Wednesday, April 21, 2021
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Zero-Sum Politics

Washington politics are a zero sum game. When one branch gains power, others lose. For example, in the middle of the last century, Congress proved itself unable to deal with civil rights. The Supreme Court eventually stepped in. Congressmen howled about "judicial overreach and activism;" to no avail. With decisions on one-man-one-vote, abortion, equal access to public facilities and right to counsel, the Supreme Court gained power at Congress' expense.

In our own era, Americans have witnessed a dysfunctional immigration system for decades. Self-weakened through filibustered gridlock, Congress did nothing. It was inevitable that one or both of the other branches of government would eventually move into the vacuum.

Far from castigating President Obama for making immigration law through executive action, Congress has only itself to blame. Under our system of zero-sum government, when one branch fails the others will step up. Further inaction due to Republican-led gridlock will inevitably weaken Congress while strengthening the President.

Such strengthening could, of course, get out of hand. For this reason alone, Congress must reject its zealots and return to producing compromise solutions to vexing national problems. Among the problems on Congress' plate are unequal tax treatment, political influence spending, and gerrymandering, among others. If Congress fails to act, more Executive Orders and Supreme Court decisions will fill the void.

Phony Statistics

"GDP grows 1.8% in the First 3 Quarters!" "Stock Market Hits New High!" Please forgive my lack of euphoria.

Unless you believe in trickle-down economics, GDP and stock market growth are irrelevant to average Americans. We don't care that corporate profits are at their highest level in at least 85 years - because employee compensation is at the lowest level in 65 years. With the top 1% skimming the economic cream, pay-check Americans live day-to-day on fat-free diets of stagnant incomes and rising expenses. Median household income is exactly where it was a quarter-century ago, and down 10% since 1999.

How exactly are America's pay-check families better-off today because GDP and Wall Street are up? A third of America's workforce is idle. Free trade and open borders are exporting jobs and importing job competitors. Business owners have divided-and-conquered their workforces through union busting and generous work visas. All the while, costs for everyday necessities like housing, healthcare, cars and education continue to climb.

No politician offers real solutions to reverse stagnation among America's pay-check families. As a result, most voters either stay away from the polls or vote for any nut with a plan.

Democratic Denial

Never underestimate the power of denial.

Democratic excuses for last Tuesday's election disasters are pitiful. Placing blame on President Obama's leadership or the vagaries of mid-term elections ignores the election of a Republican governor in Maryland, a Republican state house in Minnesota and the near-defeat of Democratic businessman Mark Warner in Virginia. Democrats now control fewer state legislative seats than at any time since the Civil War. Republicans are on a long march to dominate American politics - and Democrats are to blame.

Two statistics are all we need to know. First, median household income in America continues to fall. It is down 10% since 2000, with no sign or recovery. Second, the employment rate of Americans aged 18-65 is also down 10% since 2000. It also continues to fall.

Middle-class, working Americans live in economic turmoil. Their vision that a middle-management career would provide a home in a good neighborhood, college tuition, vacations, healthcare and retirement suddenly evaporated along with middle-management. Millions of Americans, reared in the pre-planned Industrial Age, are ill-equipped to realign their skills with the fluid expectations of the Information Age. As our economy continues to evolve this problem will endure.  

Republicans offer a solution: less government; lower taxes. This is a terrible solution; trickle-down economics don't work and deregulation just gave us the Great Recession. However, the Republican "solution" is politically preferable to the Democratic solution - which doesn't exist.

In the 1960s, a common bumper sticker read, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." Average Americans may not demand that government create jobs, but they understand that taxes and regulation impact job creation. They understand that one-third of the job force has given up trying to find a job. They understand that average working Americans earn 10% less today than 15 years ago. They understand that the Democratic Party has no strategy for aligning government action with economic growth.

The measure of merit in political economics is not the Dow Jones Industrial Average - it is median household income. Democrats must convey a clear and concise strategy for middle-class driven economic growth. When the Democratic Party proves its dedication to this standard it will regain the votes of America's middle class.

Learning from Defeat

Yesterday, November 4th, 2014, was a Democratic Pearl Harbor. In an era of economic turmoil, with household median incomes down 10% since 2000 and continuing to fall, a robust job market was the number one issue for America's voters. What was the Democratic message for voters with falling incomes and tenuous jobs? Reproductive rights.
The cause of another Democratic debacle is extraordinarily clear. A liberal-only Democratic Party is a political minority. To regain the political majority, Democrats must regain the faith of working men and woman - who voted yesterday for Republican candidates across the ballot.
The means of Democratic resurgence is also extraordinarily clear. Every Democrat must test every political issue with a simple question: "How is it good for America's working families?"
• Tax breaks for corporations? "How is it good for America's working families."
• Cut public education? "How is it good for America's working families?"
• Constrain reproductive rights" "How is it good for America's working families?"
• Restrict gun ownership? "How is it good for America's working families?"
• Repeal & Replace Obamacare? "How is it good for America's working families?"
• Bomb ISIL? "How is it good for America's working families?"
• Deport illegal immigrants? "How is it good for America's working families?"
• Cut carbon emissions: "How is it good for America's working families?"
Only when the Democratic Party has the backs of America's working families will the majority of Americans entrust their votes to the Democratic Party.  Democrats must prove we deserve their trust. The next test is in 364 days.  

Mark Levine for Congress

In Congress as in real estate, never underestimate LOCATION-LOCATION-LOCATION. Jim Moran, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, Eric Cantor and Gerry Connolly have outsized political impact because they are immediately and personally available to the media and to the leaders of government agencies. Cantor and Van Hollen only had to "wait" until their SECOND TERMS to quickly capture leadership roles. Combined with their talents to excel, local Congressmen leverage proximity to power into political leadership for district, Nation and party.

One of the (many) reasons I ran against Frank Wolf in 2010 was the fact he squandered this advantage despite 30 years of seniority.

Of the seven candidates for the Democratic nomination in Virginia's 8th Congressional District, who can seize this opportunity? Who has the proven media savvy and public leadership to grab the bully pulpit and immediately trumpet issues vital to the 8th District and national Democrats?

Mark Levine is head and shoulders above the other candidates in articulating and communicating the Progressive agenda and the priorities of the 8th District. While each candidate has merit, only Mark can exploit media to go over the heads of his colleagues and speak directly to their constituents. Mark can win battles in the committee rooms of Congress AND in the districts of other members.  Mark can sell Progressive positions to voters in other parts of the country who only hear one side of the story.

Mark has many strengths -- as do all candidates for the Democratic nomination in the 8th. But Mark's ability to exploit LOCATION to advance the interests of the 8th and the Democratic Party is unique. Like Elizabeth Warren, Mark can stand up to the Cantor's, LaPierre's, O'Reilly's, Hannity's and Limbaugh's of the media and political worlds with succinct and compelling messages that penetrate and convince. This immense advantage and massive opportunity translates into immediate political power.  

Due to redistricting, thousands of voters now in the 8th Congressional District voted for me in the 10th in 2010. I recommend Mark Levine for your vote on June 10th.

Jeff Barnett

Name 3 Ukrainians

Name 3 Ukrainians

If you can't name 3 Ukrainians, it's tough to argue that Ukraine is vital to the United States. Should Ukraine and Russia go to war over the Crimea, the United States does not have a dog in that fight -- unless you believe every fight in every part of the world demands US intervention.

Such thinking runs counter to American history. Jefferson did nothing while Napoleon ran wild in Europe. Theodore Roosevelt did nothing when Japan swallowed Korea. Wilson kept America neutral in World War I until 1917. Franklin Roosevelt did the same in World War II until Japan and Germany declared war on us. Truman did nothing when Soviet Forces crushed a political uprising in East Germany. Same for Eisenhower with Hungary. Same for Johnson with Czechoslovakia. Leaders across American history understood that war is a constant component of human society. Unless the United States wishes to be constantly at war, we must pick and choose which fights are necessary to engage and which others are simply to be deplored.

If we want to get Moscow's attention over the Crimea, forget troops - send weapons. Massively arm the Ukrainians. Write Kiev a check for $10 billion (that would cost each American $32.90) and ship them Abrams tanks, Patriot surface-to-air missiles, drones, command & control, and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles. These would be tangible "consequences" that President Obama threatened in the event of Moscow's aggression. A western-armed Ukraine would pose a constant threat to Russia along their 1000 miles of common border. This would be a foreign policy disaster for Vladimir Putin, one he would have a hard time explaining to his political backers.

This is not to say America must or should help Ukraine. According to BusinessWeek, Ukraine is "poorer than Paraguay and more corrupt than Iran." Just because Russia is not on our dance card, we don't need to marry Ukraine. They have a dispute to iron out with Russia. Whether they or the Russians like the final answer is not America's problem. If it was, the average American could name at least 3 Ukrainians.  

Why I Am Pro-Choice

"Religious war" is a pathetic oxymoron, unnecessarily repeated throughout history with murderous effects. Open any history book; read millennia of examples where humans dishonored God in the purported name of honoring God. The most vicious and long-lasting violations were internal civil wars: Northern Ireland; India's Partition; the Thirty Years War; the Holocaust; and, on and on and on. These violations are not simply fossils of antiquity; they continue today: 9/11; Israel-Palestine; Sudan; Bosnia; Iraq; Nigeria; and, Lebanon. Religious violence is, regrettably, a proven part of humankind's DNA.

America is hardly immune. Pilgrims fled the church-state establishment that outlawed their beliefs, then hanged Quakers on Boston Common for preaching their beliefs. Roger Williams founded Rhode Island and the Calvert family founded Maryland as sanctuaries against religious violence.

America's constitutional framers understood this human failing. The framers' solution was as revolutionary as democracy: build a "wall" (Jefferson's word) separating church from state. By law, the American government must stay completely out of religious matters. No citizen can use government to impose his/her religious beliefs on anyone else. The first words in the First Amendment declare:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...

Well-meaning Americans repeatedly chip at this prohibitive wall. They ignore its existence (with prayers at public schools) or ridicule its extreme interpretations (no Christmas mangers on courthouse lawns). Yet, Americans intuitively appreciate the goodness of separating government and religion. Politics demands compromise while scripture condemns it. As our Union requires uniform laws, individual conscience require absolute religious freedom. Ergo the remaining words in the first phrase of the First Amendment:

... or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;...

America's freedom of religion spans every degree and spectra. One in five Americans follows no religion at all. A third attends services at least weekly. One in ten Americans holds religion as their primary reason for being; twice as many give the same status to money. While Christianity is the dominant religion in America by far, it is splintered into irreconcilable sects with long histories of internecine slaughter. Different Christian bibles omit entire books. Jews spilt along Reform, Conservative and Orthodox lines, each with further subdivisions. Islam, Baha'I, Buddhism, and Hinduism have completely separate tenets of morality and visions of the afterlife. Unitarians, Deists, Druids, and hundreds of other faiths in America expand the spectrum of beliefs, commitment and resolve toward infinity. The First Amendment brilliantly protects religious freedom from itself by precluding any sect from using government to enforce religious uniformity in the face of America's intractable diversity. Today's Americans have benefited so much from the constitutional framers' hard-won wisdom that we have forgotten its necessity.

Which brings us to abortion.

When anti-abortion zealots base their crusades solely in religious terms, they take sledgehammers to the Constitution's brilliant wall between church and state. Because their personal consciences and religious beliefs condemn abortion under any circumstances, they want government to prohibit any of their fellow citizens from aborting a pregnancy. The question is, why?

Are anti-abortion crusaders trying to turn America into a theocracy that imposes specific scriptural laws on everyone? If so, they pose a historical threat to America's democratic survival.

Are anti-abortion crusaders trying to protect America's respect for life? In the 40 years since the Roe v Wage decision, America's respect for life has INCREASED, not decreased. The homicide rate is down by half. So is the highway fatality rate. Life expectancy increased 8½ years. All these advances required massive investments. Four decades of data prove there's no threat to the social compact posed by abortion.

Are anti-abortion crusaders trying to save their own souls? Some might argue that any government program that underwrites abortions (however infinitesimally) inflicts a "sin" on every taxpayer. But this is the same logic that opponents of the Vietnam and Iraq wars used to avoid paying income taxes. They went to jail. Because government and religion are completely separate in America, government actions do not convey religious culpability to every citizen.

The pro-choice movement has many sound arguments for its positions, including women's health and the primacy of individual conscience. Yet these arguments routinely fail to sway millions of middle class Americans who routinely vote against their economic interests because of their religious stand against abortion. Democrats need to sever this link.

Religious fervor during times of economic uncertainty is understandable. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no atheists in unemployment lines. Personal fervor, however, should not drive into government into the hands of priest, ministers or mullahs.

It is a constitutionally protected right for every American to make individual decisions on abortion based on their own religious beliefs. At the same time, it is a constitutional prohibition for any American to use government to impose any set of religious beliefs regarding abortion upon everyone else. In the face of committed religious diversity, history teaches us that a wall between church and state is absolutely necessary for national survival. If Americans tear down that wall we risk repeating humankind's history of religious violence.

The Democratic Brand

In 1965, Virginia's Democratic Party published a progressive platform.

"We believe that government exists to serve the people, that public office is a public trust, and that the policies of government must adapted to changing times. We are for:
• "Stronger conflict of interest laws."
• "Improvement of consumer protections laws."
• "Expand resources and facilities for state institutions of higher learning."
• "Higher teacher salary scales, and retirement and sick leave benefits above, not below, the American average."
• "Provide more funds for improved commuter roads and highway maintenance."
• "Create a rapid transit system for Northern Virginia."
• "Alleviate shortages in mental health facilities."
• "Improve workmen's compensation laws."

Half a century ago, these progressive values were controversial, aggressive -- and winning. 1965 was a Democratic sweep.  It was the last time, prior to 2014, that Democrats won all of Virginia's state-wide offices (Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General) while holding both US Senate seats. In 1965, Democrats also held the Presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress.

These bullets still speak to voters in 2014. They share an overarching message that binds them into a Democratic Party "brand" that endures over time, regardless of candidate or crisis.

Democrats are the party of everyday working people. A level playing field, where every American has opportunities for success, is the Democratic goal. Democrats have the backs of the Middle Class.

Just as each bullet point from 1965 fits under this brand, so do 2014's big issues that separate progressive Democrats from right-wing Republicans. Medical care, income inequality, Social Security, consumer protection, tax fairness, mass transit, public education, workers rights, pensions, campaign finance - all are schisms between progressive Democrats and right-wing Republicans. All are subsets of the larger and unending struggle between working Americans and corporate wealth.

Under the American political system, working people and corporate wealth have separate political parties. This divide is the battlespace of politics, setting the starting conditions for every campaign. While individual candidates must define themselves, energize their supporters and get out the vote, national parties convey the overall brand that grounds every contest.

The corporate Republican brand is "less government, lower taxes." This brand benefits management, shareholders and the wealthy. The Democratic brand is "a level playing field, where every American has opportunities for success." This brand grows the Middle Class.

Each party can, and should, articulate why its brand is best for America as a whole. Republicans do this; their message is clear, concise and unified. Pull the string on any Republican and you will hear, "less government, lower taxes."

Democrats, wanting to be all things to all people, shy from uniformity. Pull the string on any Democrat and you will hear a string of unrelated talking points ranging from abortion to gun safety and the minimum wage. Unlike FDR with the New Deal and LBJ with the Great Society, today's Democrats refuse to define themselves.

Perversely, when today's Democrats refuse to define themselves, Republican do it for them. Republicans define Democrats as the party of "bigger government and higher taxes." This damning characterization handicaps every Democratic candidate from the starting whistle.

The Democratic brand of "a level playing field, where every American has opportunities for success," is both good politics and good policy. Democrats have always been the builders of the Middle Class, whose defenses are even more valuable to voters today due the harms levied by corporate wealth over the last two decades. With information age technologies concentrating more and more power and influence in fewer and fewer people, armies of lawyers, lobbyists and PR pros have skewed wealth in America to unbalanced levels unseen in a century.

Highly concentrated wealth is simultaneously a threat to liberty and to economy. As Justice Brandeis said in 1941, "We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." Historically, aristocracy is incompatible with democracy. With the 400 richest Americans controlling wealth equal to the GDP of Russia, we have already reached Czarist levels of concentrated wealth. Unless the Middle Class regains control of government, we risk even higher concentrations which will inevitably lead to Czarist consequences.

American growth and stability go hand in hand with Middle Class growth. America was strongest when average working Americans were the direct focus of government investment. Indirect, trickle-down benefits channeled through corporate sieves have proven to only produce arid and isolated crops of stunted economic growth.

The Democratic Party should trumpet its traditional roots with a full-throated, unified and singular focus on -- Middle Class growth and opportunity. The Democratic brand is "a level playing field, where every American has opportunities for success."

Obamacare Website

Few people who were FOR Obamacare have shifted their position due to ACA Website problems.

Few people who OPPOSED Obamacare did so because they doubted the government could produce an effective website.

If anything, the snakebit ACA demonstrated AGAIN the need for government to design an information age procurement system. THAT is what Congress should hold hearings on.

The ACA Website reflects the industrial age procurement system that our government uses to buy software. Remember Moore's Law? Processing power doubles every 18 months. Between the time government drafts a bid announcement and the time it lets a contract, the information age has marched on -- leaving contractors scurrying to match leading edge capabilities to fulfill outdated contractual mandates.  

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