There's no denying that Democrats took a drubbing at the polls in 2014. Running cautious campaigns and shying away from Obamacare, Wall Street regulation, the anti-fracking movement, immigration reform and Obama himself — was not a winning strategy.
While the Democrats had a poor showing, populist and progressive ideas surged. Even in red states, pollsters find support for big progressive policy changes (such as living wage laws, Medicare for all, a national infrastructure jobs program, expanded Social Security benefits and free higher education) that would reestablish a vibrant middle-class America. While voters were tossing Democrats aside in this past election, bigger majorities of the same electorate leaped at the chance to say "YES" to an array of unabashedly populist ballot initiatives:
Minimum wage. Even though the crimson-red states of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota elected GOP Senate candidates, voters rejected the low-wage policies of the Republicans and their corporate backers by approving minimum wage increases. San Francisco voters also raised their wage floor to $15 an hour, and Oakland went up to $12.25. In addition, non-binding referenda calling for raises to $10 or more were approved by 65 percent of the voters in Illinois and by 13 Wisconsin cities and counties, where a whopping 70 to 83 percent of voters OK'd the increases.
Fracking. While ExxonMobil, Halliburton and dozens of huge energy corporations are in a nationwide fracking frenzy — running roughshod over local citizens in the furious rush for fast profits — locals have begun pushing back against the gross pollution, health problems, infrastructure damage and even earthquakes caused by the inherently destructive and intrusive fracking process. Asserting their human and civic rights, local coalitions have, in the last few years, won several referendum fights to ban fracking in their communities.
This year's election saw four more victories added to the list. Bans were passed in Athens, Ohio (78 percent of the vote), California's Mendocino County (67 percent) and San Benito County (57 percent) and even in Denton, Texas (59 percent).
Corporate money. In dozens of communities in five states, people went to the election polls and confirmed what opinion polls consistently report: The overwhelming majority of Americans want corporate money out of our elections. In the midst of the most money-soaked midterm election in global history, multi-partisan majorities said "enough!" They voted for initiatives that said (1) only humans have constitutional rights, (2) money is not speech and (3) "We the People" want to pass a 28th Amendment overturning the Supreme Court's corrosive Citizens United edict.
Ironically, even as the Koch-financed governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, pulled off a re-election victory, 12 local communities (including his home county of Milwaukee) voted between 70 and 80 percent for local initiatives that call for an amendment to overturn the court's terrible decision. Similar majorities were amassed in statewide in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts and Ohio: As the national director of the Move to Amend Campaign put it: "The leaders of both parties need to realize that their voters are clamoring for this amendment, and we are only going to get louder."
Paid sick leave. Poverty is sickening enough, but millions of people trying to live on poverty-level wages face a truly sickening choice when they fall ill: Stay at home and lose a few days' pay, or go to work sick, possibly spreading the illness to co-workers and customers. This year, there were four big victories for paid sick leave: Massachusetts (59 to 41 percent), Oakland, California (81 to 19 percent), Montclair, New Jersey (74 to 26 percent) and Trenton, New Jersey (86 to 14 percent).
Conservation. Three major conservation initiatives passed this year: Alaskans voted to prohibit future mining projects that would endanger wild salmon habitat; 75 percent of Florida voters approved a measure to dedicate $1 billion a year in real estate taxes to the protection of water in the endangered Everglades and other areas; and New Jerseyans OK'd an initiative that requires $2 billion in corporate tax revenue be spent on land conservation.
Marijuana. This year both Alaskans and Oregonians voted for full legalization, while Washington DC voted to decriminalize marijuana. And the U.S. territory of Guam approved marijuana use for medicinal purposes.
The day after the election, Obama said: To the two-thirds of voters that chose not to participate in the process yesterday, I hear you." Fine. But will he and the other Democratic leaders make the giant leap from "hearing" to doing? Taking bold, populist actions makes working stiffs and average Americans excited about voting. We need more leaders to champion the populist cause.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 2014 09:14
In July of 1870, King Wilhelm sent Foreign Minister Bismarck an account of his meeting with a French envoy who had demanded that the king renounce any Hohenzollern claim to the Spanish throne. Bismarck edited the report to make it appear the Frenchman had insulted the king, and that Wilhelm rudely dismissed him. The Ems Telegram precipitated the Franco-Prussian war Bismarck wanted.
Words matter. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, how much greater impact can a motion picture have? We are finding out.
Egypt has banned "Exodus: Gods and Kings," the $140 million 20th Century Fox biblical epic. Cairo's culture minister Gaber Asfour condemns it as "a Zionist film" containing "historical inaccuracies."
The depiction of enslaved Jews building the pyramids and Moses parting the Red Sea to enable the Jews to flee and drown the Egyptian army is false, says Asfour. Historians date the pyramids to around 2540 B.C., 500 years before Abraham, the father of Judaism.
Paramount's "Noah" was banned in Egypt, Indonesia and Malaysia, for taking liberties with the Quran.
Islamabad is in an uproar over the Showtime series, "Homeland," where Pakistani intelligence services are portrayed as colluding with Islamists trying to kill ex-CIA director Saul Berenson and station chief Carrie Mathison. In the season's final episodes, the U.S. cuts ties to Pakistan and closes the embassy.
The Showtime series "maligns a country that has been a close partner and ally of the U.S.," a Pakistani embassy spokesman told the New York Post, and "is a disservice not only to the security interests of the U.S., but also to the people of the U.S."
The 2014 "Homeland" finale was aired just after 140 Pakistani school kids were massacred in Peshawar by the Taliban.
Islamabad is "a quiet picturesque city with beautiful mountains and lush greenery," said one Pakistani, yet is "portrayed as a grimy hellhole and war zone where shootouts and bombings go off with dead bodies scattered around. Nothing is further from the truth."
Angrier than Egypt or Pakistan is North Korea over Sony's "The Interview." Why would a film company owned by the Japanese, who are not beloved in Korea, think it would be a great fun to make a comedy out of a CIA plot to assassinate North Korea's head of state?
The North Koreans are serious people. They massacred half of the South Korean cabinet in the Rangoon bombing. They have brought down airliners and sunk warships without warning. They have plotted to assassinate South Korea's president.
Their megalomaniac ruler, Kim Jong-Un, just had his uncle-mentor executed, along with his family. Kim has atom bombs and seeks to miniaturize them to put atop missiles able to reach the United States.
He is the most erratic and dangerous ruler on the planet and this assassination-comedy is just the thing to set him off. Says Adam Cathcart, a North Korea expert at Leeds University, "In North Korea it's more or less a fait accompli that the Americans are trying to kill our leader." To sustain its Stalinist dynasty, says the Washington Post, Pyongyang has created a "personality cult that is anything but a laughing matter."
In retaliation for "The Interview," North Korea, says the FBI, hacked into Sony's computers, published confidential emails and threatened retaliation against any who showed the film.
The North has repeatedly denied it hacked into Sony. But it now appears the U.S. has retaliated by disrupting Internet service in North Korea, much to the cheers of the War Party, which wants President Obama to put the Hermit Kingdom back on the list of state sponsors of terror.
North Korea is now using racial slurs to describe Obama.
There is an aspect of reckless immaturity here.
While the Wall Street Journal thinks it would be fun to send DVDs of "The Interview" by balloon into the North, the Washington Post says possession of the film there would be regarded as treasonous, and could bring a death sentence.
No one denies Sony the right to produce a comedy about blowing up Kim Jong Un. Nor was anyone denying theaters or Internet sites the right to show it. What Sony seemed to want was to produce a movie that made the assassination of a dictator appear hilarious, but to be exempt from any consequences.
But we live in a world today where if you produce cartoons of the Prophet with a bomb for a turban, or disparage Islam in videos, books or movies, you can get yourself and others killed.
Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was butchered in Amsterdam by an enraged Muslim for "Submission," a 10-minute film that excoriated Islam's treatment of women.
In this weekend's Washington Post, Joe Califano, a confidant of President Johnson, writes of how the new film "Selma" demeans LBJ's crucial role in enacting the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
To enrich itself, Hollywood is playing games with religious beliefs and historical truths — and making enemies, not all of whom believe in turning the other cheek.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 December 2014 11:43
The state's political establishment has it all wrong when talking about who will take on Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte in 2016. It isn't who the best candidate might be to take on the Republican rising star, it's who will base Democrats pick to do so.
Democratic operatives and establishment types all say they were going with the "operating assumption" that Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan will challenge Ayotte. Certainly this is the matchup that Washington Democrats like Harry Reid are hoping to make happen. If she doesn't run, some Democrats already have their eyes on a different woman to take on Ayotte: U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster.
All this thinking misses a much more obvious option: retiring U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter.
Since 2006, New Hampshire has been the most swing of swing states in the entire country. Nearly every two years since then there has been a violent move from Democrat to Republican. This should have taught us a lesson by now about how New Hampshire politics works lately: What matters most is if a candidate can win a primary, the general election atmosphere cannot be controlled.
There is no better example of this concept that Shea-Porter's three repeat contests with Republican Frank Guinta. The reason voters had the same choices three different times is because neither of these candidates could be defeated in a primary and then they won or lost against each other depending on the political mood of the year.
This is what makes Shea-Porter really interesting as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2016. Should she ever consider it, she definitely has more of a path to victory than Kuster and maybe even Hassan.
Shea-Porter might be the most prominent true progressive ever elected to major office in New Hampshire in a century. She owns the label. She was running for office talking about the "99 percent" five years before it became the rallying cry for Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Her liberal positions matter because in a typical low-turnout Democratic primary for the Senate in 2016 a well-run liberal campaign is the one that will win.
Kuster showed how this played out in 2010 when she ran was the well-funded progressive challenging perceived Democratic front-runner Katrina Swett. In the years since progressives have lost favor with Kuster. One group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, strongly backed Kuster in 2010 and 2012, only to totally drop her once she starting voting in Congress.
As one top Democratic put it to me: Shea-Porter would beat Kuster 10 to 1 in a Democratic primary for the Senate. Sure, Kuster can raise more money, but Shea-Porter has the Democratic base locked down in the state's 1st Congressional District and would be favored in the more liberal 2nd Congressional District.
In 2012, when Hassan ran for governor the first time, she faced a challenge from the left. Hassan's opponent, former state Sen. Jackie Cilley, lacked fundraising and no one really knew who she was, reasons that she wasn't a perfect candidate. Hassan deserves credit for that win. What few know, however, is that Hassan was flown to Washington and encouraged to take on Shea-Porter in a Democratic Primary. Hassan turned down that idea. In the end, two other Democrats did challenge Shea-Porter, but dropped out before they could even put their name on the ballot.
And unlike Hassan and Kuster, Shea-Porter won't be in office next year and has nothing to lose by running.
Until she takes her name out of contention, watch Shea-Porter.
(James Pindell covers politics for WMUR. You can see his breaking news and analysis at WMUR.com/political scoop and on WMUR-TV.)
Last Updated on Monday, 29 December 2014 11:57
We are six months to the end of the state's fiscal year and all eyes are closely watching the budget. Overall revenues are running ahead of projections, which means the Senate Ways & Means Committee did an excellent job estimating revenues when we built the budget last session. However, with the governor's recent executive orders for agencies to reduce spending, it appears that over-spending has occurred ... some budget experts estimate as much as a $100 million deficit. As chair of the Senate Finance Committee, I've been asking the governor to provide department-by-department reports on General Fund spending since July. Unfortunately, the governor refuses to share it with the public. So we really don't know the extent of New Hampshire's current budget problem.
Various constituencies are nervously watching to see how the deficit will be addressed, and many fear that dedicated funds may be a target. We have approximately 320 of these dedicated accounts that fund specific programs.
There has been some controversy in recent years about the "raiding" of dedicated funds to assist in balancing the state budget. This has been done by transferring those funds or fund surpluses to the general fund for general state expenses.
It is not hard to find examples of this practice. In recent years, the consistent raid of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program's (LCHIP) dedicated fund caught the attention of Granite Staters. LCHIP is an independent state authority that makes matching grants to N.H. communities and non-profits to protect New Hampshire's natural, cultural and historic resources. Funding for these projects is made possible by small fees charged on four types of documents that are recorded at county registries across the state. The public was told that the money would be used to conserve our state's most at-risk natural and historic resources. But the unfortunate truth is that since the establishment of that fund, more money has been used to balance the budget then went to LCHIP projects.
In the last session, the Republican Senate made a commitment to stop this practice, most notably with LCHIP. We held to the principal that a dedicated fund means just that: funds raised for a specific purpose should be spent on that purpose. In her budget, the governor provided some partial funding of the program, but the Senate fully restored the $8.5 million that were raised through real estate transaction fees. We also went a step further and protected LCHIP from being raided to fund other parts of state government. We did this by stopping the governor's attempt to have the flexibility to raid these funds to cover over-spending in other departments. Because of this action, LCHIP recently awarded nearly 40 grants to communities in New Hampshire, including three in District 2: Bristol (Bristol Town Hall), Haverhill (Pearson Hall), and Sanbornton (Congregational Church Building).
LCHIP is not the only casualty of raids to dedicated funds. Today we are seeing another important dedicated fund about to fall victim to a budgetary raid. Politicians and bureaucrats have turned their sights on more than $9 million raised from New Hampshire ratepayers which is dedicated to increase renewable energy generation in our state.
Similar to LCHIP, the state's General Fund has to date become the largest recipient of Renewable Energy Fund dollars. If the impending raid of $9 million does occur, almost half of all funds raised for renewable energy projects will instead have gone to balance the state's General Fund. This surely was not the intended use of the proceeds when the program was established by a near-unanimous vote of the state Senate.
By continuing to look to the renewable energy funds as a source of general government revenue, lawmakers will dodge the transparent manner in which the state generates the revenue needed to finance public services. Worse, when a decision to raid these funds is made behind closed doors, politicians and bureaucrats are undermining the very investments that they pledge to support — further weakening the state's energy future, and casting doubt in the minds of businesses and voters on the integrity of the state's commitment to renewable energy.
Fortunately, we still have time to reverse the trend of raids on dedicated funds. Contact the governor, your legislators and leaders at the Public Utilities Commission and express your support for transparent budgeting. Remind them that dedicated means dedicated. When the Legislature sets up dedicated funds, and when taxpayers pay fees to support those funds, they deserve to know that their money is going towards its stated purpose.
As we begin to put together the next two year budget for New Hampshire, the Senate will continue to protect the integrity of dedicated funds such as LCHIP and the Renewable Energy Fund.
(Meredith Republican Jeanie Forrester represents District 2 in the New Hampshire Senate.)
Last Updated on Friday, 26 December 2014 08:10
While most citizens were distracted by the holidays, the enlarged Republican majority in Congress was laying golden pavers for its magical kingdom — a fabulous place where taxes are cut, military spending is not and budgets balance effortlessly. The coat of arms reads, "Tax Cuts Pay for Themselves."
And to think the rubble has hardly been cleared from the ruins of the most recent magical kingdom, that ruled by George W. Bush. Not only did the Bush tax cuts not pay for themselves but tax revenue as a share of the economy today isn't even close to what it was in 2000.
So how can Republican leaders restore the realm? For starters, they've launched a campaign to replace Doug Elmendorf, the economist overseeing the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO is the nonpartisan agency that estimates the cost of legislation.
Let it be noted that prominent conservative economists — among them Gregory Mankiw, chairman of W.'s Council of Economic Advisers — have called for Elmendorf's reappointment. Elmendorf "is a superb economist and, over the past six years as CBO director, has shown himself to be scrupulously nonpartisan," Mankiw said.
But nonpartisan may not be partisan enough for tax cut activists. They want the bean counters to make the numbers work for them through the powers of "dynamic scoring."
The idea that reducing taxes could unleash new economic activity, generating new tax revenues, is not without merit. Dynamic scoring factors in those revenues. Count them, Republicans insist, and the burden of finding painful ways to pay for tax cuts is lightened. That makes tax cutting easier.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, calls dynamic scoring "reality-based scoring."
The problem is the ease with which politicians can make their own reality. Dynamic scoring is a dark art, producing wildly different estimates, depending on the choice of economic model and other assumptions. For example, some kinds of tax cuts raise more revenues than other kinds.
Another nonpartisan office, the Joint Committee on Taxation, did apply dynamic scoring to the tax reform plan submitted by retiring House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp. The result was eight scenarios, some considerably rosier than others. At the low end, the Camp plan would raise only $50 billion in additional revenue over 10 years. The high-end estimate was $700 billion — 14 times the low one.
Furthermore, the optimistic $700 billion figure included deficit reductions that future Congresses might make. Some of the assumed policy changes weren't even mentioned in the Camp plan.
Bruce Bartlett, an economist in the Reagan and George H.W. administrations, points to another flaw in the Republicans' approach: the highly selective use of dynamic scoring on some elements of their proposals but not others.
"Republicans want to use dynamic scoring only for tax cuts," Bartlett wrote me in an email. "They refuse to acknowledge that spending, such as public works spending, also has dynamic effects. They should either do it for spending and taxes or not at all."
Bartlett added that "spending cuts can have negative dynamic effects that Republicans also never acknowledge."
The Joint Committee on Taxation's models are themselves problematic, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. For example, they count the economic benefits of investments in new machinery but not investments in worker training. Human capital doesn't get much attention.
But even when score-makers do their darnedest, they're working with numbers pulled from air. So Republicans can use butterfly nets to catch those guesses that produce the conclusions they want. Bear in mind, the last time they performed their tax cut magic trick, things didn't work out too well.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00