Photograph shows what American political spectrum would look like without right wing—and what it was 50 years ago

The 16th century Venetian painter Paolo Veronese might have painted a photograph in the New York Times, so rich it is in symbolic content. Veronese crowded his paintings with myths, symbolic objects, references to literature and visual connections to contemporary politics. Whether intentional or not, the Times photo on page A 20, by Michael Appleton, does the same.

The photo accompanies a story of a news conference about what the New York City area is doing now to coordinate responses to potential terrorist threats. The photo shows the four principle speakers in this order, right to left, as viewers see it:

  • Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie at the far right of the frame
  • Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary, at the podium doing the talking. Johnson is a political appointment, so he profoundly represents the views of President Obama
  • Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo
  • Democratic Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, with Elizabeth Warren one of the two most prominent progressive Democrats nationwide.

Christie, Johnson and Cuomo are bunched around the podium, with Christie a little closer to Johnson than Cuomo. De Blasio is way to the left (as the viewer sees it), the gap between him and Cuomo roughly twice what the combined gaps are between the other three. 

In short, we see pretty much the spectrum of political opinion in America today, if we lop off the right-wing. Christie, Obama and Cuomo are centrists with not much difference between them, although Christie is to the right of the two Democrats on social issues. De Blasio, by contrast, is far to the left of the centrists.

There are a few symbolic subtleties in the photo. As he speaks, the Obama administration official Johnson stands as a centrist but is looking left, just as Obama acts as a centrist even if he sometimes talks like a progressive.  In a  similar manner, de Blasio is looking right, but with an uncomfortable expression on his face, perhaps expressing the lack of comfort he feels supporting centrist Democrats like Cuomo in the elections. Or perhaps he understands that in responding to the threat of terrorism, we’ve gone overboard on militarizing society and spying on the private lives of individuals.

To my mind the most powerful symbolic association comes from de Blasio’s position in front of an American flag. The good mayor covers a little of it, but a swatch with pieces of five stripes and 17 states is visible and seems almost to be waving. As a progressive I read into this image a statement—probably inadvertently made by the photographer—that de Blasio’s path is the best one for the United States. De Blasio stands for raising taxes on the wealthy; providing greater support to public education; policies that help unions and raise middle class incomes, like ending support of charter schools; government intervention to make housing more affordable; humanistic policing; protection of women’s reproductive rights; increased mass transit; equal rights for all minorities; gay marriage; and diversity in government.

Funny, the photo would have described the full political spectrum presented in the news media in the 1950s, 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s before Ronald Regan started mainstreaming wacko right-wing ideas.  I imagine it would be impossible to place most of the Republican and the Tea Party in the photo today unless it was about three times as long as it currently is.

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Obama has other ways to address the ISIS threat than going to war

President Obama has decided that there is only one way to respond to ISIS, a pan-Islamic military organization that now controls parts of Iraq and Syria, and that’s the way the United States usually responds to foreign events that displease us: go to war.

Early reactions suggest that Congress and the American people are going to fall behind the president in lockstep, just like they did—at least at first–for both Iraqi wars, our  invasion of Grenada and the Viet Nam war.

So once again, we’re diving head first into a violent quagmire that will end up costing some U.S. lives, a lot of money and many lives of the people we claim to be helping.

The United States should have tried economic sanctions first.

The creation of a truly global economy and financial system over the past 30 years may have disappointed the economic hopes of all Americans but the very wealthiest, but it has made it much easier to fight aggressive behavior by states and other governing entities without picking up a weapon. What is happening in the Ukraine is a good example of the power of economic sanctions: Instead of continuing to grab pieces of the Ukraine, Russia has negotiated a treaty that seems to have ended the fighting and set the stage for a peaceful resolution of a situation far more complicated than what is depicted in the mainstream American media. Economic sanctions also brought Iran to the negotiating table to discuss its development of a nuclear capability, a step towards peace frowned upon only by Islam-haters among the right-wing.

The immediate response to my argument to apply economic sanctions is that ISIS is not a real state, but a terrorist organization that is trying to redraw the map in the Middle East; a map, BTW, that was gerrymandered after World War I by western powers.

But ISIS is as much a part of the new world economic order as Russia, Iran and China. We keep hearing in the mainstream news that the biggest advantage ISIS has over other terrorist organizations is that it has a lot of cash to buy weapons and maintain troops because of oil sales from the wells it controls. ISIS must be selling the oil to someone. The United States and our allies against ISIS—which should include most Middle Eastern and Western European countries—should be able to put enough pressure on whoever is buying ISIS oil to make them purchase elsewhere. We could also offer oil at cut-rate prices or other economic help to current ISIS customers. Without oil revenues, ISIS will quickly deteriorate into another gang of hoodlums.

We should also take into account that war always tends to destabilize any region. Just as overthrowing Sadam Hussein led to ISIS, the violent destruction of ISIS could lead to something much worse.

The Quaker lobbying group, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, has come up with some other actions we can take to defuse ISIS, including ceasing to ship arms to the Middle East, investing in humanitarian efforts to help the victims and developing forums for negotiation between the parties.  These all seem like sensible proposals.

I’m not saying that a combination of economic sanctions, cessation of arm sales, humanitarian relief and diplomacy will work, but we ought to at least give it a try. We know that invasion does not work and we know that bombing does not work. Why are we resorting to these tried-and-wanting solutions once again?

I urge everyone to write, phone or email their congressional representatives and U.S. senators and ask them to vote against funding military action against ISIS and for directing the president to use economic sanctions, humanitarian aid and diplomacy to address the threat of ISIS.

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When will economists & pundits stop telling lie that education will cure inequality of income?

Eduardo Porter of the New York Times is the latest journalist to advocate that the way to narrow the gap between what the wealthiest and everyone else earns is through education.  It’s an absurdly ridiculous argument that depends on us believing that with a college diploma nonunionized burger flippers, garbage haulers, shelf stockers and medical orderlies will be able to command higher salaries.

In an article titled “Equation is Simple: Education = Income,” Porter uses two sets of statistics to confuse and distract us about why the top 1% have seen their incomes rise precipitously in recent decades, while the incomes at every other economic level have stagnated or deteriorated.

First Porter quotes some computations of Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economics professor and former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Labor. Katz calculates that if the top 1% were taxed at the rates in effect in 1979, the government could split it up equally and give every family not in the top 1% the grand total of $7,102. Katz and Porter then contrast this $7,102 with the estimated $30,000 a year difference in wealth between what couples with two college graduates make and what families with two high school grads make.

Porter and Katz think this contrast proves that education will address the growing inequality of income.  The reasoning sounds like something a group of died-in-the-wool right-wing first-year economics majors would cook up at 3:00 in the morning after smoking a few joints. While it’s true that education can turn the daughter of a janitor into a high-priced accountant, it couldn’t possibly qualify everyone for great-paying jobs because there aren’t that many great-paying jobs around today.

These economists who think greater education will push incomes up haven’t been looking at job trends. Most of the jobs lost in the Great Recession have been replaced by lower-paying ones. Those who predict job trends estimate that virtually all of the 20 job titles to gain the most employees over the next decade are low-paying.  It is true that many of the job titles likely to grow the most on a percentage basis are high-paying, but these job titles start with a small base: 20% of 100 engineers is a lot less than 2% of 10,000 cashiers.

If we educate everyone for higher paying jobs, what is likely to happen is that the wages for these jobs will fall, thanks to the law of supply and demand. In other words, what is proposed by Porter, Katz, Claudia Goldin, Robert Reich, economists at Standard & Poor’s and the rest of the army of scholars and pundits who have swallowed the “education ends income inequality” Kool-aid may actually end up creating more inequality.

The only way to foster greater equality of income is to implement laws and regulations that change the distribution of income. The actions are obvious, because they worked to create a more equal society roughly from 1935-1979:

  • Increase the minimum wage
  • Pass laws and regulations that make it easy for workers to unionize
  • Use tax increases on the wealthy to provide services and support to the poor and lower the cost of higher education for the poor and the middle class
  • End privatization of traditional government functions, since privatization generally leads to workers making less and management making more.
  • Pass laws that place high tariffs on imported goods and services produced in countries that do not hew to our wage, safety and environmental regulations.

The “education ends income inequality” canard is one of many falsehoods routinely perpetrated on the American economy and public by economists and economic writers. The theory that lowering taxes on the wealthy leads to the creation of more jobs has proven to be false. The theory that illegal immigrant workers lower the incomes of other workers has been proven false. The notion that unions get in the way of one-on-one negotiations between workers and employers is an absurdity, as is the idea that people are less likely to look for work the longer their unemployment insurance runs (despite the fact that unemployment compensation is a miniscule portion of their former salary).  Privatization of prisons, the military and schools (through the charter school movement) has proven to be disasters.

That free trade between nations improves the domestic economy is not quite a lie, as shown by a study cited by Harvard’s Dani Rodrik in The Globalization Paradox, his critique of globalization.  Rodrik quantifies both the amount of wealth distributed domestically and the added gain to the U.S. economy if all tariffs were removed on all imported and exported products and services. He finds that the for every additional dollar that would be created in the United States by a totally free global trade regime there would be $50 transferred from the pockets of some groups to the bank accounts of others, primarily from workers losing their jobs to the wealthy who own the means of production, distribution and finance.  In other words, free trade is great—for the wealthy only.

In fact, the one factor that unifies all the distortions and myths believed by most mainstream economists is that acting on each of the myths leads to greater inequality of wealth.  That makes economics as practiced throughout most of the United States more of a propaganda arm of the wealthy than it is a social science.

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A cornucopia of shlock: 72 pages of gifts related to White House you can buy from 2014 White House catalog

Two years ago I noted that it was September 28 when the first Christmas catalog arrived in my mail box. This year the first catalog showed its pages on September 4, stretching the holiday shopping season to one third of the year.

The winner of this year’s award for first Christmas catalog to arrive is the White House Catalog, 72 pages of tchatchkes that have some connection to the White House.  The catalog comes from the White House Historical Association (WHHA), which describes itself as a nonprofit educational association “for the purpose of enhancing the understanding, appreciation, and enjoyment of the Executive Mansion.”

And in America, what better way to enjoy or appreciate anything than to buy something connected to it!

How WHHA can come up with 72 pages dense with commemorative products is an exemplar of 21st century merchandising.

Let’s quickly dispose of the first few pages of the catalog, which display White House tree ornaments. Evidently every year since at least 1981, WHHA has designed and sold a unique tree ornament, typically dedicated to one of the presidents. This year’s is a model train elaborately chiseled with details in red, white and blue, dedicated to Warren G. Harding, who evidently loved trains. The past collection of Christmas ornaments and Christmas cards featuring the presidents or the White House take the catalog to 12 pages. The ornaments are clever and well-crafted.

But what about the other 60 pages? They are jam-packed with merchandising’s greatest hits. Let’s make two lists to illustrate:


  • Address book
  • Book mark
  • Calendar
  • Candy bowl
  • Coasters
  • Decorative boxes
  • Jewelry
  • Jigsaw puzzle
  • Letter opener
  • Mug
  • Napkins
  • Note cards
  • Pen
  • Prints
  • Scarves
  • Ties
  • Tote bag
  • Tray
  • Umbrella

  • Green room
  • Blue room
  • Red room
  • Medallions in Eisenhower’s china
  • Cherry blossoms
  • Scenes from White House neighborhood
  • Artists’ views of the White House
  • Eagles in White House decorations
  • American Impressionism
  • White House in 1914
  • White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony
  • For children
  • For business people

Evidently the White House Historical Association took these two lists and matched many products from column A with every theme in column B. For example, red room themed products include a letter opener, Limoges box, jigsaw puzzle, scarf and jewelry.  The cherry blossom themed items include a bookmark, note cards, puzzle, Limoges box and scarf. Scenes from White House neighborhood offers us coasters, cocktail napkins, a tote bag, placemats, jewelry and a puzzle. The Christmas tree ceremony theme brings us another two jigsaw puzzles, bookmark and prints.

Oh yes, WHHA does dedicate some pages to books and art work, mostly portraits of presidents but also scenes of the White House and other patriotic fare such as Norman Rockwell’s “Statue of Liberty.” But mostly we see a succession of themes applied to the standard mix of items people buy as gifts when they go on vacation: mugs, note cards, tote bags, scarves and puzzles.  There are even plush toy replicas of several presidential family pets.

It’s a merchandising plan that writes itself and makes the White House Historical Association Christmas catalog look no different in product mix from the catalogs of other museums, associations and nonprofit organizations.

What’s interesting is that other than the Christmas ornaments, the product category with the most items is the jigsaw puzzle. There are enough puzzles in the catalog to keep a family of four busy every evening for several years.

The ornaments are first rate, if you are into exotic Christmas ornaments, and several of the books go beyond encomiums of mealy patriotism.  But for the most part what we see here is a cornucopia of schlock, which is Yiddish for the bargain basement, the cheesy and the coarse.

But it represents something more American than apple pie or gas guzzling cars. It represents the transformation of emotion into the purchase of a product—any product. The WHHA puzzles, bookmarks, mugs and tote bags are perfect stocking stuffers or small gifts for the seventh or eighth night of Chanukah. You can give them to whomever’s name you drew out of the gift exchange hat at the office. When you visit Washington, D.C. you can do all your obligatory souvenir gift shopping at one of the association’s two shops.

These are the throwaway presents that clutter the tables and walls, but also the drawers, closets, attics, basements and garages of much of America.

Although schlock they are, the relative worthlessness of the products is what gives them their special value, because it’s not the product that’s important, it’s the fact that a purchase was made.  It’s the fact that a relationship, emotion or holiday was celebrated by buying something and then giving it to someone.  Without the “buy” there is no emotional transaction. The advantage of cheap schlock is that it is so cheap and the reason it’s so cheap is because it is schlock. But as long as organizations make it, Americans keep buying it.

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Progressives all over the country should Reach Out for Teachout!

When I analyzed the long-shot possibilities of progressive Zephyr Teachout winning the Democratic primary for New York governor a few days back, I made a huge analytical mistake.  I forgot that the Working Families Party has already nominated Andrew Cuomo for Governor, so even if Teachout should pull off the miracle of miracles and defeat Cuomo for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York state, Cuomo will still be on the ballot come November.

There is no telling what could happen: New York is the bluest of blue states, so many voters may vote the Democratic party line, no matter who the candidate is. Cuomo’s name recognition may swing the election his way. Cuomo already has $23 million in his election kitty. The national Democratic fundraising machine may do nothing for Teachout.

Or Teachout and Cuomo may split the votes, swinging the election to conservative Republican Rob Astorino. Most progressives believe that electing Astorino as Governor would be an unmitigated disaster.

On the surface it seems as if New York progressives better vote for Cuomo or risk Astorino.

But consider the facts: Both Cuomo and Astorino are for fracking. Both are for lower taxes for businesses and against higher taxes for the wealthy. Both support union-busting charter schools.  Hasn’t Cuomo just spent four years playing ball with Republican state legislators?  It is true that Cuomo is much better on social issues than Astorino, but it’s New York we’re talking about. No one is messing with a woman’s right to an abortion and no one is taking away the hard earned right of gays to marry. Evolution and climate change will be taught in the public schools.

Consider, too, that Cuomo has refused to debate Teachout and has said that debates can be a disservice to democracy. This kind of fascist double-talk in and of itself should disqualify Cuomo from our consideration.

In her career and political life, Zephyr Teachout has never swayed from standard progressive positions on the environment, the economy, social issues and education.  She is a true progressive who deserves the votes of those opposed to fracking and charter schools, and in favor of more support of education and alternative energy and government policies that promote job growth and an equitable distribution of wealth.

Progressives in New York have an historic opportunity to send a real message not just to New York state but to the country that we want policies that lead to economic equality, higher wages, more jobs, smaller classrooms, lower tuition, more unionized workers, alternative energy development, more mass transit and a cleaner environment.  It’s easy for the ruling elite to ignore and invalidate a series of demonstrations like the Occupy movement. But they can’t turn their backs on the voters—that is, if we vote.

Because of the national implications of the New York state primary race for governor, I’m proposing a national campaign by progressives to “Reach Out for Teachout.”

To be part of Reach Out for Teachout, all you have to do is identify every New York state resident among your friends and family and contact all of them about Teachout by email, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. Ask all of the New York residents in your vast (or not so vast) network to vote for Teachout on September 9 in the Democratic primary election.  And tell them to tell all of their friends to vote for Teachout.

Starting with OpEdge readers, maybe Reach Out for Teachout will go viral. We have seen the power of social media to aid in revolutions in other countries.  Maybe it can help start a revolution by vote in the United States. First beat Cuomo, then beat Astorino. Put the Democratic Party and our elected officials across the country on notice that we expect policies that help others than just the top one percent of the wealth ladder.

I urge you to work your lists and get out the New York vote for Teachout, even if you live in Duluth or New Orleans.

Reach Out for Teachout.

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The lesson from LA’s decaying infrastructure is that tax rates are too low

The front page of today’s New York Times tells the sad story of Los Angeles’ crumbling infrastructure.  Roadways, sidewalks and water pipes are in a state of decay thanks to several decades of tight municipal budgets. Close to 40% of LA’s roads are graded D or F. The average age of a city water pipe is 58 years. More than 4,000 miles of sidewalk—37% of all pedestrian walkways in the city—are in severe disrepair. A nonprofit transportation research group says that the average LA driver spends $842 a year just on car repairs resulting from the bad roads. How much more does fixing the water damage from broken pipes cost residents each year?

In total, city officials estimate that it will take $8.1 billion to fix the worst roads, repair the sidewalks and replace aging water pipes.  Much of the Times article bemoans this expense in light of the total LA city budget of just $26 billion.

But $8.1 billion should be chump change for LA, a city with a population of about 3.85 million.

Let’s do the math, something that the Times and the city officials and experts quoted in the article fail to do. $8.1 billion breaks down to $2,085.30 per person living in the City of Los Angeles.  If bringing the LA infrastructure up to snuff were financed over 10 years, it would cost less than $210 per person per year, or $420 per year if only households in the top half of the annual income spectrum were obligated to pay for these necessary infrastructure improvements. In the scenario in which the top half of income-earners were assessed the entire bill to fix what’s broke with LA roads, sidewalks and water pipes, the poorest taxpayers paying the assessment would see an additional 7/10ths of a percent in income taxed. But on average, these people would save a minimum of $422 overall, since auto repair costs would plummet.

Now one could make a very strong argument that the roads, water pipes and sidewalks of the City of Los Angeles serve all residents of the county. If we therefore spread the costs over all 10 million residents of Los Angeles County, it would compute to $810 per resident, or $81 per year for 10 years, or $161 per year if only the top half of income earners paid.

If presented with the option of spending $81 of $161 more per year for 10 years and getting safer and faster highways, more efficient water systems and more walkable pedestrian ways (probably not of too much interest to Angelinos, who seem to prefer riding in cars), most county residents would vote “yes.”

But of course, we’re never presented with the costs broken down in such a common sense way. We get the big number and a lot of hand-wringing from politicians.  And in all too many cases such as the Times article, we’re reminded how much of the municipal budget is dedicated to paying the pensions of former city workers. The implication of course is that if we walked away from our commitment to pay pensions—as many on the right would like us to do—we’d have the money to pay for maintaining highway and water pipes.

In Los Angeles, and throughout the country, we are seeing the disastrous end-game of the lower tax philosophy that began strangling the nation some 35 years ago. The big idea behind the brand of conservatism called Reaganism has always been to starve government. Now we know what anorexic government looks like: Pot holes everywhere. Frequent flooding from broken water pipes. More slip and fall accidents. Larger school classes. A gutting of extracurricular activities and enrichment courses such as art and music in public schools. Public colleges that are unaffordable to many of a state’s citizens. Inadequate mass transit.

And what did lower taxes get people? Not much unless you’re wealthy or upper middle class, since those are the people who have received the lion’s share of the income transferred to private individuals through reducing federal, state and local tax rates so many times since 1980.

Also think of these numbers: Trillions of dollars spent to destabilize Iraq through invasion (not to mention thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives). $34 billion in grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security to militarize local police department with sophisticated vehicles and weaponry meant for wars, not domestic policing.

Anyone interested in the future of our country should judge all elected officials on their willingness or lack of willingness to raise taxes. Don’t vote for anyone who wants to lower taxes. Actively support anyone who explicitly states they want to raise taxes on the wealthy, near wealthy or businesses. It doesn’t matter that much what the candidate wants to do with the money—we have pressing needs in education, infrastructure development, mass transit, development of alternative energy sources and cleaning the environment. It doesn’t matter, as long as the candidate doesn’t want to use additional tax revenues to pay for more guns or tax breaks to businesses.

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NRC storage decision may lead to building of more dangerous nuclear power plants

The single most important news story of the day—the one most likely to still be affecting lives in 10 or even 100 years—was buried on page A13 of the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal didn’t cover it all, nor did Yahoo! News or Google News. A search of Google News yielded a mere 199 or 353 stories about it, depending on which search terms you entered. Those numbers are pittances compared to the hundreds of thousands and sometimes million of stories produced by searches for skirmishes in the Middle East or the marriage of celebrities.

Yet there is no doubt in my mind that it is the most important news event of the week, because it will have the greatest long-term impact on our people and our economy. And the impact will all be bad!

I’m talking about the decision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC for “not real careful”) to allow nuclear power plants to permanently store the highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods above ground in guarded containers. This unanimous decision by the NRC removes a major barrier for the nuclear power industry, which can now build new plants and expand old ones.

It’s bad news for people because using nuclear power to generate electricity is a dangerous process. Accidents can cause increases in early deaths for decades to come.

And it’s also bad news for the economy, because the money spent to build new nuclear power plants will not be spent to develop solar and wind energy.

Some of the spent fuel has a half life of 25,000 years. That means it takes 25,000 years for half of its radioactivity to dissipate. What an arrogant and ignorant assumption the Obama NRC is making to assume that sentient beings will be able to guard and maintain the radioactive cesspools inside containers for hundreds of thousands of years, ten times the length of recorded history. How many societies will come and go in that time? How many mutations of language will occur? How likely will it be that after a social upheaval or a natural disaster the survivors will forget the location of the containers and what’s inside them? Take a look at the oldest identifiable human settlements and your answers to my questions may unsettle you.

Of course, what the Obama NRC is really doing is kicking the can down the road, leaving it to future generations to solve the problem of permanently storing nuclear waste in a safe manner. But what if we never do? Or we do only after a number of accidents that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars? And let’s not forget that the future generations that are supposed to figure out how to safely store nuclear waste will also be focused on global warming, a crumbled infrastructure of roads, mass transit and bridges, oil shortages and immigration reform.

The nuclear power generating industry has been grappling with the problem of waste storage since its inception after World War II. Ideas for permanent storage such as underground or in caverns have met with disapproval from the public and regulators. Above-ground storage in containers has up to now been a temporary solution. One of the major reasons that no new nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since 1977, although the Obama NRC approved construction of four new ones two years ago.

I keep calling it the “Obama NRC” because our current president placed all the current the commissioners but one on the commission; the other one Obama re-nominated after she served one term. The Obama administration has proven to be vehement in its support of increasing our use of this dangerous energy source that only produces electricity.

Nothing has changed—the containers are no safer than they were before the Obama NRC made its decision.  But by substituting one word for another—“temporary” to “permanent”—the NRC is pointing the United States down a path that has already proven to be disastrous.

So I guess your mother was wrong when she told you that, while “sticks and stones will break your bones, words will never harm you.” Calling above-ground containers “permanent” will harm lots of people.

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To New York progressives: Vote for Teachout in primary!

New York State could serve as a model of how progressives can move the right-of-Eisenhower Democratic Party back towards the left. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s version of Barack Obama, is running for reelection as governor of the Empire State. But first there’s the little matter of the September 9 primary in which Cuomo faces Zephyr Teachout, a very progressive professor of law at Fordham University.

Cuomo has essentially run the state of New York by looking rightward.  He put a cap on property taxes and wants to lower taxes for businesses. He blocked New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s attempt to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund pre-schools, preferring to take money from the existing state budget, which means other programs will do without. Cuomo is an ardent supporter of charter schools, a conservative initiative originated to bust teachers’ unions and has proven to underperform and undercut funding for public schools.  And like President Obama, Cuomo is too fast to make deals with Republicans that continue the disastrous economic policies of the past 30+ years.

Let’s not forget about the whiff of corruption now emanating from the Cuomo body politic. Cuomo empanelled a state commission to investigate corruption in government and then dismantled it when it started turning over the rocks of his administration. In the best case scenario, Cuomo is exercising too much power in an effort to subvert democracy. The worst case would involve a cover-up of the kind of unethical and often illegal crony capitalism that seems to plague Republican governors these days.

Cuomo does support gay marriage and tends to speak and vote progressive on most social issues, but so do virtually every Democrat and a growing number of Republicans nowadays. He did pass one of the toughest gun control laws in the country after the Newtown mass murders, for which he should be applauded.

Teachout has no chance of beating Cuomo in the primary, but every vote she gets should turn Cuomo’s head a little bit to the left. If Teachout could get more than 45% of the vote, it would send a strong message to Cuomo to shift leftward on economic issues.

Which is exactly what Cuomo doesn’t want to hear and doesn’t want to do. That’s why the Governor sued to keep Teachout off the ballot and then appealed when he lost. Even though he knows the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor, he does not want to have to listen to progressives. It would upset the corporate bankers who back him and who might up the ante if he decides to run for president of the United States.

The worst that can happen by voting for Teachout is that she wins, which will be very good for New York State and the nation. The Republican Rob Astorino, a former Catholic radio personality, is far too right-wing for New York State. While it’s probable that conservatives would pour tens of millions of dollars into a campaign against the relatively unknown Teachout, the Democrats also have a ton of money for whoever the candidate for governor of New York happens to be.  I’m confident any Democrat will beat Rob Astorino in New York State, especially if turnout is high. And it stands to reason that more Democrats would come out to vote for a face fresh than they would for the incumbent expected to steamroll Astorino.  In other words, if Teachout won the primary, she would also win the election.

What we have then is a win-win situation for progressives. By voting for Teachout in the Democratic primary, New York voters can send a message to Andrew Cuomo—and every Democrat considering a run for the presidency.

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America can learn a lot from the Ferguson situation, that is, if we’re willing to

The American public is relearning many lessons from the events in Ferguson following the shooting of an unarmed teenager by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.  The three biggest takeaways from this tragedy and its aftermath are:

  1. We have gone way too far in militarizing our local police forces.
  2. There is still rampant institutional racism built into our policing and criminal justice system.
  3. The police and criminal justice system does itself and the people it is supposed to protect a disservice by never admitting a mistake.

The ramifications of these big picture dynamics affect more than the relationship between authorities and the citizens they protect. Going too far in militarizing our police, for example, results partially from the political cowardice and cronyism that led Congress to give every state a cut of the money we dedicated to fighting terrorism in the USA Patriot Act instead of focusing the money on those areas and systems most vulnerable to terrorist attack, i.e., New York, Washington, D.C. and our docks and harbors. Of course, the opportunity for American manufacturers to sell to local police forces with money supplied by the feds was too good for the crony capitalists who run our country to pass up. The result—local police everywhere now own all kinds of military equipment that they don’t need and, which, when used, only make a sensitive street situation more volatile. The number of SWAT team attacks has skyrocketed across the country, as have the number of SWAT invasions directed at the wrong address.  I’m thinking that the money spent on military-grade guns and vehicles might have been better spent in the recruitment and training of minority police officers and the introduction of less violent ways to confront suspects.

Ferguson is only the latest proof that minorities and the poor get treated badly by the criminal justice system across the country.  As Jeff Smith, a former Missouri state senator and professor of sociology at The New School, pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, Ferguson does the same kind of racial profiling that the courts have made New York City stop doing.  In Ferguson last year, 86 percent of police stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests were of African-Americans, numbers which are way out line with the percentage of the total Ferguson population that they represent, which is about 62%. Even more damning is the fact that police officers were far less likely to find contraband on African-Americans, 22 percent of whom were carrying something illegal, compared to 34 percent of whites.

It’s almost painful to see the Ferguson police chief try to justify the actions of his department. For example, instead of thanking the Governor for bringing in the Highway Patrol and National Guard and installing a charismatic African-American to be the face of the police response, Chief Tom Jackson prefers to complain about the insult to the Ferguson police that the switch in authorities and tactics represented.

Instead of admitting he was wrong to bring out the tanks, the Ferguson police chief released information meant to stain the reputation of the young man who was shot six times, including twice in the head. First it was news that the boy was a suspect in a robbery, which the officer who fired the shots was decent enough to admit he didn’t know when the confrontation occurred. Now we’ve learned that the boy—Michael Brown—had marijuana in his system. So what? It wouldn’t matter if he was a suspect in 30 armed robberies and they found traces of cocaine, heroin, Oxycontin and meth in his body. An experienced police office trained in protecting the public and probably in martial arts fired six bullets into his body. One or maybe two bullets and I—and the rest of the public—could understand the act as possibly, maybe necessary. But six??  The officer should get his due process, but the police department would advance the cause of better understanding between police and minorities by admitting its mistakes and stating that it will not support officers who behave brutally or illegally.

But closing ranks isn’t new for the criminal justice system. Several times a year we read of district attorneys who are opposed to new trials or the release of the unjustly imprisoned, or those who will fight tooth and nail to insist that a retarded or near retarded death row prisoner has a high enough IQ to qualify for the death penalty. We recently saw the union representing New York City police department cry that is was unfair to investigate the death of an innocent man from a police choke hold. The union also bemoaned the lack of solidarity of the teachers’ union to participate in a march against police brutality.  The union made itself look bad by not explicitly stating that it did not support the use of chokeholds, which is an illegal tactic for police in New York State.

People and organizations make mistakes. Organizations occasionally hire individuals who won’t follow the rules or make their own rules. When you admit your mistake and then fix it, you gain the respect of others. When you hunker down and defend your position even after it painfully clear you were wrong, others begin to disrespect you and question your authority. Now imagine decades of closing ranks and protecting bad decisions and rogue employees and you begin to understand why minority communities distrust our criminal justice system.

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WSJ blames Ferguson unrest on generous police contracts. Does it also think unions were responsible for holocaust?

In a lead editorial, the Wall Street Journal proposes the truly bizarre theory that overly generous police contracts helped cause the civil unrest in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

To come to this outrageous conclusion, the Journal must combine truly twisted reasoning with an imperfect history of public sector employment. What the editorial says is that because police officers receive lifetime job protection and generous retirement benefits, turnover among police occurs more slowly than the demographic changes in the communities they serve. That mismatch in turnover explains why 94% of all police officers in Ferguson are white even though Ferguson shifted to a majority-African-American population over the past decade—or so says the Journal. The Journal concludes this nice bit of dishonest analysis by saying that the complete dearth of minority officers “may have contributed to municipal mistrust.” The Journal also blames union-negotiated contracts that build in bureaucratic privileges that would never be extended to other suspects.”

Let’s begin our analysis of the Journal’s deception with the history that the editorial does not provide: Historically public sector employees made less than what workers earned in the private sector, a deal that public employees—and their unions—were willing to make for better benefits and more job protection. Private sector workers have only fallen behind police, teachers and other government workers during the last 30 years of stagnant and falling wages for all employees. As the newspaper of record for corporate America, the Wall Street Journal has long supported anything that drives down the wages and benefits of employees, be it implementing anti-union regulations, keeping a tight lid on the minimum wage or weaseling out of pension deals with public employees.

Unions and union contracts have nothing to do with what happened in Ferguson, which resulted because of a “bad shoot” by one officer and the overreaction of the police department to the exercise of the legal right of residents to gather in protest. As the New York Times and others (including the Economist weeks before the Ferguson incident) have noted, the militarization of police departments following 9/11 has gone too far, with the overuse of SWAT team and other military tactics becoming all too frequent across the country. That this militarization of local police has led to many more tragic incidents in minority communities than in upper- and middle-class white neighborhoods merely continues the long and sad history of institutional racism in the United States.

Making union contracts less generous to create greater turnover will not help to prevent future Fergusons. Distrust of police comes from practices such as racial profiling, overly harsh treatment of suspects, trigger-happy officers and racism.

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