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Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Economic Platform for a Popular Front vs. Finance Capital & the Right

Let's Fight for a Progressive Agenda

By Senator Bernie Sanders
Progressive America Rising via HuffPost

Sept 29, 21012 - There are two major economic and budgetary issues which Congress must address in the lame-duck session or soon afterward. First, how do we reverse the decline of the middle class and create the jobs that unemployed and underemployed workers desperately need? Second, how do we address the $1 trillion deficit and $16 trillion national debt in a way that is fair and not on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick or the poor?

Both of these issues must be addressed in the context of understanding that in America today we have the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of any major country on earth and that the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider. Today, the top 1 percent earns more income than the bottom 50 percent of Americans. In 2010, 93 percent of all new income went to just the top 1 percent. In terms of wealth, the top 1 percent owns 42 percent of the wealth in America while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent.

In my view, we will not make progress in addressing either the jobs or deficit crisis unless we are prepared to take on the greed of Wall Street and big-money interests who want more and more for themselves at the expense of all Americans. Let's be clear. Class warfare is being waged in this country. It is being waged by the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adeslon, Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and all the others who want to decimate working families in order to make the wealthiest people even wealthier. In this class war that we didn't start, let's make sure it is the middle class and working families who win, not the millionaires and billionaires.

In terms of deficit reduction, let us remember that when Bill Clinton left office in January of 2001, this country enjoyed a healthy $236 billion SURPLUS and we were on track to eliminate the entire national debt by the year 2010.

What happened? How did we go from significant federal budget surpluses to massive deficits? Frankly, it is not that complicated.

President George W. Bush and the so-called "deficit hawks" chose to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but "forgot" to pay for those wars -- which will add more than $3 trillion to our national debt.

President Bush and the "deficit hawks" provided huge tax breaks to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans -- which will increase our national debt by about $1 trillion over a 10-year period.

President Bush and the "deficit hawks" established a Medicare prescription drug program written by the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, but they "forgot" to pay for it -- which will add about $400 billion to our national debt over a 10-year period.

Further, as a result of the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street, this country was driven into the worst recession since the Great Depression which resulted in a massive reduction in federal revenue.

And now, as we approach the election and a lame-duck session of Congress, these very same Republican "deficit hawks" want to fix the mess they created by cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education, while lowering income tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations. Sadly, they have been joined by some Democrats.

The fiscal crisis is a serious problem, but it must be addressed in a way that will not further punish people who are already suffering economically. In addition, it is absolutely imperative that we address the needs of 23 million Americans who are unemployed or underemployed.

What should working families of this country demand of Congress in response to these crises? Let me be specific:

First, at a time when the effective tax rate for the rich is the lowest in decades, we must repeal the Bush tax breaks for the top 2 percent which will reduce the deficit by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Second, we must recognize that Wall Street caused the economic crisis, and that it has a responsibility to reduce the deficit. Establishing a 0.03 percent Wall Street speculation fee, similar to what we had from 1914-1966, would dampen the dangerous level of speculation and gambling on Wall Street, encourage the financial sector to invest in the productive economy and reduce the deficit by $350 billion over 10 years. Importantly, this fee, like similar levies in many other countries, would not apply to ordinary investors, retirees or parents saving to send their kids to college. Rather, it would apply to Wall Street investment houses, hedge funds and speculators who sell credit default swaps, derivatives and operate other risky financial schemes that nearly brought down the entire economy.

Third, we have got to prohibit offshore tax shelters. Each and every year, the United States loses an estimated $100 billion in tax revenues due to offshore tax abuses by the wealthy and large corporations. The situation has become so absurd that one five-story office building in the Cayman Islands is now the "home" to more than 18,000 corporations. According to a recent report by James Henry, a former chief economist at McKinsey, the wealthiest people in the world are hiding between $21 trillion to $32 trillion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes. About a third of this amount, according to one estimate, is from wealthy Americans. The wealthy and large corporations should not be allowed to avoid paying taxes by setting up tax shelters in Panama, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas or other tax haven countries. Cracking down on these tax evaders could reduce the deficit by about $1 trillion over the next decade.

Fourth, at a time when we have almost tripled military spending since 1997 and spend nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, we must reduce unnecessary and wasteful spending at the Pentagon. According to a number of experts, the Pentagon today cannot account for hundreds of billions of dollars in its budget. Even Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), perhaps the most conservative senator in this country, believes that we could reduce defense spending by $1 trillion over a 10-year period while ensuring that the United States continues to have the strongest and most powerful military in the world.

Fifth, we have got to eliminate tax breaks for companies shipping American jobs overseas. Today, the United State government, despite our losing over 55,000 factories in the last 10 years, continues to reward companies that move U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas through loopholes in the tax code. Eliminating these loopholes would raise more than $582 billion in revenue over the next ten years and bring jobs back home to America.

What else? Ending corporate welfare for big oil, gas and coal companies; requiring Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies for lower drug prices; taxing capital gains and dividends the same as work; establishing a progressive estate tax; and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse at every agency in the federal government would reduce spending by more than $350 billion and raise a significant amount of revenue without harming the middle class.

Taking these steps would reduce the deficit by more than $5 trillion.

Finally, and importantly, with these kinds of savings we could invest aggressively in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and restoring our manufacturing base. That investment could create millions of decent paying jobs, make our country more productive and help us lead the world in addressing the crisis of global warming.

Despite what virtually all Republicans and some Democrats want, we must not balance the budget on the backs of a collapsing middle class or the poorest people in our society.

Despite what virtually all Republicans and some Democrats want us to ignore, we must create the millions of jobs working families still desperately need.

The American people have been very clear, in poll after poll, that they do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' needs, education and other vitally important programs. They also have been clear that they do want the wealthy and large corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. This agenda, the agenda of the American people, is what I will be taking into the lame-duck session. I ask for your support.

Follow Sen. Bernie Sanders on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SenSanders

Friday, September 28, 2012

Can Black Youth Repeat Their Strong Voter Turnout From 2008?

Obama supporters gather in Grant Park during an election night gathering on November 4, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Eric Thayer/Getty Images)

By Heather McGhee

As the chart above shows, a remarkable and hopeful trend within the youth vote is the rise of the black youth vote. In 2008, a greater share (63.9 percent) of black citizens under 30 overcame the unnecessary hurdles of registration than any other youth demographic, and a record 58 percent voted – the highest youth turnout rate in history. Even in the low-turnout midterm elections of 2010, African American youth led their white, Asian and Latino peers to the polls.

This tale of progress is not irreversible, however. Imposing strict photo identification requirements could, according to a new report from the Black Youth Project, lead to the demobilization of anywhere from 9 to 25 percent of young voters of color in this election. That distortion of our democracy is a high price to pay to prevent the lightning strike that is in-person voter fraud. At best, it’s a cynical move by elected politicians to keep citizens from voting them out. At worst, it’s a desperate reaction to the demographic evolution that threatens to make a party without multiracial appeal into an historical artifact.

The good news is that we can fix this. Passing laws that expand the freedom to vote truly do work: states with same-day registration, a central Demos policy proposal, had young adult turnout in 2008 a full nine percentage points higher than states without the reform. As my colleagues have catalogued this week, nationwide same-day registration could diminish the need for a National Voter Registration Day weeks before the campaign.

For now, however, coordinated action that invites young people to register themselves and their friends is essential. Many youth groups were official partners of National Voter Registration Day this week, including one, the Andrew Goodman Foundation, with a special history.

During the Freedom Summer of 1964, three activists in their early 20s – two Jewish, one black – traveled through Mississippi to register black Americans to vote. The three, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were murdered on a country road by a Ku Klux Klan mob. They gave their lives for the freedom to vote – and for the American dream of political equality and inclusion that this freedom helps keeps alive.

Heather McGhee is vice president of policy and outreach at Demos, a New York-based policy think tank.This piece first appeared on Demos’ blog Policy Shop.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Exposing the GOP’s ‘We Made It’ Campaign Narrative


A potent myth is being used to justify economic capture by a parasitic class.

By George Monbiot
The Guardian, UK

September 24 2012 - We could call it Romnesia: the ability of the very rich to forget the context in which they made their money. To forget their education, inheritance, family networks, contacts and introductions. To forget the workers whose labour enriched them. To forget the infrastructure and security, the educated workforce, the contracts, subsidies and bail-outs the government provided.

Every political system requires a justifying myth. The Soviet Union had Alexey Stakhanov, the miner reputed to have extracted 100 tonnes of coal in six hours. The United States had Richard Hunter, the hero of Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches tales(1).

Both stories contained a germ of truth. Stakhanov worked hard for a cause in which he believed, but his remarkable output was probably faked(2). When Alger wrote his novels, some poor people had become very rich in the United States. But the further from its ideals (productivity in the Soviet Union’s case, opportunity in the US) a system strays, the more fervently its justifying myths are propounded.

As the developed nations succumb to extreme inequality and social immobility, the myth of the self-made man becomes ever more potent. It is used to justify its polar opposite: an unassailable rent-seeking class, deploying its inherited money to finance the seizure of other people’s wealth.

The crudest exponent of Romnesia is the Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart. “There is no monopoly on becoming a millionaire,” she insists. “If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain; do something to make more money yourselves – spend less time drinking, or smoking and socialising and more time working … Remember our roots, and create your own success.”(3)

Remembering her roots is what Rinehart fails to do. She forgot to add that if you want to become a millionaire – in her case a billionaire – it helps to inherit an iron ore mine and a fortune from your father, and to ride a spectacular commodities boom. Had she spent her life lying in bed and throwing darts at the wall, she would still be stupendously rich.

The rich lists are stuffed with people who either inherited their money or who made it through rent-seeking activities: by means other than innovation and productive effort. They’re a catalogue of speculators, property barons, dukes, IT monopolists, loansharks, bank chiefs, oil sheikhs, mining magnates, oligarchs and chief executives paid out of all proportion to any value they generate.

Looters, in short. The richest mining barons are those to whom governments sold natural resources for a song. Russian, Mexican and British oligarchs acquired underpriced public assets through privatisation, and now run a toll-booth economy(4). Bankers use incomprehensible instruments to fleece their clients and the taxpayer. But as rentiers capture the economy, the opposite story must be told.

Scarcely a Republican speech fails to reprise the Richard Hunter narrative, and almost all these rags-to-riches tales turn out to be bunkum. “Everything that Ann and I have,” Mitt Romney claims, “we earned the old-fashioned way”(5). Old-fashioned like Blackbeard perhaps. Two searing exposures in Rolling Stone magazine document the leveraged buyouts which destroyed viable companies, value and jobs(6), and the costly federal bail-out which saved Romney’s political skin(7).

Romney personifies economic parasitism. The financial sector has become a job-destroying, home-breaking, life-crushing machine, which impoverishes other people to enrich itself. The tighter its grip on politics, the more its representatives must tell the opposite story: of life-affirming enterprise, innovation and investment, of brave entrepreneurs making their fortunes out of nothing but grit and wit.

There is an obvious flip-side to this story. “Anyone can make it – I did without help” translates as “I refuse to pay taxes to help other people, as they can help themselves”. Whether or not they inherited an iron ore mine from daddy.

In the article in which she urged the poor to emulate her, Gina Rinehart also proposed that the minimum wage should be reduced. Who needs fair pay if anyone can become a millionaire?

In 2010, the richest 1% in the United States captured an astonishing 93% of that year’s gain in incomes(8). In the same year, corporate chief executives made, on average, 243 times as much as the median worker (in 1965 the ratio was ten times lower, namely 24:1)(9,10). Between 1970 and 2010 the Gini coefficient, which measures inequality, rose in the United States from 0.35 to 0.44: an astonishing leap(11).

As for social mobility, of the rich countries listed by the OECD, the three in which men’s earnings are most likely to resemble their father’s are, in this order, the UK, Italy and the US(12). If you are born poor or born rich in these nations, you are likely to stay that way. It is no coincidence that these three countries all promote themselves as lands of unparalleled opportunity.

Equal opportunity, self-creation, heroic individualism: these are the myths that predatory capitalism requires for its political survival. Romnesia permits the ultra-rich both to deny the role of other people in the creation of their own wealth and to deny help to those less fortunate than themselves. A century ago, entrepreneurs sought to pass themselves off as parasites: they adopted the style and manner of the titled, rentier class. Today the parasites claim to be entrepreneurs.


1. The Ragged Dick series.

2. http://www.nytimes.com/1985/08/31/world/in-soviet-eager-beaver-s-legend-works-overtime.html

3. http://www.ipa.org.au/sectors/northern-australia-project/publication/2081/let%27s-get-back-to-our-roots

4. Mike Lofgren uses this term in this fascinating article: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/revolt-of-the-rich/

5. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/full-transcript-mitt-romney-secret-video

6. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/greed-and-debt-the-true-story-of-mitt-romney-and-bain-capital-20120829

7. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-federal-bailout-that-saved-mitt-romney-20120829

8. Emmanuel Saez, 2nd March 2012. Striking it Richer: the Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States (Updated with 2009 and 2010 estimates). http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2010.pdf

9. Joseph Stiglitz, 2012. The Price of Inequality. Allen Lane, London.

10. Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz. The State of Working America 2008/2009. Economic Policy Institute, cited by Joseph Stiglitz, as above.

11. http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/was-greed-good/

12. OECD, 2010. Economic Policy Reforms: Going for Growth. Chapter 5, Figure 5.1. http://www.oecd.org/tax/publicfinanceandfiscalpolicy/45002641.pdf

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why We Must Leash Every Blue Dog and Defeat Every Republican We Can

Can This Election Settle Anything?

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Progressive America Rising via Washington Post

September 23, 2012 - The most important issue in the 2012 campaign barely gets discussed: How will we govern ourselves after the election is over?

Elections are supposed to decide things. The voters render a verdict on what direction they want the country to take and set the framework within which both parties work.

President Obama’s time in office, however, has given rise to a new approach. Republicans decided to do all they could to make the president unsuccessful. Their not-so-subliminal message has been: We will make the country ungovernable unless you hand us every bit of legislative, executive and judicial power so we can do what we want.

Judging by the current polls, this approach hasn’t worked. Mitt Romney is suffering not only from his own mistakes but also because a fundamentally moderate country has come to realize that today’s GOP is far more extreme than Republicans were in the past. Romney’s makers-not-takers 47 percent remarks made clear that the current GOP worldview is more Ayn Rand than Adam Smith, more Rush Limbaugh than Bill Buckley, more Rick Perry than Abe Lincoln.

Yet can one election turn the country around and make Washington work again?

Let’s start by saying that if the election takes an abrupt turn and Romney wins, he would probably get a Republican House and Senate. Then the country would get the GOP Full Monty, a complete dose of what it has to offer.

Somewhat more possible, given the current polls, is unified Democratic government. If Obama winds up with something like 53 percent of the popular vote or more, the Democrats have a real chance of winning both House and Senate majorities.

But what if the current conventional wisdom is right in foreseeing an Obama win coupled with continued, narrow Democratic control of the Senate and a House Republican majority depleted but still in charge? Will Republicans give up on obstruction and the reckless use of the filibuster? Will they be open to compromise on the budget?

This depends partly on a debate already going on inside the Republican Party and the conservative movement about why Romney is losing. It’s a precursor to what would be the post-election “why Romney lost” lollapalooza.

The right-wing contention is simple: Romney was a lousy candidate, a closet moderate who didn’t offer the detailed conservative program in all its splendor and who “muzzled” Paul Ryan, an idea some Ryan partisans are leaking. If this side wins, the GOP will stick with obstruction and wait for the next election.

But Romney’s 47 percent remarks finally unshackled the more moderate conservatives who know how destructive the Ayn Rand/tea party approach to politics has been. Some are talking about a Republican organization, similar to the old Democratic Leadership Council, to pull the party closer to the center.

This debate is important, but the more moderate view is unlikely to get any serious foothold among House Republicans and has only limited reach in the Senate GOP. That’s why the future of governance hangs largely on how Obama chooses to run the rest of his campaign.

Brand Obama has always been resistant to partisanship. Yet the president’s current case against Romney is really a case against the entire right-wing approach. Obama’s ability to govern in a second term thus depends not simply on his own triumph but also on the decisive defeat of those who have been obstructing him. If he wins but they win, is there much chance that the obstruction will stop?

Obama hopes that if he earns reelection by defending tax increases on the wealthy, the current structure of Medicare and investments in education and infrastructure, he’ll have a mandate for a sensible budget compromise. The Medicare and tax arguments square with what Democratic congressional candidates are saying, and after a briefing of House Democrats Friday from David Axelrod, Obama’s senior adviser, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters that she and her colleagues “have no complaint” about the president’s relationship to their campaigns.

Yet given the current views of most Congressional Republicans, few of them are likely to accept any claim of a mandate and would eagerly blame a Romney defeat on Romney himself.

If Obama wants to do more than survive, he thus has to fight a bigger and broader campaign that targets not only Romney but also a GOP congressional apparatus that has moved the party far to the right. Paradoxically, Republicans who want to bring their party to a more sensible place share an interest with Democrats in the president doing just this. It will take real toughness to produce more peaceable politics.


© The Washington Post Company

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Wider Look at the Chicago Teacher's Strike:

Most Important School Issues are 'Off the Table'

Progressive America Rising via Chicago Sun-Times

September 17, 2012 - The Chicago teachers strike has gotten national attention, much of it presuming that the biggest issues are pay and evaluation. But the Chicago Teachers Union has stated that the two sides have been very close on pay.

And union members have no objection to evaluation; they just want a system not so skewed to standardized, high-stakes testing. These tests aren't particularly good ways to measure teacher performance and, even worse, have the perverse effect of forcing teachers to teach kids to take tests rather than to love learning.

But the big issues for these schools and for the teachers aren't talked about because they are officially "off the table." CTU teachers are most concerned about class size, about adequate facilities, about wraparound services from social workers to nurses, about well-rounded curricula including art and music and languages, about early childhood education that helps children come to school ready to learn.

This isn't fancy stuff. One concern is classrooms that reach temperatures of up to 98 degrees in summer; only 29 percent of schools are air-conditioned. Another is about textbooks for the first day of school. Many of Chicago's elementary and middle schools have no safe place for recess, and few have age-appropriate playground equipment. There are 160 elementary schools without a library; 140 are in the poorer South Side of the city. Even though a staggering 80 percent of inner-city teen boys are exposed to violence, 675 schools share about 205 social workers. Schools often must choose between art and music, if they are lucky enough to have either.

Too often, Chicago is not providing the basics in public education for its most needy children. The CTU published a report detailing these concerns. But under state law, they can't negotiate about them unless their employer agrees -- and neither Mayor Rahm Emanuel nor school officials will consent to enter into negotiations about these crucial conditions.

When the teachers strike ends and children return to class, teachers will get the blame for the performance of the students. But they can't negotiate about crushing poverty, broken families and hard streets that impact the hearts, souls and minds of the children they teach. And teachers can't even negotiate about the quality of the facilities and the educational opportunities provided by the schools where they teach.

It's not surprising that teachers react when a contractually agreed 4 percent pay raise is revoked or the school day and school year are lengthened without negotiations. They are frustrated at the lack of respect paid to the needs of the children they teach. And they are bound to be frustrated at the lack of respect paid to their own contracts.

No one likes teachers strikes. But teachers are on the front line. In a time of spreading poverty and rising hunger, with harsh exploitation of the poor by landlords and payday lenders, poor children too often come to impoverished schools.

Teachers take the rap for poor student performance without having the power to change what gets in the way of learning. Grading teachers on the basis of a machine-graded test cannot substitute for schools with playgrounds and social workers, classes with manageable numbers, or roofs that don't leak.

Poverty, inequality, violence, race and investment matter.

They must be a part of any long-term solution. Keep up with Rev. Jackson and the work of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition at www.rainbowpush.org.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Racist Laws Suppress Voting

Voting’s Outcasts: Why One in Five Blacks in Kentucky Can’t Cast a Ballot

By Aura Bogado, Meta Mendel-Reyes and Voting Rights Watch 2012
Progressive America Rising via The Nation

September 18, 2012 - One of every thirteen African-Americans are already disenfranchised, and it’s not because of voter ID laws, voter purges or cut-offs to early voting but because they’re caught up in the criminal justice system. According to a new study released this summer by the Sentencing Project, in 2010, 5.85 million otherwise eligible voters were disenfranchised because they’re current or former felons. Of these, a full 75 percent were already out on parole or probation or had already completed their complete sentence. Nationwide, nearly 8 percent of African-Americans have lost their right to vote, compared to nearly 2 percent for non-African-Americans—illustrating the lasting effects of a racially biased criminal justice system.

Kentucky is one state that makes it nearly impossible for former felons to vote, and a grassroots group there has been challenging this form of disenfranchisement. If the numbers nationwide are dismal, it’s even worse in Kentucky, where nearly a quarter million people have lost their right to cast a ballot.

Meet Meta Mendel-Reyes. She’s on the Steering Committee of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a statewide, grassroots social justice organization that seeks to restore the right of former felons to vote. She explains that former felons who have already served their time are subjected to an onerous process to attempt to get their voting rights restored—but even that process doesn’t guarantee they’ll be able to cast a ballot.

—Aura Bogado

Go to Jail, Lose Your Vote

Rev. Damon Horton wasn’t always a minister. More than a decade ago, he was a gang member, and a dealer who was arrested in 2003 and 2004 for drug trafficking. He was convicted and sentenced to twelve years in prison. While Horton was incarcerated, he felt the call to the ministry. After completing 20 percent of his sentence, he was released on parole in 2006. Soon after, he married, started a family and became a minister. Yet despite turning his life around, there is one act of citizenship closed to him: he is not allowed to vote. “I can pay taxes again,” Horton says, “but I can’t vote or have a real voice in the government.”

And Horton is not alone. More than one in five African-Americans in Kentucky can’t vote because they have been convicted of a felony. In most states, after people have served their time, they are given their voting rights back. Not in Kentucky, where more than 243,000 residents have lost the right to participate in democracy.

Under the state constitution, former felons have to petition the governor in order to have their rights restored. It’s a tricky process that takes time and doesn’t guarantee a result, partly because each governor sets up his or her own procedure during his or her tenure.

Under current Governor Steve Breshear, former felons have to wait until they have served out all their prison time, probation and parole. Then, they have to get the signature of a probation or police officer, and have that notarized. Then, their paperwork gets kicked around a bit between Corrections, the local Commonwealth Attorney and the governor. If everything goes well, the applicant can get the right to vote back in as little as sixty days.

But the Commonwealth Attorney has a lot of leeway. Some give back rights easily, while others approve only a few. Making the process even more complicated is the fact that many elections officials and corrections staff don’t know the process themselves. According to Dave Newton, KFTC organizer, “Many former felons don’t even realize that they can get their voting rights back.”

Restoration of voting rights is not only a matter of democracy. Former felons who vote are half as likely to recidivate than former felons who don’t vote. It makes sense—when a former felon feels like part of the community, he or she is less likely to act out against that community.

Under the state constitution, former felons have to petition the governor for a pardon in order to have their voting rights restored. This makes Kentucky one of the four most difficult states, along with Virginia, Florida and Iowa, for former felons to regain their full citizenship rights.

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, a statewide, multi-issue, grassroots organization has been leading the fight to restore voting rights to former felons like Reverend Horton. House Bill 70, introduced earlier this year, would allow Kentucky voters to decide whether to grant automatic restoration of voting rights to most former felons once they have paid their debt to society (the law would exclude former felons convicted of treason, murder, sex crimes or bribery). Although the bill has passed overwhelmingly in the House, it has been stalled in the State Senate, largely due to the efforts of one hostile Committee Chairman. Sympathetic legislators plan to introduce it again in 2013.

State Senator Gerald Neal, a longtime supporter of the restoration of voting rights, eloquently asked, “Why would you give them a life sentence from democracy? It makes no sense. It’s inconsistent with our system of democracy.”

Kentucky effectively targets African-Americans, other people of color and low-income folks who will be unable to cast a ballot because of a past conviction for which they have already served their time. With an upcoming election that threatens to disenfranchise people through voter ID laws, let’s not forget the millions of former felons who have already been kept from voting.

—Meta Mendel-Reyes

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Saving Obama, Saving Ourselves


By Tom Hayden

Progressive America Rising

The threat of a Romney-Ryan regime should be enough to convince a narrow American majority to vote for Barack Obama, including the disappointed rank-and-file of social movements.

A widening of economic and racial inequality. Cuts in Medicare and Medical. More global heating. Strangling of reproductive rights. Unaffordable tuition. The Neo-cons back in the saddle. Two or three more right-wing Supreme Court appointments to come. Romney as Trojan horse for Ryan the stalking horse and future presidential candidate.

The consolidation of right-wing power would put progressives on the defensive, shrinking any organizing space for pressuring for greater innovations in an Obama second term.

Where, for example, would progressives be without the Voting Rights Act programs such as Planned Parenthood, or officials like Labor Secretary Hilda Solis or EPA administrator Lisa Jackson?

But the positive case for More Obama and Better Obama should be made as well. History will show that the first term was better than most progressives now think. A second-term voter mandate against wasteful wars, Wall Street extravagance, and austerity for the many, led by elected officials including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Barbara Lee, Raul Grijalva, Jim McGovern and Keith Ellison, would be a target-rich field of opportunities as they say in the Pentagon.

Why Obama's achievements are dismissed or denied by many on the white liberal-left is a question worth serious consideration. It may only be a matter of legitimate disappointment after the utopian expectations of 2008. It could be pure antipathy to electoral politics, or a superficial assessment of how near-impossible it is to change intransigent institutions. It could be a vested organizational interest in asserting there is no difference between the two major parties, a view wildly at odds with the intense partisan conflicts on exhibit every day. Or it could even be a white blindness in perceptions of reality on the left. When African American voters favor Obama 94-0 [that's right] and the attacks are coming from the white liberal-left, something needs repair in the foundations of American radicalism.

I intend to explore these questions further during the election season. The point here is that they cumulatively contribute to the common liberal-left perception that Obama is only a man of the compromised center, a president who has delivered nothing worse celebrating. The anger with Obama on the left, combined with broad liberal disappointment with the last three years, results in a dampened enthusiasm at the margins which could cost him the election.

By their nature, the achievements of social movements are lesser versions of original visions. As the venerable socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas used to lament, when asked if he was proud of Social Security being carried out, "they carried it out in a coffin." The limits of the 1935 Social Security Act lay in its token payments, limited eligibility, and lack of health insurance- all a result of political compromises thought necessary at the time. Because paying for the program in by taxation was much too controversial, Social Security was based on employer and employee contributions. That's what Norman Thomas apparently meant in describing the program as the death of his original vision.

While the forerunners of social progress are disappointed in the results they achieve, it should be of some comfort that the gravediggers have been trying to bury Social Security for 75 years without success so far.

As the Port Huron Statement [1962] concluded, "if we appear to seek the unattainable, let it be said we do so to avoid the unimaginable." With dreams like that, it was inevitable that most of us cynically viewed the reforms of the Kennedy and later Johnson administrations as tokenism. Many young radicals of my time [SNCC and SDS] distrusted the Kennedy’s as too gradual and Martin Luther King as too accommodating.

But despite all the inherent tensions and faction fights, social movements do achieve significant reforms, which I would define as empowering the powerless, opening up spaces previously closed, and expanding material benefits for those previously denied them. Prominent examples included:

- The 1965 Voting Rights Act, which racists and Republicans have attempted to thwart from its passage to the present day;

- The enfranchisement of young people who could be drafted but could not vote;

- Migrant worker protections achieved by the United Farm Workers;

- Medicare and Medicaid [1965];

- The US-Soviet nuclear test ban treaty [1963] was a response to global pressure for peace;

- Creation of the Peace Corps in response to a student campaign;

- The birth of opposition to the Cold War [1965 SDS march and teach-ins].

We could neither anticipate nor stop the Vietnam escalation starting in 1965, nor the growth of the National Security State thereafter. The collaboration that existed on domestic issues - cresting in the unity of labor and the civil rights movement in the 1963 March on Washington - did not extend to foreign policy where labor and the Democratic establishment were battling communist-connected insurgencies. But the achievements were not as token as we feared. Under moral and political pressure, Kennedy evolved from early managerialism to become a crucial partner on voter registration, civil rights and the arms race before his 1963 assassination. Were it not for the assassinations of that time, our movements would have been participants in a broad coalition that came to power. A strategy for social change grew from our direct experience, that of outside [often radical] forces taking direct action to awaken and link with establishment insiders to achieve all that was possible, and to lay the foundations for later movements.

After several historical zigs and zags, a similar progressive moment came in the year 2000, when a popular American majority elected Al Gore president only to be thwarted by the US Supreme Court. Gore would have given us a ten-year head start in facing global warming, tested the limits of an environmental presidency and, arguably, kept us out of the trillion-dollar Iraq War.

Some on the left still believe that Kennedy was an imperialist who would have been no different than Lyndon Johnson in sending500,000 Americans to Vietnam, and that Gore was no different than George Bush. Such opinions are wrong on both the facts and conjectures, driven more by ideology or disdain for two-party politics than by the weight of historical evidence.

What these cynical worst-case analyses leave out is the role of strong social movements and progressive constituencies in shaping the political character of the presidency. Just as Abraham Lincoln was influenced by the slaves and Abolitionists, and just as Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was shaped by labor and populist movements, so the student, women's, civil rights and environmental movements carved an essential place for themselves in the future that might have been under John Kennedy and, later, Al Gore.

Barack Obama, like Lincoln, FDR and John Kennedy, has been criticized as too incremental by his base and too radical by his enemies. An irate Thomas Frank concludes that Obama will never pursue a second New Deal because "that is precisely what Obama was here to prevent." [Harpers, September 2012]. In much analysis, Obama's role seems to be to give austerity and global imperialism an African-American face. Liberal icons share the disappointment from their perspective too. Paul Krugman, who supported Hillary Clinton, wrote of the 2009 stimulus package that "Mr. Obama's victory feels more than a bit like defeat." [237]. A common complaint from the left and liberals was that Obama was too timid, as if oratory could have achieved the public option in health care.

There is another explanation, as first described in my The Long Sixties, from 1960 to Barack Obama. It goes like this. Obama was elected on the wings of social movements going back to slavery time and, concretely, by an extraordinary campaign that challenged the Democratic Party establishment and Iraq orthodoxy in 2008. "Hope" and "change" were code words for Obama's signal achievement, becoming the first African-American president. In doing so, he opened the door to the presidency to Latinos, women, Jews, gays and lesbians and others long assumed to be "unqualified." In victory, however, Obama inevitably fueled emotions ranging from anxiety to hatred among the legions that became the Tea Party counter-movement. Vast numbers of Hillary Clinton Democrats accepted the Obama victory with mixed emotions, while most of the new president's constituency relaxed their energy after two years of grueling campaigning.

This was not the Civil War when slaves and Abolitionists pushed the president towards Appomattox. Not the New Deal with 40 percent unemployment, thousands of workers occupying auto and steel plants, and a rising Left resisting the threat of fascism at home and abroad. Nor was it the Kennedy era when 200,000 marched for jobs and justice under the leadership of civil rights, labor and clergy organizations. Not even close.

In fact, polls as early as 2009 showed that government was as much the enemy as banks and corporations. By a huge margin of 63-28, Americans preferred austerity to stimulus and that cutting taxes was better than government programs. [186]. IN 2010, a 52-19 majority believed erroneously that Obama had raised middle-class taxes. [393]. Surveys by Democratic consultants indicated the same thing, that voters pinched in an economic recession were reluctant to part with their tax dollars for a bureaucracy they didn't trust. There was a racial dimension that few pundits mentioned: white voters in places like western Wisconsin, the land of Paul Ryan, were less than enthused about sending their tax dollars to black Milwaukee.

The surprising truth, according to Time Magazine's Michael Grunwald in The New New Deal, is that the stimulus program - the American Recovery Act - worked beyond anyone's expectations. Which is true, Krugman's repeated story that the stimulus was inadequate, Frank's claim that Obama's role was to prevent more radical change, or Grunwald's conclusion that it was both an historic achievement and all that Obama could achieve? Grunwald's documented account, based on two years of writing, holds up - and should be read by any doubters.

At the beginning of the Obama administration, the American economy was losing a net 700,000 jobs per month. In the first month alone of Obama's presidency, 818,000 jobs vanished. "The shocks of 2008 were nastier than the crash of 1929", Grunwald asserts, citing the eight trillion dollars in housing wealth that vanished overnight. [427] That terrifying situation only began to improve when stimulus dollars began to flow. The Recovery Act funded direct employment for people in 100,000 projects including:

Roads, bridges, subways, water pipes, sewer plants, bus stations, fire stations...federal

buildings, Grand Canyon National Park, trails, libraries courthouses...hospitals, Ellis

Island,seaports, airports, dams, locks, levees, INdian reservations, fish hatcheries, coral

reefs, passport offices, military bases, veterans cemetaries, historically-black colleges,

particle accelerators, and much more. [13]

The green stimulus package transformed the Energy Department into the "world's largest green energy investment fund." [17] The US Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy grew from $1.2 billon to $16.4 billion in two years. Ninety billion in stimulus funds were invested in green energy programs [which leveraged another $100 billion in private funds.] An advanced battery industry was built from scratch, and 680,000 low-income homes have been weatherized, 120,000 buildings retrofitted for energy efficiency, ten million smart meters have been installed, and 400,000 LED streetlights and traffic signals. [pp. 425, 439] Renewable electricity doubled in three years, as promised. Wind, solar and geothermal projects approved on federal lands grew from zero to 29. [435] Solar installations went from 280 megawatts in 2008 to 1,855 in 2011. Just five years earlier, the Clinton administration barely pushed through a five-year $6.3 billion clean energy initiative, just three percent of Obama's $200 billion. Two Obama administration mandates on fuel efficiency, one in 2009 and another last week, will increase the standard from 29 mpg to 54.5 mpg by 2025.

In addition to providing unemployment benefits to millions of Americans, the Recovery Act "pushed 39 states to rewrite their eligibility rules in order to qualify for stimulus bonuses, dragging the New Deal-era unemployment system into the computer age [and] permanently extending the counter-cyclical safety net to part-time workers and domestic abuse victims." [435]

Grunwald sums up as follows: the Obama Recovery Act, in constant dollars, was the biggest and most transformative energy bill US history, the biggest and most transformative education bill since the Great Society, a big and transformative health care bill, too, the biggest foray into industrial policy [the auto bailout] since FDR, the biggest expansion of anti-poverty programs since LBJ, the biggest middle class tax cut since Ronald Reagan, the biggest infusion of research money ever, and it extended high-speed Internet to under-served communities, a twist on the New Deal rural electrification program. And it contained virtually no earmarks.

And, Grunwald adds, the stimulus became a huge liability in the face of nine percent unemployment, the rise of the Tea Party, and a Republican Party strategy to punish any Republicans who cooperated with Obama. The Republican obstructionism was unprecedented: whereas the Gingich-era Republicans sought to stop the Congress during the Clinton era, the new Republicans had no qualms in trying to stop the president from acting at all during the worst economic and credit crisis in 70 years.

Democrats flinched. They even stopped talking about the stimulus. They even let Jay Leno get away with joking that it was communism, "or, as we call it in this country, a stimulus package." [8]. A CBS-NYT poll in February 2010 revealed that only six percent of Americans believed the stimulus had created any jobs. [486]. More Americans thought Elvis was alive.


Perhaps more than any other policy, Obamacare fed the disillusionment of the liberal-left with the new administration. They agonized in watching Obama retreat over months from his preferred single-payer position to a public option and finally to the only option which could pass the Congress, a huge subsidy to private insurers that resembled the bailout of banks. Liberals blamed Obama for his retreat more than the dinosaur Democrats and obstructionist Republicans who insisted on the final outcome. Thus Obama received no liberal credit for being the first president to sign the biggest expansion of coverage since 1965. Obamacare adds 32 million more people to the rolls, including those with pre-existing conditions, women seeking birth control options, and young people up to the age of 26. The provisions of Medicaid in the Obama budget will support elderly and disabled people, and children, as well as middle-class people needing future nursing home care. These Medicaid expansions will be slashed under the Romney-Ryan administration, in addition to Medicare being degraded into a voucher program.

Like the stimulus package, however, Obamacare fueled the Tea Party's massive protests against the bogeyman of "big government", even producing hallucinatory right-wing calls to save "our Social Security" from the State. Timid Democrats retreated from their legislative product again, at least for one year. The media headlined polls showing that Obamacare was wildly unpopular [though a closer reading would show that a slight majority either supported the legislation or didn't think it went far enough.]

Was this an optical problem? Did the passage of Obamacare appear to be a step backwards when viewed against the original single-payer proposal? Or did the liberal-left actually think the spectrum of American politics ranged from themselves to Obama, leaving out the inconvenient truth that hordes of right-wingers were both numerous and highly-organized. It had taken 75 years to add health insurance to FDR's original Social Security concept, but the politics had changed scarcely at all.


Obama was the first presidential candidate to succeed on a platform of pulling US troops out of an ongoing war [unless you count Richard Nixon's secret plan for peace in 1969 and "peace is at hand" promise of 1972]. By any rational standard, Obama fulfilled that pledge when the last American troops departed Iraq last year.

Many in the peace movement didn't believe it then and dismiss it now. To the extent this is a rational objection - and not blindness - it rests on two arguments. First, some claim that Obama was only following the withdrawal plan already agreed to by George Bush. It's an interesting question for future historians to uncover what shadow entity orchestrated the Iraq-US pact between the end of Bush and the coming of Obama. That aside, it's logical to conclude that the immanence of Obama's victory pushed the Bush administration to wrap up the best withdrawal agreement possible before the unpredictable newcomer took office. In addition, Obama increased his previous withdrawal commitment in February 2009 to include virtually all American forces instead of leaving behind a "residual" force of 20-30, 000. It is true that as the endgame neared, Obama left open the possibility of a residual force after American ground troops departed, saying he would be responsive to the request of the Baghdad regime. Some on the left seized on these remarks to later claim that Obama had to be forced by the Iraqis to finally leave. There is no evidence for this claim, however. It is equally possible - and I believe more credible - that Obama was simply being Obama, knowing that the Iraqis could not possibly request the Americans to stay.

Dissecting diplomacy, like legislation, is like making sausage, in the old saying. Obama certainly knew that he would gain political cover if he could say with credibility that he was only following Bush's withdrawal plan and Iraq's request.

A more bizarre left criticism of Obama on Iraq is that the war itself never ended but instead morphed into a secret war with tens of thousands of Americans fighting as Special Ops or private contractors. Why it would be more effective to continue a losing war with fewer troops has never been asked. After all the talk of tens or hundreds of thousands of US personnel being left behind, the most recent numbers are these: in June of this year there were 1,235 US civilian employees in Baghdad along with 12, 477 private contractors [not all Americans]. That was a decline of 10-20 percent over the previous three months. The personnel are for intelligence, embassy security and customary logistical support, not an extraordinary number in a country seething with anti-Americanism. South Korea has up to 28,500 US military personnel, and Japan some 34,000, not including thousands of dependents- that's what a post-war occupation looks like.


Like many who campaigned for Obama in 2008, I opposed the continuing US wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the military doctrine of the "Long War" against Islamic fundamentalism. Obama has proven true to his word, the critics have been proven right in our warnings.

According to Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars [2010], Obama granted his generals an increase of 33,000 troops for an Afghan surge but drew the line there and insisted that those troops would start coming home in 2011, a pledge he has kept. The 33,000 figure was disappointing to those of us, including Rep. Barbara Lee, who demanded that at least 50,000 being pulled out by the end of this year. Instead Obama has promised the pullout of US ground troops and an "Afghan lead" by 2014. In doing so, Obama has triggered a dynamic towards the exits favored by overwhelming numbers of Americans and NATO citizens. [Mitt Romney has opposed deadlines while at the same time accepting the 2014 framework].

While it will take years to know the truth, I believe there is a strategic and political reason for Obama's 2014 timetable. He knows that Afghanistan is a lost cause which cannot be acknowledged and dealt with during the election season. Between 2013 and 2014, Obama will have a narrow window to replace Hamid Karzai with a power-sharing arrangement, and make enough deals with the Taliban, the Haqqanis, Pakistan, China and yes, Iran - to salvage and perhaps partition Afghanistan. At present, the neo-cons running Romney's foreign policy team won't permit any diplomatic contacts with the insurgency even if it means leaving an American soldier, Bowe Bigdahl, in captivity somewhere in North Waziristan. An ultimate political agreement to try stabilizing Afghanistan will require diplomacy with several countries at the top of the neo-cons enemies' list. Even then, implosion and defeat are Afghan possibilities which Obama dares not mention.

Others in the peace movement, along with civil libertarians, rage against Obama because of his secret escalating drone attacks. They are right morally to keep making righteous noise, especially about the official cover-up of casualty rates. But it will take a political-diplomatic strategy of ending the Afghan war in order to stop the drones. Civil liberties and human rights groups who are vociferous against the drones still refuse to oppose the Afghan war itself, which is the primary cause of the drone killings. Such groups also oppose the assassinations of Al Qaeda leaders and the prosecution of whistleblowers without opposing the underlying wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

In summary, Obama's withdrawal from Iraq has been clouded in left disbelief and overshadowed by criticism of his policies in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and beyond. On the merits, these criticisms are entirely justified. When they lead to opposing Obama's re-election, they help Romney and the return of the neo-cons.


The white liberal-left, however modest in numbers, is hugely important in a close presidential election, where the margin of difference may be one percent or less in states with large progressive constituencies. If Obama loses, it will be unfair to blame the left but they will be blamed nonetheless. As a consequence they will become more marginal, far less able to connect with the progressive constituencies and mass movements with vital stakes in Obama's re-election.

The potential toll can be glimpsed already, in the current decline of the radical left amidst the greatest economic meltdown in seven decades. Of course radical movements will rise again, but more likely from the activist networks who tried to stop Romney and re-elect Obama, not from those who sat on their hands and believed it was all another circus.

There is plenty of time to still make a difference. First, some people on the left will have to become used to the idea that partial power only brings partial results. While we can establish enclaves for dreamers from Mendocino to Brooklyn, from Madison to Austin, we have to win support from the center in battleground states or risk losing decades.

The second lesson is for self-defined radicals to be immersed in the everyday problems of the mass constituencies that depend on presidents to make a small margin of difference in their lives. [One small example of how it works: there would be no federal consent decrees over brutal police departments were in not for Al Sharpton hammering at Bill Clinton to include lawsuits for unconstitutional "patterns and practices" in his otherwise draconian Omnibus Crime legislation in 1994.]

Third, election seasons are perfect organizing moments when large numbers of people are open to persuasion on public issues. It may be springtime before the next cycle of activism comes around again. Now is the time to build local lists and structures for voter turnout in November and street turnouts thereafter.

This particular election offers the perfect moment to build opposition to Citizens United

and "corporate personhood", for a renewed movements for a constitutional right to vote, the deeper regulation of Wall Street and a constitutional right to vote for campaigns down the road. Does anyone seriously believe that the Dreamers and marriage-equality movements will accept a return to second-class status without the fight of their lifetimes?

It can be time to begin a realignment of the electoral left as well. The active Green Party networks need to shed their reputation as "spoilers" just as the Progressive Democrats of America [PDA] needs to shed its appearance of only "tailing" the Democrats. Labor insurgents like National Nurses United, and even the formidable SEIU, are demanding a more independent role in coalition politics. One can almost feel a new politics trying to be born in the so-called womb of the old, a third "party of the people" both inside and outside the two-party system. What if the Green Party decided to invest in places of the richest electoral opportunity instead of campaigning vigorously where the stakes are 50-50? Why not a negotiated merger of the Greens and PDA in the close races, and PDA support for Green candidates where they are most viable? It's entirely possible to visualize creative leaps out of electoral traps while strengthening an independent left within the institutions of state power. Protestors in the streets should serve as a permanently challenging - and threatening - disruptive presence in constant orchestrated interaction with forces on the inside too, not simply serve as occasional "street heat" to be enlisted when pressure is needed by the insiders.

Now through November, the radical left can be the effective One Percent. The 99 Percent will be appreciative. #

[For a thoughtful left perspective, see also Aug. 09, 2012 Alternet essay by Bill Fletcher and Carl Davidson.]

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Can Romney Win With Just White Votes?

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Progressive America Rising via HuffPost

Sept 4, 2012 - Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, GOP political guru Karl Rove, and the parade of Hispanic and black speakers at the Republican National Convention either said or were testament to one belief and that's GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney can't win with just white votes.

The rationale is simple. He doesn't have enough of them. The supposed standard break point for GOP presidential candidates to bag the White House is they must get 60 percent or more of the 104 million white voters, who make up close to 75 percent of the nation's voters. In eleven major polls, Romney averages slightly more than 53 percent of white voters. The CNN poll is the most generous and gives him only 55 percent of the white vote.

Getting the supposed magic number of white votes in the GOP column is even more crucial given the crushing majority overall of Democrats to Republicans. There are 55 million registered Republicans and 72 million registered Democrats.

The surface bad news for Romney then is that if the percent of white votes that he now has doesn't change drastically before Nov. 6 he will be just another GOP presidential also-ran.

There are three problems with this. It focuses solely on raw numbers and raw percentages. It's not the number of white voters, but where they are that matter more than the overall numbers. The election will boil down to which candidate tops out in the must win swing states.

The number and percentage of white votes that Romney gets in these states are far more important than a simplistic fixed percentage of overall white votes. In the two most crucial states, Ohio and Florida, the number of GOP registered white voters has risen since 2008. The racial and religious demographic of those voters match pitch perfect with the type of voter that the GOP banks on to win. Nine out of ten of them are white and the majority self-describe themselves as highly religious. At the same time, the number of black and Hispanic voters in those states has slid down.

In another must win swing state, New Mexico, the number of Hispanic voters has plummeted nearly 30 percent since 2008. Overall the percentage of black voters has dropped 7 percent and the percent of Hispanic voters has dropped 5 percent. That's a drop off of over 2 million black and Hispanic voters since 2008. The drop-off does not take into account the blatant and sneaky voter suppression tactics that GOP governors and GOP state legislators have worked feverishly to put in place to further damp down the black and Hispanic vote.

One estimate is that 17 million Christian evangelicals, the overwhelming majority of whom were registered Republicans, played hooky from the polls in 2008. If even half of them had shown up in Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, the states that Obama won by single digit margins the outcome could have been far different. The GOP and Tea Party will push hard to make sure that doesn't happen this time around. They and the conservative Super PACS will spend staggering sums to get conservative white evangelicals to the polls in the battleground states.

The second problem is white votes were decisive two years ago in the national elections. More than 60 percent of non-Hispanic whites voted for GOP House candidates in 2010 was the highest total in nearly two decades, and came close to the record percentage of white voters that backed Nixon in 1972 and Reagan in 1984.

In those elections their Democratic opponents George McGovern and Walter Mondale snared only one state. Both Nixon and Reagan won big with white votes by skillfully implementing the Southern Strategy. That relied heavily on a mix of racially leaden code words, themes, and issues that subtly and overtly prick and inflame racial antipathy toward blacks.

Obama walks a racial line that's just as delicate as Romney's. He must match the 95 percent figure he got of the black vote in 2008, and the 75 to 80 percent of the Latino vote. He must also get the same big numbers turnout from them. He also must insure that there is no tangible defection of conservative white Democrats that distrust, dislike, or are openly hostile to his presidency in the key battleground states either by staying home or worse -- backing Romney.

The magic 61 percent figure of white votes that Romney allegedly must have to win then is just a paper figure. There are many tough and unpredictable variables that could make the number nothing more than an academic talking point. One GOP presidential candidate did prove that the 60 percent threshold Romney supposedly must get of white votes is not chiseled in stone. George Bush Sr. in 1988 got 59 percent of the white vote. But he still beat Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis. Conservative white voters have been the trump card for Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., and George W. Bush to snare the White House. Romney banks on getting them in big, but more importantly strategically well-placed, numbers to win.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.