Police unions and minorities should be allies in the battle to reduce economic inequality

The right-wing is happy to label initiatives to change the relationship between police and the communities that they protect as “disbanding” and “defunding” the police. As many are pointing out, those on the left who use these terms are playing into the hands of Trump and his merry band of fascists. Much better terms are “reform,” “reimagine” and “reallocate.” 

Language is a powerful tool in the hands of propagandists because for many people, language creates or, at the very least, shapes reality. The presumptive Democratic nominee for President, Joe Biden, is wise to steer clear of “disbanding” and “defunding.” The fact he says he does not approve of either indicates nothing more than his awareness of how people will respond to these loaded terms. He is in favor of a reform that reimagines police forces to make them more sensitive to community needs and, quite frankly, less racist in their use of tactics. Furthermore, he will go as far left as Nancy Pelosi wants to go on any issue, and Nancy wants national legislation to reform police departments across the country.

But exploring the ramifications of “disbanding” brings us to the nexus of a conundrum befuddling the Democrats the union movement. By definition, disbanding a police department kills the union, which gives municipalities the opportunity to rehire a police force at a lower cost. (“Defunding” could theoretically lead to replacing unionized police with nonunionized community workers, but it is likely that the first place municipalities will look to cut police budgets are unneeded and extremely expensive military-grade weaponry and hardware.) Killing unions has long been one of the central tenants of the right-wing, so “disbanding” police departments sounds like a conservative solution. And yet, the voices for disbanding are coming mostly from progressives.

Police unions have dug in their heels for decades, fighting every reform and protecting their bad eggs, apples and seeds. Everything the heads of police unions have said since the George Floyd murder suggests they will continue to support even the most egregiously racist and violent behavior by individual officers and oppose any and all reform. The unwillingness of police unions to consider change puts a deep wedge between them and the Democratic Party. The law-and-order Republicans may look like a better bet for the cops on the surface, but transferring wealth from the middle class and the poor up the ladder to the wealthy remains the alpha and omega of 21st century conservativism. When it comes time to renegotiate union contracts, police unions will face more opposition from Republican mayors and city councils than from Democrats. Think of New York City, where the police worked without a contract for years under the Bloomberg Administration but quickly came to terms favorable to them after Bill De Blasio took over as mayor. That bought De Blasio a lot of credit with the police until the very first time he raised even an iota of an inkling of a question about an incident of police brutality.

The recalcitrance of police unions to change reverberates beyond issues of public safety and equitable treatment under the law. Unionism used to define the Democratic Party. Democrats would depend on union voters to win elections and in return, the Democrats passed legislation that helped blue collar workers. The tight-knit seams binding Democrats to unions began to unravel in 1968, 1972 and 1980, when many union members ignored their leadership to vote for Richard Nixon and then Ronald Reagan. Racism, often disguised as law-and-order, primarily motivated union members to switch.

Yet it wasn’t just union members abandoning Democrats. Democrats also moved away from a full embrace of the union movement. Many centrist Democrats like both Clintons, Obama, Al Gore, Booker, Yang and O’Rourke have supported charter schools, ignoring that the big money and conservative ideologues behind the idea of charter schools have had as their sole objective the destruction of teachers’ unions. In their eagerness to enact school reform that did not involve increasing school budgets, Democrats in a sense abandoned teachers’ unions in pursuit of the pie-in-the-sky false premise of charter schools. As is usual when non-union workers replace union workers or when government functions are privatized, everyone lost. Studies show that two-thirds of charter schools do no better or do worse than the equivalent public school and that many of the top performing charter schools have cooked their books. Moreover, students who remain in public schools in districts which add charter schools suffer from a reduction in overall funding. 

When we talk about the constituencies of the Democratic Party today, we mention city dwellers, minorities, immigrants, college grads and the LGBTQ community. We hardly ever mention unions, which reflects not only the alienation and racism of primarily white blue collar workers, but also the decline of unions as a meaningful share of the population. It’s a very troubling trend, because no nation in world history has ever been able to create even a modicum of economic equality without a strong union movement. Even when certain unions were slow to admit minorities, minorities benefited from their presence, because unions raise the wages of others at the same company, other companies in the same industry and other companies in the community. Unionism, and not Reagan’s trickle-down theory, is the tide that lifts all boats. 

Progressives talk about raising the minimum wage, universal healthcare, taxing the wealthy and making college free to all. I agree with all these positions, but assert that the most effective way to reduce economic inequality and to pursue economic justice would be to pass legislation that made it so easy to unionize that the percentage of the workforce that is unionized could climb from the current 13% to 30-60% within a few years.

The current situation approaches the tragic. The police and those they are supposed to keep safe should be allies in creating vibrant and safe cities and fighting the predations of the ultra-wealthy. Instead, they are at loggerheads.  

We are not asking much of police unions: Don’t defend cops who use excessive force. Don’t hire cops who have been fired for problems by other departments. Don’t apply a double standard in the use of force, but treat all citizens the same regardless of race, ethnic background and sex. Never shoot to kill. End the use of chokeholds and other inherently dangerous tactics. None of these are unrealistic requests. Police officers and police unions should be clamoring to get behind reform. In return, the Democratic Party should embrace the union movement as both part of the coalition opposed to the right-wing and as the primary strategy for reducing inequality in America.  

Are the George Floyd riots the American Reichstag Fire?

I have to admire the thousands of people protesting the awful death of George Floyd and the unredeemable racism in the criminal justice system that it represents. Even wearing masks, the protestors are risking their lives to show that they are both sick to their stomachs and exhausted by the centuries of racism that have poisoned the United States. Young and old, protestors are more likely to be hurt or die as a result of contracting Covid-19 at the rallies than from police brutality or getting run over by an uncontrollable mob. As is typical, the overwhelming majority of protestors have been peaceful, despite the rage boiling inside them. Congratulations to the thousands of peaceful protestors for their bravery and dedication to the cause. 

There should be no prize or nod of recognition to those who predicted that we would once again see a national series of marches protesting police violence. It was bound to happen again as long as police departments don’t do a good job weeding out racists, as long as police recruitment ads focus on military adventurism and not peace-keeping skills, as long as police unions keep protecting bad apples, as long as we have an administration in Washington that is both racist and brutal and encourages both racism and brutality. It would have also been easy to predict that some demonstrations might lead to violence, because violence will occasionally break out at even a well-organized protest. 

Keeping in mind that we don’t know yet how many of the incidences of violence at Floyd protests were large enough to be called riots and the broader question of what constitutes a riot, let’s consider how riots start. At the heart of the riot dynamic is the simple fact that most people are followers and conformists. Most people look to others to set the tone. One trivial example: In the late 1970’s in Candlestick Park, there were more people in the stands passing a doobie than standing up with their right hand at their hearts during the singing of the Star Spangle banner. Post 9/11, if you don’t put your hand to your heart and sing, people give you dirty looks.  A less trivial example: tattoos. Thirty years ago, tattoos were an expression of rebellion; but nowadays, most people below 50 consider it a lifestyle decision.

A riot consists of two kinds of people: Those who start it and everybody else. Imagine being in a swarm of people that breaks off from a march or has been herded into a relatively confined space by the police and/or urban geography. Three people break the glass of a storefront and start looting. The entire crowd moves that way, sweeping individuals along with it. A few other people—let’s call them early adopters—start taking things. All of a sudden, what was once taboo is now being done by everyone. Keep in mind that everyone there—the good, the bad, the blessed and the cursed—is angry, frustrated and tired of the constraints of quarantine. Many are quite poor and long past disgusted at getting exploited, demeaned and paid poorly by the wealthy.

Or imagine that the same three people set fire to a car. A protestor’s better self knows it’s wrong, but the same primitive instinct that has you yelling for a defensive lineman to cripple the opposing quarterback kicks into high gear, so you start cheering. Your cheers and those of all the other basically good people around you are part and parcel of the start of a riot.

Keeping the three or four riot starters from activating the crowd is the key to making certain that a peaceful demonstration doesn’t steer into violence. Now at this point in history, virtually every group involved in organizing demonstrations for civil rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, immigrants, the poor or any other cause under the banner of progressives and the left knows how to keep protests nonviolent. Additionally, the accurately named incident called a “police riot” really doesn’t happen in much of the country any more, even if individual instances of police brutality are frequent and ubiquitous. Good planning by organizers and police restraint explain why protests usually lead to very few altercations nowadays.

So why have the George Floyd protests been different? Do we blame the added frustration of the Covid-19 quarantine? Were there too few march monitors because of the relative spontaneity of the actions? Did the mix of responsible versus irresponsible people skew too much to the irresponsible, because the responsible ones stayed home to avoid the crowd?

Early evidence is suggesting another, more nefarious reason for the riots: They were started by white, right-wing provocateurs interested in stirring up a race war in America.

Already the police in Pittsburgh, Nashville, and Minneapolis suspect that riots in these cities were started by white nationalists. Mayors from all over the country report that a larger than usual number of riot participants have come from out of town.

What we may be experiencing is an American reboot of the 1933 arson attack on the German parliament building, called the Reichstag, that was perpetrated by Nazis, but blamed on the communists by the recently elected Nazi government. Now I’m not saying that Trump or the Trump campaign is directly or even indirectly paying white supremacists to start riots at George Floyd protests. It could be someone else. For example, we know that Koch-sponsored organizations are financing the anti-Covid 19 protests around the country—you know, the ones in which oversized, evil-looking dudes carry large weapons and are allowed to menace everyone around them. 

But even if Trump had nothing to do with setting up these riots, he certainly is using the Nazi playbook following the Reichstag fire: labelling the protestors and rioters as terrorists and calling for the police to crack down with heavy boots and blazing firearms against rioters, and by implication, against protestors, too. 

Motive is an important element in proving any criminal case, and there can be no doubt that Trumpites have more of a motive to start a riot than do #Blacklivesmatter, Antifa or other social justice and civil rights movements and organizations. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pointed out in a magnificent speech at today’s daily press conference (June 1), Trump and the conservatives are delighted to change the topic from the institutional racism that led to George Floyd’s murder to rioters creating mayhem in the streets and threatening our way of life. By contrast, it was and is in the best interest of those protesting to keep things peaceful.

The facts are slowly falling into place and so far, it looks as if white racists and not legitimate protesters are who started much if not most of the violence. Expect a white wash from the Barr Justice Department, but a thorough investigation by a number of state governments. 

By the way, it’s easy to separate racists from non-racists among so-called friends of social justice by how they react to the violence. The non-racists like Cuomo focus on how the violence helps the right-wing narrative. The racists insist that the rioters have undercut their case for change. That case has not changed. Probably at the instigation or white provocateurs, a few people did some stupid stuff. As some have pointed out, their looting is peanuts compared to the $600 billion large corporations and banks have looted from the American people in the form of Covid-19 financial help, while individuals, small business, states and municipalities have been largely ignored.

William Torphy delves into the connection between inequality and the effects of Covid-19

OpEdge is turning over today’s column to my dear friend William Torphy, who has written a poignant article which explores how forty years of policies that favor the ultra-rich has weakened America and harmed its ability to fight the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic

Justice and Security for All/William Torphy

Our society is like an aging socialite who wears a ballgown but whose undergarments are in tatters. Under the ballgown of immense wealth for the few is a shredded social-safety-net, a nation in which at least 40 million Americans live in poverty, 15 million households are “food insecure” and at least a half million people are homeless. These are official figures and don’t adequately describe the true picture, a social portrait in which, according to Pew Research, 1% of the population owns 43% of the nation’s wealth, the next 19% owns 50%, with the bottom 80% owning 7%.

This extreme economic inequality and the cultural and political assumptions that support it are the fundamental reasons for a society shattered by healthcare costs, inadequate childcare, widespread under-employment, $1 trillion in student debt, an aged and crumbling infrastructure, a power grid that relies on fossil fuels, and deregulation of corporations and the financial sector. 

The struggles that everyday people face in America are the prime indicators of the real economy, not a temporarily rollicking stock market or “low-wage” unemployment figures. Greed never rewards the majority. The billions reaped by corporations and investors only enriches the few. 

An economy that doesn’t serve the needs of the people is a sick economy. The devastating health and social effects of the coronavirus pandemic are exacerbated by the fragility of our economic system. If rather than accelerating corporate profits and encouraging the concentration of vast fortunes in the hands of a few, we implement serious investments in social services, health care, our children, education, infrastructure, clean energy and drinking water, the economic impact of the pandemic on ordinary Americans would be considerably less severe. As it is, most Americans live from paycheck-to-paycheck and those who are no longer receiving paychecks face financial ruin, even hunger and homelessness. 

A society that invests in the health and well-being of its people is a resilient society, one that can better withstand the threats of pandemics, natural disasters and downturns in the global economy. Decent wages with benefits and universal social-service support provide a cushion for such setbacks. 

Promises to “bring back manufacturing” are empty. We cannot return to the 1950s and 1960s. Corporations have outsourced manufacturing jobs that once expanded the middle-class. According to Department of Labor statistics, 71% of Americans now work in the service sector. Only 6% serve in professional and business services. A majority toil at minimum or near-minimum wage jobs without paid sick leave, health insurance, wage savings plans or pensions. Many have joined the “gig economy” as independent contractors or hold down two or more jobs to make ends meet. 

Though we might complain, we accept this situation as “natural,” just as we accept contemporary capitalism as “natural.” These conditions are artificial, however, ones we’ve been conditioned to accept. Economic inequality, social injustice, racism, xenophobia are choices societies promote and individuals make. Amid the seeming affluence of a glossy culture is an ugly secret: in a system that extracts every last dollar from pockets the way it extracts oil from the earth, a majority of Americans are struggling with debt and can barely make ends meet. The pursuit of happiness has long ago been supplanted by the pursuit of the dollar, but today those dollars principally land in the hands of a few. 

History should teach us that societies in which the few live as kings while the vast majority are deprived, such as Spain in the 16th century and France in the 18th, are unsustainable and doomed to be destroyed from within—either through internal collapse or revolution. 

The $2 trillion-plus Federal relief package is just that—low-ball, temporary relief for Americans and much greater relief for the banks and corporations. If, over the last decade, this kind of investment had been applied to essential social services for the nation’s citizens, the deep economic and social crisis we are now facing would not be nearly so daunting. 

It’s clear that we require a new Administration in the White House, one not based on personal grandiosity, corruption, ignorance and incompetence (and dare I say, sociopathy). We need an Administration that recognizes the health of our society is predicated on the health and well-being of every single individual in it. We must turn away from government buddying-up with Wall Street and corporations, an ever-increasing military budget ($718 billion in 2020), senseless wars; according to the Congressional Budget Office, more than $2.5 trillion so far for the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan alone. Ninety-one top corporations paid no taxes in 2018. Tax breaks for corporations must be replaced by greater investment in policies that benefit all: a comprehensive healthcare system, improving our crumbling infrastructure, promoting education, retraining programs for jobs in communication, technology and renewable energy. 

If there is one silver lining to the global pandemic, it’s that this crisis should enable us to view our dire situation more clearly and to identify society’s stress points. With that knowledge, we can reconfigure our social priorities, placing the health and basic needs of our citizens above the well-being of Wall Street and the corporations. We must adopt policies that help protect us against recurring viruses and also empower us to be better prepared for economic recovery in the future. Realistic social and economic policies that provide for the many and promote the greater good not only insure society’s health and well-being, but indeed, humanity’s continuance.

Let’s not waste this crisis. That’s what we did last time, when during the last recession the Feds rode to the rescue, saving mortgage companies but not people with mortgages, shoring up the banks but forgetting their depositors, and infusing billions into corporations without demanding fair treatment and wages for their workers. 

Will we have learned from the past and will we possess the courage to do it differently this time?

Already, nearly all funding from the $350 billion Payroll Protection Program designed to help support furloughed and laid-off employees of shuttered small businesses has gone to big businesses with high-powered attorneys and big-time relationships with banks. Altogether, seventy-five publicly-traded corporations received $300 billion of taxpayer’s money so far.

The Feds claim the next round of funding will “trickle-down” to mom-and-pop businesses. Haven’t we heard this before?


For the last week, I’ve been meaning to write an article begging Bernie Sanders to get out of the presidential race and support the putative Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. My thinking was that Sanders’ supporters need time to go through all the stages of grieving before they can deal with the reality of the 2020 election: that progressives must support and vote for whomever the Democrats nominate or end up facilitating the reelection of the despicably immoral and criminal Donald Trump.

Now I find myself in the odd position of having the tables turned on me. I’m going to advocate vociferously that Joe Biden give up his quest for president and throw his support either to another Democrat or to Bernie.

21st century Democrats just cannot nominate a rapist, and there is now credible evidence that Citizen Joe raped one of his campaign staffers, Tara Reade, years ago. 

Reade says that in 1993 when she was working for Biden, she took his gym bag to him at someone’s request and once in the office, he pushed her against the wall, started kissing her, immediately moved his hand to her crotch and penetrated her with fingering. The context is very important, because before the age of “Yes means yes” I could imagine a scenario in which the essential action—digital penetration—would not be rape. Sorry for the explicitness, but imagine if Tara and Joe were making out furiously on the couch for twenty minutes and Joe was, with consent, rubbing the outside of her panties and then slipped a finger inside and Tara pulled away and said no. Assuming that Joe stopped right then, there was no rape, at least to those with common sense. Of course, if Joe continued, even for two seconds, after hearing a “no,” that would constitute rape. 

The scenario Reade describes leaves no room for such ambiguity. She rejected and fought against the push against the wall, the kissing and the groping that achieved momentary digital penetration. It was completely against her will and it went way too far. The fact that it happened in 1993 and not 1973 makes it just a little bit worse, because workplace sexual assault and harassment were in the news in the early 1990’s.  

Biden supporters and others have vilified Reade, hinting that she is a paid Russian operative. Maybe so and maybe no, but one fact stands out in all of these sexual assault cases: All studies show that 90-98% of women who accuse someone of rape are telling the truth. Yes, guilty until proven innocent, but also yes, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire when it comes to sexual assault. Clichés aside, though, the Democrats should be nominating someone who has a completely clean history when it comes to sexual assault. Believe it or not, there are a lot of male and female politicians who have always treated people decently. 

What Biden did is much worse than what animated the Democrats to force Al Franken to resign his Senate seat. I have not changed my mind that Franken got what he deserved because he should have known his antics were making women in the workplace uncomfortable. If Franken deserved his fate, then Democrats should be loudly demanding Biden withdraw from the race. Nominating a rapist is akin to nominating someone who used to go to KKK rallies.

Apart from the moral degradation of nominating a rapist is the simple fact that Biden’s history, while nowhere as vile and misogynistic as Trump’s, is still enough for Republicans to equate Biden’s behavior with Trump, thus giving Trump a free pass.

If Biden heeds these words, recognizes his crime, and resigns, he and the Party have lots of options: He could support Bernie, who has the second most votes from primary and caucus voters. But Citizen Joe could also throw his support behind another right-leaning Democrat. The first name to come to mind is not any of the former candidates such as Booker, America’s favorite small-town mayor or Klobuchar, but the current hero of the corona crisis: New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. Between the corona virus disruptions and the withdrawal of the frontrunner, the remainder of the Democratic race would of course be a hot mess, but taking moral action often complicates situations. 

Let’s say Biden does not withdraw from the race and the Democrats ignore this very serious and probably true accusation, what should we do?

That’s an easy call: When given the choice between a rapist who is also a virulent racist and mentally ill and wants to gut environmental and safety regulations, support fossil fuel development, work against developing a green economy, lower taxes even more on the wealthy, gut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, end a woman’s right to an abortion and exchange our traditional allies for authoritarian governments OR a rapist who will essentially work to implement the left-leaning Democratic platform?

There is no doubt that rape or no, if Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee, we have to vote for him. Staying home is a vote for Trump. Voting for a write-in or third party candidate is a vote for Trump. For progressives (especially after being teased by a Warren or Sanders candidacy), supporting Biden has always involved holding our nose a little. We’ll just have to squeeze the nostrils together a little tighter now.

Having said that, however, I make a pledge that the day after Biden is inaugurated, if the Tara Reade accusation has not proven to be false, I will get on my soapbox and advocate an immediate impeachment and conviction of the new president. 

When Trump and others call for opening the economy even if the corona virus is not tamed, they are just being good capitalists

The “cull the herd” strategy for addressing the corona virus epidemic in the United States has emerged in public discourse this week, touted by Donald Trump, some minor politicians from southern states and a few Fox News pundits. Essentially the “cull the herd” strategy revitalizes the specious economic argument against environmental regulation—that doing something to protect the health and well-being of people will destroy the economy. The argument is completely fallacious when it comes to transitioning to a green economy, but does have an element of truth when applied to the corona virus pandemic: fighting it will hurt the economy, even if only in the short term.

These protectors of the American way of life believe that the cure for the pandemic—social distancing and shutting down the economy for a few months—is worse than the disease itself. They wonder whether more people will die because of the temporary economic decline than would if we just let the epidemic play itself out. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick claimed that Americans over the age of 70 are willing to sacrifice their lives so that the American economy can thrive. Speak for yourself, John Alden! 

Note that behind Patrick’s comments is the idea—still not completely proven—that the disease kills primarily the elderly and the infirm. Together with the poor, those two groups are the primary targets for the long-term Republican program to line the pockets of the wealthy by cutting taxes for themselves while gutting social programs. Beyond that, labelling a group for sacrifice always makes it for easier for Americans to approve of inhumane actions, e.g., discrimination, racial profiling or our several wars against Islamic countries.

What the promoters of returning to economic normalcy and letting the virus run its course are not telling us—perhaps because they themselves are ignorant of the facts—is that letting Covid-19 run rampant in the population could lead to as many as 3 million people dying, plus a whole lot of unnecessary suffering among those who can’t get medical attention because the disease overwhelms our healthcare capabilities.

But as despicable a solution as it is to let millions of people die years if not decades before their time, it nonetheless is keeping with the capitalist traditions. 

See, behind the idea of returning to normal is the basic capitalist strategy of risk analysis. Here’s a simple example: Do we add a safety feature that will cost another 50 cents a car, or do we risk a 180 people being burned up every year in rear end collisions? The actuaries and lawyers get together to estimate how much the company will pay out to the families of the dead people and when it turns out to be a few bucks less than putting in the part, they decide to do the right thing…for the business, which means keeping the part out. This scenario describes exactly the Ford decision-making process in the 1960’s and early 1970’s regarding the death trap named the Ford Pinto. Highly immoral, but good business. 

The dirty secret behind the free market is that every week companies make decisions such as the Ford decision not to fix the Pinto’s safety problem. Many of these decisions involve transferring the hidden costs of making something to the public at large. That’s what pollution of all kinds does. Instead of paying to keep pollution out of the environment, companies pass the cost on to consumers in terms of higher medical costs, lost and shortened lives, and a degraded environment. 

The Trump Administration is not the first government to make cold-blooded calculations that value money over human life. The same calculation has driven most of our wars of imperialism, i.e., the Mexican, Spanish-American, Vietnam, Cambodian, Grenada, Iraq and Afghan wars. Is it worth X number of dead on our side to topple a regime that dissed the father of the president and help our Saudi ally? Is it worth Y dead to hold up a corrupt, repressive regime in a southeastern Asian country with no strategic value but lots of contracts with American manufacturers? 

Reading Thomas Piketty’s recent Capitalism and Ideology this week reminded me of two well-known examples of governments acting in full knowledge that their actions would lead to the death of millions. The British authorities consciously did nothing during the Irish famine of 1845-1848, leading to the deaths of 1 million and the emigration of 1.5 million, for a total loss of more than 30% of the population of Ireland. The British essentially sat on their hands and watched it happen, some articulating the advantage of reducing the population of the poor and potential rebels. The British repeated this atrocity at the end of World War II, letting 4 million out of a population of 50 million Bengalis die of starvation rather than release stores of rice. To quote Piketty, “…while adequate food stores existed in both cases, authorities refused to arrange for immediate transfers to the distressed areas, in part on the grounds that prices should be allowed to rise in order to signal to sellers that the time had come to respond to market demand.”

In other words, let’s value the marketplace over people. That decision always conceals the naked truth: let’s value the interests of a small number of wealthy people over the good of everyone else.

The Bengalis and the Irish were considered by the British to be lesser people. That won’t work with the American economy. We won’t sacrifice parents, grandparents and those with diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s and cancer so that the stock market recovers in time for the election. 

At least I hope that’s true. A good 25-35% of the population seems to support Trump, no matter what atrocities or stupidities he proposes. A good number of people may believe that the death of Uncle Hiram was god’s will. Let’s hope that the overwhelming number of our elected officials in Washington, in State houses and locally value the lives of all our Uncle Hiram’s and Aunt Mathilda’s.

Bernie versus Biden. It’s not an easy choice, even for progressives

If we were judging only on their ideas and proposals, I would make a strong recommendation that every Democrat give their primary or caucus vote to Bernie Sanders. Biden, like Bill Clinton and Obama, is a conservative Democrat who has always been too quick to give away the store to Republicans, whereas for decades Sanders has taken progressive stands (which usually means the position backed by the facts) on war, equality of wealth, education, the environment, taxing the wealthy and healthcare. Used to being a strident voice from the back bench, Sanders has not developed his policies as much as Elizabeth Warren has (who has?), but his ideas are stirring and right-minded.

But there’s more to deciding between two candidates than where their hearts lie. Two other factors are of equal, and perhaps greater importance in the current election: One, who is more likely to beat Trump? Two, who is more likely to accomplish the wish list of progressives and left-leaners?

Surveys show just about every candidate beating Trump, but Bernie having the biggest lead. If we carefully analyze the Super Tuesday results, however, we get a different picture. Across the board, the more likely a Democrat will win the state in November, the better Bernie did on Super Tuesday; the more likely Trump will win the state, the better Biden did. It’s very possible that Bernie’s lead over Trump is greater than the other candidates’ in the national surveys because he got more votes in California and New York. So what would we progressive rather see? A candidate win California by 4 million votes and lose North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida and Wisconsin by a total of 100,000 votes OR a candidate win California by 3 million and also win these important swing states.

As far as the campaign goes, there can be no doubt that Bernie destroys Biden as both a debater and a speechifier. There is also no doubt that Bernie carries more real baggage. The Trump campaign will inundate social media with lies and exaggerations about either candidate. But whereas the Hunter Burisma scandal is made up, Bernie Sanders really has said he was a socialist and he really is a Jew. As a Jewish socialist, I personally identify with Bernie, but understand that many people hate and fear both. Most candidates have scandals and dubious relatives. Few have won as socialists. The very label turns off the dying breed called “moderate Republicans.” Several of the swing states have long histories of fringe and not-so-fringe anti-Semitism. 

I have no idea who is more likely to beat Trump.

But I am reasonably confident that whichever of the B Boys the Dems select, if elected he will get just about the same things done. As I’ve written before, both will move quickly to reverse Trump’s dangerous loosening of environmental and safety regulations. Both will bring competence and science back to government. Both will rebuild bridges with our allies. Both will appoint left-leaning judges. Both will have much less power than Nancy Pelosi when it comes to drafting and passing legislation. 

There are a number of other similarities between the candidates. Both are in the late 70’s with a history of health problems. More significantly, both are likely to name a woman who is a minority as his running mate. Thus, the election of either Biden or Bernie will likely lead to the first woman president.

What to do? Who to pick?

I’ve thought about it a long time, and I’ve decided to do whatever Liz does. Elizabeth Warren, far more competent, experienced, organized and dynamic than either of the B’s, will crunch the numbers and weight the arguments with the very highest level of intellectual rigor and heartfelt empathy for all Americans. Her decision will reflect what she thinks is best for the country. I trust Warren, more than I’ve trusted any presidential candidate since Clean Gene McCarthy.

If Liz endorses Bernie, I’ll support Bernie.

If Liz endorses Biden or decides to make no endorsement, then I’ll support Biden. My reasoning: her ideas are so close to Bernie’s that staying silent is really a nod towards Biden.

Let me close by expressing my disappointment on how the Democratic race has gone. At the beginning of the campaign, I made a list of how I ranked the two dozen or so candidates and found 14 competent to be president (Beto and America’s favorite small town mayor did not make the cut). Warren was first on my list, followed by Inslee. Sanders (because of age and baggage) was 10th and Biden 14th, or the lowest rated of the 14 who made the competence cut. Very disappointing. But either of the B Boys will still better than the ignorant, racist sociopathic and venal autocrat now roaming the White House.

The Democratic Nominating Process is Much Ado about Very Little

Centrist pundits are raising alarms about the possibility of Bernie Sanders getting the nomination, convinced that his so-called extreme policies will turn off centrist voters and conservatives who are disgusted with Trump’s hateful rhetoric. Supporters of Buttigieg, Biden, Klobuchar and Bloomberg are all saying that their candidate is the only one left who can defeat Trump. Panic-provoking pundits from all over the severely limited mainstream media spectrum are saying that the Democratic party will do what they claim it always does—fracture, shoot itself in the foot, turn off key constituencies and stay at home election day.

But if we look at the hard numbers, review the extremely narrow path that Trump had to Electoral College victory in 2016 and analyze the contrasts between Trump and the Democratic Party, it should befuddle us why so many are in, or pretend to be in, a frenzy.

The truth of the matter is that unless Russians or Trumpites manage to change the actual voting tallies, every Democratic candidate will defeat Donald Trump and every Democratic candidate (with the possible exception of Elizabeth Warren) will end up accomplishing pretty much the same thing as president.

Trump’s losing hand plays out in six key states. We start with the former blue wall of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which Trump won by razor thin margins, all of which are suffering economically as a direct result of Trump’s economic and foreign policies. These three states are now in the hands of Democratic governors, which means it will be harder to suppress the vote in 2020. The Democrats completely ignore Wisconsin in 2016, which won’t happen again. Trump should lose at least one and maybe all three of these states.

A battleground state that Republicans usually seem to win by extremely small margins in Florida. A court recently ruled that Florida cannot make voting by ex-felons contingent on paying the court costs they owe, meaning that there should be a massive influx of new voters in Florida, most of whom will lean blue.  About 200,000 had already paid their fees before the ruling, and only 57% of these voters have to vote blue to give whomever is the Democratic nominee Florida’s 29 electoral votes

All the Dems need is Florida and any one of the former blue wall states to win in the Electoral College, but they are also threatening to turn two long time red states into Democratic strongholds: Georgia and Texas, and for good reason: the enormous growth of minorities in those two states. 

In short, Trump needs another series of miracles to win reelection. Virtually any Democrat should beat Trump.

And virtually every Democrat, from the corporate B-boys (Bloomberg, Biden and Buttigieg) to self-professed socialist Bernie Sanders will do the same things:

  • Try to raise taxes on the wealthy, although some will want to bump up what the rich pay by more, some by less.
  • Heal the wounds the Trump Administration dealt to the Affordable Care Act and build on the Act to cover more Americans and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the healthcare system. Again some will want to go farther than others towards a single payer system, but all will want to offer a public option.
  • Reverse the many Trump Administration decisions to weaken environmental, safety and other regulations.
  • Try to mend the relationships we have with our allies and get back into the Paris Accord and, if possible, the Iran Nuclear deal.
  • Ratchet up election security regulations and laws.
  • Institute a relatively large program to repair and update our infrastructure of roads, highways, sewer systems and mass transit systems.
  • Address global warming with a combination of administrative and legislative action, although some will want to do more than others.
  • Rethink the current military budget, which is just about equal to what the rest of the world spends on guns, bombs and soldiers. Again some will cut the military budget more, some less.
  • Do something to make higher education more affordable.

Moreover, every Democrat (and many Republicans, too) will almost always tell the truth to the American people; demonstrate respect to all people, even enemies; and base most decisions on science and reason.

Some of the tasks on the Democrats’ action list a president can do by her/himself and some require Congress to pass legislation. A careful parsing of the list I put together reveals that the Democrats left in the race tend to disagree most on the things that a president has the least control over because they require legislation: reforming the healthcare system, commitment to global warming, how much to raise taxes on the wealthy and how much educational support to give to families. The things these candidates could do without Congress if elected tend to be stuff they agree on, such as reversing Trump’s regulatory carnage and getting back into international treaties from which we’ve withdrawn.

In other words, no matter who is president, she/he will have to work with Nancy Pelosi and will be subject to Nancy’s program, which will in all likelihood reflect the 2020 Democratic platform. Nancy’s influence will loom especially large if Sanders, Buttigieg, Steyer or Bloomberg are elected. In the case of America’s favorite small-town mayor and the two billionaires, their inexperience will concentrate more power into the hands of Pelosi and her senior congressional team. Bernie’s former role as a rebellious backbencher will limit his ability to influence Congress without Pelosi’s support. It is likely that of all the candidates, Bernie would have the least impact on what a Democratic Congress produces.

In general, we can characterize Nancy Pelosi as a central Democrat, which means she stands at the center position of the Democratic Party, which makes her left of center when considering the entire electorate. As far as the candidates go, she stands slightly to the left of Klobuchar and Biden and slightly to the right of Booker and Harris.

Elizabeth Warren knows how the administrative branch of the federal government works better than any other candidate, simply because she is the only one to have created a federal bureau. Like Biden and Klobuchar (and unlike Bernie) she has deep roots in the party and has worked cooperatively with other legislators, so she will therefore be less beholden to the Speaker of the House. For these reasons, Warren would likely be able to drive the country further left as president than any other Democrat running, which is why I support her. But no matter who is the winning candidate, most of the first term will be spent first returning the government and the regulatory state to the pre-Trump days and then taking Nancy Pelosi-type steps (perhaps not perfect, but not too cold and not too warm) to build upon the party’s vision in the areas of global warming, inequality, healthcare, education and a cooperative approach to international relations.

All the hand-wringing and finger-pointing about the candidates’ electability and vision make for great spectacle and enable social media users to blow off a lot of steam. But at the end of the day, the Democrats should prevail no matter whom they nominate and the winning candidate should move the country back to “Obama” normalcy and start to fix some of our long-term problems. There is no need to fear either Sanders or Buttigieg. (Bloomberg is another story, since he is trying to buy the election, a very significant step away from a representational democracy.) Instead, Democrats should fear poll manipulation and low turnout.

Suleimani was not a “bad” man. Killing him was morally wrong, probably illegal and certainly a catalyst for much future bloodshed

Virtually everyone who has commented on the drone killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani premises their remarks with the idea that Suleimani was, as one MSNBC talking head put it, “a bad dude.” Even the critics of Trump’s action feel forced to mention that Suleimani deserved what he got, no matter the nature of their criticism, and experts have given many reasons to oppose the assassination: Trump didn’t consult Congress or allies and thus acted illegally; it will cause disruptions in markets; former presidents vetoed the assassination many times, it was “the wrong time”; or it will end up getting more Americans killed (not mentioning the deaths of non-Americans, since they don’t count for this administration or country).

But the basic premise—that Suleimani was a bad guy—is absolutely wrong. He was a good Moslem and an excellent general who remained loyal to all Iranian governments he served and stayed out of politics. If he were American, he would be the ideal general, as much of a poster boy as Dwight Eisenhower or Colin Powell. Funny, we should suddenly despise Suleimani as if he were Hitler and still worship Robert E. Lee, a much worse general than Suleimani in terms of meeting objectives who nonetheless caused much more harm to America and its interests.

Suleimani just happens to have been Iranian, not American. But he’s not a terrorist, although he certainly ordered that money and equipment be funneled to terrorists—maybe even as much money and equipment as the commanders in chief of Saudi Arabia, the United States or Russia have given to various and sundry nongovernmental paramilitary operations over the decades.

If Suleimani were a terrorist, it would be easy to justify taking him out with a drone. But he’s an official of a sovereign nation. Underscoring this point is the fact that he was replaced quickly, a sign that he was a cog in a relatively stable government, not someone so irreplaceable that killing him would prevent violence against the United States. Whatever Iran’s plans were before, the death of Suleimani will not change or slow them down. 

Now if the United States were in a declared war with Iran, I would understand going after its leading general. But we are not at war, so our actions are barbarous. We have set a new global standard that no leader or general, and perhaps no elected official of any nation, is ever safe. All are fair game, not just for the United States, but for all sovereign nations. 

Other nations realize the sheer barbarity of this assassination, which is why no other country outside Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel has spoken up to approve it. 

The United States has had its hand in assassinations of the high-ranking government officials of other nations before: Vietnam, Chile, Iran itself. These actions were never right in the past, they aren’t right now and they don’t make the Suleimani action right. Furthermore, they don’t even set a precedent for the Suleimani assassination, since in all the other cases, someone else did the dirty work and the result of the killing was regime change. Only in the most ridiculous fantasy could anyone imagine that killing the general of a modern army that follows government dictates would cause a nation to fall. And no one, not even the hawkish fantasist John Bolton, is predicting that result.

Thus the action was completely unprecedented, at least in recent American history.

Every week it seems we say that Trump has finally scraped the bottom of the barrel and cannot do anything more stupid, more venal, crueler or more hurtful to the future of mankind than what he just did. How many times have you heard or read, “He couldn’t possible go any lower?” We said it about his many decisions regarding immigrants, especially refugees. We said it when he walked away from the Iranian nuclear deal and the Paris Accord. About ending emission standards. The trade war fiasco. Threatening an ally in a war with an enemy with loss of aid unless the ally did a personal favor for Trump.

We now, I believe, are finally at the bottom. 

Killing Suleimani was cruel, stupid and will likely lead to much more violence. To understand the greed factor, we have to remember that Trump is paying off business loans to Russia and Saudi Arabia with foreign policy decisions that help them, and killing Suleimani definitely smacks of something the Saudis would like done.  

The only thing more dangerous to the United States and the rest of the world than openly killing someone like Suleimani with a drone would be if Trump authorized the dropping of a nuclear warhead. I once thought the armed forces would intervene and refuse to carry out the order to release a nuclear weapon on another country, perhaps take the Trumptster into custody. Now I understand that his orders will be followed and when he says drop the big one, it will happen.

The last time I was this frightened and felt so little in control of my life was as a five-year-old when I heard that the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik. Everyone said it meant that we might all perish in a nuclear war, and I believed them. Night after night, I tossed and turned sleeplessly in my bed until past midnight fearing for my life.

I’m that frightened again. And so should everyone else be.

If the Democrats could stop playing “Let’s see who can out-warmonger who,” they would realize that the act of killing Suleimani without first consulting Congress and our European allies was worthy of another impeachment trial and act accordingly. And if the Republicans would stop drooling over future tax cuts for the wealthy and the repeal of Roe v. Wade for a moment, they would see that they have to support impeachment and conviction before Trump sets off a nuclear conflagration.