Saturday, October 18, 2014

The low turnout in off-year elections works to the advantage of the Republicans - Progressives Must Vote!

I just voted by mail here in Oregon, and I was curious whether Oregon's voting by mail system produces a higher than average turnout. It seems it may, but it is hard to tell because Oregon, historically, always has had a much higher than average turnout. Over the past 30-some years it has ranked around 6th.

In the 2010 election Oregon was 9th, but in 2012, with a 64 percent turnout, the state dropped to 14th, but it was an election, with a 57 percent turnout national average,  one of the highest turnouts in the past 50 years.

The most interesting thing I discovered in looking at historical data, is that turnout in non-Presidential elections started dropping rather dramatically after 1970. This may explain why our Congress has become so dysfunctional. As far back as the 1940s voter turnout in non-Presidential elections had averaged percents in the mid 40s, often fairly close to 50 percent.

But in 1974, turnout dropped to 37 percent, and it generally has been below that ever since. Presidential election turnout also declined some but in recent elections has trended upwards.

If barely more than a third of our electorate are voting in non-Presidential elections, it is not hard for a dedicated group to gain substantial power, as we have seen with the Tea Party.

Progressive Democrats must learn from this and get out the progressive vote - young people, women, minorities and those among us older white men who have seen the light.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

From The Long War Journal: We are not slowing down ISIS.

Islamic State assassinates Anbar province police chief

The Islamic State has killed the top police commander for Anbar province, in an IED attack today in a village that is home to the anti-jihadist Awakening in Ramadi. The assassination is the latest blow to Iraq's beleaguered security forces in the western province.
General Ahmad Sadak al Dulaymi, Anbar's police chief, was patrolling the village of Albu Risha when the Islamic State targeted his convoy with two IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, earlier today. The police general and three bodyguards were killed in the attack, according to The New York Times.

Read more:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rising Tide Against Oil Trains and Oil Terminals

Railroads are transporting highly volatile oil from the North Dakota oil shale fields across the country to refineries. Most, if not all, of the tanker cars holding the oil are not safe. There have been a number of huge explosions, some with fatalities.  There is an effort in the Pacific Northwest, organized by, to try to stop these trains. Not only do they pose a huge danger to people, oil spills could cause unrepairable damage to the Columbia River and its treasure of salmon breeding grounds.

And, of course, there is the overriding issue of the expansion of the use of fossil fuels and the huge role they play in rising Earth temperatures and climate change. See my review of This Changes Everything. And the oil is extracted through fracking, which has its own issues with the environment and water supplies.

The economic arguments for the oil refineries on the West Coast and the transport of oil in tens of thousands of unsafe oil tank cars do not begin to justify the risks involved to people and the environment.

For more information on the Rising Tide organization's efforts to stop the oil trains and the oil refineries go to this link.

They are sponsoring a showing the Vice documentary, "Bomb Trains," tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 7) in Portland. There is information on the Rising Tide website.  If you cannot go to this event, the documentary can be seen on YouTube here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Naomi Klein provides accelerant to the re-ignited Climate Change Movement - a book review.

Naomi Klein. This Changes Everything. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 566 p. $30.00.

A book review by Dan Riker

According to Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century the rich are going to get much richer and more powerful, and there is not much we can do about it. However, if we don't stop the Earth from heating up in the next ten years, there may not be a world that even the rich can enjoy, writes Naomi Klein in her powerful new book, This Changes Everything.
Until now, Piketty's book probably was the most influential and controversial book of the year - maybe in quite a few years. However, Klein arguably has trumped Piketty, by describing in terms that anyone can understand the almost immediate crisis the world faces with climate change and what needs to be done about it. And by so doing she provides accelerant to a climate change movement re-ignited by the recent massive march in New York City.
Klein, a Canadian journalist, has had two previous bestsellers, The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, and This Changes Everything already has made the bestseller lists.
While not highly technical, this is a well-documented book, with 100 pages of notes. She doesn't dwell on the climate science, but the data she cites is all that is needed. The amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere is increasing, mostly because of the burning of fossil fuels, oil, gasoline, natural gas and coal. The use of those fuels is increasing, rather than decreasing, and the carbon emissions, trapped in the atmosphere, are causing the temperature of the Earth to rise. Klein quotes a 2012 report by the World Bank discussing the projection for ten years from now:

"(A)s global warming approaches and exceeds 2-degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st Century global warming and impact entire continents."

Klein adds, "In other words, once we allow temperatures to climb past a certain point, where the mercury stops is not in our control." The World Bank went on to write, "we're on track for a 4 degree C warmer world (by century's end) marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise."
And she points out that recent data indicates the track now is actually for a 6 degree C rise, which would cause uncontrollable catastrophes that are likely to make the Earth uninhabitable. This is something that could happen in the lifetimes of people now alive. Temperature rises have to be stropped before they exceed 2 degrees Celsius in the next ten years.
There is no valid scientific data to refute these projections. Those who have made denying climate change a profitable profession, due to financial support from the fossil fuel industry, have been roundly defeated in public discourse, and by hard evidence. But the fossil fuel industry - and its minions in the Republican Party - promote denial, and try to convince the unwary, and uninformed, of its validity. And they have been successful in preventing American government action against climate change.
While the national government may not be doing anything, Klein writes, the industry's frenetic efforts to extract as much fossil fuel as possible, as fast as possible, are generating increasing citizen opposition. Fracking is a good example.
Fracking has become such a massive user - and destroyer - of fresh water that it is endangering water supplies in many parched and drought-stricken areas in the United States and in other countries. In one year the amount of water used in fracking in the U.S. could cover Washington, DC to a depth of 22 feet. In addition to creating massive amounts of wastewater, fracking also causes earthquakes, pollutes fresh water sources and releases large amounts of methane into the atmosphere, immediately contributing to global warming.
The battle to save water is a battle people all over the world, according to Klein, are willing to fight, even to die for.
"We can't drink oil," is a refrain she writes is often heard.
As a result, opposition to fracking is growing. France, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and the Czech Republican have moratoria on fracking in place. In North America so do Vermont, New York, Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland.
Klein writes about a very frightening topic, but she does it with a style that is personal, warm and gentle, not strident or preachy. She communicates to the reader almost as she would to a close friend, or relative. And she demonstrated that same style in her talk to an overflow, standing room only crowd Wednesday night at a Powell's bookstore in the Portland, Oregon, suburb of Beaverton. She talked as if all the people in the room were friends, or family - reinforcing the message of inclusion in her book - that in trying to save the world, we are all together.
But while her style is gentle and friendly, her message is not muted, or ambiguous.
"All non-radical changes are off the table," she said to the crowd. "We have to change a system that already has failed...this is the best chance to demand and build a better world."
And the principal part of her message is that the climate change movement can galvanize other reform movements into one major effort to bring about true economic equality and opportunity, and greater freedom. And as a centerpiece of a united movement she proposes that the government guarantee a minimum income to all citizens, something that Switzerland recent has done.
And in This Changes Everything, she leaves no doubt as to the urgency of such a movement.
"(O)nly a mass social movement can save us now. Because we know where the current system, left unchecked, is headed," she writes, adding later,

"(C)limate change does not need some shiny new movement that will magically succeed where others failed. Rather, as the furthest-reaching crisis created by the extractivist worldview, and one that puts humanity on a firm and unyielding deadline, climate change can be the force - the grand push - that will bring together all of these still living movements. A rushing river fed by countless streams, gathering collective force to finally reach the sea....
Climate change is our chance to right those festering wrongs at last - the unfinished business of liberation."

She departs from much of the environmental movement. There is no time left for incremental changes or for compromise. There simply is only one answer to the fossil fuel industry: No. No more mines. No more drilling licenses. No more pipelines. No more coal or oil terminals. No more fracking. Its growth must stop, and eventually, not too long from now, its business must end, or be dramatically curtailed.
And that is an enormous task. According to a study she quotes in the book, the existing holdings of oil, gas and coal, of the fossil fuel industry would emit five times more carbon than the earth's atmosphere can safely absorb, and are worth in present value somewhere in the range of $27 trillion. And they are looking for more sources. To save the world, they are going to have to be forced to give up 80% of that $27 trillion and severely limit, or shut down, their businesses. This is not something they will do very willingly.
She portrays the struggle as one between capitalism and the climate, but it really is a struggle with that key element of capitalism, which always has been its greatest problem - the drive for greater and greater growth and profits. Unfettered capitalism always has been its own worst enemy, but now it is the world's worst enemy. Unless it is stopped, the fossil fuel industry will destroy the world.
Progressive governments in the past reined in capitalism's worst aspects, and, ultimately, it will take government action to rein in the extraction industry and stop climate change. But we do not have a progressive government today - far from it. For that to happen, there must be a huge mobilization among the people, and it is something that has happened in the past. Can it happen again?
She begins the book by describing the problem, and she got me hooked in the Introduction, when she wrote about reading Have You Ever Seen a Moose? to her young son, and remembering a recent article in Scientific American, "Rapid Changes Turn North Woods into Moose Graveyard." It seems the moose in Alberta and nearby areas are dying off and it is believed to be because of the toxic chemicals released from the massive tar sands extraction project.
She wrote: "Will he ever see a moose?"
Her personal style once again is demonstrated later in the book when she describes her difficulties trying to get pregnant and then discovering that she was pregnant while in New Orleans and in the oily and toxic water caused by the BP disaster. It turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy (when the embryo implants outside the uterus), but before that she worried that she had damaged her baby by being in the toxic water. And she provides plenty of evidence from many places in the world where babies have been severely damaged because of the pollution of the fossil fuel industry.
In the first part of the book she criticizes international trade agreements and many environmental groups for supporting them, as well as most governments, including that headed by President Barack Obama because of his support for every method of fossil fuel extraction. As an example of the negative effects these treaties have on efforts to curb climate change, she describes how Quebec was stopped from providing support to a local solar power company because such an effort would discriminate against companies in other countries.
She contrasts North American policies with those of Germany, where many cities operate their own public utilities and where more than half of the nation's electricity now comes from solar and wind power. She quotes a number of studies showing that, if we chose to make the necessary changes in our power generating systems and businesses, existing types of renewable sources of energy could provide a majority of America's power in just the next 15 years. One, by a Stanford group, says that all of New York City's electricity could be so provided. But there are huge obstacles to such progress.
She writes:

"(T)he three policy pillars of the neoliberal age - privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending - are each incompatible with many of the actions we must take to bring our emissions to safe levels. And together these pillars form an ideological wall that has blocked a serious response to climate change for decades."

In Part Two, titled "Magical Thinking," she criticizes most major environmental groups for failing to move the ball at all on climate change. In addition to supporting trade agreements, many environmental groups have co-opted themselves by becoming too close to the industry, or in the case of The Nature Conservancy, becoming the industry. Mobil Oil donated some Texas land known as a breeding ground for the endangered prairie chicken to the Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy later put oil wells on the property. The oil wells still are there, but the prairie chickens are gone.
The Royal Academy convened a meeting of what she called "mad scientists" to discuss means by which the sun's heat could be diverted, including schemes such as squirting chemicals into the atmosphere to block the sun's rays. She wrote that Bill Gates actually invested in one outfit attempting to develop such technology, proof that having billions of dollars does not necessarily mean having common sense.
The meat of the book is Part Three, where she describes the efforts by groups of people all over the world to combat fossil fuel extraction that threatens their towns, homes and families, calling their actions, "Blockadia." Even though most governments are doing little to combat climate change, that does not mean that citizen action is not being taken, and some of it is starting to be successful.
The Cherokee have stalled the Keystone XL Pipeline because it violates their treaty-covered lands. Similarly, native people in Canada are challenging the destruction of lands in Alberta that, under treaty, they have a right to use, and are fighting a proposed pipeline and oil terminal in British Columbia on land the government does not have a right to use.
As an example of how citizen action can succeed, she points out that China is beginning to reduce its use of coal, and will have lower future demand. Activist challenges to new coal facilities that delay their implementation may eliminate their business viability.

With This Changes Everything, Noami Klein very effectively describes the problem we face, the difficulty of solving it, but ways in which it can be effectively attacked. It should help to inspire the movement that will be necessary to force the major changes we, the people of Earth, need for our very survival.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rolling Stone exposes the Koch Brothers and how they became so rich.

Tim Dickinson has written for Rolling Stone the most devastating portrait of the Koch Brothers I think has yet been published. Titled "Inside the Koch Brothers' Toxic Empire," and published September 24, 2014, the article traces the history of the Koch family business from the grandfather to the present. Its entire history is replete with shenanigans, illegal activities, government investigations, settlements, convictions and millions of dollars in fines. Yet that all is chicken feed to a company that  has revenues in excess of $125 billion.

Employees are quoted as saying they calculated that the cost of being caught and fined for operating something unsafely was much less than the profits that could be earned from such behavior.

This company now virtually owns the Republican Party and it is trying to buy the federal government. How is it going to be stopped?

Read the article. It is a tremendous work of journalism

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Changes in America Favor Progressives - Excerpt from Let's Do What Works and Call it Capitalism

Let's Do What Works and Call it Capitalism

By Dan Riker

Part II. Chapter 3. Parties and Politics in America: The Changes in America Favor Progressives

“(T)he size of the minority population is expected to increase to the point that they represent the numeric majority between 2040 and 2050.”

-                    US. Census Bureau Population Projections, 2009[1]

"All politics is local."

- Attributed to Tip O'Neill (D-MA), former Speaker of the House of Representatives.

 "(E)very midterm for the last two decades has been inexorably nationalized. Including this one [2010]. … You would hope that by the next midterm O’Neill’s aphorism will be so obviously wrong that even highly paid political analysts won’t trot him out, even to disagree."

-             Mickey Kaus, Newsweek, quoted by Andrew Gelman "All Politics is Local? The Debate and the Graphs," Jan. 3, 2011.

While change in Washington comes very slowly, the nation itself is going through a period of rapid change. We are not the nation of the World War II generation anymore. The country's population has more than doubled since 1945. At 313 million in mid 2012 – nearly 100 times larger than the population of the first census in 1790  - the United States is the third most populous country in the world after China and India.
With most immigration today coming from Asia and Latin America, ourpopulation is becoming more diverse every year. The U.S. initially was settled and populated by white Europeans, but the Census bureau projects that in about 30 years, the majority of the population will have roots elsewhere in the world. Non-Hispanic whites already are less than half the population in California, Hawaii,New Mexico and Texas. In 2011, for the first time, Hispanic and non-white births exceeded non-Hispanic white births nationwide. Today, only slightly more than 63 per cent of the population is non-Hispanic white, and since that figure includes people of Middle Eastern descent, the percentage of those of European backgrounds is slightly less.[2]
Hispanics, at nearly 17 per cent of the population today, are growing faster than any other ethnic group, and are projected to be nearly one-third of thepopulation by mid century. Blacks are about 13 per cent and that percentage is not expected to change by more than a fraction in the next 30 years. Asians,Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and American Indians account for most of the rest, and the Asian portion, which includes immigrants from India, Pakistan andAfghanistan, is growing rapidly and expected to be close to 10 per cent by mid century.
The United States became strong because it successfully absorbed people from all cultures and made them Americans. Generation after generation of immigrants came to the United States, learned English, if they did not already speak it, found employment, and raised children, most of whom became members of the middle class. We still are going through this process. Millions of immigrants still are coming to the United States. Now many more than ever are not of European ancestry. Many of the nations they come from have political and social cultures vastly different from America's. Yet, much of the same assimilation into American culture continues to happen. It is getting more difficult, however, because our education system is struggling.  Public school education in the U.S. has fallen in quality relative to many other nations. Opportunities for higher education are diminishing as the costs increase.
The United States is not the frontier society it once was. About 84 per cent of the population lives in urban and suburban areas. About 80 million – more than one fourth of the entire population - live in the fifteen largest metropolitan areas of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia, Washington-Baltimore, Miami, Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Detroit, Phoenix, Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul. For the past 50 years the center of the nation's population has been shifting towards the southwest. Florida soon will pass New York as the third most populous state, behind California andTexas.
The median age of the population, 37, has been increasing for many years, but it probably will not get much older before it starts to decline. Twenty-seven per cent of the population – more than 80 million - are under 20 years of age, offsetting the “Baby Boom” generation – those born between 1945 and 1960 – which today may be about 50 million. The oldest Baby Boomers have begun to retire and soon will approach the average lifespan of Americans, which now are about 74 for men and 78 for women. While the Baby Boomers will have a substantial impact on social services for many years to come, for the first time, their percentage of the population is declining.
The demographics of Illinois today most closely resemble those of the nation as a whole, and Illinois has become a fairly strong “blue” state. Illinois has voted for the Democratic Presidential candidate in every election since 1988. The Governor and one of the two senators are Democrats. Twelve of the 18 members of the House of Representatives are Democrats.
Young people, minorities, recent immigrants, urban residents and women vote more for Democrats than Republicans. Because of their racist and nativist policies and attitudes, Republicans draw little support from blacks and Hispanics. The challenge for the Democrats is getting Hispanics to vote. Hispanics, which are the fastest growing ethnic group, have the lowest voter turnout of any major ethnic group.
A majority of women have voted Democratic in recent elections. The generally sexist, and specific anti-abortion and anti-birth control, policies ofRepublicans are not likely to improve their electoral performance among women, particularly younger women.
A survey of “Millenials,” the under 30 generation, in 2014, was titled “Millenials, the Politically Unclaimed Generation”[3] because more than a third described themselves as independents, and even more said they did not trust either political party. This age group is socially liberal, but has a strong economically-conservative element. Of those who identify with a political party, about two thirds are Democrats. A considerable majority of millenials vote Democratic Presidential elections, but many do not vote at all in off-year elections.
The poll showed that young people are far more socially liberal than their parents. For example, while a majority of the population now supports gay marriage, there is far greater support among younger people. There is not nearly as much racial, sexual, or religious bigotry among younger people as there is among many of middle age and older. When motivated, the youth vote can be powerful, as shown in 2008, and again in 2012. However, it must be kept motivated. Politicians supported by young people must deliver on their promises. There was a huge drop-off in the turnout of young voters between the 2008 and 2010 elections, which accounted in large part for the loss of the House of Representatives to the Republicans.[4]
White males are the only large block of voters where a majority consistently votes Republican, and that block's percentage of the population is diminishing.
Because there is not an even distribution of demographics across the country, the national government does not yet reflect the political preferences of the average American, which are more Democratic than Republican. The smallest states have as many senators as the largest. Republican Gerrymandering of the House has permitted them to elect more members to the House than they would have if there were a relatively even distribution of voters among all districts. In the 2012 Congressional elections, Republicans won more seats, but Democrats received more votes.
The most ominous development for the future of the Republican Party's ability to win national elections is the gradual shift in demographics occurring in Texas that will make what has been a safe Republican state a “battleground” state in the not-to-distant future. If Texas starts voting for Democratic Presidential candidates, it will become almost impossible for Republicans to win Presidential elections. A similar shift in that state's Congressional representation might also alter the balance of power in the House of Representatives. Such a shift probably cannot occur until Democrats control the state legislature and correct some of the Gerrymandering the Republicans have done that gave them more congressional seats than they should have.
If the current shift to the Democrats continues in states like Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Maine, and no apparent shift of Democratic states to the Republicans develops, the Democrats are positioned to become the nation's dominant political party in the foreseeable future. However, it is not likely to be so simple. American voters can be contrary.

Political parties select the candidates for most public offices in the United States much of the time today in primary elections when only a minority of the electorate usually vote. The number of people who identify with either the Democratic or Republican parties has been dropping. The number of people who describe themselves as independent is growing.  And while the political machines that once controlled politics and government in major cities like Boston, New York, and Chicago have faded from the scene, political parties still possess enormous power even if they represent a declining percentage of the population. This is a fact that often is overlooked in modern commentary.

"(P)olitical parties perform vital functions in the American political system. They (1) manage the transfer of power, (2) offer a choice of rival candidates and programs to the voters, (3) serve as a bridge between government and people by helping to hold elected officials accountable to the voters, (4) help to recruit candidates for office, (5) may serve to reconcile conflicting interests in society, (6) staff the government and help to run it, and (7) link various branches and levels of government."[5]

The route to political power in the United States still is through political parties, and understanding their nature, and how they work today is essential to success in gaining influence and political power. And even though the parties went through major realignments in the 20th Century, the primary division remains the same one that has divided the political parties since the beginning the nation: the conflict over the nature and powers of government, particularly the federal government.
The Democratic Party, which was established by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in 1820s, became the “big tent” party in the second half of the 19th Century and through most of the 20th Century. It had Southern whites, big city machines, some academic intellectuals, union members, recent immigrants, and, after Franklin Roosevelt's election, the black vote. Until Democrat Woodrow Wilson became President in 1913, the Party generally had opposed strengthening the national government. It had become a party of reform late in the 19thCentury when the Peoples' Party merged into it, but Wilson altered its approach to government by significantly expanding the powers of the national government.
The Democratic Party was united by history and political convenience, not by ideology. Deals were made inside the party to keep the coalition together. For example, during the New Deal, Southern Democrats supported progressive programs because segregation was not challenged. Union rights could be advanced, but so would a substantial defense budget that included military installations in the South named after Southern congressmen.
That coalition fell apart after the Voting Rights Act and the various desegregation laws were enacted in the 1960s.. The big tent still exists, but today it is almost entirely ideological, incorporating nearly all liberal and progressive movements and interest groups.
 The Republican Party was created in the 1850s out of the remnants of the Whigs and the Know-Nothings. Initially, it was dominated by abolitionist sentiment, but after the Civil War it became the party of big business. In the early 20th Century, a strong progressive wing developed, with leaders like Theodore Roosevelt and Robert LaFollette. Many progressives shifted to the Democratic Party after Franklin Roosevelt was elected President in 1932, and since the 1960s nearly all “liberal” Republicans became Democrats.
In some ways, the Republican Party has become a big tent party as well, but even more ideological than the Democrats. Republicans have consolidated in their tent nearly all the most extreme right-wing political, religious and social adherents in the nation, as well as many of the libertarians. It began with Barry Goldwater's defeat of Nelson Rockefeller for control of the party in 1964. The change to the right accelerated when the “Religious Right” asserted itself in Republican politics in the 1970s in reaction to the Supreme Court school prayer and abortion decisions.
The election of conservative Ronald Reagan as President in 1980, and the considerable popularity he achieved, brought conservative blue collar Democrats into the party, gave prestige to conservative philosophy, and drove out the remaining liberal Republicans.
The Republican Party today is more ideologically pure than any party in the last 100 years. It is a virtual reincarnation of the Republican Party of the Gilded Age before it was infected by progressivism. Laissez-faire and social Darwinism dominated their policies in the late 19th Century, as they do today, and like then, today's Republicans favor big business and the wealthy. Today's reincarnation has something more than Republicans had in 1890, the Southern whites.
 When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act he supposedly said to his aide, Bill Moyers,  "I think we have just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come."[6] How right he was.
In the 99 years following the end of the Civil War in 1865, nearly all the Southern states, the former states of the Confederacy, voted for Democratic Presidential candidates, with occasional individual exceptions. Of the total of 16 states won by liberal Democrat Adlai Stevenson in his two landslide losses to Republican Dwight Eisenhower, in 1952 and 1956, 13 were states in the “Deep South.” The others were the border states of West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri. Eighty-one of Sen. John Kennedy's 303 Electoral Votes in 1960 came from former states of the Confederacy. Southern whites topped voting Democratic once the Democratic Party became identified with desegregation and voting rights for blacks.
In 1964, Johnson, a Texan, campaigned in part on a platform supporting civil rights, but his warning that conservative Republican Barry Goldwater might start a nuclear war had the greater impact. He won the Presidential election over Goldwater by the greatest popular vote margin in American history, 61.1% to 38.5%. Other than his home state of Arizona, the only states Goldwater won were Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, the states comprising what was once known as the “Black Belt” of the old South, the states that had the highest concentration of cotton plantations and slaves.
Since the Voting Rights Act was enacted all the former states of the Confederacy have voted for Republican, or third party Presidential candidates, except in the Presidential election of 1976 when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter was elected President,
The party switch in the South has not applied just to Presidential elections. Every Southern state except Arkansas had Republican governors until a Democrat was elected in Virginia in 2013. In every Southern state, except Virginia, Republicans control both houses of the state legislatures. Republicans outnumber Democrats in both houses of Congress by more than two-to-one margins.
There seems little doubt that this dramatic change in political loyalty almost entirely is a result of the Democratic Party's support of civil rights, including desegregation and voting rights for blacks. In fact, a recent study[7] by three University of Rochester political science professors of political attitudes of 39,000 whites voters in the “Black Belt” regions of the Old South shows that Republican and conservative sympathies are strongest in those counties that had the highest concentration of slaves before the Civil War. The study's remarkable conclusion is that pre-Civil War fears by whites of black slaves, and general white racist attitudes, most intense in the areas where there were the most slaves, have been passed down through the generations, and still dominate white voting behavior in those areas. And white politicians from those areas have been especially dominant in Southern politics.
It is important to consider the ramifications of this study, and of the voting history of this region. The issue of race still dominates these states, and that makes them difficult targets for the Democrats. Even though all of these states have substantial black populations, there are large numbers of blacks who still are not registered to vote. Consequently, even though registered black voters vote in about the same percentages as registered white voters, whites vote overwhelmingly Republican and have kept these states under Republican control. That could change if more blacks were registered to vote, and there recently have been renewed voter registration efforts among blacks in the South.
The white fear of the black vote is so pervasive that it forces their political leaders into extreme actions. Immediately after the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the key provision of the Civil Rights Act in 2013, several of these states immediately moved to limit black voting with various restrictions that the Justice Department, operating under the Act, previously had successfully blocked. Such actions virtually proved the case for the Act, and prompted immediate federal action to block them, under another provision of the Act that survived the Supreme Court's controversial 5-4 decision.[8]
There are some exceptions at the edges of this region. Virginia and Florida have established themselves as “purple” states, where there is an almost equal division of loyalty between the Republican and Democratic parties, and either party can win any given election. While both states had Republican governors and legislatures, they voted for Obama in the last two Presidential elections. Both have had Democratic state administrations previously, and because of low popularity of the incumbent Republicans, Virginia does again, and Florida is likely to follow.
North Carolina seemed to be moving in this direction as well when it voted for Obama in 2008 and elected a Democratic governor. However, Democratic fortunes were completely reversed in 2012 when Romney carried the Presidential race, a Republican was elected Governor, and, for the first time in the state's history, both houses of the legislature came under the control of the Republicans. Arkansas also is a state that can be in play at any particular time.
With the exceptions of Maryland and Delaware, most of the border states have become more Republican. West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri have voted Republican in the last four Presidential elections.
The Republican Party already had a solid base of conservative Midwestern and Mountain states: Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Utah. Alaska. Arizona and Texas have voted Republican in national elections regularly for the past 30 years as well, but Texas and Arizona are undergoing rapid demographic change, and may become battleground states in the future.
Republicans have lost strength in recent years is New England. While Republicans still get elected to state offices, even occasionally winning control of state governments, Democrats generally carry the region in Presidential elections. New Hampshire went for George W. Bush in 2000, but that is the only time any New England state has gone Republican in a Presidential election since 1988.
The major bases today of the Democratic Party are in the East and the West, with a handful of the Midwestern states that have progressive histories. Like the Republicans, the Democratic base of states is fairly well defined by ideology. States with liberal leanings vote Democratic. Conservative states vote Republican. Thus, the states from Maryland to Maine have become reliably Democratic states in national elections, although not all are reliable in state elections, where the issues may be less ideological. California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii are solid for the Democrats in national elections, and Nevada and New Mexico seem to have moved into that category as well. The Midwestern states that are the most reliably Democratic in Presidential elections are Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Since 1988 the Democrats have not won fewer than 251 electoral votes in any Presidential election.
Even though the national popular vote has been fairly close overall in elections for the past 30 years, it usually is not close in very many states.  Every state carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 gave him a margin greater than five percent except North Carolina. Of the states won by President Obama all but Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Virginia gave him margins of greater than five percent. At the current time, Presidential elections are being won or lost by close results in just a few important “battleground” states, representing 84 electoral votes: Ohio, Florida, Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia.[9] The Presidential campaigns and supporting PACs spent huge amounts of money in these states in 2012, buying up most of the available television commercial time. Each candidate made repeated campaign trips to these states.
While the electoral vote differences in American Presidential elections more often than not are substantial, the national popular vote differences tend to be fairly close. And this is nothing new. Throughout our history, between 40 and 50 per cent of the people almost always have voted against the winning candidate. Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, Dwight Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt were the only Presidents since Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 to receive a majority of the popular vote in more than one election. Obama's popular vote margins were relatively narrow, although his popular vote total in 2008 of 52.9 per cent was 2.1 percentage points higher than Reagan's in his first election in 1980. (But in that election that had a third party candidate, Reagan won a landslide of the Electoral votes). Reagan did better with the popular vote in his 1984 re-election, receiving 58.8 per cent of the vote, while Obama did somewhat worse in his re-election, winning 51.1 per cent in 2012.
Presidents John Kennedy (1960), Richard Nixon (1968), Bill Clinton (1992 and 1996) and George W. Bush (2000) all received less than 50 per cent of the vote in those elections. Jimmy Carter received just 50.1 per cent in 1976. George W. Bush received only 50.7 per cent of the vote in his re-election in 2004, after receiving fewer popular votes than his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, in 2000, something that had not happened since President Grover Cleveland lost his re-election bid in 1888. With 49.2 per cent of the vote in 1996, Clinton tied Woodrow Wilson's percentage in 1916 as the lowest percentage of the popular vote received by any President successfully re-elected. And Clinton, Wilson and Cleveland were elected twice without receiving at least 50 per cent of the vote in either election.
While there often is criticism of the electoral vote system, its genius is in how it usually makes elections decisive, regardless of the popular vote. And this has contributed to the stability of the national government by making the transitions from one President to another peaceful and orderly. Even though there have been many close elections, the drawn-out result in 2000 was an aberration, the first time since 1876 when the results of an election were in doubt for any length of time. If there were not an electoral college, the results of very close elections might be delayed extensively. The potential for voter fraud and stolen votes would be much higher.
We often hear that elections are decided by the independents and “undecideds,” the voters who do not identify with either party, and often do not make a decision on a candidate until the last minute. For the most part, this is not true. Voters who really are independent vote in far lower percentages than those who identify with either political party, and undecideds actually have far less influence on elections than popularly believed. A number of recent studies have indicated that the undecided vote usually breaks along the lines of the vote in general.[10]
The major factor in modern American elections is the turnout of the party faithful. Whichever party gets a higher percentage of its voters to the polls usually wins. President Obama won both his elections because he had a historically large field organization that got out his vote. The turnout in his elections was higher than in any Presidential election since 1968. His field organizations, combined with enormous on-line efforts, meant the difference in crucial states like Ohio and Virginia where they exceeded those of McCain and Romney by enormous margins. But he didn't just focus on the battleground states. In Maryland, for example, a state everyone knew he was going to win overwhelmingly, there still were numerous field offices drawing in volunteers who were used in telephone banks to make calls to voters in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Many such volunteers went in weekend caravans to those two states to make door-to-door pitches. In 2000, the Bush campaign was victorious in the crucial states of Florida and in Ohio because it delivered a much higher percentage of Republican voters to the polls than did the Gore campaign with Democrats.
More “boots on the ground” than the opposition means victory in elections. The days of political machines delivering the winning votes are long gone. There are no machines in the suburbs, and virtually none of any substantial influence left in most cities. Political party organizations in many parts of the country often do not have many members, or much money. It is not difficult for an organized group to achieve significant influence in local political parties and gain significant influence over the selection, or the support, of candidates.
Campaign finance reform laws limited the amount of money political parties could provide to candidates, but the Citizens United, and other Supreme Court decisions, blocked limits on corporate and individual spending on elections. Hundreds of millions of dollars from corporate and wealthy individuals have changed the complexion of elections, particularly the selection of candidates, so far, mostly in the Republican party. Tea Party groups, funded by the Koch Brothers and other wealthy individuals, have been successful in taking control of many local Republican organizations, and winning many primaries with their extreme right-wing candidates.
The Supreme Court threw out some of the restrictions on contributions to candidates by political parties, and that decision may make the political parties more influential in the future. Unfortunately, it also makes it possible for rich contributors to spend more money on more candidates.
State and local elections are vulnerable to organized campaign efforts by groups operating outside the normal political party organizations. It is almost a certainty that a substantial majority of Americans do not know the names of their state legislators, or county or city council members. Even fewer know anything about these offices. It is quite possible that a majority of voters don't know the name of their representative in Congress.
Voter turnout in state and local elections, particularly those that occur in non-Presidential election years, is significantly lower than it is in Presidential elections, and even in Presidential elections it is not that high. The nationwide turnout in 2010 of about 40 per cent of the eligible voters was about 20 percentage points lower than it was in the Presidential election of 2008.
It is not unusual for voter turnout in congressional and in state and local primary elections to be less than 10 per cent. Such low voter turnouts enable highly committed interests such as the Tea Party groups to win primaries and then many elections in heavily Republican districts. It is through the winning of local Democratic primaries in strong Democratic districts that progressives can put their leaders into positions to begin making the changes the nation needs.
It is crucially important that progressive Democrats win control of many more statehouses. Republicans control more than 60 per cent of state governments, and they have  strengthened their control by attempting to roll back voting rights, privacy rights, and union rights. They have Gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts to give themselves more seats than their voting support justifies. By winning control of more states, Democrats can redraw congressional and state legislative districts to insure they are distributed between the parties on a more equitable basis.
There is another important reason why control of state and local governments is so important. It is from these governments that many national leaders emerge. For a progressive movement to succeed for any length of time, it must not be dependent on one leader, or one President, or one set of programs. It must sustain itself by producing many good leaders, and a steady flow of new ideas relevant to the issues of the time.
Many Americans are disillusioned with their government. Barack Obama inspired the largest volunteer movement any Presidential candidate has ever had, but he has disappointed many of those volunteers. It may be more difficult for another candidate to attract such ground level support in the near future. Progressive candidates need to demonstrate they have the skills and toughness to lead the nation, that they can successfully challenge the Republicans and prevent them from blocking progress. This starts at the state and local levels.
Progressive Democrats need to be elected as governors, legislators, mayors, city council members and to Congress. They must learn how to win against the Republicans by proving to the American people that good and intelligent government still is possible, that the real problems of the nation that the people and private enterprise cannot solve, can and will be solved by practical progressive government programs.
The nation is closely divided. Elections are won through effective organization and voter turnout. State and local elections are of low interest to much of the electorate, and thus are far easier to win by those who are highly committed and well-organized.  As the Tea Party has demonstrated, winning at the local level leads to power in the national party. This is a lesson progressives must learn and copy. 

[1] Jennifer M. Ortman and Christine E. Guarneri. “United States Population Projections: 2000 to 2050.” Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, 2009. :// (accessed June 14, 2014)
[2] Ibid.
[3] The Reason-Rupe Spring 2014 Millenial Survey. (accessed Sept. 24, 2014)
[4]  Michael P. McDonald. :”Voter Turnout in the 2010 Midterm Election.” The Forum. Vol. 8 Issue 4, 2010. (accessed June 2, 2014)

[5]  Cummings, Jr., Milton C. & David Wise. Democracy Under Pressure, An Introduction to the American Political System. Ninth Ed. New York: Harcourt College Publishers, 2001. p. 260
[6] James Taranto, “Why Do Dems Lose in the South?” The Wall Street Journal,March 8, 2004. (accessed June 2, 2014)

[7]  Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell and Mayan Sen. The Political Legacy of American Slavery, cited and linked at (accessed June 2, 2014)

[8]  see Dan Riker "Deception and Error: The Supreme Court's Wrong Decision on Voting Rights," July 12, 2013. (Also published on, but without the italics of some phrases that were critical to understanding the error made by the Chief Justice).
[9]    The margins of victory for Obama: Colorado, 4.7%; Virginia, 3%; Ohio, 1.9%; Florida, 0.9%. Romney's margin of victory in North Carolina, a state carried by Obama in 2008, was 2.2%.
[10] An interesting data analysis was done by Nate Silver in July of 2012: (accessed June 2, 2014)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Breaking the Political Gridlock with a Progressive Movement

Part II. Chapter 2. Breaking the Political Gridlock with a Progressive Movement

"Our country — this great republic — means nothing unless it means the triumph of a real democracy, the triumph of popular government, and, in the long run, of an economic system under which each man shall be guaranteed the opportunity to show the best that there is in him...."

"The object of government is the welfare of the people."

- Theodore Roosevelt, "The New Nationalism" August 31, 1910

There is only one peaceful way the gridlock in the American political system can be broken: One party has to win control of the White House and both houses of Congress, and keep that control for a sustained period of time. To reverse the course of the last 30 years, the Democratic Party has to be the victorious party, and for the Democrats to do what needs to be done, progressives have to be in control of that party.
A separate Progressive Party is not a viable alternative. The existing political parties are too well established. The closest any third party ever came to winning a national election was in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt, one of most popular public figures in American history, ran on the Progressive ticket and finished second to the relatively unknown Democrat, Woodrow Wilson. If a Theodore Roosevelt, a popular former President, could not win a national election as a third party candidate, it seems unlikely that anyone else could. 
Because they can tilt elections to the candidate their supporters were least likely to support, third parties have trouble raising the money to properly finance a national political campaign. For example, Ralph Nader's candidacy in 2000 frequently is blamed for having cost Al Gore the election. His vote in Florida, which it is popularly believed would have gone to Gore if he had not run, was more than the difference between Gore and Bush. As a result of that election, and others, it has become nearly impossible for third parties to raise large amounts of money.
It also isn't necessary for progressives to form a third party. All progressives have to do is to gain control of the Democratic Party. The Tea Party has shown how it can be done. But first, it is important to define the meaning of progressivism.
The goals of conservative idealists of greater personal freedom, expanded economic opportunities, and free markets, are the same as those of most progressives, and, for that matter, of most Americans. Progressives believe in free enterprise, but not in unfettered capitalism. They know from our history that unbridled capitalism, which most of today's Republican leaders support, is the enemy of personal freedom, economic opportunity and free markets. The weaker, smaller government the Republicans say they want, cannot sustain and protect freedom, opportunity, and, especially, free enterprise. And such protection by government has never been needed more than in this era of dominance of the major businesses and industries by giant oligopolies and multinational corporations, and their enormous consolidation of wealth and power.
The heart of progressivism is the view that government serves the people, that public officials have a duty to act honorably, responsibly and honestly, and that, as Lincoln said, government does what the people need done but cannot do for themselves.
The governing principles of Progressivism come right from the Preamble to the Constitution that sets out the reasons why the United States was created: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility; provide for the common defence; promote the general welfare: and security the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” 
An effective government, justice, personal security, national security, general welfare, and liberty are the principles upon which the United States was created, and they should be the principles of the modern Progressive movement.  And an effective Progressive message, coupled with strong and effective leadership, and a solid, practical program that addresses today's needs with some truly big ideas to inspire the people, can attract a huge following of the American people, and restore the American Dream.
Our history shows that the types of government actions needed to shift the national economy into high gear to restore middle class opportunities, and the American Dream, are exactly the opposite of what Republicans support: dramatically increased government expenditures to rebuild America, improve economic opportunities, a minimum wage that supports a decent living, increased taxes on the wealthy, proper regulation of business and finance, dramatically increased expenditures on public education coupled with a reduction, or elimination of college costs, major programs to eliminate reliance on fossil fuels, and an expansion and improvement of the major social programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Many continue to view government as an enemy of personal freedom, when it actually may be its only effective protector. Self-independence and individual freedom are meritorious and consistent with our heritage, but extremely difficult for the average individual to achieve in a mass, urbanized society dominated by multinational corporations controlled by oligarchies. Government has a vital role to play in restoring the economic health of the American middle class, reducing poverty, and positioning the United States to continue to be the world leader into the next century.
Some consider Lincoln to have been the first progressive President, and the only one before Theodore Roosevelt. But he was President before big industries had formed, before the trusts and the robber barons, before the Second Industrial Revolution. Still, in his first message to Congress, in 1861, he conveyed the philosophy:

“This is essentially a People's contest. On the side of the Union, it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men -- to lift artificial weights from all shoulders -- to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all -- to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

Now we are experiencing a second “Gilded Age,” with many of the same kinds of economic inequalities, including concentration of wealth, lessened opportunities, and greater financial instability and insecurity, that characterized the first one. To correct the abuses and restore economic equilibrium, we need to generate a new Progressive political movement at all levels, national, state and local, with a core program of aggressive initiatives of sufficient magnitude and obvious benefit to the greatest possible number of people that they will generate wide support.
In his State of the Union speech to Congress in February, 2013, President Obama addressed this issue by saying, “Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”

It should be obvious that the restoration of the American Dream can only happen if progressives gain control of governments, the federal government, and most of the state governments. Can this happen? How can it happen? Those are the subjects of the following chapters.