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Why Trump Might Win

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 22:09
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday finds Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a statistical tie, with Trump leading Clinton 46 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. That's an 11 percent swing against Clinton since March.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, also released Sunday, shows Clinton at 46 percent to Trump's 43 percent. Previously she led 50 percent to 39 percent.

Polls this far before an election don't tell us much. But in this case they do raise a serious question.

Since he cinched the Republican nomination two weeks ago, Trump has been the object of even more unfavorable press than he was before -- about his treatment of women, his propensity to lie, his bizarre policy proposals.

Before this came months of news coverage of his bigotry, megalomania, narcissism, xenophobia, refusals to condemn violence at his rallies, refusals to distance himself from white supremacists, and more lies.

So how can Trump be pulling even with Hillary Clinton?

Throughout the Republican primaries, pundits and pollsters repeatedly told us he'd peaked, that his most recent outrageous statement was his downfall, that he was viewed as so unlikeable he didn't stand a chance of getting the nomination.

But in my travels around the country, I've found many who support him precisely because of the qualities he's being criticized for having.

A Latina-American from Laredo, Texas, tells me she and most of her friends are for Trump because he wants to keep Mexicans out. She thinks too many Mexicans have come here illegally, making it harder for those here legally.

A union member from Pittsburgh says he's for Trump because he'll be tough on American companies shipping jobs abroad, tough with the Chinese, tough with Muslims.

A small businessman in Cincinnati tells me he's for Trump because "Trump's not a politician. He'll give them hell in Washington."

Political analysts have underestimated Trump from the jump because they've been looking through the rear-view mirror of politics as it used to be.

Trump's rise suggests a new kind of politics. You might call it anti-politics.

The old politics pitted right against left, with presidential aspirants moving toward the center once they cinched the nomination.

Anti-politics pits Washington insiders, corporate executives, bankers, and media moguls against a growing number of people who think the game is rigged against them. There's no center, only hostility and suspicion.

Americans who feel like they're being screwed are attracted to an authoritarian bully - a strongman who will kick ass. The former reality TV star who repeatedly told contestants they were "fired!" appears tough and confrontational enough to take on powerful vested interests.

That most Americans don't particularly like Trump is irrelevant. As one Midwesterner told me a few weeks ago, "He may be a jerk, but he's our jerk."

By the same token, in this era of anti-politics, any candidate who appears to be the political establishment is at a strong disadvantage. This may be Hillary Clinton's biggest handicap.

The old politics featured carefully crafted speeches and policy proposals calculated to appeal to particular constituencies. In this sense, Mrs. Clinton's proposals and speeches are almost flawless.

But in the new era of anti-politics Americans are skeptical of well-crafted speeches and detailed policy proposals. They prefer authenticity. They want their candidates unscripted and unfiltered.

A mid-level executive in Salt Lake City told me he didn't agree with Trump on everything but supported him because "the guy is the real thing. He says what he believes, and you know where he stands."

In the old politics, political parties, labor unions and business groups, and the press mediated between individual candidates and the public -explaining a candidate's positions, endorsing candidates, organizing and mobilizing voters.

In this era of anti-politics, it's possible for anyone with enough ego, money, and audacity -- in other words, Donald Trump - to do it all himself: declaring himself a candidate; communicating with and mobilizing voters directly through Twitter and other social media; and getting free advertising in mainstream media by being outrageous, politically incorrect, and snide. Official endorsements are irrelevant.

Donald Trump has perfected the art of anti-politics at a time when the public detests politics. Which is why so many experts in how politics used to be played have continuously underestimated his chances.

And why Trump's demagoguery - channeling the prejudices and fears of Americans who have been losing ground -- makes him the most dangerous nominee of a major political party in American history.

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The Libertarian Party Could Provide Insurance for Hillary Clinton

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 22:03
Two former Republican governors are running for president and vice president on the Libertarian line. They are Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor, and William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts. The Libertarian Party holds its nominating convention in Orlando, Florida, over Memorial Day weekend.

The Libertarian Party could play the spoiler role in 2016 for Donald Trump, just as Ralph Nader did in 2000, but this time helping to tip the election to the Democrat.

Its minor-party counterpart on the left, the Green Party led by standard bearer Jill Stein, is far less likely to draw a comparable level of support from disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters. Sanders himself has already said he'll support the Democratic nominee.

Unlike the typical third party candidates, Johnson and Weld are experienced mainstream politicians. Johnson, a former construction company entrepreneur, served two terms from 1994 to 2002, winning both elections by ten points. Weld was a highly popular and moderate governor of the Bay State. He won re-election by the largest margin in state history in 1994.

Polls are notoriously unreliable on third-party campaigns, especially this early in an election year, when low name recognition understates appeal. But it looks as if the Libertarians could easily take 5 to 10 percent of the total vote and more in key states. Almost all of this will come at the expense of Donald Trump.

A Fox poll conducted Friday had support for Johnson at surprising 10 percent of the national vote.

Once the campaign moves to the general election phase, the Libertarian ticket will get more attention. In 1980, Republican Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois, who could not abide Ronald Reagan, mounted an independent challenge and won just under 7 percent of the vote.

In what seems an increasingly close election, even five points drawn off from Trump in such key swing states as Colorado, Florida, or Ohio, or possibly Arizona, could lock those states into the blue column and provide some insurance for Hillary Clinton.

Of course, many of the Republicans who are most appalled by Donald Trump are far from libertarian. They are traditional business types or social moderates. On the other hand, they are fervent tree-traders -- like the Libertarians and unlike Trump. The presence of a ticket with two former mainstream GOP governors gives them a way to disdain Trump without crossing all the way over and supporting Clinton.

In addition, the Republican Party is home to many genuine libertarians such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and his legions of young supporters. Libertarians tend to support very limited government, both at home and in limiting military adventures abroad. They also are big on rights, such as abortion rights and the right to smoke or grow marijuana, and the right to freely migrate.

Gary Johnson not only supports the right to grow and smoke marijuana. He's a pot entrepreneur, the CEO of a company called Cannibis Sativa.

Trump, with his defense of traditional Social Security and Medicare, and a military stance that swings wildly between intervention and isolation, seems the opposite of libertarian. Bill Weld, the former popular three term governor of Massachusetts, told the New York Times that Trump's views on Muslims reminded him of Kristallnacht, the Nazi rampage on Jewish shops and synagogues in 1938.

The spurned Republican kingmakers and donors so far have failed to get a high-profile figure like Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan to mount a third party run against Trump. But two former GOP governors on the Libertarian ticket could well end up playing that role. Even though most Republican elected officials have fallen in line behind Trump, a lot of Republican voters would dearly like to cast their ballots for someone else.


Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University's Heller School. His latest book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility.

Like Robert Kuttner on Facebook.

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Bernie Sanders Is Losing Fair and Square

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 21:13
As Maine goes, so goes the nation, Bernie? Because we know what happens when a stubborn, left-leaning candidate stands on principle complaining about persnickety party politics, and it isn't pretty. In fact, it's insane by definition: We do it over and over again and expect different results.

"I am not standing down ... and neither should those voters whose consciences compel them to cast a vote for me," Eliot Cutler said defiantly, with zero chance of winning - and then Maine re-elected the man Politico magazine called "America's craziest governor" with 48 percent of the vote, the majority of votes split between two far-superior candidates.

It doesn't take Einstein to figure out the math had Cutler urged his team to put on the blue jerseys in 2014. And it's pretty simple math that says Bernie Sanders can't win the Democratic nomination in 2016, but his ego and the affluenza of his advisers insist on fighting until the end - one that looks to become increasingly more bitter by the day.

The arc of Sanders' campaign has gone from extremely inspiring to incredibly annoying, and the latest temper tantrum in Nevada is inexcusable. Whining about "unfair" rules that have been on the books since 2008. Outrage that delegates not registered as Democrats were refused a seat at the official convention of Democrats to select the Democratic nominee. Indignation that the higher number of Clinton delegates trumped the higher volume of Sanders delegates. Astonishment that "Bernie Bros" rushing the dais, throwing chairs, cursing and shouting caused security to shut down the convention four hours after the designated end time. Accusations of another conspiracy by establishment.

Hillary Clinton is winning the Democratic primary fair and square by the same rules by which she lost to Barack Obama in 2008. She won the recent contest in Nevada for the same simple reason she's winning overall: She got more votes. That's not "establishment" - that's democracy.

The reaction of the Sanders people -- trashing the place and threatening the state party chairwoman -- was immature at best, and if it weren't for the fact that their antics increase the probability of a Trump presidency, we could gently close the door and let them cry it out.

But that's what Maine did in 2014, and who's crying now?

What's sold as a "political revolution" looks more and more like just another power trip. Bernie and Jane Sanders are high on crowds and crowdfunding, and through the haze it's crystal clear why virtually none of Sanders' colleagues in the capital support him. It's not because he's "anti-establishment." It's because he's an angry, unreasonable man with a chip on his shoulder as big as the state of Maine.

America's economic system might be rigged to favor the rich and powerful, and maybe the nominating process is, too, but hello? Sanders' campaign is pretty darn rich and powerful.

A Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission reports found that "by the end of March, the self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont had spent nearly $166 million on his campaign -- more than any other 2016 presidential contender, including rival Hillary Clinton. More than $91 million went to a small group of admakers and media buyers who produced a swarm of commercials and placed them on television, radio and online."

Sanders is losing fair and square in the voting contest, so why must he torch every bridge along the way? Why must he incite volatile people and provoke useless rage? Sanders has been in Washington for decades, and he still can't manage to disagree with people without being disagreeable.

There's a word for somebody with these characteristics, and it's not "leader."

Clinton has won 2.9 million more votes than Sanders and has won 1,768 pledged delegates to Sanders' 1,494. The so-called superdelegates are not to blame for these numbers. Sanders is not going to be the nominee because he hasn't won enough votes or delegates, and his latest stunt - an anti-democratic pitch suggesting that polls point to him as the best nominee - is ridiculous. Elections are rigged, so we should use polls to determine who gets to be president of the free world? Is that what socialism looks like: Polls determine a future that we must believe in? The same polls that Sanders himself was against before the polls were for him?

Elections, rules and math are as American as hot dogs and apple pie, and we love an underdog who accepts defeat with grace after a rigorous contest, but none of us -- even bleeding-heart liberals -- likes sore losers.

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The Movement Moment: Catching Power Off Guard

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 20:58
Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

Much of our future is reliably unpredictable, and what more so than the moments when mass movements suddenly break out and sweep across our world? Who expected, for example, that for perhaps the first time in history hundreds of thousands of people would hit the streets of U.S. cities and towns -- and millions the global streets from London and Barcelona to Sydney and Jakarta -- in early 2003 to protest the coming invasion of Iraq, a war, that is, that hadn't even begun? Or that such a movement would essentially vanish not long after that war was predictably launched?

Who imagined that, in September 2011, a small group of youthful protesters, settling into Zuccotti Park, an obscure square near Wall Street in downtown Manhattan, would "occupy" it and so the American imagination in such a way that "the 1%" and "the 99%" became part of our everyday language; Wall Street (as it hadn't been for decades) a reviled site; and "inequality" part of the national conversation rather than just the national reality? Who imagined in the moment before it happened that such a movement, such a moment, would then sweep the country and the world, that streets and squares in American cities and those around the world would be "occupied" and that global inequality would become, and remain, an issue of import?

Who imagined that a small number of environmentalists running an obscure organization called 350.org would help spark a climate-change movement that would spread globally in a startling fashion, mount a large demonstration in Washington and others across the planet, venture into the Arctic and by kayak into the waters of the American West, and actually stop the building of a pipeline slated to carry the carbon-dirtiest of energy sources from now-ravaged Alberta, Canada, to the American Gulf Coast, and -- with a growing divestment movement and other activities -- put the fear of god into the most profitable and influential corporations on the planet?

And who imagined that the shooting of a young black man in a place no one (outside of Missouri) had ever heard of and the death-by-choking of another black man on the streets of New York City, events that were, in the annals of American policing, hardly out of the ordinary, would propel a protest movement whose name couldn't sum up its goals better -- Black Lives Matter -- to national prominence or that this would, in turn, help spark a movement of millennials, discussed today by Avi Chomsky in "The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education," that would sweep college campuses nationwide?

Is there anything stranger than what in the world, on occasion, gets into us human beings, what suddenly makes us so ornery that we sometimes stand up to overwhelming power in defense of convictions that, until moments before, we didn't even know would occupy us in such a way? And perhaps nothing is more useful than the unpredictability of such moments, such movements. Otherwise how would they ever catch power off guard?

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The Battle for the Soul of American Higher Education

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 20:52
Student Protest, the Black Lives Matter Movement, and the Rise of the Corporate University

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

During the past academic year, an upsurge of student activism, a movement of millennials, has swept campuses across the country and attracted the attention of the media. From coast to coast, from the Ivy League to state universities to small liberal arts colleges, a wave of student activism has focused on stopping climate change, promoting a living wage, fighting mass incarceration practices, supporting immigrant rights, and of course campaigning for Bernie Sanders.

Both the media and the schools that have been the targets of some of these protests have seized upon certain aspects of the upsurge for criticism or praise, while ignoring others. Commentators, pundits, and reporters have frequently trivialized and mocked the passion of the students and the ways in which it has been directed, even as universities have tried to appropriate it by promoting what some have called “neoliberal multiculturalism.” Think of this as a way, in particular, of taming the power of the present demands for racial justice and absorbing them into an increasingly market-oriented system of higher education.

In some of their most dramatic actions, students of color, inspired in part by the Black Lives Matter movement, have challenged the racial climate at their schools. In the process, they have launched a wave of campus activism, including sit-ins, hunger strikes, demonstrations, and petitions, as well as emotional, in-your-face demands of various sorts. One national coalition of student organizations, the Black Liberation Collective, has called for the percentage of black students and faculty on campus to approximate that of blacks in the society. It has also called for free tuition for black and Native American students, and demanded that schools divest from private prison corporations. Other student demands for racial justice have included promoting a living wage for college employees, reducing administrative salaries, lowering tuitions and fees, increasing financial aid, and reforming the practices of campus police. These are not, however, the issues that have generally attracted the attention either of media commentators or the colleges themselves.

Instead, the spotlight has been on student demands for cultural changes at their institutions that focus on deep-seated assumptions about whiteness, sexuality, and ability. At some universities, students have personalized these demands, insisting on the removal of specific faculty members and administrators. Emphasizing a politics of what they call “recognition,” they have also demanded that significant on-campus figures issue public apologies or acknowledge that “black lives matter.” Some want universities to implement in-class “trigger warnings” when difficult material is being presented and to create “safe spaces” for marginalized students as a sanctuary from the daily struggle with the mainstream culture. By seizing upon and responding to these (and only these) student demands, university administrators around the country are attempting to domesticate and appropriate this new wave of activism.

In the meantime, right-wing commentators have depicted students as coddled, entitled, and enemies of free speech. The libertarian right has launched a broad media critique of the current wave of student activism. Commentators have been quick to dismiss student protesters as over-sensitive and entitled purveyors of “academic victimology.” They lament the “coddling of the American mind.” The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has termed students “misguided” in their protests against racist language, ideas, and assumptions, their targeting of “microaggression” (that is, unconscious offensive comments) and insensitivity, and their sometimes highly personal attacks against those they accuse. One of the most vocal critics of the new campus politics, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, argues that such rampant “liberalism” and “political correctness” violate academic freedom and freedom of speech. (In this, they are in accord with the liberal American Civil Liberties Union. Free speech advocates Daphne Patai and the ACLU’s Harvey Silvergate, for example, bemoan a new diversity requirement at the University of Massachusetts for its “politicization of education.”)

In a response that, under the circumstances, might at first seem surprising, college administrators have been been remarkably open to some of these student demands -- often the very ones derided by the right. In this way, the commentators and the administrators have tended to shine a bright light on what is both personal and symbolic in the new politics of the student protesters, while ignoring or downplaying their more structural and economically challenging desires and demands.

The Neoliberal University

University administrators have been particularly amenable to student demands that fit with current trends in higher education. Today’s neoliberal university is increasingly facing market pressures like loss of state funding, privatization, rising tuition, and student debt, while promoting a business model that emphasizes the managerial control of faculty through constant “assessment,” emphasis on “accountability,” and rewards for “efficiency.” Meanwhile, in a society in which labor unions are constantly being weakened, the higher education labor force is similarly being -- in the term of the moment -- “flexibilized” through the weakening of tenure, that once ironclad guarantee of professorial lifetime employment, and the increased use of temporary adjunct faculty.

In this context, universities are scrambling to accommodate student activism for racial justice by incorporating the more individualized and personal side of it into increasingly depoliticized cultural studies programs and business-friendly, market-oriented academic ways of thinking. Not surprisingly, how today’s students frame their demands often reflects the environment in which they are being raised and educated. Postmodern theory, an approach which still reigns in so many liberal arts programs, encourages textual analysis that reveals hidden assumptions encoded in words; psychology has popularized the importance of individual trauma; and the neoliberal ideology that has come to permeate so many schools emphasizes individual behavior as the most important agent for social change. Add together these three strands of thought, now deeply embedded in a college education, and injustice becomes a matter of the wrongs individuals inflict on others at a deeply personal level. Deemphasized are the policies and structures that are built into how society (and the university) works.

For this reason, while schools have downplayed or ignored student demands for changes in admissions, tuition, union rights, pay scales, and management prerogatives, they have jumped into the heated debate the student movement has launched over “microaggressions” -- pervasive, stereotypical remarks that assume whiteness as a norm and exoticize people of color, while taking for granted the white nature of institutions of higher learning. As part of the present wave of protest, students of color have, for instance, highlighted their daily experiences of casual and everyday racism -- statements or questions like “where are you from?” (when the answer is: the same place you’re from) or “as a [fill in the blank], how do you feel about...” Student protests against such comments, especially when they are made by professors or school administrators, and the mindsets that go with them are precisely what the right is apt to dismiss as political correctness run wild and university administrations are embracing as the essence of the present on-campus movement.

At Yale, the Intercultural Affairs Committee advised students to avoid racially offensive Halloween costumes. When a faculty member and resident house adviser circulated an email critiquing the paternalism of such an administrative mandate, student protests erupted calling for her removal. While Yale declined to remove her from her post as a house adviser, she stepped down from her teaching position. At Emory, students protested the “pain” they experienced at seeing “Trump 2016” graffiti on campus, and the university president assured them that he “heard [their] message... about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.” Administrators are scrambling to implement new diversity initiatives and on-campus training programs -- and hiring expensive private consulting firms to help them do so.

At the University of Missouri, the president and chancellor both resigned in the face of student protests including a hunger strike and a football team game boycott in the wake of racial incidents on campus including public racist slurs and symbols. So did the dean of students at Claremont McKenna College (CMC), when protest erupted over her reference to students (implicitly of color) who “don’t fit our CMC mold.”

Historian and activist Robin Kelley suggests that today’s protests, even as they “push for measures that would make campuses more hospitable to students of color: greater diversity, inclusion, safety, and affordability,” operate under a contradictory logic that is seldom articulated. To what extent, he wonders, does the student goal of “leaning in” and creating more spaces for people of color at the top of an unequal and unjust social order clash with the urge of the same protesters to challenge that unjust social order?

Kelley argues that the language of “trauma” and mental health that has come to dominate campuses also works to individualize and depoliticize the very idea of racial oppression. The words “trauma, PTSD, micro-aggression, and triggers,” he points out, “have virtually replaced oppression, repression, and subjugation.” He explains that, “while trauma can be an entrance into activism, it is not in itself a destination and may even trick activists into adopting the language of the neoliberal institutions they are at pains to reject.” This is why, he adds, for university administrators, diversity and cultural competency initiatives have become go-to solutions that “shift race from the public sphere into the psyche” and strip the present round of demonstrations of some of their power.

Cultural Politics and Inequality

In recent years, cultural, or identity, politics has certainly challenged the ways that Marxist and other old and new left organizations of the past managed to ignore, or even help reproduce, racial and gender inequalities. It has questioned the value of class-only or class-first analysis on subjects as wide-ranging as the Cuban Revolution -- did it successfully address racial inequality as it redistributed resources to the poor, or did it repress black identity by privileging class analysis? -- and the Bernie Sanders campaign -- will his social programs aimed at reducing economic inequality alleviate racial inequality by helping the poor, or will his class-based project leave the issue of racial inequality in the lurch? In other words, the question of whether a political project aimed at attacking the structures of economic inequality can also advance racial and gender equality is crucial to today’s campus politics.

Put another way, the question is: How political is the personal? Political scientist Adolph Reed argues that if class is left out, race politics on campus becomes “the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism.” As he puts it, race-first politics of the sort being pushed today by university administrators promotes a “moral economy... in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people.”

The student movement that has swept across the nation has challenged colleges and universities on the basics of their way of (quite literally) doing business. The question for these institutions now is: Can student demands largely be tamed and embedded inside an administration-sanctioned agenda that in no way undermines how schools now operate in the world?

Feminist theorist Nancy Fraser has shown how feminist ideas of a previous generation were successfully “recuperated by neoliberalism” -- that is, how they were repurposed as rationales for greater inequality. “Feminist ideas that once formed part of a radical worldview,” she argues, are now “increasingly expressed in individualist terms.” Feminist demands for workplace access and equal pay have, for example, been used to undermine worker gains for a “family wage,” while a feminist emphasis on gender equality has similarly been used on campus to divert attention from growing class inequality.

Student demands for racial justice risk being absorbed into a comparable framework. University administrators have found many ways to use student demands for racial justice to strengthen their business model and so the micro-management of faculty. In one case seized upon by free-speech libertarians, the Brandeis administration placed an assistant provost in a classroom to monitor a professor after students accused him of using the word “wetback” in a Latin American politics class. More commonly, universities employ a plethora of consulting firms and create new administrative positions to manage “diversity” and “inclusion.” Workshops and training sessions proliferate, as do “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” Such a vision of “diversity” is then promoted as a means to prepare students to compete in the “global marketplace.”

There are even deeper ways in which a diversity agenda aligns with neoliberal politics. Literary theorist Walter Benn Michaels argues, for example, that diversity can give a veneer of social justice to ideas about market competition and meritocracy that in reality promote inequality. “The rule in neoliberal economies is that the difference between the rich and the poor gets wider rather than shrinks -- but that no culture should be treated invidiously,” he explains. “It’s basically OK if economic differences widen as long as the increasingly successful elites come to look like the increasingly unsuccessful non-elites. So the model of social justice is not that the rich don’t make as much and the poor make more, the model of social justice is that the rich make whatever they make, but an appropriate percentage of them are minorities or women.” Or as Forbes Magazine put it, “Businesses need to vastly increase their ability to sense new opportunities, develop creative solutions, and move on them with much greater speed. The only way to accomplish these changes is through a revamped workplace culture that embraces diversity so that sensing, creativity, and speed are all vastly improved.”

Clearly, university administrators prefer student demands that can be coopted or absorbed into their current business model. Allowing the prevailing culture to define the parameters of their protest has left the burgeoning Millennial Movement in a precarious position. The more that students -- with the support of college and university administrations -- accept the individualized cultural path to social change while forgoing the possibility of anything greater than cosmetic changes to prevailing hierarchies, on campus and beyond, the more they face ridicule from those on the right who present them as fragile, coddled, privileged whiners.

Still, this young, vibrant movement has momentum and will continue to evolve. In this time of great social and political flux, it’s possible that its many constituencies -- fighting for racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice -- will use their growing clout to build on recent victories, no matter how limited.

Keep an eye on college campuses. The battle for the soul of American higher education being fought there today is going to matter for the wider world tomorrow. Whether that future will be defined by a culture of trigger warnings and safe spaces or by democratized education and radical efforts to fight inequality may be won or lost in the shadow of the Ivory Tower. The Millennial Movement matters. Our future is in their hands.

Aviva Chomsky is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts and a TomDispatch regular. Her most recent book is Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

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America Doesn't Need Another Franklin Delano Roosevelt, It Needs Another Millard Fillmore

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 20:43

The optimism of Bernie Sanders' latest viral video belies the fact that what we need is another politician like our under-valued 13th President, Millard Fillmore.

Much has been made by the majority of American Democrats under 45 who support Bernie Sanders of recent comparisons between the Vermont Senator and Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- the American President who won World War II and authored "The New Deal," an economic plan that shepherded America from the Depression to its most productive and prosperous decades.

The superficial similarities between the two men, which almost exclusively relate to their economic policies and support for new forms of diplomacy abroad -- Roosevelt having been instrumental to the creation of the United Nations -- was, frustratingly, only bolstered when the world's foremost left-leaning economist, Thomas Piketty, said recently that "Sanders' success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality...and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism." The lavish praise was bad enough, but the comparisons to Roosevelt, again superficially reasonable due to the two politicians' synchronicity in most areas of public policy, dangerously misunderstand what America needs in this time of economic and international crisis.

As pointed out in the excellent 2015 essay "Incrementalism Versus Disjuncture," written by Marc Landy and published in the Tulsa Law Review, the nation's roster of "forgotten" Presidents -- which includes William Henry Harrison, who died just days into his term, but also the understated Fillmore, who resisted efforts by fellow Whigs to dictate his executive appointments -- suggests that sometimes uninspiring and uncharismatic Presidents can have much more impact than we anticipate they will.

While Landy ultimately rejects the theory that incrementalist Presidents are preferable to ones who are ideologically counter-institutional (as he notes, "Overall, one is struck by how little the Forgottens contributed to the development of the presidency as compared to the Remembered"), his analysis of the nation's least-heralded Presidents underscores that sometimes what is wanted is a cautious bureaucrat whose sense of the possible is decidedly modest even by contemporary standards.

There has been an assumption that if America were to demand a "New New Deal" from its government, one that again deployed spending and legislative strategies which were historically transformative for the nation in ways now considered almost entirely positive, it would likewise achieve the same result today. Yes, it might, but why take the chance that it won't and we come right back to where we started? As things stand now, approval ratings for Congress are at acceptable levels, legislation to rename post offices or other government buildings often achieves bipartisan support, and only a minority of Congressional races are competitive -- one of the major pluses of gerrymandering, as when too many Congressional districts can be contested every two years it makes the citizens of these districts restless and even intemperate.

Far better than any President of the period from 1842 to 1856, Millard Fillmore knew how to deal with restlessness. When Lajos Kossuth, a leader of the failed Hungarian Revolution, demanded that the U.S. recognize Hungary's independence, the demand electrified Americans from Maine to California -- a sense of unease that Fillmore quite adequately quelled by refusing to change American policy toward the Eastern European nation. Would Bernie Sanders have had that level of foresight? There's nothing in his twenty-five year Congressional record, nor indeed anything in the three terms Roosevelt was in the White House, to suggest either man would have reaffirmed America's neutrality toward Hungary in the highly charged atmosphere of 1851.

But you know who would have reaffirmed America's neutrality toward Hungary, and done so with the appropriate pomp and caution? Hillary Clinton. And that's exactly the sort of understated but in a certain way bold incrementalism America needs right now. Bernie Sanders might appear to most American Democrats under 45 and several of the world's foremost economists -- Piketty being just one example -- like the Second Coming of FDR, but what America really needs to ask itself is, was FDR really so great? If you think about it, it seems absolutely clear what the answer to that is.

Seth Abramson is the Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University) and the author, most recently, of DATA (BlazeVOX, 2016).

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Arms Embargo On Vietnam In The Balance As Obama Visits

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 20:35

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HANOI, May 23 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama began his first visit to Vietnam on Monday, a trip aimed at sealing a partnership with America's former enemy and part of his strategic "rebalance" towards Asia to counter China's growing strength in the region.

Four decades after a war that deeply divided opinion in America, Obama will press for stronger defense and economic ties with the country's communist rulers but prod them too on human rights, aides say.

The president's three-day stay is unusually long for one country, underscoring the importance he places on expanding relations with Hanoi. Ahead of the visit, pressure mounted on him to roll back an arms embargo, one of the last vestiges of wartime animosity.

Such a step would anger Beijing, which resents U.S. efforts to forge stronger military bonds with its neighbors amid rising tensions in the disputed South China Sea.

U.S. officials were finalizing a decision on the issue as Obama landed in Hanoi late on Sunday.

Most top aides favor at least easing the ban, arguing that Washington needs to demonstrate tangible support for Hanoi's efforts to build its deterrent against China, people familiar with the discussions said.

Obama's visit follows what the Pentagon called an "unsafe" intercept last week by Chinese fighter jets of a U.S. military reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea.

"Nobody has any illusions," said Evan Medeiros, Obama's former top Asia adviser. "This trip sends important signals to China about U.S. activism in the region and growing U.S. concern about Chinese behavior."

But Vietnam's human rights record is a sticking point.

Officials are mindful of misgivings back in Washington about losing leverage for securing political reforms from a government that rights advocates say is among the world's most repressive.

Any move to revoke the ban - something Vietnam has long sought - would make clear that every weapons sale would be on a case-by-case basis, contingent on human rights considerations, officials said.

Obama, who has proven himself a pragmatist in balancing security and human rights, appeared to be trying to keep the pressure on Hanoi for concessions up to the last minute.

He plans to meet dissidents during his trip.

But officials are looking not only for signs that the Vietnamese are taking rights concerns seriously. They want a clear commitment to expanded military cooperation, including more U.S. access to ports such as the strategic Cam Ranh Bay and participation in joint and regional naval exercises.

Obama, the third U.S. president to visit Vietnam since diplomatic relations were restored in 1995, has made closer diplomatic and military cooperation with countries across the Asia-Pacific a centerpiece of his foreign policy.


There has been much excitement about Obama's visit in a country with a young population firmly behind closer U.S. ties and resentful of their economic dependence on neighbor China. State media has detailed the scale of the task of hosting Obama along with his delegation, security detail and culinary needs.

As a sign of the capitalism that now thrives in Vietnam, some opportunistic businesses used pictures of a smiling Obama to sell their products.

Ngo Minh Kien's tailor shop in the Old Quarter of Hanoi displayed an image of the U.S. president in a crisp suit.

"I want the U.S. to lift the arms embargo on Vietnam and that would help us to strengthen our security," said Kien.

Bilateral trade has swelled 10-fold over the past two decades to around $45 billion, and Vietnam is now Southeast Asia's biggest exporter to the United States.

Vietnam's manufacturing-led economy is growing at one of Asia's fastest rates, prompting U.S. firms such as Intel , Microsoft, Ford Motors and General Electric to expand their operations here.

But even as the two sides look forward, there will be reminders of the past.

Obama will be accompanied by Secretary of State John Kerry, who after a tour in Vietnam as a young Navy officer became a protester against the war, which killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and 58,000 U.S. troops.

In Hanoi, Obama will meet Vietnam's triumvirate of leaders, President Tran Dai Quang, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong.

In the commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, Obama will meet entrepreneurs and tout a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal he has championed, in which Vietnam would be the biggest beneficiary of the 12 members.

But the name of the city, the capital of the now-defunct South Vietnam, evokes searing images for many Americans of a final frantic U.S. airlift in 1975.

And for some among the Vietnam old guard, there are still suspicions that the U.S. endgame is to undermine their one-party rule. Obama arrived hours after voting ended in the country's five-yearly parliamentary election, in which nearly all the candidates were Communist Party members.

(Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen and Minh Nguyen; Editing by John Chalmers and Ros Russell)

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How Iran Dominates the Middle East? Soft Power

Huffingon Post Politics - Sun, 2016-05-22 00:26
The mainstream media and politicians have emphasized Iran's hard power, military capacity and its army's role in the Middle East, which is part of Tehran's expansionist policies. The emphasis is warranted.

Nevertheless, focusing solely on Iran's hard power and military capacity is misplaced. By dedicating all their resources and concentrating on Iran's military capacity, regional and global powers are running the risk of falling into the Iranian government's political trap which is what exactly Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and the high commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) aim for.

It is accurate to argue that governments around the region should take the Islamic Republic's military capacity as well as the IRGC and Quds forces' expansions in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen seriously. However, Iran still exerts a significant amount of non-military influence in the region, and continues to expand it, through manipulation of various soft power tactics.

But it is crucial to point out that although Iran's major strategies of deploying successful soft power resources remain intact, there is going to be a new trend and tactical shift. Iranian leaders are delighted to make noise about their military power, bandwagon on the success of Shiite militias, take credit, and launch missiles to project their power, exaggerate it, and in order to shift the focus from their real goals of exerting influence and having a say in the domestic politics of neighboring countries.

Militarily speaking, Iranian leaders are cognizant of the fact that they are not a match for the American military or other regional powers. The US can easily inflict significant damage and even cripple Iran's military infrastructure in matter of weeks. Being aware of that, however, the Islamic Republic continues to project its military power in order to steer attention away from the real issues.

Manipulation of soft power

First of all, Iran's soft power strategies are long-term oriented. As an Iranian official once said to me, the reason behind Iran's growing presence in the region despite the sanctions and isolation were "soft power accompanied with patience".

The Islamic republic was established with almost no allies in the region. During the subsequent decades, they managed, with minimal cost to dominate Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as have proxies in other countries in the region, such as Bahrain and Yemen. If this trends continues, in 10 or 20 years, the number of these proxies and Iran's influence in the region will absolutely increase.

Before sanctions were lifted, Iran focused primarily on manipulating and capitalizing on the grievances of other groups, building alliances with them, showing them they share the same ideological views (such opposing Israel, opposing their government, helping them topple the Sunni majority government, opposing the United States, etc.)

Iran's soft power is not only theological but also ideological. Tehran does not only focus on building alliances with Shiites in order to exert its influence in the region and interfere in the domestic politics of countries. For example, Tehran is currently forming strong relationships with some Kurdish Sunni groups by demonstrating to them that Iran shares the same grievances with them.

After building alliances with these groups and forming a united public opinion, Tehran then assists them in becoming political realities in those nations in order to exert its influence through the "legitimate" political institutions of that country. In this case, if the government of that particular nation is overthrown, Iran's proxy is well-placed to take over (such as in Iraq).

Even if the government is not overthrown, that government will think twice about reacting to Iran (such as Lebanon's government and Hezbollah). Secondly, Iran's soft power is multi-layered and sophisticated, encompassing several governmental organizations.

Iran also continues to use other strategies including cultural, educational and religious institutions, such as training powerful Shiite religious figures from other countries in Qum, establishing thousands of seminaries, giving scholarships and fellowships to foreigners to come and study Shiism in Iran, establishing Iranian studies programs in other countries, promoting the Persian language, investing in Arabic and English news outlets (such as Press TV, Al Alam, Al Kawthar), pioneering investments in religious films- which advances Iran's political version of Islam.

Third, Iran's soft power is coherent and well-organized, although it might not always produce the outcome that Tehran desires (For example, some instances of tension with Hamas).

As one can see, Iran used both top-down and bottom-up approach to utilize its soft power and exert influence before sanctions were lifted. The emphasis at this time was more on the bottom- up approach. But Iran's priorities in soft power strategies have tactically shifted due to the sanctions reliefs and its application of hard power.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an American political scientist, business advisor, US foreign policy, Iran and Middle East expert, and the president of the International American Council on the Middle East. Harvard-educated, Rafizadeh serves on the advisory board of Harvard International Review and have briefed governments, politicians, NGOs and testified in courts as an expert. An American citizen, he is originally from Iran and Syria, grew up and lived most of his life in Iran and Syria till recently. He is a board member of several significant and influential international and governmental institutions, and he is native speaker of couple of languages including Arabic and Persian, speaks English and Dari, and can converse in French, Hebrew.

You can sign up for Dr. Rafizadeh's newsletter for the latest news and analyses on HERE.
You can also order his books on HERE.

You can learn more about Dr. Rafizadeh on HERE.

You can contact him at Dr.rafizadeh@post.harvard.edu or follow him at @Dr_Rafizadeh. This post first appeared on Al Arabiya.


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Sunday Roundup

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 23:58
This week the nation watched as the #NeverTrump movement folded faster than one of the presumptive nominee's beachfront developments. As many tried to explain away Trump's reckless, racist extremism, a few put principle over party. The wife of former Republican Senator Bob Bennett, who died on May 4, revealed that her husband spent his dying hours reaching out to Muslims. "He would go to people with the hijab [on] and tell them he was glad they were in America," she told the Daily Beast. "He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party." In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump's proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., "divisive, stupid and wrong." Trump's reply was that he didn't think he and Cameron would "have a very good relationship." The press is also doing its part to whitewash extremism. The New York Times called Trump's racism "a reductive approach to ethnicity," and said Trump's attitude toward women is "complex" and "defies simple categorization," as if sexism is suddenly as complicated as string theory. Not everybody's going along. Bob Garfield, co-host of "On the Media," warned the press of the danger of normalizing Trump. "Every interview with Donald Trump, every single one should hold him accountable for bigotry, incitement, juvenile conduct and blithe contempt for the Constitution," he said. "The voters will do what the voters will do, but it must not be, cannot be because the press did not do enough."

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Trump Once Revealed His Income Tax Returns. They Showed He Didn’t Pay A Cent

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 20:19

The last time information from Donald Trump’s income-tax returns was made public, the bottom line was striking: He had paid the federal government $0 in income taxes.

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Why the Right Wing Is Angry That We Blocked War with Iran

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 18:21
Neoconservatives are furious that their efforts to trick the country into another unnecessary war in the Middle East failed.

They spent tens of millions of dollars in an orchestrated campaign to kill diplomacy with Iran. They lost. The nuclear agreement with Iran is in place and working. It has prevented an Iranian bomb and prevented a new war.

They can't stand it. Over the past few weeks they have launched a wave of attacks on those they hold responsible for thwarting their plans: the Obama Administration, independent experts and advocates, and the hated "liberal media."

It is logical for opponents of the nuclear agreement with Iran to want to see their failure as the result of evil spin masters. Many of them supported the invasion of Iraq. Many were part of the campaign to generate support for that war. Opponents of the Iran agreement may assume that the Obama Administration copied the Bush playbook. Or the "White Propaganda" operations used by the Reagan administration's Office of Public Diplomacy to sell support for the wars in Central America in the 1980's.

Over the past two weeks, The New York Times Magazine published two lengthy pieces by David Samuels claiming that President Obama "actively misled" the American people on the Iran Deal. The House Government Oversight Committee staged a hearing with only opponents of the deal to denounce Obama, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and - among other targets - the foundation I head, Ploughshares Fund.

On Friday, Bradley Klapper wrote an Associated Press story published in dozens of newspapers around the country claiming that Ploughshares Fund was a "key surrogate in selling the Iran nuclear deal" and that our support for independent media coverage of nuclear issues - including a $100,000 grant to NPR - was "tremendously troubling," according to a quoted source. It was strikingly similar to an attack on NPR and us four years ago by the conservative Free Beacon that claimed "Ploughshares Fund gives millions to slant coverage on Iran."

Over the past few days, I have personally been the target of harassing hate tweets slandering me, reporters who have interviewed me, and Ploughshares Fund. The goal is clear: intimidate us into backing down; intimidate journalists from talking to us; smear the administration and major media as liars and paid tools.

Setting the Record Straight

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It is common practice for foundations to fund media coverage of under-reported stories and perspectives. For some, this might be global health, poverty or the impact of conflict on civilians. For Ploughshares Fund, this means bringing much-needed attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons.

Our support of independent media such as NPR and PRI does not influence the editorial content of their coverage in any way, nor would we want it to.

NPR has assets of almost $350 million. Last year, it received almost $95 million in support from a wide-range of corporations and foundations, including major defense contractors and conservative foundations, and, of course, "listeners like you." The idea that a $100,000 grant could slant their news coverage is ludicrous.

So is the idea that we are somehow hiding our support for NPR. I guess having it announced every week on the radio is not enough. We also publish a full listing of our grants every year. And we detailed the key role played by civil society in securing the Iran Deal - the most significant national security victory in a generation - on our special web page, "How We Won."

Ploughshares Fund has been making the world safer since the height of the Cold War. The core of our mission was and is to peacefully reduce and ultimately eliminate nuclear weapons threats. The media is essential to informing and educating Americans of the risks that nuclear weapons - and dangerous nuclear weapon policies - pose to humanity.

Mr. Klapper's piece also insinuates that there is something underhanded about funding security experts, peace advocates, and when relevant, regional experts. No matter what the opponents of the Iran deal say, our work is not about politics. It's about the future safety and security of our country, and of the world.

Klapper's article was no doubt influenced by Samuels' grossly skewed version of reality. Samuels spun the facts and quotes to feed his own fictional narrative. Many have refuted all his major claims, including Jeffrey Goldberg, Fred Kaplan, Matthew Yglesias, Eric Levitz and Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

Preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb has been a key goal of Ploughshares Fund and many other security experts for decades. To suggest otherwise - as Samuels did - is absurd. Our expertise in this field is nationally recognized. We and other experts were promoting negotiations long before this administration took office, as I detailed in a widely shared and cited Politico article.

Ploughshares Fund is firmly nonpartisan. Our support of the Iran deal was based on policy, not politics.

We back the administration when they're right, we oppose them when they're wrong. We supported the administration's New START Treaty with Russia and the historic Iran agreement because they make America safer. We oppose the administration's $1 trillion plan to build new nuclear weapons because it makes the world more dangerous. We always act independently based on our own mission to reduce nuclear threats.

We will continue to do so - no matter who is in the Oval Office.

We will never be intimidated from telling the truth.

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Bernie Sanders Says Debbie Wasserman Schultz Will Be Gone From DNC If He's President

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 16:46

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) went all in on Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the head of the Democratic National Committee, on Saturday, saying he supports a primary challenger in her re-election bid for her House seat and would remove her from the DNC if elected president.

Sanders has repeatedly accused the DNC, which is neutral in the Democratic primary, of favoring his rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

He told CNN's Jake Tapper he "clearly" favors the DNC head's opponent, law professor Tim Canova.

"His views are much closer to mine than as to Wasserman Schultz's," the senator said in an interview that will air Sunday on "State of the Union."

"With all due respect to the current chairperson, if elected president, she would not be reappointed to be chair of the DNC."

Wasserman Schultz criticized Sanders this week after his supporters unleashed brutal sexist attacks on the head of the Nevada Democratic party.

Jeff Weaver, Sanders' campaign manager, said this week that Wasserman Schultz has been "throwing shade" on Sanders' campaign for a long time. Sanders also sued the DNC after it claimed he improperly accessed voter data and blocked his access to a database, but he dropped the suit in April.

In March, President Barack Obama endorsed Wasserman Schultz, whose term ends in January next year. He had nominated her in 2011.

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Afghan Taliban Leader Mullah Mansur Likely Killed In U.S. Drone Strike

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 16:38

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States carried out a drone strike on Saturday against the leader of Afghan Taliban, likely killing him on the Pakistan side of the remote border region with Afghanistan in a mission authorized by U.S. President Barack Obama, officials said.

The death of Mullah Akhtar Mansour, should it be confirmed, could have implications for stalled peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

It could also have political repercussions within the Taliban, where rival factions rejected Mansour's leadership after he publicly assumed the title of his predecessor, Mullah Omar. Omar's death was only disclosed last July after being kept secret for more than two years.

The Pentagon branded Mansour "an obstacle to peace and reconciliation between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban" and said he was actively involved in planning attacks that threatened U.S., Afghan and allied forces.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook, confirming an air strike targeting Mansour in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, said Mansour had prohibited Taliban leaders from participating in peace talks with the Afghan government.

"We are still assessing the results of the strike and will provide more information as it becomes available," Cook said.

Multiple U.S. drones targeted the men as they rode in a vehicle in the remote area, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. U.S. special operations forces operated the drones, in a mission authorized by U.S. President Barack Obama, the official said.

The strike took place at about 6 a.m. EDT, a U.S. official said, which would have placed it at Saturday in 3 p.m. in Pakistan.

A State Department official said both Pakistan and Afghanistan were notified of the strike, but did not disclose whether that notification was prior to it being carried out.

"The opportunity to conduct this operation to eliminate the threat that Mansour posed was a distinctive one, and we acted on it," the official said.


(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Bill Trott and David Gregorio)

Multiple U.S. drones targeted the men as they rode in a vehicle in the remote area, southwest of the town of Ahmad Wal, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. U.S. special operations forces operated the drones, in a mission authorized by U.S. President Barack Obama, the official said.

The strike took place at about 6 a.m. EDT, a U.S. official said, which would have placed it at Saturday in 3 p.m. in Pakistan.

A State Department official said both Pakistan and Afghanistan were notified of the strike, but did not disclose whether that notification was prior to it being carried out.

"The opportunity to conduct this operation to eliminate the threat that Mansour posed was a distinctive one, and we acted on it," the official said.

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Trump And Clinton On Guns: Two Visions Of Race, Justice And Policing In The US

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 16:18

For years seen as a losing battle, the push for gun control has become a central conflict of the 2016 presidential election, and part of a broader struggle between competing visions of policing, justice and racism in America.

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Relatives Of MH17 Victims Seek Compensation From Russia, Putin: Australian Media

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 15:13

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An Australian law firm has filed a compensation claim against Russia and President Vladimir Putin in the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of families of victims of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, shot down in 2014, media reported.

The jetliner crashed in Ukraine in pro-Russian rebel-held territory on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board, including 28 Australians.

The aircraft, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in its final report late last year.

Fighting was raging in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces when the aircraft was downed and many Western experts and governments blamed the rebels.

Australia's Fairfax media reported on Saturday that 33 next of kin were of victims named in an application by Sydney law firm LHD Lawyers, representing people from Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

Reuters could not immediately reach LHD Lawyers for comment.

The application was filed on May 9 and names the Russian Federation and Putin as respondents and seeks $10 million in compensation per passenger, the report said.

The Dutch Safety Board, which was not empowered to address questions of responsibility, did not point the finger at any group or party for launching the missile.

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Trump Could Still Use Campaign Donations To Pay Himself Back $36 Million

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 14:29

Donald Trump insists he personally funded his primary campaign, but a new report filed by his presidential campaign tells a different story.

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What Does Bernie Want?

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 14:19
The Democratic establishment and liberal commentariat lathered itself into a fine hysteria last week. What began as a Clinton surrogate meme -(Bernie has done his job, but now he's hurting Clinton and should get out of the race) - became a maddened chorus. The predictably angry reaction of Sanders delegates --and truly deplorable behavior by some --to preemptory rulings by a pro-Clinton Nevada party chair was blown into a mythical scene of chair-throwing violence, based largely on a report by a biased reporter who wasn't even there. The divisive DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz did her best to escalate rather than defuse the situation. Zealous Clinton advocates like Barney Frank and Paul Krugman slurred Sanders character because he wouldn't drop out of the race. Pundits like Eugene Robinson ("behaving like a two year old") and Jonathan Chait ("maddeningly narcissistic") piled on. Sanders voters were scorned as befuddled innocents who can't do addition, or, as Hillary Clinton earlier suggested, dupes that are being misled by Sanders misinformation. The New York Times and the Washington Post fanned the fames with alarmist headlines.

Slurs and insults are an odd way to build party unity. What is this fit of hysteria about? What has Sanders done to trigger this circular firing squad? What does Bernie want?

What Bernie Wants

Sanders' intentions are not a secret. He has stated them clearly from the beginning of his remarkable presidential run. He hopes to win the nomination. And he intends to build a "political revolution" to change the direction of the party and the country, to challenge the corrupted politics and rigged rules that work only for the few and not the vast majority.

As movement builder, he has every reason to stay in the race. He's still drawing stunning crowds. He's still energizing a new generation. He has a responsibility to take his message across the country, to educate and proselytize.

As a candidate, he stays in the race because voters keep him in. He still has a shot - however small - at the nomination. He keeps gaining momentum. He's won 5 of the last six primary contests, and basically tied the sixth (Kentucky). He won the closed primary in Oregon even after the mainstream media press declared that the race was over. He's now got a chance to win California, in a primary marked by the diversity of its voters. His campaign raised more from its small donors than the Clinton campaign for the fourth month in a row in April.

As things stand now, Clinton seems certain to finish the primary season with more elected delegates than Sanders and with more total votes. If elected delegates chose the nominee, she would win. But they don't. Clinton will not have won the required majority of the delegates to the Democratic Convention, because the rules of the party say that the 712 superdelegates who are appointed, not elected, get to vote for whomever they think is the stronger candidate. These are party officials, politicians, and leaders of DNC accredited institutions. They constitute 15% of the convention voters and will determine who is the nominee.

Playing by those rules, Sanders says he will appeal to those delegates to choose him when they cast their vote at the convention. He has a strong argument to make, particularly if he wins California. He's the only candidate left standing whom Americans view favorably. Clinton suffers historic levels of disfavor, exceeded only by that of Donald Trump. Coming from nowhere, Sanders has grown stronger as his message has spread. Sanders runs better against Trump than Clinton in both national and most swing state polls. He fares far better among independents. He is more likely to inspire and turn out vital millennial voters. His message - and his integrity - will be a stark contrast to the bombast and duplicity of Trump. Surely he has a case to make.

So Sanders continues his critique of Hillary Clinton on issues and on the big money fueling her campaign. He continues to call on the Democratic Party to "open its doors and let the people in," not remain a party "dependent on big money campaign contributions and... a party of limited energy." [DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz's tone deaf response to that was to repeal Obama's ban on lobbyist contributions to the Democratic Convention).

Sanders has already made it clear that if he doesn't win the nomination, he will endorse and stump for the winner. The most notable addition to his stump speech recently has been an extended attack on Donald Trump, featuring the riff: "I come from the working class of this country, and I will be damned if we will allow the Republican Party...to win the votes of working class Americans."

Democratic voters seem at ease with Sanders' course. A recent CBS/NY Times poll showed that by 59-34% Democratic voters say that the "long race for the nomination" will help the Democrats in November rather than hurt it. (And the number is a sharp contrast with 2008, when by a virtual reverse margin (38-54%) Democrats thought the long race hurt the party in November.) By 50 to 48, Democrats describe the party as united rather than divided, again a stark contrast with 2008 when by 56 to 42% Democrats thought the party divided. By 83-14%, Democratic voters already say they'll support Clinton if she becomes the nominee. The hand wringing about Sanders dividing the party seems overwrought at best.

House leader Nancy Pelosi, one of the few Democratic leaders not to lose her head in the past days, has it right. She praised Sanders "as a positive force in the Democratic Party," saying "he's has awakened in some people an interest in the political process that wasn't there...And I think that's positive."

So why the hysteria?

The Clinton Problem

The problem, of course, isn't the Sanders' obstinacy; it is Clinton's weakness. The Democratic establishment essentially cleared the field for her. She started with all of the money, all of the endorsements, universal name recognition, a forbidding lead in the polls, and her pick of the best campaign operatives. She's battle-tested. She's intelligent, with remarkable energy and unmatched experience. But somehow she can't lock up a convention majority from elected delegates against a septuagenarian democratic Socialist who is funding his campaign with small donations.

Turns out the being the establishment candidate grates against the growing number of voters who realize the establishment has failed them. The big money backing Clinton had its costs when voters think our politics are corrupted. Her experience has liabilities, as she moved to disavow the policies her husband and she championed from trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP, to harsh and biased criminal sentencing measures, to banking deregulation and more. She is burdened by scandals, old and new, some self-inflicted, even if inflated by right-wing hit squads.

Worse, she chose to run as the candidate of continuity when voters are looking for change. She made herself the champion of incremental reforms when voters - particularly young voters -- yearn for much more. She purposefully presented herself as more hawkish than Obama-- an "interventionist" Joe Biden called her - at a time when voters are weary of endless wars without victory.

The result is she's almost as unpopular as Trump is -- and recent polls show him closing the margins between them.

That's the cause of the hysteria. Clinton understandably doesn't want to risk the embarrassment of losing to Sanders in California. The superdelegates are aghast that they might face pressure from Sanders supporters to vote for him. Their votes are supposed to be locked up in backroom deals. They aren't accustomed to being held accountable for them, or to facing public pressure - phone calls, letters, demonstrations, and aggravations - on how they vote. But they set the rules. They could have gone to the convention as observers, but they wanted a vote. Putting themselves in the kitchen, they now complain about the heat.

The Democrats' Dilemma

Donald Trump is utterly unfit to be president. He is a classic American bounder, a version of Melville's confidence man, peddling scams, preying on hate and division, posturing with bluster and bunk, insult and idiocy. He's utterly incapable of carrying a policy argument, adopting and shedding positions at will.

He's blown apart the Republican Party, repelling its neo-conservative hawks, its establishment bankrollers, its suburbanite moderates, and its social conservative zealots. His sexism repulses women; his peddling of hate and racial division will mobilize people of color against him. His social conservatism and climate denial alienate millennials. His candidacy could well set the stage for a sea-change election, with sweeping Democratic victories up and down the ticket.

But Trump clearly has a genius for playing our media, particularly the increasingly abject cable news channels. He understands "branding," and has brutally labeled each of his opponents. He's wily as a fox in the supposed irresponsibility of his insults.

And unless the party's establishment responds to Sanders, Democrats are likely to end up a candidate particularly vulnerable to Trump's assault. For all of the Clinton campaign complaints, Sanders has been the courtliest of opponents. Trump has already shown he'll have no such compunctions. And sadly, the Clintons provide numerous targets of opportunity, old and new. Along with raking through the scandals, Trump will paint Clinton as Obama's third term, while indicting her interventionist foreign policy, her support of corporate trade deals, and her funding ties with Wall Street.

Americans are not likely to elect Donald Trump president of the United States, but the Democrats are about to present the nomination to one of the few candidates that could make the race close. For this, Sanders is not to blame. And if Clinton is the nominee, she'll have more than enough time to frame her argument against Trump and to organize the broadest coalition against him.

Democratic Unity

To win a convincing victory and gain a mandate for change, Clinton would benefit greatly from the energy and passion of Sanders and his supporters. The campaign clearly believes it might gather in moderate, suburban Republicans, the professional class repulsed by Trump's hate mongering and by his transparent lack of temperament or qualification to be president. The campaign may well decide that Trump will organize the Sanders voters for her. That would be a mistake. Young voters and Democratic leaning independents aren't going to vote for Donald Trump, but they could easily stay home in large numbers.

No one likes a sore loser. But one of the hardest challenges in politics is to be a generous winner. If Clinton believes as she says that she will be the nominee, she should run hard to win California, while curbing the attack dogs, shutting down the attacks on Sanders' character or his supporters' intelligence. She should warn the superdelegates they'll have to take the heat, even as she seeks to consolidate their support. She should begin paving the way for unity. Sensible first steps would be getting the poisonous Debbie Wasserman Schultz out of the way, and opening up the platform and rules committees to Sanders nominees. After California, she should reach out to Sanders directly.

And she would be wise to embrace not only the Sanders energy, but to move to adopt many of his themes, and champion some of his major reforms. Sanders will no doubt endorse, if he loses the nomination. But how his followers respond - the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the general election -- will be far more dependent on what Clinton does and how she runs than on his endorsement.

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Key GOP Donors Still Deeply Resist Donald Trump’s Candidacy

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 13:11

A powerful array of the Republican Party’s largest financial backers remain deeply resistant to Donald J. Trump’s presidential candidacy, forming a wall of opposition that could make it exceedingly difficult for him to meet his goal of raising $1 billion before the November election.

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Prevailing Wage Is a Veterans Issue

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 13:09
Every May, we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in our nation's armed forces. Across our country, we'll hear from politicians about the importance of "supporting our troops," and "leaving no veteran behind."

These are great soundbites, but fifteen years removed from 9/11--and in the wake of scandals at the VA, a mental health crisis that claims the lives of 22 veterans every day, and unacceptably high unemployment levels among our newest generation of returning warriors, it's past time to define what this really means. Too often, actions simply don't match the rhetoric.

A prime example of this disconnect is in the debate over State Prevailing Wage laws--rules that effectively establish the minimum wage for skilled construction work.

First established by two Republican US Senators back in the 1930's, and broadly supported by leaders in both political parties until recently, at least eleven states have proposed or considered eliminating their prevailing wage standards in the last two years--including Illinois.

In the debate over these measures, the vast majority of peer-reviewed studies by reputable economists have concluded that prevailing wage laws do not increase public construction costs. These same studies have concluded that prevailing wage laws result in more local hiring, job growth across all economic sectors, safer worksites, higher quality workmanship and productivity, less spending on materials and fuels, and less poverty amongst blue collar construction workers.

Missing entirely from the debate over these laws is who they would impact the most. Military veterans, for example, pursue employment in the construction trades at substantially higher rates than non-veterans.

Even moreso in states with strong prevailing wage laws according to recent research commissioned by VoteVets.org.

This should not be surprising. The military has increasingly focused on promoting skilled apprenticeships to help veterans transitioning to the civilian world, and now provides over 20% of the registered apprenticeships in the country. And the teambuilding, problem solving, and project management skills honed on the battlefield translate well to these occupations.

What simply doesn't translate well is the "support the troops" rhetoric from politicians who are calling to repeal these laws, as they do the bidding of groups affiliated with the Koch Brothers and the trough of bad ideas known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

A repeal of state prevailing wage laws would be an economic disaster for veterans---costing nearly 65,000 veterans their jobs, nearly 24,000 their employer-based health coverage, and forcing nearly 8,000 Veteran-owned construction businesses to close their door - permanently. It would also impose a $3 billion pay cut on veterans nationwide, and increase the number of veteran construction workers living in poverty by 50 percent.

But that didn't stop the West Virginia legislature from repealing Prevailing Wage earlier this year.

It didn't stop Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker from signing a prevailing wage repeal that disproportionately affects veterans in his state into law, even as he was campaigning to be our Commander in Chief in 2015.

And it didn't stop Indiana Governor Mike Pence from doing the same thing the year before.

And sadly, it hasn't stopped Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner from advocating repeal in Illinois.

So the next time you hear a politician claim to support the troops, ask him or her if that includes supporting prevailing wage laws.

If it does, you'll know they stand on the side of helping more veterans put their skills to work in their communities and access ladders to the middle class. If it doesn't, we'll all be able to see their rhetoric for what it is: an empty charade.

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Pro-Bernie Blogger Raises $25,000 After Getting Fired For Attacking Clinton Backers

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2016-05-21 12:33

A blogger who was fired after getting into a Twitter feud with Hillary Clinton backers on Thursday raised nearly $25,000 in less than 24 hours

Matt Bruenig, whose family is expecting its first child, set a $10,000 goal on GoFundMe, but had far surpassed that goal by Saturday morning, receiving $24,804 in donations.

Bruenig, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who is known for his confrontational approach on Twitter, was fired by the progressive think tank Demos after tweeting at The Nation's Joan Walsh and Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress. Bruenig got into a back-and-forth with Walsh over young people supporting Sanders and then accused Tanden, who is close to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, of supporting welfare reform. While Tanden did work in the administration of Bill Clinton after he signed welfare reform into law, both Gawker and Mother Jones note that there's no evidence she actually supported it. 

Bruenig was condemned for calling Walsh and Tanden "geriatrics," which appears to be a reference to a previous feud in which Bruenig accused Walsh of ageism after she referred to a young Sanders backer as "barely shaving."

@MattBruenig Go to hell, Matt. Really. I have a daughter. You know nothing about me and your pathetic ageist sexism is tiresome.

— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) May 19, 2016

@joanwalsh I have a daughter too. Your pathetic ageism against young people (remember taunting them as "barely shaven") is sickening to me.

— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) May 19, 2016

It's fun when the geriatrics who worked to starve my mother of cash assistance get going. https://t.co/ugXi9qH7lx

— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) May 19, 2016

@MattBruenig @joanwalsh having been on welfare myself, don't need lectures on this topic from you. Thanks though.

— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) May 19, 2016

@neeratanden @joanwalsh Scumbag Neera uses welfare when she needs it then takes away from others when they need it. Disgusting.

— Matt Bruenig (@MattBruenig) May 19, 2016

Demos apologized for Bruenig's tweets and later released a statement saying Bruenig would no longer work for them.

"After our tweet apologizing for Matt’s personal attacks including the term 'scumbag,' we received emails from multiple individuals who made it clear that we were not aware of the extent to which Matt has been at the center of controversies surrounding online harassment of people with whom he disagrees," Demos wrote. "After multiple conversations, Matt Bruenig and Demos have agreed to disagree on the value of the attack mode on Twitter. We part ways on the effectiveness of these kinds of personalized, online fights and so we are parting ways as colleagues today."

Tanden described the situation as "unfortunate" to Gawker.

"I find the whole situation unfortunate. Mr. Bruenig has made contributions on the poverty discourse and I wish him well in the future," she said. 

Bruenig told The Huffington Post that he received dozens of emails offering to send money and suggesting he set up a GoFundMe page. 

"I was reluctant at first, but we are about to have a kid and will have some non-trivial costs associated with leave and childcare. I also found the support very moving. So I decided to go ahead," he said in an email.

"I thought maybe I'd get a couple thousand from friends and dedicated comrades. I did not expect this. In 3 hours, it raced up to a little under $25,000. I closed it off because it was getting ridiculous. I just wanted to fill the income gap, not get rich off of the whole thing."

The page is now closed for donations, and Bruenig has added a note encouraging would-be donors to give to Eric Harwood, a man he wrote about who is fighting to get disability insurance.

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