Saturday, December 16, 2006

Democrats Arrive at the Heart of the Matter

The New York Times
December 16, 2006


The Democrats are positioned to make a down payment to the voters who gave them majority control of the House and the Senate. Their ability to pay in full is another question.

House Democrats, more than their Senate colleagues, can set certain partisan markers: a minimum-wage hike, ethics reform, reduced student loan interest rates and changes in labor law, which will make union organizing less difficult.

As the majority, Democratic leaders and committee chairs can focus public attention on job, pension and health care security issues; publicize evidence of decreased mobility on the economic ladder; and spotlight the growing vulnerability of middle-income families to sharp and sudden downward financial swings.

The threat to the middle class is real. “I won by almost 13 points, with almost no newspaper endorsements, against an incumbent who had given out $1 billion in projects,” says Sherrod Brown, a new senator for Ohio. “It was because of the strength of our message about the middle class.”

So much for the down payment. After that, the going for the Democrats gets tougher. They will encounter two roadblocks: Republican chokeholds on federal spending, meant to “starve the beast” by radically depleting coffers, and intense internal Democratic policy conflicts.

Democrats on the House Budget and Appropriations Committees released a report early this month, titled The Republican Legacy, which describes the spending restrictions confronting them. The 110th Congress “will face a fiscal challenge of historic proportions. The cost of the Iraq war, coupled with the growing price tag of tax cuts passed over the previous six years, have left the nation deeper in debt than ever.” (Since 2002, Congress has appropriated $379 billion for the Iraq war.)

One solution, raising taxes, is widely seen as a third rail for Democrats. “We are not talking about that now,” said a spokesman for the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

The intraparty conflict pits its business and labor wings against each other on policies dealing with the international marketplace. Should lawmakers encourage the flow of cheap goods from China to stock the shelves of Wal-Mart, benefiting American shoppers, many of whom are low income? Or should policy be designed to protect American jobs and wages by raising trade barriers?

This split is profound. Barney Frank — echoing a large swath of his party — contends that this nation’s “enormous economic power” could be used to stem the hemorrhage of services and production overseas. Trade agreements could be made contingent upon rules requiring that China and other countries abide by environmental and labor standards. “People greatly exaggerate the value of a cheap T-shirt,” Frank says, upholding the position of organized labor and dismissing the argument that such goals are unattainable and unenforceable.

A leading Democratic proponent of free trade, who does not want to publicly engage the topic yet, has a counterargument, that China is moving full speed ahead, that “you cannot put labor provisions into a trade agreement with China. They’ll walk away.” That globalization is inexorable. That “we are either going to be inside the net or outside the net.” That America needs to deal with dislocation effects and negative distribution consequences. He points out that Midwestern law firms are outsourcing research to India, that the U.S. needs a better education system, that Korea has a national broadband infrastructure, that Shanghai and Beijing airports are more modern than J.F.K., that key military agencies no longer support basic research.

He argues that chemical plants need security and that America needs universal health coverage. “There’s a lot we can do to make it better,” he says, like locating businesses in the U.S. in clusters around universities, and locating production closer to centers of “intellectual ferment.” He is firm on one point: “We need to get back on track fiscally. We have to have higher revenue. Business is not supporting taxes. They rail against government spending. We don’t have the means to pay for what we need.”

This conflict goes to the heart of Democratic struggles to develop a credible economic policy. The Democrats have a two-year window in which to confront their internal schisms and to present a stronger face to the electorate in 2008.

In a recent column, the name of the governor of Iowa was misspelled; it is Tom Vilsack.


Thomas B. Edsall, a correspondent for The New Republic and National Journal, has been a guest columnist for the last month. He holds the Pulitzer-Moore Chair at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Farewell, Dense Prince

The New York Times
December 16, 2006


James Baker ran after W. with a butterfly net for a while, but it is now clear that the inmates are still running the asylum.

The Defiant Ones came striding from the Pentagon yesterday, the troika of wayward warriors marching abreast in their dark suits and power ties. W., Rummy and Dick Cheney were so full of quick-draw confidence that they might have been sauntering down the main drag of Deadwood.

Far from being run out of town, the defense czar who rivals Robert McNamara for deadly incompetence has been on a victory lap in Baghdad, Mosul and Washington. Yesterday’s tribute had full military honors, a color guard, a 19-gun salute, an Old Guard performance with marching musicians — including piccolo players — in Revolutionary War costumes, John Philip Sousa music and the chuckleheaded neocons and ex-Rummy deputies who helped screw up the occupation, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, cheering in the audience.

It was surreal: the septuagenarian who arrogantly dismissed initial advice to send more troops to secure Iraq, being praised as “the finest secretary of defense this nation has ever had” by his pal, the vice president, even as a desperate White House drafted ways to reinvade Iraq by sending more troops in a grasping-at-straws effort to reverse the chaos caused by Rummy’s mistakes.

Just imagine the send-off a defense secretary would have gotten who hadn’t sabotaged the Army, Iraq, global security, our chance to get Osama, our moral credibility, the deficit and American military confidence.

Even Joyce Rumsfeld got a Distinguished Public Service Award ribbon placed around her neck. The grandiose ceremony featured everything but the gold-plated matching set of pistols Tommy Franks, another failed warrior, and his wife, Cathy, recently received from a weapons manufacturer. (His had four stars and diamonds; hers, rubies and their marriage date.)

W. never seems as alarmed about the devastation in Iraq as he should be. He told People magazine “I must tell you, I’m sleeping a lot better than people would assume,” and he told Brit Hume that his presidency was “a joyful experience.”

He slacked off on his slacker effort to form a new Iraq plan. (Can’t these guys ever order pizzas and pull some all-nighters?) Mr. Bush was busy this week hosting Christmas parties for a press corps he disdains; convening a malaria conference at the National Geographic with Dr. Burke of “Grey’s Anatomy” Isaiah Washington; and presiding over a hero’s departure for the defense secretary he actually dumped, not because of incompetence but for political expediency.

The Rummy hoopla was a way for W. to signal his decision to shred the Baker-Hamilton study, after reportedly denouncing it as a flaming cowpie. Condi Rice signaled the same, telling The Washington Post that she did not want to negotiate with Syria and Iran, as the Iraq Study Group had proposed, because “the compensation” might be too high.

The Democrats thought that when they won the election, they won the debate on the war and they had W. cornered. But the president is leaning toward surging over the Democrats, voters, Baker and the Bush 41 crowd, and some of his own commanders.

W. seems gratified by the idea that rather than having his ears boxed by his father’s best friend, he’s going to go down swinging, or double down, in the metaphor du jour, on his macho bet in Iraq. He’s reading about Harry Truman and casting himself as a feisty Truman, but he’s heading toward late L.B.J. The White House budget office is studying how much it will cost to finance The Surge, an infusion of 20,000 to 50,000 troops into Baghdad to make one last try at “victory.” The policy would devolve from “We stand down as they stand up” to “We stand up more and maybe someday they will, too.”

Some serving commanders are not in favor of The Surge because they fret that it will infantilize Iraqis even more about assuming responsibility for their own security. They also fear that the insurgents, who have nowhere to go, will outwait our troops.

But W. would rather take a risk in Iraq than risk being a wimp. So he continued to wrap himself in muscular delusions, asserting that on Rummy’s watch, “the United States military helped the Iraqi people establish a constitutional democracy in the heart of the Middle East, a watershed event in the story of freedom.”

Dick Cheney offered this praise to his friend: “On the professional side, I would not be where I am today but for the confidence that Don first placed in me those many years ago.”

Alas, we wouldn’t be where we are today, either.

Friday, December 15, 2006


Grow up you stupid bitch! Stay clean & sober or die!




NPR reports: Republicans are already planning to challenge the legitimacy of a recuperating Sen. Tim Johnson being able to hold onto his seat. Meanwhile lending lip-service to the myth of congressional collegiality & hypocritically wishing him well…when in fact they wish him dead! [ source: commentary by Juan Williams on the Day to Day program. ]

Do you believe this sh!t?

Of course Strom Thurmond could still be elected today & sit in the Senate …as long as he were properly stuffed & deodorized…


Did you know that Rumsfeld has a vacation home at Mount Misery, Virginia--the site of an old plantation where recalcitrant slaves (including Frederick Douglass ) were taken to be “broke” (i.e. tortured) in the good old bad old days ? Mr. Cheney has a place just down the road. I love those kind of folk so much…I just can’t tell ya. (But I’m sure you can imagine…) [ source: Amy Goodman of Democracy Now on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal.]



‘Rumsfeld owns a vacation home named Mount Misery, an infamous 19th century manor where unruly slaves were sent to be broken by owner Edward Covey. The most famous of these slaves was a rebellious, teenage Frederick Douglass, who describes his brutal and formative experience there in his 1855 book, My Bondage and My Freedom . Writes Douglass, "I shall never be able to narrate the mental experience through which it was my lot to pass during my stay at Covey's. I was completely wrecked, changed, and bewildered; goaded almost to madness at one time, and at another reconciling myself to my wretched condition." ’ [source: Misery, Thy Name is Rumsfeld's Vacation Home ]

Send U.S. Senator Tim Johnson a Message

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gore Vidal Breaks US Blockade on Cuba

Havana, Dec 11 (Prensa Latina) I came to Cuba with my broken knee to help break 40 years of embargo, said US writer Gore Vidal, who will be visiting Havana until December 14, after referring to the distortion of information about the Island by his country s media.

He told Cuban journalists upon his arrival at the Jose Marti international airport that he had been invited several times to come, but the trip was always postponed for one reason or another.

I lost one of my knees the last time and I almost sent my knee to you, and it would have been more interesting than myself, he said ironically, but I have an artificial one, and was able to come here to see the beginning of the end of colonialism in the Western Hemisphere.

Born in 1925, Gore Vidal (81) is used to specifying that he has lived three quarters of the 20th century and a third of US history, the course of which he has assessed in inquiring essays, novels, and interviews characterized by his critical lucidity.

Without hesitation he told Prensa Latina his opinion about the most worrying symptoms of the US future political panorama: The collapse of the Republic. We have lost habeas corpus and the Constitution that we inherited from England 700 years ago. Suddenly, we were robbed of it.

The current regime has done it, and the legal bases of our Republic have gone with it, and as I am one of the historians of that Republic, I am not happy.

Retaking the distortion of the Cuban reality, he said that they never told us why we should hate the Cubans, and in his opinion, his compatriots were motivated by vanity.

At that time, he said, my friend John F. Kennedy was running for president, and about this country, Cuba, he did not agree and turned it into something boosted by vanity.

"When we invaded Cuba [in 1898] it was only a pretext to start the war against Spain and end up taking the Philippines, as we did in the end."

I hate to say it, but you were just a step for the United States to reach Asia, although we always had our eyes on the Caribbean.

He recalled how when World War II had just ended in 1945, US President Harry Truman began to say: "the Russians are coming, the Russians are coming."

With 20 million dead Russians, he said ironically, there was barely anybody to come. Even so, the decision was made: the only way to rule the country is by terrorizing everybody.

A large delegation is accompanying Vidal, including his nephew Burr Steers, a Hollywood film director; Saul Landau, a professor at American University; Dennis Ferrera, San Francisco Attorney General-elect; and Matt Tyrnauer, editor of the magazine Vanity Fair.

One of his closest friends, former Senator James Abourezk; Kimiko Burton, a lawyer from the Attorney General's office, and others are also in the delegation.

The writer of "Homeland and Empire" will fulfill a program in Cuba that includes meetings with Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, Culture Minister Abel Prieto, and Cuban National People s Power Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon.

He will meet, in parallel, with university students and teachers, and will tour the Information Technology University, the Latin American School of Medicine, and the National Fine Arts Museum.

At the airport, he was welcomed by Culture Vice Minister Ismael Gonzalez and Book Institute President Iroel Sanchez.


Billionaire Tom & getting past the Great Education Myth

By David Sirota

I really don't know why I ever even glance at Tom Friedman's stuff anymore - the guy is so far gone he's like a walking corporate PR brochure. I'm surprised his columns aren't signed off with something like "This message sponsored and approved of by [INSERT MULTINATIONAL COMPANY]." But, unfortunately, I came across Friedman's piece today once again peddling what I call the Great Education Myth. Yes, according to billionaire Tom Friedman, if only everyone can just learn to be as smart as Tom Friedman, all of our economic problems will magically disappear.

Friedman first tries to pull a fast one on us. "Why should any employer anywhere in the world pay Americans to do highly skilled work," he asks, "if other people, just as well educated, are available in less developed countries for half our wages?" He then says:

"There is only one right answer to that question: In a globally integrated economy, our workers will get paid a premium only if they or their firms offer a uniquely innovative product or service, which demands a skilled and creative labor force to conceive, design, market and manufacture -- and a labor force that is constantly able to keep learning."

The trick is in his slick euphemisms, in particular the one about the "globally integrated economy." This is a term used to distract us from asking questions about the policies that have actually globally integrated the economy. Billionaire Tom doesn't want us asking those questions (and as he told Tim Russert recently, he himself doesn't even bother to investigate those questions when he writes his columns). He doesn't want us wondering why the global economy has been integrated with complex intellectual, patent and copyright protections, but no similar protections for wages, human rights, or environmental concerns. Because, you see, if we asked those questions, his entire premise would collapse like a house of cards. If, say, we had wage protections in our international trade policy, there might not be so many workers simply "available" at a fraction of the modest wages most American workers command.

But Friedman's trick is merely garden-variety dishonesty - it is the rest of his piece that exposes just how totally out of touch with reality he really is. He says that the way to fix our economy is "refocusing [America's education system] on producing people who can imagine things that have never been available before, who can create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies and design software."

Now, I'm all for improving our education system so that we have more creative thinkers. But the idea that this is the primary way to deal with globalization - and not instead reforming the unfair rules governing globalization - is insane. I mean, Tom Friedman actually sits in his 12,000 square foot mansion in Bethesda and believes that we can have an economy of 100 million workers where most workers are all their own kind of entrepreneurs - from marketing campaign directors, to book authors, to furniture designers, to Hollywood directors to Silicon Valley CEOs. Yes, that's right - in the future American economy, everyone will be a Steve Jobs, a Tom Friedman and a Steven Spielberg, and if everyone doesn't miraculously become one of those icons, then our entire country is going down the drain, because there's nothing else we can do.

How can someone actually spew this nonsense? A lot of it has to do with the fact that the cloistered world where people like Tom Friedman frolick is a world where, in fact, most people ARE Hollywood movie directors, authors and Silicon Valley CEOs.

As I wrote in an earlier piece, most of the purportedly "national" opinionmakers live in the New York-Washington corridor, and within that corridor, most of them are in the highest of high socioeconomic circles.

It makes all these people feel better about themselves if they come up with a storyline that says 1) all of their success is because they worked hard, got educated and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps 2) none of their success had anything to do with an economic structure that rewards a very few people who come from priviledge with a huge amount, and a very many people who are "average" with almost nothing and 3) if only everyone else worked just as hard, got just as smart, and pulled just as hard on their bootstraps, they too would be successful and America would be A.O.K. Dammit America, says the Beltway elite - just stop being so lazy and everything will be solved!

Let's be clear - many of America's most successful icons did work hard, get educated and pull themselves up by their boostraps - but most also found ways to exploit advantages in the system.

Sadly, these few advantages simply aren't open to most people in society, because we live in a world where economies of 100 million workers have to have worker bees. These are the people who do all those "regular" jobs in "regular" places like Akron, Butte, Pittsburgh, Dubuque and elsewhere - people that Tom Friedman is only too happy to see put out of work and places that Tom Friedman is only too happy to see turned into boarded up ghost towns.

The truth is that it doesn't matter whether it is Tom Friedman, or Barack Obama or anyone else soothing us with the Great Education Myth - until we get serious about protecting our own worker bees with basic trade laws that value their contribution to our economy, no amount of schooling or influx of Hollywood directors or furniture designers is going to solve our economic challenges. And, if you look hard enough, at least some honest people even in the business community are willing to admit as much. Take a gander at this piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"U.S.-made products are losing market share to imports across a wide range of core industries in the United States, according to a new study. Among 114 product categories, U.S.-based producers boosted their domestic market share in only three categories between 1997 and 2005: heavy trucks and chassis, computer storage devices, and computer chips. Imports gained market share in 111 categories...The study focused on industrial and engineered products, such as wireless equipment, plumbing fixtures, tire cord, navigation and guidance systems, power boilers, and heat exchangers...'The reality is that until there is a change in the trade situation, there won't be new manufacturing jobs,' said Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist with the Manufacturers Alliance, a nonprofit educational and business-research organization. The group is free-trade-oriented." (emphasis added)

Thankfully, a growing group of Democratic lawmakers understands this - and isn't rolling over. The industry newsletter Inside US-China Trade this week added to the reporting I did about a meeting between House Democrats and Citigroup chairman Bob Rubin - a fellow member of the Friedman school of international economics. Here's an excerpt:

"Both newly elected and returning House Democrats last week vehemently rejected the advice given by former Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin that the new Congress should not try to pass significant legislation on issues related to U.S. manufacturing job losses, the trade deficit with China, or other broader trade-related issues in order to avoid appearing to be divided, according to informed sources...Sources said the widespread rejection of Rubin's message is an early sign that many House Democrats believe they were elected to aggressively protect U.S. manufacturing jobs from being eroded by imports from China and other countries...While Rubin also frequently returned to the idea that disagreeing with his position would be perceived as a split among Democrats, sources at the meeting said he did not appear to have any concrete answers to Democratic objections to his message."

Rubin, Friedman and the rest of Corporate America want to pretend there are no concrete answers other than the Great Education Myth, and they sure as hell don't want anyone to notice this Financial Times piece about how Europe is now demanding strong labor protections in all of its future trade agreements. If too many Americans realize that, in fact, one of the largest economic powers in the industrialized world - the EU - is rejecting the myth making and is instead taking a structural approach to the problem, then maybe there will be pressure on our own government to do the same. That would be dangerous to the Big Money interests that have performed a hostile takeover of our government - but that, folks, is the way we're going to have to deal with this problem if we are going to solve it.

The Great Wealth Transfer

It's the biggest untold economic story of our time: more of the nation's bounty held in fewer and fewer hands. And Bush's tax cuts are only making the problem worse

Rolling Stone Magazine
Nov 30, 2006

Why doesn't Bush get credit for the strong economy?" That question has been asked over and over again in recent months by political pundits. After all, they point out, the gross domestic product is up; unemployment, at least according to official figures, is low by historical standards; and stocks have recovered much of the ground they lost in the early years of the decade, with the Dow surpassing 12,000 for the first time. Yet the public remains deeply unhappy with the state of the economy. In a recent poll, only a minority of Americans rated the economy as "excellent" or "good," while most consider it no better than "fair" or "poor."

Are people just ungrateful? Is the administration failing to get its message out? Are the news media, as conservatives darkly suggest, deliberately failing to report the good news?

None of the above. The reason most Americans think the economy is fair to poor is simple: For most Americans, it really is fair to poor. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices. Even in 2005, a year in which the economy grew quite fast, the income of most non-elderly families lagged behind inflation. The number of Americans in poverty has risen even in the face of an official economic recovery, as has the number of Americans without health insurance. Most Americans are little, if any, better off than they were last year and definitely worse off than they were in 2000.

But how is this possible? The economic pie is getting bigger -- how can it be true that most Americans are getting smaller slices? The answer, of course, is that a few people are getting much, much bigger slices. Although wages have stagnated since Bush took office, corporate profits have doubled. The gap between the nation's CEOs and average workers is now ten times greater than it was a generation ago. And while Bush's tax cuts shaved only a few hundred dollars off the tax bills of most Americans, they saved the richest one percent more than $44,000 on average. In fact, once all of Bush's tax cuts take effect, it is estimated that those with incomes of more than $200,000 a year -- the richest five percent of the population -- will pocket almost half of the money. Those who make less than $75,000 a year -- eighty percent of America -- will receive barely a quarter of the cuts. In the Bush era, economic inequality is on the rise.

Rising inequality isn't new. The gap between rich and poor started growing before Ronald Reagan took office, and it continued to widen through the Clinton years. But what is happening under Bush is something entirely unprecedented: For the first time in our history, so much growth is being siphoned off to a small, wealthy minority that most Americans are failing to gain ground even during a time of economic growth -- and they know it.

America has never been an egalitarian society, but during the New Deal and the Second World War, government policies and organized labor combined to create a broad and solid middle class. The economic historians Claudia Goldin and Robert Margo call what happened between 1933 and 1945 the Great Compression: The rich got dramatically poorer while workers got considerably richer. Americans found themselves sharing broadly similar lifestyles in a way not seen since before the Civil War.

But in the 1970s, inequality began increasing again -- slowly at first, then more and more rapidly. You can see how much things have changed by comparing the state of affairs at America's largest employer, then and now. In 1969, General Motors was the country's largest corporation aside from AT&T, which enjoyed a government-guaranteed monopoly on phone service. GM paid its chief executive, James M. Roche, a salary of $795,000 -- the equivalent of $4.2 million today, adjusting for inflation. At the time, that was considered very high. But nobody denied that ordinary GM workers were paid pretty well. The average paycheck for production workers in the auto industry was almost $8,000 -- more than $45,000 today. GM workers, who also received excellent health and retirement benefits, were considered solidly in the middle class.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation, with 1.3 million employees. H. Lee Scott, its chairman, is paid almost $23 million -- more than five times Roche's inflation-adjusted salary. Yet Scott's compensation excites relatively little comment, since it's not exceptional for the CEO of a large corporation these days. The wages paid to Wal-Mart's workers, on the other hand, do attract attention, because they are low even by current standards. On average, Wal-Mart's non-supervisory employees are paid $18,000 a year, far less than half what GM workers were paid thirty-five years ago, adjusted for inflation. And Wal-Mart is notorious both for how few of its workers receive health benefits and for the stinginess of those scarce benefits.

The broader picture is equally dismal. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the hourly wage of the average American non-supervisory worker is actually lower, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1970. Meanwhile, CEO pay has soared -- from less than thirty times the average wage to almost 300 times the typical worker's pay.

The widening gulf between workers and executives is part of a stunning increase in inequality throughout the U.S. economy during the past thirty years. To get a sense of just how dramatic that shift has been, imagine a line of 1,000 people who represent the entire population of America. They are standing in ascending order of income, with the poorest person on the left and the richest person on the right. And their height is proportional to their income -- the richer they are, the taller they are.

Start with 1973. If you assume that a height of six feet represents the average income in that year, the person on the far left side of the line -- representing those Americans living in extreme poverty -- is only sixteen inches tall. By the time you get to the guy at the extreme right, he towers over the line at more than 113 feet.

Now take 2005. The average height has grown from six feet to eight feet, reflecting the modest growth in average incomes over the past generation. And the poorest people on the left side of the line have grown at about the same rate as those near the middle -- the gap between the middle class and the poor, in other words, hasn't changed. But people to the right must have been taking some kind of extreme steroids: The guy at the end of the line is now 560 feet tall, almost five times taller than his 1973 counterpart.

What's useful about this image is that it explodes several comforting myths we like to tell ourselves about what is happening to our society.

According to this view, most Americans are sharing in the economy's growth, with only a small minority at the bottom left behind. That places the onus for change on middle-class Americans who -- so the story goes -- will have to sacrifice some of their prosperity if they want to see poverty alleviated.

But as our line illustrates, that's just plain wrong. It's not only the poor who have fallen behind -- the normal-size people in the middle of the line haven't grown much, either. The real divergence in fortunes is between the great majority of Americans and a very small, extremely wealthy minority at the far right of the line.

This view -- which I think of as the eighty-twenty fallacy -- is expressed by none other than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve. Last year, Greenspan testified that wage gains were going primarily to skilled professionals with college educations -- "essentially," he said, "the top twenty percent." The other eighty percent -- those with less education -- are stuck in routine jobs being replaced by computers or lost to imports. Inequality, Greenspan concluded, is ultimately "an education problem."

It's a good story with a comforting conclusion: Education is the answer. But it's all wrong. A closer look at our line of Americans reveals why. The richest twenty percent are those standing between 800 and 1,000. But even those standing between 800 and 950 -- Americans who earn between $80,000 and $120,000 a year -- have done only slightly better than everyone to their left. Almost all of the gains over the past thirty years have gone to the fifty people at the very end of the line. Being highly educated won't make you into a winner in today's U.S. economy. At best, it makes you somewhat less of a loser.

In this view, America is the land of opportunity, where a poor young man or woman can vault into the upper class. In fact, while modest moves up and down the economic ladder are common, true Horatio Alger stories are very rare. America actually has less social mobility than other advanced countries: These days, Horatio Alger has moved to Canada or Finland. It's easier for a poor child to make it into the upper-middle class in just about every other advanced country -- including famously class-conscious Britain -- than it is in the United States.

Not only can few Americans hope to join the ranks of the rich, no matter how well educated or hardworking they may be -- their opportunities to do so are actually shrinking. As best we can tell, pretax incomes are now as unequally distributed as they were in the 1920s -- wiping out virtually all of the gains made by the middle class during the Great Compression.

There's a famous scene in the 1987 movie Wall Street in which Gordon Gekko, the corporate predator played by Michael Douglas, tells a meeting of stunned shareholders that greed is good, that the unbridled pursuit of individual wealth serves the interests of the company and the nation. In the movie, Gekko gets his comeuppance; in real life, the Gordon Gekkos took over both corporate America and, eventually, our political system.

Oliver Stone didn't conjure Gekko's "greed" line out of thin air. It was based on a real speech given by corporate raider Ivan Boesky -- and it reflected what many corporate executives, conservative intellectuals and right-wing politicians were saying at the time.

It's no coincidence that ringing endorsements of greed began to be heard at the same time that the actual incomes of America's rich began to soar. In part, the new pro-greed ideology was a way of rationalizing what was already happening. But it was also, to an important extent, a cause of the phenomenon. In the past thirty years, right-wing foundations have devoted enormous resources to promoting this agenda, building a far-reaching network of think tanks, media outlets and conservative scholars to legitimize higher levels of inequality. "On average, corporate America pays its most important leaders like bureaucrats," the Harvard Business Review lamented in 1990, calling for higher pay for top executives. "Is it any wonder then that so many CEOs act like bureaucrats?"

Although corporate executives have always had the power to pay themselves lavishly, their self-enrichment was limited by what Lucian Bebchuk, Jesse Fried and David Walker -- the leading experts on exploding executive paychecks -- call the "outrage constraint." What they mean is that a conspicuously self-dealing CEO would be forced to moderate his greed by unions, the press and politicians: The social climate itself condemned executive salaries that seem immodest.

Lately, however, we have experienced a death of outrage. Thanks to the right's well-funded and organized effort, corporate executives now feel no shame in lining their pockets with huge bonuses and gigantic stock options. Such self-dealing is justified, they say: Greed is what made America great, and greedy executives are exactly what corporate America needs.

At the same time, there has been a concerted attack on the institutions that have helped moderate inequality -- in particular, unions. During the Great Compression, the rate of unionization nearly tripled; by 1945, more than one in three American workers belonged to a union. A lot of what made General Motors the relatively egalitarian institution it was in the 1960s had to do with its powerful union, which was able to demand high wages for its members. Those wages, in turn, set a standard that elevated the income of workers who didn't belong to unions. But today, in the era of Wal-Mart, fewer than one in eleven workers in the private sector is organized -- effectively preventing hundreds of thousands of working Americans from joining the middle class.

Why isn't Wal-Mart unionized? The answer is simple and brutal: Business interests went on the offensive against unions. And we're not talking about gentle persuasion; we're talking about hardball tactics. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, at least one in every twenty workers who voted for a union was illegally fired; some estimates put the number as high as one in eight. And once Ronald Reagan took office, the anti-union campaign was aided and abetted by political support at the highest levels.

Unions weren't the only institution that fostered income equality during the generation that followed the Great Compression. The creation of a national minimum wage also set a benchmark for the entire economy, boosting the bargaining position of workers. But under Reagan, Congress failed to raise the minimum wage, allowing its value to be eroded by inflation. Between 1981 and 1989, the minimum wage remained the same in dollar terms -- but inflation shrank its purchasing power by twenty-five percent, reducing it to the lowest level since the 1950s.

After Reagan left office, there was a partial reversal of his anti-labor policies. The minimum wage was increased under the elder Bush and again under Clinton, restoring about half the ground it lost under Reagan. But then came Bush the Second -- and the balance of power shifted against workers and the middle class to a degree not seen since the Gilded Age.

During the 2000 election campaign, George W. Bush joked that his base consisted of the "haves and the have mores." But it wasn't much of a joke. Not only has the Bush administration favored the interests of the wealthiest few Americans over those of the middle class, it has consistently shown a preference for people who get their income from dividends and capital gains, rather than those who work for a living.

Under Bush, the economy has been growing at a reasonable pace for the past three years. But most Americans have failed to benefit from that growth. All indicators of the economic status of ordinary Americans -- poverty rates, family incomes, the number of people without health insurance -- show that most of us were worse off in 2005 than we were in 2000, and there's little reason to think that 2006 was much better.

So where did all the economic growth go? It went to a relative handful of people at the top. The earnings of the typical full-time worker, adjusted for inflation, have actually fallen since Bush took office. Pay for CEOs, meanwhile, has soared -- from 185 times that of average workers in 2003 to 279 times in 2005. And after-tax corporate profits have also skyrocketed, more than doubling since Bush took office. Those profits will eventually be reflected in dividends and capital gains, which accrue mainly to the very well-off: More than three-quarters of all stocks are owned by the richest ten percent of the population.

Bush wasn't directly responsible for the stagnation of wages and the surge in profits and executive compensation: The White House doesn't set wage rates or give CEOs stock options. But the government can tilt the balance of power between workers and bosses in many ways -- and at every juncture, this government has favored the bosses. There are four ways, in particular, that the Bush administration has helped make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

First, like Reagan, Bush has stood firmly against any increase in the minimum wage, even as inflation erodes the value of a dollar. The minimum wage was last raised in 1997; since then, inflation has cut the purchasing power of a minimum-wage worker's paycheck by twenty percent.

Second, again like Reagan, Bush has used the government's power to make it harder for workers to organize. The National Labor Relations Board, founded to protect the ability of workers to organize, has become for all practical purposes an agent of employers trying to prevent unionization. A spectacular example of this anti-union bias came just a few months ago. Under U.S. labor law, legal protections for union organizing do not extend to supervisors. But the Republican majority on the NLRB ruled that otherwise ordinary line workers who occasionally tell others what to do -- such as charge nurses, who primarily care for patients but also give instructions to other nurses on the same shift -- will now be considered supervisors. In a single administrative stroke, the Bush administration stripped as many as 8 million workers of their right to unionize.

Third, the administration effectively blocked what might have been a post-Enron backlash against self-dealing corporate insiders. Corporate scandals dominated the news in the first half of 2002 -- but then the subject was changed to the urgent need to invade Iraq, and the drive for reform was squelched. With Americans focused on the war, CEOs are once again rewarding themselves at impressive -- and unprecedented -- levels.

Finally, there's the government's most direct method of affecting incomes: taxes. In this arena, Bush has made sure that the rich pay lower taxes than they have in decades. According to the latest estimates, once the Bush tax cuts have taken full effect, more than a third of the cash will go to people making more than $500,000 a year -- a mere 0.8 percent of the population.

It's easy to get confused about the Bush tax cuts. For one thing, they are designed to confuse. The core of the Bush policy involves cutting taxes on high incomes, especially on the income wealthy Americans receive from capital gains and dividends. You might say that the Bush administration favors people who live off their wealth over people who have a job. But there are some middle-class "sweeteners" thrown in, so the administration can point to a few ordinary American families who have received significant tax cuts.

Furthermore, the administration has engaged in a systematic campaign of disinformation about whose taxes have been cut. Indeed, one of Bush's first actions after taking office was to tell the Treasury Department to stop producing estimates of how tax cuts are distributed by income class -- that is, information on who gained how much. Instead, official reports on taxes under Bush are textbook examples of how to mislead with statistics, presenting a welter of confusing numbers that convey the false impression that the tax cuts favor middle-class families, not the wealthy.

In reality, only a few middle-class families received a significant tax cut under Bush. But every wealthy American -- especially those who live off of stock earnings or their inheritance -- got a big tax cut. To picture who gained the most, imagine the son of a very wealthy man, who expects to inherit $50 million in stock and live off the dividends. Before the Bush tax cuts, our lucky heir-to-be would have paid about $27 million in estate taxes and contributed 39.6 percent of his dividend income in taxes. Once Bush's cuts go into effect, he could inherit the whole estate tax-free and pay a tax rate of only fifteen percent on his stock earnings. Truly, this is a very good time to be one of the have mores.

It's worth noting that Bush doesn't simply favor the upper class: It's the upper-upper class he cares about. That became clear last fall, when the House and Senate passed rival tax-cutting bills. (What were they doing cutting taxes yet again in the face of a huge budget deficit and an expensive war? Never mind.) The Senate bill was devoted to providing relief to middle-class wage earners: According to the Tax Policy Center, two-thirds of the Senate tax cut would have gone to people with incomes of between $100,000 and $500,000 a year. Those making more than $1 million a year would have received only eight percent of the cut.

The House bill, by contrast, focused on extending tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. More than forty percent of the House cuts would have flowed to the $1 million-plus group; only thirty percent to the 100K to 500K taxpayers.

The White House favored the House bill -- and the final, reconciled measure wound up awarding a quarter of the benefits to America's millionaires. That, in a nutshell, is the politics of income inequality under Bush.

Oh, one last thing: What about the claim that the Bush tax cuts did wonders for economic growth? In fact, job creation has been much slower under Bush than under Clinton, and overall growth since 2003 is largely the result of the huge housing boom, which has more to do with low interest rates than with taxes. But the biggest irony of all is that the real boom -- the one in the 1990s -- followed tax changes that were the reverse of Bush's policies. Clinton raised taxes on the rich, and the economy prospered.

A generation ago the distribution of income in the United States didn't look all that different from that of other advanced countries. We had more poverty, largely because of the unresolved legacy of slavery. But the gap between the economic elite and the middle class was no larger in America than it was in Europe.

Today, we're completely out of line with other advanced countries. The share of income received by the top 0.1 percent of Americans is twice the share received by the corresponding group in Britain, and three times the share in France. These days, to find societies as unequal as the United States you have to look beyond the advanced world, to Latin America. And if that comparison doesn't frighten you, it should.

The social and economic failure of Latin America is one of history's great tragedies. Our southern neighbors started out with natural and human resources at least as favorable for economic development as those in the United States. Yet over the course of the past two centuries, they fell steadily behind. Economic historians such as Kenneth Sokoloff of UCLA think they know why: Latin America got caught in an inequality trap. For historical reasons -- the kind of crops they grew, the elitist policies of colonial Spain -- Latin American societies started out with much more inequality than the societies of North America. But this inequality persisted, Sokoloff writes, because elites were able to "institutionalize an unequal distribution of political power" and to "use that greater influence to establish rules, laws and other government policies that advantaged members of the elite relative to non-members." Rather than making land available to small farmers, as the United States did with the Homestead Act, Latin American governments tended to give large blocks of public lands to people with the right connections. They also shortchanged basic education -- condemning millions to illiteracy. The result, Sokoloff notes, was "persistence over time of the high degree of inequality." This sharp inequality, in turn, doomed the economies of Latin America: Many talented people never got a chance to rise to their full potential, simply because they were born into the wrong class.

In addition, the statistical evidence shows, unequal societies tend to be corrupt societies. When there are huge disparities in wealth, the rich have both the motive and the means to corrupt the system on their behalf. In The New Industrial State, published in 1967, John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed any concern that corporate executives might exploit their position for personal gain, insisting that group decision-making would enforce "a high standard of personal honesty." But in recent years, the sheer amount of money paid to executives who are perceived as successful has overridden the restraints that Galbraith believed would control executive greed. Today, a top executive who pumps up his company's stock price by faking high profits can walk away with vast wealth even if the company later collapses, and the small chance he faces of going to jail isn't an effective deterrent. What's more, the group decision-making that Galbraith thought would prevent personal corruption doesn't work if everyone in the group can be bought off with a piece of the spoils -- which is more or less what happened at Enron. It is also what happens in Congress, when corporations share the spoils with our elected representatives in the form of generous campaign contributions and lucrative lobbying jobs.

As the past six years demonstrate, such political corruption only worsens as economic inequality rises. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor doesn't just mean that few Americans share in the benefits of economic growth -- it also undermines the sense of shared experience that binds us together as a nation. "Trust is based upon the belief that we are all in this together, part of a 'moral community,' " writes Eric Uslaner, a political scientist at the University of Maryland who has studied the effects of inequality on trust. "It is tough to convince people in a highly stratified society that the rich and the poor share common values, much less a common fate."

In the end, the effects of our growing economic inequality go far beyond dollars and cents. This, ultimately, is the most pressing question we face as a society today: Will the United States go down the path that Latin America followed -- one that leads to ever-growing disparity in political power as well as in income? The United States doesn't have Third World levels of economic inequality -- yet. But it is not hard to foresee, in the current state of our political and economic scene, the outline of a transformation into a permanently unequal society -- one that locks in and perpetuates the drastic economic polarization that is already dangerously far advanced.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Columnist Accuses Crichton of ‘Literary Hit-and-Run’

The New York Times
December 14, 2006

“Next,” Michael Crichton’s new novel about the perils of biotechnology, has not proved as polarizing as his previous thriller, “State of Fear,” which dismisses global warming. But one of the new book’s minor characters — Mick Crowley, a Washington political columnist who rapes a baby — may be a literary dagger aimed at Michael Crowley, a Washington political reporter who wrote an unflattering article about Mr. Crichton this year.

Certainly Mr. Crowley thinks so.

In a “Washington Diarist” feature that was to be posted last night on The New Republic’s Web site,, and published in the magazine’s Dec. 25 issue, Mr. Crowley says he is the victim of “a literary hit-and-run” because of a 3,700-word article in The New Republic in March.

In that article he accused Mr. Crichton of being “a menacing figure” because he uses his “potboiler prose” to advance causes now dear to Republicans. Mr. Crowley is a senior editor at The New Republic and writes primarily about politics.

“In lieu of a letter to the editor, Crichton had fictionalized me as a child rapist,” Mr. Crowley writes.

Mr. Crichton could not be reached yesterday for comment, and a publicist at his publisher, HarperCollins, did not return calls.

The March article that Mr. Crowley referred to concluded: “And now, like a mighty t-rex that has escaped from Jurassic Park, Crichton stomps across the public policy landscape, finally claiming the influence that he has always sought. In this sense, he himself is like an experiment gone wrong — a creation of the publishing industry and Hollywood who has unexpectedly mutated into a menacing figure haunting think tanks, policy forums, hearing rooms and even the Oval Office.”

Mr. Crowley, 34, reached by telephone yesterday before the article was posted on the Web site, declined to expand on what he wrote. “I want to let the piece speak for itself,” he said.

The character that Mr. Crowley says he believes is modeled on him mostly appears on two pages in Mr. Crichton’s 431-page novel.

On Page 227 Mr. Crichton writes: “Alex Burnet was in the middle of the most difficult trial of her career, a rape case involving the sexual assault of a two-year-old boy in Malibu. The defendant, thirty-year-old Mick Crowley, was a Washington-based political columnist who was visiting his sister-in-law when he experienced an overwhelming urge to have anal sex with her young son, still in diapers.”

Mick Crowley is described as a “wealthy, spoiled Yale graduate” with a small penis that nonetheless “caused significant tears to the toddler’s rectum.”

Mr. Crowley writes that Mr. Crichton’s Mick Crowley not only has a similar name but is also a graduate of Yale and a Washington political journalist. Mr. Crowley contends that Mr. Crichton has tried to escape public censure for his literary attack by hiding behind what has become known as “the small penis rule.”

The rule, Mr. Crowley writes, is described in a 1998 article in The New York Times in which the libel lawyer Leon Friedman said it is a trick used by authors who have defamed someone to discourage lawsuits. “No male is going to come forward and say, ‘That character with a very small penis — that’s me!’ ” Mr. Friedman explained.

Although he writes that no one seems to have drawn the connection between Mick Crowley and Michael Crowley, Mr. Crowley concludes that he is “strangely flattered” by his 15 minutes of fame in Mr. Crichton’s novel.

“To explain why, let me propose a corollary to the small penis rule,” he writes. “Call it the small man rule: If someone offers substantive criticism of an author and the author responds by hitting below the belt, as it were, then he’s conceding that the critic has won.”

Mourning for Pinochet — US establishment shows its affinity for fascism

By Bill Van Auken
13 December 2006

If the political events of the past six years have demonstrated anything, it is that there exists within America’s ruling establishment no genuine commitment to democratic rights or democratic forms of rule. In the relatively short period since 2000, the US ruling elite has overseen the theft of a national election, the launching of an illegal war, the abrogation of the most basic constitutional rights and the legalization of torture.

This week’s death of the aged former US-backed Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet has provided one more verification of this general political trend.

While in Chile itself, the death of an individual who exercised a reign of terror for 17 years sparked spontaneous celebrations—tinged by deep regret that he was allowed to die in a military hospital rather than in the prison cell he so richly deserved—within the most influential layers of America’s corporate and financial elite, his demise was the occasion for both mourning and tributes.

The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, for example, carried an editorial Tuesday entitled “The Pinochet Paradox.” The paper’s editorial board, which generally reflects the right-wing views within the Bush White House itself, cautioned its readers that Pinochet’s “real story is more complicated” than that of a military dictator who abolished liberties.

The editorial is laced with gross distortions and outright lies. It claims, for example, “The popular notion that the US sanctioned the coup or condoned Pinochet’s torture hasn’t held up under historical scrutiny.” On the contrary, documents released by the Clinton administration (though the most incriminating evidence from the CIA and Pentagon still remains classified) make quite clear that the US government was fully informed of plans for the September 11, 1973 coup—as well as the killings and torture that followed—and fully supported it. Moreover, they confirmed the role of the Nixon and Ford administrations in seeking to quell international criticism of the barbaric regime established by Pinochet.

The Journal goes on to advance a back-handed argument that the coup was justified in any case. “Contrary to mythology [Chile’s Socialist Party President Salvador] Allende was never a popular figure in Chile.”

By 1972, the Journal claims, the Allende government had itself become repressive, threatening “to jail journalists,” a false charge that was first floated by the CIA as part of its destabilization campaign. In fact, the right-wing press, which the CIA helped fund and write, remained free to carry out provocations up until the coup itself.

The editorial also condemns Allende for “shortages and spiraling inflation” under his government, conditions that were due in large measure to the Nixon administration’s stated intention to “make the economy scream” in order to facilitate Allende’s ouster. Credit and exports were cut off, while money was poured in to provide covert aid to business-organized strikes that crippled sectors of the economy.

“The official death toll of the Pinochet dictatorship is some 3,197,” the Journal states. “An estimated 2,796 of those died in the first two weeks of fighting between the army and Allende-armed militias.”

Really? How many army personnel died in this “fighting”? According to most credible estimates, a total of 33 people died on the day of the coup itself, less than half of them military or police personnel, some of whom were shot for refusing to support the army’s action. The thousands upon thousands who died afterwards—and most credible estimates put the number killed at anywhere between three and ten times the official count—were abducted, tortured and murdered in concentration camps and secret prisons without ever being charged, much less tried.

There was no “fighting” beyond the most scattered and unequal acts of resistance precisely because Allende had rejected demands by the most militant sections of Chilean workers for arms.

By willfully distorting these facts, the Journal’s editors justify and sanction mass murder and torture. Of course, the editorial acknowledges that “Civil liberties were lost and opponents tortured.” However, the Journal continues, “over time, with the return of private property, the rule of law and a freer economy, democratic institutions also returned.”

There may have been “dark times,” but today, “What remains is a Chile that has the healthiest economy in Latin America...” In other words, the bloodbath and barbarism unleashed upon the Chilean people was well worth the effort.

Similarly, the Washington Post carried a Tuesday editorial headlined “A Dictator’s Double Standard,” with the subtitle, “Augusto Pinochet tortured and murdered. His legacy is Latin America’s most successful country.”

This piece likewise seeks a “balanced” approach, while deriding the ex-dictator’s critics. “For some he was the epitome of an evil dictator,” the editorial states. “That was partly because he helped to overthrow, with US support, an elected president considered saintly by the international left: socialist Salvador Allende, whose responsibility for creating the conditions for the 1973 coup is usually overlooked.”

While acknowledging that thousands were killed, tens of thousands tortured and hundreds of thousands exiled, the Post quickly adds, “It’s hard not to notice, however, that the evil dictator leaves behind the most successful country in Latin America.” It credits Pinochet for “free market policies” that produced “the Chilean economic miracle.”

What is the nature of this “miracle” that they all celebrate? For the likes of the well-heeled and self-satisfied publishers and editors at the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, Chile is a miracle because they can stay at five-star hotels, eat at gourmet restaurants and visit upscale shopping malls in Santiago, while earning handsome returns on investments in Chilean stocks.

Conditions of life for the masses of workers and poor who inhabit the slums outside the circle of skyscrapers and luxury housing reserved for Chile’s rich and their foreign counterparts, as far as they are concerned, are beside the point.

This myth of the “Chilean miracle” and the supposed credit due Pinochet for laying foundations—built with the blood and bones of his tens of thousands of victims—for a free-market renaissance are repeated ad nauseam by virtually every section of the mass media.

According to government statistics, over 20 percent of Chile’s population lives in poverty. But this official count does not include retired workers and the disabled subsisting on woefully inadequate pensions; many think the real poverty rate is closer to 40 percent.

The country ranks as one of the most socially unequal in the world. This is the real legacy of the Pinochet regime and the reign of terror it unleashed against the Chilean working class. Between 1980 and 1989, the wealthiest 10 percent of the population saw its share of the national income climb from 36.5 percent to 46.8 percent. During the same period, the 50 percent of the population at the bottom of the income ladder saw their share plummet from 20.4 to 16.8 percent.

In the aftermath of the coup, Chile saw the steepest fall in real wages and sharpest increase in unemployment ever recorded in Latin America. The dictatorship ushered in social conditions for working people that can only be compared with those that prevailed during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Between 1974 and 1975, the unemployment rate more than doubled from 9.1 to 18.7 percent. By 1983, the country was plunged into economic freefall, with nearly 35 percent of the workforce jobless and manufacturing down by 28 percent. These desperate conditions sparked a new wave of working class struggles that were ruthlessly repressed, with tens of thousands rounded up again.

The vast transfer of social wealth from the working class to a financial and corporate oligarchy affected by the dictatorship took the most brutal forms. By the time Pinochet surrendered the presidency, the average diet for the poorest 40 percent of the population had fallen from 2,019 calories a day to just 1,629. Meanwhile the percentage of Chileans left without adequate housing had risen from 27 to 40 percent.

The “miracle” was granted to the wealthiest layers of society along with the military and its political cronies. They enriched themselves through the plundering of the working class and state property. Wholesale privatizations were carried out without any rules or scrutiny, in what amounted to a vast robbery of social resources. Pinochet’s personal participation in this corrupt process has come to light in the form of some $27 million squirreled away in secret overseas bank accounts.

Under the constitution dictated by Pinochet, the government has been barred from even investigating this orgy of corporate criminality—what the Wall Street Journal sanctimoniously refers to as “the return of private property, the rule of law and a freer economy.”

High unemployment, low wages, high interest rates and a workforce compelled to labor at the point of a gun meant super profits for both domestic and foreign capital, at the price of hunger and poverty for millions. This is the “miracle’s” material substance.

Those who pen editorials using such end results to justify rounding up tens of thousands of workers, intellectuals, students—men, women and children—subjecting them to unspeakable torture and summarily executing them in soccer stadiums are themselves fascists in all but name only.

The defense of Pinochet and the “balanced” approach to torture chambers and military firing squads taken by the US establishment media constitutes an unmistakable political warning.

The emergence of a mass movement of the American working class capable of challenging the monopoly over wealth and political power exercised by the financial oligarchy will be met with similar methods. If the corporate and financial interests that rule America were to see themselves losing power to a socialist party committed to ending the subordination of society to private profit and the accumulation of vast personal wealth, they too would search for a fascist general prepared to carry out slaughter on a far greater scale than in Chile.

Will Hillzilla Crush Obambi?

The New York Times
December 13, 2006

So the question of the moment is: Which would be a greater handicap in a presidential bid, gender or race?

The answer will depend, of course, on how manly the woman, and how white the black.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Hussein Obama both straddle two worlds, trying to profit from both.

Despite her desire to seem far more experienced than her rival, Hillary’s role in high-level politics has been mostly that of a spouse — a first lady who felt that she got elected too. The Yale-trained lawyer had one foot in the “The West Wing” and one in “Desperate Housewives,” one foot in the world of hotshot alphas ruling the globe, and one in the world of middle-age women humiliated by their husbands’ dallying with office cupcakes.

She won her Senate seat only after becoming sympathetic as a victim. And she still struggles with the balance between her Mars and Venus sides, sometimes showing her political steel and other times fetching coffee for male colleagues.

Senator Obama glides between the black and white political worlds. In New Hampshire on Sunday, speaking to nearly all-white audiences, the Harvard-educated lawyer looked utterly at home, dressing like a Wall Street banker on casual Friday and sounding as white as Lou Dobbs.

He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and Louis Brandeis with equal aplomb and wryly noted that when he worked rebuilding a black community on Chicago’s South Side, people there couldn’t pronounce his name and called him “Yo Momma.”

He admits that he talks to black groups with a different cadence, but says that’s because he’s picking up a different rhythm from the audience. He rejects what he calls the expected script for black politicians, “that for them to be authentically black they have to somehow offend white people,” as he told Jeff Zeleny in The Chicago Tribune. Mr. Obama rejects complaints from blacks that he’s not black enough; but as Mr. Zeleny noted, Hawaii, where the senator’s white mother from Kansas and black father from Kenya met, and where he grew up and went to prep school, is not exactly the ’hood.

While Bill Clinton’s campaign pollsters used to worry that Hillary was not coming across as maternal enough, Senator Obama peppers his talks with remarks about being a father and husband. “I don’t miss diapers,” he confided to some parents at a book signing in New Hampshire, and later told reporters that he would decide whether to run with his wife, Michelle — “the smartest, toughest, funniest best friend that I could ever hope for.”

He was equally graceful reaching out to the female audience on “Oprah” and the male audience on “Monday Night Football,” when he did the opening skit this week on the audacity of hype, ending by putting on a Bears hat and flashing that killer smile. (The Windy City doubleheader must have made Hillary, a Chicago native, pea green.)

The most politically unproblematic black man to ever dream of national office, Senator Obama is Senator Clinton’s worst nightmare. He is as comfortable in his skin as she is uncomfortable in hers.

“When push comes to shove, I think gender is going to be a harder sell than race,” said Deb Chase, a teacher from Gilmanton, N.H., who followed Senator Obama from Portsmouth to Manchester, to see him twice. “It’s not that people don’t intellectually believe in the idea of a woman as president. But look at the schools here — there are lots of women teaching elementary school and very few women superintendents of schools.”

But, like other Democrats in New Hampshire, Ms. Chase thinks the issue transcends gender, that the problem is Hillary herself.

In terms of legislative and senatorial substance, it’s a wash. So far, she’s Senator Pothole and he’s Senator Bestseller List.

But unlike her impertinent challenger, Hillary will have to do a lot of fancy dancing to explain her opinions about the Iraq war. And we know that she’s not a good dancer.

Built on a cult of personality, her campaign will be ruthless in stomping on Obambi, as one Chicago columnist referred to the idealistic pol who was too naïve to steer clear of a sleazy fund-raiser who wanted to buy his favor with a sweetheart real estate deal.

Hillary hasn’t waited this long and market-tested this assiduously for nothing. Obambi’s message may be mushy communitarianism — we’re a crazy quilt and why can’t we all get along? — but her message is simply the Divine Right of Clintons.

So there is a second question, perhaps one that will trump race and gender. It’s about whether he’s tough and she’s human.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick: from “social democrat” to champion of death squads

By Bill Van Auken
12 December 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick, the acerbic right-wing former US ambassador to the United Nations, died December 7 at the age of 80.

Having begun her politically conscious life as a self-described socialist, Kirkpatrick ended up an advocate and apologist for military dictators, right-wing death squads and CIA-backed terrorists.

She gained national prominence as both UN ambassador and a prominent foreign policy advisor and spokesperson for the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan, on whose National Security Council she served as the only woman and the only Democratic Party member.

Her deliberately cultivated image at the UN was that of an American chauvinist bully, unashamedly threatening smaller nations with the cutoff of American aid and even military aggression if they failed to toe Washington’s line. She was equally unabashed about defending the crimes of America’s anticommunist allies, from the mass killings and torture carried out by Latin American military regimes, to Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the South African apartheid regime’s use of force against both neighboring African states as well as its own oppressed black majority.

Kirkpatrick’s entree into the inner circle of the Reagan administration came as a result of her scathing criticism of the Democratic administration of President Jimmy Carter, whose election she had supported in 1976.

Then a political science professor at Georgetown University and member of the American Enterprise Institute, the right-wing think tank from which some 50 members of the incoming Reagan administration were drawn, Kirkpatrick blamed the Carter administration’s rather tepid advocacy of human rights—a foreign policy ploy aimed at forestalling revolution—for the 1979 overthrow of the US-backed Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua and that of the Shah in Iran.

In an essay written that year for the neoconservative magazine Commentary entitled “Dictatorships and double standards,” she denounced Carter for failing to prop up Somoza and the Shah, both of whom were responsible for massacring thousands in their efforts to remain in power:

“The rise of violent opposition in Iran and Nicaragua set in motion a succession of events which bore a suggestive resemblance to one another and a suggestive similarity to our behavior in China before the fall of Chiang Kai-shek, in Cuba before the triumph of Castro, in certain crucial periods of the Vietnam War, and more recently in Angola. In each of these periods, the American effort to impose liberalization and democratization on a government confronted with violent internal opposition not only failed, but actually assisted the coming to power of new regimes in which ordinary people enjoy fewer freedoms and less personal security than under the previous autocracy—regimes, moreover, hostile to American interests and policies.”

The policy implications of Kirkpatrick’s thesis were unmistakable. Washington should seek to keep in power right-wing dictatorships, so long as they suppressed the threat of revolution and supported “American interests and policies.” Moreover, the limits placed by the Carter administration on relations with regimes that had carried out wholesale political killings and torture, as in Chile and Argentina, for example, should be cast aside.

Reagan and his advisors were reportedly impressed with this line of argument and recruited Kirkpatrick’s support in the 1980 election. She subsequently became part of the incoming administration’s foreign policy advisory team, where she developed the argument that the US was confronting a “domino effect” in Central America that threatened it with being “surrounded by Soviet bases on our southeastern and southern flanks.”

Once the administration took office, Kirkpatrick became a leading advocate and architect of a policy of intervention in Central America that embraced robust US backing for dictatorships that massacred hundreds of thousands in an attempt to suppress revolutionary movements in El Salvador and Guatemala as well as an illegal CIA-funded war of terror against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

Likewise, she backed the 1983 US invasion of Grenada, the bombing of Libya and the multimillion-dollar support for Islamist guerrillas—Osama bin Laden among them—battling the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan.

This policy became more generally known as the “Reagan doctrine,” which represented a shift from the “containment” policy adopted by the Truman administration toward the “roll-back” strategy advocated within right-wing Republican circles since the 1950s. A National Security Directive issue in 1983 declared that Washington would “contain and over time reverse Soviet expansionism,” and that it would back “Third World states that are willing to resist Soviet pressures or oppose Soviet initiatives hostile to the United States.”

This explosive development of American militarism represented a conscious attempt by the most ruthless sections of the US ruling establishment to reverse the defeat suffered in Vietnam and reassert imperialist interests in the oppressed countries through naked force. It coincided, however, with the economic decline of American capitalism, with the US being turned for the first time into a debtor nation, rather than the world’s principal creditor, in 1985.

Kirkpatrick participated in the discussions that gave rise to the so-called Iran-contra scandal, a covert operation that funneled millions of dollars in aid—in defiance of a Congressional resolution barring such funding—to the CIA-trained mercenary army attacking Nicaragua.

Though she left the administration before Congressional investigations led to resignations and criminal indictments against leading officials, she was clearly implicated as well.

In its obituary on the former UN ambassador, the New York Times cited her statement in favor of the covert funding, “We should make the maximum effort to find the money.”

During the same meeting, the Times noted, Secretary of State George Shultz commented that the contra-funding scheme constituted “an impeachable offense,” while Reagan himself warned that if news of their decisions leaked to the press, “we’ll all be hanging by our thumbs in front of the White House.”

This exchange is itself a measure of how much further to the right the government has moved in the intervening two decades, with the Bush administration openly launching illegal wars and flouting laws passed by Congress.

Falling out over the Malvinas War

The limits of Kirkpatrick’s influence within the administration—as well as of her own geopolitical conceptions—made themselves clear during the 1982 war between Britain and Argentina over the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.

Based on her close relationship with the military dictatorship in Buenos Aires, Kirkpatrick attempted to shift Washington’s policy in favor of Argentina, maintaining that the country had a right to claim sovereignty over the islands.

Both Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, however, opposed her views and demanded that Washington stand with the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a position more consistent with the global drive to reassert the unfettered domination of imperialism in the oppressed countries. US aid, including arms and satellite intelligence, proved crucial to the subsequent British victory.

Haig, whose position prevailed, subsequently commented that Kirkpatrick was “mentally and emotionally incapable of thinking clearly on this issue because of her close links with the Latins.”

Having completed her four-year term as ambassador to the UN, Kirkpatrick was proposed for both secretary of state and National Security Advisor, but was rejected for both posts and left the administration. She formally changed her party affiliation to Republican in 1985 and was briefly touted as a possible presidential candidate for the 1988 election. She remained over the course of the past 20 years a propagandist for the Republican right.

Kirkpatrick’s political development followed a path worn by a generation of intellectuals who, while initially attracted to the ideals of socialism, had no genuine association with the working class or confidence in its revolutionary capacities and bowed before the anticommunist onslaught of the American political establishment.

In 2002, Kirkpatrick explained her own early attraction to socialism while participating in a forum with other former members of the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) and the Social Democrats USA, including figures ranging from Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers to Marshall Wittman, the former spokesman for the Christian Coalition.

She recounted that her introduction to the ideas of socialism came from her grandfather in Oklahoma: “My grandfather explained socialism to me as a very small child as a system that was more fair than other systems, and more fair than the system we had in Oklahoma at that time. I hadn’t the slightest notion what system we had in Oklahoma, I might say. But my grandfather did, and I was prepared to take his word for it. The distribution of everything, he said, was more fair. It sounded good to me.”

She explained that years later, as a college student in Missouri in the mid-1940s, she joined the YPSL and, as a graduate student, studied under the German social democratic émigré and member of the Frankfurt School, Franz Neumann.

Kirkpatrick said that her own subsequent evolution away from socialism was grounded on the conviction that it is impossible to “change human nature,” the most commonplace bourgeois cliché utilized to justify everything from sweatshop exploitation to wars of aggression.

Nonetheless, she adds, “I was an active Democrat.” She continued: “At the same time I was studying German social democracy, I formed the view that the New Deal and its various forms, the Fair Deal and Hubert Humphrey’s style of democratic politics, was of the same sort of species as German social democracy. I still believe that, somewhat.”

Prominent among the figures within this layer of right-wing American social democrats was Max Shachtman, who was to have an influence on Kirkpatrick and others who became identified with the neo-conservative movement.

A founder of the American Trotskyist movement, Shachtman broke with Trotsky in 1940. Under the pressure of public opinion generated by approaching war and in particular the Stalin-Hitler pact, he and a petty-bourgeois layer within the movement, then the Socialist Workers Party, rejected the defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism and developed the position that a new form of exploitative class society had arisen in the USSR.

From an opponent of Stalinism from the left—from the standpoint of socialist internationalism—Shachtman became an opponent from the right—from the standpoint of US imperialism—a position that he consummated 10 years later with his public support for US imperialism’s war against Korea. Over the course of the next two decades, Shachtman moved steadily to the right, adopting positions of extreme anti-communism and acting as an advisor to the AFL-CIO labor bureaucracy. Meanwhile, he dissolved his organization—as well his politics—into the right-wing remnants of social democracy, ultimately ending up in the Social Democrats USA, with which Kirkpatrick was herself once affiliated.

This organization and its supporters were oriented toward a bitter factional struggle within the Democratic Party that was directed against the influence of the movement against the Vietnam War, expressed in the 1972 presidential candidacy of George McGovern.

Kirkpatrick participated—together with a number of ex-Shachtmanites—in the Committee for a Democratic Majority (CDM), a right-wing coalition founded by Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington, who was a leading Democratic advocate of an aggressive US military buildup against the Soviet Union.

The AFL-CIO bureaucracy was also an active supporter of this organization. Included on the CDM’s board of directors was American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, who was also a vice president of the AFL-CIO, along with several other national union leaders.

The ideological affinity between the likes of Kirkpatrick and the union bureaucracy was to find concrete expression in the bureaucracy’s collaboration with the Reagan administration’s bloody repression in Central America through the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), a CIA labor front.

Moreover, the virulent anti-communism that the AFL-CIO hierarchy shared with Kirkpatrick made it a willing accomplice in the drive by the Reagan administration to suppress the militancy of the American working class and begin a vast transfer of wealth upward to the corporate and financial elite. This was inaugurated in the 1981 government breaking of the air traffic controllers’ strike—unopposed by the bureaucracy—and a subsequent wave of union busting that swept the country, decimating the ranks of the unions and driving down the wages and conditions of American workers.


A Cambodian Girl’s Tragedy: Being Young and Pretty
The New York Times
December 12, 2006

PAILIN, Cambodia

Slavery seems like a remote part of history, until you see scholarly estimates that the slave trade in the 21st century — forced work in prostitution and some kinds of manual labor — is probably larger than it was in the 18th or 19th centuries.

Or until you take a rutted dirt path in northwestern Cambodia to a hut between a rice paddy and a river, and meet a teenage girl named Noy Han. The girl, nicknamed Kahan, suffered the calamitous misfortune of being pretty.

Kahan’s village is isolated, accessible most of the year only by boat. There is no school, so she never attended a day of class.

One woman in the village, Khort Chan, had left as a girl and then reappeared years later. One day last year, when Kahan was 16 or 17 (ages are fuzzy here), she ate ice cream that Ms. Khort Chan gave her — and passed out.

Ms. Khort Chan took the unconscious girl away in a boat and disappeared. Kahan’s parents sounded the alarm, and the police quickly found Kahan being held upriver in the hut of Ms. Khort Chan’s grandmother. “Chan was planning to traffic her to Pailin,” a brothel center near the Thai border, said Leang Chantha, the police officer who found her.

Typically, a girl like Kahan would be imprisoned in a trafficker’s house, tied up and beaten if she resisted, inspected by a doctor to certify her virginity, and sold for hundreds of dollars to a Cambodian or Thai businessman. Virgins are in particular demand by men with AIDS because of a legend that they can be cured by having sex with a virgin.

Afterward, Kahan would have been locked up in a brothel in Pailin, and sold for $10 a session for the first couple of months. The price eventually would drop to $1.50, and by then she would be given greater freedom.

By being rescued, Kahan was spared all that — but she had suffered an overdose of the drugs. “Kahan seemed like a dead person,” said her mother, Sang Kha. “Her eyes were rolling, she was drooling.”

Even weeks later, Kahan’s face remained partially paralyzed, she could not speak, and she was weak and sickly. Desperate to get medical treatment, Ms. Sang Kha borrowed $200 from usurious money lenders charging 20 percent per month, and the girl’s uncle mortgaged his home to help pay for treatment.

But the family is now broke and heavily indebted, and Kahan still can only mumble. “I’m still very weak,” was all I could coax out of her.

The police had released Ms. Khort Chan after two days, and I was unable to track her down. But neighbors at two of her former houses said she had fled after apparently trafficking her own sister.

Some of the neighbors added a layer of complexity to her story: They believe that Ms. Khort Chan herself had been sold to a brothel as a young woman. She escaped or worked her way out, and then became a slave trader herself.

And slavery is what this is. The real problem isn’t prostitution or trafficking, it’s the enslavement of people.

The Lancet, the British medical journal, once estimated that 10 million children 17 and under may work in prostitution worldwide. Not all are coerced, but in the nastier brothels of Cambodia, Nepal, India, Malaysia and Thailand, the main difference from 19th-century slavery is that the victims are mostly dead of AIDS by their 20’s.

“It seems almost certain that the modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries was,” notes an important article about trafficking in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. It adds, “Just as the British government (after much prodding by its subjects) once used the Royal Navy to stamp out the problem, today’s great powers must bring their economic and military might to bear on this most crucial of undertakings.”

President Bush has done a much better job than his predecessors in pressing this issue; his State Department office on trafficking is one of his few diplomatic successes. And the issue enjoys bipartisan support, with leadership coming from conservative Republicans like Senator Sam Brownback and liberal Democrats like Representative Carolyn Maloney.

So President Bush, how about using your last two years to make this issue an international priority? A nudge in your State of the Union address could jump-start a new Abolitionist movement, so as to free children now dying slowly from rape and AIDS because they did something as simple as accepting ice cream from a neighbor.

The Early Show

The New York Times
December 12, 2006


Hillary Clinton is the Democratic establishment’s anti-establishment candidate. She is simultaneously an insurgent, seeking to end a 220-year reign of men, and the heir apparent — dominant in cash ($14.4 million in the bank), in the polls and in the colossal reach of her machine.

Clinton’s most visible challenger, Barack Obama, is similarly an insurgent, but without the former first lady’s resources. He is seeking to capitalize on his ranking as an underdog, entering the fray as David battling the Clinton Goliath.

The head of the pack is a dangerous place for a Democrat to be. Democrats excel in cannibalizing their front-runners. Just ask those who were knocked out in the primary season (Lyndon Johnson, Ed Muskie and Howard Dean) or those who limped from the ring after 15 rounds (Walter Mondale and Al Gore).

Republicans, by contrast, honor hierarchy. For four decades the G.O.P. has nominated the early favorite. Unlike Democrats, Republican voters have a long history of rejecting rebels and underdogs.

Clinton’s position at the head of the pack — a 20-point lead over her competitors — forces her campaign to shoot down a barrage of hostile challenges: Will voters trust a woman at a time of terrorist threat? Will the military accept a woman as commander in chief?

Evaluations of men and women running for House seats in 2006 have turned up disturbing numbers. In the 42 top-tier “Red-to-Blue” races selected by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for intensive financing and support, 25 of the candidates were male and 17 were female. In those contests, male candidates batted .800: 20 victories to five defeats. The women faced higher barriers: three won and 14 lost, batting .176.

This pattern was even more striking in the initial group of ‘Red-to-Blue’ candidates targeted as most promising by the campaign committee. Of the 11 men, nine, or 82 percent, won. Of the 11 women, 10, or 90.1 percent, lost.

Democratic officials are searching for explanations: a working hypothesis is that female candidates were more vulnerable on the issue of immigration, viewed as more generous with federal aid and amnesty.

One Democratic candidate, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, was a Blackhawk helicopter pilot who lost both of her legs in Iraq. She was leading in pre-election surveys but was defeated, 51 percent to 49 percent, by Peter Roskam, a personal-injury lawyer who pounded her with ads charging that she would “give illegal aliens welfare and Social Security benefits” costing $50 billion, while “leaving taxpayers to foot the bill.”

The Clinton team, aware of these grim results, is fighting back. The campaign released a memo with recent data showing that 68 percent of voters describe Hillary as “a strong leader,” and that 92 percent say they would vote for a woman for president — up from 52 percent in a similar poll in 1955.

As the presidential contest goes into high gear, another Clinton vulnerability becomes salient. The New York senator is armed with a powerful but old machine. Key players — John Podesta, Mandy Grunwald, Mark Penn, Ann Lewis, Harold Ickes, Terry McAuliffe — were top advisers in Bill Clinton’s two presidential races.

The Glover Park Group, Hillary Clinton’s top consulting firm, is thoroughly embedded in the Washington nexus of politics and corporate interests — at a time when the electorate is acutely suspicious of cronyism. “From a presidential impeachment to a crippling antitrust action facing one of the nation’s largest companies, we’ve been there to offer critical communications counsel,” Glover boasts.

The Clinton leviathan provides a perfect foil for Obama. “I think to some degree I’ve become a short-hand or symbol or stand-in for a spirit that the last election in New Hampshire represented,” he said last weekend on his maiden trip to the state. “It’s a spirit that says we are looking for something different — we want something new.”

The candidates not yet in the limelight — Evan Bayh, John Edwards, John Kerry, Al Gore, Tom Vilsak, Bill Richardson, Wes Clark, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden — would like nothing better than to see Clinton and Obama split their shared constituency, leaving each other lifeless on the slaughterhouse floor. That would make Richardson, who is Hispanic, the sole exception in a field composed entirely of white men.


Thomas B. Edsall, who holds the Pulitzer-Moore Chair at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is a guest columnist.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Incarceration Nation

Marc Mauer
December 11, 2006

Marc Mauer is the executive director of The Sentencing Project and the author of Race to Incarcerate and co-editor of Invisible Punishment (both from The New Press).


Two remarkable developments in Washington in the past week highlight the extent to which the United States has become the land of mass incarceration.

First, the Supreme Court denied the appeal of Weldon Angelos for a first-time drug offense. Angelos was a 24-year-old Utah music producer with no prior convictions when he was convicted of three sales of marijuana in 2004. During these sales he possessed a gun, though there were no allegations that he ever used or threatened to use it. Under federal mandatory sentencing laws, the judge was required to sentence Angelos to five years on the first offense and 25 years each for the two subsequent offenses, for a total of 55 years in prison. In imposing sentence, Judge Paul Cassell, a leading conservative jurist, decried the sentencing policy as “unjust, cruel, and even irrational.”

The Angelos decision came on the heels of a Bureau of Justice Statistics report finding that there are now a record 2.2 million Americans incarcerated in the nation’s prisons and jails. These figures represent the continuation of a “race to incarcerate” that has been raging since 1972. With a 500 percent increase in the number of people in prison since then, the United States has now become the world leader in its rate of incarceration, locking up its citizens at 5-8 times the rate of other industrialized nations. The strict punishment meted out in the Angelos case and thousands of others explain much of the rapid increase in the prison population.

The composition of the prison population reflects the socioeconomic inequalities in society. Sixty percent of the prison population is African American and Latino, and if current trends continue, one of every three black males and one of every six Latino males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in his lifetime. The overall rates for women are lower, but the racial and ethnic disparities are similar and the growth rate of women’s incarceration is nearly double that of men over the past two decades.

While the United States has a higher rate of violent crime than comparable nations, the substantial prison buildup since 1980 has resulted from changes in policy, not changes in crime. The “get tough” movement, which embraced initiatives designed to send more people to prison and to keep them for longer periods of time, contributed to massive prison construction and a corrections budget now totaling $60 billion annually. These policy changes included mandatory sentences that restrict judicial discretion while imposing “one size fits all” penalties, “three strikes and you’re out” laws that allow life terms upon a third felony conviction, and the “war on drugs.”

Drug policies have been responsible for a disproportionate share of the rise in the inmate population, with the 40,000 drug offenders in prison or jail in 1980 increasing to a half million today. A substantial body of research has documented that these laws have had virtually no effect on the drug trade, as measured by price or availability of drugs. Most of the drug offenders in prison are not the “kingpins” of the drug trade. Indeed, the low-level sellers who are incarcerated are rapidly replaced on the streets by others seeking economic gain.

While crime rates have been declining nationally for a decade, research to date demonstrates that expanded incarceration has, at best, been responsible for only a quarter of this decline. Other factors that played a key role include a strong economy in the 1990s that provided employment opportunities for low-skill workers, a marked decline in crack cocaine use and its associated violence by the early 1990s, and strategic community policing. New York City, which experienced a two-thirds reduction in homicides from 1990 to 2002, did so despite a one-third decline in its jail population during that period. And conversely, while Idaho led the nation with an astonishing 174 percent rise in its prison population, it nevertheless experienced a 14 percent rise in crime.

With a new Democratic Congress in place, there is hope that long-festering criminal justice policy inequities can finally be addressed. Long-time reform champions Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., are poised to take over the chairmanships of the House Judiciary Committee and its Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security subcommittee, respectively. But we should be cautious in our expectations given the Democratic Party’s record of complicity in endorsing “get tough” measures. Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, for example, was loaded with harsh sentencing provisions and $8 billion in new prison construction. Progressives would be wise to continue to build bipartisan support for criminal justice reform measures. In recent years this has led to alliances with conservative Senators Sam Brownback and Jeff Sessions who sponsored bills for prisoner reentry and crack cocaine sentencing reform respectively.

As we look to the new Congress, high on any reform agenda should be the following:

• Crack cocaine sentencing reform—During the last 20 years, the federal sentencing laws for crack cocaine offenses have subjected thousands of low-level defendants to mandatory five- and 10-year prison terms, while exacerbating the racial dynamics of incarceration. More than 80 percent of the persons charged with these offenses are African Americans, who receive much stiffer terms than those meted out to powder cocaine defendants.

• Mandatory sentencing reform—Congressional mandates to impose harsh sentences with no judicial input have created unfair and overly harsh penalties, and have been decried by the American Bar Association and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, among many others.

• Racial impact statements—Just as fiscal impact statements aid lawmakers in assessing the financial implications of sentencing policies, the preparation of racial impact assessments could provide similar benefits to policymakers. Had such assessments existed in 1986, we could have had a debate on the racial dynamics of the crack cocaine laws prior to their enactment, not 20 years later.

• Felon disenfranchisement reform—Five million Americans could not participate in the November election due to a current or previous felony conviction. Laws that govern these practices are enacted by the states, but Congress has the authority to require uniform voting rules in federal elections. Legislation proposed by John Conyers in the House would require states to permit voting by any non-incarcerated person in federal elections, even if barred from participating in state elections.

Three decades of prison expansion have led to rates of imprisonment that are shameful for a democratic nation. Both public safety and community health would be better served through investments in policies that promote job creation, high school graduation and substance abuse treatment. It’s time to reverse the race to incarcerate.

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