Tag Archives: Joe Biden

Anyone but Trump? Weighing Three Approaches for Social Justice Advocates in 2020

Now that Bernie Sanders has suspended his presidential campaign, his supporters are faced with an important question: how to best move forward given bad (Joe Biden) and worse (Donald Trump) options for president. Our goal? Helping millions of people in need through implementation of the platform that Sanders continues to fight for and Biden opposes: Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, wealth taxes on the billionaire class, decarceration, peaceful foreign policy, inclusive immigration policy, and more.

Whether or not these policies become reality is dependent on much more than presidential politics. Congressional elections will have an important impact, as will state and local elections. Building the strength of the labor movement is a must. So is the growth of independent alternatives to corporate media. Social justice advocates must continue to organize, wage effective issue campaigns, re-envision Democratic institutions, and increase the membership of promising grassroots organizations that have begun to wield power, including the Democratic Socialists of America and the Sunrise Movement.

But presidential politics still matter, and while no progressive-minded person would consider voting for Trump, there are three distinct presidential election strategies social justice advocates may embrace. Those strategies, along with their pros and cons, are summarized below.

No matter how we weigh any individual strategy’s tradeoffs, it is essential to understand its rationale and stand in solidarity with social justice advocates who pursue it. Attacking each other over strategic disagreements only undermines our common agenda; there is much more that unites people who supported Sanders (or Elizabeth Warren, for that matter) in the primary than that divides us.

Vote Blue No Matter Who

This strategy, embraced by Sanders himself, centers the threat posed by a potential second term for Trump. Sanders, like many of his supporters, maintained since he entered the race that he would ultimately support any Democratic nominee – no matter who it was – because of the importance of defeating the man he believes to be “the most dangerous president in the modern history of our country.”

It’s not hard to understand the rationale for this strategy: Trump, beyond his bigoted rhetoric, disgusting personal conduct, and disregard for political norms, has pursued the standard GOP policy playbook while in office. His administration has worked to gut labor laws, oppress immigrants, roll back environmental regulations, and chip away at the Affordable Care Act. He has appointed a plethora of privilege-defending judges to the federal bench, including two on the Supreme Court. Trump has also flouted the emoluments clause of the Constitution, using his presidency to personally enrich himself and his family, and seriously bungled America’s response to the coronavirus.

Social-justice-minded proponents of this strategy acknowledge that Biden has a long history of condoning millions of people’s oppression. They don’t deny that, over the course of his career, Biden has stymied school integration, helped engineer mass incarceration, worked to deregulate the financial industry, spread racist stereotypes used to deprive poor people of cash assistance, voted against LGBTQ equality, championed the Iraq War, fought reproductive rights, enabled abuses of immigrants, and fomented deficit panic. They recognize that Biden frequently lies, has been accused of sexual assault, and vehemently opposes urgently needed policy, like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, that would threaten the profits of his corporate donors. But while that may be true, vote-blue-no-matter-who proponents point out, Biden would surely appoint Supreme Court justices better than Brett Kavanaugh. He also surely wouldn’t use a pandemic as cover for helping employers bust unions. In the short run, social justice advocates will undoubtedly have a better chance of successfully pushing their agenda – and preventing as much of the serious harm a president can cause as possible – with Biden than with Trump in the White House.

Still, there is a clear downside to pledging unconditional support for the eventual Democratic nominee: it deprives social justice advocates of considerable long-term power. If Democratic party leaders and their allies in the media know you will support a Democrat in the end no matter who that Democrat is, what incentive do they have to cover and push the issues and candidates you care about? Isn’t it perfectly logical for party elites to ignore you and the millions of people their policies hurt and cater instead to groups whose support is conditional upon the pursuit of their interests, like corporate America and affluent White suburbanites? The Democratic Party has for decades done just that, relying on social justice advocates’ fears of Republicans instead of actively trying to court social-justice-minded voters.

Refuse to Support Corporate Democrats

The social justice voting bloc is big enough that the Democratic Party cannot beat Republicans without it. If that voting bloc were to uniformly and credibly pledge to withhold support from corporate Democrats like Biden in general elections, less social-justice-oriented Democrats who want to win general elections above all else would have no choice but to support candidates social justice advocates support – like Sanders – in primaries. This strategy is about destroying the electability argument that won Biden and Hillary Clinton the last two Democratic nominations.

To be clear, corporate Democrats’ electability arguments have lacked evidence for years. But they have nonetheless convinced Democratic primary voters, in no small part because their logic makes a certain sense. If the only swing voters are moderates, people who want to win general elections against Republicans would naturally maximize their chances to do so by nominating candidates who appeal to this narrow swing constituency. Social justice advocates who refuse to support corporate Democrats increase their leverage by becoming a swing constituency themselves.

The goal of refusing to support corporate Democrats, in the long run, is to achieve one of two outcomes: pulling the Democratic Party in a social justice direction or creating the conditions for the emergence of a viable third-party alternative to the Democratic Party. For the millions of people who are incarcerated, bombed, deported, and/or mired in poverty due to policies corporate Democrats support when they’re in power, it is crucial that one of these outcomes occurs as quickly as possible. The likelihood of that happening through the strategy of withholding support from corporate Democrats is uncertain, but what is certain is that, all else equal, it is much higher than the likelihood of achieving these long-run objectives through the vote-blue-no-matter-who strategy.

In the short run, withholding support from corporate Democrats does not have the same impact as supporting Republicans; that’s a basic mathematical fact. It does have a real short-term downside, however. Relative to supporting a Democratic nominee, it makes a Republican win – and the four years of increased damage that would come along with it – more likely.

The Wait-and-See Approach

Some Democratic voters have yet to declare whether they will support or refuse to support Biden in November. These voters do not hold as much power to influence Democratic primaries as those who vow never to support corporate Democrats, but when a corporate nominee like Biden emerges from a primary victorious, they are well-positioned to influence that nominee’s agenda.

The successful execution of the wait-and-see strategy involves outlining concessions that Biden must make to earn your support. Perhaps what you ultimately decide will hinge on Biden’s vice presidential choice; maybe it will be based on who he commits to put in his cabinet or his shortlist for potential Supreme Court nominees. Anything you care about is potentially on the table. 

There are tradeoffs involved in figuring out how to approach this negotiation. Ask for rhetorical overtures without staffing commitments and you’re essentially deciding to vote blue no matter who. Insist on Nina Turner as Vice President, Naomi Klein as Energy Secretary, and Rashida Tlaib as Secretary of State and you’re effectively refusing to vote for Biden. Demand Pedro Noguera as Education Secretary, Lori Wallach as Trade Representative, and Matthew Desmond as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and maybe you have a shot at getting it.

Because the wait-and-see approach can apply to fundraising, voter outreach, and other forms of activity in addition to votes, it is not mutually exclusive to voting blue no matter who or refusing to support corporate Democrats. Someone who has already committed to voting for Biden may only donate or phonebank under certain conditions. Likewise, the frequency and intensity with which Biden is critiqued by people refusing to vote for him may change in response to who he selects as his vice president or promises to appoint to key positions. In addition, these strategies complement each other. People who refuse to vote for corporate Democrats stretch the Overton Window, making other social justice advocates seem less radical in comparison. The potential to bring other social justice advocates along is the carrot that vote-blue-no-matter-who proponents offer the Democratic Party in internal negotiations, while the potential to pull other social justice advocates away is the external stick wielded by those who refuse to pledge unconditional support to the party’s corporate Establishment.

Debate the Strategies, Unite Around Goals

Vigorous debate about how to weigh the pros and cons of each of the above strategies and when to engage which strategy is healthy; joining corporate Democrats in pillorying Sanders supporters who adopt different general election strategies is not. If we are to be successful in achieving the Sanders movement’s central aim – improving millions of people’s lives through the social justice policies a majority of Americans support – we must remember who our allies are. And no matter who is ultimately elected president, we must continue the down-ballot work, movement building, and on-the-ground activism essential to advancing our shared vision.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Philosophy, US Political System

It’s Not Over

Even before the results in Florida, Arizona, and Illinois started rolling in on Tuesday night, pundits renewed their calls for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the Democratic primary. “It’s over,” the official Slate account tweeted after it became clear that Joe Biden won big victories in Florida and Illinois.

Pundits and Democratic Party operatives typically cite the need to “unite” or focus on “beating Trump” as the reason Sanders should drop out. But these reasons don’t make sense. Sanders has consistently said that beating Trump is his top priority and that he will campaign vigorously for Biden if Biden ends up being the nominee. The two major Democratic candidates are already united and focused in their desire to beat Trump.

The real reason the political and media Establishment want Sanders to drop out is that it’s not actually over. If Biden had this election all wrapped up and thought it was time to “unite,” wouldn’t he be asking his Super PACs to stop mailing anti-Sanders hit pieces to Latino voters? And is it really plausible that Democrats expect Biden to weather an onslaught of advertisements and lies from the Republican Party during the general election but don’t think he can handle relatively mild, accurate critiques of his record from a guy who repeatedly calls him a “decent guy” and “good friend?”

We’re currently in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that has uprooted American life. It highlights the need for the type of fundamental change to American policy that Bernie Sanders has spent his life fighting for, and that large majorities of Democratic voters now support. Joe Biden is also a deeply flawed candidate who is often incoherent and lies all the time. He has spent his career enacting racist, sexist, and classist policy in line with what both Republicans and his donors want. Biden is not quite as bad as Trump, as his campaign likes to remind us, but that’s hardly a compelling reason to vote for him. The more the Democratic electorate sees Biden and Sanders side by side and learns about Biden’s record, Establishment Democrats fear, the less likely they’ll continue to harbor the misconception that Biden is well-equipped to take Trump on and to deal with major crises.

That’s not to say that things look good for Sanders; they most certainly do not. After losing Florida, Arizona, and Illinois, Sanders now trails Biden by approximately 300 delegates. He would need to win in the neighborhood of 60% of the remaining delegates to have a legitimate claim to be the Democratic nominee. Given that he’s currently polling around 35% nationally, amassing 60% of the remaining delegates looks like a very tall order indeed.

At the same time, many millions of people in 23 states, 3 territories, and the District of Columbia still haven’t voted. A whopping 42% of delegates – or 5.5 times the amount by which Biden leads – have yet to be awarded. The next set of primaries isn’t scheduled until April 4, 17 days from now. It’s hard to believe, but 17 days ago, forecasters still gave Sanders and Biden about equal chances of winning the nomination.

In other words, we’re about five minutes into the third quarter of a football game, four games deep in a seven-game series, or halfway through July in a typical Major League Baseball season. Sanders is trailing and Biden is sitting pretty. Yet there’s a reason you play out the game, series, or season. The New England Patriots wouldn’t have won the 2017 Super Bowl if they had stopped playing when Tevin Coleman put the Atlanta Falcons up 28-3 over 6 minutes after the start of the second half. The Cleveland Cavaliers wouldn’t have won the NBA Finals in 2016 if they had thrown in the towel when falling behind Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors 3 games to 1. And the Atlanta Braves wouldn’t have won the NL West in 1993 if they had packed it in when they trailed the San Francisco Giants by 9.5 games on August 7.

The probability that Sanders will win is low and nobody should delude themselves into thinking otherwise. Still, it’s probably higher than the probability the Boston Red Sox were going to win the American League Championship Series when they were down 3-0 to the Yankees in 2004. Baseball fans shouldn’t have called for the Red Sox to drop out then. Fans of democracy shouldn’t call for Sanders to drop out now, either.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Sports

The Wednesday Morning Speech Bernie Should Have Given

Thank you all very much for being here. Let me begin by acknowledging that last night’s results were disappointing. We lost in the largest state up for grabs yesterday, the state of Michigan. We lost in Mississippi, Missouri, and Idaho.

On the other hand, we won in North Dakota and we lead the vote count in the state of Washington, the second-largest state contested yesterday. With 67 percent of the votes having been counted in Washington, we are a few thousand votes on top.

Poll after poll, including exit polls, show that a strong majority of the American people support our progressive agenda. The American people are deeply concerned about the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in this country. The American people want the wealthy and large, profitable corporations to start paying their fair share of taxes. And the American people want a single-payer national health care system that eliminates copays, deductibles, and premiums, guaranteeing health care to everyone in America as a human right.

Joe Biden is opposed to guaranteeing health care as a human right – on television just the other day, he said he might veto a single-payer health care bill if he is elected President and Congress sends it to his desk. This position is unacceptable, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic we are currently facing. But many Democrats are voting for Joe Biden anyway. Why, you ask? Because they believe he is the safe choice to take on Donald Trump in November.

We need to correct this misconception now, before it is too late. If you want to beat Donald Trump in November, you should vote for me.

I want you to think back to 2016. The same people who are telling you that Joe Biden is the safe choice to take on Donald Trump today were telling you that Hillary Clinton was the safe choice to take on Donald Trump four years ago. We all know how that turned out. Let us not make the same mistake again.

I am the most electable Democrat for two main reasons. First, our campaign continues to win the vast majority of the votes of younger people. Young people’s votes and enthusiasm were a major reason why Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. Hillary Clinton’s inability to inspire young voters in 2016 was a major reason why she lost that election, and young people also do not trust Joe Biden. You may be committed to voting for either Joe Biden or me in November, but whether we ask them to or not, young progressives – a key constituency we need to beat Trump – can only be expected to knock on doors and vote if I am the nominee.

Why are young progressives uninspired by Joe Biden? It’s because he has been on the wrong side of important fights for decades. I have a 100% pro-choice voting record; Joe Biden has voted over and over again to restrict access to abortion and contraception. When I was in college, I organized to desegregate housing and schools; years later, in the Senate, Joe Biden stood with southern racists and opposed desegregating schools. I’ve fought for free college; Joe Biden helped create the student debt crisis. I opposed the Iraq War; Joe Biden cheered it on. On issue after issue, I’ve been on the right side and Joe Biden has been on the wrong side.

That brings me to the second reason I am the most electable Democrat: I am the polar opposite of Donald Trump. Trump is a pathological liar who is running a corrupt administration. I am recognized even by Republican voters who disagree with my policies for my honesty and integrity.

The contrast will not be so stark with Joe Biden. When Biden points out that Trump has spent his time as President enriching himself and his friends, Trump will point out that Biden’s Wall Street donors got the policies they paid for during Biden’s Senate career. When Biden points out that Trump lies repeatedly, Trump will point out that Biden has plagiarized speeches, fabricated stories, and lied about his record of supporting Social Security cuts. When Biden points out that Trump is a racist and sexist, Trump will point out that Biden was an architect of mass incarceration, advanced racist stereotypes about single mothers, and frequently makes women feel uncomfortable. Even when Biden criticizes Trump for putting kids in cages, Trump will point out that the cages were built and kids first put in them when Biden was Vice President.

Let us be clear: Donald Trump is worse than Joe Biden. But let us also be clear: being better than Donald Trump is not enough. It is not enough for the millions of people who need health care and it is not enough to win an election. Democrats tried it already, in 2016, and we lost. We should not try it again.

So if you live in one of the 26 states that hasn’t voted yet, please tune in to the first one-on-one debate of this campaign on Sunday night. You will see then what you already know now if you’ve seen Joe Biden speak recently or watched my Fox News town hall: in addition to being the only candidate who has fought for you for decades, I am also the candidate best-positioned to defeat Donald Trump.

Donald Trump must be defeated, and I will do everything in my power to make that happen. I hope you will, too, by casting your vote for me in your upcoming primary. Thank you all very much.

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Filed under 2016 Election, 2020 Election

Pro-Choice? Bernie Sanders is the Clear Choice.

On reproductive rights, the records of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are about as different as Democratic candidates’ records can be. “Biden over 36 years in Congress staked out a reputation as one of the Democratic Party’s most conservative voices on abortion,” as Politico summarized last year. According to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s 2016 review, on the other hand, “There’s no question: Senator Bernie Sanders has a strong record on reproductive rights.”

Here’s how Politico elaborates on Joe Biden’s record:

For decades, [Joe Biden] opposed late-term and so-called partial birth abortions, lamenting that one ban enacted in the 1990s did not go far enough. He supported Republican presidents’ prohibitions on funding for groups that promote abortions overseas, and backed legislation that would have allowed states to overturn Roe v. Wade. He even fought unsuccessfully to widen religious groups’ exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for birth control coverage…

In public statements, interviews and recently resurfaced videos, Biden said he believed that “abortion is wrong from the moment of conception,” and said he doesn’t “view abortion as a choice and a right” but rather “always a tragedy.” He also said he did not believe that “a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”

Biden voted for the adoption of the Hyde Amendment in the 1970s and later opposed efforts to make exemptions and fund abortions for women who were victims of rape or incest.

He held that position until [the late spring of 2019, after he began his 2020 presidential campaign.]

Here’s how the Planned Parenthood Action Fund elaborates on Bernie Sanders’s record:

Sanders Has a 100% Voting Record on the Action Fund Scorecard
When the Action Fund started scoring congressional votes in 1995 (a few years after Sanders began his tenure in Congress), one of the first votes we scored was an amendment to allow over $190 million for family planning projects under Title X. Then-Representative Sanders was a key vote in moving that amendment forward. Throughout his career, he has continued to vote to protect access to safe and legal abortion, as well as federal funding for family planning and health care provided at Planned Parenthood health centers.

Sanders Supports Expanded Access to Birth Control
To this day, Sanders also has reliably and consistently voted to ensure women’s access to the full range of birth control options. During the fight over the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to opt out of providing insurance coverage of birth control, Sanders gave a speech on the Senate floor voicing his opposition:

“…there is growing anger that members of Congress, mostly men I should add, are trying to roll back the clock on women’s rights… Let me add my strong belief that if the United States Senate had 83 women and 17 men rather than 83 men and 17 women that a bill like this would never even make it to the floor.”

What’s more, he supports the Affordable Care Act, including its mandated coverage for birth control, and co-sponsored a bill that would protect women from bosses who want to block this coverage from them…

Sanders [also] signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court advocating against the Hobby Lobby’s decision to deny insurance coverage for contraception to their employees…

Sanders Supports Access to Abortion
To sum-up Sanders’ stance on abortion, just read what he had to say in a 2012 op-ed:

“We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and physician to make, not the government.”

His strong position that we, as a nation, will never go backwards when it comes to access to abortion care is a major reason why Sanders is in our corner.

Sanders has also been a cosponsor of one of the most proactive pieces of legislation that would prevent states from chipping away at abortion access: The Women’s Health Protection Act, introduced in 2015 and 2013. This act would prevent politicians from passing laws aimed at shutting down health centers by imposing unnecessary building regulations and medical procedures such as mandatory ultrasounds — which have the sole intent of shaming women and making it harder for them to access safe, legal abortion…

On the campaign trail, Sanders boldly defended abortion access at the Christian institution Liberty University despite the fact that the university is so conservative that Ted Cruz announced his run for president there…

Sanders Has Stood With Planned Parenthood
The PPAF thanks Sanders for being an unwavering ally of Planned Parenthood patients and consistently voting in favor of protecting patients who rely on federal funds to access birth control, cancer screenings, and other basic health care at Planned Parenthood health centers.

If Bernie Sanders is elected, pro-choice women can feel confident he’ll have their backs. If Joe Biden is elected, regardless of what he says during campaign season, pro-choice women will have a lot of reasons to worry.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Health Care and Medicine

On Both Politics and Policy, “For All” Beats “For Some”

Medicare for All or Medicare for All Who Want It? Free college for all or free college for just the non-rich? The debate between universal (available to everyone) and means-tested (available only to those who meet certain criteria) programs has defined the Democratic primary. Bernie Sanders, often joined by Elizabeth Warren, argues for universalism, declaring education and health care to be basic human rights. Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden argue against, contending that government resources must be targeted only to those in need, rather than wasted on the rich and/or on those who ostensibly don’t want them.

On the most commonly cited rationale for each position – sustainability for universalists and resource constraints for means testers – proponents of universalism have the upper hand. Medicare and Social Security, two of the United States’s largest, most successful, and most popular programs, are as close to universal as we’ve got. By giving everyone a stake in these programs, proponents argue, their near-universality has insulated them from attack. Bob Greenstein (the President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where I used to work) points out both that these programs have been cut and that their popularity could conceivably be due to the perception that they’re tied to work rather than to their quasi-universal nature, but the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state-level universal program not tied to work, also enjoys overwhelming public support. So do universal programs that aren’t tied to work in other countries – other countries’ universal health care systems, for instance, are way more popular than our means-tested approach. It’s reasonable to expect a universal program to be more sustainable than a means-tested alternative over time.

The Buttigieges of the world counter that universal programs are too expensive; in December, for instance, Buttigieg said they would require “the kind of taxation that economists tell us could hurt the economy.” But even if you reject the notion that government spending can be substantially increased without raising taxes, concerns about higher taxes are entirely without merit. Research has consistently (and predictably) failed to support such concerns, the United States has significantly lower taxes than the rest of the developed world, and scores of reputable economists support tax proposals, like those Sanders and Warren have released, that can fund the universal programs on offer. When Buttigieg says he’d prefer to “save those dollars [that would otherwise be spent on free college] for something else,” he is presenting a false choice. It is only his and others’ political preferences, not actual resource constraints, that stand between us and full funding of all the priorities he listed: education, infrastructure, child care, housing, and health care.

Still, the most compelling case for universal programs isn’t political. It is, ironically, that they’re better at achieving two of means testing’s major goals: helping people in need and doing so efficiently. They reduce stigma, arbitrariness, usage barriers, and administrative costs.

Universal programs help people in need by reducing stigma

Most low-income people work incredibly hard to put roofs over their heads and food on their tables. Yet they’re constantly accused of being unskilled, lazy, good-for-nothing loafers in search of government handouts. Afraid of being perceived that way and/or ashamed of their economic situation, many people who are struggling to get by decide not to access the means-tested benefits to which they’re entitled. They’d rather go hungry than risk someone catching them using food stamps in the checkout line.

Correcting false stereotypes is a top priority, with universal programs a useful complement for improving the experience of people in need. If everyone received SNAP benefits (SNAP, which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the contemporary name for the food stamp program), for example, using them would no longer identify someone as low-income. We would thus expect higher rates of SNAP usage among low-income people.

That’s exactly what we’ve seen with the school meals program following the introduction of a program called “community eligibility,” which enables schools and school districts with a certain percentage of low-income students to offer free school meals to all students – regardless of their income levels – free of charge. Research suggests that reduced stigma is at least part of the reason students at schools that have adopted this program are more likely to take advantage of school breakfast and lunch programs.

Universal programs help people in need by eliminating arbitrary cutoffs

For SNAP, the income eligibility threshold is 130% of the poverty line, or about $27,700 annually for a family of three. People who make less than that amount (provided they meet other requirements – SNAP also has an asset test and restrictive eligibility rules for various groups of people including immigrants, individuals aged 18 to 49 who don’t have children, and students) can access benefits; people who make more than that amount cannot. Under Buttigieg’s higher education plan, college is free only for families making less than $100,000 a year (and discounted for families making between $100,000 and $150,000).

Means-tested benefits typically phase out slowly – that is, benefits get gradually smaller as beneficiary income gets higher – to ensure that the sum of pay plus benefits continues to increase when people pass eligibility thresholds. But why shouldn’t a family of three making $30,000 a year get food assistance? Why should $100,001 be the level at which a family starts having to pay for college? Eligibility thresholds in means-tested programs are arbitrary and inevitably create strange, difficult-to-justify divides between people right above and right below them. Universal programs avoid this problem completely by providing the same benefit to everyone.

Universal programs help people in need by reducing usage barriers

Means testing requires some form of testing, as the name implies, to determine whether or not someone is eligible for benefits. Depending on the complexity of a program’s eligibility rules, that testing might require a form of identification, proof of residence, proof of income, or any number of other things. Eligible beneficiaries may need to mail, hand-deliver, or electronically submit one or more forms, which, as Sanders accurately observed during the December debate, “people are sick and tired of filling out.

Filling out forms and proving eligibility is much more than an annoyance for many eligible people in need. Some may not know how to read or write. Some may move and/or change jobs frequently. Some may lack an official ID. The more hoops people have to jump through to access benefits, the fewer eligible people will actually end up receiving benefits.

Government agencies can mitigate this problem with outreach efforts and assistance programs, of course. But even well-administered means-tested programs like SNAP that continue to improve in these areas don’t catch everyone they should, in part because of the access barriers means testing inherently creates – in 2016, the most recent year for which we have data, about 15% of people eligible for SNAP did not participate in the program.

Universal programs improve efficiency by reducing administrative costs

In addition to creating an obstacle for eligible beneficiaries, the complexity introduced by means testing presents a challenge for efficient government. Every form that needs to be filled out has to be processed. Eligibility has to be verified. Complex rules have to be actively managed. Means-tested programs spend a larger share of their money on administrative overhead than universal programs do.

Administrative costs for Social Security, for example, are only 0.7% of total expenses. For SNAP, one of the most efficient and effective means-tested government programs, administrative spending comprises 7.7% of its total budget. Over three-quarters of those administrative costs are “certification-related,” meaning they’re “associated with determining household eligibility.”

To be clear, the overall cost of SNAP and other means-tested programs would be many times higher, even with substantially reduced overhead costs, if they were more universal. Increased overall cost is the only real potential downside of universality. And if one were forced to choose between increasing benefits for people in need and extending benefits to higher-income people who don’t currently receive them, increasing benefits for people in need would be the clearly correct choice.

But as noted above, that choice is a false one. There is no question that the US government has the money to offer increased benefits through universal programs. The only question is whether we will choose to spend it on the worthy goals of helping people in need and improving government efficiency for everyone.

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Filed under 2020 Election, Education, Health Care and Medicine, Poverty and the Justice System, US Political System

SCOOP: Bernie Sanders Raises the Bar for Campaign Employment Practices

“Labor fight roils the Bernie Sanders campaign” began a headline in The Washington Post on Thursday, July 18. In a tweet promoting the story, Post editor Matea Gold wrote: “SCOOP: For years, Bernie Sanders has traveled the country advocating for a $15 per hour minimum wage. His campaign organizers say they aren’t making that much, and they’re using his words to protest for higher wages.”

Refusing to pay your workers less than the $15-an-hour minimum wage you’ve been championing for years would be an unacceptable practice, and anti-Sanders commentators delighted in the Vermont Senator’s alleged hypocrisy. Fortunately for Sanders supporters, however, the headlines were misleading. In fact, both the body of the Post’s original story and subsequent events strongly suggest that the Sanders campaign has the best workplace policies of any presidential campaign in history.

Campaign workers are notoriously underpaid and overworked. Meager salaries, few benefits, long hours, and 7-day work weeks are the norm. Campaign workers also typically have little to no job security. These conditions were the impetus behind the recent formation of the Campaign Workers Guild, which ratified its first-ever contract with Randy Bryce’s congressional campaign in February of 2018. Since then, many other campaigns around the country, both local and national, have unionized as well.

In May of 2019, the Bernie Sanders campaign became the first-ever presidential campaign to sign a union contract. UFCW Local 400, which represents Sanders’s staff, lauded the campaign’s approach to the unionization effort, saying that “Senator Sanders walked the talk on unions,” that the campaign “engaged in good faith bargaining,” and that the overall process “was a model experience in every respect.” According to UFCW Local 400, workplace policies the campaign and union agreed on include:

  • a $15 minimum wage for all campaign staff, including interns
  • fully paid health care benefits for all full-time employees making $36,000 a year or less, with 85% of health care benefits paid for employees making more than that amount
  • four days per month when employees will not need to be on call with “breaks throughout the day, including meal breaks, as well as mandatory time off between particularly long shifts”
  • 20 days of paid vacation for both hourly and salaried employees
  • transparency for both management and consultant compensation with a rule capping management pay at 3 times the amount of the highest salary class in the bargaining unit
  • “robust anti-discrimination provisions as well as comprehensive protections for immigrant and transgender workers,” plus a process for employees to review pay equity
  • “employee-led Labor Committees to address ongoing working conditions and other issues with management”

Soon after negotiations concluded, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir proposed raising field organizer salaries from $36,000 annually to $42,000 annually while extending the expected work week from five days to six days. The union rejected this offer. On July 11, some field organizers raised concerns internally about their hours and their ability to make ends meet. Shakir responded promptly and said changes would need to be negotiated through the union. The union was preparing a proposal and had not yet sent it to the campaign when the Post’s original story broke a week later. A few days after that, on July 22, the campaign and union agreed to the salary and work week Shakir originally proposed while raising the salary threshold for which the campaign would cover the full costs of employee health care premiums (the Post reported that the union rejected the initial offer over concerns about higher-salaried workers paying a portion of their own health care costs).

That’s the entire story. Reporters and pundits gleefully blasting Sanders’s integrity are seizing on how employees made their appeal for higher wages – by saying their salaries come out to less than $15 an hour if you factor in the extra hours they’ve been working and appealing to Sanders’s pro-worker rhetoric – rather than what the union says actually happened: the campaign negotiated a historically labor-friendly contract in partnership with workers and then agreed, per that contract, to renegotiate provisions in response to worker concerns. When originally contacted about the Post’s story, UFCW Local 400 said “the Bernie 2020 campaign staff have access to myriad protections and benefits secured by their one-of-a-kind union contract, including many internal avenues to democratically address any number of ongoing workplace issues, including changes to pay, benefits, and other working conditions.” After the deal, worker representatives reiterated that “the campaign staff and management have engaged in this process in good faith and to achieve a mutually agreed upon outcome…This is what democracy in the workplace looks like.”

The new agreement deserves praise. $42,000 a year is still not that much money, but that salary for a 50-hour work week – when combined with 4 “blackout” days per month, 20 days of paid vacation, and fully paid health care – blows the typical campaign compensation package out of the water. Factor in the contract’s robust anti-discrimination, pay transparency, and pay equity provisions and it’s easy to see why UFCW Local 400 believes Sanders “walk[s] the talk.”

The headline writers and Twitter commentariat, on the other hand, deserve rebuke. As Daniel Marans reported, union members reacted with “a mix of anger and bewilderment” both about the leaked details of negotiations and the way those details were framed. Staff were involved in “seemingly amicable negotiations with management,” not the “labor fight” trumpeted by the Post’s headline.

Perhaps, if there’s one potential positive to it, the misleading reporting on this issue will build on Sanders’s leadership by pressuring other presidential campaigns to be more pro-worker. Besides Sanders, only Julián Castro and Elizabeth Warren have unionized staffs and neither campaign has a contract yet. The Post reports that Warren and Pete Buttigieg pay their field organizers the same amount as Sanders and that Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden pay more, but while the Post contends these campaigns “have revealed their compensation structure for field organizers,” the paper did not try or was unable to ascertain at least some key relevant details about hours worked, health care premiums, days off, and/or management-employee pay equity from every single one of these campaigns. What the Post did find out – Biden’s non-union field organizers, for example, pay 20% of their health care premiums and typically work 60-hour weeks – appears to confirm that the Sanders campaign’s compensation package is most generous. Sanders is also the only candidate who currently lists compensation for all job openings on his website, and the Post neglected to report that at least two candidates, Biden and Warren, run what are essentially unpaid internship programs.

To the extent that people are now more aware of and outraged about the conditions campaign workers typically face, that’s also a plus. Unpaid internships need to be a thing of the past, as do 7-day work weeks. Personally, I think you should be excommunicated from the party if you try to run as a Democrat and refuse to recognize a campaign workers union.

But if you’ve read an anti-Sanders headline or tweet and wondered if Sanders is a hypocrite, wonder no more: he’s not. Sanders, who for years was one of the only congresspeople to pay his interns, is every bit the champion of economic justice he purports to be.

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Like Obama, Clinton Likely to Promise Big, Give Hope, and Disappoint

The discrepancy between Barack Obama’s campaign rhetoric and actions as President have disappointed many of his former supporters.  In this post, the first in a series focused primarily on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Emilio da Costa explains why Obama’s political appointments bode poorly for what a Clinton presidency might bring. Emilio, who holds a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Stanford, will in future posts explore specific policy areas in which Clinton’s record raises questions about the sincerity of her stated intentions.

Emilio da Costa

Emilio da Costa

On April 12th, Hillary Rodham Clinton officially announced that she will be running for the presidency in the 2016 election. If victorious, she will be the first female president in American history, and so, understandably, there has been considerable attention given to what that achievement would mean for gender equality. That having a woman become president would ‘shatter the glass ceiling’ is a widespread sentiment among her supporters and the hope attached to this sentiment gives her a tremendous amount of populist appeal. Unfortunately, while hope is a strong currency in the market for votes, it doesn’t always exchange so well in the realm of actual policy decisions.

We saw this same situation with Obama. Who better than a black man who eloquently spoke of hope, change, and progress to embody the ideals of civil rights, accountability, and equality that so many Americans were yearning for? And yet, even though the rhetoric was always there, the reality was a stark contrast. The Obama Administration deported more immigrants than any other in American history. While arming and funding the ‘moderate’ rebels in Syria and, at one point, drone-bombing Yemen, Somalia,  Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan simultaneously, Obama contradicted his supposed dedication to cooperative multilateral decision-making by unilaterally expanding war powers well beyond George W. Bush. Even the “landmark reform” in health care that the Obama Administration managed to pass, the Affordable Care Act, is a lot less impressive when you compare it to a strikingly similar GOP-sponsored health care reform plan from 1993.

By making Tim Geithner his first Cabinet appointment and maintaining “Goldman Sachs’s seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs,” Obama made it quite clear early in his presidency that he was not the progressive he purported to be. Another appointment with a glaring conflict of interest was Monsanto’s former Vice President for Public Policy, Michael Taylor, selected to be deputy commissioner at the FDA. Even Obama’s appointments most widely praised by the mainstream liberal media have seriously tainted records. A key example of this was his appointment of Eric Holder as attorney general.

Holder’s less-than-inspiring past as a litigator did not receive the publicity it deserved. In a case representing Chiquita Brands International, Holder defended the company’s funneling money and weapons to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, a right-wing paramilitary organization on the US State Department’s own list of terrorist organizations. Writing for CounterPunch, Mario A. Murillo explained:

In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita’s subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC. The AUC – very often in collaboration with units of the U.S.-trained Armed Forces – is responsible for hundreds of massacres of primarily peasants throughout the Colombian countryside, including in the banana-growing region of Urabá, where it is believed that at least 4,000 people were killed. Their systematic use of violence resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of poor Colombians, a disproportionate amount of those people being black or indigenous.

In 2004, Holder helped negotiate an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita that involved the fruit company’s payment of “protection money” to the AUC, in direct violation of U.S. laws prohibiting this kind of transaction.

Another appointment that hinted toward Obama’s true colors occurred before he was elected. Like Holder, mainstream media outlets have reported very little on the unsavory aspects of Vice President Joe Biden’s history, which include having been responsible for drafting and introducing the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995, the precursor to the PATRIOT Act so infamous for its nullification of constitutional civil liberties. More recently, the appointment of Loretta Lynch as the new attorney general has been lauded because of the opportunity it presents for the first black woman to hold the position.

Lynch’s record, like that of other appointments, isn’t exactly praiseworthy. While Lynch has been quick to attempt to develop a reputation as an international corruption watchdog by beginning her tenure with a 47-count indictment of FIFA officials, C. Robert Gibson lists the ways in which this investigation directly contradicts the treatment she afforded white collar criminals during her time as US attorney for the Eastern District of New York:

…HSBC was caught laundering $800 million for the notoriously violent and wealthy Sinaloa drug cartel in 2012 yet skated with a $1.9 billion fine — less than 2.8 percent of HSBC’s $68.3 billion in revenue for that year. To put that in perspective, if a person making $40,000 a year was fined the same percentage of income, it would only be $1,113, or about a month’s rent. And after Citibank was caught purposefully misleading investors to buy mortgage-backed securities that the bank knew were junk, Lynch’s office fined the bank $7 billion ($3.8 billion of which was billed to U.S. Taxpayers).

Gibson makes a strong case that “Lynch’s legal career is emblematic of the revolving door between Washington and Wall Street.” It included stints at Cahill Gordon & Reindel which he refers to as “the go-to law firm for New York’s financial crooks,” Hogan & Hartson, where her first case was to defend an Arthur Andersen partner who got caught cooking the books for Enron, and the board for the New York Federal Reserve, where she worked directly under the aforementioned Geithner, who became a household name after “turning a blind eye to Wall Street’s high-risk gambling schemes that led to the 2008 financial crisis.” And so, “No wonder Lynch hasn’t ever put a banker in jail during her legal career: They’re her former clients.” Not only did Lynch exhibit a characteristic lack of moral fortitude when it came to financial criminals, but managing editor for the Black Agenda Report Bruce A. Dixon paints a similar picture with respect to her prosecution of war criminals:

In 2005 Lynch was recruited by US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Stephen Rapp to administer “victor’s justice” upon the losers in Rwanda’s civil war. The US had backed Paul Kagame, trained at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas, who shot his way to power with an army that included child soldiers. In the process Kagame’s forces committed a sizeable share of the 800,000 murders in what the world knows as the Rwandan genocide. So in Rwanda Loretta Lynch interviewed only persons brought to her by Kagame’s cronies. Like the rest of the International Tribunal, she never questioned Kagame’s role [in] assassinations of the Rwandan and Burundian presidents, the tens of thousands of murders that occurred in areas controlled by Kagame’s forces, or the role of Kagame and his partners in the ongoing pillage of neighboring Congo which had taken some 5 million lives and counting by 2008.

We shouldn’t expect anything better in the way of appointments if Hillary is to become president. From donations to the Clinton Foundation to generous speaking fees and campaign contributions, there is substantial reason to believe that the relationship between Washington and Wall Street would only grow stronger with her at the helm. Despite Clinton’s effort to appeal to economic populism and appear tough on the financial industry, the next part of this series, with much credit to Matt Taibbi, will show that Clinton’s ties to the banksters run much, much deeper than do her ties to those she will be pandering to on the campaign trail.

Click here to read Part 2 of the series.

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Filed under 2016 Election, US Political System