Gerrymandering: How Incumbents Subvert Democracy

Imagine this scenario: you’re an elected official in a state legislature in charge of re-drawing congressional district lines (these are the physical land boundaries that representatives are elected to represent). Recent changes in the populations of your state’s towns and cities has changed with new census data, requiring the re-drawing of districts to properly represent the new population density across the state. 

Your party (doesn’t matter which) currently enjoys a majority control of the legislature from the last election, but now, unfortunately, has less popular support than the opposing party. If something isn’t done, the next election will sweep the opposing party into a majority control of the legislature- your incumbent party will be out of power, in other words. 

A tough situation, to be sure, but fortunately, you don’t care about democracy and are only concerned with protecting your own (and by extension, your party’s) power. Fortunately for you, there is a process called Gerrymandering which can protect your minority party’s control from the opposing majority party. 

Drawing power into existence

Long story short: Gerrymandering is a process of re-drawing congressional districts for a given party to ensure that party stays in power (holds more congressional seats) despite receiving less votes in an election. If Gerrymandering sounds blatantly anti-democratic, that’s because it is. 

Gerrymandering traces its roots back to Governor Eldridge Gerry back in 1812. As governor of Massachusetts, Gerry signed a bill which re-drew congressional district boundaries to favor his party’s hold on power. The result ended up with one district in particular looking bizarre, as shown in this political cartoon.

The strategy was, and still is, to group the voters who support and oppose you in such a way as to make sure you maintain a majority of congressional seats. Gerrymandering can effectively ensure a party stays in power (aka maintains a majority of seats in Congress) despite losing an election by as much as 40% to 60% of the vote. Here’s how, courtesy of the Brennen Center for Justice.

In their hypothetical scenario, the blues have 36 votes versus red’s 29 votes- a clear majority. In a sane world, the blues would then secure a majority of seats in Congress- say 3 blue seats to 1 red seat. But as the district lines are drawn here, the reds can ensure a 3-1 seat advantage despite receiving significantly less votes. 

The blues could also easily ensure they receive all of the congressional seats via this Gerrymandering design.

Here’s another example by Richmond University.

Here’s the strategy: 

  • Strategy 1: If your party is in the minority- bunch all of your opposition into a small number of districts (thus nullifying much of their votes) and draw the others so you have an advantage, thus winning a majority of congressional seats. 
  • Strategy 2: If your party is in the majority- ensure your majority of votes extends to each drawn district and crowd the minority party from virtually any seats. 

Gerrymandering in practice

Let’s start with Michigan, courtesy of Michigan Radio.

Pay attention to the Detroit area districts in the bottom right portion of the image as well as districts 8, 7, 5, and 3. District 14 is probably the most ridiculous

Michigan is but one example of a countrywide trend. Take North Carolina.



And Illinois:

Apparently, Frankenstein lives after all- and there are many other examples. 

Both major political parties have engaged in Gerrymandering in the past. Lately, it’s largely Republicans engaging in Gerrymandering as a reflection of their slowly but consistently shrinking voting base over time. Recognizing reality is one thing, but this is not an issue of blaming political party A or B. It’s the political system itself which allows for Gerrymandering to exist. Put the incentive to hold power by cheating democracy and party A, B, or X will assuredly use it, given the opportunity. 

Recent trends 

For Gerrymandering in the US, there is good news and bad news. 

The good news: Michigan in 2018 passed Ballot Proposal 2 by a vast margin (61% to 39%). Proposal 2 takes the power of re-drawing districts from the legislature – where said Gerrymandering originates – and transfers the power to an independent redistricting commission of registered voters. 

Here’s how it works, step by step:

  • The commission will have 13 members: 4 voters who affiliate Republican, 4 voters who affiliate Democrat, and 5 voters not affiliated with any party. To be on the commission, one must be registered to vote and not be a current (or in the past 6 years): candidate for office, elected official, official member of a party (note you can only be chosen if you affiliate with a party, but are not an actual member), lobbyist, paid political consultant, legislative employee (for example, congressional staffer), or close family member of any of the above. 
  • The Secretary of State will mail 10,000 applications to randomly chosen registered voters, then will randomly form three pools from these (60 for each of Republican/Democratic affiliates and 80 for the non-affiliates). 
  • These pools are then sent to the 1) majority leader and 2) minority leader of the Senate, and the 3) Speaker and 4) Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, where they can each remove up to 20 names- which is undoubtedly the worst part of the bill. If names are removed, more people are randomly selected from the initial pool of 10,000 until the three pools of 60 Republican-affiliated voters, 60 Democratic-affiliated voters, and 80 non-affiliated voters remain. 
  • The 13-member commission of 4 Republican-affiliated voters, 5 Democratic-affiliated voters, and 5 non-affiliated voters will then be randomly chosen from these three pools. They will serve until the Michigan congressional districts are re-drawn for a given census cycle. For the next census cycle, the process repeats from the start. 

It’s important to note that the legislature does still have a say in the process by removing some names from the randomly chosen pools. Further legislation or ballot proposals could remove this step in the process altogether. 

Nevertheless, taking the power of drawing Michigan’s congressional districts from political parties via the legislature is a great step for democracy in the state. In this system, non-politically connected voters ultimately will be drawing the districts.

It remains to be seen how the process will ultimately pan out, but there is a solid reason for hope. Proposal 2 is a case of voters taking power and placing it into the hands of voters themselves- this is democracy in action. 

Other states have recently passed similar legislation creating independent redistricting committees. They are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Washington. 

Now for the bad news. 

The US Supreme Court ruled in June on Rucho v Common Cause that Gerrymandering is “beyond the reach of the federal courts” meaning that Gerrymandering is effectively legalized on the federal level. The vote was straight down right/left lines (5-4). Note that the states which passed their own independent redistricting legislation can keep their systems in place- the ruling merely means no action from the federal level will be taken. 

The Supreme Court has long been a reactionary institution which seeks to protect established power from pressures by the citizenry at large. It’s long-standing function was evident and on display with the recent Gerrymandering ruling. 

Proposed Solutions

What can be done to rid ourselves of Gerrymandering? There are several proposed methods of doing so. 

Since the Supreme Court isn’t taking action on Gerrymandering at the federal level, the states themselves could each pass their own independent redistricting commissions as was the case of the states listed previously, but there are other solutions proposed which could prove more effective.

A constitutional amendment could be passed to ban the practice of Gerrymandering. This would require either 1) two-thirds vote of the Senate and House of Representatives or 2) two-thirds vote of state legislatures. 33 constitutional amendments have been passed in America’s history, the last one being passed in 1992. 

Alternatively, the Supreme Court could reverse their Rucho v Common Cause position by issuing another ruling on Gerrymandering which would overrule the ruling passed in June. This would require what is called “packing the court”, or having a US president appointing more judges than the current 9 members. 

The power to determine Supreme Court size rests with the US Congress and if legislation is passed expanding the Supreme Court (to say, 11 or 15 members), the president could appoint the new judges who support overruling Rucho v Common Cause by issuing a new ruling to ban Gerrymandering. 

Finally, proportional representation has been proposed as a solution to Gerrymandering and forms the most wide-ranging of the proposals. 

Douglass Amy sums up the problem of Gerrymandering as originating with our single member district system, where we vote for a single congressperson from a congressional district. Whoever wins a plurality of votes, wins. But there is an inherent flaw in this system, says Amy:

Most Americans believe that who wins political races is decided on election day by the voters. But in a single-member district electoral system that is frequently not true. Who wins is often determined before voters even go to the polls – sometimes many years before. The outcome is decided by those who draw the district lines. If they decide to create a district that is 70 percent Republican, there is little chance the Democratic candidate will win. And Republican candidates will usually lose if a district is drawn so that it is predominantly Democratic. Voters go to the polls confident in the illusion that they control the fate of the candidates. But in reality they are often only participating in the last act of political play whose ending has already been written.”

Amy’s answer to this problem lies in enacting an electoral system based on proportional representation instead, which would result in representatives being elected based on the proportion of the votes cast. 

Amy further offers an example of how this proportional representation system would work in practice: 

Imagine, for example, that we have a region in a state that is 60 percent Republican and 40 percent Democratic and that it must be divided into two ten-member PR [proportional representation-CTP] election districts. No matter how the district lines are drawn and no matter how party voters are distributed between the districts, each party will be able to elect its fair share of representatives. If all the Democrats are packed into one district, they will constitute 80 percent of the voters there and elect eight of the ten representatives in that district and none in the other – 40 percent of the total seats. If the Democratic voters are fragmented and make up 40 percent minorities in the each of the two districts, they will be able to elect four representatives in each – and still receive 40 percent of the total seats.”

The prospects for such a system appear promising, as it would virtually eliminate wasted votes- a serious and fundamental flaw in our current electoral system. If we are to be a democracy based upon the principal of one person, one vote, a proportional representation system could ensure every vote counts. 

War Report 3: Further Escalation with Iran; Updates on North Korea, Venezuela, Yemen, and Turkey


Tensions with Iran are continuing to heat up. Reports of a tit-for-tat seizure of oil tankers between the UK and Iran threaten to lasso the UK into the conflict. And wouldn’t you know it, none other than National Security Advisor John Bolton has been suspected of setting this trap for the UK in order to inflame tensions and bolster the US side. 

Regardless of whether Bolton and his team were directly involved, Bolton’s strategy of maximum pressure was bound to result in such incidents- who knows how many more will occur in the coming days.  

As was reported by Narges Bajoghli on Democracy Now! July 22nd, Iran has been retaliating against US economic sanctions and military pressure to demonstrate that Iran would not stand idly by in the face of foreign aggression.

Noam Chomsky recently offered his thoughts concerning Iran. In his view, the Trump Administration isn’t intending to go to war with Iran, but instead ramp up tensions in order to manufacture a crisis for the upcoming election and then offer to ‘solve’ it once re-elected: 

If the Trump strategists are thinking clearly — and I assume they are — the best way to approach the 2020 election is to concoct major threats all over: immigrants from Central America coming here to commit genocide against white Americans, Iran about to conquer the world, China doing this and that. But we will be saved by our bold leader … the one person who is capable of defending us from all of these terrible threats, not like these women who “won’t know how to do anything,” or “sleepy” Joe or “crazy” Bernie. That’s the best way to move into an election. That means maintaining tensions, but not intending to actually go to war.”

This, though, contradicts the apparent intentions of Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to goad Iran into war, but time will tell. One thing is clear: a combination of dropping the US out of the Iran Nuclear Deal (or JCPOA), the economic sanctions, and military pressure are strengthening the position of Iranian hardliners, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran, notably, does not have a nuclear weapons development program and poses little to no threat to the United States. Much of the fear that is manufactured by the media and politicians regarding Iran is just that- phony smokescreens invented by those who seek to project US imperial ambitions abroad. 

North Korea

North Korea has been featured in the news lately as a result of the Trump Administration attempting to restart diplomatic talks after the failed summit back in March. The previous breakdown resulted from US demands for North Korea to dismantle their nuclear program before granting any North Korean concessions (such as the lifting of economic sanctions or providing aid) could be met- a predictable result. 

Trump deserves credit for re-establishing diplomatic ties with North Korea. Yes, the first summit failed, but the effort counts. 

Trump himself recently flew to North Korea where he soon after became the first sitting US president to enter North Korea. The trip was another in a series for the Trump Administration, whose goals are the denuclearization of North Korea. What has been achieved so far is: 

  • A pledge from North Korea to suspend nuclear and long-range missile tests 
  • A shut down of North Korea’s nuclear test site
  • North Korea releasing US prisoners
  • US pledge to suspend military exercises with South Korea

The last claim is apparently shaky, as it’s being reported that there is an exercise currently planned between the US and South Korea, a breach of the agreement, as North Korea warns.  

Despite this, North Korea represents a different strategy for the Trump Administration compared to the significant military pressure exerted upon Iran, for example. There are two notable differences between the two countries: 1) North Korea bordering South Korea, forming a direct potential threat to US Camp Humphreys (an $11 billion installation) and 2) North Korea already possessing nuclear weapons (despite lacking a reliable long-range missile delivery system)- the most effective deterrent a nation can possess. 

It appears unlikely that the Trump Administration could muster the unity needed between Bolton and Pompeo on one hand who favor hardline and confrontational approaches and Trump who appears to desire a diplomatic means to the ultimate goal of a denuclearized North Korea. Still, the concessions gained on both sides seem somewhat promising compared to historical US-North Korean relations. 


Another matter of tentative good news on the US foreign policy front is Venezuela. After months of attempting an illegal overthrow of President Nicolas Maduro, The Washington Post and Business Insider are reporting that President Trump appears to be losing interest in the coup attempt. 

Administration officials, speaking on conditions of anonymity, describe Trump’s attitude that he “always thought of [Venezuela] . . . as low-hanging fruit” which Trump “could get a win and tout it as a major foreign policy victory.” “Five or six months later . . . it’s not coming together.”

April was a key moment on the US-backed coup attempt via opposition leader Juan Guido. Coups and revolutions nearly always require support (or non-involvement) of the military. The coup backers attempted to flip high ranking military officials in their loyalty from Maduro to Guido, but recently failed. The Trump Administration’s sought after “easy win” has thus turned into a difficult task, potentially turning Trump off from the ordeal- for now.

Some pressure from the Trump Administration to overthrow Maduro is likely to continue, however. US-backed Guido has recently attended protests and attempted to gain the support of oil conglomerate Chevron, which currently operates in Venezuela. 

Yet, pressure on Maduro’s overthrow has lessened from the fever pitch last written about in War Report 1. With continued oil sanctions on Venezuela- a primarily oil exporting country- revenues will continue to choke, thus continuing the political instability of Maduro’s government. The Trump Administration’s coup attempt may have decreased in pressure as of late, but expect that pressure to remain one way or another. 

Recently on July 25th, the 120 member nations of the Non-Aligned Countries (NAM) have approved a document officially recognizing Maduro as the president of Venezuela- a move that bolsters Maduro’s credibility internationally. 


Dubbed the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world”, the Yemen Civil War continues to rage, resulting in over 3.2 million people requiring treatment for acute malnutrition (two million of which are children under five). The death toll has recently neared 100,000. 

But as the conflict has intensified since March, there is increasing pressure worldwide to end the civil war between Houthi rebels (supported primarily by Iran) and the Hadi government (supported primarily by Saudi Arabia). Check out War Report 1 for a brief description of the conflict. 

Michael Horton, writing for The American Conservative, recently summed up the conflict (source: ): 

The overt reason for Saudi and Emirati involvement is to defeat the Houthi rebels, a Zaidi Shia group with deep roots in Yemen. Yet this hasn’t been achieved. The two Gulf States claim that the Houthis are proxies for Iran, but it has become increasingly clear that they are fiercely independent, and while they receive limited aid from Tehran, they do not take orders.”

Horton further notes that foreign involvement boils down to neo-colonialism:

the covert purpose of the ‘intervention’ has less to do with perceived Iranian influence than it does with securing access to Yemen’s strategic real estate and its natural resources. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are engaged in a neo-colonial war for power, resources, and territory. The two countries, which are increasingly in competition with one another, are trying to carve Yemen up into spheres of influence.”

The balance of forces can be seen via the updated Wikipedia page here.

Green areas represent Houthi-controlled territory with the red representing Hadi government forces. Note that Saudi Arabia is shown grey in the bottom left portion of the map. The yellow portion, forming the land controlled by the Southern Transitional Council (STC), is notable. The Hadi and STC forces were originally a coalition against the rebel Houthis, but have since split and are actively fighting one another- further weakening the strength of both.

On the part of the US, crucial munitions and weapons are being sent to key Hadi supporter Saudi Arabia, in addition to logistical and intelligence support. Since the US is important in its support for the Hadi government via Saudi Arabia, there have been multiple bipartisan congressional efforts to stop it, each time resulting in vetoes by President Trump. Citing the horrendous war crimes and massive civilian casualties inflicted by the Saudis, many members of Congress from both parties have been attempting to stop all US involvement in the war.

Trump is likely to veto any legislation Congress sends his way regarding Yemen as he sees support for Saudi Arabia as key to his foreign policy by means of billions in weapons sales and oil exports. That hasn’t stopped Congress from trying to end US involvement, but more domestic and/or international pressure will be required if the US support is to be cut off. 

There are two practical ways of achieving this: 1) obtaining enough Congressional support to override Trump’s vetoes with a two-thirds majority in each house (Senate and House of Representatives) or 2) forcing Trump to abandon the Saudis by not issuing a veto. 

International pressure to end the Saudi support for the Hadi government is fortunately ramping up steadily over time, and it is starting to show concrete results. 

In June, the UK arms support for Saudi Arabia was ruled unlawful, citing airstrikes which killed civilians in violation of humanitarian law. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also recently began to withdraw from the conflict, as (source: “UAE began pulling tanks and attack helicopters out of Yemen, as well as withdrawing hundreds of Emirati troops from the Red Sea coast.” The Hadi and Saudis have previously relied on a strong UAE role in the conflict, providing air support, intelligence, ground forces, and training to the forces fighting the Houthis. 


Long a reliable US partner dating back to the Cold War, Turkey is now beginning to pivot it’s support to Russia. Being a current NATO member and even a hopeful future European Union member hasn’t been enough to overcome the recent tensions Turkey has with the West- the US in particular. 

Turkish President Erdogan has recently accepted delivery of a Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system despite American pressure not to do so. Holding the S-400 system creates a security risk for the US, as Turkey recently ordered new American F-35 strike fighters- allowing Russian engineers who install the S-400 potential access to the F-35 has been deemed unacceptable by the Trump Administration, who has moved to block delivery and halt Turkish pilots training to use them. 

American officials warned Turkey against installing the S-400, citing a US law called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which requires sanctions to be placed upon countries who make a “significant transaction” (source: with the Russian government, but the subjective wording leaves enforcement at the judgement of the US President. It’s unclear at this point if Trump will, in fact, impose sanctions on Turkey. 

Another point of contention between Turkey and the US of late has been the Turks fighting against the US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), primarily made up of Kurds in northern Syria. Turkey has long opposed Kurdish independence and have shown themselves willing to risk fighting a US-backed (and directly supported) SDF force in Syria, a bad sign which bodes poorly for US-Turkish relations. 

Civil War in the Democratic Party

The Nature of The Swamp

For Democrats, it used to be easier. 

Step 1: Speak publicly about standing up for the working class, immigrants, social and racial justice, and other issues in order to get elected. Then, fundraise from corporate and other powerful donors at odds with the interests of your voters and safely bet few would notice.

Step 2: Once elected, pursue a legislative agenda which promotes your donor’s interests primarily, while symbolically throwing your voters a bone occasionally to keep them quiet. 

Step 3: Rinse and repeat until ‘retirement’, where you can then become a lobbyist for other candidates in their fundraising for Step 1. 

With this cycle, the Democrats- historically branding themselves as the party of the working class- have thrown workers overboard over time with this formula. Corporate and wealthy-funded Democrats now make up the vast majority of its members, even including most of the House Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). 

When these Democrats are raising money to sustain their campaigns from the most wealthy and powerful sources in America and elsewhere, what does a voter expect them to turn around and do once elected?

Newly elected US Representative Rashida Tlaib, who represents much of the Detroit area, recently commented that “we’re choosing developers and billionaires over real people — the people that actually put us in office.” 

The divide between elected Democrats’ legislative records versus their campaign rhetoric makes it difficult to accurately judge them without doing a fair bit of research, which many don’t have the time for. Consider the recent remarks from Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, during an interview for Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche (it’s unclear if he intended for Americans to read it with the unusually frank language he uses about the US political system):

“The Democratic Party, which for 100 years was the party of average people is now the party of the rich.

Donald Trump, who is often seen as this world-changing figure is actually a symptom of something that precedes him that I sometimes wonder if he even understands which is this realignment. He served the purpose of bringing the middle class into the Republican Party, which had zero interest, no interest in representing them at all. Trump intuitive, he felt, he could smell that there was this large group of voters who had no one representing them and he brought them to the Republican side, but the realignment is still ongoing.

In other words, the Democratic Party used to represent the middle class, it no longer does, it now hates the middle class. The Republican Party which has never represented the middle class doesn’t want to. That is the source of really all the confusion and the tension that you’re seeing now.”

Regardless of the highly doubtful likelihood of the Republican party ever shifting its policy to represent the working class, even those on the Fox News Right like Carlson have a sense as to what has happened to the Democratic party over the years. Fundraising from some of the same types of sources as the Republicans, but claiming to represent the average Joe creates inconsistency. 

The Third Way and New Democrat Movements

But systematically undercutting your voters can’t work forever, right? Surely there are bound to be Democratic voters who will catch on to the ruse and spoil the party. For them, you need a cover story- a smokescreen to hide behind. 

Answer: shift some of the messaging to instead appeal to centrists. Centrists, the corporate Democrats argued, are now the key to the electoral strategy. Maintain some of the rhetoric about representing the working class but shift to a more ‘realistic’ or ‘practical’ approach to grab up those voters in the center. Oh and dump those unions and leftists if need be. Move economic policy to the right (in order to capture a larger share of corporate and PAC money) while focusing the messaging on liberal social policies. 

Such was the mantra of both the New Democrat and Third Way Democrats who count among their kin Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Al Gore, Dianne Feinstein, Krysten Sinema, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, and many others

Matt Taibbi wrote in 2017:

Voters for decades were conned into thinking they were noisome minorities whose best path to influence is to make peace with the mightier “center,” which inevitably turns out to support military interventionism, fewer taxes for the rich, corporate deregulation and a ban on unrealistic “giveaway” proposals like free higher education. Those are the realistic, moderate, popular ideas, we’re told.

But it’s a Wizard of Oz trick, just like American politics in general. There is no numerically massive center behind the curtain. What there is instead is a tiny island of wealthy donors, surrounded by a protective ring of for-sale major-party politicians (read: employees) whose job it is to castigate too-demanding voters and preach realism.”

The result? Politically neutered Democratic messaging which tends to be meaningless from a practical policy perspective. Obama ran largely on platitudes like “hope and change”, but what exactly does that mean- what kind of change? You can see the same with Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and on and on. The messaging sounds nice on the surface, but leaves voters lacking any sort of concrete plan as to a candidate’s legislative agenda- you know, the main point of being elected in the first place. 

Money vs People

Partly as a result of the decades-long cadre of milquetoast Democrats offering bland and surface-deep policies, a new wave of elected officials is emerging. Launched in 2017, the Justice Democrats are a new left wing of the Democratic party- the organization itself initially being formed from The Young Turks’ Cenk Uyger,  Secular Talk’s Kyle Kulinski, and former members of Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign team. 

Their main mission? Ridding the political system of money in politics by requiring their members to refuse money from corporate PACs (Political Action Committees). 

Their electoral record in the 2018 midterms was notable for two things: 1) for being mostly a failure on paper, with Justice Democrats losing the vast majority of their elections. This could have been a combination of being a new organization, messaging/policies not being supportive enough, or lacking the large campaign funds available from PACs and wealthy donors. But the silver lining here is 2) the seven candidates that won have been some of the most high-profile congresspeople since. 

The winners were: Raul Grijalva, Ro Khanna, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Pramila Jayapal. Their numbers in Congress, although being practically minute, have been bolstered by their actions and policy proposals since taking office. Whether it’s protesting outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, proposing an Internet Bill of Rights, or the Green New Deal, such actions by these new Democrats are scaring much of the rank and file of both parties. 

Despite Democrats not having the ability to pass meaningful legislation with Republicans in control of the Senate and White House, what these Justice Democrats are still managing to accomplish is noteworthy. 

What is called the Overton Window, or the range of acceptable policy discussion, is starting to move left in part by these new Democrats after decades of being moved consistently to the right after the wake of the New Deal era as a result of the massive counter-offensive by big business and centers of power and wealth. This counter-offensive was written about here

Noam Chomsky put it well when he wrote: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

The Reaction

Rashida Tlaib recounts an early Congressional meeting she and Ilhan Omar had with fellow Representative Josh Gottheimer, dubbed a Democratic counter-revolutionary against the incoming Democrats and their progressive agenda. New to Congress and eager to begin networking with party members, Tlaib recalled that Gottheimer brought a colleague with him who brought a “white binder”. The binder reportedly contained a series of articles with Tlaib’s quotations which Gottheimer found “anti-Semitic” and which were presented “as requested by leadership”. 

The specific quotations were not specified, but reports of the meeting indicate an effort to keep Tlaib and Omar in line with the party mainstream, a strategy the establishment Democrats would struggle to employ against these new Democrats time and time again. 

Miles Kampf-Lassin of Jacobin has written a piece concerning this civil war among Democrats, mentioning that: 

 “Mainstream outlets have characterized the conflict as driven by generational tensions, or (on Pelosi’s side) simply a desire to protect Democratic incumbents from criticism. But the feud in fact speaks to something much deeper: Ocasio-Cortez and her allies are pushing for bold, transformational policies that would upend the current economic and political system. That campaign is coming into open conflict with a Democratic establishment that would prefer to just keep things as they are.”

Kampf-Lassin also goes on to write concerning the boldness these new Democrats possess, which flies in the face of their colleagues’ typical behavior:

They understand that Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters in the Justice Democrats don’t just want to knock off a few incumbents here and there; they want to create a political environment in which Democrats who put corporate-friendly policies over the demands of working-class Americans are seen as toxic — and they’re willing to take risks to achieve this goal.”

But worst of all for the establishment Democrats, one of the new Democrats’ key strategies- to rid the political system of corporate influence, appears to be picking up steam:

The recent record shows that the efforts of Ocasio-Cortez and the Left are having an impact. Since Ocasio-Cortez’s victory last year, Democrats up and down the ballot are swearing off corporate-PAC money.” 

On the Green New Deal proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Kampf-Lassin remarks (bold is mine): 

Rather than discussing carbon taxes and meager credits for renewable energy, as had long been the Democratic status quo, policymakers were now debating a wholesale transformation of America’s energy system that would impact nearly every sphere of the economy. While Pelosi scornfully referred to the plan as “the green dream or whatever,””

Ultimately, the author argues, the problem establishment Democrats have with these new Justice Democrats comes down to the allocation of political power: 

But the backlash from Democratic centrists is more than just resentment or jealousy. They really fear a policy program that threatens to shake the neoliberal political consensus that has dominated both parties for the past forty years.”

Nancy Pelosi, as the speaker of the House of Representatives, has been apt to downplay the attention that the Justice Democrats are getting in the media, recently saying of some: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world.” … “But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.” “Public whatever” is the kind of language an oligarch or a monarch would use, not a publicly elected official- and oddly enough, her Democratic party is marketed to represent the working class. 

The Intercept reports that In a recent House Democratic Caucus meeting, Pelosi reportedly said 

“Every time I’m attacked, I raise more money,” Pelosi said, looking directly at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and drawing huge applause from the caucus.”

But there is another angle.  Yes, much of the establishment Democrats oppose these new Justice Democrats on policy and are used to representing the leftmost boundary of acceptable debate in the US. But a recent report (source: highlights another crucial motivation for opposition. 

The old political party strategy of Democrats rising from the ranks of politics (for example: starting as office staff, then perhaps running for state congress, afterwards eventually to the national level, while fundraising from PACs and businesses) is being challenged. These insurgent Justice Democrats, the thinking goes, who leapfrog their way into national Congressional seats (remember, Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender before running for Congress), put into jeopardy the ladder system much of these Democrats rely upon. 

When a relatively unknown political candidate can upset a loyal Democrat, who has towed the moderate line for years, that party apparatus begins to break down and lose legitimacy.  And for many of the Democratic staffers, pundits, consultants, elected officials, and donors, this is a fundamental threat to their professional careers. 

Those on the right are also paying attention. Pat Buchanan of The American Conservative recently offered his thoughts on a recent conflict between Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib and establishment Democrats and how it might play out:

Observing the clash between Trump and these women, the rank and file of the Democratic Party are being forced to take sides. Many will inevitably side with the fighters, as Democratic moderates appear timid and tepid.”

The Washington Post is reporting that:

Trump’s tweets “yet again reinforced in the minds of many Americans that the Democratic Party is the party of AOC and Omar,” a Trump campaign adviser tells Power Up.

Many establishment Democrats are now looking over their shoulder at primaries by the Justice Democrats and are teaming up with Democratic leadership to stamp them down- all with the help of Republicans led by President Trump, who recently tweeted for several Justice Democrat members to leave the country if they don’t support the status quo. Shortly afterwards, Trump also tweeted

I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!” 

It has taken a mere seven freshmen members of the US House of Representatives to show how Pelosi and Trump are ultimately working for the same team: keep the establishment of power just the way it is.  

The Debt vs The Deficit – and The Coming Budget Battle They Hope You Won’t Understand

Back during the days of the Obama Administration, two claims were made about the budget: 

Oddly enough, both were true at the same time. 

This is due to the debt and deficit being two distinct terms. The debt represents the total accumulated amount of money over budget and the deficit represents a yearly amount of money over budget. 

To take an example: if in year 1 I spend $1 dollar more than I took in, I have a deficit of $1 and a debt of $1. In year two, if I also spend $1 dollar over my budget, I also have a $1 deficit, for year 2, but a new debt total of $2. If I then turn a new leaf for year 3 and only spend $0.50 more than I take in, my year 3 deficit is $0.50 and my debt will be $2.50, but I will have decreased my deficit in year 3 by 50%. 

In other words, deficits are recurring phenomena and the debt is the total accumulated amount of all deficits (or surpluses) which occurred in the past. 

Politicians and much of the media count on readers getting this wrong and thus use these two terms to reinforce their agendas. Obama’s supporters would tout his deficit decreases while his opponents would call him out for the increased amount of debt under his tenure. Both are correct, but what is key is recognizing these terms when they are used. It’s easy to get fooled and confused by deficits vs debts until this is understood. 

With that in mind, enter the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which was signed in 2017. The bill cut the corporate tax rate by 40%, raised the estate tax threshold (the amount the tax would kick in) by 100%, as well as additional cuts mostly favoring the wealthiest of earners (source: ). Such cuts have massive impacts on the federal budget, as will be shown, but this is likely by design of the bill’s key proponents. 

Same Old Song and Dance

Proponents of the bill touted ‘trickle-down economics’ stemming from the Reagan Administration: cut taxes on centers of wealth (corporations/the wealthy/etc), and those centers of wealth will then trickle wealth down on the rest of society, thus to the benefit of all. 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said of the bill, “Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,”. Senator Pat Toomey also mentioned that “I think this tax bill is going to reduce the size of our deficits going forward,”. 

This strategy has proven to be a fraud again and again

Trickle-down economics has such a dismal record that one wonders if it was simply an excuse cooked up in order to redistribute wealth to the top, consequences be damned. 

The consequences are starting to be seen. Take a look at historical deficits from the 2020 White House budget

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act largely took effect in 2018, and notice how quickly the deficits are expected to rise- likely in conjunction with one another. Causality is difficult to prove in such a large economy as ours, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that eliminating a big portion of revenue will result in higher deficits in the future. 

Economist Richard Wolff discussed the tax cut bill back in 2018 and described that although some businesses did, in fact, increase employment slightly, much of the funds of the tax cut that corporations saved went to stock buybacks- or in other words payments to shareholders of stock. 

And they wonder why our infrastructure is crumbling year after year. 

A Manufactured Crisis

To summarize quickly in stark terms: a tax cut bill was recently passed resulting in higher deficits, which are rising significantly, thus growing the debt each year. Add to that significantly increased military spending, and we have a budget problem on our hands. A budget problem in the middle of one of the largest periods of economic recovery in US history

It almost seems like this was planned all along: redistribute wealth to the top and use the resulting deficits to cut social and other government programs for everyone else. Rebekah Entralgo has put together some Congressional opinions of the tax bill’s proponents shortly after it took effect, exposing the game plan on this (bold is mine): 

  • Paul Ryan, then Speaker of the US House of Representatives: “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit
  • Pat Toomey, US Senator: “We’ve got entitlement spending that is not sustainable. These big spending programs that are growing faster than the economy. You can’t tax your way out of that problem. You’ve got to make some curbs
  • John Thune, US Senator: “If we’re going to do something about spending and debt, we have to get faster growth in the economy — which I hope tax reform will achieve. But we have also got to take on making our entitlement programs more sustainable. I think there is support, generally, here for entitlement reform.”
  • Tom Cole, US Representative: “If someone wants to get serious about debt, come talk to me about entitlements. Tax cuts produce growth, entitlement spending doesn’t.”

Bryce Covert writes

But now that they’ve succeeded in passing a tax package that will reduce government revenues so much, the ensuing cost will serve as the excuse to get everything else they want. They’ll count on our short memories to forget who created larger deficits in the first place. Those deficits will serve as the motivation to enact cuts they’ve sought all along. The tax bill isn’t just a regressive giveaway to corporations and the rich. It’s a Trojan horse with deep government reductions stuffed inside.”

Blowing a hole in the deficit is likely going to force negotiations over cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid (among others), and the prospects don’t look good for the working class. Look out for this coming budget battle to play out in the next year or so. 

What can be done?

What is needed is comprehensive tax reform to reverse the decades long trend of income redistribution from the poor and working class and a shift of that tax burden more towards the centers of power and wealth in this country. It’s been done before, via of the New Deal

Drastically reducing the military budget is another necessity, as the US spends an absurd amount on its military compared to the rest of the world. Multiple studies have been conducted (here and here) concluding that the US has spent between $4-$7 trillion in Middle East wars since 2001. 

Candidate Trump, as opposed to President Trump,  in 2016 stated: “We’ve wasted $6 trillion in wars in the Middle East. We could have rebuilt our country twice”. Many times when proposals arise for social programs to benefit workers, the common ‘how are you going to pay for it?’ question arises. Almost never will a reader hear it for wars and military spending, though, and where has our trillions spent in the Middle East gotten us? 

Add up the reportedly $1 trillion spent on the War on Drugs, the hundreds of billions spent subsidizing fossil fuels, the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008, the tax cut bill mentioned already, and the recent audit of the Pentagon from 1998-2015 which resulted in trillions of dollars unable to be accounted for, and readers can get the picture of what is going on. 

For these programs, the narrative wasn’t ‘how are you going to pay for that?’ because they benefit wealth and power. Credence Clearwater Revival put it well in their song Fortunate Son

Some folks are born, silver spoon in hand

Lord, don’t they help themselves, y’all

But when the taxman comes to the door

Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale

The question is not whether the money is there, it’s instead how it’s going to be spent, and for what purpose?

A mandate from the poor and working class is necessary. Only then will the budget be accommodated enough to warrant the infrastructure, social, and other spending that is sorely needed. Such a program like the New Deal could take decades to put into fruition, but one key element will be banking and monetary policy. 

Readers may find banking and monetary policy to be a bore but it’s vital to understanding our economics. 

A recent development in money and banking has emerged called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Readers can listen to a description of it here and here and read a debate about this controversial theory here and here from both a skeptic and proponent of MMT.

In short: MMT focuses on governments that can issue their own currency or have it done for them via a central bank (the Federal Reserve, in the case of the US). For these governments, the central bank can create money to pay for things such as government programs, avoiding default, and the promotion of full employment, among others. The old concept of governments being constrained by debts and deficits is outdated, MMT theorists claim, since a central bank can create money for services it deems fit. 

If a central bank creates too much money to result in inflation, the central bank can then recover money back from the economy in the form of taxes and selling assets, thus balancing the previous spending. 

MMT, proponents would argue, is one way to fund such an ambitious- and needed- social program like a New Deal 2.0, or Green New Deal, as was recently introduced by Representative Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez.

A Discussion with Economist Richard Werner 

But MMT has its skeptics and opponents.  Richard Werner, economist, professor, and author of Princes of the Yen which has also been made into a documentary, has been kind enough to provide his insight into Modern Monetary Theory regarding its viability and practicality. 

Q: With new discussion around Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its seeming usefulness to highlight the ability of central banks to buy up bad debt in exchange for fresh monetary reserves (similar to what happened with the Bank of Japan after WWII), is such a reality desirable in the US if, for example, sufficiently high national debt coupled with a crippling recession were to occur?

Werner: After 1945, the Bank of Japan did not buy up national debt, but instead it bought the non-performing assets from the banks in order ensure they can increase bank credit creation again and thus cause an economic recovery. This worked well. I wrote about it here.

I advised such action in the 1990s in Japan, a discussion that Ben Bernanke participated in. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York in fact did do this in October 2008, which is why bank credit creation recovered very quickly.

However, it should be noted that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is 100% privately-owned and thus not directly subject to government control. Consequently, this new theory once again remains in the theoretical dream world that economics seem to have retreated to long ago.

Instead of more theoretical economics that is removed from economic reality, I strongly recommend Scientific Economics, which is the new branch of economics I have been building up. I contend that there is no good reason not to use the scientific research method also in economics. I know, it is radical and most economists – mainstream and unorthodox – hate the idea that empirical reality should be more important than their preferred fancy ideas, ‘axioms’ or other wishful thinking devised by some guru they admire.

Moreover, it is worth mentioning that my original definition of ‘Quantitative Easing’ – then a new monetary policy, which I proposed in 1994/1995 in Japan – was defined as increasing bank credit creation for the real economy (GDP transactions), which can be achieved, among other measures, by the central bank purchasing the banks’ non-performing assets to clean their balance sheets. This does not use tax payers’ money and hence does not increase national debt. It also does not create money and hence cannot result in inflation. My proposal is based on the Quantity Theory of Disaggregated Credit, which solves the empirical puzzles found in the other schools of thought in macroeconomics (see e.g. here or here)

For other measures to stimulate the economy after a banking crisis, even with a non-cooperative (independent) central bank, see my other policy proposal called ‘Enhanced Debt Management’ explained in detail here.

Q: Regarding your original Quantitative Easing policy relating to a given central bank purchasing such assets: am I correct in stating that although it wouldn’t involve tax payer money, it would still contribute to inflation, but only slightly? I ask because as I understand it, such activities of central banks, or at least in the US, account for only a small portion of money creation in the economy- the largest portion coming from fractional reserve lending via commercial banks.

Werner: No, central bank purchases of the non-performing assets from the banks’ balances sheets would not involve any inflation. Quite impossible. So if a central bank thought that with this policy they can generate inflation, it’s a big mistake.

Proof: The Fed purchased the non-performing assets from the US big banks and even insurance companies, quadrupling its balance sheet within one month. No inflation. No weakening of the dollar.

Explanation: As I argued when I proposed this in the early 1990s, central bank purchases of assets from banks does not involve money creation. Money creation takes place when the money creating parts of the system inject new purchasing power into the rest of the economy. The central bank and banks make up the banking system, which is the money creating part of the economy. Any transaction within this money creating part, such as between the central bank and the banks, has no direct impact on the rest of the economy. Since no new money is directly injected as a result of this transaction into the non-banking economy, there cannot be inflation.

Q: You mentioned that the Federal Reserve is privately owned and thus the benefits of MMT when it comes to stimulating or recovering an economy is purely theoretical.

But given a movement of sufficient popular pressure or legislative reform, and notwithstanding (or even in conjunction) with your prescription for bank-to-bank operations already discussed, in your view is it possible that on a national level the Federal Reserve could be compelled to act in such a way that MMT advocates argue for? Namely by using the Federal Reserve coupled with fiscal policy to, for example, boost employment, provide services, etc.

If a central bank could be compelled to act in such a way (and given the immense difficulty of achieving this due to their independence), it seems to me analogous to Japan’s Window Guidance program only on a national level. 

Werner: I think we are called to analyse the situation in the current institutional setting. Changing the setting as a basis of analysis makes it far more hypothetical and theoretical. But if we do engage the political process to change the setting, then nationalising the Fed or, as Milton Friedman recommended, incorporating the Fed into the US Treasury, would be a good next step. But simply – and counter-factually – assuming this has already happened is counter-productive.

Julian Assange and What His Coming Extradition Means for Press Freedom

The media is largely missing one of the most important stories of our time. Not that it’s a surprise, with most of our corporate-consolidated media landscape focused on shareholder interests and other political establishment-friendly news. 

Here’s the scoop: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, recently arrested from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he faces extradition to the US, may become a sacrificial lamb upon the alter of secrecy for those in power. This story may seem trivial the way much of the media is portraying it, but at stake here is the very press freedom that journalists in the US use to uncover uncomfortable truths when our institutions stray from ethics and morality.  The ‘right of the public to know’ is in the crosshairs. 

For readers not versed in the Julian Assange or WikiLeaks story, here’s a quick too-busy-for-a-deep-dive version:

Assange, an Australian, is the founder of WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes information, often classified, by anonymous sources. From their website, WikiLeaks says that “Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public”. “One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth”. 

True to their word, much of the source material they publish is made publicly available here and has been widely cited and used by many media organizations in order to uncover uncomfortable truths. Here are a few notable examples: 

  • Classified US military documents and reports detailing war crimes committed in Iraq, as well as State Department cables
  • Hillary Clinton/DNC emails showing collaboration to prevent Bernie Sanders winning the 2016 Democratic Primary
  • CIA hacking phones, TVs, and social media- including remote activation of devices
  • The US using the World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) as “financial weapons” against other governments
  • Evidence exposing the torture of Guantanamo Bay prisoners

The content that WikiLeaks publishes with the crucial help of whistleblowers is damaging to many of those in powerful positions, who seek to cover up information which is potentially damaging to them. 

Of the military and State Department leaks published by Assange with the help of Army whistleblower Bradley Manning, US officials began targeting Assange. It is important to note that those going after Assange and WikiLeaks point out that (bold is mine): 

To be clear – such disclosures put at risk our diplomats, intelligence professionals, and people around the world who come to the United States for assistance in promoting democracy and open government”. Additionally, “Wikileaks has put at risk… the lives and work of these individuals

Despite this statement, no apparent link or evidence to any deaths or lives at stake have been provided

The Obama Administration set records for going after whistleblowers and the press, and considered legally targeting Julian Assange himself via prosecution after publishing classified US documents. The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald points out that of the Obama administration: 

It spent years exploring whether it could criminally charge Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing classified information. It ultimately decided it would not do so, and could not do so, consistent with the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment. After all, the Obama DOJ concluded, such a prosecution would pose a severe threat to press freedom because there would be no way to prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents without also prosecuting the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian and others for doing exactly the same thing.”

The Trump Administration, as will be shown, is taking a different approach. 

Assange himself is a controversial figure. Involved in a couple sexual assault allegations in 2010 when he was in Sweden, Assange has been a wanted man for almost 10 years. 

Attorney Nils Melzer mentions of Assange’s most recent case: 

“”He was in Sweden at the time,” Melzer said. “He immediately went to a police station himself and said, ‘Could I please make my statement and participate in this?’ Sweden law prohibits the publication of the name of the complainant and the suspected offender in a sexual offense case. His statement was taken. Two or three days later, the prosecutor closed the case, saying, ‘There was no evidence of any crime being committed at all.’ ””

Three days later a different prosecutor reopened the case. Melzer notes that:

““They asked him to come back to Sweden for questioning,” Melzer said. “Then Mr. Assange became a little bit suspicious. ‘I thought we had dealt with this. What is the issue?’ He was afraid that he was being called back so Sweden could surrender him to the U.S.”

Assange then sought refuge at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after being granted asylum by Ecuador’s then president Rafael Correa. Despite being confined to what amounts to an apartment for years, Assange continued his work at WikiLeaks until his recent arrest. 

Newly elected Ecuadorian president, Lenin Moreno, angered over WikiLeaks publishing reports of a corruption scandal against him, then claimed Assange violated his asylum while hacking officials:

“Mr. Assange has violated the agreement we reached with him and his legal counsel too many times,” Moreno said in the interview in the city of Guayaquil. “It is not that he cannot speak and express himself freely, but he cannot lie, nor much less hack private accounts or phones.”

Despite Moreno’s accusations, Assange appears to be a political football, here. 

In an alleged deal between Vice President Mike Pence and President Moreno, Ecuador would 1) adopt the US position regarding overthrowing Maduro in Venezuela, 2) end South American economic integration (classic divide and conquer tactics), and 3) revoke Assange’s asylum status, where London authorities could then arrest him. In exchange, Ecuador would receive a $4.2 billion loan from the IMF (International Monetary Fund).  

Soon after the deal was struck, Assange was arrested on April 11, “on behalf of the United States authorities” according to a police statement, in London after his asylum status was removed. 

Where Obama aggressively went after whistleblowers and the press who published damaging information, Obama recognized the threat to freedom of the press and the 1st Amendment by actually convicting whistleblowers and their publishers like Assange’s WikiLeaks. Doing so would set a legal precedent allowing the government to imprison any and all news organizations who publish secret and classified information. It’s unclear what the 1st Amendment would even apply to at that point. 

The Trump Administration does not have this view and is willing and eager to prosecute Assange. The Nation’s Bruce Shapiro writes that:   

Like Nixon, Trump has no obvious interest in prosecuting leaks of years-old controversies that damage the reputation of a past administration. But like Nixon, he will seize any opportunity to weaken an independent press.

Trump also understands—better than Nixon did—American journalism’s chronic lack of solidarity.”

In addition to a lack of solidarity, the press oftentimes merely functions as a mouthpiece for those in power. 

Hear the silence so loud

Consider the reporting found here, here, here, and here. Notice that these articles contain facts that are essentially accurate, but completely miss the big picture: what Assange’s prosecution will mean for their very own organizations and journalists. Once a reader understands this about our media- that they many times report stories (biased or not) and still mislead the public by what they do or don’t publish, mainstream media will start making sense. This has been explained before.

The Administration may even be aided by some Democrats, who, as Greenwald discusses

But the grand irony is that many Democrats will side with the Trump DOJ over the Obama DOJ. Their emotional, personal contempt for Assange – due to their belief that he helped defeat Hillary Clinton: the gravest crime – easily outweighs any concerns about the threats posed to press freedoms by the Trump administration’s attempts to criminalize the publication of documents.”

The charges against Assange can be officially found here:

Readers will notice that the first 17 counts relate to attempting, obtaining, and disclosing national defense information which has been discussed above. Curiously, count 18 is another story. 

As has been noted, Conspiracy to Commit Computer Intrusion is akin to hacking. But what makes count 18 important is this: since Assange wasn’t hacking in the normal sense, but instead attempting to access documents via a different account than Manning (his source) to protect Manning’s anonymity, the indictment has broad applicability to journalists everywhere. It is seen as an ethical responsibility for journalists to protect the anonymity of sources, who would otherwise be easily and quickly targeted. 

If journalists have an ethical responsibility to protect the anonymity of their sources, a successful prosecution of Assange can make this ethical responsibility a direct violation of the law. 

In other words, Assange being found guilty will mean that a legal precedent is established allowing the US government to legally target whistleblowers, journalists, or news organizations for publishing information by “those not entitled to receive it”, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reports

Taibbi continues: 

I’m not exaggerating when I say virtually every reporter who’s ever done national security reporting has at some time or another looked at, or been told, or actually received copies of, “national defense” information they were technically “not entitled to receive.”

Anyone who covers the military, the intelligence community, or certain congressional committees, will eventually stumble – even just by accident – into this terrain sooner or later. Even I’ve been there, and I’ve barely done any reporting in that space.”

What happens from here

On May 1st 2019, Assange was jailed by the UK for skipping bail after Ecuador removed his asylum status. The sentence is 50 weeks, and he is expected to be extradited to the US before he is released from custody. 

Following this story is akin to watching a train wreck in slow motion- the consequences for press freedom will prove dire if Assange ends up extradited and convicted. Media organizations will do well to note John Donne’s famous linenever send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

War Report 2: US Moving Closer to the Precipice of War with Iran

The idea of war with Iran is starting to move beyond mere rhetoric. Congress recently conducted an all-night Armed Services Committee hearing related to Iran that ended at 7am. During the hearing, US Representative Ro Khanna introduced a resolution, barring any funding to an Iranian war. It is not yet clear whether this would pass Congress, but it seems unlikely to pass the Senate.

This Armed Services Committee hearing came after a closed door session of Congress in which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a prominent Iran hawk, believes the Trump Administration has the authorization to enter a conflict with Iran without Congressional approval. Considering how weak Congress was in opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and coupled with the strong national security state apparatus currently in place, Trump’s Administration apparently believes it can attack Iran unilaterally via the executive, should Congress oppose it.

This brings us to President Trump. Thus far, his behavior, as I have noted in the first War Report, does not seem to indicate a particular desire to invade or attack Iran, outside fracturing diplomatic relations by violating the JCPOA (Iran Nuclear Deal). He seems (at this point) fortunately reluctant toward a war, but in the end, that may not matter much considering who he has appointed in his Administration.

The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison has been doing great reporting on the Iran issue lately and has recently wrote of National Security Advisor John Bolton (another Iran hawk):

He is concentrating an extraordinary amount of power in his own hands at the expense of the quality of the policy process. Watching as he has been able to get his way on almost everything over the last year shows us the practical consequences of allowing an unelected, unconfirmed fanatic to run U.S. foreign policy according to his preferences.”

Larison continues:

Bolton limits information that reaches the president so that he can filter everything and put his spin on every new event. This allows Bolton to spoonfeed Trump his ideological agenda, and the famously incurious and ill-informed president probably has no idea that he is being kept in the dark that there are other policy options and views available that he might choose from.”

Here is what the strategy appears to be on behalf of the Iran hawks: apply maximum pressure on Iran in order to provoke them into attacking either US forces or others in the Persian Gulf region. The first War Report reported a carrier task force and bomber group being moved into the Gulf theater. There are now an additional 1,000 troops being moved to the Middle East for “defensive purposes”.

Such false flags have been used in the past as pretexts for the US to initiate war. The Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964 reportedly involved a North Vietnamese attack on US naval vessels. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident was the reason used for a formal US invasion of South Vietnam which would be termed the Vietnam War. Except that later, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara admitted the attack never happened.

It’s a classic strategy: position your forces close to the enemy and wait for clashes-real, imagined, accidental, or intentional to occur. Then, use this clash as a pretext to launch a war.

A current map shows US military installations surrounding Iran.

There have already been reported attacks on Japanese and Norwegian oil tankers which are alleged to be the responsibility of Iran. Alleged is the key word here, as it appears most of the world is still evaluating the evidence. However, Secretary Pompeo recently proclaimed on Fox News that “There’s no doubt” it was Iran. Iran has denied involvement- it’s still too soon to conclusively know who is at fault. The Intercept’s Deconstructed podcast had a recent discussion on this, and it is worth a listen.

What is more important than who attacked the tankers is how the Trump Administration responds going forward.

The gears of war appear to be turning and Congress is increasingly becoming involved, whether or not the Administration deems their support necessary for starting a war with Iran. Despite such a conflict being entirely unnecessary and avoidable, the Iran hawks may have their war anyway.  

How Did We Get Here?

The signs are easy enough to see, if one is looking. 40% of Americans are reportedly unable to cover a $400 emergency. 45,000 people in the US die every year since they can’t afford healthcare, which is a leading cause of bankruptcy, to many even with health insurance. Student loan debt has recently hit $1.5 trillion: an average of $37,172 per borrower upon graduation. Job insecurity continues to be a fact of life for many with outsourcing in full steam, and scores of Americans feel alienated from politics and the institutions they are subject to, falling back on passivity and nihilism. It’s no surprise that trust levels have also been declining for decades.

The UN in 2017 sent a Special Rapporteur to the US in order to report on poverty and human rights. His full report can be found here and is best summarized by his statement that:

American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations.  But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.  As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”

All of this is during one of the largest economic expansions in US history with low levels of official unemployment . Why the disconnect? How can so many experts be saying the economy is doing so well but for much of the working class, we seemingly never fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and great recession? The answer lies partly in what economic class one belongs to.

According to a recent 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, working class wealth is still lower now after years of this ‘economic expansion’ than before the 2008 financial crisis sparked the great recession in the first place. But after only two years in 2009, while the recession was still felt in full force, the wealth of the top income brackets rose by 28% and hasn’t stopped rising since.

For much of the mass media, consisting of multi-billion dollar corporate conglomerates owned by the wealthiest American shareholders, our economy is doing just fine, thank you. For the regular Americans of the working class, it’s another story.

Contrast our current situation with that of the 1960s: adjusted for inflation, rent has gone up 46% since then, the cost of owning a home has risen by 73%, college education up 400%. To keep up with greatly increased costs of living, wages for the working class have not kept up with inflation, being essentially stagnant since the early 1970s- no coincidence, as will be shown.

The 1960s were a time of political action, protest, and activism for large portions of the US population. The Civil Rights movement was in full force. The protests of the Vietnam War intensified. The hippie movement was emerging- all amidst the Cold War with the Soviets. This greatly worried the elites at the time, who resented masses of people challenging elite supremacy of power in American society.

In today’s age, conspiracy theories abound. From a population deprived of a voice in how society is run, it seems natural that grand conspiracies about any number of things exist in attempts to make some sense of a world gone mad. What follows is not a story one of shadowy figures or secret meetings held in dark, smoke filled rooms. It is all public record, released for anyone to read for themselves. I will of course be hyperlinking so the readers can do their own research to validate it.

As a first reaction to the political activity of the 1960s, former American Bar Association president and corporate lawyer Lewis Powell was commissioned by the US Chamber of Commerce in 1971 to report confidentially on how the US business community could again retake the levers of power in the country where they appeared to be slipping out of their grasp. The report was discovered by the Washington Post one year later and publicly released. It can be found here and is a fascinating read.

The report opens with “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under attack”. Powell mentions of the sources of the attacks that they are “from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians”. In other words, there was steadily increasing pressure on the elites of society from below, and we can’t have that.

Powell details steps needed to take back control for the interests of the powerful and large corporations (bold as follows is mine):

  1. A significant first step by individual corporations could well be the designation of an executive vice president whose responsibility is to counter- on the broadest front- the attack on the enterprise system. The public relations department could be one of the functions assigned to this executive.” Essentially, delegating a role for the public relations departments as corporate propaganda.
  2. He next notes that “independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient”. Instead, “the role of the Chamber of Commerce is therefore vital. Other national organizations should join in the fight, but no other organizations appears to be as well situated as the Chamber. It enjoys a strategic position, with a broad base of support” and that “there are hundreds of local Chambers of Commerce which can play a vital role”.
  3. For colleges and universities, Powell recommended the Chamber “consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system.” He also notes that for textbooks, they should be oriented in a way as to “include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism. Most of the existing textbooks have some sort of comparisons, but many are superficial, biased and unfair.” Meaning these textbooks don’t make us look good by definition and that must be fixed.
  4. Of television “The national television networks should be monitored in the same way that textbooks should be kept under constant surveillance”. Concerning advertisements, the Chamber should support “a sustained, major effort to inform and enlighten the American people.”
  5. Regarding the court system, “this is a vast opportunity for the Chamber” who “need a highly competent staff of lawyers. In special situations it should be authorized to engage, to appear as counsel amicus to the Supreme Court, lawyers of national standing and reputation.”
  6. Of widely successful consumer advocate and lawyer at the time, Ralph Nader, Powell also called for opposing his efforts: “there should be no hesitation to attack the Naders, the Marcuses and others who openly seek destruction of the system”

To sum the Powell Memorandum up: use the PR departments of large corporations to promote the interests of individual big businesses, but most importantly, unite such large businesses together in order to pool their power and influence in society via Chambers of Commerce (and later Political Action Committees (PACs). This influence should be targeted at ‘education’, advertising, using the financial clout of large corporations to influence politics, and denigration of public figures fighting for the interests of consumers, Ralph Nader being only one example.

Lewis Powell would then be appointed to the Supreme Court that year in 1971 by Richard Nixon.

The next big ‘call to arms’ came in the form of a 1975 report to the Trilateral Commission called “The Crisis of Democracy”, written by Samuel Huntington who was an influential Harvard political scientist, among others. The Trilateral Commission is an organization of political and economic elites who seek to foster international support and cooperation for their agenda. Their work The Crisis of Democracy can be found here (text version here) and the print version can be bought, although it is rare to find since it was printed in limited numbers.

The report points out that:

Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers. By the mid-1960s, the sources of power in society had diversified tremendously, and this was no longer possible.” Furthermore, “Previously passive or unorganized groups in the population now embarked on concerted efforts to establish their claims to opportunities, positions, rewards, and privileges, which they had not considered themselves entitled to before.

Translation: rule by the elite was the norm but is now being challenged by larger and larger portions of the population. And we elites can’t abide by this.

The report goes on to point out that due to the strength of the qualities inherent in democratic societies:

The success of the existing structures of authority in incorporating large elements of the population into the middle class, paradoxically, strengthens precisely those groups which are disposed to challenge the existing structures of authority.”

Meaning when more and more of the poor are elevated into higher strata of income and standing in society, this creates a positive feedback loop wherein these people then go on to use their positions to challenge elite control, which are defended by such “existing structures of authority”.

Moving on:

At the same time, a pervasive spirit of democracy may pose an intrinsic threat and undermine all forms of association, weakening the social bonds which hold together family, enterprise, and community. Every social organization requires, in some measure, inequalities in authority and distinctions in function.” We can’t let the masses of people exercise control over our society because that would threaten the interests of who already run the show. Furthermore, it’s natural that our tiny minority run things and this shouldn’t be questioned.

Finally, to sum up the problem in their words:

In the past, those institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society have been the family, the church, the school, and the army. The effectiveness of all these institutions as a means of socialization has declined severely.”

Thus, the report recommends that:

  1. Some “centralization of power in Congress” is necessary in order to curb the power of “private interest groups”- ‘private interest groups’ being the population at large.
  2. The report notes the following: “A more highly educated, more affluent, and generally more sophisticated public is less willing to commit itself blindly and irrevocably to a particular party and its candidates. Yet partisan allegiances, along with party conflicts, have historically been the bedrock of democracy.” Basically, education of the people leads them to disavow party loyalties, and party loyalties are what we (the owners) use to ‘divide and conquer’ the population in order to ensure our own status- this is ‘our’ kind of democracy. Such reasoning calls to mind the popular phrase ‘we have one political party in this country with two wings’. Party politics is how elites can prevent the US population from uniting in their own interests and thus preserve the status quo for themselves and prevent this excessive democracy the elites speak of.
    1. As a side note, the thinking that ‘those people of the other party are the source of all of our problems’ is the exact kind of thinking that this report recommends to fracture the population and thus render them politically inept.
  3. Regarding the media: “But there is also the need to assure to the government the right and the ability to withhold information at the source. In addition, there is no reason for denying to public officials equal protection of the laws against libel, and the courts should consider moving promptly to reinstate the law of libel as a necessary and appropriate check upon the abuses of power by the press.” This one is densely worded and a bit confusing to understand, but in essence it means whistleblowers and other media watchdogs who can report damaging/abusive things about the government, corporations, etc. should be limited in their ability to inform the public. Keep a lid on the information which could hurt us, in other words.
  4. On colleges and universities: “higher educational institutions should be induced to redesign their programs so as to be geared to the patterns of economic development and future job opportunities”. Translation: instead of higher education promoting increased knowledge and intellectual development of students, it should instead be geared towards getting them jobs. Educate students on how to use and run the machines, but not to question our authority and the systems the workers are participating in.
  5. In the workplaces: “deep resentment and frustrations have developed, feeding back into the more conventional aspects of labor-management bargaining.” Labor unions are threatening profits and the ability of corporations to run the companies. Therefore, “industry should be given all possible incentives to move ahead and implement gradually new modes of organization” i.e., union busting.
  6. And lastly, the report recommends “securing support and resources from foundations, business corporations, labor unions, political parties, civic associations, and, where possible and appropriate, governmental agencies” since “Such mutual learning experiences are familiar phenomena in the economic and military fields; they must also be encouraged in the political field”. This closely echoes what the Powell Memorandum recommended: organize the centers of wealth and power in the country and use it to maintain their positions from the population at large.

Granted, these two documents were released back in the 1960s and 1970s, but the reason they are still relevant is that the social, political, and economic landscapes that exist today are partly a result of the strategies in these documents, if not directly due to the documents themselves. These documents represent the broad counteroffensive that the powerful, both politically and economically, launched in response to the democratizing forces being exerted on them from below in the 1960s and 1970s. We can see the effects of this counteroffensive all around us today.

Ithiel Pool, who at the time was the Chairman of the Department of Political Science at MIT, wrote of the people in Vietnam, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic:

order depends on somehow compelling newly mobilized strata to return to a measure of passivity and defeatism… At least temporarily the maintenance of order requires a lowering of newly acquired aspirations and levels of political activity

Are us ordinary Americans any different from those in Vietnam, the Congo, and the Dominican Republic?

The point here isn’t to promote the idea that there are masters who control everything in our society. Far from it.

FDR and his coalition were able to pass the legislation of the New Deal despite powerful corporate opposition and a plot to assassinate him. FDR would remark that:  

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me-and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”

Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 despite him running largely outside the establishment Republican mold (and even with some Never Trump Republicans opposing him at least in rhetoric if not in votes) and against a Democratic opponent who was virtually christened to win the election by established power. The fact that the Trump Administration turned around and then embraced the political and economic establishment by cabinet appointments and policy can either indicate the influence of established power, the incompetency of the President, or both, but that is beside the point.

Trump may have run on being the ‘strongman who can fix all of our problems’, but the reality is that in order to establish decent working conditions, a realistic cost of living, and legitimate political representation, the people need to demand it from below through grassroots organization and solidarity. Merely casting a vote every four years in hopes everything gets better on its own will assuredly fail. Power is not relinquished without a mandate.

US Voters are Closer than Ever to Electing the President During Elections

It may surprise some that the winner of US presidential elections is not necessarily the candidate who receives more votes than their opponent. For a country that likes to consider itself a democracy, such a reality is a bit contradictory from what many of us have been led to believe in our education and much of the media. In modern times alone there have been two elections where the president lost the popular vote but was still elected president. George W. Bush won in 2000 despite losing to Al Gore by 543,000 votes and Donald Trump won in 2016 despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2,868,686 votes.

So how are US presidents really chosen, if not by national vote totals? Answer: The Electoral College.

In short, the electoral college consists of 538 electors who physically cast their votes in order to choose the president. The number 538 comes from all of the members of the US House of Representatives (435) and the Senate (100) combined with Washington D.C’s votes (3), but note that these elected officials are not electors in the electoral college themselves- they instead represent each state’s electoral college votes. Each state is appointed one electoral vote for each Senate and House member they have in US Congress. Michigan, for example, currently has 2 state senators and 14 house members for a total of 16 Electoral College votes total.

When you as a regular voter cast your ballot for president, you are not technically choosing who the president will be but are instead voting for a college of electors who will then make the choice for you.

The origins of the electoral college go way back to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The electoral college was the result of a compromise between northern states who had higher populations and thus more voting power and southern states who had a smaller population, 40% of which was enslaved at the time. A political battle ensued, the result of which the electoral college was born, with each slave counting as three-fifths of a person for representation and electoral college votes being allotted by the number of US House of Representatives seats from each state coupled with each state’s two Senators.

To clarify: The House of Representatives itself represents a proportional system of representation. This means the states with higher populations have more Representatives than smaller states, and this number potentially changes every time a census is conducted. Michigan, for example, had as much as 21 electoral votes in the 1960s and 1970s because more people lived in the state, thus meaning Michigan had more House of Representative members or seats in US Congress. The Senate, on the other hand, benefits smaller states, since the smallest of states still get the same two Senators (and thus two electoral votes) as the states with the largest states. When some refer to the Senate as a minority institution, this is partly what they are referring to.  

One may then ask: who are these electors in the Electoral College and how are they chosen? The electors are chosen by a different process depending on each state. Some are chosen by the state’s political parties, some by the presidential candidates themselves. For example, Michigan, according to the Secretary of State:

Presidential candidates on the Michigan ballot submit a list of 16 qualified electors to the Secretary of State’s Office. The 16 electors whose candidate wins Michigan’s popular vote will participate in the Electoral College at the State Capitol in December.”

In other words, for 2016, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump chose 16 people to represent them in the Electoral College should they win the state. Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes, (47.50% of votes to Clinton’s 47.27%) so all of Trump’s chosen electors ended up casting their vote for him, resulting in Trump’s 16 Electoral College votes from Michigan.

But wait, you may ask: since Trump won by only 0.23% in Michigan, wouldn’t it make sense for him to win a somewhat even but greater proportion of electoral votes than Clinton, say 9 of 16 votes instead of all 16? A proportional representation model may make more sense, but most states currently have a winner-take-all system in place which means that the candidate who wins more votes (basically one more vote than the other candidate) wins the entire state’s electoral vote total. The exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, who apportion their electoral votes by congressional district as opposed to the whole state.

So what is keeping the electors in the Electoral College from voting for anyone they damn well please? Technically, they could vote for anyone, but as the US National Archives puts it:

There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires Electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states. Some states, however, require Electors to cast their votes according to the popular vote. These pledges fall into two categories—Electors bound by state law and those bound by pledges to political parties.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the Constitution does not require that Electors be completely free to act as they choose and therefore, political parties may extract pledges from electors to vote for the parties’ nominees. Some state laws provide that so-called “faithless Electors” may be subject to fines or may be disqualified for casting an invalid vote and be replaced by a substitute elector. The Supreme Court has not specifically ruled on the question of whether pledges and penalties for failure to vote as pledged may be enforced under the Constitution. No Elector has ever been prosecuted for failing to vote as pledged.

Today, it is rare for Electors to disregard the popular vote by casting their electoral vote for someone other than their party’s candidate. Electors generally hold a leadership position in their party or were chosen to recognize years of loyal service to the party. Throughout our history as a nation, more than 99 percent of Electors have voted as pledged.”

In other words, if an elector disregards the state’s popular vote, there will likely be ramifications of some sort, but it is a bit of a grey area since almost no electors have done so in the past.

If our Electoral College system seems complicated and convoluted, that’s because it is- remember, it was a hotly contested compromise from over 200 years ago when slavery still existed. But there is an alternative: tally all the votes nationwide and then have the candidate who receives the most votes win. In other words, a national popular vote: one person, one vote.

Enter the National Popular Vote Movement.

Or the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, to be exact. Their website is here. This compact (which we’ll refer to as NPV), started in 2006, is a way to adopt a popular vote but still remain within the confines of the electoral college- in other words, getting around the electoral college without removing it entirely. Before I explain how NPV works, here is how the US Constitution delegates the choosing of the US president (bold is mine):

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector

This is understandably arcane language and typical of political documents, but it should all make more sense in light of what we’ve discussed above. Essentially, the bold text affirms that the states have the power to choose how a president is chosen via electors, but the electors themselves cannot be an elected official.

Given this, here is how NPV works:

Step 1): this bill is introduced and passed in a state legislature (House of Representatives and Senate) and signed by the governor. Once this happens, the electoral votes for that state are then tallied into NPV’s electoral college vote total.

Step 2): Once enough states pass the bill to add up to 270 electoral college votes (which is a majority of the electoral college total of 538), the bill then activates and takes effect, thus ensuring that the next president is chosen via a popular vote. In other words, once the bill activates after a majority of electoral votes is achieved, the states who passed it then allocate their majority electoral college votes to whichever candidate wins the nationwide popular vote, instead of who won their particular state’s votes.

Thus, NPV uses the rules of the electoral college to institute a national popular vote without eliminating the electoral college entirely. Step 2 is where the process gets confusing, so note that currently in states who pass the NPV bill, their electoral votes are still allocated via the current method until enough states pass the bill to add up to 270 electoral college votes.

Let’s take a fictional scenario and say that Michigan is the first state to pass the NPV bill. The Michigan House and Senate pass the bill, then the governor signs it, thus adding all of Michigan’s 16 electoral votes to the total, which in this case would be only 16 votes since it’s the first state to join the compact. In this scenario, NPV only has 16 electoral votes total so the bill has not activated yet, meaning nothing changes outside of NPV’s hypothetical total being increased from 0 to 16.  Then Ohio passes the bill and adds their 18 electoral votes to NPV, meaning NPV now has 34 total votes. And so on until either NPV reaches 270 votes or the effort is abandoned.

Why have a movement that seeks to institute a national popular vote without actually eliminating the electoral college entirely, one may ask? Long story short: it would take a massively more difficult effort which would mean adding a Constitutional amendment. To add such an amendment would take either 1) two-thirds vote of the US House of Representatives and Senate or 2) three-fourths votes of all state legislatures. In contrast, passing a bill requiring a relative majority of states is trivial in comparison.

Where NPV Currently Stands

As of June 2019, NPV has a total of 189 electoral votes of the 270 that are needed. This graph from Wikipedia sums up the history of NPV to the present day:

Since 2006, 14 states and D.C. have passed the bill, with 2019 being one of its most successful years yet, as Colorado, Delaware, and New Mexico have recently signed on.

I had originally hoped to publish this article once Nevada signed the bill, as their House and Senate both recently passed it, but Nevada Governor Sisolak then unexpectedly vetoed the bill, thus effectively killing NPV in Nevada for the 2019 legislative session. That week ended up being a rough week for NPV, as Maine’s House of Representatives also rejected the bill.

Oregon is the top remaining candidate to be added this year to NPV. Their Senate passed the bill back in April and their House just passed the bill on Monday, June 3rd. Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the bill soon, having sent an endorsing letter to a committee back when she was Secretary of State.

It’s worth noting that even if a state rejects the NPV bill (or any bill) in a particular year, there is a new legislative session next year which could then pass it. Several states have gone this route, with NPV failing multiple times in previous sessions before being passed in a new one. In Nevada’s case, though, they will probably need a new governor before trying to pass NPV again.

Some have cast doubt on NPV passing, citing the fact that most states that have passed the bill are Democratic controlled states and that some swing states will need to pass the bill in order to succeed. They are likely correct and it’s worth mentioning that most NPV legislative votes have gone straight down party lines in the past. Despite this, Colorado passing the bill this year represents the first swing state to sign on, fueling speculation that Colorado is a sign of increased support for NPV nationwide. This may be true, but the polls (here and here) so far have not yet reflected this. From what can be seen so far support for a national popular vote has held steadily at a slight majority while opposition is around 40%.

The takeaway here is that bills which seek broad reform take a large amount of effort and time to pass- indeed our political system was designed that way in order to protect established power from the interests of the masses. Founding father James Madison wrote (bold is mine) :

If these observations be just, our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”

I’ve mentioned there is opposition to not just NPV, but to abolishing a national popular vote in principle. The reasoning typically ranges from three main objections. The first claims a popular vote is akin to “mob rule”, the second is maintaining the power of otherwise smaller states to choose the president. Steve Byas reports that Nevada Governor Sisolak, who recently vetoed NPV, explained his reasoning as follows:

“Over the past several weeks, my office has heard from thousands of Nevadans across the state urging me to weigh the state’s role in our national elections. After thoughtful deliberation, I have decided to veto Assembly Bill 186. Once effective, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact could diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada in national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote, rather than the candidate Nevadans choose.”

The argument for keeping the electoral college because it gives smaller states more power in choosing the president is correct since smaller states do have more power per voter than larger states, but also runs counter to democracy, just in a more indirect way than simply decrying ‘mob rule’. In other words, saying smaller states (aka states with small populations) should have more power per resident versus larger states (aka states with larger populations), means that everyone’s vote should not be equal- some voters should have more power than others. Of course, our history books we were raised on don’t reveal this understanding when they mention the United States as land of democracy and freedom, but that doesn’t change reality.

The third main criticism is that instituting a national popular vote will result in presidential candidates only focusing on large population centers such as cities and neglecting more sparsely populated areas. This criticism appears the more legitimate of the three and theoretically it makes sense. The problem with this criticism is how the presidential election system is already run.

In our current presidential election system, candidates after the primaries focus massively on the battleground, or swing states which historically can vote either Democratic or Republican, depending on the cycle. These ‘purple’ states, including Michigan, Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and others are where the candidates focus the vast majority of their resources and attention. A Republican has little reason to campaign in Alabama and a Democrat has little reason to campaign in California, since both candidates can practically ensure they will win. Thus, the candidates focus their attention on the states where they have the best chances to deny to their opponent, and those voters and up with a disproportionate amount of representation since the candidates cater to them hoping to win their support.

In other words, these swing states already garner a hugely disproportionate share of candidate attention, not to mention the fact that already candidates typically focus much of their campaign events and appearances on larger population centers.

The fact remains that for lowly populated areas, keeping the electoral college system in place doesn’t benefit them as they are largely ignored already. Flyover country is already a popular phrase, for instance. Adapting a national popular vote will do little if anything to change that.

The choice with a national popular vote is fortunately straightforward: should we the people choose democratically who shall be president, or shall a minority choose for us?

The Future of Political Campaigns May Be on the Horizon

It’s long been established as common sense for political campaigns: focus on raising money, then use that money to hire staffers and increase voter contacts (via door-to-door, mailers, commercials, etc.) Such a strategy is a top-down approach which not-so-coincidentally favors our current political and economic establishment.

If you find yourself either at the head of a corporation, union, or just with a few spare tens of thousands of dollars to burn in a campaign cycle, you have the luxury of campaigners vying for your support every cycle. And hey, if a particular candidate who wins then turns around and happens to support a bill you need passed, well, that’s just a very fortunate coincidence for you. Surely that money couldn’t have had an unofficial and unspoken quid pro quo of any sort attached to it in return- that, of course, would be bribery…

The large donor fundraising model currently in practice in much of the US can trace its modern origins in two Supreme Court rulings. First, Buckley v. Valeo was decided in 1976 and established that political spending was a form of protected speech. Second, Citizens United v. FEC removed individual spending limits to PACs (Political Action Committees, which are essentially groups that multiple people can donate money to that then distribute the money supporting political candidates, ideologies, etc.) With the Citizens United case the famous super PAC was born. Super PACs differ from normal PACs in several key ways, detailed in a graphic from Represent.US.

Thus, effectively, money is now an unlimited form of free speech. It doesn’t take an expert to see the implications for our political process from there. Those with monetary clout from corporations to hedge fund managers now have vastly more political power that they can and do exercise compared to the vast majority of citizens. It comes as no surprise, then, that popular opinion is so alienated from legislation in Congress. As Noam Chomsky recently mentioned (bold is mine):

“A recent study by Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen on “How Money Drives US Congressional Elections,” reveals a remarkably close correlation between campaign expenditures and electoral outcomes in Congress over decades. And extensive work in academic political science — particularly by Martin Gilens, Benjamin Page and Larry Bartlett — reveals that most of the population is effectively unrepresented, in that their attitudes and opinions have little or no effect on decisions of the people they vote for, which are pretty much determined by the very top of the income-wealth scale.”

Despite this reality, there is a glimmer of hope.

The candidacy of Bernie Sanders for the 2016 Democratic Nomination for President saw a change of strategy not normally seen in such a large scale in modern times. Instead of seeking corporate PAC and super PAC funds, the Sanders campaign sought out small donors. In terms of fundraising, Sanders averaged $27 per donation from a large number of small donors.

Ryan Grim’s recent article from The Intercept shines light on the fundamental shift that Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016 represented. Instead of appealing to large centers of political and economic power that had been the mainstay of political campaigns for decades, the Sanders campaign went out to recruit volunteers from workers to other non-politically affiliated but motivated voters. Grim writes from campaign member Chakrabarti that despite a late entry into the 2016 race:

By the time the campaign had finally figured things out, the end was approaching. “We didn’t even hire most of our distributed team until January 2016,” said Sandberg, “and we’d only hit a million calls, out of the 85 million that we ended up making, by Iowa.”

Sanders stunned the political world by effectively tying Clinton in Iowa on February 1 and crushing her in New Hampshire, but she had locked in nearly all the superdelegates. She eked out a win in Nevada, crushed him in South Carolina, and ground out a victory.”

Not only that, but since Sanders was running against Hillary Clinton, a figure who virtually co-opted the Democratic party to suit her candidacy, many staffers and even vendors were reluctant to join or be affiliated with the Sanders campaign, fearing being blacklisted in future elections. The result? Staff for the Sanders campaign consisted largely of ““renegades, people with activist rather than campaign backgrounds, and operatives accustomed to taking on the establishment” as Grim notes, who “really had to fill out the ranks from the super volunteers who’d never worked in politics before”.”

What is important here is that Sanders ran on not just winning or losing, but on a political revolution that galvanized much of the left into action after being put to sleep by Obama (who would later admit himself that “if I had said the same policies that I had back in the 1980s, I’d be considered a moderate Republican”.)

Sanders probably knew he’d lose in 2016- his messaging was instead focused around not simply one election cycle as is the norm, but on building a grassroots movement that outlasts the typical election cycles we’re used to. Sanders in 2016 tweeted the following after knowing he’d lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton:

We are building a movement because this country belongs to all of us – not just a handful of billionaires and wealthy campaign contributors.”

One month later, Sanders’ campaign was effectively transformed into Our Revolution, which was launched with the focus of grassroots organizing for electing progressive candidates in elections ranging from city council to county clerk across the country. Following that in 2017, the Justice Democrats were also launched with a grassroots focus. The stipulation? To be an endorsed Justice Democrat, a candidate need only pledge not to take money from any corporate PACs or lobbyists.

One prominent Justice Democrat and Our Revolution endorsed candidate was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York. At the time, she was running in a primary against Joe Crowley who was one of the most influential Democrats from the House of Representatives and considered on a short list to succeed Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Naturally, then, he was highly connected to big moneyed interests and relied not only on keeping his seat but on expanding his influence by fundraising from such corporate and wealthy interests. Open Secrets reports that his source of funds from 2017-2018 showed small contributions (<$200) made up 0.88% of his fundraising. These small contributions form a measure of support from the average voters of modest income. Large contributions made up 33.91% and PACs gave him 54.37%.

Aida Chavez reports on the type of campaign Ocasio-Cortez was running:

Because of New York’s complicated ballot access laws, it’s usually too much work for candidates to organize a grassroots effort themselves. Instead they spend on election lawyers, political consultants, and paid petitioners, which can cost upward of $50,000 altogether. “All of those things that money in politics buy, we’re doing ourselves,” she said.”

““We’re organizing outside of this political industrial complex or like this electioneering industrial complex.”

At the time, Ocasio-Cortez was a relative nobody who wasn’t expected to win against one of the most powerful Democrats in the House and who was deemed a rising star of the party. As the campaign progressed and the Ocasio-Cortez campaign picked up steam, she now remarks of that time:

““People are freaking out over these posters, and I’m getting like all of these texts and emails from political candidates like, ‘What firm did you use? Who was your consulting group that came up with your political identity?’

Ocasio-Cortez then went on to beat Crowley 57.5% to 42.5% in the primary- not exactly a close election and showcasing the power of grassroots people-powered campaigns over fundraising from centers of wealth and power. Ocasio-Cortez then went on to beat Republican Anthony Pappas 78.2% to 13.6% in the general election. She now sits in the House of Representatives and is one of the most high-profile elected officials of our time.

Organizations like Our Revolution and the Justice Democrats have indeed faced a litany of electoral defeats since their inception (you can see the results here and here– You’d expect that running against the tide of our big donor money campaign system would yield such outcomes. But it is noteworthy that many of their victories have yielded some of the highest profile elected officials currently serving, including already discussed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in addition to Tulsi Gabbard, Ro Khanna, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, among others. Without such grassroots support systems that are beginning to emerge, it is tough to imagine these candidates winning elections as they can’t rely on the flood of corporate super PAC money so central to campaigns. Instead the strategy consists of grassroots organizing and small donor contributions.

Even the Congressional Progressive Caucus (a sub-group of Congressional Democrats- think of the Tea Party or Freedom Caucuses on the Republican side) has pledged not to take corporate PAC money. Open Secrets reports that:

First quarter FEC filings reveal that while the majority stayed true to their word, some of the self-declared “no-corporate-PAC” candidates took money from big businesses and special interests.

Even considering that some of the Congressional Progressive Caucus members are still funneling such PAC money into their campaigns, the pledge would have been virtually unheard of ten or even five years ago.

Several of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary hopefuls are also taking steps to at least appear hostile to PAC money. Washington Examiner reports that Kamala Harris “refuses to accept donations from corporate PACs.”, Amy Klobuchar: “We aren’t taking any corporate PAC or federal lobbyist money”, Elizabeth Warren mentions she “doesn’t accept contributions from PACs of any kind”, Beto O’Rourke’s campaign says they are “not interested in the help of any super PACs or special interest groups”. No doubt some of them will continue to find other ways to be supported by the same interests they eschew. What is worth noting, however, is that public perception and grassroots organizing is forcing many of these otherwise super PAC-friendly candidates to at least publicly refuse such money- a marked change.

Winning a political campaign is important, obviously. What is also important is the power that campaigns exert over political discourse- win or lose. Candidates may lose elections, like Sanders did in 2016 and much of the Our Revolution/Justice Democrat candidates have since. However, based on the power of messaging and coupled with the grassroots working class support these campaigns have managed to increasingly build upon, their ideas have been winning and positively affecting how new political campaigns are structured and funded.

Overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court case, among others, can also be done should a presidential candidate win in 2020 who opposes money in politics. Such a president could appoint new Supreme Court justices (several of whom are currently over 60 and could retire during the next president’s tenure) who oppose the Citizens United ruling. The Supreme Court could then issue a new ruling on the matter which would overturn the previous ruling, requiring a simple majority of justices- at present five likely support (Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh) and four (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan) oppose.

Changing how campaigns are funded and operated won’t come easily or quickly. The efforts adopted by the Sanders campaign in 2016 and later other candidates in 2018 and 2020 are a good start at opposing big moneyed interests. Comprehensive and lasting reform of our political campaigns, on the other hand, will likely require legislation and Supreme Court action that goes to the heart of how our society allows such overwhelming power in the hands of the few.

War Report 1

The Trump Administration has thus far kept the United States out of new military conflicts. This is, of course, not counting existing military conflicts already started by Trump’s latest two predecessors- George W. Bush and later Barack Obama. There is reason to believe that Trump, or more accurately National Security Advisor Bolton, is about to lead the US into another war- and relatively soon.

Let’s put Trump’s foreign policy in historical perspective.

The Legacy of Bush

George W. Bush is widely known for initiating the War on Terror after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Closely thereafter, the Bush Administration invaded Afghanistan that year and followed up with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both conflicts saw a slew of human rights violations and war crimes in the name of combating terrorism, but the record on Bush has been relatively clear- aggressive military action in the name of fighting terrorism. One must wonder what Bush’s foreign policy would have looked like without the 9/11 attacks occurring. It’s fair to say that Bush’s campaign rhetoric of scaled back interventionism may have come to characterize his foreign policy.

Interestingly, Obama’s legacy is both comparable in scope and viewed in a wholly different light than Bush’s. Generally speaking, while Bush favored more ‘boots on the ground’ and torture programs to fight terrorism, Obama relied on drones and special operations forces to fight the War on Terror.

The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill writes about Obama’s military record that:

Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, continued some of the worst policies of the George W. Bush administration. He expanded the global battlefield post-9/11 into at least seven countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and Syria.”

This may strike some as surprising given that Obama was widely regarded as too soft on foreign policy by much of the media. Scahill continues:

“At the end of Obama’s second term, a report by Council of Foreign Relations found that in 2016, Obama dropped an average of 72 bombs a day. He used drone strikes as a liberal panacea for fighting those “terrorists” while keeping boots off the ground. But he also expanded the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan.

And then there were the “Terror Tuesday” meetings, where Obama national security officials would order pizza and drink Coke and review the list of potential targets on their secret assassination list.

Coupled with the Obama Administration’s overthrowing Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, one wonders what must be done in order not to be deemed “too soft” these days. To Obama’s credit, ISIS had been significantly knocked back due to increased military intervention in the Middle East, devolving from holding large expanses of territory in Iraq and Syria at one point to just a few strongholds by the end of Obama’s term in 2016.

Fast-forward to the Trump campaign in 2016. Running on a more non-interventionist platform than his Republican colleagues and despite claims to “bomb the shit out of ISISand “go after their families, Trump’s foreign policy during the campaign resembled much more a dove than a hawk, when comparing against other Republicans. Indeed, even with National Security Advisor Michael Flynn -and later H.R McMaster in 2017 after Flynn was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors concerning the Mueller investigation- and former Exon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson turned Secretary of State, no new wars have been initiated by the Trump administration as of the writing of this article  (May 17th, 2019).

Shift to the present and we can see two trends:

1) The few strongholds ISIS held at the end of Obama’s term were eliminated during Trump’s tenure, culminating with the takeover of Baghouz Al-Fawqani by US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in February 2019. The SDF in Syria and Iraqi military- both supported by the US military- had been taking the offensive on ISIS for years, characterized by a slow but steady takeover of ISIS-held territories over time. ISIS, now greatly weakened and without the territory once held, operates as more of an insurgent guerilla force in many areas of the Middle East.

2) Previous Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (former CEO of Exon Mobil) was replaced by Mike Pompeo in 2018, making Tillerson seem a dove in comparison. With a more hawkish Secretary of State, we also have a new National Security Advisor in John Bolton who succeeded H.R. McMaster in 2018. Bolton has been described widely as a staunch advocate of military expansionism- as staunch as you will ever see. The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison commented of the new National Security Advisor that:

Bolton is able to get his way with Trump so often because he knows how to flatter the president and because Trump is a militarist who doesn’t have a problem with Bolton’s “bomb first and then keep bombing” approach to foreign policy. Above all, Trump’s desire to appear “tough” makes him receptive to brain-dead, hard-line arguments.

Bolton’s critics were right to be alarmed when Trump appointed him, and I fear that many of us are not worried enough about where U.S. foreign policy is headed over the next two years.”

It’s fair to say that Trump himself isn’t eager to attack other countries, but this may not matter much with Trump’s lack of understanding of international affairs. Mike Pompeo and John Bolton are both significantly more militarist than their predecessors, and they are using their influence to move Trump in three key areas with potentially massive consequences.

Three words: Iran. Yemen. Venezuela.


Early on, the Trump Administration dropped the US out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)- dubbed the Iran Nuclear Deal- which kept Iran’s nuclear program in check and opened up relations between the US and Iran. National security personnel across the country decried this move. Over 100 of them (50 being retired US military officers) wrote and signed a letterto the Trump Administration urging them not to back out of the JCPOA. Even several of the highest ranking US military members currently serving had expressed the following (bold is mine):

Defense Secretary James Mattis, who says he has read the text of the nuclear agreement three times and considers it to be “pretty robust”; Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who says, “Iran is adhering to its JCPOA obligations” and a U.S. decision to quit the deal “would have an impact on others’ willingness to sign agreements”; the head of U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten, who says, “Iran is in compliance with JCPOA” and argues “it’s our job to live up to the terms of that agreement”; and the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Joseph Votel, who says the nuclear deal is “in our interest” because it “addresses one of the principle threats that we deal with from Iran.”

Bolton has been an Iran hawk for years and is now advocating a significantly greater hard-line stance with the Iranian government. It seems Bolton is pushing to either strong-arm Iran into compliance with our wishes or face US military action if they refuse. As former Marine Intelligence officer Scott Ritter writes:

By purposefully escalating tensions with Iran using manufactured intelligence about an all too real threat, Bolton is setting the country up for a war it is not prepared to fight and most likely cannot win. This point is driven home by the fact that Mike Pompeo has been recalled from his trip to participate in a National Security Council meeting where the Pentagon will lay out in stark detail the realities of a military conflict with Iran, including the high costs.

Just last week, Bolton presented a planto move 120,000 US troops to the Middle East “should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons” as the NY Times reports. An aircraft carrier group, a bomber task force, as well as other military equipment has recently been moved to the Gulf region, as well.

If there was a clearer case for provocation, I’d like to see it.

The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison again sums up the Iran issue:

Iran hawks desperately want Iran to “lash out” so they can try to shift the blame for rising tensions, but Iran’s government has refrained from taking their bait. They hope to goad Iran with enough provocations that it causes an incident that they can exploit to start a war, but they need to make it appear as if the U.S. is merely reacting instead of being the instigator of the crisis. The Trump administration’s record of poking Iran in the eye again and again over the last year can’t be so easily forgotten, and if the current tensions in the region do escalate there is no question that the administration will bear most of the responsibility for the ensuing conflict.


Yemen is currently embroiled in a crippling civil war between a government led by Abdrabbuh Hadi and the Houthi Rebels who have captured the capital city of Sana’a and declared themselves the legitimate government of Yemen. It’s worth noting that the Hadi government controls most of the rest of the countryside. Official death tolls have been conflicting, but a recent report puts the number at 56,000 Yemenis killed.

The conflict is widely seen as a case of the proxy conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Iran supporting the Houthis and the Saudis supporting Hadi.

Where the US fits into this picture is its support of Saudi Arabia’s military intervention in the conflict. The US is not officially providing boots on the ground but is instead mostly providing munitions and logistical support for the Saudi military, such as mid-air re-fueling of Saudi aircraft conducting operations in and around Yemen.

Political opposition to the US involvement in the conflict has been relatively small but persistent, culminating in a bill called the Yemen War Resolution which was introduced in the House of Representatives by Ro Khanna and in the Senate by Bernie Sanders. Citing US involvement in the war without Congressional authorization, Khanna and Sanders sought to curtail the increasing power of the Executive branch by forcing an end to the US’s involvement via the legislature. Despite facing Republican opposition in both the House and Senate, the bill passed with enough Republican support and virtually all Democrats voting for it.

The Yemen War Resolution was then vetoed by President Trump, who then wrote a statement to Congress stating “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future“”. The resolution then was returned to both Congressional houses (Senate and House of Representatives) who could still pass the bill despite the veto by re-passing the bill with a supermajority of 2/3rds of the vote in each congressional chamber. Unfortunately, the bill was then defeated in the Senate by a 53-45 vote, falling 7 votes shy of 60 needed to pass.

Why did Trump veto the resolution? Likely for two reasons: 1) to oppose Iran who support the Houthis and 2) to ensure good relations with the Saudis who in turn ensure a large and secure oil flow and arms deals for the US. In exchange for oil and cheap goods, we trade civilian lives in Yemen.  


There’s been a lot of media hoopla surrounding Venezuela lately. Summing up the situation: the country’s economy has been hit hard in the last several years due to historically low oil prices. This has resulted in the Venezuelan economy to lose much of its revenue and has culminated in a political crisis as well, with recently elected President Nicolas Maduro facing a coup attempt from National Assembly member Juan Guaidó.

Venezuela’s situation has been further exacerbated by crippling US economic sanctions. The sanctions act by targeting the Venezuelan Central Bank’s ability to use US dollars to sell their oil. As US dollars are the primary international currency and coupled with Venezuela’s heavy dependence on the export of oil internationally, these sanctions are acting as a hand on the neck of the Venezuelan economy. The Trump Administration is applying these sanctions in order to cause enough suffering in the population that they overthrow Maduro.

The role of the Trump Administration has been a steadfast attempt to overthrow the Maduro government and is a significant force behind Guaidó’s challenge for the presidency. From declaring  Guaidó the officially recognized leader of Venezuela, to attempting to orchestrate a military takeover, to discussing the possibility of a US invasion, Trump has put a high priority on overthrowing Maduro, going so far as appointing Elliot Abrams the US special envoy to Venezuela. Abrams, previously disgraced politically for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal back in the 1980s, is back in politics. One can guess what his role will be regarding Venezuela.

Thus far, the coup attempts have failed and Maduro retains the loyalty of the military, thus ensuring his hold to the presidency. Trump has remarked in the past that “all options are on the table, and with Bolton and Pompeo being key figures of a Trump Administration foreign policy team coupled with Elliot Abrams, the possibility of a US invasion appears a possibility worth paying attention to.

Again, we must ask why the Trump Administration is interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs. The answer: oil. Here is National Security Advisor Bolton revealing that:

It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically if we can have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela

President Trump mentioned back in 2017, according to FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe: “That’s the country we should be going to war with” and “They have all that oil and they’re right on our back door.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted in January: “Biggest buyers of Venezuelan oil are @ValeroEnergy & @Chevron. Refining heavy crude from #Venezuela supports great jobs in Gulf Coast. For the sake of these U.S. workers I hope they will begin working with administration of President Guaido & cut off illegitimate Maduro regime.”

One must wonder how far strong-arming the world can go before it bites the bully in the ass.

Here’s some George Carlin.

Update on Iran (5-27-2019): The NY Times is now reporting that during a recent meeting with his aides, President Trump “does not want the intensifying American pressure campaign against the Iranians to explode into open conflict” and that even Secretary Pompeo is working with European officials to de-escalate the increasingly tense situation as of late.