People power scores an important win vs. inequality

WASHINGTON – Unless you tuned out Donald Trump on his final frenetic campaign blitz, you remember seeing him barnstorming across Florida, stoking the fears of Latino voters with his nightmare threat that Joe Biden & Company would “turn America into Communist Cuba or Socialist Venezuela.”

Fearmongering pure and simple, but it worked with a big slice of south Florida’s Latino voters, enough for Trump to shrink the normal Democratic majority in heavily Latino Miami and go on to carry Florida, the one big swing state that Trump actually won.

But what is fascinating and telling – especially given Trump’s scary rap against big government – is that close to a million of those same Florida voters rejected Trump’s pro-business economics and voted to amend the Florida constitution to establish a $15 state minimum wage.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s political allies in the Florida Chamber of Commerce fought bitterly against this measure. Chamber President Mark Wilson warned that mandating steady increases in the state’s minimum wage over the next six years would cause “job loss, hurt local businesses, increase the cost of living for seniors, and drive good jobs elsewhere.”

One of many demonstrations for $15 minimum wage in Florida
Source: Fight for $15 Florida Facebook

But a 61% supermajority rejected the self-pleading by restaurant owners and other businesses. In the end, nearly 6.4 million Florida voters — a far bigger majority than Trump’s own majority – supported taking a bold step against income inequality by voting to boost Florida’s current wage floor of $8.56 an hour to $10 next Sept 30, and then add a dollar per year to the hourly minimum until it hits $15 in 2026. After that, the plan calls for an automatic annual cost of living increase.

Pushing for greater economic fairness

One interesting wrinkle is that while the Florida pay hike was of course promoted by organized labor, its chief backer and instigator was an Orlando businessman and attorney named John Morgan, who bankrolled the campaign with more than $5 million of his own money. Why? Because Morgan is convinced that states must take action now to reduce america’s lopsided income inequality and to promote greater economic fairness, for the modern capitalist system to survive.

“What I personally believe the unrest in America is really all about, whether you’re a Bernie bro or a Trump supporter in the Midwest — it’s about income inequality,” says Morgan. “Every great society can crumble because the haves have too much and the have-nots don’t have enough.”

The Florida mandate will in fact reduce the inequality gulf, according to a progressive Florida think tank, the Florida Institute. Its experts calculate that the newly mandated minimum wage increases will bring a rise in pay and living standards for about one-quarter of Florida’s workforce, about 2.5 million people, and it will also help reduce racial and gender pay disparities.

Rallying cry – “The fight for $15” Read more

Veteran journalist: It’s time to make billionaires pay their fair share

Veteran journalist Hedrick Smith says the rapidly expanding economic divide cries out for action.

WASHINGTON – While you and I have focused on the economic havoc of job losses and small businesses shutting down because of the pandemic, we missed noticing that the tiny sliver of super-super-rich at the apex of our economy was simultaneously amassing astronomical fortunes, thanks to the pandemic.

A surprise perhaps because that scenario runs contrary to most downturns. But the sad fact is that the corona pandemic has deepened and exacerbated America’s economic divide – the already gaping inequalities of our 21st-century economy. It’s as if the super-rich and everyone else live on two different planets.

As the Census Bureau reports that more than 118 million Americans lost jobs or suffered cutbacks in income or work-time during the pandemic, America’s 650 Billionaires added more than $1 trillion to their already massive personal wealth, according to Forbes magazine and the nonpartisan Institute for Policy Studies in Washington.

The huge financial winnings of the billionaire elite dwarf even the urgently needed flood of $2,000-per-person checks sent out by the federal government last spring to 150 million Americans. The financial bonanza enjoyed by billionaires was triple the size of that nationwide federal bailout.

What’s more, the fact that the ultra-rich were reaping explosive windfall profits on the soaring stock market while 81 million Americans reported having trouble covering costs like paying the rent or putting enough food on the table underscores the chasm between Wall Street and Main Street, the disconnect between the financial markets and the real economy.

Pandemic Isolation Is Rocket Fuel for FAANG

The numbers that define the billionaire boom are truly mind-numbing, out of whack with past experience. During the economic collapse of the Great Recession in 2008, America’s financial super-elite saw its fortunes fall right along with the economic crunch suffered by middle-class American households.

But not this time. According to Forbes, updated by the Institute for Policy Studies, the soaring gains of the billionaire elite defied the economic laws of gravity. Despite the plunge in the nation’s economy, their wealth shot up.

Their colossal gains were powered by the through-the-roof profits rolled up by high tech companies like the so-called FAANG – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Google, plus retail giant Walmart. High tech was ideally positioned to reap astonishing returns from our almost total dependence on the web, the tube, social media, and online shopping during the physical confinement and isolation under the sway of corona.

Bezos and ex-Wife Now Worth More than $250 Billion

So Forbes, which has long tracked the rise and fall of the ultra-rich, compiled a boxscore so we can all witness the phenomenal payoffs pocketed by the titans of high tech: Read more

Veteran journalist explains how 2020 campaign spending went through the roof

WASHINGTON– The flood tide is still rising, but already the Mega-Money tsunami of Election 2020 is going into the record books as the most expensive election in American history with the biggest flow of dark money ever funneled anonymously to candidates – $750 million, up from a minuscule $5 million a decade ago.

With final spending reports yet to be filed and another $200-$300 million pouring into Senate runoff elections in Georgia, the overall price tag for the 2020 election has already hit $14 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics which tracks political money. That stunning total is more than twice as much as four years ago.

We were warned a decade ago to expect this Niagara of campaign cash by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens who bluntly told his brethren on the high court that their decision in the Citizens United case “unleashes the floodgates” by legalizing unlimited campaign spending by corporations and other independent groups.

Joe Biden: A $500 million funding edge pays off

Since that fateful decision a decade ago, the numbers have soared exponentially. “Ten years ago, a billion-dollar presidential candidate would have been difficult to imagine,” commented Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. This year, it happened.

Donald Trump, with his billionaire connections, looked like a sure bet to become the first to hit $1 billion, especially when he began fund-raising for re-election almost immediately after taking his oath of office in January 2017.

But ironically scrappy Scranton Joe Biden, who was the late-starting, slow-moving turtle in the money race, was actually the one who broke the billion-dollar barrier, amassing a total of $1,380,583,483 for his run for the White House. For a candidate like Biden, who deliberately masked himself and self-isolated because of Covid and ran a thin stump campaign, having a half-a-billion-dollar campaign spending advantage over Trump was crucial.

Biden made his funding leverage pay off handsomely. Time and again, he was able to make up for his lack of vote-pumping, in-person  campaign rallies by a steady flow of television, social media, and digital ads to penetrate deep into political battlegrounds and come away with hard-earned victories in pivotal states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

For Senate Democrats: Spending does not equal winning

But as other Democrats down-ballot learned to their dismay, Mega Money does not always translate into victory. Overall, the Democrats out-raised and outspent Republicans by $5.8 billion to 3.8 billion  (not counting the $1.4 billion that billionaires Mike Bloomberg and Tom Steyer spent on their failed presidential primary campaigns).

Top Row: North Carolina – Cal Cunningham (D) v. Thom Tillis (R)
Bottom Row: Iowa – Theresa Greenfield (D) v. Joni Ernst (R)

But bigger bankrolls did not pay off for the Democrats in their desperate attempt to win a majority in the Senate and fatten their House majority. In states like Maine, Iowa, North Carolina,  and South Carolina, where Democrats were hungering for victories, they and their SuperPAC allies had bigger campaign war chests than the Republican Senators they were trying to unseat, but all that money did not spare Democrats from disappointing defeats.

In North Carolina, which saw the most expensive Senate race in the history of American campaigns ($285 million), Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham outspent incumbent Republican Thom Tillis by $166 million to $119 million – and still lost. Same thing happened in Iowa, where Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield outspent incumbent Republican Senator Joni Ernst $111 million to $87 million and then lost by more than 100,000 votes. In South Carolina, incumbent Republican Lindsey Graham also fended off a much better funded Democratic challenger, Jaime Harrison.

How Mitch’s superPAC blocked the Democrats Read more

Legendary national journalist: Three hopeful developments in combating political extremism

Hedrick Smith

[Editor’s note: The following essay was written by former New York Times Washington, DC bureau chief, frequent NC Policy Watch contributor and all-around legendary journalist, Hedrick Smith. It originally appeared on Smith’s own website, Reclaim the American Dream.]

WASHINGTON– With the election just days away, are you getting tired of the scaremongering and mud-slinging in the presidential campaign?   How about some good news for a change?

Good news about political reforms to make American elections fairer, more transparent, and more inclusive, and to help rebuild the political middle, so desperately missing in today’s bitterly polarized politics.

From the mainstream media, you’d never know anything was happening, but from Florida to Alaska, and in states like Missouri, Massachusetts, and Virginia, grassroots citizen movements are pushing for adoption of political reforms on Nov. 3, and were it not for the coronavirus, there would  be a lot more.

What made it onto the ballot are different reforms in different states. But they share some very important common threads – more voice and choice for average voters and more ways to combat political extremism and rebuild the political middle.

Independent voters want more voice

One strategy is to give more voice and clout to political independents – the fastest growing group on our political landscape, the mass of Americans in the middle who have become disenchanted with political parties and partisan warfare.

Back in 2004, only 27% of Americans identified themselves as political independents to the Gallup Poll. This fall that number has shot up to 42% and it’s even higher (44%) among younger voters under 40. And of course, that boom means that our two big parties have been shrinking –  Republicans down from 38% to 28%, Democrats down from 35% to 27%.

Florida Capitol Building – The state has 3.6 million independent voters.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. That burgeoning mass of independents is shut out of party primaries that are often the decisive elections for congress, the state legislature, and other offices. And independents want in on the action.

Take Florida, which now has more than 3.6 million independents – NPA’s, they call them, No Partisan Affiliation. In the Sunshine State this year, a broad grassroots movement called All Voters Vote is campaigning for the adoption of a non-partisan primary for all statewide offices and the legislature to open the door to independent voters and to reduce the “partisan extremism” that is fostered by political party primaries.

What the Florida reformers propose is one big, wide-open primary election where Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, all candidates compete and all voters vote, including independents. The top two vote-getters for each office in the primary qualify for the general election. No party gets a lock on any office.

Alaska – attacking dark money and party primaries

Five thousand miles away in Alaska, they’ve got an even more ambitious reform plan. With more than 54% of Alaskan voters declaring no party affiliation, a trans-partisan citizens coalition, Alaskan for Better Elections, is also calling for a non-partisan primary election, open to all six of Alaska’s political parties, to be followed by a so-called “instant runoff ” using rank choice voting in the general election. Read more

Veteran national journalist: Trump is angling to deny the 2020 vote count

WASHINGTON – The ominous danger lurking behind Donald Trump’s mindless, factless fear-mongering about by-mail voting is that his real aim is not to banish this method of voting in 2020, but to legitimize in advance his rationale for rejecting the results of the 2020 presidential election if he loses, a prospect that now seems to panic him.

Trump is about winning, above all. He has shown little respect for constitutional norms. He uses them or abuses them to suit his personal advantage. When it suits him, he equates mail voting with vote fraud, without evidence and even when Republican governors and secretaries of state reject his false accusations. And when mail voting works to his benefit, he pockets the gains and applauds.

Last month, Trump had several tweet tantrums about plans for mail voting in California, Michigan, and Nevada, three states he fears losing. But he had nothing negative to say about the heavy mail-in vote that helped Republican candidates win special congressional elections in California and Wisconsin.

Photo credit: Voter Protection Project

Imagine for a moment what Trump will say or do next fall if we have a repeat of the cliffhanger election of 2000, with Florida’s hanging chads, or an electoral vote, as in 2016, where the margin of victory was less than 80,000 votes spread across three pivotal states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In those scenarios, Trump’s current rants against voting-from-home-to-avoid-COVID-19 are a political insurance policy. They are a tool for his real objective: seeding public mistrust of mail voting so that in the crunch of November, he can mobilize mass support for challenging the legitimacy of a Joe Biden victory in any battleground state. That would allow Trump to declare a rigged election that leaves him  in possession of the White House.

Trump’s tweets are a rehearsal for November 

In his tweets, Trump is rehearsing his lines for November: “The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and “force” people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!”

If that sounds too far-fetched to be taken seriously, do the impossible for a moment and put yourself in Donald Trump’s shoes. The latest major polls, even those from Fox News, show Trump running 7-11 points behind Joe Biden among registered voters nationwide and even lagging Biden in such must-win states as Michigan and Florida.

Savvy political analysts know it’s a mistake to take poll numbers literally, five months ahead of the election. But if you are Donald Trump, with a hyper-fragile ego and manic obsession for constant public adulation, those numbers are menacing enough to set you off into reckless rants.

You’re driven to fake imaginings of an anti-Trump conspiracy by former president Barack Obama or gratuitously fabricating a murder fantasy about former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough in an aide’s death 20 years ago, or making dictatorial threats to use the U.S. military against civilian protesters as the Chinese communist leaders did against student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In short, Trump’s toxic tantrums over mail voting, like these other wag-the-dog distractions, signal the desperation of a president who senses he’s lost his grip.

Even in GOP States, vote-by-mail is trending

In their rational moments, Trump’s advisers and Republican strategists must know that his frenzy over mail voting stands little chance of reversing the major shift toward mail balloting in the Year of Corona, let alone ripping mail voting out of the 2020 elections, root and branch. Read more