Weekend Reading List

Saturday, March 3rd, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list, we have articles on the harmful impacts of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, the GOP’s “make-or-break” strategy for 2012, the increasing use of solitary confinement in US prisons, NPR moving to reject the he-said, she-said approach to journalism, and the real world coordination between Super PACs and political campaigns.

If you have any feedback on these articles, or would like to recommend an article for next weekend’s reading list, please let us know below or at the Winning Progressive Facebook page.


Alabama’s Shame: HB56 and the War on Immigrants – a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center about the serious impacts that Alabama’s anti-immigrant law has had on Latinos – citizens, legal permanent residents, and undocumented immigrants – in the state.

2012 or Never - an argument that Republicans, faced with demographic changes that will make it increasingly difficult for the GOP to win future elections, are pursuing a risky strategy of betting everything on the 2012 elections so that they can push through a reactionary agenda that it would take progressives decades to fully reverse.

The Gray Box: An Investigative Look at Solitary Confinement – an in-depth look at the increasing use of solitary confinement in US prisons – where there are 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement – and the disastrous impacts such confinement can have on a prisoner’s mental and emotional well-being.

NPR Tries to Get Its Pressthink Right - a story on how NPR’s new ethics handbook is working to discourage the type of “he-said, she-said” reporting that has done so much to degrade political reporting in the US.

Fine Line Between “Super PACs” and Campaigns – a report on how much of a fiction the purported prohibition of coordination between Super PACs and the campaigns they support really is.

David Brooks Returns to the Applebee’s Salad Bar

Friday, November 25th, 2011


A few years ago, establishment conservative commentator David Brooks famously claimed that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama lacked a connection with average Americans because “he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could go into an Applebee’s salad bar, and people think he fits in naturally there.”  Brooks’ attempt to portray Obama as out-of-touch with the American people is laughably absurd for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Applebee’s does not have a salad bar.

Brooks’ New York Times column from earlier this week suggests that he has returned to getting his political information from the non-existent Applebee’s salad bar.  In the column, titled The Two Moons, Brooks correctly notes that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have managed to achieve a sustained political majority since the mid-1990s.  But Brooks goes way off track by contending that the response of both parties to this political stalemate has been to become uncomprising and ideologically pure entities that view themselves as constantly under attack by the outside world.  In particular, Brooks claims with regards to both parties that:

Their main fear is that they will lose their identity and cohesion if their members compromise with the larger world. They erect clear and rigid boundaries separating themselves from their enemies. In a hostile world, they erect rules and pledges and become hypervigilant about deviationism. They are more interested in protecting their special interests than converting outsiders. They slowly encase themselves in an epistemic cocoon.

The Democrat and Republican parties used to contain serious internal debates — between moderate and conservative Republicans, between New Democrats and liberals. Neither party does now.

The Democratic and Republican parties used to promote skilled coalition builders. Now the American parties have come to resemble the ideologically coherent European ones.

These claims suggest that Brooks either does not know what he is talking about or is purposely ignoring reality in order to benefit the GOP, as only the GOP fits the negative picture of the two parties that Brooks paints.

There can be little reasonable dispute that the Republican Party has turned into an ideologically pure rump that refuses to compromise and does not even attempt to govern. That is why the GOP, after being shellacked in the 2008 elections, did everything they could to obstruct the Democrats from governing, including filibustering or threatening to filibuster every effort to create jobs or promote economic recovery, and preventing highly qualified nominees needed to ensure that even basic government services operated smoothly from taking positions in the Administration and the federal judiciary.  In fact, the GOP’s intransigence has gotten so extreme that one GOP Congressional staffer who left after 27 years referred to the GOP as becoming an “apocalyptic cult.” 

Brooks’ claim that the Democrats are similarly ideologically pure and uncompromising, however, is sheer fantasy. Even after sweeping into power in 2008, President Obama worked overtime to reach across the aisle – including conservative ideas in the stimulus, health care reform, and other key legislation, putting deficit reduction (which conservatives pretend to care about) on the agenda, etc. And rather than governing as an across the board liberal (which we would have preferred), President Obama refused to offer a Medicare-for-all single payer health insurance proposal, declined to nationalize the banks, and brought in establishment insiders like Summers and Geithner rather than liberals like Krugman or Reich. 

We certainly would have loved to see far more progressive outcomes over the past few years, but we also understand the limits of what can be done in DC today, the importance of compromise and incremental change, and the role that progressives voters and activists have to play if we want more progressive outcomes.   And the relevant point here is that, contrary to what Brooks appears to have determined during his latest visit to the Applebee’s salad bar, the Democrats have and continue to compromise, while the GOP continues to engage in pathological levels of obstructionism and intransigence.

Now, one could ask why this matters.  And the reasons are two-fold.  First, Brooks continues to be portrayed as a somehow “respectable” voice throughout the media, with important perches on the New York Times editorial page, as an NPR political analyst, and a regular commentator on PBS’s NewsHour.  So long as Brooks is portrayed as a reasonable and knowledgeable voice in the media, it is important to point out just how off base he is.  Second, Brooks’ views simply encourage the GOP to engage in even further obstructionism and intransigence.  The GOP’s approach will change only if the voters begin punishing the GOP at the ballot box for hamstringing every government attempt to alleviate the serious economic, social, and international problems we face.  But so long as media personalities such as David Brooks are falsely telling the public that both sides are equally to blame, the public will not know how they should vote if they want the obstructionism to end.

WP Comments on NPR, Choice, and Socially Conscious Business

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Here are our latest comments on articles about why Republicans want to defund NPR, how socially conscious businesses cannot replace the need for regulations, and on the right to choose.

My comment on Timothy Egan’s NYT piece Red State Home Companion, which discusses why conservatives should not be seeking to eliminate National Public Radio:

Today’s Republican Party attacks NPR for one reason – the success of their agenda relies on keeping voters uninformed and distracted by nonsense.  Survey after survey shows that people who get their “news” from Fox and other cable networks are most likely to be wrong about the major issues of the day.  And that is not because those watchers of Fox, etc. are dumb – it is because they are being fed a steady stream of lies.

NPR is certainly far from perfect and it at times goes too far in a failed effort to avoid conservative attacks.  But for the most part it provides important fact-based reporting that provides its listeners with accurate information about the issues of the day.  Such fact-based reporting is antithetical to a political party that rejects the science behind evolution and climate change, that peddles false theories about death panels and our President being a Kenyan Muslim, and that pretends like government spending does not create jobs.  Therefore, the Republicans try to eliminate NPR.

My comment on Tina Rosenberg’s NYT piece Ethical Businesses With a Better Bottom Line, which discusses socially conscious businesses that focus not just on profits, but also on the impacts of their decisions on employees, the environment, and the community.

This socially conscious business model is all well and good, and I applaud the people engaged in it.  Some do it because they realize there are profits to be had in niche markets such as “fair trade” or “green” products, while others do it because they think it is the right thing to do to look beyond just profit.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that such socially conscious business approaches can never, on their own, achieve the types of environmental, labor, and consumer protections that are needed for a vibrant society in which capitalism benefits society as a whole rather than just investors.  Instead, government regulations are necessary to achieve those protections.  The reason for that is not because corporations are evil.  Instead, it is because corporations are amoral – the entire point of capitalism is to pursue profit regardless of the positive or negative impact such pursuit has on society.  And, to the extent that such protections impose a business cost, companies that decide to not worry about the environment or consumers will be able to undercut companies that do.  As such, it is up to society, through government, to rein in capitalism to make sure that it does not destroy our environment, mistreat workers, or rip off consumers.  Such a regulatory approach will help make all corporations socially conscious, rather than just a handful of good samaritans.

My comment on Gail Collins’ NYT column Behind the Abortion War, which discusses conservatives’ wide-ranging attack on womens’ rights.

The sad thing about this debate is that it is not over abortion or contraception.  Instead, it is about the critical issue of whether we have the choice to make decisions about these issues based on our own beliefs and consciences.

So-called “pro-life” conservatives (who seem to forget about people once they are born) want to deny women the right to make such decisions on their own accord.  Progressives, meanwhile, want to make sure that women have the right to make such decisions.  That is what this debate is about – not abortion or contraception – but, instead, the right of women to make their own decisions about their bodies versus having government make those decisions for them.

The Undeclared War on Democrats – And How to Fight Back

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

(by Mark McCutchan)

If you were a general preparing to attack another country, what would be some general guidelines?

The Preparation -

1)      Soldiers – make sure you have plenty of soldiers, well-trained in defense and offense

2)      Resources – maximize your access to materiel and money

3)      Timing – attack when you have the maximum advantage

The Attack -

1)      Soldiers – remove as many enemy soldiers from the battlefield as quickly as possible

2)      Resources – drain the enemy of their resources

3)      Morale – demoralize and distract the enemy from defending themselves

4)      Damage – destroy their infrastructure vital to production

This metaphor exactly describes the actions of the Republican Party recently, particularly since they gained the political advantage on Election Day 2010.

The Preparation

1)      Soldiers – The Republican Party has been maximizing their appeal through the establishment of conservative think tanks, foundations, and installation of conservatives in every branch of government, funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers, and other pro-corporate, conservative and libertarian entities.   These groups provide the conservative “echo chamber” for the tactics and script provided by political consultant and pollster Frank Luntz.

2)      Resources – The Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case was very important to conservatives and their corporate donors, because winning it would open the floodgates of corporate money and manipulation to American elections.  During the hearings, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association supported Citizens United.

3)      Timing – Barack Obama was elected in 2008, among other reasons, because of disgust with eight years of egregious behavior by the Bush administration and fear of the economic meltdown caused by Wall Street.  Once it became clear that President Obama would not be able to quickly turn the economy around, it became advantageous for the GOP to blame him for the recession during the 2010 campaign.  The misguided support of the Tea Partiers and corporate money allowed by the Citizens United decision  ensured that Republicans did very well last November 2nd.

The Attack

1)      Remove Enemy Soldiers – Now that Republicans are in the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, governors’ mansions, and state capitols, they can attack many of the traditional sources of Democratic “soldiers”, including unions, minorities, and college students.

  • Unions – the attacks on public employee unions has been well publicized over the last month here at Winning Progressive and by other media sources.  The GOP’s view is that reducing the number of unionized public employees reduces their organizational and financial support of the Democratic Party.
  • Minorities and Poorer Voters – Republicans have been pushing for stricter photo-ID voter requirements in at least 32 states, even though in-person voter fraud is exceedingly rare.  The reason for their fervor? A quarter of African Americans and 15 percent of low-income voters don’t carry ID, and they tend to vote Democratic.
  • College Students – New Hampshire’s State House Speaker William O’Brien’s attitude and actions towards college students are prevalent among Republicans, “They’re “foolish,” he said, “voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do.” New Hampshire Republicans’ bills to restrict students’ right to vote where they attend college and to end Election Day registration are among dozens of bills prioritized by Republican office-holders across the nation.
  • Other Citizens – The GOP is pushing disenfranchisement laws for felons who have already served their time.  These laws serve no civic purpose – no one ever said, “Gee, if I rob this bank and get caught, I might lose my right to vote – I better stop now!”  The most likely GOP target is again minorities; one quarter of those disenfranchised by Florida’s new laws, for example, are African-American.

2)      Resources – The Tea Partiers and their conservative sympathizers say their first priority upon taking office is to reduce the federal deficit, not job creation.  “Starving the beast” is their phrase for reducing the size of the federal government and its ability to protect citizens from abuse by the rich and powerful.  Democrats have built America’s social safety net, and attacking its budget will encourage progressives to redirect resources to protecting it, to the detriment of electoral efforts.  American families are also being drained of resources, as banksters and other corporations work in concert with the GOP cronies to maximize their profits and drain personal savings, leading to increasing bankruptcies and foreclosures.

3)      Morale – The GOP focus on deficit reduction plays into their strong suit, again.  It misdirects the busy U.S. citizen into blaming the federal government for all of our economic problems, instead of holding the corporations (and “investment” banks in particular) accountable for not building robust and sustainable businesses that would fuel job creation in America.  Republicans have also been very busy stoking the anti-Muslim fever to misdirect the public’s anger away from America’s real problems – from the Ground Zero mosque hoax whipped up by Fox News, to the alleged Koran-burning minister, to Representative King’s Muslim radicalization hearings.  The successful hit jobs conducted by Project Veritas on neighborhood organizer ACORN and National Public Radio were meant to demoralize and defund two publicly funded organizations important to progressives.

4)      Destroy their infrastructure – Part of starving the beast involves cutting budgets to such a degree that a modern infrastructure cannot be supported.  President Obama’s call for a $50 billion investment in America’s roads, railways and runways last Labor Day was met with resistance by Republicans.  According to The Wall Street Journal, “Obama has proposed the initiative as a way to create more jobs, but Republicans have opposed further infrastructure spending at a time of tight state and federal budgets.”

The other way to destroy the infrastructure is to take out the enemy’s manufacturing capability.  Why use bombs, when free trade agreements and a corporate strategy of off-shoring factories has been so effective at decimating America’s ability to make the very things we need and demand as consumers?  Winning Progressive has detailed the destruction here.

In summary, progressives has been increasingly under attack for the past few years; we progressives have to realize that, and design a campaign to overcome those who would tear down what we and our ancestors have taken decades to build.

There are many things we can do to fight back:

1)      Write a letters to the editor of your local newspaper on any of the above topics, to inform and encourage your neighbors to take a stand in the war on America.  Here are links for submitting letters to the editor for national papers, and to newspapers in Colorado, Connecticut, DelawareIllinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

2)      Contact your congressional representatives on any of the above topics, to let them know how their constituents stand.

3)      Share your thoughts on this column at the Winning Progressive Facebook page and your own Facebook page if you have one.

4)      Get involved in defense of public employees, either by attending rallies,  joining Working America, (a new group formed for non-union members to support the AFL-CIO), or otherwise working to defeat anti-public union legislation being pushed through GOP-led state legislatures.

5)      Move your money to a local bank to deprive “Too Big to Fail” banks of the lobbying cash they need to influence your politicians.

6)      Help efforts to recall the Republican 8, Wisconsin’s eight GOP senators who voted for Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill and qualify for recall.

7)      Watch the Story of Stuff’s “Citizen United vs. FEC” video, and get involved with the move to amend the U.S. Constitution, so that corporations no longer have the same rights as real people.

8)      Support public financing of elections, as discussed in this Winning Progressive column.

9)      Support National Public Radio and their member stations with a donation; they are in danger of being defunded, and are a valuable source of unbiased information.