too big to fail” perch of the giant banks and additional corporate behemoths, other than to continue bailing them out with taxpayer dollars and under-regulating them to boot.

Entrepreneur, lawyer, shareholder advocate, and author, Robert A. Monks wrote recently that “American corporations today enjoy an absolute reign. They and they alone have the power to control the rules under which they function. Corporations, and the most powerful CEOs acting through them, have effectively seized authority over the United States without assuming any of the responsibilities of dominion.”

Was corporate domination the theme of the recent Republican and Democratic conventions? Only to the extent to which hospitality parties put on by the drug, banking, insurance, energy and other industries had the best booze, food and other allurements.

The Conventions, and their scripted speeches off the PAC-greased election trails, were congealed, b.s.

The leader of the AFL-CIO, Richard Trumka, was trotted out for a few minutes before a nationwide television audience to ignore mentioning both his own priority of legislating “the card check” for union organizing and the needs of 30 million American workers making less than workers made in 1968, inflation-adjusted, due to a frozen minimum wage. Eugene Debs, one of Trumka’s heroes, not only made establishing the minimum wage one of his clarion calls, but he indefatigably ran for president in 1912 on the Socialist Party ticket garnering 900,000 votes (equal to about 5 million votes today) and pushing the major candidates and parties from the grass roots.

In 2012, third-party candidates were blocked from the debates, given virtually no media, obstructed from access to the ballots and otherwise harassed by officialdom.

The two major parties were like corporate lapdogs fed daily with corporate cash to shut up about corporate crime, corporate tax evasion, corporate control of government, corporate abuses of consumers, toxic chemicals and fossil fuels jeopardizing air, water, soil and the climate, corporate abandonment of American labor to fascist and communist regimes abroad, facilitated by the global trade agreements, drafted by their corporate lawyers, corporate corruption of electoral campaigns integrity, corporate fine-print contract servitude, corporate closing of courtroom doors to individuals wrongfully harmed, and the draining corporate-bred military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address.

The Democrats from Obama to the Congressional leadership and candidates took corporate oaths, they wouldn’t even raise the minimum wage issue to “catch up to 1968” for 30 million Americans and their impoverished families laboring for Walmart, McDonald’s and other low-wage companies.

Meanwhile, the clenched teeth Republicans with their vacuumed brains nominated Mitt Romney who, for years, led the Bain Consulting Group to, in Monk’s words, “reap untold millions in profits by using borrowed capital to buy companies, then sucking them dry, leaving the remains for bankruptcy referees to sort through, and stashing vast profits in off-shore tax havens.” In 1912, such an aspiring oligarch would have been laughed away.

Let’s face it, our country is in crisis and wallowing in disgust, discouragement and despair won’t turn it around. Nor will apathy, accepted powerlessness or preoccupation with those weapons of mass distraction we hold in our hands or watch on our screens just about everywhere.

Only together can we make the difference, with far better modes of communication and transportation than our poor forebears, who still managed to rise up and show up more than 100 years ago to make their country better for them and us. (See www.seventeensolutions.com for my take on this patriotic mission of immediate renewal as well as respect for future generations.)


Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and "Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us" (a novel).

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