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The Democrats’ New Fake Populism By Shamus Cooke


It would have been hilarious were it not so nauseating. One could only watch the recent “New Populism” conference with pity-induced discomfort, as stale Democratic politicians did their awkward best to adjust themselves to the fad of “populism.” A boring litany of Democratic politicians — or those closely associated — gave bland speeches that aroused little enthusiasm among a very friendly audience of Washington D.C. politicos. It felt like an amateur recital in front of family and friends, in the hopes that practicing populism with an audience would better prepare them for the real thing. The organizers of the conference, The Campaign For America’s Future, ensured that real populism would be absent from the program. The group is a Democratic Party ally that essentially functions as a party think tank.

The two co-founders of Campaign for America’s Future are Robert Borosage — who works closely with the progressive caucus of the Democratic Party — and Robert Hickey, who works with Health Care for America Now, an organization that prioritized campaigning for Obamacare. On the Board of Directors is the notorious liberal Van Jones, no doubt carefully chosen for his non-threatening elitist politics.

The “new populism” seems to mistakenly believe that if Democrats merely advocate for a couple of “popular” ideas — as opposed to their usual unpopular policies that they actually implement — that they can suddenly transform themselves into “populists.” The unofficial and uninspiring leader of this grouping, Senator Elizabeth Warren, summarized the “radical” populist platform of these reborn Democrat revolutionaries, doing her drab best to inject life into a zombie political party:

  • "We believe that Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we're willing to fight for it.”

  • “We believe no one should work full-time and live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage — and we're willing to fight for it.”

  • "We believe people should retire with dignity, and that means strengthening Social Security — and we're willing to fight for it.”

  • "We believe that a kid should have a chance to go to college without getting crushed by debt — and we're willing to fight for it.”

    It’s true that 90 percent of Americans would agree with Warren, but the devil is in her lack of details. Warren’s popular platform falls incredibly flat because there are no concrete demands to inspire people, just generalizations. This important omission didn’t happen by mistake. The Democrats simply do not want a new populist movement; rather, their opportunistic goal is to win elections by simply being more popular than the Republicans. Any of Warren’s above ideas — if they ever enter the halls of Congress as a bill — would be sufficiently watered down long before any elated response could be reached from the broader population. How might Warren transform her ideas if she actually wanted a populist response? Some examples might be:

  • Jail the bankers who crashed the economy. Tax Wall Street earnings at 90% and nationalize any bank that is “too big to fail” in order to bring them under control.
  • Raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour.
  • Expand Social Security by lowering the retirement age to 60, to be paid for by expanding payroll taxes to higher earners — who currently pay no Medicare and Social Security taxes on income over $110,000.
  • Free university education — to be paid for by taxing the rich and corporations. Eliminate crushing student debt.

    Such demands would be much more likely to inspire people than what the “populist” Democrats are offering, and inspiration is the missing populist ingredient that the Democrats are organically incapable of provoking. What’s preventing the Democrats from becoming inspirational? They know all too well that by venturing too far to the left they could easily instigate a real mass movement. And such a movement is not easily controlled and would inevitably demand much more than the corporate-minded Democrats are willing to concede, which, at this point, is virtually nothing aside from musty rhetoric.

    Unlike the Republican’s populist turn to the right that created the now-defunct Tea Party, a true left turn would mean have the potential to rejuvenate the millions’ strong labor movement, while engaging tens of millions more into active political life, driving people to participate in mass marches, rallies, labor strikes and other forms of mass action. This was what happened during the “old populism” in U.S. history, which the Democrats are taking their trendy namesake from. The populist movement of the late 1800’s was a genuine mass movement of workers and farmers, which briefly aligned in an independent political party, the People’s Party, also known as the populists. The populist movement that included strike waves and local rural rebellions had nothing to do with the lifeless politics of the Democratic Party, and threatened the very foundation of America corporate power. The Democrats are keenly aware of this type of real populist “threat,” and they are willing to do anything to stop it.

    For example, the Occupy movement proved that the Democrats fear real left populism much more than they fear far-right populism. We now know that the Obama administration worked with numerous Democratic Party mayors and governors across the nation to undermine and destroy the Occupy movement through mass arrests, police violence and surveillance. And because Occupy succeeded in changing the national conversation about income inequality, the Democrats were forced to engage with the rhetoric of the movement they dismembered, and now use the plagiarized language as proof of their “populism.”

    Aside from Elizabeth Warren, the other rock star of the “new populism” conference was the nominally-independent “socialist” Bernie Sanders, who essentially functions in Congress as a Democrat. Sanders’ politics fits in perfectly with the rest of the progressive caucus Democrats, which is why he was invited to the conference. Sanders can perhaps outdo Warren when it comes to anti-corporate-speak; but like Warren he keeps his solutions vague and his movement building aspirations negligible. If by chance Sanders chooses to run for president as an Independent — as many radicals are hoping — his fake populist politics and empty rhetoric are unlikely to drastically change, limiting any chance that a "movement" may emerge. It’s doubtful that many people have been fooled by the “left turn” of the Democratic Party. But on a deeper level the politics of “lesser evilism” still haunts labor and community groups, and keeping these groups within the orbit of the Democratic Party is the ultimate purpose of this new, more radical speechifying. Until these groups organize themselves independently and create their own working class political party, the above politics of "populist" farce is guaranteed to continue.

    Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscook@gmail.com
  • Unnecessary and Disproportionate: How the NSA Violates International Human Rights Standards


    Even before Ed Snowden leaked his first document, human rights lawyers and activists were concerned about law enforcement and intelligence agencies spying on the digital world. One of the tools developed to tackle those concerns was the development of the International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance (the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles”). This set of principles was intended to guide governments in understanding how new surveillance technologies eat away at fundamental freedoms, and outlined how communications surveillance can be conducted consistent with human rights obligations. Furthermore, the Necessary and Proportionate Principles act as a resource for citizens—used to compare new tools of state surveillance to global expectations of privacy and due process.

    We are now able to look at how the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, which we have learned about in the past year, fare when compared to the Necessary and Proportionate Principles.

    As you might expect, the NSA programs do not fare well. To mark the first anniversary of the Snowden disclosures, we are releasing Unnecessary and Disproportionate, which details how some of the NSA spying operations violate both human rights standards and the Necessary and Proportionate Principles.

    Some of the conclusions are as follows:

  • The NSA surveillance lacks “legality” in that NSA surveillance laws are largely governed by a body of secret law developed by a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which selectively publishes its legal interpretations of the law;

  • The NSA surveillance is neither “necessary,” nor “proportionate,” in that the various programs in which communications data are obtained in bulk violate the privacy rights of millions of persons who are not suspected of having any connection to international terrorism;

  • The NSA surveillance programs are not supported by competent judicial authority because the only judicial approval, if any, comes from the FISC, which operates outside of normal adversarial procedures such that the individuals whose data are collected lack access to the court;

  • The NSA surveillance programs lack due process because the FISC presents no opportunity for a public hearing;

  • The NSA surveillance programs lack user notification: those whose data is obtained do not know that their communications have been monitored and hence they cannot appeal the decision nor get legal representation to defend themselves;

  • The NSA surveillance programs lack the required transparency and public oversight, because they operate in secret and rely on gag orders against the entities from whom the data are obtained, along with secret, if any, court proceedings;

  • The NSA surveillance programs damage the integrity of communication systems by undermining security systems, such as encryption, requiring the insertion of surveillance back doors in communications technologies, including the installation of fiber optic splitters in transmission hubs; and

  • The US surveillance framework is illegitimate because it applies less favorable standards to non-US persons than its own citizens; this discrimination places it in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

    More broadly, the United States justifies the lawfulness of its communications surveillance by reference to distinctions that, considering modern communications technology, are irrelevant to truly protecting privacy in a modern society. The US relies on the outmoded distinction between “content” and “metadata,” falsely contending that the latter does not reveal private facts about an individual. The US also contends that the collection of data is not surveillance—it argues, contrary to both international law and the Principles, that an individual’s privacy rights are not infringed as long as her communications data are not analyzed by a human being. It’s clear that the practice of digital surveillance by the United States has overrun the bounds of human rights standards. What our paper hopes to show is exactly where the country has crossed the line, and how its own politicians and the international community might rein it back.

  • Weekend Economists Pull Timmy Out of Well (and Throw Him Back In)May 30-June 1, 2014

    Yup. That's him. That's the [strike] bastard [/strike] subject of this Weekend's investigation:

    Timothy Franz Geithner, born August 18, 1961, an American economic policy maker and central banker who served as the 75th United States Secretary of the Treasury, under President Barack Obama, from 2009 to 2013. He was previously the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2003 to 2009. He now serves as president of Warburg Pincus, a Wall Street private equity firm.

    Geithner's position included a large role in directing the Federal Government's spending on the crisis, including allocation of $350 billion of funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program enacted during the previous administration. At the end of his first year in office, he continued to deal with multiple high visibility issues, including administration efforts to restructure the regulation of the nation's financial system, attempts to spur recovery of both the mortgage market and the automobile industry, demands for protectionism, President Obama's tax changes, and negotiations with foreign governments on approaches to worldwide financial issues...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Geithner

    Timmeh, as he is sometimes referred to, has just written a book about his service to the [strike]banksters[/strike] country. It has been less than graciously received by those who care about such things. To start the slanging match, I'd like to offer this pithy remark from Charlie Pierce:

    My Favorite Sentence Ever From Timothy Geithner By Charles P. Pierce on May 29, 2014


    I am plowing through Timothy Geithner's new book, which I believe is titled, I Saved The Fking World, You Ungrateful Curs, or something like that. Anyway, I'm only about a quarter of the way through and I found what I believe is going to be the best sentence in all of the book's 580 pages. It appears on page 111.

    "Central bankers did not have a good record of identifying bubbles in advance, and neither did bank supervisors."

    Yes, and the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company did not have a good record of identifying fire hazards in advance, either.

    Our Elites Are Extremely Isolated from Real Life in America -- and That's Dangerous

    ...Imagine for a moment you’re Tim Geithner. You’re intelligent, competent, and hard-working. Your friends like you. Your bosses appreciate you. You’re a good family man. You worked under extraordinary pressure to save the financial system. And all you get for it is grief. Naturally you want to write a book to set the record straight.

    It’s all perfectly understandable, at least from Geithner’s point of view.

    Now imagine that you’re a middle-class wage earner who’s worked hard all your life. You bought a house, perhaps sometime in the 1990s. The talking heads on TV said it was a great investment, your bank’s assessor said the house was valuable, and politicians from both parties had been telling you for decades that homeownership is the American Dream.

    But you were defrauded by lawbreaking bankers, and then abandoned by presidential administrations of both parties. You’ve been unemployed for years now – thanks to a financial crisis that the banks created by manipulating people like you – but in Washington they’ve stopped talking about job creation. You’re slipping down the economic ladder, rung by rung. Maybe you’re suicidal, like some of the people who wrote to me back in 2010.

    Nobody’s asking you to write your memoirs. In fact, nobody seems particularly interested in your story anymore. If you’re a little bitter at all the attention Tim Geithner’s new memoir is receiving, that’s understandable. A lot of the economists and bankers who ruined your life are featured prominently and flatteringly in Geithner’s book...



    The Minimum Wage Isn’t Just a Wage: It’s a Standard


    I’ve been doing a bit of historical research for a minimum wage paper and keep stumbling on these interesting and compelling ideas from the framers of that and similar policies. Arguments about minimum wages tend to be about two things: will it hurt its intended recipients and the businesses that employ them by raising labor costs, and is it well targeted? These are, of course, important questions. But while they were certainly entertained by the framers of the national policy back in the 1930s, their motivation went beyond these narrow questions. They viewed the minimum wage as a new, national standard.

    Labor markets, like the broader economies in which they exist, are social and political constructs. They operate as much by laws, rules, and standards as by supply and demand. Laws against child labor, discrimination, overtime without extra pay, wage theft, and more are examples of hard fought standards that most Americans today recognize as integral to the functioning of labor markets. The minimum wage was conceived in this same spirit. Testifying before Congress in 1937, Isador Lubin, the Commissioner of Labor Statistics, stressed that the minimum wage “…aims to establish by law a plane of competition far above that which could be maintained in the absence of government edict.” Other proponents argued that the policy would “underpin the whole wage structure…at a point from which collective bargaining could take over.”

    Both Frances Perkins, FDR’s labor secretary, and later Roosevelt himself spoke of putting “a floor on wages and a ceiling on hours.” In this regard, we see that the framers had a very specific type of labor standard in mind, one that would block market outcomes widely perceived as market failures. It was not at all hard to imagine back then that left to its own devices, given the excess of supply over demand and the non-existent bargaining power of low-wage workers, the “market” could drive wage offers down to pennies and desperate workers would have no choice but to accept such offers. Through the Fair Labor Standards Act, which created the federal minimum wage, Congress acted to correct that failure (the act’s objective was summarized as the “elimination of labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standards of living necessary for health, efficiency and well-being of workers”).

    To this day, advocates and analysts supportive of higher minimum wages remain motivated by these goals. Yet the debate rarely invokes labor standards, and instead exists almost exclusively on technical grounds involving employment and price “elasticities” (responses to increases in the wage) and targeting (whether the wage reaches low-wage workers in low-income households). This emphasis sucks important oxygen out of the room. Instead of placing the debate in the context of market failure, it becomes a debate about market efficiencies. No question, the failure of the low-wage labor market was far deeper in the 1930s than it is today—that’s one reason there’s less urgency around these issues. And no question that market efficiencies must be considered. But while this isn’t the Depression, there are still too many low-wage workers who can’t make ends meet based what they’re paid, and the research shows that moderate increases in the minimum wage have their intended effect without creating large or even moderate market distortions. Given those realities, it is essential to reintroduce the concept of labor standards to the minimum wage and similar debates. To abandon that fight is to accept the persistence of a sub-standard labor market.

    Equal Rights to Profit from Impoverishing People and Causing a Great Extinction Event by Ian Welsh



    ...Too many people in the West want only one thing: they want in on the evil gravy train. They see that there is a scam going on, a scam that impoverishes millions and helps create and maintain rape factories like in the Congo, and their response is “I want in on that gravy train! Why are women, and African-Americans and the working class and (insert discriminated class here) not on the gravy train too!” They look at what CEOs make, or the banker bailouts, and they want the money; they want their own bailouts.

    But what they don’t want to do is drain the swamp. They don’t want to change the way the world works so that having an iPhone doesn’t mean men and women in the Congo are being raped and murdered in a systematic fashion. In the Congo they will take their rape victims, bend them over and have every man in a military unit rape them. The blood flows like water.

    A choice was made in the late 70s to 1980, not to drain the swamp. In fact, the choice was made then to increase evil and poverty in the world an the only reason one can say that it has decreased is China, who didn’t go along with the IMF/World Bank prescription. This was a choice: as problematic as Carter was (and he was very) he suggested a different way: Americans resoundingly rejected it. The Brits elected Thatcher.

    These acts of greed and selfishness; these acts of “I’ve got mine, fuck you Jack” had consequences...If what people want is equal rights to profit from a system which is profoundly evil, and whose function is to enrich a few people by impoverishing many many more while maintaining rape colonies, I’m out. I’m not fighting for fairness in the neo-Imperialism business. “The best people at maintaining our project of impoverishing people and screwing up the world, causing a great extinction event, should be chosen objectively, without regards to ethnicity, gender, age or sexual preference” is not a hill I’m dying on.

    The Internet Behind The Internet


    The average computer user with an Internet connection has access to an amazing wealth of information. But there's also an entire world that's invisible to your standard Web browser.

    These parts of the Internet are known as the Deep Web. The tools to get to there are just a few clicks away, and more and more people who want to browse the Web anonymously are signing on. Fans of the series House of Cards might recall the Deep Web being worked into the plot of latest season. The character Lucas, a newspaper editor who was trying find a hacker, gets a little crash course from one of his reporters:

    "Ninety-six percent of the Internet isn't accessible through standard search engines. Most of it's useless but it's where you go to find anything and everything: child porn, Bitcoin laundry, narcotics, hackers for hire ..."

    Wired reporter Kim Zetter tells NPR's Arun Rath that the show kind of got it right, but that there should be a distinction between what's called the Deep Web and what are known as Darknet sites.

    "The Deep Web is anything not accessible through the commercial search engines," Zetter says.

    Then, there's the Darknet, a specific part of that hidden Web where you can operate in total anonymity. Without being tracked, people can access websites that sell drugs, weapons and they can even hire assassins. One such black-market site, Silk Road, got attention last fall after a crackdown by the FBI. Zeeter says the Darknet has another purpose that doesn't usually make the news: It helps political dissidents who want to evade government censors...


    WEE Honor Our Fallen: Memorial Day, 2014


    Memorial Day is a US federal holiday wherein the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces are remembered. The holiday, which is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May, was formerly known as Decoration Day and originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.

    Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

    Annual Decoration Days for particular cemeteries are held on a Sunday in late spring or early summer in some rural areas of the American South, notably in the mountains. In cases involving a family graveyard where remote ancestors as well as those who were deceased more recently are buried, this may take on the character of an extended family reunion to which some people travel hundreds of miles. People gather on the designated day and put flowers on graves and renew contacts with kinfolk and others. There often is a religious service and a "dinner on the ground," the traditional term for a potluck meal in which people used to spread the dishes out on sheets or tablecloths on the grass. It is believed that this practice began before the American Civil War and thus may reflect the real origin of the "memorial day" idea.

    Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans...https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_Day

    If it weren't for them, we would not be here today. Let their sacrifices not be in vain. Fight injustice, corruption, and the 1%, who would throw away our young people for greed.

    Weekend Economists Down Under May 23-26, 2014

    I don't know much about Australia.

    Given my abhorrence of heat, my reluctance to get on an airplane for any length of time, let alone two days, and my refusal to buy a passport at the outrageous prices current (not discounting the fact that my country might not even let me leave, for some insanely paranoid reason to be disclosed in 60 years or so when all the idiots are dead, or LET ME BACK IN, OR JUST RANDOMLY JAIL), I probably never will see it in person.

    No offense, mates, but there are places I would suffer to visit. Australia hasn't made that list, yet. Give me a good reason and that could change.

    But in the meanwhile, let us gather what intelligence we may on the Land Down Under....

    The Crocodile Dundee movie series is as close as most of us will get to an actual tour of Oz, as it is also known. We will include some of that, too.

    Ayers Rock (Uluru) Sunrise, Northern Territory, Australia


    FOR TV TOURS OF AUSTRALIA, VISIT THIS WEBSITE: http://tours-tv.com/en/australia_landscape

    Giving that article the NSS Award--My First Such Recognition!

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