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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Secret of How the GOP Has a Lock on the House for the Foreseeable Future.

By Bill Berkowitz

Progressive America Rising via Alternet

Dec 29, 2012  - If somewhere in the recesses of your mind you were wondering how, despite President Barack Obama’s re-election victory and the Democratic Party’s gains in the Senate, Republicans continue to control the House of Representatives, think redistricting.

Redistricting is the process that adjusts the lines of a state’s electoral districts, theoretically based on population shifts, following the decennial census. Gerrymandering is often part and parcel of redistricting. According to the Rose Institute of State and Local Governments at Claremont McKenna College, Gerrymandering is done “to influence elections to favor a particular party, candidate, ethnic group.”

Over the past few years, as the Republican Party has gained control over more state legislatures than Democrats. And, it has turned redistricting into a finely-honed, well-financed project. That has virtually insured their control over the House. “While the Voting Rights Act strongly protects against racial gerrymanders, manipulating the lines to favor a political party is common,” the Rose Institute’s Redistricting in America website points out.

ProPublica’s Olga Pierce, Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer recently reported, in a piece titled “How Dark Money Helped Republicans Hold the House and Hurt Voters [3],” that “Republicans had a years-long strategy of winning state houses in order to control each state's once-a-decade redistricting process,” That strategy helped the GOP put a hammerlock on its goal of creating safe Republican districts that would allow it to control of the House.

“The Republican effort to influence redistricting overall was spearheaded by a group called the Republican State Leadership Committee [RSLC], which has existed since 2002,” ProPublica reported. “For most of that time, it was primarily a vehicle for donors like health care and tobacco companies to influence state legislatures, key battlegrounds for regulations that affect corporate America. Its focus changed in 2010 when Ed Gillespie, former counselor to President George W. Bush, was named chairman. His main project: redistricting.”

Under Gillespie’s leadership, the RSLC launched a project called the Redistricting Majority Project [4], or REDMAP, “to influence state races throughout the country.” In 2010, the RSLC had raised $30 million to pursue what Karl Rove had discussed earlier that year in a Wall Street Journal article headlined, “The GOP Targets State Legislatures,” and subtitled, "He who controls redistricting can control Congress."

The “Final REDMAP Report,” dated December 21, 2010 and posted on the Redistricting Majority Project website, pointed out that “Twenty legislative bodies which were previously split or under Democratic control are now under Republican control. This includes key chambers where the RSLC devoted significant resources, including the Michigan House, New York Senate, Ohio House, Pennsylvania House and the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate.”

The report also noted that “In comparison to past elections, Republicans had more success than either party has seen in modern history. Republicans gained nearly 700 seats on Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, outperforming the 628-seat Democratic gains in 1974, 472-seat Republican gains of 1994 and more than doubling the 322-seat Democratic gains of 2006. Before Election Day 2010, Democrats controlled 60 state legislative chambers to the Republicans’ 36. After the November 2nd elections, Democrats control 40 chambers, Republicans control 55 chambers, two remain tied and one (NE) is unicameral/non-partisan.”

The “Final REDMAP report” wasn’t shy about how some of its $30 million was spent, noting that it had “invested $18 million after Labor Day, alone”:

  • “Spent $1.4 million targeting four New York State Senate seats, winning two and control of the New York State Senate.”
  • “Spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races, targeting and winning three of the toughest races in the state (House Districts 39, 54, 130).”
  • “Spent nearly $1 million in Ohio House races, targeting six seats, five of which were won by Republicans. Notably, President Obama carried five of these six legislative districts in 2008.”
  • “Spent $1 million in Michigan working with the Michigan House Republican Campaign Committee and Michigan Republican Party to pick up 20 seats.”
  • “Spent $750,000 in Texas as part of an effort that resulted in 22 House pick-ups.”
  • “Spent $1.1 million in Wisconsin to take control of the Senate and Assembly, including spending nearly $500,000 to target Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker. The RSLC was the only group to target Decker who was defeated soundly by Republican Pam Galloway.”
  • “Committed resources to Colorado (more than $550,000), North Carolina (more than $1.2 million), and Alabama ($1.5 million).”
  • “The RSLC also invested more than $3 million across a number of other states including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, Nevada, New Jersey and Oregon.”

Ultimately, weighted redistricting – which is done by both political parties -- allowed for Republicans to continue to control the House of Representatives even though Democratic congressional candidates received a million more votes than the GOP’s congressional candidates.

Dark Money Funds GOP Redistricting Project

The Republican Party did not build the highway leading to the U.S. House of Representatives by themselves. ProPublica’s investigation “found that the GOP relied on opaque nonprofits funded by dark money, supposedly nonpartisan campaign outfits, and … corporate donations to achieve Republican-friendly maps throughout the country.”

Millions of dollars was raised: “Two tobacco giants, Altria and Reynolds, each pitched in more than $1 million to the main Republican redistricting group, as did [Karl] Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads; Walmart and the pharmaceutical industry also contributed. Other donors, who gave to the nonprofits Republicans created, may never have to be disclosed.”

According to ProPublica, “To fund the work, the Republican State Leadership Committee used its previously dormant nonprofit arm, the State Government Leadership Foundation. Such dark money groups are increasingly popular because they are allowed to keep secret the identity of their donors. Federal tax law permits them to do this as long as they pledge that politics is not their primary focus.

“Flush with anonymous donors' cash, the Foundation paid $166,000 to hire [5] the GOP's pre-eminent redistricting experts, according to tax documents. The team leader was Tom Hofeller [6], architect of Republican-friendly maps going back decades.”

PtoPublica reported that Hofeller's “team was paid with dark money and [since] the redistricting process is so secretive, it is hard to know the full extent of its activities.” Team Hofeller “provided technical assistance to an aide to Rep. Paul Ryan as he drew new districts that favored Republicans. In Missouri, Hofeller was the sole witness called by attorneys representing the Republican legislators who drew the maps there.” And Hofeller also concentrated his efforts on North Carolina.

Perhaps no other state was transformed as much as North Carolina. As ProPublica detailed, dark money groups affiliated with longtime Republican Party funder Art Pope, who ProPublica called “the most influential conservative donor in the state,” worked its magic. Not only did Pope donate heavily to the GOP’s redistricting project, he threw a bundle of cash into the re-election campaign of Justice Paul Newby, which ultimately guaranteed that the 4-3 GOP majority on the state Supreme Court would continue, virtually assuring that any challenge to redistricting would be rebuffed.

In a piece earlier this year for The Nation titled “How the GOP Is Resegregating the South,” Ari Berman pointed out that redistricting, as conducted in North Carolina, is an extension of the GOP’s Southern strategy, “as Republicans attempt to turn this racially integrated swing state into a GOP bastion, with white Republicans in the majority and black Democrats in the minority for the next decade.”

Berman ominously noted that “In virtually every state in the South, at the Congressional and state level, Republicans — to protect and expand their gains in 2010 — have increased the number of minority voters in majority-minority districts represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats while diluting the minority vote in swing or crossover districts held by white Democrats.”

While 2010’s redistricting resulted in keeping the Republican Party’s electoral hopes alive, voter suppression efforts engineered mostly by GOP-controlled state legislatures were largely ineffective this time around. However, expect more voter suppression efforts in years to come.

And, there’s another electoral scheme the GOP is kicking around; gerrymandering the electoral college. Instead of the winner of the majority of votes in a state receiving all of that state’s electoral votes, those votes would be divided on the basis of congressional districts. In such swing states as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, where Obama won largely because of big city turnout, Romney, who won more congressional districts, would have received the majority of electoral votes.

Gerrymandering the electoral college could become the Republican Party’s strategic push for 2016. In that case, chalk up another victory for the GOP’s redistricting project.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The One and Only Cause of "Fiscal Cliff" Economic Crisis: Republicans Fear Tea Party Primaries

By Robert Creamer
Progressive America Rising via HuffPost

Dec 29, 2012 - Often, economic crises are caused by real physical problems - like draught, war, demography, or technological innovation that robs one economy of a competitive advantage over another.

Other times, economic crises result when asset bubbles burst, or financial markets collapse. That was the case of the Great Depression - and more recently the Great Recession.

The economic crisis of the moment - the "fiscal cliff" - does not result from any of these factors. In fact it is not a real "economic crisis" at all, except that it could inflict serious economic hardship on many Americans and could drive the economy back into recession.

The "fiscal cliff" is a politically manufactured crisis. It was original concocted by the Republican Senate Leader, Mitch McConnell as a way to get past the last crisis manufactured by the Republicans - the 2011 standoff over increasing the Federal Debt Ceiling.

Theoretically, "the cliff" - composed of increased taxes and huge, indiscriminant cuts in Federal programs - would be so frightening to policy makers that no one would ever consider allowing the nation to jump.

Now, America is on the brink of diving off the cliff for one and only one reason: many House Republicans are terrified of primary challenges from the Tea Party right.

That's right, if your tax bill goes up $2,200 a year, or you're one of the millions who would stop receiving unemployment benefits, the cause of your economic pain is not some a natural disaster, or a major structural flaw in the economy. The cause is Republican fear of being beaten in a primary by people like Sarah Palin, Sharon Angel or Richard Mourdock - funded by far Right Wing oligarchs like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers. It's that simple.

Most normal Americans will have very little patience with Republicans as they begin to realize that GOP Members of Congress are willing to risk throwing the country back into a recession because they are worried about being beaten in low turn out primaries by people who do a better job than they do appealing to the extreme right fringe of the American electorate - and to the far Right plutocrats that are all too willing to stoke right wing passion and anger.

Nate Silver, of the New York Time's 538.com, argues in a recent column that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is the increasing polarization of the American electorate. That polarization translates in to fewer truly "swing" Congressional seats and an increasing number where Members are more concerned with primary challenges than they are with losing in a general election. He concludes that at this moment the number of solidly Republican seats is larger the number of solidly Democratic seats.

This, he argues is partially a result of redistricting by Republican legislatures that packed Democrats into a limited number of districts in many states. But he also contends it results from increasing polarization of the electorate in general. And it is due to the fact that solidly Democratic urban areas have very high concentrations of Democrats, where Republican performing areas tend to have relatively lower concentrations of Republicans. These reasons help explain why, even though Democrats got more votes in House races this cycle than Republicans, Republicans still have more seats in the House.

Increased political polarization in the United States is not a result of some accident or act of God. In 2006, political scientists Nolan McCarty, Kevin T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal published a study of political polarization called Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Their study found that there is a direct relationship between economic inequality and polarization in American politics.

They measured political polarization in congressional votes over the last century, and found a direct correlation with the percentage of income received by the top 1% of the electorate. It is no accident that the years following the second World War, a period of low political polarization, was also a period that economist Paul Krugman refers to as the "great compression" -- with robust economic growth for most Americans and reducing levels of economic inequality. In other words, it turns out that if you want less political polarization, the best medicine is reducing income inequality.

Of course, one of the other major factors feeding the GOP fear of primaries is that, because of the Citizens United decision, far right plutocrats can now inject virtually unlimited amounts of money into primary races. Unlimited independent expenditures have so far been much more successful in unseating incumbent Republican Members of Congress than it has been winning General Elections.

In the end, of course the relatively more diluted presence of Republicans in Republican districts - and the country's changing demographics -- may allow Democrats to win many currently Republican seats. What's more, Republican near term concern about primary challenges - and the stridency it breeds -- may alienate increasing numbers of moderate Republican leading independents. We've already seen this effect in the Presidential and Senate races and it would not be surprising that by 2014 many of the primary obsessed Republican incumbents are hoisted on their own petard in the General Election. Just ask Tea Party Members of Congress who were defeated in 2012, like Alan West and Joe Walsh. But in the near term, at least, there is also no question that many occupants of Republican seats appear far more concerned with primary challenges than they are with general elections.

If House Speaker Boehner is to be successful passing any form of compromise to avoid the "fiscal cliff" - either before the end of the year or after - he will need to convince Republican Members of the House that he is doing them a favor by bringing a bill the floor that can pass even with many Republicans voting no. That, of course requires that the deal is good enough to allow many Democrats to vote yes.

Boehner will get political cover for that kind of maneuver if a bill passes out of the Senate with bi-partisan support. But even then, he will certainly weigh whether he risks his otherwise certain re-election as Speaker on January 3rd if he acts before the country goes over the cliff at midnight, December 31.

Of course the many Republicans that will never support any form of tax compromise don't justify their position by explaining they are more concerned with primaries than they are of general elections. In fact they generally fall back on one of three myths that are themselves utter nonsense.

Myth #1 - You shouldn't tax the wealthy because they are "job creators". The plain fact is that no one invests money in any business if they do not think there are customers with money in their pockets to buy the products or services they produce.

Customers with money in their pockets are "job creators" - and the root of our current economic problems can be traced directly to the fact that everyday consumers are receiving a smaller and smaller percentage of the national economic pie and as a result have less ability to to buy the increasing number of products and services our economy can create. In fact, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation's gross domestic product since the government started keeping records in 1947. And corporate profits have climbed to their highest levels since the 1960's.

Over the last two decades, per capita Gross Domestic Product has gone up; productivity per hour of work has gone up; but the median income of ordinary Americans has remained stagnant. That is only possible because all of the growth in our economy has been siphoned off by the top 2% of the population.

And it has meant that everyday people haven't had the money in their pockets to buy the increased numbers of goods and services that are the consequence of that increased productivity. Stagnation and slow economic growth has been the result.

Henry Ford had this right. For the economy to grow over time, workers need to be paid enough to buy the products they produce.

If you want the economy to grow, the fruits of economic growth must be spread equally throughout the economy - if not consumers won't have the money to buy and, as a consequence, investors won't invest.

Higher taxes on the wealthy - including higher estate taxes on fortunes left to the sons and daughters of multi-millionaires - are not "bad" for the economy - just the opposite. They help address the economic inequality that is the core problem in our economy.

Myth #2 - Our biggest problem is the federal deficit. This is just flat wrong. It is the economic equivalent of the medieval view that you should "bleed" patients when they are sick.

We have learned from centuries of economic history, that when an economy is recovering from a recession, the right medicine for sluggish economic demand is more fiscal stimulus - and in the short run that does not mean lower deficits.

More economic stimulus, of the type that the President proposed in the American Jobs Act over a year ago, puts money in people's pockets who can then spend it on more products and stimulate more investment. Austerity and reducing national debt will yield the same outcome we have recently seen in Europe - another recession. And that is exactly what the deficit hawks are likely to get if America slides of the fiscal cliff and stays there.

Right Wing deficit hawks are fond of warning that if we don't cut the deficit, the country could turn into Greece - or some other European country that can't pay it's bills. They ignore the fact that right now U.S. Treasury Bonds are considered the safest investments in the world, and interest rates are at a record low. They also ignore the fact that, unlike the Europeans, the American Federal Reserve can monetize the federal debt and assure that U.S. bond holders are always paid -- unless, of course, the Republicans refuse to pay the debts that we owe, which would be like committing economic Hara-Kiri.

In fact, the quickest way for America to become like Europe is a precipitous reduction of the federal spending. Ask the Brits how that worked out.

Finally, of course, let's remember that the way to reduce the deficit is not an inscrutable mystery. When Democrat Bill Clinton was President he did it, just a few short years ago. The recipe for success involved two factors: increasing revenue, especially from the wealthy, and growing the economy.

Today we would have to add, the need to control the spiraling increase in health care costs. While ObamaCare will make big steps in that direction, much more will be needed. Shifting costs to seniors and other consumers by cutting Medicare or Medicaid benefits is not controlling health care costs - it is simply shifting them from government to individuals. And what is needed is not more de-regulation of for-profit health care companies. In fact we ultimately need to follow the model of the Canadians - and most of the other industrial nations in the world - and provide a universal Medicare coverage to all Americans. Our system of private health insurance is simply too expensive. Americans, after all, pay 40% more than any other country per capita for health care and have outcomes that rank only 37th in the world.

Myth #3 - Government is always bad and- as Grover Norquist argues - must be shrunk so it can be drowned in a bathtub.

Let's ignore for a moment the fact that while Republicans talk about small government, they inevitably expand it when they control the White House - mostly in the form of larger military budgets.

Government, as Congressman Barney Frank says, is the name we give to the things we choose to do together--and that includes many of the most important things we do in our economy. From fire and police protection to providing free public education and health care for all, to building public infrastructure, to creating the Internet - government does a better, more efficient, more equitable job in many economic arenas than the private sector.

To hear the Republicans talk you wouldn't know it, but right now taxes are at their lowest levels since 1958.

Right now in America we need more government - more education, more roads and bridges, more mass transportation, more cancer research, more health care, more nutrition programs, more drug education and treatment - not less. More government shouldn't mean more regulation of our freedom - it should mean that when we co-operate together we have the ability to achieve more than if everyone is left to sink or swim. Government action is necessary to provide the foundation from which each person can individually excel.

The question of the type of society we want in America was squarely on the ballot in the election last November, and voters overwhelming voted for a society where we have each other's back - where we're all in this together, not all in this alone.

Progressives need to make all of these arguments to win the battle for the future. But let's remember that the unwillingness of most Republicans to compromise to avoid the "fiscal cliff" - or anything else - has less to do with their commitment to their ultra right principles than to the protection of their own political hides.

That being the case, there are only two ways to convince Republicans to compromise. One is to demonstrate that their obsession with primary challenges from the right will ultimately lead them to defeat in General Elections. The second is to defeat them so badly in the next General Election that they no longer have the power to impose the will of an extremist minority on the people of the United States.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

Follow Robert Creamer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rbcreamer

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Class War Redux: How the American Right Embraced Marxist struggle

Neither accident nor gaffe, Romney's '47%' remark was a declaration of war on a proletariat of feckless moochers

By Rick Wolff
Progressive America Rising via The Guardian, UK

Conservatives and Republicans used to keep quiet and private about their views on classes and class war in the United States. They ceded those terms to leftists and then denounced their use. The US was, they insisted, a mostly "classless" society, civilization's pinnacle achievement. We were a vast majority of wondrously comfortable and secure consumers.

Workers or capitalists, like classes, were antiquated, disloyal, and irrelevant concepts. True, a few fabulously rich people were visible (likely, film or sports celebrities or "entrepreneurial innovators"): their antics and luxuries were fun to mimic, admire, or deplore. An annoying and assuredly small underclass of the poor also existed: likely, persons "destroyed" by drugs or alcohol.

However, over recent decades, that approach has given way to a harsher view of US society, and the world beyond. At first, in their homes, country clubs, and unguarded moments with friends, conservatives and Republicans redefined their prime political enemy as the "moochers". Those people – Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called them "the 47%" always voting Democrat – depend on government handouts, and vote accordingly to secure those handouts.

Moochers include welfare recipients, the poor receiving Medicaid, students getting subsidized college loans, illegal immigrants, and, sometimes, also those "entitled" to get social security and Medicare benefits. They are all society's real "exploiters", using government to tax the other 53% of the people for the funds doled out to the 47%.

Conservatives and Republicans are thus classifying the population into two key subgroups. Gone are images of the US as one big happy middle class. Instead, one class, self-defined as the upper 53%, comprises self-reliant, hardworking taxpayers: true social givers. The other class comprises the lower 47%: takers who give little as long as dependence saps their creativity, responsibility, etc.

Romney's campaign showed that conservatives and Republicans increasingly use this class analysis to understand society and construct their political programs. Romney's campaign also proved the increasing determination of conservatives and Republicans to pursue class war explicitly in these terms. Romney later confirmed publicly what had been exposed in his private appeal to wealthy funders.

A chief Romney adviser, Stuart Stevens, offered this widely-circulated post election analysis in the Washington Post:

"On 6 November, Romney carried the majority of every economic group except those with less than $50,000 a year in household income. That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters."

Warren Buffett, the multibillionaire, says that because "his class" is winning, economic inequality is becoming dangerous. He thus wants rich Americans to be taxed more. He presumes – like most Democrats – that class and class conflict are terms that will repel Americans and persuade them to support Buffett's tax reform proposals.

That presumption is flawed. The political terrain has shifted.

Conservatives and Republicans see advantages in becoming open class warriors. They invite the voting population to join them in fighting the class war. Their program: to liberate the hardworking, self-reliant class (those earning over $50,000) from ruinous taxation. To that end, they will reduce and eventually eliminate handouts to the dependent clients of an overspending state controlled by those clients' votes.

Republicans promise to end "abusive" taxation and other government programs redistributing wealth and income from the upper 53% to the lower 47%.

This class war aims to eradicate its enemy. The dependents will lose the government handouts that destroyed their self-reliance, creativity and responsibility. Forced to become independent, like the 53%, they will abandon the Democrats, and secure Republican victory. This politics – designed to eradicate the enemy – replicates the strategy deployed earlier against another Democratic voter base, organized labor, after it returned Franklin Roosevelt to office four times.

After this class war succeeds, government will return to its "original purposes" of military defense, law enforcement, and little more. The lower 47% will be freed from debilitating dependence to resume the happy middle-class existence that is the social optimum.

That this class narrative is not evidence-based or factual is beside the point. Of course, vast tax reductions go to corporations and the richest citizens, just as vast subsidies do, and likewise, laws enabling monopoly pricing, tax evasion, and so on. Corporate profits and individual wealth depend on government, too. The class warfare narrative of the US right proceeds anyway, because it plausibly promises tax cuts as relief for Americans in worsening economic difficulties.

To the extent this class war from above succeeds, Democrats will weaken, and government assistance for the poor and working class will atrophy. Such austerity will deepen resignation, bitterness, and depoliticization for many.

However, austerity also generates another kind of class war, in which classes are defined differently. These new class analyses, discourses and struggles are initiatives emerging in and around the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US – and analogous anticapitalist movements elsewhere. They borrow, but also depart from, earlier socialist traditions.

The exploited class (workers) produces the surplus value appropriated by the class of exploiters (capitalists). The capitalists then use that surplus to control politics and thereby sustain a social system that serves them primarily. Champions of the exploited class aim to change the system by ending the division between worker and capitalist inside the enterprises.

Unlike what happened in the USSR and the old socialist world, the focus is now less on changes in property ownership and in the relation of markets to planning. Instead, the emphasis falls more on changing the organization of production, replacing the top-down, undemocratic dictatorship inside capitalist enterprises with the horizontal, workers' self-direction of cooperatives. The model is less the soviet than the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation. The democratization of enterprises would enable reduced income and wealth inequality and all the political and cultural inequalities that flow therefrom.

How political struggles have changed! Conservatives and Republicans pursue one kind of class war to destroy Democrats and the welfare state with austerity programs. The Democrats weakly resist and mostly "compromise" to survive in that class war. Meanwhile, capitalism's ongoing crisis and austerity programs provoke another, different class struggle.

Pompous predictions that class struggle was a passé concept have been proved wrong. Quite the contrary, right and left place multiple, contested class analyses and struggles at the center of politics today.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

No End to Republican Plans to Rig the Vote

The GOP's New Electoral College Scheme Includes Pennsylvania

By Reid Wilson
Beaver County Blue via National Journal

Dec 17, 2012 - Republicans alarmed at the apparent challenges they face in winning the White House are preparing an all-out assault on the Electoral College system in critical states, an initiative that would significantly ease the party's path to the Oval Office.

Senior Republicans say they will try to leverage their party's majorities in Democratic-leaning states in an effort to end the winner-take-all system of awarding electoral votes. Instead, bills that will be introduced in several Democratic states would award electoral votes on a proportional basis.

Already, two states -- Maine and Nebraska -- award an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. The candidate who wins the most votes statewide takes the final two at-large electoral votes. Only once, when President Obama won a congressional district based in Omaha in 2008, has either of those states actually split their vote.

But if more reliably blue states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were to award their electoral votes proportionally, Republicans would be able to eat into what has become a deep Democratic advantage.

All three states have given the Democratic nominee their electoral votes in each of the last six presidential elections. Now, senior Republicans in Washington are overseeing legislation in all three states to end the winner-take-all system.

Obama won all three states in 2008, handing him 46 electoral votes because of the winner-take-all system. Had electoral votes been awarded by district, Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have cut into that lead. Final election results show that Romney won nine of Michigan's 14 districts, five of eight in Wisconsin, and at least 12 of 18 in Pennsylvania. Allocate the two statewide votes in each state to Obama and that means Romney would have emerged from those three Democratic states with 26 electoral votes, compared with just 19 for Obama (and one district where votes are still being counted).

Republicans are able to contemplate such a bold plan because of their electoral success in 2010, when the party won control of state legislative chambers and the governorships in all three states, giving them total control over the levers of state government.

"If you did the calculation, you'd see a massive shift of electoral votes in states that are blue and fully [in] red control," said one senior Republican taking an active role in pushing the proposal. "There's no kind of autopsy and outreach that can grab us those electoral votes that quickly."

The proposals, the senior GOP official said, are likely to come up in each state's legislative session in 2013. Bills have been drafted, and legislators are talking to party bosses to craft strategy. Saul Anuzis, the former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, has briefed Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Chief of Staff Jeff Larson on his state's proposal. The proposal "is not being met with the 'We can't do that' answer. It's being met with 'I've already got a bill started,' " the official said.

Republican state legislators are motivated to act after Romney's loss. And the party lost legislative seats in all three states, adding urgency to pass the measures before voters head to the polls in 2014.

Tweaks of electoral-vote rules are hardly unprecedented, according to Michael McDonald, a political scientist at George Mason University. State legislatures routinely changed Electoral College allocation rules in the early years of the Republic; the political fallout then can inform present-day lawmakers considering the changes.

"State legislative elections became tantamount to the presidential election in a state. Local issues were put aside for presidential politics," McDonald said. "These states legislators thus risk the nationalization of their state politics, to the detriment of their personal careers. State legislators learned that once they fixed the Electoral College rules, national politics no longer dominated state elections."

In the long run, Republican operatives say they would like to pursue similar Electoral College reform in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia. Obama won all three states, but Romney won a majority of the congressional districts in each state.

Any changes to the allocation of Electoral College votes would have a major impact on each party's path to the White House. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have given Democrats their collective 246 electoral votes in each of the last six elections. That virtually forces Republicans to run the swing-state table.

But rewriting the rules would dramatically shrink or eliminate the Democratic advantage, because of the way House districts are drawn. The decennial redistricting process has dumped huge percentages of Democratic voters into some urban districts, while Republican voters are spread over a wider number of districts, giving the party an advantage. This year, Democratic House candidates won more than 1 million more votes than Republican candidates, but Republicans won 33 more seats.

And if Republicans go ahead with their plan, Democrats don't have the option of pushing back. After the 2010 wave, Democrats control all levers of government in only one state -- West Virginia -- that Romney won this year. Some consistently blue presidential states have Republican legislatures; the reverse is not true.

Some Republicans acknowledge that the party would open itself up to charges of political opportunism, but that they would frame the proposal as a chance to make the system more fair.

"With the frustration of the current system—and the fact that almost everyone would agree proportional or CD is more representative and maybe more fair than the current winner-take-all—Republicans have a strong, righteous argument," Anuzis said. "However, the motivation would be viewed as being purely political since it hasn’t been done before."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Afghanistan and the Future of the Peace Movement

U.S. soldiers stand guard as they watch the transfer ceremony of security responsibilities from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Qalat, Zabul province south of Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo: Allauddin Khan)

By Tom Hayden
Beaver County Peace Links via The Nation

Dec 13, 2012 - President Barack Obama reportedly plans to remove all but 6,000 to 9,000 US troops from Afghanistan by 2014, ending the American combat role, saving tens of billions of dollars, and leaving an unpopular, incompetent and corrupt Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s regime needing a diplomatic fix to avert collapse into civil war.

According to McClatchy, Pakistan and Afghanistan are conducting negotiations aimed at a settlement with the Taliban by 2015. Though the McClatchy headline suggests the US is cut out of the process, it is more likely that the negotiations are being “outsourced” in keeping with US rhetoric about any settlement being “Afghan-led.”

Although there has been no official announcement, the numbers have been published by both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times in recent days. The Los Angeles paper predicts 6,000 to 9,000, while the New York Times reports “no more than 10,000… despite the desire of some military officers for a larger force.” Troop cuts in that range would mean a 90 to 95 percent reduction from the more than the peak 100,000 boots on the ground in 2010. It would require a reduction of 60,000 between now and late 2014. The pace of the withdrawal has yet to be announced, but is expected after Obama meets with Karzai in Washington next month to discuss a US postwar role.

Obama’s decision on a residual force is expected to be well below Pentagon requests, which range from 15,000 troops on up. Opposition to Obama’s reductions is expected from neo-conservative and military advocates, as well as Congressional hawks. Obama has gained political cover, however, from the recent 62 Senate votes cast for an “accelerated” withdrawal and a similar message in a letter from 94 House members. The recent New York Times editorial finally endorsing a one-year withdrawal also provides critical support from within the mainstream political and national security establishments.

Obama’s decision, and the stand taken by Congressional peace advocates, is consistent with his campaign pledge to begin steady American withdrawals after a two-year surge of 33,000 troops. The surge was a concession to generals like Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, and to cabinet hawks, including Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, who fought for withdrawals to be based on “conditions” rather than timelines. In Bob Woodward’s account, Obama’s Wars, the president is quoted as having said, “I’m not an advocate of the timetable, but it will come from the Hill,” from Democrats in Congress.

In fact, the White House quietly supported language advocating an accelerated timetable for “swift withdrawal” and a “significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011” in the Democratic National Committee resolution of February 24, 2011. The resolution was sponsored by Reps. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Mike Honda (D-CA), and longtime Democratic leaders Donna Brazile and Alice Germond.

The critical resolution reflected the demands of local peace networks and rank-and-file Democrats across the country. Behind closed doors, Obama told Sen. Lindsay Graham, “I can’t let this be a war without end, and I can’t lose the whole Democratic Party. And people at home don’t want to hear we’re going to be there another for another ten years.”

As the recent reports show, the new Obama plan already “has sparked internal criticism at the Pentagon,” which argues for a “sizable military presence” to be deployed in southern and eastern Afghanistan. (Los Angeles Times, December 12, 2012) Obama’s troop reductions are likely to spur even sharper cuts in NATO forces. The Afghan army, according to Pentagon sources, will face “enormous difficulties” as the American troops leave. According to a recent Pentagon report to Congress, there were 2,500 insurgent attacks monthly this year from April to September, rates higher than in 2009.

Whatever decision Obama makes will be the subject of ongoing talks between Washington, Kabul and NATO powers. Bagram Airfield, along with smaller bases around Kabul, will be the defensive hub for any residual US force. The most controversial US mission, though smaller in scope, will be counterterrorism. Embassy protection and training/advising Afghan troops will also be included. Virtually none of the Afghan army’s 23 brigades can operate on their own, suggesting that Western air support will be authorized as well.

In the end, the discussion of a smaller residual force might be undone altogether by Afghan insistence on stripping immunity from American personnel violating Afghan laws and procedures. A similar scenario occurred during the endgame in Iraq. One American official told the Los Angeles Times, “One of the things that Obama and Karzai have always agreed on is the need for a reduced force presence. I could see them both wanting zero, but at the end of the day I don’t think that will happen.”

Nothing will change the shifting balance of forces as Karzai’s army and regime are left on their own amidst corruption and insurgency. The danger of renewed civil war will increase unless diplomacy creates a power-sharing arrangement on the ground. Republicans so far have blocked Obama’s efforts to release several Taliban detainees from Guantanamo in exchange for an American POW, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, captured by Afghan insurgents in 2009. A larger diplomatic settlement will require controversial contacts with Iran, China, Russia and Pakistan, all states with proxy interests in divided Afghanistan. If all efforts fail and Afghanistan implodes into civil war, Obama will have to count on American domestic exhaustion with the decade-long war to protect him against military claims that he “lost” Afghanistan.

Feminist groups that originally supported the war will have to lobby successfully to ensure the meager gains of Afghan women are preserved in an enforceable aid and assistance package.

Feminist groups that originally supported the war will have to lobby successfully to ensure the meager gains of Afghan women are preserved in an enforceable aid and assistance package. A recent Afghan study listed 4,000 reports of abuse during the March-October 2012 period with just 163 accepted by the courts, and 100 convictions. The low percentage "outraged" human rights advocates who blamed a culture of impunity. (New York Times, December 12, 2012) Twelve percent of Afghan women are literate, according to the Pentagon report, and 2.9 million are enrolled in school, about one-quarter the rate of boys and young men.

In summary, it is official: America’s longest war is ending soon. The peace movement, which built a necessary groundwork of opposition, is ten years older. Next Steps for the Peace Movement

Unlike the Cold War era, peace forces have won most of the all-important battles for public opinion. It is possible that a window will open, however briefly, for peace forces to link with labor, civil rights and environmental coalitions in an effort to put some definition and muscle into Obama’s repeated promise to “do some nation-building here at home.”

This shift to domestic priorities will be difficult. The US is an empire with 800 military bases, a growing interest in deterring China, a role in hot battlefields such as Yemen and Mali, risky brinksmanship with Iran, dangerous ties to Israel’s hawks, and an unknown number of CIA operations around the planet. If expensive US ground wars are no longer affordable or winnable, there will be momentum toward drone wars, cyber wars, black operations and an edifice of greater secrecy over our institutions. The military budget, despite its gargantuan size, will be difficult to assail politically. Peace doves will have to become fiscal hawks in attacking wasteful military spending.

A top priority will be reversing, and trying to end, the escalating use of drones. Public opinion, unfortunately, is favorable toward killing hundreds of alleged foreign terrorists in far-away lands, if they think the alternative is putting American troops in harm’s way at an extraordinary cost in taxation. The growing protests against drones, coupled with Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation’s educational documentary, if combined with civil liberties and human rights groups’ complaints over detentions and “kill lists,” will gradually build a climate of dissent from current policy.

A top priority will be reversing, and trying to end, the escalating use of drones. Public opinion, unfortunately, is favorable toward killing hundreds of alleged foreign terrorists in far-away lands, if they think the alternative is putting American troops in harm’s way at an extraordinary cost in taxation. The growing protests against drones, coupled with Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Foundation’s educational documentary, if combined with civil liberties and human rights groups’ complaints over detentions and “kill lists,” will gradually build a climate of dissent from current policy.

The most important challenge will be to revise the 1973 War Powers Act to require public disclosure and Congressional approval of drone attacks, cyber wars, and secret operations by the CIA in places like Libya. President Obama, as a constitutional lawyer, can hardly wish to be remembered as rebuilding the Imperial Presidency, but that is the path he is on. Perhaps aware of the peril, Obama has taken the unusual step of appealing to the public and Congress to “rein in” his exceptional powers with “new legal architecture” in the coming year. That invitation should be taken up at once by civil liberties and peace communities with interests to protect.

One possible scenario might be to de-escalate and phase out the drone attacks on Pakistan’s tribal areas as part of a diplomatic settlement in Afghanistan. It is highly doubtful after a decade of war that the Taliban will be driven to the table by drones, nor should any serious diplomat expect them to acquiesce. But a permanent suspension of drone attacks is a necessary ingredient of any peace settlement with Afghanistan and Pakistan, as Obama well knows.

If that occurs, a parallel process of drafting and debating new Congressional policies to “rein in” the imperial presidency could gain traction.

Finally, peace advocates will have to keep challenging the paradigm of the “War on Terrorism” with its underlying rationale and legislative authorization that sustains the secretive Long War. There is no single path to an alternative narrative any more than there was a single effective approach to slowing the domestic “wars” on gangs and inner-city youth that have resulted in mass incarceration. The neo-conservatives and the domestic Right play on racial fears to mount their militarized approaches to both domestic and foreign policy. Peace and civil rights critics might gain traction, however, when their constitutional and moral arguments are reinforced by the expensive failures of the Long War abroad and mass incarceration at home.

There is a connection between the Long Wars and domestic inequality that peace advocates also might offer to civil rights and labor reformers. It is that corporate and financial globalization result in an exploding gap between the rich and the underclass. The model offered by neo-conservative theorists is a failed one. Even as we militarize our relationship to Pakistan, we privatize the sweatshop conditions that draw investment away from US labor markets. By a similar process, the “de-industrialization” of American cities in the 1980s led to increased joblessness and despair among inner city youth, with expensive and unconstitutional policing and imprisonment as false solutions. A global living wage is needed for the world, one built on the experience of winning living wage ordinances in American cities.

Finally, the experience of the peace movement offers a message to environmentalists: that the continuous Long War over oil, gas, minerals and other resources is a direct obstacle to a new priority on developing conservation and renewable resources. Ending the Long War is a precondition to transitioning to an energy-efficient future.

New coalitions are likely to form as “nation-building at home” challenges the Long War as the agenda of the coming four years. Article originally appeared on tomhayden.com (http://tomhayden.com/). See website for complete article licensing information.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Assault Weapons Are Weapons of Mass Destruction and Should Be Banned

By Robert Creamer
Progressive America Rising via HuffPost

Dec 16, 2012 - The tragedy in Connecticut forces America to confront a simple question: Why should we allow easy access to a weapon of mass destruction just because it could conceivably be referred to as a "gun"?

I count myself among the many Americans who at various points in their lives have owned and used long guns -- hunting rifles and shotguns -- for hunting and target shooting. No one I know in politics seriously proposes that ordinary Americans be denied the right to own those kinds of weapons.

But guns used for hunting have nothing in common with assault weapons like the ones that were used last week in the mass murder of 20 first-graders -- except the fact that they are referred to "guns."

Rapid-fire assault weapons with large clips of ammunition have only one purpose: the mass slaughter of large numbers of human beings. They were designed for use by the military to achieve that mission in combat -- and that mission alone.

No one argues that other combat weapons like rocket-propelled grenades (RPG's) or Stinger Missiles should be widely available to anyone at a local gun shop. Why in the world should we allow pretty much anyone to have easy access to assault weapons?

Every politician in America will tell you they will move heaven and earth to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of terrorists. Yet we have allowed the ban on this particular weapon of mass destruction to expire. As a result, a terrorist named Adam Lanza was able to have easy access to the assault weapons he used to kill scores of children in minutes.

Let's be clear, Adam Lanza was a terrorist just as surely as he would have been if we were motivated by an extreme jihadist ideology. It makes no difference to those children or to their grieving families whether their loved ones were killed by someone who was mentally deranged or by someone who believed that by killing children he was helping to destroying the great Satan.

When an individual is willing -- or perhaps eager -- to die making a big "statement" by killing many of his fellow human beings, it doesn't matter what their motivation is. It does matter whether they have easy access to the weapons that make mass murder possible.

And after last week, can anyone seriously question whether assault weapons are in fact weapons of mass destruction? If Lanza had conventional guns -- or like a man in China who recently went berserk, he only had knives -- he would not have been physically capable of killing so many people in a few short minutes.

Of course you hear people say -- oh, a car or an airliner can be turned into a weapon of mass destruction -- many things can become weapons of mass destruction. And there is no question after 9/11 that we know that this is true. But cars and airliners have to be converted from their primary use in order to become instruments of mass death. It takes an elaborate plot and many actors to take over an airliner and it isn't easy to methodically kill 27 people with a car.

More important, assault weapons have no redeeming social value or alternative use whatsoever. The only reason to purchase an assault weapon, instead of a long gun used for target practice or hunting, is to kill and maim large numbers of human beings.

And it is not the case that if assault weapons were banned ordinary people would get them anyway. We certainly don't take that attitude with nuclear weapons or dirty bombs. We make it very hard for a terrorist to get nuclear weapons or dirty bomb. It used to be hard to get assault weapons.

When the former President of Mexico visited the United States some time ago to discuss the drug-fueled violence on the Mexican border, he pointed out that the end of the assault weapons ban in the U.S. had resulted in an explosion of smuggling of assault weapons from the United States to Mexico. Weapons that were previously unavailable in large numbers, became plentiful. He begged the United States to re-impose the assault weapons ban.

Allowing easy access to assault weapons guarantees that terrorists, criminals and mentally unstable people will use them to commit future acts of mass murder -- it's that simple. There are seven billion people on the planet. Try as we may, we are not going to prevent some of those seven billion people from becoming terrorists, criminals or mentally unstable. Why make it easy for them to do harm to their fellow human beings by giving them easy access to a weapon of mass destruction?

Since this tragedy, there have been calls for greater restrictions and background checks on those who can buy guns -- and there should be. But from all accounts, the weapons used in the Connecticut murders were purchased legally by the shooter's mother -- who herself appeared to be perfectly sane right up to the moment that Lanza used those same weapons to end her life.

The NRA will no doubt repeat its mantra about the "slippery slope." "If we ban assault weapons, shotguns will be next," they say. Really? By banning anyone from buying Stinger Missiles that are used to shoot down airplanes do we make it more likely that the government will one day prevent people from hunting ducks?

The simple fact is that no right is absolute because rights come into conflict with each other. Your free speech does not give you the right to cry "fire" in a crowded theater.

Is the NRA's concern that banning assault weapons will put us on a "slippery slope" more important than the lives of those 20 first graders? Should it really take precedence over the fact that today in Newtown, Connecticut there are 20 families with holiday presents on a closet shelf, that were purchased for an excited six-year-old who will never open them?

Are the NRA's fears more important than the terror faced by children in the Sandy Hook Elementary school last week?

Does the right to own an assault weapon take precedence over the right of those parents to see their children grow up, and graduate from college, and stand at the alter to be married, and have children of their own?

The bottom line is that there is no reason why weapons of mass destruction of any sort - chemical weapons, biological weapons, RPG's, improvised explosive devices (IED's), missiles, dirty bombs, nuclear devices, or assault weapons -- should be easily accessible. For 10 years there was a ban on the production, ownership and use of assault weapons in the United States until Congress and the Bush Administration allowed it to lapse when it sunset and came up for reauthorization in 2004.

A serious response to the tragedy in Connecticut requires that Congress act to reinstate the assault weapons ban before the children of other families fall victim to the fantasies of some other mentally unbalanced individual -- or the ideology of a terrorist who has been empowered by our failure to act.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.

Follow Robert Creamer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rbcreamer

Monday, December 10, 2012

Don’t Throw Wind Power Off Fiscal Cliff: Iowa Blue-Green Advocates

By Rod Boshart
Progressive America Rising via Iowa Farmer Today

Dec 9, 2012 -DES MOINES — With Congress facing an approaching deadline to extend a production tax credit critical to wind energy’s future, an Iowa-based environmental group issued a report Nov. 28  extolling the pollution-fighting, health and water conservation benefits of the state’s major source of renewable energy.

According to Environmental Iowa — a statewide, citizen-based advocacy group — Iowa’s current power generation from wind energy has had the equivalent “avoidance” benefit of displacing as much pollution as taking 1,187,000 cars off the road each year and has saved enough water not used to cool fossil-fuel production facilities to meet the needs of 98,100 Iowans.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 28 Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, joined Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and about 40 veterans who have found post-military careers in the wind energy industry to push for renewing the wind-production tax credit.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, also sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner asking him to “give weight” to the Operation Free veterans’ effort to extend a tax credit that helps secure made-in-America energy and the jobs it creates.

Grassley said the issue is not whether to pass the U.S. Senate’s version or some other plan, “I believe the issue right now is the existence of the tax credit per se.”

King said House members are talking and exchanging ideas and at some point GOP leadership will chart a course of action to majority caucus members, but he said there weren’t any “strong indicators” what direction that might take.

“I can’t tell you that I’ve picked up a strong indication or a movement that I could lay any prediction out here at all,” he said.

“Hopefully, we’ll get ’er done,” King told the veterans during a teleconference.

In Des Moines, Environmental Iowa spokeswoman Amelia Schoeneman told a Statehouse news conference wind energy now provides almost 20 percent of Iowa’s electricity, ranking the state second in the nation in wind production.

If development were allowed to continue at the current pace under a congressional extension of the federal wind-production tax credit, she said Iowa could avoid additional global-warming pollution that would be equal to removing another 1,047,000 cars from roadways and save enough water to meet the needs of an additional 86,500 Iowans.

“Wind power is already replacing the dirty and dangerous energy sources of the past and creating a cleaner, healthier future for Iowans,” she said.

“We can continue on this path of cutting dangerous pollution and saving water if Congress acts now to extend critical wind incentives. Our message to Congress is clear — don’t throw wind power off the fiscal cliff. Our clean air, water and children’s future are too important to blow it now.”

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said congressional inaction already has cost about 500 jobs in Iowa.

Steve Falck with the Environmental Law and Policy Center said many planned wind-related projects will not move forward if production and offshore wind investment tax credits are allowed to expire at the end of the year.

Falck said “well-entrenched” petroleum interests who also receive federal incentives have the “upper hand” in Washington D.C., but he noted public support overwhelmingly favors wind energy as bipartisan pressure builds for Congress to approve the tax credit extensions.

Maureen McCue, a University of Iowa physician representing Physicians for Social Responsibility, said there are big health benefits associated with reducing the reliance on fossil fuels that contribute to lung, heart and other risks that can be deadly.

“Denial will not help our economy, it will not help our public health,” she said in advocating for more energy production from renewable sources.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Nothing but a Northern Lynching: The Assassination of Fred Hampton, Dec 4, 1969


By G. Flint Taylor
Progressive America Rising via People's Law Office

At 4:30 in the morning of December 4, 1969, 14 heavily armed Chicago police officers, acting at the direction of Cook County State’s Attorney Edward V. Hanrahan, raided a tiny apartment on the west side of Chicago where local Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton and eight Party members were sleeping. Minutes later, Hampton and Peoria, Illinois BPP leader Mark Clark lay dead, several of the other Panthers were seriously wounded, and the survivors were hauled off to jail on attempted murder charges. http://peopleslawoffice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/1970.Hampton-.Search-And-Destroy..pdf

I was a second year Northwestern law student working at the fledgling People’s Law Office when I received a call that “the Chairman had been murdered” and was directed to come to the apartment. The crime scene was shocking - - - the plasterboard walls looked like swiss cheese, ripped by scores of bullets from police weapons that included a machine gun, a semi automatic rifle, and several shotguns. A large pool of blood stained the floor at the doorway where Hampton’s body had been dragged after he was shot in the head, and there were fresh blood stains on all the beds in the apartment. I had met Chairman Fred only months before when I escorted him to the Law School to speak to the student body in venerable Lincoln Hall. He was only 21 years old, but he captivated the audience, as he always did, with his dynamic and analytical speaking skill, a mixture of Malcolm X, Dr. King, and Lupe Fiasco. http://peopleslawoffice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Hampton.-20th-Anniversary-Booklet-1989.pdf

It was his unique leadership, together with the revolutionary politics he so convincingly espoused, http://www.blackpanther.org/TenPoint.htm that made him a primary target of law enforcement. Directly after the raid, State’s Attorney Hanrahan and his police loudly proclaimed that the “vicious Black Panthers” had instigated a “shootout” during which they fired a fuselage of shots at the raiders. http://mike-gray.org/multimedia/hampton.htm The cold and bloody crime scene made lie of this official story, and Panther members led thousands of people on tours of the apartment for the next ten days while People’s Law Office lawyers and staff documented the evidence that would later establish that the police fired 99 bullets while the Panthers fired but one. http://peopleslawoffice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Hampton.-1970-FGJ-Report.pdf

A elderly African American lady best captured this reality when she said, while sadly shaking her head during the tour, that the raid was “nothing but a Northern lynching.” Confronted with the ballistics evidence, Hanrahan was forced to drop the attempted murder charges against the surviving Panthers. The Richard Nixon Justice Department investigated, but refused to indict. In response to community outrage, a specially appointed Cook County Prosecutor subsequently indicted Hanrahan, his first assistant, and a number of the raiding officers, not for murder or attempted murder, but rather only for obstruction of justice. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/chi-chicagodays-pantherraid-story,0,3414208.

A Democratic machine judge acquitted Hanrahan and his co-conspirators on the eve of the 1972 election, but an inflamed African American electorate voted Hanrahan out of office, a story spawning a movement that paved the way for the election of Mayor Harold Washington a decade later. All the while, the People’s Law Office continued to litigate a civil rights lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the raid. Through the discovery process, we unearthed FBI documents showing that the FBI’s secret COINTELPRO program was behind the raid. http://watchamericangangster.com/american-gangster-season-3-episode-5-j-edgar-hoover/

The documents, which were suppressed by the FBI for years, together with independent toxicological tests, further revealed that an FBI COINTELPRO agent supplied a floor plan of the Panther apartment, complete with markings where Hampton slept, to Hanrahan’s raiders; that William O’Neal, the COINTELPRO informant who drew the floor plan, most likely drugged Hampton so that he could not defend himself; and that after the raid FBI director J. Edgar Hoover rewarded O’Neal with a $300 bonus for making the raid a “success.” http://peopleslawoffice.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Hampton.7th-Cir-Brief.pdf

In 1983, after an 18 month trial http://openjurist.org/600/f2d/600/hampton-v-hanrahan and 13 years of litigation, the City of Chicago, Cook County and the Federal Government all finally settled with the Hampton and Clark families and the survivors of the raid. http://peopleslawoffice.com/issues-and-cases/panthers/ While this financial settlement brought some modicum of justice, no one, except the Panther survivors, ever spent a day in jail. But the murderous raid, once falsely depicted as a shootout, is now rightly considered not only to be a northern lynching, but also an official assassination that was instigated by the FBI. http://www.hamptonbook.com/Hampton_Book/Home.html

And while we will never know what heights Fred Hampton would have reached as a leader had he lived, we do know, in the words first spoken in eulogy by People’s Law Office attorney Francis Andrew nearly forty three years ago, that the spirit of Fred Hampton continues to live on.

Flint Taylor is one of the lawyers for the family of slain Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.. For more information on the Hampton/Clark case, the history of Black Panther Party, and the FBI’s Program to destroy it, visit peopleslawoffice.com

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

President Obama's Six Keys to Victory

Inside the multicultural, center-left coalition that ensured four more years

By Tim Dickinson
Progressive America Rising via Rolling Stone

President Barack Obama has won re-election – his lease on the White House renewed by a multicultural, center-left coalition that ought to give GOP consultants nightmares, producing an electoral college landslide that surprised everyone not named Nate Silver. (The Five Thirty Eight guru's reputation is as golden this morning as SuperPAC kingpin Karl Rove's is tarnished.)

With four more years, Obama can now cement his historic legacy, fully implementing Obamacare, the most ambitious renegotiation of the American social contract since the 1960s. The president broke ground on his second term with an electrifying acceptance speech that recalled the best of 2008's candidate Obama, and 2004's convention Obama. He hit again on the touchstone of his presidency, his belief "that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people."

This race wasn't close. Obama secured a convincing win of the popular vote. And from his 2008 state-by-state haul, he surrendered only Indiana (which was never truly in play) and North Carolina (a surprise squeaker) to Mitt Romney. Every other swing state – Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and New Hampshire – tipped again into Obama's victory column. When counting is complete, Florida, too, appears poised to go blue.

In the end, Obama's dedicated campaign volunteers proved themselves worth far more than anything the GOP's moneymen could buy. Voters rebuked the mendacious Romney and his villainous platform to lard the rich and destroy the social safety net.

How did team Obama defeat Romney? Here, the six keys to victory:

1) The Turnout Machine I reported on Obama's re-vamped get-out-the-vote machine this spring, previewing the technology that would enable the campaign to network its GOTV operations far beyond campaign offices and into the garages and dorm rooms of its supporters.

At the time, campaign manager Jim Messina and field director Jeremy Bird were making an early, unprecedented investment in the ground game – and that bet paid off like gangbusters. In a contest that couldn't compare to 2008's electricity, the 2012 Obama campaign reproduced – through brute force, dedication and will – a turnout in the swing states that in some cases bested the campaign's remarkable performance of four years ago. Yes, Obama lost North Carolina. But his final tally there was actually 35,000 votes greater than when he won the state in 2008.

2) Younger Voters Sorry, Boomer Nation: President Obama owes his second term to Generation Y. Voters under 30 turned out in greater numbers than senior citizens and broke for Obama over Romney 60-37. Gen X wasn't too shabby, either: Voters 30 to 44 gave Obama a 7 point edge. (Romney, on the other hand, won convincingly among voters 45 and older.) The numbers in Florida are particularly striking. According to exit polling, the Obama campaign not only improved turnout among the under-30 set there, it ran up the margin, too: Young Floridians broke 67-31 for Obama, better than the 61-37 margin over McCain in 2008.

3) The Latino Vote With 4 million more registered voters in 2012 than in 2008, Latinos accounted for one in every ten voters in 2012, and these voters broke for Obama by an epic 71-27 split nationally. That is almost exactly the margin Bill Clinton hung on Bob Dole in 1996, when there were only half as many Hispanic votes. Messina told me earlier in the campaign that he was "obsessed" with the Latino vote, and that reproducing Clinton's numbers against Romney this year would mean Game Over for the Republican. He was absolutely right – particularly in Colorado, where the split was even more lopsided: 75-23, up from 61-38.

4) African-Americans The historic turnout of African-Americans from 2008 held steady in 2012 at 13 percent of the electorate, nationwide. And the Obama campaign actually managed to increase black turnout in pivotal states like Virginia, where one in five voters was African American. Romney earned only 5 percent of that vote, compared to the 8 percent won by John McCain.

5) Ohio Working Stiffs Call it the "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" factor. In Ohio, where the auto industry employs one in eight workers, Obama actually gained ground – 2 points – among high-school educated voters without college degrees, about a quarter of the state's electorate. Compare that to Wisconsin, where Obama lost 6 points among this cohort. Or North Carolina, where the dropoff was 11 points.

6) All the Single Ladies Romney was haunted by a yawning gender gap, particularly among unmarried women, who accounted for 23 percent of voters (up three points from 2008). While Romney himself took awkward pains to reach out to female voters, he was yoked to his running mate's moves to redefine rape, and to the GOP's broader agenda to limit access to not only abortion but birth control. Obama took this voting bloc by a 67-31 margin, nationally, and by nearly identical tallies in Ohio and Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin. The intersection of race and gender was especially powerful for the president in states like North Carolina, where black women accounted for 14 percent of the electorate – and 99 out of 100 voted to defeat Mitt Romney.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How the Left Can Become a True Political Force to Be Reckoned With

By Bill Fletcher & Carl Davidson
Progressive America Rising via Alternet.org

Nov 13, 2012 - The 2012 elections may prove to have been a watershed in several different respects.  Despite the efforts by the political Right to suppress the Democratic electorate, something very strange happened: voters, angered by the attacks on their rights, turned out in even greater force in favor of Democratic candidates. The deeper phenomenon is that the changing demographics of the USA also became more evident—45% of Obama voters were people of color, and young voters turned out in large numbers in key counties.

Unfortunately for the political Left, these events unfolded with the Left having limited visibility and a limited impact—except indirectly through certain mass organizations—on the outcome.

The setting

On one level it is easy to understand why many Republicans found it difficult to believe that Mitt Romney did not win the election.  First, the US remains in the grip of an economic crisis with an official unemployment rate of 7.9%.  In some communities, the unemployment is closer to 20%.  While the Obama administration had taken certain steps to address the economic crisis, the steps have been insufficient in light of the global nature of the crisis.  The steps were also limited by the political orientation of the Obama administration, i.e., corporate liberal, and the general support by many in the administration for neo-liberal economics.

The second factor that made the election a ‘nail biter’ was the amount of money poured into this contest.  Approximately $6 billion was spent in the entire election.  In the Presidential race it was more than $2 billion raised and spent, but this does not include independent expenditures.  In either case, this was the first post-Citizen United Presidential campaign, meaning that money was flowing into this election like a flood after a dam bursts.  Republican so-called Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs) went all out to defeat President Obama.

Third, the Republicans engaged in a process of what came to be known as “voter suppression” activity.  Particularly in the aftermath of the 2010 midterm elections, the Republicans created a false crisis of alleged voter fraud as a justification for various draconian steps aimed at allegedly cleansing the election process of illegitimate voters.  Despite the fact that the Republicans could not substantiate their claims that voter fraud was a problem on any scale, let alone a significant problem, they were able to build up a clamor for restrictive changes in the process, thereby permitting the introduction of various laws to make it more difficult for voters to cast their ballots.  This included photographic voter identification, more difficult processes for voter registration, and the shortening of early voting.  Though many of these steps were overturned through the intervention of courts, they were aimed at causing a chilling impact on the voters, specifically, the Democratic electorate.[1]

So, what happened?

Prior to the election, we argued that what was at stake in the 2012 elections was actually the changing demographics of the USA (along with a referendum on the role of government in the economy).  What transpired in the elections was very much about demographics.

The percentage of white voters dropped from 74% to 72% between 2008 and 2012.  Romney received 59% of the white vote.

Yet something else happened and it took many people by surprise.  Despite the intimidation caused by the voter suppression statutes—and the threatened actions by right-wing groups—African Americans, Latinos and Asians turned out in significant numbers, voting overwhelmingly for the Democrats.[2] 93% of African Americans went with Obama, as did 71% of Latinos (which represented an increase over 2008) and, despite the fact that Asians are only 2-3% of the electorate, they went 73% in favor of Obama (which was a jump from 62% in 2008).  The youth vote, by the way, increased to 19% of the electorate, over 18% in 2008, and went overwhelmingly for Obama.  Labor union members went for Obama at a rate of 65%, and unions themselves played a major role in many key states in terms of voter mobilization.  By the strategic mobilization of these voters in a well-organized ‘ground game,’ Obama won 332 Electoral College votes compared with Romney’s 206.  Obama’s popular vote total was also 2.6% head of Romney.

The Romney/Ryan camp was entirely unprepared for this.  While it is the case that the popular vote total was not overwhelming for Obama, there was nothing particularly unusual in US history for such a result.  The bottom line is that Obama clearly won both the Electoral College vote and the popular vote and, as such, can claim a mandate for his next steps.

It is important that one understands that the African American/Latino/Asian turnout, along with the long-lines waiting to vote (including in the days of early voting) represented an audacious defiance of the forces that sought to suppress the vote.  This audaciousness also represented a response to the increasingly racist attacks on Obama, attacks that were taken very personally by people of color generally and African Americans in particular.[3]

What was equally interesting about the November 6th elections were those in the House of Representatives and the Senate.  Contrary to many expectations, the Democrats not only held onto the Senate, but slightly increased their margin of control.  Within that expansion was the election of Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts to the seat once occupied by the late Teddy Kennedy.  Warren, who gained a strong reputation in the fight to control Wall Street, promised actions on behalf of working people.  Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, a socialist in Vermont, also decisively won reelection.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats increased their totals, but Republicans still dominate.  This is mainly the result of the gerrymandering carried out by Republican state legislators during redistricting.  The legacy of this gerrymandering may last at least a decade, part of the fallout which resulted from lower voter turnout combined with the Republican mobilization in the 2010 midterm elections.

Of particular note in the elections was the increased presence of women, especially progressive women, being elected to office, including the first openly gay Senator (from Wisconsin, Tammy Baldwin).  The state of New Hampshire now has women in all of the top governing positions.

Additionally several progressive ballot initiatives passed in various states, including on same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana.  An interesting initiative in the state of Michigan to alter the state constitution in order to protect the right of workers to collective bargaining was defeated after a major and concerted attack by pro-employer groups.

What to make of the elections?

We return to our earlier conclusion, i.e., that what was at stake in 2012 was not Obama’s record but instead 2012 was a referendum over demographics and the role of government with the far right.  Some on the Left found this assertion worthy of ridicule rather than introspection, and dismissed it, claiming that of course Obama’s record was central to the debate.

The results of the election conform much more to our conclusions.  The vote for Obama, particularly by people of color, could not possibly have been the result of the conclusion that Obama’s record made him the great leader.  Certainly his record was better than the interpretation projected by Romney/Ryan, but it was also the case that Obama’s record was complicated if not problematic.  After all, we had witnessed an economic stimulus that, while significant by historical standards, was insufficient to the task; a healthcare reform package that, while bringing healthcare to millions, was based on a corporate model first elaborated by Mitt Romney when he was Governor of Massachusetts; a failure to close Guantanamo; the continuation and escalation of the Afghanistan/Pakistan war, including the usage of drone strikes; and the failure to adopt a clear policy to address systemic racial injustice in the USA.  While there were a number of reforms that were introduced that were of significance, this was all far less than most of Obama’s supporters had hoped would be introduced.

So, what then could one say motivated the vote? We return to demographics and the role of government.  Obama’s very existence represents the problematic future for the political Right; it’s not that he’s an individual whose birthplace is alleged by them to not be in the USA.  This insane propaganda from the Birther movement is designed to distort the point entirely.  The Birthers[4] and their off-spring hate Obama not because of where he was born but because he was born here.  His very existence illustrates the changing demographics of the USA and its move away from being a ‘white republic’ governed by a broad ‘white’ front. Instead, we are moving more towards something else, toward a more openly multi-ethnic/multi-racial society, if not politically then at least numerically.

The election thus represented a repudiation of the right-wing irrationalists seeking to turn the clock back, and not just on race, but gender and class as well.  In this sense it was not so much about what Obama had accomplished as it was about what sort of society 61 million people did not want.  That retrograde society, which was rejected, was a neo-apartheid order of domination that condemned at least 47% of the population (according to Romney’s calculations) to marginalization, and condemned at least 90% of society to continued economic distress and submission.

Romney was proposing to reduce the role of government even further, at least when it came to supporting something approaching a social safety net.  61 million people recognized the barbarism contained in his message and program, and responded accordingly.

In sum, the November 6th elections were not a referendum challenging Obama’s course from the Left, but rather rejecting a challenge from the Right, since there was no viable Left alternative.  At the same time there was an additional interesting feature of the elections as identified in various opinion polls: Democratic voters, while not as starry-eyed as many were in 2008, are looking for Obama to fight for them, or at least fight on their behalf.  Frustration with Obama’s premature compromising in the name of so-called bi-partisanship wins the President few accolades within his base.  The electorate is looking for something very different.

The Left in the elections: Building mass organizations vs. the mouths that screeched

Contrary to those who suggest that no Left exists in the USA, it is better to understand that there are two and a half Lefts in the USA.  There is the organized Left, which takes the forms of very small political organizations, some of them calling themselves political parties, which are anti-capitalist and generally for some sort of socialism.  There is also what Chilean Marxist Marta Harnecker would describe as the “social movement Left,” which are forces involved in left-leaning mass organizations and non-profits, more often than not single-issue or based within a specific sector.  There is finally what we could term the ‘half’ Left, that is, the ‘Lone Rangers,’ the rather large number of independent individuals who self-identify as leftists but are unaffiliated with any left-wing project, with the possible exception a job with social impact, such as writers or teachers or health care workers.  In each case these individuals and formations are anti-capitalist and seek a social transformation of the USA, but with varying degrees of organization, insurgency and effectiveness.

The US Left has historically had a difficult time addressing electoral politics.  There are several reasons--the complications that arise from the undemocratic nature of the US electoral system; the size of the USA; the lack of attention to strategy; and most important, ambivalence when it comes to race.  As a result the Left frequently sways back and forth between what could, perhaps, be described as apocalyptism on the one hand (i.e., waving the red flag so that the masses see us before the whole system collapses and, therefore, they know where to go), to reformist/incrementalism, on the other (i.e., believing that the best that can be done is to submerge into the Democratic Party and help move change until the system reaches a point where quantitative change morphs into qualitative change).

There is currently no significant and unified effort within the Left(s) toward building a self-conscious, broad radical Left project that has the objective of winning power.  The bulk of the US Left does not think politically.  Rather it engages in ideological or moral struggle and often thinks that ideology or morality is identical to politics.  Rather than conceptualizing a protracted struggle for power based on the need to build a majoritarian bloc, too many individuals and organizations on the Left remain trapped in a self-satisfying world of small sects and Facebook tirades rather than the hard work of building the alliances of grassroots groups necessary to win.

The limitations of the Left’s approach to the fight for power can be illustrated in any number of places, but, for the moment, let’s reflect upon the electoral realm.  Consider the following.  In 1920 Eugene V. Debs ran, for the fifth time, for the Presidency.  Though in jail at the time (as a result of political repression), he received nearly one million votes.  In the famous 1948 campaign of Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace, the candidate received 1,157,328 votes and no Electoral College votes.  In the same election, Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond received more popular votes and 39 electoral votes.

Now, in 2012, Green Party candidate Jill Stein received 402,125 votes.  This is going the wrong way.  But it reflects, more than anything, not the character of Stein or her supporters but the approach toward electoral politics taken by the Green Party and many of their followers.

Independent presidential candidacies in the modern era reflect what can be described as a flag-waving/protest mode rather than a struggle for power/bloc-building mode.  In other words, they aim to express both outrage and reasoned critique at the system and frustration with the toxicity of democratic capitalism.  They have no hope of gaining power either because they do not believe in struggling to gain power or because they believe that power is gained when the ship sinks and we, on the Left, are positioned in the proper lifeboats prepared to save the mass of distressed passengers.

This is only on the electoral side.  The various small organizations of the organized Left which do not engage in electoral politics in their own names seem relatively content being small and of little consequence.  In the absence of an effort at building a majoritarian bloc they can remain comfortable in their particular niche(s) and not feel the cold winds that often accompany entering into unexplored demographic or geographic territories. They remind us of the old Clifford Odet’s play, ‘Waiting for Lefty.’

At the same time, over the last 5-10 years there has developed a new interest in electoral engagement in the social movement Left.  Sprouting up in different parts of the USA have been progressive—rather than explicitly Left—political formations that have either engaged in what has come to be known as “civic engagement” work, i.e., voter registration, education, voting rights, electoral law reform, and/or actual electoral engagement.  The strength of this work is that its orientation can be described as left/progressive in that these are mass-based projects attempting to reach out to a broad array within our natural base.  Organizations ranging from Progressive Democrats of America to the Virginia New Majority and Florida New Majority fall into this camp, though the list is quite a bit longer than just these organizations.

In the lead up to the 2012 elections the Left was badly divided over how to respond.  One segment, which we will describe as the “mouths that screeched” were adamant that Obama had betrayed progressives; that he was not progressive; that he represented the empire; and therefore not only should not be supported but that it was ideological treason to suggest any level of support or even just to give him a vote without any implied support.

The vitriolic attacks coming from this sector masked the fact that this segment of the Left is actually becoming irrelevant.  They had no visible impact on the elections and their protests were largely ignored.  Unfortunately, one of the key things that this segment missed was the racial element of the 2012 elections and the need for voters of color, along with a good number of white allies, to push back at the ‘demographic’ attacks that were underway from the political Right.  By focusing on all that Obama did incorrectly, this segment of the Left ignored, as well, that the Left and progressives are on the strategic defensive in the USA and that they need alliances that will provide some level of space within which we can operate.

The segment of the Left that actually made a difference was those within the organized Left and the social movement Left who engaged their mass organizations and non-profits in electoral activity.[5] Whether it was voter registration; voter education efforts; electoral infrastructure work; or Get Out The Vote efforts, many of these organizations proved themselves to be very effective campaign organizations.  They appear to be in the process of laying the groundwork for the sorts of progressive alliance building that will be necessary to respond to the next electoral realignment that hits the USA.

What is missing entirely, however, is a coherent, self-identified Left, taking either the form of a united front, alliance, or political organization that can serve as a pole for independent, radical yet grounded Left politics.  The mass base for such an effort exists.  The opinion polls that demonstrate that roughly one third of the population are open to directions other than capitalism means that approximately 90 million people are seeking alternatives.  Consider that 90 million figure when you review the stats for the Green Party’s votes in 2012.  The Occupy Movement also evidenced a political fissure that is certain to widen as the class struggle intensifies, though admittedly Occupy did not result in the formation of one or several credible Left organizations (no criticism implied).

Moving forward

The challenge for the Left then becomes two fold.  One, there must be a self-identified, self-aware, mass radical Left formation that openly and unapologetically advocates against capitalism and for environmentally friendly socialism.  Whether such an organization is called a political party, alliance or some other name is secondary to what it must do and what it must avoid.  What it must avoid is the idea that it can or should compete in the electoral realm on the presidential level at this time. That is a no-win scenario.  What it can do, however, is to unite and train the existing leaders in mass movements and develop an anti-capitalist program and ultimately an anti-capitalist project.  We term this notion of a new, self-conscious and organized Left—inspired by the approach taken by and expression used by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci—to be the “Modern Tecumseh.”[6] Second, the Left can also help to build a progressive front—perhaps a popular front against finance capital that unites disparate forces—that gains electoral expression in the form of an organization (rather than a third party) that runs candidates within the Democratic Party or, runs them independently if conditions exist (such as in Vermont where the candidacy and leadership of Senator Sanders needs to be supported).

As long as the progressive forces in the USA are on the defensive there will be tactical alliances that take place that are not satisfying but are nevertheless necessary.  These should not be treated as matters of principle but rather as expressions of necessity of the moment.  Further, we on the Left must pay much greater attention to what is transpiring among the people themselves.  The fact that so many on the Left would have focused on Obama’s record and virtually ignored the intense racist offensive against Obama (and its broader implications) demonstrated that many of our friends are out of touch with reality.

Reality, however, is a good and necessary starting point if one ever wishes to build a majoritarian bloc and win power. We fully expect to see an intensification of class struggle in the near term. We need to assert a new culture of organizing capable of meeting the demands it will place on us, and now is the time to begin.

[1] The issue of voting rights remains critical since there are cases before the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge critical features of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, features that were part of the Department of Justice’s arsenal to overturn certain voter suppression legislation.

[2] It is important to note, however, that voter turnout was down in comparison to 2008 except for nine states.  As of this writing it is not clear as to the sources of the decline.

[3] Attacks such as Donald Trump’s insulting demand that President Obama turn over his college transcripts.  The suggestion of such an action is almost unbelievable.  Nothing along those lines would have been tolerated when it came to former President George W. Bush, an individual who was not half the student that was Obama in college.

[4] The right-wing, irrationalist political movement that asserts that Obama was not born in the USA and is, therefore, not the legitimate president of the USA.

[5] To be clear, not all forces in the organized Left or the social movement Left engaged in left/progressive electoral organizing.  We are simply noting that there were forces from within these sectors that did, in fact, choose to engage.

[6] Tecumseh: Shawnee leader in the first decade of the 19th century.  Recognized that Native Americans would never defeat the USA by fighting as individual tribes or fighting through the creation of a confederation.  He was the advocate for a Native American nation-state, i.e., uniting the tribes and fusing their efforts.  He was killed in 1813 at the Battle of the Thames in Canada.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and international writer and activist.  He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com, the co-author of Solidarity Divided, and the author of the forthcoming “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty other myths about unions.  He can be reached at billfletcherjr@gmail.com

Carl Davidson is a political organizer, writer and public speaker. He is currently co-chair of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a board member of the US Solidarity Economy Network, and a member of Steelworker Associates in Western Pennsylvania. His most recent book is New Paths to Socialism: Essays on the Mondragon Cooperatives, Workplace Democracy and the Politics of Transition.’ He can be reached at carld717@gmail.com.