Tag: populism

Economic Populism: A Winner in 2010?

As I suspected would be the case, Democrats intend to take on the conservative wing of the Supreme Court and in so doing make it into an election year issue.  In a year where successful narratives for the party in power are few and where the prevailing conventional wisdom seems to be one of limiting inevitable GOP gains, I am pleased to see this degree of push back, though I note by no means will it alone be sufficient to secure majority status for both the House and Senate.  It is a good start, but it cannot be the end all, be all.  When people are hurting for jobs, income, and peace of mind, the existence of an activist Supreme Court is less important and less pressing.  

The only problem I see with this strategy is that it doesn’t necessarily channel voter frustration the way that, for example, anger at former President Bush did back in 2008.  A desire to take on the Supreme Court for its abuses of power is, at least now, a minor priority, and the people who do feel sufficiently outraged are self-identified Progressives or Democrats.  If the intent is purely to unify the base and revitalize party loyalists, then I can understand the logic.  But as it stands now, many independents and self-identified conservatives of any leaning unfortunately often find nothing especially objectionable about recent SCOTUS decisions.  They don’t consider it a particularly pertinent bread and butter issue that relates directly to their own lives.  Everyone votes based, to some degree or another, on their own self-interest, but this degree of apathy is due, in part, to the fact that the topic has never really been adequately framed in terms that resonate well with the electorate.  

As President Barack Obama mulls possible replacements for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens, the administration and congressional aides are gravitating toward a strategy that goes beyond the goals of a run-of-the-mill confirmation fight – to define a corporations-vs.-the-common-man battle between Democrats and the high court.  

Taking a populist stance on this matter does make sense, but thus far economic populism has been underused by Democrats.  The position stated above has been weakly rendered up until now and there has been no unified voice to advance it.  If Democrats wish to come out strongly against unpopular decisions like Citizens United v. FEC then it certainly would be interesting to see the effort played with the American people and with the mainstream media.  The Obama Administration has, much to the frustration of many, always taken care to hedge its bets regarding passionate denunciations of offending parties, particularly regarding financial matters–one day forceful populism, the next day conciliatory language.  Throwing down the gauntlet means that the gauntlet comes down and stays down.  Half-measures are perceived by most as as weak, not politically shrewd.

Continued Legislative Pushback to SCOTUS Ruling

An article in yesterday’s Washington Post reveals that the roots of public dissatisfaction with the recent SCOTUS decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission run deep. As the paper’s own polling reveals,

Eight in 10 poll respondents say they oppose the high court’s Jan. 21 decision to allow unfettered corporate political spending, with 65 percent “strongly” opposed. Nearly as many backed congressional action to curb the ruling, with 72 percent in favor of reinstating limits.

The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).

The results suggest a strong reservoir of bipartisan support on the issue for President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are in the midst of crafting legislation aimed at limiting the impact of the high court’s decision.

The Roberts Court unfortunately reaffirmed that corporations have the same basic freedoms and rights to free speech as do individuals. The sordid history of corporate personhood began in the late Nineteenth Century and has been a contentious, divisive issue ever since. With the rise of corporations and multinational conglomerates, corporate personhood has never been far from the public consciousness.  A series of rulings over time have revealed the depths of the debate.

Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas both rendered opinions attacking the doctrine of corporate personhood. Justice Black, in a dissenting opinion, concluded,

If the people of this nation wish to deprive the states of their sovereign rights to determine what is a fair and just tax upon corporations doing a purely local business within their own state boundaries, there is a way provided by the Constitution to accomplish this purpose. That way does not lie along the course of judicial amendment to that fundamental charter. An amendment having that purpose could be submitted by Congress as provided by the Constitution. I do not believe that the Fourteenth Amendment had that purpose, nor that the people believed it had that purpose, nor that it should be construed as having that purpose.

(Hugo Black, dissenting, Connecticut General Life Insurance Company v. Johnson (303 U.S. 77, 1938)

It remains to be seen whether this bill will be signed into law, or, assuming it is, what its greater impact will be.  The recent ruling has just now taken effect and no one at this point is certain what liberties corporations might take or intend on taking in this year’s election cycle.  Furthermore, the Obama Administration and the Roberts Court have not yet taken highly antagonistic positions with each other the same way FDR did with the Hughes Court back in the 1930’s.  However, it must be noted that FDR’s New Deal lead to the enactment of a variety of reforms and Obama has only managed a paltry sum in comparison.  A majority desperate to minimize its losses would do well to start here.    

More change from the states: New Mexico joins the Move Your Money campaign

Yesterday, the New Mexico House of Representatives unanimously decided to move the states’ money into small banks and credit unions, becoming yet another example of the fact that progressive change will not come from the top down.

In the context of the larger movement against the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street, this is a dramatic repudiation of that behavior from a somewhat unexpected source.

The bill enables a possible switch of $2-5 billion of state funds into CUs and small banks.

If enacted, the municipal funds bill, in the works since last year and still subject to a Senate vote, would represent a setback to large national banks, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, which have had a lock on such funds.

The altered view of New Mexico lawmakers in favoring local control of state funds, officials said, follows national mention of the New Mexico effort in the “Move Your Money” campaign of New York pundit Arianna Huffington in her online Huffington Post columns.


Voters handily approve both tax-hike ballot measures

By David Steves

The Register-Guard

The apparent victories for the campaigns to pass Measures 66 and 67 came after weeks of TV ads promising that the additional tax money would come only from the wealthy individuals and big corporations, but would help Oregonians of lesser means by keeping the schools running and safety-net programs in place for the elderly and frail.

The Third Estate Wants Its Way Again

This morning’s Politico attributes the death of centrism in the Republican party to the overwhelmingly insatiable demands of the far-right riffraff.   The sans-culottes throngs certainly have pitched some pretty parades over the past few months, haven’t they?  Heads have, metaphorically speaking, rolled and more are almost certain to take their place underneath the unforgiving guillotine.  Yet, to insist that this was a movement spearheaded by the party itself would not be correct.  This summer the GOP establishment tried to harness the energy of the rabble and found that it marched to no one’s orders but its own.  

“I don’t give a crap about party,” said Jennifer Bernstone, a tea party organizer for Central New York 912, which helped to lead the anti-Scozzafava charge. “Grass-roots activists don’t care about party.”

Says Everett Wilkinson, a tea party organizer in Florida: “We are not going to allow our [movement] to be stolen by the GOP or by any political party.”

The Rising: Part Two


The mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.

Thomas Jefferson

America is a failed state. We mean by that, the Republican form of government has failed. Representative Democracy has failed. The People do not have the power of self-governance, by proxy, over their own affairs. People vote for representatives, but the representative represents the money power; the corporate monolith and aristocratic entrenchment. Politicians show how the system works, that they do represent their constituents, by bringing home some pork from the bacon trough, but nothing more.

So what do we do?



It’s been clear for a long time to many of us, and as time passes more and more catch on to the fact that, the Democrats, especially Barack Obama are frauds and, once again, America has been Punked. Bush was the Compassionate Conservative and Obama was the Crusader for Change – fundamental and necessary change to a system which only works for the few.

Thunder From the Left – How Progressive Dissent Shaped the New Deal

There has been much talk lately about the Great Depression, how it parallels our current economic crisis, and how passage of the New Deal might serve as a model for the Democrats and the new Obama administration in their attempts to rescue the economy.

But it is how the passage of the New Deal may serve as a model for the Progressive movement that I want to discuss here. For, as I will demonstrate, if it were not for the Progressive movement, and Roosevelt’s harshest critics from the left, we would have ended up with a very different New Deal – one which, arguably, would not have been much of a deal at all.

In what I like to call the Children’s History of America, FDR, elected on a reform agenda, swept into office and, within his first one hundred days, passed a bunch of bills that are known as the New Deal. Consequently, as the story goes, millions of people returned to work, the economy eventually recovered, and a new era of social security was ushered in that would last for decades. But this history is false. In fact, one cannot understand the passage of the New Deal, or FDR’s first term, without giving full consideration to the forces that rose up against him from the progressive, populist, and very angry left. For those forces did more to shape the New Deal, and ensure its success, than any other factor.

If you’re not a historian, chances are you don’t know that there was essentially a second New Deal – the sweeping set of programs enacted in 1935 – after the 1934 midterms and before FDR’s 1936 reelection campaign. Many historians even refer to this period as the Second 100 Days. In the children’s history, you don’t hear much about the “Second New Deal”. That’s a shame, for it was this set of legislative accomplishments that actually, more than any other, constituted what would be known as the New Deal. It is this set of programs that changed the country. Here is a partial list:

  • Emergency Relief Appropriation Act
  • Public Works Administration (PWA)
  • Works Progress Administration (WPA)
  • Formation of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
  • The Wagner Act
  • Public Utility Holding Company Act
  • Social Security Act

These programs, to a large degree, were the New Deal. The Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, along with the PWA and WPA created the government works program which eventually put over 10 million people to work.

The NRLB and Wagner Act effectively created organized labor by ensuring, among other things, the right to unionize and to bargain collectively with employers.

The Public Utilities Holding Company Act broke up the utility monopolies and ensured local ownership of public utilities. This was no small deal. Until its partial repeal in 1993 under Clinton, which directly led to the Enron fiascoes in California, and its full repeal in 2005, the PUHCA had maintained a tightly regulated, highly stable system of energy delivery for seventy years.

And then there’s the Social Security Act. No other program of the New Deal has had a more enduring impact and affected more lives. Yet it’s easy to forget just how radical this idea was in the 1930s. Roosevelt actually opposed it as too costly and opted for just the unemployment insurance part.(1) But, as it was in 1935, politicians were going along with a lot of things they had originally opposed.

“The Populist Uprising “

By the spring of 1935, the New Deal was a failure. Not that some of the measures enacted in the first 100 days hadn’t helped. The economy had grown a little bit. Businesses started to feel a bit more confident. And a couple million people had gone back to work. But after two years recovery began to falter – the country was still in a depression and approximately 1/5th of the workforce was still unemployed. And to make matters worse, the Supreme Court had declared by unanimous consent that Roosevelt’s flagship program, the National Industrial Recovery Act, was unconstitutional. This was a devastating blow – the NIRA was not just another remedial government program. It was the remedial government program, a massive, very high profile national campaign that included a PR blitz, celebrity endorsements, and even a logo business participants could put in their windows. The administration had practically bet the farm on the NIRA and now it was dead.

But the Court was the least of Roosevelt’s problems that year. Public dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on the economy was reaching a fevered pitch. It appeared, from all sides, FDR was under siege.

The Hooverites and business leaders had opposed the New Deal from inception and thought Roosevelt had gone too far in his first hundred days. Many in High Society refused to even mention FDR’s name. (I don’t mean they wouldn’t talk about him. I mean they deliberately made a point of referring to him without mentioning his name.) But the real threat to FDR was from his own left flank. The Progressives, both Democrat and Republican, were deeply dissatisfied and thought FDR hadn’t gone far enough. They also believed he was far to favorable to the oligarchs, despite his having fallen from their graces.

There were others too, outspoken critics, often referred to as the demagogues, who, by late 1935 had grown so dissatisfied with FDR that they began to plot a third party run in the upcoming 1936 election. They too believed the New Deal was too protective of the banking interests and the wealthy and didn’t go far enough to help the poor. These included Father Charles Coughlin, an anti-Semite who railed against the bankers and the Jews, but none the less built up a following of as many as 40 million listeners to his radio show. He advocated nationalizing the banks and abolishing the Federal Reserve. And Dr. Francis Townsend, who advocated providing the elderly with a $200 a month income, had grown widely popular by mid-thirties.

Another threat to FDR was, and one that particularly caught his attention, was the a new progressive alliance in Wisconsin. Long a hotbed of progressive sentiments, Wisconsin had just elected a progressive Governor who actually ran as a “radical” telling voters, “I am not a liberal, I am what I want to be – I am a radical.” In the 1930 race for Wisconsin’s governor, Olson actually defeated his Republican opponent by an astounding 200,000 votes. Once in office, he introduced such progressive reforms as a progressive income tax, public unemployment insurance, and old age pensions. In 1935, he vowed to run against FDR unless he produced a more radical New Deal.

But it was Huey Long who posed the biggest threat. Despite his flamboyant, clownish demeanor, he was a lawyer and an incredibly astute politician. He had taken on the corrupt Standard Oil machine in Louisiana and won. This was unheard of. When elected governor of Louisiana, Standard oil owned that state’s politics. (This fact is often excluded by establishment historians’ accounts of Long’s own corruption. For all his faults, he entered a game that had few rules and adapted. As a result he was able to do an immense amount of good for the poor people of his state.)

Long’s popularity in the troubled years of the Depression had grown far beyond the borders of his state, however. And his ‘Share the Wealth’ program – where every citizen was guaranteed a base income of $2500, and every family would receive $5000 to buy a house, car and radio – was gaining immense support amongst the poor and working classes throughout the country. Democrats were concerned that if Long, who formerly had supported Roosevelt and the New Deal, was to launch a third party run in the 1936 presidential campaign, he could cost FDR the presidency.

And so, in 1935, as Franklin Roosevelt began preparing for his 1936 reelection bid, this was the environment he found himself in. A stalling recovery program, mass public dissatisfaction, and mounting opposition from his own left flank. The result was a dramatic shift to the left and the passage of a legislative coup that would have been unthinkable only two years earlier.

Stealing Huey’s Thunder

Now, while it would be convenient for my thesis to depict Roosevelt as a failed moderate who was too orthodox to rise to the occasion and so was destined to historical failure were it not for the populists coming in to set him on the right path and rescue his legacy, that simply would be incorrect. The truth is much more complex. For example, some measures enacted in 1935, like the National Labor Relations Board and the Wagner Act, had been under development in Washington for years. On the other hand, Social Security, with retiree pensions, was a direct response to Dr. Townsend. In fact, the whole idea had been dubbed the “Townsend plan”, though he was not the first to think of it.

And how precisely populist pressure affected Roosevelt is not wholly known. According to Raymond Moley, one of FDR’s top advisors, the president had confided in him that much of the Second New Deal was to “steal Huey’s thunder”.(2) And some hold the position that the threat of a Long presidency merely gave the president and the Democrats cover for programs they had always supported. Call it the “now make me do it” view.

Fortunately for my thesis, however, it doesn’t matter either way. The end result was that pressure from the left, often in the form of rage and condemnation of the president, moved this country dramatically in a better direction and either forced, or allowed, depending on which you prefer, Washington to enact progressive legislation that served the people.

Historians don’t all agree on the extent of the impact of this pressure. But one need no further illustration than the appeals of New York Times columnist Arthur Krock. Krock was a highly prominent and influential writer in his day. A sort of “dean” of the press corp in Broderian terms. He had won four Pulitzer Prizes and mostly towed the establishment line. So his warnings of the potential of Huey Long occupying the White house struck fear into the heart of the monied class. Here is an excerpt from one of Krock’s warnings:

In Washington; Roosevelt, Long or Townsend Our Social Security Choice

New York Times – Jan 18, 1935

“Nevertheless, as a glance at any Senator’s correspondence will demonstrate, many, many people–perhaps several millions–believe firmly in the practicability and justice of the Townsend plan. Mr. Long, on his oath as a tribune, gets “more than 50,000 letters a week, 99 per cent approving” his share-the-wealth formula.

Alternatives Less Cheerful.

“All this should tend to reconcile those who “wonder why the President is bringing up this utopian stuff now, when business is flat on its back.” It should convey to them that business could be a lot worse off than in its supine position.”

And so it was. The “utopian stuff” was passed and signed into law. Not out of the will of good men wanting to do the right thing. But out of fear. Fear that unless they were willing to give the people a little piece of the pie, the people would take the whole thing.

1. Conrad Black, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (pg. 342)

2. Raymond Moley, After Seven Years

Did You Really Think A Populist Wouldn’t Endorse the Popular Vote Winner?

“The reason I am here tonight,” Edwards declared, “is the voters have made their choice and so have I.”


“When this nomination battle is over, and it will be over soon, brothers and sisters,” Edwards said, “we must come together as Democrats and in the fall stand up for what matters in America and make America what it needs to be.”

link: http://blog.washingtonpost.com…

John Edwards, throughout this primary season, has first and foremost been a populist. Sometimes that means standing in front of folks, meeting their gaze with a clear-eyed vision of what needs to be done to help people in this country and abroad. Sometimes it means talking and leading.

And sometimes it means listening.

John Edwards has done a lot of listening these past few months, and that led him to where he was tonight, under the glare of white lights in front of news cameras, the subject of countless pundits making countless predictions and counter-predictions.

Media’s 24/7 Sliming of Dems Will Happen. And we will…?

I can’t prove the assertion in the title. I’m not connected to any “inside” track. And anything a lowly wage-earner like me could possibly know about conspiracies is almost certainly disinformation.

But the assertion is true, and I bet you know that. And so we must ask some questions.

It might possibly be illegal, and it’s certainly anti-consumerist, to entertain the mental state they used to call “remembering.” It’s a superstition of mine that remembering is indispensable to being prepared for the future. It seems if you notice something happens again and again and again, over a period of years, that you might expect it to happen again in the future. Now, if you find that notion a little whacky, it’s best we part company here. Otherwise, here’s what I remember about our Media, our Democratic politicians, and our elections:

May One – if One May, Please

If you can make it to Faneuil Hall in Boston around 11:30 this Thursday that’d be great. If you can do something locally wherever you are that’d be great. If you can take some time and write to your congress critters that’d be great. If you can take some time and write some LTEs that’d be great. If you can take some time and call your congress critters or local rag that’d be great.

If you can join one of the many protests that seem to be naturally occurring simultaneously that’d be really great. The longshoremen’s union, the truckers and the immigrants will all be making a statement on the born-in-the-USA (Haymarket, Chicago, 1886, 8 hr workday movement) International Workers Day.

Don’t know about all of you out there but I just can’t sit around flinging IP packets into the bit-stream and waiting for something to happen. We can type away until our fingers fall off. It’ll change nothing. We gather here in web space and piss and moan to the chorus. We’re intelligent, we’re creative, we’re outraged by what is happening around us. We pour our hearts out. Nothing happens. We’d still be in Viet Nam if people hadn’t gone out of their way to show up by the dozens, then hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, to collectively vent their unwillingness to allow the desecration of all they held to be right to continue.

It has to start somewhere at some point in time with someone showing up in public to make the case for stopping the collective insanity. It looks like a lot of people have picked May One as the day. If you can’t bring yourself to participate, find something going on and go watch. Body counts matter. There’s enough of us who were around for the 60s and 70s protests to remember what it felt like to be part of a movement for peace. Movement is the key. Turn off the computer, go outside, find one other person to join you and go to the most heavily trafficked public place near you. See if anyone else shows up who may have the same feelings you do.

This May One thing is in our primitive neo-pagan history. It’s that cross-quarter day halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice. There’s a primal nature behind the day. Get outside with other like-minded people and see what happens. Take pictures. YELL LOUDER!

May One. Take America Back.


Two biographies of Hugo Chávez

This is a short review of two biographies of Hugo Chávez, current President of Venezuela.

(from Idealterna on Flickr)

Mostly I am interested in comparing and contrasting the two biographical styles.  Marcano and Tyszka are much like journalists, whereas Jones has a somewhat pro-Chávez axe to grind.  In the end I find Jones more straightforward.  I am also interested in depicting Chávez against the background of Venezuelan political economy, in which a rich few garner all of the profits from Venezuela’s enormous oil reserves while the poor majority have in the past found themselves shut out of the benefits in times when the price of crude oil has been high.

(crossposted at Big Orange)

Load more