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The Panama Papers Scandal Parses the Difference Between Bernie and Hillary

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

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This is yet another example where a clear eyed, independent Bernie Sanders warned against passing legislation that he knew would be disastrous while Hillary Clinton pressed for its passage. Sanders said exactly what would happen if the Panama free trade agreement passed. He said it would make it easier for, ” … the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country to avoid paying their fair share in taxes by setting-up offshore tax havens in Panama.

Today we read headline stories like this:

“Years before more than a hundred media outlets around the world released stories Sunday (April 3, 2016) exposing a massive network of global tax evasion detailed in the so-called Panama Papers, U.S. President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for a Bush administration-negotiated free trade agreement that watchdogs warned would only make the situation worse.”

Source: http://www.ibtimes.com/panama-papers-obama-clinton-pushed-trade-deal-amid-warnings-it-would-make-money-2348076

After the free trade agreements passed in Congress, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released the following statement:

“The Free Trade Agreements passed by Congress tonight will make it easier for American companies to sell their products to South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which will create jobs here at home. The Obama Administration is constantly working to deepen our economic engagement throughout the world and these agreements are an example of that commitment.

Source: https://blogs.state.gov/stories/2011/10/13/passage-colombia-panama-and-south-korea-trade-agreements

In opposition to the Panama free trade agreement bill being debated in the Senate, Bernie Sanders said this on October 12, 2011 (Panama comments printed here in full) :

Finally, Mr. President, let’s talk about the Panama Free Trade Agreement.

Panama’s entire annual economic output is only $26.7 billion a year, or about two-tenths of one percent of the U.S. economy.  No-one can legitimately make the claim that approving this free trade agreement will significantly increase American jobs.

Then, why would we be considering a stand-alone free trade agreement with this country?

Well, it turns out that Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade U.S. taxes by stashing their cash in off-shore tax havens.  And, the Panama Free Trade Agreement would make this bad situation much worse.

Each and every year, the wealthy and large corporations evade $100 billion in U.S. taxes through abusive and illegal offshore tax havens in Panama and other countries.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “A tax haven . . . has one of three characteristics: It has no income tax or a very low-rate income tax; it has bank secrecy laws; and it has a history of non-cooperation with other countries on exchanging information about tax matters.  Panama has all three of those. … They’re probably the worst.”

Mr. President, the trade agreement with Panama would effectively bar the U.S. from cracking down on illegal and abusive offshore tax havens in Panama.  In fact, combating tax haven abuse in Panama would be a violation of this free trade agreement, exposing the U.S. to fines from international authorities.

In 2008, the Government Accountability Office said that 17 of the 100 largest American companies were operating a total of 42 subsidiaries in Panama.  This free trade agreement would make it easier for the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying U.S. taxes and it must be defeated.  At a time when we have a record-breaking $14.7 trillion national debt and an unsustainable federal deficit, the last thing that we should be doing is making it easier for the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country to avoid paying their fair share in taxes by setting-up offshore tax havens in Panama.

Adding insult to injury, Mr. President, the Panama FTA would require the United States to waive Buy America requirements for procurement bids from thousands of foreign firms, including many Chinese firms, incorporated in this major tax haven.  That may make sense to China, it does not make sense to me.

Finally, Panama is also listed by the State Department as a major venue for Mexican and Colombian drug cartel money laundering.  Should we be rewarding this country with a free trade agreement?  I think the answer should be a resounding no.

Source: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/senate-speech-by-sen-bernie-sanders-on-unfettered-free-trade

It is very difficult for average citizens like me to see clearly what our politicians are really up to. This is true in part because we no longer have an independent press challenging our politicians pro-business policies. If “free trade” is good for businesses and the wealthy (the donor class), it’s good for corporate media profits and for campaign funding PAC’s.

It is this nexus between business, politics and the media that form the self-interested “establishment” in America. It is a ruling elite that competes with itself along party lines without  faithfully serving the interests of ordinary citizens. Both the extraordinary outsider presidential campaigns of  Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are driven by this single aspect of our national polity, the  establishment elite.

Donald Trump representing opposition to the Republican flavor of the establishment elite. He thrashes about like a wild man trying  to cobble together a rage tag constituency of the disillusioned on the right.

Senator Sanders, on the other hand, has always seen through the self-serving positions of the New Democrats (or Third Way Democrats). The centrist moves of the modern Democratic party has always been a slide towards corporate power. It helps Democrats win elections because centrist positions are more lucrative for Democratic campaigns.  By not accepting PAC money or wealthy donations, Bernie Sanders has demonstrated just how clearly good politicians can see the true impact of proposed legislation.

In this and many other examples, Bernie Sanders is like a prophet.  Not the religious kind, but in the secular sense. He sees where we are headed more clearly than most and then uses that information to try and get us to change course. That is what prophets, and parents and true statesmen do.

Bernie vs. Hillary – The Clearest Distinction in a Generations

Part I, The Progressive Era

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The distinction between Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton couldn’t be sharper. If this doesn’t seem obvious, it is because Beltway media coverage of the candidates obscures more than reveals. Financial considerations of the for-profit news media creates short time horizons and shallow perspectives. The historical context of current events is often lost. To clearly see how different our choices are between these two Democratic Party candidates we need a little more information.

The two biggest areas of contrast between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are centered around two words that are very much in the public debate. These words are, “progressive” and “electability.” This essay is broken into two parts, each dedicated to these significant differences.

The Progressive Era

The term “progressive” as it relates to politics is not as vague a term as current usage suggests. The “Progressive Movement” was an historical development leading to a particular political philosophy. Born out of the Gilded Age, it held that the irresponsible actions of the rich were a corrupting influence on public and private life in America. It’s most influential period was between 1900 and 1920, although its influence continued throughout the 20th century. Progressivism was both a political and a social movement. It held that advances in science, technology, economics, and social organization could improve the conditions in which most citizens live, and that government had a role to play in promoting these advances.

Progressivism was a rejection of Social Darwinism (arguably a forerunner of Aya Rand’s Objectivism). It was a reform movement with goals considered radical in their time. Progressives sought to curb the power of big business and US corporations. It brought about laws to regulate fair commerce and break up monopolies. It fought to eliminate bribery and corruption in politics and to bring about political reforms. It fought against the extreme social injustice and inequality of that time, including opposition to child labor, widespread illiteracy, and horrible working and living conditions. It sought to improve lifestyles and living condition of all Americans and to establish health and safety standards both in the workplace and the communities where people lived. The progressive movement was also for the conservation and protection of our natural resources.

Among the activists in the movement were people such as Thomas Nast, Upton Sinclair, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Eugene Debs, Jane Addams, who founded Hull House and pioneered the field of social work, Booker T Washington, W. E. B. DuBose and many more. They and the muckrakers of the day found a sympathetic ear in Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican President. This is an important point as Progressivism was a sweeping and transformational movement supported by candidates in both political parties. The Progressive Movement ushered in the modern, middle-class oriented society we enjoy today.

Rise of Conservative Movement

Fast-forwarding for the sake of brevity skips a lot of important history, but it is fair to say that a strain of Progressive Movement philosophy has been baked into our political DNA. It remains most prominent in the Democratic party while largely disappearing from the establishment wing of the GOP. It’s disappearance is roughly correlated with the rise of our current income inequality and the growing power of the super rich. But a progressive element within the GOP is still not entirely absent even in conservative voters as evidenced by the continuing popularity of Medicare and Social Security among Tea Party Republicans.

On the Democratic side, the progressive vein of the party suffered though a crushing political loss with the landslide victory of Richard Nixon over George McGovern in 1972, followed a decade later by the rise of the conservative movement capped by the landslide election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

President Reagan’s election marked the beginning of a successful and synergistic partnership between the Republican Party and private corporate wealth. This partnership began a decade earlier with the conscious decision to create ideologically conservative public media platforms and apply modern business marketing techniques to promote conservative causes, including a successful anti-union marketing campaign that turned workers against unions. The power of organized labor was also challenged by newly organized industry advocacy groups. These industry trade groups gave rise to the powerful corporate lobbies we have today. Among the early successes of industry trade groups was a law that created political action committees, or PAC’s where corporations were able to provide substantial campaign contributions to political candidates of their choosing, and their candidates were all conservative and mostly Republican. The influx of money, the marketing prowess and the organizing clout of this marriage between the GOP and big business overwhelmed the Democratic Party. The effectiveness of massively coordinated conservative messaging cannot be overstated. It began the shift of America’s political center to the right. The power of this massively coordinated messaging, rather than the strength of conservative ideas, continues to power this rightward movement of our electoral center today.

DLC Transforms The Democratic Party

To many Democrats it was clear that the Party had to change strategy. Progressive causes were no longer winning elections. The diagnosis, unfortunately, was that the progressive agenda was the problem rather than copious amounts of corporate money, more effective marketing techniques, and the rise of conservative funded media outlets with their focus group tested propaganda.

A Democratic political operative name Al From believed that economic populism was no longer politically viable. He founded an organization named the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to move the Democratic Party away from progressive and socialist influences. The DLC sought more conservative alternatives that could appeal to the rightward shifting center of the American electorate. This required a willingness to compromise progressive values and embrace some conservative ideas. It was a strategy that triangulated politicians and the political party base on both the right and the left to win broad appeal for more “centrist” proposals. It also meant shifting Democratic Party allegiance towards big business interests and away from the poor and working classes. (The impact that this shifting focus had on the Democratic electorate will be explored more in Part 2).

More and more Democrats joined the DLS and adopted its ideas, which became known as the Third Way. It’s adherents became known as New Democrats. Their willingness to compromise and pass corporate friendly legislation, in combination with corporate lobbying, brought in the donation needed to fund successful campaigns. The crowning success  of the New Democrats was the popular election of their candidate, President Bill Clinton. From then till now Democratic Party has hitched a ride on the shifting center of the American electorate. The DLC’s New Democrats became the establishment wing of the party.

Under Bill Clinton the New Democrats schemed and compromised their way with Republicans to pass a mixed bag of legislation, from a progressive stand point. Clinton got passed a the Family and Medical Leave Act, welfare reform legislation, legislation to deregulate banks and insurance companies so they can compete with investment banks, to list a few accomplishments. The DLC’s  had to push ever further to the right to follow the shifting electoral center, but it was winning elections again.  To better compete with GOP success, the Democratic party began adopting Republican style marketing strategies and ever closer ties to big corporate donors. Still, the electorate slide to the right continued. The Party was locked into a strategy that kept Democratic candidate competitive but left no room to challenge the conservative movement or corporate media more broadly. There was always the danger that directly confronting the right wing conservatives would dry up the corporate donation that Democratic candidates came to rely on.

It’s work on transforming the Democratic Party done, the DLC dissolved in early 2011, and on July 5 of that year, DLC founder Al From announced on the organization’s website its historical records had been purchased by the Clinton Foundation. The DLC had become the Democratic Party establishment.

Democratic Establishment Today

Today, New Democrats are simply called Democrats. They still claim the title of  progressives, but it is a more relative term today.  Those most closely associated with the former DLC, however, hold important policy positions that are considerably more conservative than before the DLC was founded. For example, former DLC activist oppose single-payer universal healthcare. They are more hawkish. They supported the Iraq War and are in favor of stronger military interventions in areas of active conflict. They are in favor of charter schools and “No Child Left Behind”. They are more aligned with Wall Street and market-based solutions to economic problems. They support free-trade agreements including NAFTA, and now the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). They continue to fear that economic populism is not politically viable and while they have come late to addressing income and wealth inequality, their are less aggressive in their approach

This is the current state of the Democratic Party establishment, of which Hillary Clinton is the heir apparent. If she doesn’t see that she is an establishment Democrat, it is because a true progressive alternative has not presented itself in a long time. Today’s Democratic Party is progressive in name only. Hillary Clinton revealed more than she realized when she recently said some call her a centrist and she is proud to wear that label. Capturing the electoral center remains at the heart of her campaign strategy.

What she and other establishment Democrats haven’t realized is that they have chased the electoral political center far to the right of actual political sensibilities of most ordinary citizens.  For decades Democratic and independent voters have given up on the electoral process. They are not among the likely voters the Party targets to win elections. And the Party has stopped listening to the families they represent. They haven’t notice just how rigged the economy has become. They have stopped talking about the poor and the term “working class” has disappeared from the Party’s vocabulary. They compete instead, with Republicans on the issues of the GOP’s own choosing while conservative operatives successfully frame every debate to benefit wealthy donors. Establishment Democrats have not stopped to notice just how painful the nearly 40 year decline in wages has been for the middle-class .

The Contrast

Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has never stopped listening to the people or noticing what is happening to poor and middle class Americans. He retained his progressive values as an independent representative from Vermont. His record on this is clear. He continues to  to promote progressive values and even retains the “socialist” tag that became associated with progressive philosophy in the 1960’s. When Hillary Clinton challenged him in the recent debate by asking what made him the gatekeeper of who is a progressive, Bernie couldn’t reduce his answer to a pithy sound byte. The question is breathtaking for those familiar with the transformation of the Democratic Party over the decades. There are very few champions of true progressives left in politics today. How could anyone answer her in question in a short few words? It requires too much context because so much of the history of the Party has been lost. But once the context is understood, the stark contrast between Clinton and Sanders is between:

1. A candidate who will continue to ride the electoral center wave to the right in exchange for small but more certain gains that improve our lives, or

2. A candidate who awakens the vast number of disaffected voters to challenge right-wing ideology directly, sweep conservatives from office and make way for bold ideas that will greatly benefit most people.

A Good Day for American Deplomacy

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Diplomats are our solders for peace. They should be treated like the great patriots and heroes that they are. For too long they have been put on the shelf or forgotten. President Obama set them to work again for America, for all of us.

Today Iran released the American journalists and others that it held hostage in Iran for months. And now the NY Times says Iran has dismantled major parts of its nuclear program, paving the way for sanctions to be lifted. The UN Nuclear Agency is reporting that Iran has met all of its commitments in the Landmark nuclear deal with six world powers. This appears to be a major triumph of American diplomacy and for world deplomacy. Let’s celebrate and see who cares to joins in the celebration!!!

Sowell on What Makes Poor Folks Poor – Liberal Racism and Inferior Culture

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Thomas Sowell is a conservative “scholar” at the Hoover Institute and author of a new book, Intellectuals and Race. I haven’t read his book yet, but I did watch Sowell’s interview with Peter Robinson of the Wall Street Journal. I found Thomas Sowell’s interview disturbing in that it seems to boil down to an old conservative argument that the poor have no one to blame but themselves and the liberals who made them helpless. You can watch his WSJ interview on You Tube.

ThosasSowell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6ImP-gJvas

Several points stand out in Sowell’s arguments on the negative impact that ” liberal/progressive” intellectuals have had on our attitudes towards race vs. racism. First, he conflates liberalism with progressivism. These are two separate dynamics in their scholarly meaning. The opposite of progressive is conservative, but the opposite of liberal, in its classical meaning, is totalitarian. Within the actual social context of these two dynamics it is entirely possible to hold both liberal and conservative policy positions or progressive and totalitarian positions. For example, it would not have seemed inconsistent during the Progressive Era, in the early twentieth-century, to be for union rights but opposed to woman’s suffrage, Progressives then were not as liberal as most progressives are today. By treating these terms interchangeably, in their current colloquial sense, he maligns the liberal movement that seeks to empower today’s poor or marginalized people and make America more inclusive.

Secondly, he seems to conflate race with culture. These are also separate elements of sociology. The former is a largely subjective classification system based on superficial physical attributes associated with continent of origin. The latter is a complex set of rituals, customs, values, norms and shared history by loosely associated clans or social groups. There are as many different cultures within each race as there are among the races, even just within North America. Generalizations based on race as a culture are inherently flawed.

Thirdly, when distinguishing this amalgam of race based culture from “racism” he incorrectly identifies racism as primarily perceptual in nature. His concept of racism doesn’t incorporate the many physical racist acts that socially marginalized people endure every day. These foundational fallacies allow Sowell to make his larger points, the same ones often raised by other conservative thinkers. The first is that there are, and have always been, better and more adaptable cultures in the world. This is an accurate statement but he leaves it there, as if it were an immutable law. He offers no hint as to why this is so. He fails to mention our human capacity to alter social institutions in ways that improve the outcomes of individuals from variant cultures.

The other major point he raises is that marginalized people allow themselves to be defined by the racist perceptions against them by others. The “others”, he argues in his example, are liberal intellectuals, especially during the “progressive era”, who blamed the economic plight of African-Americans (among other groups) on broad social factors and government policies, rather than on the their mal-adaptive culture. This shift in the causal roots of their less successful living standards, according to Sowell, absolves the marginalized from responsibility for their own self-improvement and causes them to see themselves as helpless victims of a society organized against them.

The explicit argument here is that every person has within themselves the power to rise above all obstacles and prejudices set against them. It is the familiar argument of taking personal responsibility as the only condition for economic or personal success. The proof offered (as is so often the case) is the personal experiences of the writer and anecdotal examples of other success stories. The obvious logical fallacy is that these exceptions prove that everyone else can do what these few have done. Unfavorable social conditions are only controlling factors if individuals allow it to be so. The failing is theirs. It is their own fault. It is a weakness in their character or collective culture.

The empirical truth is that for the vast majority of those who are subjected to social or institutional discrimination, their chances for success in life are seriously harmed. All the physical racist acts they suffer cause immeasurable personal damage and have an accumulating effect on them as individuals. That there are rare exceptions who become successful doesn’t prove that the majority of marginalized people are flawed individuals. In fact, it proves the opposite, that the infrequency of exceptions is a measure of the extent of the damage discrimination causes.

If equal opportunity can’t produce equal personal outcomes under the best of circumstances, as most would agree, then why would unequal opportunity offer the same chances of success? And if policy  can benefit one group of individuals (as is certainly true), why is it an individual’s personal failing when policy choices disadvanges then. It makes no sense.

Bernie, DNC and Hillary Connections to Big Data

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is conceived to be a neutral Democratic Party facilitator working on behalf of all Democratic political campaigns. It raises money for candidate races, it helps develop political ads and, most importantly, it has this huge national database on registered Democrats, Democratic donors, etc. This database is the most important tool candidates need in running for public office, especially Democratic presidential candidates. The DNC allows presidential campaigns to access all of this national data on individual voters, and use the database to enter their own voter information collected in the field and through their own direct voter contacts. The analysis of this information is essential for developing and monitoring campaign strategies.

Because the DNC database contains both shared and private candidate voter information, a firewall and other safeguards are in place so that competing campaigns can’t peek at the private data being collected and analyzed by their Democratic rivals. This too is essential for fair and free primary competition. Candidates would have unfair advantages if they could see the information developed by their rivals. At the end of the election cycle, however, the private field data collected by the campaigns are merged and used to update the DNC’s national database.

BACKGROUND

This huge database is run under a contract with a company called NGP-VAN. NGP-VAN is a partisan company; that is it is a company comprised of Democrats working for Democrats. It is the DNC’s choice to contract with a partisan company. There are many competent non-partisan company providing comparable services, but the DNC believes there are advantages to hiring a partisan firm. The key reason is to develop secure, less open technologies that feed data from NGP VAN’s systems into tools and platforms that put it to use, such as mobile apps used by door-to-door campaign volunteers. The motivation for hiring a partisan company seems to be an overriding need to protect the data platforms from GOP intrusions. (See http://adage.com/article/campaign-trail/political-tech-picks-sides-stay-sidelines/294800 )

But Democratic politics is also an insider’s game. There is competition within the Democratic party to be the Democratic candidate on the ballot. There are many primary candidates, campaigns and primary elections that must be fair and free if our democracy is to be properly preserved. Special interest corruption or establishment favoritism within either political party is a direct threat to our American democracy. The will of Republican or Democratic voters within their party is just as sacrosanct as is the will of the people in general election voting. It is the role of the DNC to preserve American democracy for Democratic voters. Maintaining the security of the DNC database is a principle obligation. Assuring proper access of the data to all candidates is an essential responsibility of the DNC. Making sure there are no political pressures or conflicts of interest to taint or corrupt the democratic process within the party is paramount.

The question rarely asked is this; If NGP-VAN is a company made up of Democratic partisans, how can we be sure they are scrupulously unbiased with respect to all Democratic primary candidates? How can we be sure the DNC is unbiased, for that matter. These are the haunting questions that still hang in the air even after the fireworks set off by the Sanders campaigns data breach has ended. Even though the DNC quickly unblocked the Sanders campaign from its data, and Senator Sanders apologized to Hillary Clinton for the intrusion, the integrity of the DNC and NGP-VAN remains a   question. This is especially true in part because there was so little concern expressed about the incompetence of NGP-VAN for the firewall failure.

UNDISPUTED FACTS

The undisputed facts regarding the data breach by the Sanders campaign staff are:

  • NGP-VAN rolled out updated software for this database on the morning of Dec, 17th.
  • Afterwards, for about 4 hours, any data search on the system pulled up the private files of all the Presidential candidates.
  • The breach was discovered by Sanders campaign staff after 10:00 am, at least 90 minutes later.
  • At least 4 Sanders campaign staffers obtained access to 24 Hillary campaign files over the next 40 minutes
  • NGP-VAN became aware of this activity and immediately notified the DNC
  • The DNC shut down the Sanders’ campaign access to the database before notifying Senator Sanders, who was unaware of the breach until the chairwoman of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz called him.
  • Some of the Clinton campaign files were copied to the “Vote Finder” system of the DNC’s database, meaning those files were still in DNC custody.
  • Whether files were copied to private location, or viewed and analyzed in any detail is in dispute.
  • One of the staffers who opened multiple files was Bernie Sanders Data Chief, Josh Uretsky, who was immediate fired.
  • The extent of actions by other Sanders campaign staffers who accessed files is still in dispute and under review.
  • The Clinton campaign accused the Sanders campaign of stealing data. The Sanders campaign filed a federal lawsuit against the DNC for illegally terminating access to their data and hindering their campaign.

According to a blog post written by the Stu Trevelyan, CEO of NGP-VAN, shortly after the breach was fixed the company audited its system and determined that only the Sanders campaign, and no other outside parties, could have possibly retained any of the exposed data.

Within less than a day of the Sanders lawsuit against the DNC, they restored his campaign access to the database. Bernie Sanders maintains that this isn’t the first breach of data systems between the Sanders and Clinton campaign. (Although the prior breach involved a different data vendor.)


DISPUTED FACTS

The most innocent explanation of the data breach comes from Josh Uretsky, the former Data Chief. In an interview with Steve Kornacki on MSNBC, Steve said he was, “… trying to create a clear record of the problem.” He was fully aware that his every move was being recorded by the NGP-VAN system. His thinking was that this breach happened hours before and he needed to determine if the Sanders data was as accessible at the Clinton data. He said he had to assume that they had accessed data as well in the hours before he discovered the breach. He denies any information was analyzed or saved anywhere out side of the NGP-VAN system. He believed his probative inquires were reasonable attempts to assess,”the scope of the problem.”

When the

NGP-VAN notified the DNC of the breach and the activity of Sanders staffers, they being the only ones to access opposition files, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chairwoman, acted on the worst case scenario, that data was being stolen which could then be manipulated using the DNC database to analyze Clinton’s campaign strategies. The DNC acted swiftly before consulting with Senator Sanders. Senator Schultz claimed that the data was copied off the NGP-VAN system and demanded that it be destroyed before the DNC would consider restoring access to the database.

Throughout this controversy the DNC has reserved its anger for the actions of a handful of staffers on Senator Sanders campaign. It has exhibited litter anger or outrage towards the NGP-VAN for having compromised critical DNC data for hours.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

This all caused me to wonder, just who is this seemingly incompetent company that lost their firewall for four hours in the middle of a Presidential campaign? And what of the Sander’s campaign long standing complaint that the DNC is trying to undermine Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

Here is what I found:

NGP-VAN (www.ngpvan.com): Claims to be the leading technology provider to progressive organizations and campaigns. Among its clients are; Obama for America, the DNC, Democratic state parties, the DSCC, the DCCC, the DLCC, a majority of Democratic state legislative caucuses, Democratic candidates and other organizations.

Co-Owner, Nathaniel Goss Pearlman: Is a political technology consultant aligned with the Democratic party. He founded NGP Software, Inc., in 1977. The company provided political software to a majority of federal Democrats including most Democratic candidates for President (including Dean, Gephardt, Kerry, Graham, Edwards, Obama, and Clinton). He was the chief technology officer for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. In 2010, NGP Software merged with another company, the Voter Activation Network, and became NGP-VAN

NGP-VAN CEO, Stu Trevelyan: Was the founder of the Carol/Trevelyan Strategy Group (CTSG) which serve progressive groups and candidates starting around 1995. Before that Trevelyan worked directly on a number of campaigns, including the 1992 Clinton-Gore “War Room” and then in the Clinton White House. He was an early “Hillary for President” supporter and donor in 2013.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: She is the current DNC chairperson and was the national co-campaign chairperson of Hillary’s 2008 Presidential Campaign.

[12/28/15 Update]

NBJosh Uretsky, Data Chief for Sanders: Bernie Sanders fired this person after the data breach. Media outlets are now reporting that he was hired in September by the Sander’s campaign on the recommendation of both the VGP-VAN company and the DNC. This has raised further concerns among leadership in the Sanders’ campaign.

WHERE THINGS STAND

Obviously the partisan nature of NGP-VAN, the connections to Hillary Clinton, the Hillary Connection between Hillary and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz who was Hillary’s prior co-campaign manager, doesn’t prove anything or suggest anything nefarious. It doesn’t, however, rule out the possibility of a conflict of interests either. The Sanders campaign has not retracted their claim that the DNC might not be acting as a neutral third party and the lawsuit is still pending as of now.

Both the Sanders and Clinton campaigns, as well as the DNC, are calling for an independent “audit” of the incident and the records to rule out a wider scandal or a conflict, and also to identify and fix any vulnerabilities in the DNC’s database. This is as it should be, but there is just enough of a bad smell left in the room to require our fellow Democrats to maintain their scrutiny and to press for even more transparency at the DNC.

The idea of contracting with only partisan technology companies should be reconsidered and a broader conversation should generated on these issues. Finally, future DNC chairs should probably not be former campaign managers for any likely presidential candidates during their tenure.

Correction: An earlier version indicated a connection between the DNC chair and an employee at DGP-VAN which was an error. The error was widespread on social media and was apparently made because of confusion as to whether or not a Wasserman at NGP-VAN was her brother’s son. He is not. I extensively investigated this myself on social media and confirmed to my satisfaction that the information I had originally been given was wrong.

Why Democrats Keep Losing!

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

May I rant? It helps me to think out loud. Maybe you will find it helpful too. (or just ignore this if you like.)

voting

 

 

Democrats are loosing in state after state and in federal elections because they are acting too white and wealthy for their base, the REAL latent base of the party. And this base is NOT its liberal donors. Dem donors are nice folks, but they can’t compete with the GOP donor machines. (Nor should they try)

According to OpenSecrets.org, from the prior election, two-thirds of corporate donations go to the GOP and one-third to Dem’s. That’s more than enough money to distract Democratic candidates.  But that’s not the whole story.

We already have a party of wealthy white guys, so we don’t need another party of wealthy (relative term here, not pejorative) white gals or guys to oppose them. As badly as the GOP is exploiting and marginalizing woman (treating them like subordinates), woman’s issues are not winning over woman like it should, not even female Democrats. But that’s not the whole story either.

We need a Democratic party that gets intimately in touch with the needs of the ordinary people who haven’t been voting lately, people who, from their distal vantage, can’t tell the two parties apart. Their issues are literally bread and butter, not theoretical or ideological economics. They live in a deflationary universe where wages are flat and a dollar keeps shrinking. Their daily sweat has been sanitized and turned into a market commodity. There is no profit left in labor for them. They know their children will have no inheritance because everything they own can be sold at a flee market.

The middle class that we usually picture in our mind is not the middle income folks of today. Popular culture’s view, reinforced by network TV’s portrayals of middle-class lifestyles, matches people making more than $100,000 a year, twice the median wage. Which politicians for federal office speak openly and bravely for this half of our hard working citizens who make less than $50,000 per year? You can’t reach them by talk of job creation! Most of them have more jobs than they can handle.

If we think of the lower half of wage earners as being made up of those who are working and those looking for work, then 7% unemployed minus the 50% who earn less than a middle wage leaves 43% of the wage earners who are not being represented by either party. Of this group, those who call themselves Democrats aren’t showing up to vote. Why should they? What will change when no one seems to notice them?

Republican in this same low income group do show up to vote, but that’s because they are cynically manipulated by the wealthy wing of the GOP. They are voting out of fear, anger and pain. The wealthy wing of the GOP hears their pain even as it twist the knife.

Democrats in public office, or running for office, don’t want to ruffle the feathers of the powerful minority groups (Wall Street, CEO’s, Billionaires, etc.) even though these folks aren’t voting for them.  Money is tight. I get that.

Let me give you just two examples from two New Jersey congressional races that were below the national radar, The incumbent Republican, Rodney Frelinghuysen, raise 7 times more money than his Democratic challenger, Mark Dunec in the 11th District. Incumbent Republican Leonard Lance raised 8 times more than his Democratic challenger, Janice Kovach in the 7th District. All this money did not come from the 43% of hard working American’s who still need some form of government subsidy to survive.

And what help did these Democratic candidates get from their party elders? Very little! A decision was made to write off these districts. The slick election strategy that carefully targets resources to the most competitive races writes off the needs of millions of people who have every right to be represented. The big get out the vote strategy touted by the party fizzled because they didn’t have an explosive message to motivate the 43%ers.

People who live below the median wage level have one thing in common with the richest billionaires… their vote is just as powerful. One person! One vote! It isn’t how corporations operate; It’s how democracies operate. And until Democrats start collecting those uncast vote, instead of appeasing the rich, Democrats will continue to loose.

It is time to stop playing the Republican’s game.

 

Here is a helpful article by Robert Reich that says in fewer word what I am trying to say above.

http://m.dailykos.com/stories/1342950

 

Anyway, I’m done with my rant. Thanks for listening, even if you didn’t make it this far. All the best in the future.

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Image Credit: http://news.yourolivebranch.org/2011/05/24/iec-declares-election-free-and-fair/

Buying Back the U.S. Senate

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Dark money from anonymous donors is pouring into the 2014 Senate races. According to Jon Terbush at The Week magazine, midterm election spending this year will “blow away” prior campaign spending records.”Spending by outside groups in particular is on pace to reach an unprecedented level this cycle,” he wrote. “To this point in 2010, outside groups had spent $10.4 million… to date, such groups have spent more than three times as much on the 2014 races.”He offered this graph which show the 2014 spending to date:

There is no doubt that big donations are flooding into politics since the Citizen’s United decision by the Supreme Court. Another factor is the proliferation of highly political 501 C non-profit organizations. More than ever these organization take advantage of IRS policy to fund issue advertizing for their partisan candidates. All this money is narrowly concentrated. It comes from a few billionaires or from a relatively small number of special interest groups. Senators become obligated to their wealthy donors while the majority of citizens are not being well served. Much disaffection between citizens and their government has resulted from special interest politics, and this often suits corporate interests.
The biggest price tags for US Senate seats this year are in Georgia and North Carolina. Spending between these races is expected to be nearly $50 million dollars, most of which will come from large donations. How on earth can average citizens compete with such big donors for the attention and fidelity of their Senate representatives? There is growing certainty that our Republic no longer represents the interests of most ordinary citizens.Here’s part of the problem. Big numbers are very hard to comprehend. Our brains aren’t wired to grasp numbers in the millions or billions. So if we want to understand how expensive our elections really are, we have to break down the cost into manageable units.

Using Senate campaign cost estimates from the McClatchy news organization, and some census data, the following table breaks down Senate election costs by population segments. For example, the Michigan race is expected to cost $13.9 million this year, a lot of money, yet it breaks down to $1.85 for every adult living in the state. This is very close to the national average of $1.87 per adult for this Senate elections cycle. The really expensive Senate elections this year, on a per adult basis, are actually in Alaska and Arkansas where spending will be nearly $12 for every vote that is likely to be cast. Consider also that Senate elections take place every six years. That works out to just $2 per year per likely voter in the most expensive Senate seat, or about $1.10 for each Alaskan adult.

*Estimates are from the McClatchy News Service as published in the New Jersey Star Ledger.Here then are some numbers that most people can comprehend. The average cost to an individual for this very expensive Senate election works out to just 31¢ per year per Senator. This is all it would cost you to buy back your vote.Elections cost money. To get the money interests out of politics people have to put money into it. We can’t let billionaires and special interest group buy the Congress at such bargain prices. It is time to step to the plate and publicly finance our Republic.

Yes we need to undo Citizen’s United and make clear that corporations are not people. We need to do a lot of things, but nothing will restore our voice in government better than fronting the cost of election campaigns. When politicians need both our money and our vote we will have their full attention. Even a few dollars a month would go a long way to fund our democracy.  It would do more to help the poor and support the middle class than almost anything else we could buy. We could even discount campaign finance contributions for everyone who registers to vote.

As essential as voting is to fulfilling our civic duty, funding our Republic and being knowledgeable and engaged in public issues are just as critical.

When Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government we have as he left the Constitutional Convention of 1787 he famously remarked, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Now we know what he meant. It’s time to take back our Republic from special interest groups and quirky billionaires. This time let’s invest our time, talents and money to keep it in the hands of ordinary people where it belongs.

Kids in Cages – Refugee Crisis at Our Border

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

It is It was Father’s Day and I was still haunted by story I hear about earlier this week. Over 70,000 children a year are coming across the US border from places like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico, many of whom are unaccompanied minors. The United States is forced to house these children in temporary detention facilities under very difficult conditions. The situation is desperate as federal agencies and facilities designed to house adults races to accommodate the special needs of young children.

On All In with Chris Hayes, José Diaz Balart reported about the humanitarian crisis at the US Mexican border. Unaccompanied minors are crossing the border in record numbers, sometimes as many as 300 a day. Some of these children are as young as 18 months old. But also, there are couples trying to cross the border with their children who are being met by members of Mexico’s drug cartel that take one of the parents hostages for ransom, allowing the other parent and children to cross into the States.

Balart also reported on the conditions that are creating these developments. One Guatemalan mother told him gang violence in her country is so bad that when their daughters reach puberty, gang members will come in and either rape them, kill them, or take them as their property. These parents feel they have no option but to send their children across the border to safety. When US officials try to interview young children to learn who their parents are it is not unusual for 4 and 5 years to not know their parents names or the name of the towns in which they lived. In some cases, trying to reunite children with their families is impossible.

While we flounder around once again in Iraq and other foreign lands with oil resources of interest, we are ignoring the deteriorating humanitarian situations in our own hemisphere. The immigration issues we face are usually couched in protectionist language when the root of the problem is really about promoting growth and stability in foreign countries much closer to home.

We need to direct more resources and attention on foreign aid and international diplomacy among our Latin American neighbors. The social and economic conditions in these countries have reach a crisis proportions. Our immigration problem is a massive refugee problem that our politics and the media isn’t addressing. The answers to real immigration reform fall well beyond the scope of our current political dialogue.

De-Cantoring Big Business

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

EricCantorWallst

The defeat of Eric Cantor in his primary, and the article below, is instructive because it illuminates the growing populist enmity towards politicians who serve business interests over voter interests. This is at the heart of the growing rift in the Republican party. The GOP establishment serves the interests of Big business over all else and almost mockingly manipulate ordinary voter segments and the small business owners they claim as their base.

The beltway seems baffled by this, but the trend has been clear for some time. Putting people first in politics will be key to winning over the real voter base of both parties going forward. And peeling off small business owners by promoting specific policies that support them and level their playing field against corporate abuses is an essential element for Democrats. Democrats should be the champions of small community business leaders and ordinary citizens. They should be resist the growing corporate influence over government and our lives (without being overtly hostile).

Campaign funding should also be as populist and grass roots as possible, or at least have that as a prominent feature. People should be able to contribute small donations to their candidate’s campaign on line using their pay pal accounts, or they should be able to text a contribution on their smart phone. This not only sets the right tone, it takes action against the influence of big money in politics even if particular  campaign must still rely on big donors..  But note that in this race Eric Cantor outspent Brat by a  40 to 1 ratio.  The strength of Brats message overcame this huge spending advantage.

As I tweeted earlier today in reference to Cantor: In drawing democrat-proof districts the GOP created congressional district that are toxic to traditional conservative Republicans as well. And traditional conservative Republicans are virtually all big business Republicans. So there is a clear message here for all Democratic candidates. Stop cozening up with corporations and start representing real people.

If Democrats messaging can thread this needle they may be able to pick up disaffected moderate Republican votes while making it harder for radical right-wing Republican’s to vote for GOP supporter of ever more crony capitalism.

Here is a snip of the Nation’s article by John Nicols:

from The Nation

Breaking news and analysis of politics, the economy and activism.

Eric Cantor Defeated by a Conservative Who Rips Crony Capitalism

John Nichols on June 11, 2014 – 12:21 AM ET

 

http://www.thenation.com/blog/180189/eric-cantor-defeated-conservative-who-rips-crony-capitalism#

The DC-insider storyline about this being a great year for the Republican establishment is undergoing a rapid rewrite. For the first time since the post was formally established in 1899, a House majority leader has been defeated in a bid for renomination. And as political prognosticators, Republican stalwarts and savvy Democrats search for explanations, they are being forced to consider complexities they had not previously entertained — including the prospect of conservatives who are ready and willing to criticize big business.

Eric Cantor, the face of the GOP establishment, one of the party’s most prodigious fundraisers and the odds-on favorite to become the next speaker of the House, lost his Virginia Republican primary Tuesday to a challenger who promised, “I will fight to end crony capitalist programs that benefit the rich and powerful.”

 

Dave Brat, who defeated the number-two Republican in the House by a 56-44 margin, tore into big business almost as frequently as he did the incumbent. “I am running against Cantor because he does not represent the citizens of the 7th District, but rather large corporations seeking insider deals, crony bailouts and a constant supply of low-wage workers,” declared the challenger.

 

Image credit: www.businessinsider.com

Civil Service Pensions – A Marker for What We’ve Lost

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

In New Jersey, as in many other states with conservative Republican Governors, the state civil service pension systems are under attack. A friend of mine, who has followed Governor Chris Christie’s rhetoric in the newspapers, commented about how reasonable this sounded since the system seems to be going broke. But the story of the pension system in New Jersey is more complicated that the current political sound bites. Let me tell you a true story about how civil service pensions came to be a target for public ridicule.

When I first went into civil service it was a calling to serve, not a career choice for the prospect of making lots of money. I was following the inspired words of John F. Kennedy and asking what I could do for my country. I was, and am still, an idealist. Money didn’t matter as much to me. I wanted to help people. I still feel that way now, which is why I blog.Back when I started with the state, everyone in the private sector had better health care and benefits, better defined pension benefits and they made a lot more money per hour or had higher salaries. Even the state cars we drove back then had no radios or air conditioning as that was considered too extravagant for state employees. That is the way it was, so working for the State came with low earnings expectations.

But things were changing in 1979 when I began my civil service career, even though I didn’t know it at the time. Big business had begun organizing politically and started spending big bucks on lobbying government for laws and regulations more favorable to business. Industry organizations were created to raise money and coordinate anti-union marketing campaigns. Ronald Reagan came into power in 1980 and set the tone for union bashing by crushing the air traffic controllers union. Private sector wages, which up to that time always rose in to proportion to increases in hourly GDP, were frozen and have remained frozen ever since. A fear campaign and actual business tactics based on globalization made jobs less secure. Private company pension systems were intentionally dismantled by big corporations to quarterly boost profits. Profit sharing arrangements took their place initially so workers had to invest in their company for their hope of retirement income. Then Wall Street saw all this money and wanted some action. They got congress to pass the IRA laws and all that pension money went to them.

Instead of real raises, businesses only offered cost of living adjustments, which keeps up with inflation but doesn’t share the extra wealth that the growing hourly GDP created for their employers. That extra wealth went to CEO’s and wealthy stockholders, beginning the cycle of great income disparity we have today. At the same time, Reagan cut the top marginal tax rate from 70% to 28%, a windfall for the rich and a huge loss of tax revenue that the rest of us had to bear.

So while the raises, salaries and benefits I received were always sub-par compared with the private sector during the first half of my career, declining private sector wages and benefits, rather than civil service raises or improved benefits, is the reason civil service looks so good today. In fact, civil service benefits have been steadily eroding for the last 15 years but this decline is slower than the collapse of private sector benefits. Civil service salaries also have barely budged in years and actually declined when you factor in inflation. But the assault on private sector salaries and benefits makes civil service look great by comparison only.

Know this, if corporate business interests had not conspired to suppress wages in America over the last 40 years the median income for a family of four today would be over $100,000/year. Instead it is shrinking and down to $51,000/year.

My point is that people in this country who work in the private sector have to fight back to regain a fair bite of the wealth they create for their employers. Workers need to re-organize and demand their fair share of our GDP. Rather than tearing away at civil servant pensions, people should be working to recreate what has been taken from them and use civil service as the framework and model to rebuild private sector retirement security.

There are particulars about why the pension system in New Jersey is in so much financial trouble.  It isn’t because it is too generous. It is in trouble because when New Jersey was flush with money during Governor Christie Whitman’s (R) term she stopped making payments. She said she did this because the stock market was booming at that time. She said the pension system was way over-funded and didn’t need more cash. By the time she finished bankrupting the state with massive tax cuts and increased credit spending, Governor James Florio (D) didn’t have the revenue to pay into the state pension system during his entire term in office. This default model became a habit with subsequent Governors. Nothing, or only fractional amounts, were paid into the retirement system for the last 20 years. Governor Chris Christie (R) refused to put money into the system a few year back, when he had the money to pay, saying he didn’t want to put money into a broken system. This is crazy talk since it was the Executive branch that broke the system in the first place by doing exactly what he was doing.

The New Jersey State Pension system is, to a lesser extent, also in trouble because it has been abused for years by politicians bumping up the salaries of their political cronies just before retirement so they get huge pensions that they didn’t deserve or contribute towards. Politician’s take advantage of the way pensions are calculated to reward their buddies.

In New Jersey, civil service pensions are based on the average salary for the last three years. Recently the Star Ledger newspaper criticized the Governor for bumping up the salary of a political friend such that his retirement income was around $120,000 per year when his base salary had been closer to $30,000 for most of his career. Politician’s have treated the state’s pension system like it was there private cookie jar.

So when the state’s pension system, or any states fixed pension system becomes a target for political destruction, let it be a reminder instead of just how much ground private sector workers have lost. Let state pension systems be the model on which the rest of the work force rebuilds what they once had.
Photo Credit: http://ivn.us/2012/07/11/california-ignores-growing-public-pension-crisis/