Thursday, February 28, 2019

We must methodically take our wealth back from the super-rich—before it's too late

Many think that when anyone criticizes the super rich—specifically the multimillionaires and the billionaires—that it stems from nothing more than wealth envy. While that may be true for a few who themselves were unable to attain that feat, for most it is about equity and fairness.

Most remember the speech about greed given by Michael Douglas’ character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street. It was short, but it was a confirming catalyst that allowed me to see the fraud that is our current economic system.

Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can’t figure it out.
One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest.
Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you. I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them! The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.
The essence of that speech was that of a master, a puppeteer, controlling companies and thus the lives of millions via financial transactions that built or created nothing of value. They made money by seeing the economic pieces solely as pawns to play with in a game of wealth extraction. Plutocrats and capitalist apologists can attempt to frame it in a more palatable form, but they cannot remove the stench for those not wearing gas masks.

It is clear, however, that Americans are not greedy to the extent that plutocrats are, and plutocrats prey on that reality in order to gorge themselves. If greed was good and we all suffered from the excesses of it, the ones who would succeed would be the ones capable of making something of value to society, not those who depend on the manipulation of numbers.

When writing my first book, As I See It: Class Warfare the Only Resort to Right Wing Doom, I exposed my economic innocence and quickly learned how a free enterprise system is supposed to work.
When I came to America in 1979 to attend college I had very little knowledge of economics. At 18 I knew nothing about the stock market, taxes, supply, demand, money, or the interactions thereof. As an engineering student economics was not a part of the curriculum either. As an avid news geek, I remember hearing terms like inflation, stagflation, Dow Jones Average, and all these other economic terms. I wanted to learn.
I decided to take an Economics 101 class. The class was an eye opener. It is there that I learned about supply and demand. I remember one of the first questions the professor asked was what would happen to the price of a product if there was a lot of demand for some particular product. In my naivety I said the price of the product would fall since the person or company selling the product would have made enough money to cover expenses and could then afford to lower the price. I just could not help but feel that increasing the price for something that was selling well was ethical.  Well I learned fast that the free enterprise system as designed operated differently and that pricing was actually how we maintained a somewhat balance on supply and demand.
If Company “A” has a product, they can increase the price of that product just to the point where its price times its volume less expenses to make the product causes a drop in overall profits for that particular product. A product price that generates a profit will ultimately cause a Company “B”, Company “C”, and so on to start making a similar product and likely price their product lower than Company “A” in order to appeal to some of Company “A”’s customers. Company “A” will be forced to lower their prices to prevent the other companies from taking all their customers for that product.
The above scenario is known as competition and in a free enterprise system free of corruption it is self-balancing, self-regulating, and efficient. In a free enterprise system you have the freedom to create virtually any product or service that you believe a demand would exist for. Demand for what you, an entrepreneur has to offer will determine if your product or service would be profitable and profitability of that product or service will likely determine if others are likely to offer similar product and services to compete with you. This is good for our society all around because competition will keep prices of any product or service more affordable while preventing the concentration of accumulated wealth (excessive profits) in the hands of a few. It is a system that when implemented fairly works for all those who want to produce, create, or be entrepreneurial.
I learned about free enterprise, but was never indoctrinated by what our business schools try to impart on their students. Capitalism is not free enterprise, and Gekko was not an unrealistic character. We've come to see that today's plutocrats create more damage to the world economy than he ever could. They made an extractive, immoral, pilfering system acceptable.

While still going through the process of learning the real economic system beyond the macroeconomics courses I took, I went to see the Eddie Murphy movie Trading Places. While the movie Wall Street was confirming, Trading Places was the movie that opened my eyes to the fraud of a system where those who produce with their labor and intellect were not the beneficiaries of their worth.

Eddie Murphy’s character was a bum on the streets. Two plutocrat brothers made a bet that they could turn an executive into a bum, and a bum into a Wall Street executive. The experiment was successful for the brother who turned Eddie Murphy, the bum, into a stock trading executive.

The movie had a socioeconomic message. But most importantly, it showed how detached the capital markets are from reality. Even though it was just a movie, research shows there is little knowledge of anything substantive needed to be a player in the capital markets. One just needs to be chosen to be a member of the club, and being a member affords one an inordinate amount of control over the lives of millions, thanks to our corporate structure.

The plutocrat brothers in the movie bet one dollar on the experiment and would have destroyed two lives in the process, had Eddie Murphy’s character not exposed the bet. Unfortunately for most Americans, those responsible for discovering the "bets" are willfully asleep at the wheel, and Americans have been paying the price for this for more than 40 years.

No human being has provided enough labor and intellect in our current economy to be worth $100 million, let alone billions of dollars. That hoarding of capital is on the backs of most working people, directly or indirectly.

We can do better. We must think outside of the box. But we must begin by recovering the wealth that this system allowed a few to extract from our economy, effectively acting as an economic parasite to most of us.

It will not be easy to get these policies passed, given the number of elected officials on the take. But we must do it.

This content was created by a Daily Kos Community member.

Monday, February 25, 2019

An Open Letter to My Republican Colleagues

Rep. Adam Schiff. (photo: Getty)
Rep. Adam Schiff. (photo: Getty)

By Adam Schiff, The Washington Post
22 February 19
his is a moment of great peril for our democracy. Our country is deeply divided. Our national discourse has become coarse, indeed, poisonous. Disunity and dysfunction have paralyzed Congress.

And while our attention is focused inward, the world spins on, new authoritarian regimes are born, old rivals spread their pernicious ideologies, and the space for freedom-loving peoples begins to contract violently. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, the prevailing sentiment among our closest allies is that the United States can no longer be counted on to champion liberal democracy or defend the world order we built.

For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American.

But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.

The president has just declared a national emergency to subvert the will of Congress and appropriate billions of dollars for a border wall that Congress has explicitly refused to fund. Whether you support the border wall or oppose it, you should be deeply troubled by the president’s intent to obtain it through a plainly unconstitutional abuse of power.

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

Many of you have acknowledged your deep misgivings about the president in quiet conversations over the past two years. You have bemoaned his lack of decency, character and integrity. You have deplored his fundamental inability to tell the truth. But for reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep your misgivings and your rising alarm private.

That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.

This will require courage. The president is popular among your base, which revels in his vindictive and personal attacks on members of his own party, even giants such as the late senator John McCain. Speaking up risks a primary challenge or accusations of disloyalty. But such acts of independence are the most profound demonstrations of loyalty to country.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may soon conclude his investigation and report. Depending on what is in that report and what we find in our own investigations, our nation may face an even greater challenge. While I am alarmed at what we have already seen and found of the president’s conduct and that of his campaign, I continue to reserve judgment about what consequences should flow from our eventual findings. I ask you to do the same.

If we cannot rise to the defense of our democracy now, in the face of a plainly unconstitutional aggrandizement of presidential power, what hope can we have that we will do so with the far greater decisions that could be yet to come?

Although these times pose unprecedented challenges, we have been through worse. The divisions during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were just as grave and far more deadly. The Depression and World War II were far more consequential. And nothing can compare to the searing experience of the Civil War.

If Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, could be hopeful that our bonds of affection would be strained but not broken by a war that pitted brother against brother, surely America can come together once more. But as long as we must endure the present trial, history compels us to speak, and act, our conscience, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Leaked Video: Dutch Historian Rutger Bregman Demolishes Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson from Fox News and Dutch historian Rutger Bregman. (photo: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty)
Tucker Carlson from Fox News and Dutch historian Rutger Bregman. (photo: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty)

By Ryan Bort, Rolling Stone
22 February 19
“I want to say to you, why don’t you go f-ck yourself, you tiny brain,” Carlson told him

Income inequality isn’t typically a big issue at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But it was this year, partly because Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) proposed a 70 percent marginal tax rate on income over $10 million shortly before the conference began last month.

Though the millionaires and billionaires in attendance didn’t take so kindly to the idea, a few historians made a point of explaining that high marginal tax rates were part of what made America so prosperous following World War II. “It feels like I’m at a firefighters’ conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water, right?” said Dutch historian Rutger Bregman.

“Just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes … We can invite Bono once more, but we’ve got to be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”

Bregman’s comments got the attention of Tucker Carlson, who has recently taken up the issue of tax evasion, particularly as it pertains to corporations like Amazon and Netflix. He decided to invite Bregman on Tucker Carlson Tonight to talk about it. It didn’t go well. The interview, which never aired, ended with the Fox News host lashing out at Bregman, who, as it turned out, wasn’t a huge fan of Carlson or his show. Footage of the confrontation made its way onto the Internet on Wednesday, and quickly went viral.

Though the interview began pleasantly, it soon became clear that Bregman intended to press Carlson on the network’s reluctance to discuss the idea of taxing the rich.

“The explanation is quite simple,” Bregman said. “Most of the people at Davos, and also here on this channel, have been bought by the billionaire class. You’re not meant to say these things.”

Carlson didn’t seem to process that he was being called out, and the two continued to discuss how the top marginal tax rate in America was as high as 90 percent in the middle of the 20th century. They also spoke about the need to address the issue of tax avoidance. When Carlson wondered whether high taxes on the rich would be as effective now as they were in the ’50s and ’60s, Bregman explained that they would.

As he sees it, the issue is one of corruption and people being bribed into shifting focus away from the issues like income inequality. “What the Murdochs basically want you to do is to scapegoat immigrants instead of talking about tax avoidance,” Bregman said. “I’m glad you’re now finally raising the issue, but that’s what’s been happening for the past couple of years.”

Carlson’s demeanor changed immediately. “Uh huh,” he said. “I’m taking orders from the Murdochs, is that what you’re saying?”

Bregman continued to turn the screws. “You’ve been part of the Cato Institute, right? You’ve been a senior fellow there for years? You’ve been taking their dirty money. They’re funded by Koch billionaires.”

“You’re a millionaire funded by billionaires, that’s what you are” he added. “I’m glad you’ve jumped [on] the bandwagon of people like Bernie Sanders and AOC, but you’re not part of the solution, Mr. Carlson. You’re part of the problem.” Carlson began to short-circuit and eventually snapped. “I want to say to you, why don’t you go fuck yourself, you tiny brain,” he yelled. “I hope this gets picked up because you’re a moron. I tried to give you a hearing but you’re too fucking annoying.”

“You can’t handle the criticism,” replied Bregman, laughing.

Like Bregman’s comments in Davos last month, the footage of his interview with Carlson video quickly went viral, prompting Carlson to explain himself Wednesday night. Carlson claimed that the segment never aired not because he had a meltdown after Bregman dismantled him, but because that meltdown happened to include a profanity. “I called him a moron,” said Carlson, “and then I modified that word with a vulgar Anglo-Saxon term that is also intelligible in Dutch. In my defense, I would say that it is entirely accurate, but you’re not allowed to use that word on television, so once I said it out loud there was no airing the segment.”

Carlson’s excuse isn’t very convincing considering he told Bregman the interview probably wasn’t going to air prior to telling him to go vulgar-Anglo-Saxon-term himself.

Outside of the profanity, the only part of the interview Carlson addressed on Wednesday was Bregman’s implication that Carlson is being told what to say. “He claimed that my corporate masters tell me what to say on this show, and that was too much,” Carlson said. “Whatever my faults or those of this channel, nobody in management has ever told us what positions to take on this show. Never. Not one time. We have total freedom here.”

This may very well be true, but as Bregman noted on Twitter well before Carlson’s show aired Wednesday night, if Carlson’s positions didn’t align with the agenda of his overlords, he wouldn’t be on the air. “I stand behind what I said, but there’s one thing I should have done better,” Bregman wrote. “When Carlson asked me how he’s being influenced by Big Business and tax-avoiding billionaires, I should have quoted Noam Chomsky. Years ago, when he was asked a similar question, Chomsky replied: ‘I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is that if you believe something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.'”

Though Carlson teased it three times on Twitter, his segment addressing the interview with Bregman didn’t even take up two minutes of his show Wednesday night. He apparently needed to save time for a bizarre rant about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to provide free child care for families earning $50,000 or less. Carlson not only alleged that the plan is part of a plot to “justify more immigration,” he seemed to bash the general idea of day care, which millions of American rely on so they can work to provide for their families. “Raising your own kids, Elizabeth Warren is telling us, is a job Americans just won’t do.”

This is, of course, is the exact kind of segment Bregman criticized Carlson for running, to which Carlson could only wonder how Bregman, being in Europe, could have any idea what kind of content airs on Fox News. Never mind that, though. It was the simple fact that Carlson slipped up and used a profanity that prevented him from running the interview with the Dutch historian.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Bernie Is Running, Thank God

Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: Getty)
Senator Bernie Sanders. (photo: Getty)
By Meagan Day, Jacobin
21 February 19

Bernie Sanders is running for president again. His message is simple: there's a class war raging and working people need to win it.

t’s finally happening. Bernie Sanders just announced that he’ll be running for president again.

Judging from its early entrants, the politics of this upcoming Democratic presidential primary will be the most progressive in decades. All of the confirmed contenders claim to support Medicare for All, for example — an idea that most in the party ignored or outright rejected as recently as three years ago. Some candidates are also running on ideas like universal child care and a Green New Deal, a notable departure from the pro-corporate politics that have characterized the party’s program for years.

That leftward shift is a positive development, and there’s a reason for it. The reason is Bernie Sanders.

Now Sanders has announced that he’s throwing his hat in the ring with them. Some progressive voters may want to gravitate toward another candidate in the crowded field. But don’t be fooled — if you seek economic and social justice, you should support Bernie Sanders for president.

Why? Because there’s a class war raging, and Sanders is the only one running who sees it, and who wants to build working-class forces to fight back.

For four decades, neoliberal politicians in both parties have shamelessly and relentlessly deregulated corporations, cut taxes on the rich, stymied unions, starved social services, privatized public goods, and bailed out economic elites while imposing austerity on everyone else. The result for ordinary working people has been stagnating wages and ballooning debt, heightened anxiety and lowered expectations.

All the while, there’s been a tacit prohibition on making sense of all this using the language of class conflict.

In 2016, Sanders violated that taboo — and found the American people remarkably receptive.

It turned out that many people were tired of having to choose between conservative pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps individualism and liberal meritocratic elitism to explain the economic inequality and hardship they experience every day. They heard what Bernie had to say: that the economy is rigged, and that aggressive action to democratize it is necessary and achievable. And they agreed.

By making this pervasive exploitation and egregious inequality central to his campaign, Sanders came out of left field to garner thirteen million votes against the party front-runner. By continuing to use his platform to push for ambitious redistributive policies and highlight working-class struggles, he graduated from the campaign to become the most popular politician in the country. The rise of Sanders represents an American awakening — incomplete but significant — to the failures of liberal bipartisanship, corporate accommodationism, and capitalism itself.

Sanders doesn’t just acknowledge the constant churn of class conflict: he picks a side. While other politicians know which way the wind is blowing and strike various progressive poses accordingly, Sanders is a storm that generates that wind.
He does this by standing up consistently for working people against capitalist interests. No other candidate for the Democratic Party nomination will have a comparable track record of fighting to put people over profits.

For example, no other candidate has been pushing for single-payer health care in Congress, on the basis that “health care should be a right of all Americans regardless of their income,” for decades. No other candidate has antagonized the world’s wealthiest man into giving a quarter of a million employees an immediate pay raise. No other candidate dares question the superiority of capitalism — only Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist.

And while other candidates may pick and choose progressive proposals to run on, Sanders will present the most ambitious and comprehensive program to make the country more equal, more democratic, and more humane. Expect him to run not on a handful of zeitgeisty ideas, but on a detailed roadmap out of hell: Medicare for All, free college tuition, and student debt relief, a Green New Deal with an ambitious jobs program, strong climate-conscious environmental regulations, universal child care, massive investment in public housing and education, a national $15 minimum wage, expanding Social Security, banning predatory lending, strong pro-union legislation, ending corporate tax giveaways, mandatory paid sick and family leave and vacation, gender pay equity laws, dismantling private detention centers, demilitarizing the police, banning for-profit prisons, ending the War on Drugs, ending voter suppression, stopping illegal bombings, ending the War on Terror, non-interventionist foreign policy, and on and on.

In a race where progressivism is in vogue, his platform will be hard to run against without changing the conversation. Other candidates and their proxies will argue that Sanders can’t represent the interests of women and people of color because he’s an old white guy. But whatever the importance of symbolic representation, the social-democratic reforms Sanders proposes would do incomparably more to materially transform the lives of hundreds of millions of ordinary women and people of color.

Antiracists should embrace the politician with the most serious plan to end problems like unemployment, low wages, underinsurance, student debt, underfunded public education, and housing disinvestment, given that these problems disproportionately affect people of color and are the material basis for the lived experience of racism.

Similarly, feminists should back whichever politician, regardless of their gender, is most likely to guarantee quality universal health care, child care, and education — the social reproductive work that often falls uncompensated to women if it isn’t adequately provided by society — as well as general proposals for a more equitable economy in which women can flourish.

When it comes to US foreign policy, the other candidates in the Democratic Party presidential primary will, as usual, run the gamut from hawkish to oblivious. Sanders has an imperfect anti-imperialist track record, but is the only presidential candidate who suggests any hope of a new American foreign policy paradigm.

As a young man, Sanders applied to be a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He arranged a delegation from Burlington to visit the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, attended the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and visited Cuba. At times he toed the establishment line on foreign policy in Congress, but he has made a concerted effort to revisit and develop his approach in advance of the 2020 race.

Last year, he even authored legislation to end US support for the war in Yemen — which, if it passes, will be the first ever successful invocation of the War Powers Resolution.

And then there’s climate change. The earth is on the brink of catastrophe, and time is running out. The primary obstacle to beating the clock is not individual consumption habits or insufficient ecological consciousness — it’s capitalism itself, which not only incentivizes humans to destroy the earth for profit, but empowers society’s wealthiest to control politics and shield themselves from interference or consequences.

To save the planet, we need a movement against capitalism that can force lawmakers’ hands with disruptive mass action. This task will be infinitely easier if the president sees one of his primary tasks as bringing the private sector to heel, and is willing to anger and alienate the most powerful people in the world because he recognizes that sustainability can only be achieved at the expense of profits.

Sanders is also our best shot at beating the Right. No one is better capable of defeating Donald Trump than a politician who speaks to the diverse working-class majority’s real needs in concrete terms, who meets their desire for change not with platitudes but with a positive vision for a radically fairer society.

Anyone skittish about a strong left-wing candidate’s chances against Trump need only remember 2016: running a centrist, corporate-friendly Democrat was justified because presumably only a moderate could defeat Trump. This turned out to be very wrong. For decades, establishment liberals have tried to persuade us that pragmatism means subordinating what’s right to what’s feasible. What we learned in 2016, or ought to have learned, is that compromise is no longer a winning strategy.

It appears that the sun is rising on working-class politics in the United States. But there are no guarantees. The 2020 Democratic presidential primary is a referendum and a test: have Americans finally awoken from our long neoliberal slumber? Are we ready to dispense with violence, scarcity, and greed, and build a new world on a foundation of solidarity and equality?

If you’re not ready for that new world, no problem — there are many more moderate candidates for you to choose from. But if you are, you have to back Bernie Sanders.

Friday, February 22, 2019

It's Bernie's world. Democratic Party just living in it

Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Amy Kontras/Guardian UK)
Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Amy Kontras/Guardian UK)

By Kate Aronoff, Guardian UK
21 February 19

Bernie Sanders’s 2016 candidacy rewrote the rules by which the Democratic party operates. If Democrats win in 2020, it will be largely thanks to him

ernie Sanders declared on Tuesday that he will once again run for president. Whatever this election season holds for him, he’s already the most important candidate in the race.

Emerging seemingly out of nowhere, Sanders’s first Democratic primary run in 2016 brought tens of thousands of people – millennials especially – into the work of politics, not just to cast a ballot but to knock on doors and phone bank, host community meetings and wrangle straws in Iowa. Among them was the now representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has credited her organizing on the Sanders campaign for helping to reignite her interest in politics.

Sanders didn’t win, of course. But the results of his campaign defied all conventional horse-race logic. The man widely expected to be little more than an off-brand Dennis Kucinich won 23 states and 47% of pledged party delegates. In all, over 13 million people voted for an avowed democratic socialist.

In the wreckage of Hillary Clinton’s historic loss, it became abundantly clear that the Democratic party’s center could not hold. Sanders – now joined by Ocasio-Cortez and a new generation of left-leaning politicians –have given a party that lacked ideas and momentum a new lease on life. Indeed, it’s painful to imagine what the Democrats would be doing without them. (Fighting for tax credits to put solar panels on Trump’s border wall, perhaps? Or lowering prescription drug prices for prisoners fighting wildfires in California? We can only speculate.)

Instead, the types of ideas laughed off in the 2016 primary as “magical unicorns” are now firmly in the party’s mainstream, even as they make its top brass sweat. Sensing a change in the political weather, skilled politicians who built their careers as sensible, business-friendly moderates, like Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, are rebranding themselves as bold progressives to vie for the party’s presidential nomination. Each has backed once fringe-left proposals such as Medicare-for-All, a federal job guarantee and a Green New Deal – all of which are hugely popular among voters. Young voters especially – on the cusp of becoming the country’s largest voter demographic – want a candidate who will do more than pay lip service to progressive ideals. As a result, several 2020 candidates now sound more like Sanders than their former selves.

And though they may still run, shifting waters have made old guard figures like Joe Biden and billionaires Michael Bloomberg and Howard Schultz look increasingly – and accurately – like out-of-touch dinosaurs.

Sanders’s 2016 candidacy wrote the rules by which the Democratic party is now operating, and that will ultimately help it beat Trump in the general election. Ironically, his remarkable success could make this primary run harder for him than the last.

Unlike his battle against Hillary Clinton, this election will see Sanders – no longer an unknown outsider – try to differentiate himself from a field of candidates with platforms not all that different from his own, most notably Elizabeth Warren.

That said, while Sanders’s ideas won’t set him apart from this field as dramatically as they did in 2016, his authenticity still might. Harris, Gillibrand and Booker are all recent converts to big progressive policies. Sanders has been saying the same thing for 40 years – almost comically so. That he is constitutionally incapable of lying has been a major part of his appeal, and a stark contrast from polished party functionaries willing to change their tune to suit a new poll or donor. The onus will be on candidates newly gravitating toward left ideas to prove their endorsements of progressive policies are more than just empty talking points.

What remains unique about Sanders, too, is his long-held belief that political change is driven from below. As other candidates pitch their own progressive bona fides, Sanders will pitch a political revolution. Investing too much faith in any one person is a dangerous thing, particularly in an office as fraught as the American presidency – for him, just a means to an end. Sanders is all too aware that he’ll need an army at his back to get anything done should he win. Accordingly, he’ll treat his campaign as an opportunity to train them into fighting shape.

The Democratic party is stronger for Sanders having thrown his wrench into its coronation plans two years ago. And we’re all better off. It’s painfully easy to imagine two years of an electoral news cycle orbiting around personality beefs and debates about “electability” instead of, say, the looming collapse of human civilization. With as few as 11 years left before the climate crisis veers into a full-on global catastrophe, the presidential race needs to be a place to debate issues, not individuals. With Sanders on the scene, we can rest assured that it will be.

Bernie Sanders showed us that another world is possible. If that world becomes a reality, we’ll have him to thank – whether he becomes president or not.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Democratic lawmakers launch probe into whether NRA helped Russia funnel money to Republicans

The usually pugnacious National Rifle Association has grown rather quiet over the past year regarding its links to Russia, and two Democratic lawmakers want to know why.

Top NRA members made a trip to Moscow in 2015 that the organization has since tried to distance itself from, with its outside counsel saying CEO Wayne LaPierre (pictured below) was "personally opposed" to the trip. But as ABC News notes, internal emails and social media posts viewed by the news outlet suggest the NRA not only supported the trip but helped organize it too.

“We are disturbed by the lack of transparency the NRA has demonstrated surrounding the December 2015 trip to Moscow,” Democratic Reps. Ted Lieu of California and Kathleen Rice of New York write in a letter obtained by ABC News. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The two Democratic lawmakers are launching an investigation into the “complex web of relationships” between the NRA and Moscow, and at base, they want to know whether the NRA served as a vehicle for the Kremlin to illegally exert influence over U.S. elections.

“How much money did the NRA receive from Russia or Russia-linked individuals or entities during the 2016 election cycle?” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Did the NRA use any of that money in their 2016 election campaign contributions?” The NRA lavished a record amount of money on the 2016 elections—more than $50 million in total, with $30 million going to Donald Trump, and most of the remainder being used to shore up GOP Senate candidates in tight re-election bids.

Lieu and Rice are asking the NRA to turn over records of any communications, meetings, or financial transactions between NRA officials and individuals linked to Russia. The 2015 Moscow trip was spearheaded by alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who sought to infiltrate the NRA and has pleaded guilty to conspiring against the U.S.

The NRA delegation met with an entourage of well-connected Russians, including Butina's boss, Alexander Torshin, who was serving as deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank at the time and has since gone into the shadows; Russia’s then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin; and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sounds swanky.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon has already launched a similar probe into the mysterious Moscow trip and has called it "not credible" for NRA officials to claim they didn't take part in the planning. But the investigation led by Reps. Lieu and Rice, of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees, respectively, will be invested with the power of the subpoena.