Author Archives: Joe Firestone

The Technology Solution to the Democracy Crisis

By Joe Firestone

The spectacular intrusion of special interests into the passage of the $1.1 trillion government spending bill on December 13, 2014 was breathtaking as bankers and lobbyists whipped the vote by calling Congressional representatives directly to demand a host of special interest provisions, including the following:

  • Repealing the Dodd-Frank prohibition on locating derivatives trading activities in the same bank subsidiary company as their depositories containing checking, savings, and other accounts insured by the FDIC.
  • Raising individual campaign contribution limits by roughly 10 times the present limit.
  • Allowing businesses to default by as much as 1/3 of their private pension obligations.
  • Preventing the EPA from introducing new climate protections. 

So it is now abundantly clear that what we have is government by minority rule in which special interests reign supreme. Clearly, this cannot continue. It is for this reason that we are sharing the post below describing the only solution to the democracy crisis of which we are aware that can be implemented in the near future. It is long and we do not expect many readers to get through it in one sitting, or even at all. But if it piques your interest, you can re-locate it here at a more opportune time. 

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The Lawless Society

By Joe Firestone

The release of the Senate’s torture report reminds us of the central fact of American society, today. Any semblance of equal justice under the law is now gone from what our leaders claim is the world’s leading democracy.

Instead, of a constitutional democracy living under the law. We have a gangster government that fails to enforce the law, but instead prosecutes whistle blowers who make public, violations of it. Here is an off the top of the head list of our continuing and systematic failures to create justice.

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A Credibility Problem?

President Obama’s remarks to the Business Roundtable on Trade raise alarm bells for us all, and suggest that he is still pushing his pro- 1% agenda for all it is worth. Perhaps it would be better if Congress just treated him as a lame duck from here on in. Here are a number of statements from his talk and answers to questions, and my comments on them.

Trade: In Asia, there is a great hunger for engagement with the United States of America, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is moving forward. Michael Froman, who is here, has been working non-stop. I’ve promised his family that he will be home sometime soon. We are optimistic about being able to get a deal done, and we are reinvigorating the negotiations with the Europeans on a transatlantic trade deal.

If we can get that done, that’s good for American businesses, it’s good for American jobs, and it’s actually good for labor and environmental interests around the world. Because what we’re trying to do is raise standards so that everybody is on a higher, but level playing field. And I think that your help on that process can make an enormous difference.

So, he’s telling us that he’s still pushing for the notorious TPP, and well as the TTIP (also called TAFTA), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), even though all three elevate the right of corporations to sue Governments for loss of potential profits if Congress or the legislatures of other nations pass laws to protect the environment, attempt to moderate climate change, exclude certain energy sources from use, or do anything else that harm the potential future profits of companies that are signators to this treaty. Such provisions clearly breach the sovereignty of the United States and assert these potential profits above the potential will of the people which in seeking public purpose goals may harm or extinguish these potential profits.

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The Economic Agenda for America: A Commentary

Senator Bernie Sanders just released his “Economic Agenda for America.” While that agenda is certainly more progressive than the talk we hear from Democrats, and certainly is progressive in its expression of generalities. It is not nearly sufficiently progressive in its specifics.

Here’s a commentary on it.

1. We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. . . . A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. . .

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The Way Out of Shutdown Shenanigans

Today, I received an e-mail from the Friends of (the very popular with progressives) Senator Bernie Sanders. In it the Senator says:

I’m joining with the members of Progressives United to send a clear message to President Obama that we will stand with him when he vetoes Republican legislation that attacks the well-being of the struggling middle class.

Join me and members of Progressives United to urge the president to VETO any Republican legislation that attacks working families.

NO to cuts in Social Security. NO to cuts in Medicaid. NO to converting Medicare into a voucher program. NO to new trade legislation that sends our jobs overseas and hammers our middle-class workers. NO to cuts to nutrition programs, education or environmental protection.

YES to raising the minimum wage. YES to a massive jobs program rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure. YES to transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels. YES to pay equity for women workers. YES to overturning Citizens United.

We already know what “compromise” will mean from a Republican Congress: their way or the highway. In order to win in the future, President Obama must stand strong for the American middle class, and we must support him.

Tell President Obama: Standing firm is the only option, and that means committing to VETO legislation that attacks working families, and fighting for legislation that defends their needs.

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Another Dose of Prosecutorial Discretion

Here’s a footnote to my recent post on prosecutorial discretion. Of course, the Grand Jury verdict not to indict Darren Wilson in Ferguson was a product of prosecutor McCulloch’s decision to perform a non-directive prosecution accompanied by a “jury dump” without benefit of clear guidelines and instructions. This had the predictable result that the jury would carry on its own trial, not only absent vigorous prosecution, but by all accounts a prosecution that played more of the role of a defense attorney then a representative of law enforcement prosecuting a crime.

The way McCulloch proceeded in the case is almost never done by prosecutors and it illustrated perfectly the contrast between prosecution for me, and discretion for thee, the very mark of a legal system that is broken, failing to produce equal justice for all, under the law. This is perfectly acceptable to many Americans when it is not their ox that is being gored. So, we recently heard thunderous recriminations from the right over the President’s executive orders on immigration, but perpetual loud silence about the IRS’s failure to enforce the law prohibiting tax exemptions for claimed 501 (c) (4) organizations that are not exclusively engaged in social welfare activities. Now, we’re seeing rage against a prosecutor who obviously fixed an unjust outcome in a prosecution he did not want to engage is at all. The rage is justified, of course, and there are many lessons we can draw from Ferguson, but surely one of them is that we need to limit prosecutorial discretion. It gives prosecutors far too much power to ‘fix’ justice, which in various ways they do all the time.

Prosecutorial Discretion: Plenty for Me; But None for Thee

Republican “strategists,” Party functionaries, and Congresspeople, are saying, with considerable emotion and rage, that the President’s Executive Order allowing undocumented immigrants goes beyond presidential authority under the Constitution in the areas of law enforcement and prosecutorial discretion, claiming that he must enforce the law without bias, in a manner consistent with his oath to uphold the Constitution. They’ve made similar claims in relation to his decision to delay for one year the requirement that employers with over 50 employees provide health care coverage or pay penalties, and have now gone to court to get relief from this “horrible” action relieving the financial burden on one of the Republicans supposed favorite constituencies, non-small businesses.

On the other hand, the President’s unwillingness to investigate, prosecute and seek convictions against: Continue reading

Why Democrats Lost: It’s Not All About Millennials

By Joe Firestone

Carl Gibson, a writer blogging at Reader Supported News, provides an “Open Letter to the Democrats” giving his view of why they lost the Congressional Elections of 2014. He endorses the President’s view that people didn’t show up to vote because their choice of politicians didn’t motivate them. And to this view he adds that the Democrats did not get his generation’s support because they didn’t “. . . get populist.” And he goes on to say:

2014’s low voter turnout was historic. Voter turnout actually hasn’t been this low since the 1940s. As Mother Jones pointed out, voter turnout for people under 30 was dismal. In this election, people like me only made up 12 percent of those who voted, while people aged 60 and older made up almost 40 percent of total voters. In 2012, when President Obama was re-elected and Congressional Democrats made gains in the House and Senate, millennials made up almost one-fifth of all voters, and voters 60 and older made up just 25 percent of the electorate, bringing us a little closer to a tie. It isn’t hard to see the difference – this year, Republicans steamrolled you, Democrats, because most of us stayed home and let our Fox-watching uncles and grandparents decide on who was going to represent everyone else.

So how do older people pick who runs Congress? Like every other voting bloc, they pick the ones who run on issues most important to them. And as Vox reported, data consistently shows that younger people want their tax dollars spent on education and job creation. Older voters want their money spent on Social Security and war. The Republicans who swept the U.S. Senate ran largely on fear campaigns over ISIS, promising to be more hawkish than their opponents in an eagerness to pour money and troops into Iraq and Syria to snuff out America’s newest boogeyman.

Contrast the unified Republican message with the profound silence from you Democrats on addressing the trillion-dollar student debt crisis, rampant inequality and underemployment, and your collective fear of openly embracing economic populism, and you cook up what we saw on Tuesday night. Older people showed up, highly motivated to elect war hawks. Younger people mostly stayed home, disillusioned with the only alternative on the ballot who didn’t even talk about the issues affecting our lives every day.

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Elizabeth Warren: Better, But Not there Yet

In her recent post-election piece “It’s Time to Work on America’s Agenda” Elizabeth Warren points out that the changes in Washington and in various States aren’t changing the fact that

The stock market and gross domestic product keep going up, while families are getting squeezed hard by an economy that isn’t working for them.

Or to put it another way, it’s not enough to have aggregate indicators going up. We also have to have shared gains and inequality going down, and given our current state of affairs, going down rapidly. She then says:

The solution to this isn’t a basket of quickly passed laws designed to prove Congress can do something — anything. The solution isn’t for the president to cut deals — any deals — just to show he can do business. The solution requires an honest recognition of the kind of changes needed if families are going to get a shot at building a secure future.

That’s what happened in 2009 – 2010. Democrats structured legislation in a vain search for bipartisanship, and in doing so produced:

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Piketty’s Neoliberal Capital

Let’s get this out of the way. I agree with Piketty’s overall conclusion in Capital about inequality, that: the distribution of wealth in many industrial nations is highly unequal, wealth concentration has been increasing; and there is a high likelihood that the extent of wealth inequality will continue to grow unless appropriate fiscal policy is used to reverse current trends. However, I don’t agree with:

— the framework he uses to define and specify “capital”;

— the way he looks at Government finance and net worth; and

— the fiscal policy proposals he offers to reduce Inequality and put a stop to current trends of growth in the capital to income ratio.

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