• "The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party": John Nichols on E2022

    John Nichols
    John Nichols
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    Progressive journalist and prolific author John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, addressed the 144th townhall of the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) Sunday, on the ups and downs of the "red ripple" that, he said, salvaged the status quo for America, preserving social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and environmental concerns.

    A week before, he was just wondering how many positions the Democrats would lose. "This election is why I love politics," Nichols said, calling the results "rare and wonderful," the best midterm outcome since FDR's in 1934, though multiple parties were running then in the midst of the Great Depression.

    With the Senate majority won Saturday night in Nevada, Democrats can approve judges, cabinet members, and ambassadors and even negotiate with the fractious Republicans who will probably control the House. Speaker McCarthy will be boxed in by the Freedom Caucus but more moderate Republicans may be reachable for bipartisan measures.

    Democrats swept secretary of state offices, so crucial because most of them are in charge of elections. Two governorships were added and three or four state legislatures turned blue and none flipped to the GOP that hadn't been there before.

    Issues of inequality, the climate crisis, and the Pentagon's voracious hold on the budget won't change, said Nichols. Why not more progress? He blamed structural failure among Democratic elites, who overspend on TV advertising while devaluing vital grassroots support that could have won Mandela Barnes of Wisconsin a Senate seat, for example. The racist, xenophobic campaign waged against him outspent Democrats by $10 million. The difference in vote totals between winner and loser was 26,000 out of more than two million. A similar outcome kept Cheri Beasley from winning in North Carolina.

    Republican ingenuity publicized fake or marginalized polling results to influence Democrats' allocations also. Democrats needed to concentrate on rural and small-town locations, where many more votes could have been won and with them a majority in the House. "The Democrats have a narrow vision of their true base."

    Moreover, Nichols said, the Democrats lacked a coherent message weaving together issues of concern to everyone: They ran as "not Republican," rather than on issues like inflation, entitlements, the future of democracy, and abortion. Fetterman's successful campaign was based on such issues: healthcare, the right to join unions, legalization of marijuana, criminal justice reform, women's choice, and the future of democracy. He went to rural counties and small towns.

    **********************

    Elections in this country are more popular worldwide than the World Cup (which begins next week). Biden will probably be energized by this historic gain and run to stay in office in 2024, though we must be vigilant in case old age wears him down, Nichols said. Bernie Sanders has said he won't run for president unless Biden steps aside.

    Turning to the vital importance of the youth turnout that so steered electoral results, Nichols urged PDA to prioritize them--its "single best investment." Had those aged 45 and over prevailed, more Republicans would have won. Thirteen percent more of those aged 65 and older voted Republican rather than Democratic, as did 11 percent more of the 45-65 age group. PDA should base themselves on college and high school campuses and workplace venues where young people are likely to go if they skip college.

    PDA must work harder, Nichols said, at opposing Democratic corporate power. For Election 2022 between $17 and $18 billion was spent. Campaign finance reform is imperative. The voting age should be lowered to 16. Trump, who specializes in belittling Republicans, will destroy DeSantis--don't write him off.

    And there's one thing more powerful than money in politics. It's gerrymandering, which is the fight of democracy. In gerrymandered Wisconsin, Nichols's home state, if Democrats win control of the supreme court next spring they will be able to outlaw gerrymandering. 

    In short, PDA, focus on youth, gerrymandering, and courts. In addition to everything else.


  • Election Day, the Lottery, Nature vs. “Culture”

     

    Many harbingers, okay, events, surround Election Day this year. First, Powerball stakes skyrocketed to more than $2 billion. I entered and lost, new to the game and wanting to trade the issues of “making ends meet” with those of a tree that would be inundated by fungi—that is, my whole karass would convert me into a human wallet.

    “I’d rather be rich and miserable than poor and miserable,” my father used to say.

    After Powerball, or simultaneous with it, came the last lunar eclipse until 2025. We’d see a reddish full moon gradually shadowed over. I carefully noted the time of visibility and stumbled out of bed to greet it at 5:30 am, but when I peered through the slat of my vertical blinds, I was blinded by a harsh light from the top of a neighboring building. I couldn’t make out anything else.

    Step two: another bust. I staggered back to bed after glancing at my cellphone to see ifthe winning lottery ticket had been drawn. It hadn’t.

    Up this morning slowly because of interrupted sleep, I next focused on this day of all days, Election Day. My polls are right on the acreage of my apartment complex. Few people vote there but enough to support its presence. I strolled over to take some pictures—having voted by mail weeks ago—expecting little “action.” I turned out to be it when I asked the front desk if I could photo the room with the machinery and was told to go ahead.

    Once there, I was told harshly to stop—no photos. Go outside where there are signs. Sure, I said. No problem. I didn’t blame their coworker. Blame games are becoming more and more irrelevant to my life, though not to politics. What is campaigning but blame games even more than vital issues?

    So I photoed the signage. Interesting arrangements. The ones advocating Democratic candidates, scarcer than GOP ones, greeted drivers as they pulled up to park but were to the right of the portion of the building where people were voting; GOP ones fronted that area in a neat horizontal row. Then at the parking lot exit, a vertical row of them saluted voters.

    If I didn’t know the political orientations of residents nearby, I would have guessed it.

    So I wended my way home along the winding path that passes the Delaware River. There an array of trees posed for pictures: a stately birch alone among other varieties, embraced by a smaller, gnarled tree about a third of its height. What did that mean?

    Should I personify it?

    I thought of the “woodwide web” formed by trees communicating and sustaining each other via fungal threads, a theory first offered up in the late 1990s by ecologist Suzanne Simard among others. Could I extend this to a tableau of tribute beng paid to a lofty birch by lowly ones with dark-hued bark? Racism perhaps?

    I passed by a self-effacing black woman once I walked further. I wanted to tell her not to forget to vote but remained silent though I hoped she was en route to the polls and not intimidated. Racism lurks barely below the surface of this year’s election—so what else is new?

    I came home to find out that someone in California won the lottery with a perfect ticket. I had purchased my ticket online and allowed for random numerical arrangements. My lucky numbers weren’t winners anyway this time. Maybe I should stick to the state lottery and settle for a jackpot of millions. Yes, I’d settle for millions. Even less, but not by too much.

    Rightwing reactions to the election won’t nurture our democratic ideals. That fungal web has other agendas, more like our more traditional imagery of fungi. Many are poisonous. And so on. Some are delicious … like democracy.

    A hurricane is forecast to hit Florida and then proceed northward to Georgia and produce heavy rain farther north. That’s later this week, just when all the mail-in ballots are being counted and controversy inevitable as the host of election-denying candidates contest (violently?) winners other than themselves. November, usually the tail end of the hurricane season, will be stormy at that level if not literally. Winter follows. I’m told it will be a rough one.

    For democracy?


  • Congressman Jamie Raskin: "Thank you, PDA, for hanging tough"

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    [It all boils down to this:] "Voting is like driving: if you want to go forward, you put it in D; if you want to go backwards, you put it in R."--Jamie Raskin

    The 115th session of the Zoom group Grassroots Emergency Election Protection Coalition (GREEP) featured Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who gained national prominence recently as lead manager in the second set of impeachment hearings against Donald Trump in the wake of the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Farther back in time, Raskin also helped found the Progressive Democrats of America, in the company of two other pioneer activists, Mike Hersh and Joel Siegel. Most of the session focused on the upcoming elections, expectably, as well as MAGA's fascistic threats against our democracy.

    The majority of this country are on our side, Raskin began; youth are registering Democratic at a ratio of two to one; all are moving in our direction. The Republican Party has been reduced to a cult of authoritarian personality around Donald Trump, a huge dive from its origins as Lincoln's party. Rightly did Biden accuse them of semi-fascist elements: "It the shoe semi-fits, you semi-wear it!'

    He named actions like the attacks on early voting, weekend voting, and the mail-in ballot as well as voter challenging (happening in Georgia), gerrymandering, and the filibuster as large symptoms of the decay of democracy we must fight against.

    We need more Democrats in the Senate to codify Roe v Wade and promote gun safety. The GOP thrives on the Electoral College, responsible for installing five popular-vote losers as presidents, two Republicans in this century alone. Gerrymandering isn't in the Constitution, but the Electoral College is. Presidential campaigns focus on swing states almost exclusively: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and aa few others. We export democracy hypocritically while whittling it down at home. We must have direct elections, which are indeed "democracy itself." 

    For Biden democracy may seem static (as he implied in a speech a few weeks ago), but for Tocqueville it was expanding or shrinking 150 years ago. Raskin specified six Amendments out of many that expand democracy: numbers 15, 17, 19, 23, 24, and 26. We must get back on that track--to a sea change that statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico would accomplish, for example. We must add an amendment on the right to vote and restore the Voting Rights Act back to the full strength that SCOTUS gutted in 2013.

    "There is no solution to the ills of democracy except for more democracy." We're fighting to keep it this way.

    Joel Siegel, co-convener of GREEP and former lead counsel to Congressman John Conyers, asked Raskin to specify, as a Constitutional scholar (a former professor of Constitutional law before he became a state senator in Maryland), what exact federal laws Trump had violated with the January 6 insurrection: Conspiracy to interfere with a federal proceeding, the official counting of the electoral votes?

    Raskin replied, a federal statute. Halting the proceedings was the whole point of the Stop the Steal movement. "He pointed them like a loaded gun at the Capitol; he knew that they were armed. Bring down the magnetometers, bring down the metal detectors. He had been mobilizing [the opposition]. They sharpened the United States flag into weapons," the Congressman said. They have been accused and convicted of seditious conspiracy, to overthrow the US government. There is a very powerful circumstantial case to be made against them and 150 have already been prosecuted. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice are in a position to prosecute any federal crimes that they see. Many of those prosecuted point to Trump as instigator who forced them to do what they did: "If I'm guilty, then Donald Trump is guilty." And he's facing many other charges, including bank fraud, real estate fraud, and election fraud.

    Another question from Siegel concerned the possibility of limiting the power of extremist groups and their violence against minorities. Why should they be allowed to threaten voters? Aren't there limitations we can put on these groups before it's too late? All 50 states ban "private" militias, Raskin said; this is made very clear in the Constitution. These can be banned. They must be banned at the federal level too. They can be prosecuted but also sued, and many such groups have been bankrupted by this process. This is probably the best way to put them out of business.

    The next subject was Georgia, a hotbed of election corruption with its notorious SB 202 passed in the wake of the "Georgia Miracle" that handed the Senate majority to Democrats. Ray McClendon, head of the state's NAACP and architect of the Georgia Miracle said that early voting began last week and almost 750,000 have already voted, in a ratio of 60 percent Democratic to 40 percent GOP, numbers nearly as large as in 2020 at this time, though-mail-in votes are falling behind. Blacks are overperforming as a percent of the total black registered voters in the state, as a result of massive get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts. McClendon asked Raskin how to amass more support from the funding community for these crucial grassroots efforts, which must be ongoing year-round rather than just during election seasons--how to amass more grassroots support.

    There are strict laws governing financial support of campaigns, said Raskin, and we can't get involved at the level of 501c3 and 501c4 organizations. We all must realize the importance of defending the right to vote at the local level and using that right to reflect the will of the people and procure effective leadership to accomplish this. 

    Civic engagement and civic activism are of crucial importance, Raskin continued. There is a crisis of Constitutional illiteracy. People must be educated; the MAGA component believes that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to allow people to overthrow the government and that the Constitution makes America a Christian nation. It is that kind of Constitutional illiteracy that has gotten us into this terrible situation.

    Said McClendon, the Center for Common Ground is building Democracy Centers all over the Southeast that teach civics, a subject no longer taught in public schools. We're making people aware that they can become activists and participate in the government at the city and school board levels, where the other side has become involved. We need to counterbalance that. When we go into barbershops and beauty shops and out on the streets to to reach out to the people, they ask where we are the rest of the year beyond getting us to vote. 

    Raskin pointed to certain practices already in place year-round, including free minor auto repairs so that people won't be pulled over and harassed because they need them; diapers and food are also made available to those in need.

    GREEP co-convener Harvey Wasserman, also an author and academic, emphasized how crucial it is for the Democratic Party to move away from its marriage to high-expenditure media to a far more effective level, grassroots organizing, which could win the upcoming election.

    Well-known author and fascism scholar Brynn Tannehill spoke of the fascistic scapegoating of transgender populations by Putin, Orban, and Members of Congress like Margery Taylor Green and even Marcia Blackburn. "There's still a great degree of discomfort about transgender people." They will bear the worst brunt of the fall of democracy. It's extremely scary. She spoke of planning to leave the country with her family if things continue in this direction. She asked what officials like Raskin are doing to protect against this.

    Raskin said he was proud to have sponsored and seen passed a gender rights bill in Maryland in 2014. He said we must protect transgender people against violence and Republicans' discrimination. For protection we must support the police rather than defund them. On January 6, mostly black and Hispanic police saved his own as well as his son and daughter-in-law's lives--they were together at the Capitol that day. The bigoted element must be eliminated, of course. But police have performed well in major cities. 

    Dennis Bernstein, host of the nationally syndicated radio show Flashpoints, next compared the recent voter intimidation and thuggery in Arizona to death squads in the drug-dealing Central American military who threaten those who dare to testify against them in court. Bernstein further pointed to arrests in Florida of ex-felons unaware that they still lacked the right to vote. The state legislature, Raskin added, had voted to charge ex-felons for the expenses of their imprisonment, a poll tax right out of the end of Reconstruction, in violation of the Twenty-fourth Amendment. We must address such discrimination in all of the states and get the Department of Justice to proactively protect the right to vote.

    Bernstein further asked how dangerous are the threats of nuclear attack being traded by both this country and Putin. Raskin called Putin a desperate madman. "We must aggressively support the national sovereignty and democracy of Ukraine and keep diplomatic channels open," he said, expressing hope for a Ukraine victory and US intervention to get Russia to rebuild the county.

    Wasserman commented on the importance of aid, worried about a GOP takeover of Congress in 2022, which might oppose it, and the consequent possibility of Putin taking over the nuclear power plants in Ukraine and thereby becoming dictator of Europe.

    Activist Jim Garrison, founder and president of Ubiquity University, asked how it is possible that Donald Trump isn't already in court and in jail, given the enormity of his ongoing coup attempts, white supremacy violence, and thuggery. Where is the federal government? Why aren't Democrats taking the kind of action that will be normal?

    "The walls are closing in on Donald Trump," said Raskin. In New York, in Georgia, not to mention his theft of crucial classified documents that he hid at Mar-a-Lago. It's got to be charged. There was probable cause that a crime had been committed and much more contraband found than was initially expected. "I don't know what's going to happen." Congress can discover and make known the evidence and proof, but it's up to the Justice Department to indict. How can it not indict in a situation like that? This was an overall conspiracy to interfere with government proceedings. Raskin called Trump a "notorious and hardened criminal" for this and the many other attacks on American democracy by him and his supporters. 

    He quoted MLK that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." 

    Go to https://grassrootsep.org for a video recording of the complete event.

     


  • Nader/Green on "Crushing the GOP in 2022": "A Blue Wave Is Possible"

    Ralph  Nader
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    "The GOP is about dread, anxiety, and fear.... [It is] messianic and driven."--Ralph Nader

    There are few things more dreaded by elections experts than close elections, and these are expected as votes are cast for the 2022 midterm elections"four Senate seats and 28 House seats are rated by Politico as toss-ups. Alan Minsky of PDA specified that swing districts that will decide the election encompass 50-70 House seats in nine states. Poll findings deliver mixed predictions. Politico expects that voters will choose more Democratic than Republican governors, however. 

    On September 18, the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) hosted a forum featuring the renowned outspoken environmentalist and progressive Ralph Nader along with his long-time ally Mark Green, a progressive activist attorney who was New York City's first Public Advocate from 1993 to 2001. 

    Moderated by PDA leaders Mike Fox and Alan Minsky, the forum's focus was optimistic. In the fifty days remaining before Election Day 2022, plenty can be done to win Democratic victories across the board. Nader and Green based their presentations on their new webpage https://winningamerica.net, unprecedented outreach endorsed by Sen. Ed Markey and Representatives Hakeem Jeffries, Jim McGovern, Jamie Raskin, Carolyn Maloney, John Larson and Peter DeFazio, among others. The featured report/volume, Crushing the GOP, 2022, aims "to counter the early conventional wisdom that there was no way to stop a red wave in the 2022 due to inflation and the midterms jinx for the presidential party." The Democratic candidates must be made aware of ways to surge ahead in the coming election. Articles written by 24 leading experts focus on the economy, health care, crime and corruption, national security, and children, "Trump vs. Democracy," "War of the Words," race, class, and democracy, winning language on climate violence, and GOTV. 

    Every election looks like the most important in history when it occurs but, said Green, the upcoming midterm is the most important offyear election since 1862 [and of course 1860] in that it could "overturn the collective values and assumptions of our constitutional democracy." For this reason, he and Nader, outspoken progressives, have turned to the more mainstream Democratic Party to uphold these principles. They also stress the many goals that most Americans share, regardless of party affiliation.

    Inflation is highest since the Carter years, due to disruptions in the vital supply chain, the pandemic, Putin's war, and corporate market power. One problem is that a substantial percentage of the public, "five-minute voters," are unaware of the issues involved for many reasons ("vote with their gut, not their head"). Fully 120 million qualified voters haven't even registered. The GOP has been skilled in recruiting some of their own among this category back to the polls or even to the polls for the first time.

    The Republicans are masterful at extremely catchy slogans--loaded words and phrases like "woke," "critical race theory," and "cancel," all of which Green dismissed as empty and without substance, but "a winning phrase can break through" and has led to stunning successes. "Their goal is to demonize Democrats and immigrants and make sure voters think about their enemies rather than their families." Democrats need to catch up with such effective outreach.

    There is much that the people on both sides agree about, believe it or not in these troubled times, including safety for our children in cars and elsewhere, raising the minimum wage, cracking down on corporate crime, and "government-guaranteed socialism," which includes of course social security and medicare, as opposed to corporate socialism, Nader later added. "We all bleed the same color." There's far more uniting people than dividing them. The appeal is universal.

    Our public is scandal fatigued, said Green; violence is now a weapon of the far right ("dangerous extremists") far more than the left--only one side tried to overthrow our government on January 6, 2021. 

    "We can capture the people who want to be mainstream rather than extreme." Democrats must win over 5 to 10 percent of "soft" Republicans or 5 to 10 percent of Independents to add to Biden's seven million-vote margin and victory in the House.

    The biggest problem now is civic groups' exclusion from campaigns, with candidates too involved in politics and with the media, said Nader, next to present. Democratic ads and campaigns are "dull and repetitive," and "campaigns are tired." They turn people off and actually boomerang. Nader suggested that PDA break through into campaigns and not just be an adjunct. It's so hard to get through--"you can because you're half inside and half outside." With the Winning America guidelines, they can get through to all the communities and "arouse, energize, and connect" with the voters. 

    "Why haven't the Democrats landslided?!" "We have by far the best policies and the worst GOP in history." We're proposing new ways and old ways of getting through to more voters. "The Republicans run on vague values because they can't run on their record." 

    A list of "Twelve Kentucky Values" favored by a majority in that state was found to be unaddressed by Mitch McConnell. Moreover, midnight-shift workers feel excluded. They must be reached. You have a midnight campaign to celebrate their indispensable contributions to society: firefighters, EMTs, retail workers. This sort of activism appeals to the press. Other outreach must extend to low-turnout Democratic districts, who can be offered free food at the polls once they have voted. Two-sided, inexpensive cards distributed to voters can contrast the two major parties' positions on bread and butter issues. They must be very accurate and reach a large number of voters. The people persuade themselves, unlike the "five-minute voters" ("He's a nice guy"; "I like the way he talks about the flag"). The positive blue values contrasted with the negative GOP ones paint the GOP as a party of "dread, anxiety, and fear." The people must understand this--"they are ignored on inscrutable billing, turned down on health care; it's a nightmare constantly."

    You must publicize the voting records in Congress. Senator Rick Scott's (R-FL, head of the reelection committee for the Republican senators) Rescue America program is so radical that Mitch McConnell was horrified and shuns any association with it. One part of it "sunsets all federal legislation for five years, including social security, medicare, OSHA, consumer protection, FDA," on and on. "But don't worry. Congress can just re-extend them." The press must reify this, must be very specific. 

    Said Nader, language is of great importance in Crushing the GOP. Never say "white collar crime"; say "corporate crime." The GOP prefers "corporate power" over "workers," "taxpayers," "consumers," "patients," and "big agribusiness" against the farmers.

    One thing that actually resonates is that taxpayer money goes toward sports arenas the people build and the corporations cash in on. Naming rights are sold to other corporations rather than granted to the people. Taxpayer money should instead go toward playgrounds and recreation facilities in neighborhoods. 

    "Start asking opinions. Have worker gatherings. Have them tell you what their work life is like, what their economic deprivation is like. They're desperate to have a voice" and not just shake hands--both liberal and conservative workers. We must reach the Reagan Democrats who shifted to voting Republican. Give workers lawn signs and buttons--the Republicans are way ahead of us here. These are symbols.

    People are still saying that they don't know what the Democratic Party stands for, and they are leaning liberals. Rural voters must be reached. Art Cullen, a rural newspaper man from Stormlake, Iowa, has written about why rural voters are turned off by Democrats and how to get them back. 

    These things can be done fast, in the next 50 days. Republicans phoned leaning Republicans unlikely to vote and gained large numbers of votes. 

    Why does the right wing have more energy than Democrats? They're messianic, driven. They tell their leaders what to do. They got rid of Boehner. You must up the energy level of potential Democratic voters.

    In Winning America, there's a focus on beating back the phony charges from the GOP: critical race theory, defunding the police, the crime thing, they don't like community policing. They control the initiative and put the Democrats on the defensive. They're soft on corporate crime. "Grab the offensive immediately!" There is focus on a too few issues. Stacey Abrams is focused on abortion rather than expanding more broadly into freedom for women. "If you have 12 arrows in your quiver you don't use just three of them.... She needs to broaden her progressive economic agenda."

    "The Republicans are anti-children in so many ways": They repealed the regulation of pesticide that was extremely toxic to children. It was about to be controlled. They're against daycare, paid family leave, all the Western country social safety nets. They've abducted the children into the internet gulag with all kinds of violence and violent games. They're pumping all kinds of fat, salt, and sugar to increase obesity epidemics and youthful diabetes and high blood pressure. "The Democrats are too piecemeal." There should be an umbrella focus on protecting our children, who are our future, our posterity. Talking about left-right issues. Parents are losing control over their children because of the internet, separating them from their families, nature. My sister's book You Are Your Own Best Children addresses children nine to twelve. A huge issue. That's where you want to hit. Both sides want the same things for their families: decent public transit, highways, bridges repaired, public schools that aren't broken down. All the money is going to empires abroad. Bring it back home. Our taxes should be used for us, not for corporate welfare, bailouts, handouts....

    Nader called pollution "deadly violence." The environmental justice movement describing this must become more muscular. The worst pollution occurs where poor people live. Fully half of the population is poor or extremely poor, he said. Then there are people who are barely making it. You must connect these issues. They affect all the people.

    "Democrats are at an advantage.... They must move fast with their eyes, ears, hearts, and minds." In the swing states particularly. "We are fighting for our lives."



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