By Dan Riker
Friday, March 17, 2017
Liberal democracy around the world is in trouble. Right-wing populist authoritarians are gaining support. Putin copycats head the governments of a number of new and emerging democracies. Now, we have one.
Victor Orban, the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, boasts that he has turned his country into an “illiberal democracy.” In other words, a democracy without rights.
Does anyone believe it can’t happen here? It’s already started.
I will try to answer two questions: Why is liberal democracy losing support? And what can be done to thwart the authoritarians?
I have drawn material from three articles in the March, 2017 issue of Atlantic, “How to Build an Autocracy.” By David Frum, “It’s Putin’s World,” by Franklin Foer, and “Containing Trump,” by Jonathan Rauch, “The Signs of Deconsolidation,” by Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, in the January, 2017, issue of the Journal of Democracy, and two articles in the Washington Post, “Trumpism: Made in Europe,” by E.J. Dionne, May 16, 2016 and “Americans are losing faith in Democracy – and in each other,” by Nathaniel Persily and Jon Cohen, October 14, 2016.
Why is democracy losing support? Why is an authoritarian like Trump our President? Trumpism is an import from the right-wing populists in Europe. Major factors behind the rise of right-wing populism are opposition to immigration, fears of terrorism and crime, economic nationalism, and promises of a muscular hand against the forces of disorder.
Underlying all of these are ethnic and racial fear and anxiety – the fear of the other – the fear that they are losing their majority and their culture. – that this will no longer be their country. By blocking immigration and deporting the undocumented they are trying to slow down the rapidly increasing population of minorities. In 2012, the Census Bureau forecasted that non-Hispanic whites could be in the minority by 2044 – just 27 years from now.
Last year the far-right candidate for Austria’s presidency lost by just 6/10th of 1 %. Austrian voters also showed the same kind of geographic political, economic and cultural divide as our November election – with strong support for the authoritarian in the rural areas. The Brookings Institution reported that while Hillary Clinton carried fewer than 500 of America’s more than 3,000 counties, those counties she carried – mostly in and around major urban areas - generated 64% of the nation’s economic activity in 2015. Not only do we have the worst economic inequality among income groups in our history, we also have enormous geographic economic inequality, which is far more sinister and enormously more difficult to change.
There is huge economic anxiety among middle and working class people, especially those outside the major metropolitan areas. Across the Rust Belt, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin there are hundreds of small cities and towns that lost their primary employers. Globalization put our middle-class workers in competition with very low wage workers in other countries. Our workers lost. Pro-big business government policies permitted massive mergers and consolidations, resulting in hundreds of plant and business closings. Walmart came to town with its low prices killing off local businesses while its employees needed public support to survive on its low wages.
Surveys discussed in the article, “The Signs of Deconsolidation,” show that young people around the world have far less faith in democracy than do their parents and grandparents. There also is a global rise of citizens wanting a strong leader. About a third of Americans want a leader who doesn’t have to bother with elections.
In mid-2012 51% of Republicans had a very unfavorable view of Kleptocrat Putin. That dropped to 14% in 2016. In January of this year a survey reported that 75% of Republicans said Trump had the right approach to Russia.
Trump does not have the support of a majority of the people but he has a solid base of support – of millions of people who believe what he says, regardless of how far from the truth it is. This is a very dangerous situation. We have as our President – I hope for not too much longer - a sociopathic narcissistic liar and bully who likes to use his power and has no morals, no conscience, no belief in democracy.
He has to be stopped.
How can we do that?
Our Resistance must operate on multiple levels. We must vigorously oppose everything Trump and the Republicans do that threatens the nation. Without that opposition, millions could lose their health insurance, massive pollution of lakes and rivers could resume, nothing will be done to slow climate change, millions will be deported, maybe even the dreamers, and economic inequality will increase because he is not going to bring back those jobs. All he is going to do is help the rich get richer. And he may start a big war.
We must document and publicize the damage he does, challenge his programs in court, and demonstrate over and over. There already is active and organized opposition. There are networks of organizations working together to oppose Trump. We must help to grow that opposition. It may be that some of us are not suited to demonstrating, but we can publicize the demonstrations through social media. We can donate money. We can phone bank.
We need to show support for our elected Democrats who oppose Trump. Write letters to our senators and our members of the House. Letters are better than emails but you can do both. Call their local offices as well. Tell them how strongly you oppose Trump and how much you appreciate their opposition. If you are able to donate money to them, please do so. That makes a really good impression. Also, write our state public officials to reinforce their resistance to Trump. There is a lot that can be done.
We also must win over some of those who voted for Obama and then for Trump. Americans want change but they probably are not going to be happy with the changes Trump brings. Bashing and opposing Trump, alone, will not bring us victories. We have to show them that we understand their issues and are sincere in wanting to address them. To win, we must also offer viable, practical alternatives that will make a difference in their lives. Those alternatives are progressive programs and progressive government.
Progressive government means doing for the people what they need done but cannot do for themselves. We need higher wages and thus we need a much higher minimum wage. We need national health insurance – Medicare for all. We need a concentrated attack on climate change and an end to our reliance on fossil fuels. We need roads and bridges, and high speed trains. We need to end the war on drugs and legalize marijuana. We need to raise taxes on the wealthy and reform our corporate tax system. We need to improve Social Security. We must regulate Wall Street. These are just some of the things that the people need but cannot do for themselves. Progressives will do them.
Because there is an enormous deficit of historical knowledge among our population, we must go to them and show them how progressive governments and programs improved the lives of the vast majority of Americans. It happened three times during the 20th Century – in the time before WW1, during the Great Depression and during the 1960s. Out of progressive government came food and drug regulation, anti-trust and pro-labor laws, women getting the right to vote, social security, the minimum wage, bank regulation, Medicare, Medicaid, integration of public schools and public facilities, voting rights protection, Headstart, and much more. In fact, almost every popular federal program came from progressive government.
We can make the Democratic Party the progressive party. We are doing right now here in Oregon. Since last year, we progressive activists – many of us veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign - have taken control of a number of county parties, and we may be on the verge of taking control of the state party. It’s happening in other states as well. By so doing here and across the nation, we can recruit and help elect progressive candidates for every public office from the local school boards to the national Congress.
Progressives will bring reforms and programs which will begin to solve the economic and geographic inequalities. If economic anxiety is lessened, maybe racial and ethnic anxiety also will diminish.
The danger to democracy is real and is growing as more and more people lose faith in it. Trump could accelerate that loss of faith. Our successful opposition to Trump may restore it. We must block him and go to the people with better ideas and better candidates for public office. There is no time to lose.
David Frum’s article in the Atlantic is a must-read and his conclusion will be mine:
“We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.”
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
With his landslide win in Wisconsin yesterday, Bernie Sanders now has won more of the popular vote in primaries outside the South than has Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s leads in both the overall popular vote and pledged delegate count are due to her huge wins in southern states, most of which will not vote Democratic in November.
With the votes not completely counted in Wisconsin, Sanders has 4,144,651 votes in the 10 primaries outside the South to Clinton’s 4,096,209. In the 22 states outside the South that have had primaries and caucuses, Sanders has won 638 delegates to Clinton’s 531.
Clinton’s lopsided victories in 11 southern states have netted her 4,640,859 votes and 736 delegates to 1,795,355 votes for Sanders and 376 delegates. Hillary won every former state of the Confederacy but the only states Democrats have a reasonable chance of winning in November are Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. While Bill Clinton carried some southern states in his elections, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana, Hillary does not have the same kind of popularity in those states that her husband did. The Republican Party also is more firmly entrenched in most southern states than it was 20 years ago.
Clinton’s victories in the South are mostly due to her popularity with blacks who represent high percentages of the Democratic vote in those states. Even though they only represent about 13 percent of the national electorate, blacks are a major contributor to Democratic victories in general elections because they vote Democratic in overwhelming numbers. Thus, even though Sanders lost the black vote in the South by high percentages, it is extremely unlikely he would lose it in the general election.
Each of the candidates has won five primaries outside the South. Clinton narrowly won Massachusetts, Illinois, and Missouri but Ohio and Arizona by good margins. Sanders won Michigan narrowly but had landslide victories in New Hampshire, Vermont, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Sanders has proven that he can compete effectively with Clinton and he has shown much greater support among younger voters who clearly are not enthusiastic about Clinton and who have a record of much lower voter turnout when they are not inspired by an election, or a candidate.
The Democratic superdelegates, who represent the establishment of the Democratic Party and have an enormous duty to Democratic voters, and to the nation, to ensure that there is a Democratic victory in November, should consider these numbers carefully. That victory depends on the Democrats winning outside the South. Bernie Sanders has shown he can do that. Every poll shows him running stronger than Clinton against every potential Republican candidate.
Sanders is a stronger candidate for President than Clinton. Furthermore, he is more likely to inspire a Democratic voter turnout that will return control of the Senate to the Democrats, and maybe the House as well.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
How I came to support Bernie Sanders
By Dan Riker
I grew up during the golden years of the 50s and 60s when one income supported families. College education was financially feasible. Life seemed to be improving for almost everyone. It certainly was for me. I am a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of Baltimore School of Law. I've had several careers - in journalism, in the big corporation, and as an entrepreneur. I was the CEO of a wireless company, a bookseller and I have written four books.
Like many in my generation, I focused most of my time and energy on my various careers and business activities as well as my family. For much of our lives we lived the American Dream - something that seems mythical to today's young people.
While I was not paying attention, that "Shining City on a Hill" that Ronald Reagan talked about was looted by some of his powerful supporters. Our country was hijacked, and along with it, the futures of our children and grandchildren. I wanted to do something about it. I wanted to find a solution to our economic and political problems. There is no better way to learn about something than to write a book about it. And that's what I did. In so doing I discovered that the solution – like Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story about the Purloined Letter - was hidden in plain sight - in our case, in our history.
Not counting wars, we have had three major crises in America since 1900 - all the result of Republican policies. Progressive leaders and policies brought America safely out of two of them.
Fearing there would be a revolution in the United States over the enormous abuses of the Gilded Age robber barons and Republican Party laissez-faire policies, Theodore Roosevelt embraced Progressive ideas. He saw them as taming the worst features of capitalism and saving capitalism from itself.
Franklin Roosevelt’s progressive New Deal saved America from the second great crisis, the Great Depression.
We now are living through the third crisis. Even though Democrats have held the White House for 15 of the last 23 years, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama reversed the devastating trickle-down, supply-side, economic policies implemented by Ronald Reagan. We have the worst economic inequality in our history. Nearly all income and wealth are going to the wealthy. The middle class now is less than 50% of the population. Half of all wage-workers are not making enough money from their fulltime jobs to support their families. 30% of children live in poverty. We are the only developed nation that has these problems – and there is no reason we should have them.
My principal conclusion in my book, reached long before Bernie Sanders decided to run for President, is that to overcome our current crisis we have to have a new progressive movement. For that movement to be successful, there has to be national progressive leadership and a following by millions of people over an extended period of time - maybe several elections. Bernie repeatedly has said he cannot do it by himself, that what he is trying to do is lead a progressive movement to take control of governments across the country.
Bernie is one of the leaders I was looking for. Elizabeth Warren is another. They have the right vision for America. Even though Bernie calls himself a democratic socialist, most of his platform comes straight from the progressive platforms and programs of Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt.
Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt both supported bank regulation and FDR imposed restrictions on Wall Street. FDR said education was a human right, Both Roosevelts supported health care as a right. Both supported a living wage. FDR’s investments in infrastructure helped the recovery from the Depression. Bernie wants to make massive investments in infrastructure now. Bernie wants to end our current Prohibition – the war on drugs. FDR ended the last one. Bernie wants to tax corporate profits hidden offshore. Corporate tax revenues as a percentage of all taxes were three times higher under FDR than they are now.
Bernie’s program is not radical, or even socialist. It is “as American as apple pie.”
Bernie Sanders has proven he is a great leader by inspiring the massive movement we need. He has thousands of volunteers across the country - hundreds of Bernie groups that spontaneously sprung up. He has overwhelming support among younger voters - particularly the millennials and even younger voters. They are our future. If they are with Bernie - and with his progressive ideas - and if they have the patience and fortitude it will take to bring those ideas to life - I think we can win.
And, I believe we have to succeed. We cannot say it cannot be done. It has to be done. We must fix America. We, the people, can do it. Let's do what must be done so that we carry out our duty to our heritage and to those who will come after us. Let's make America work for everyone.
And if we achieve this, if we elect Bernie Sanders, and with him a whole lot of other progressive Democrats, we will do just what progressives always have done, we will save the country by saving capitalism from itself.
Monday, February 8, 2016
On January 11, 1944 President Franklin Roosevelt's State of the Union Message to Congress set out his vision of what a post-war America should look like. He called it an "Second Bill of Rights." The "Democratic Socialist" platform of Bernie Sanders is remarkably similar to FDR's plan.
President Roosevelt said:
President Roosevelt said:
"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security."
Bernie's Platform Is Designed to Reduce Economic Inequality while Increasing Opportunity, Economic Security and Personal Health.
- Provides greater support to unions so that there can be more collective bargaining to gain higher wages.
- A trillion dollar infrastructure program that will create 13-million good-paying jobs.
- A $15 "Living" minimum wage.
- Guaranteed vacation and sick time, maternity leave and equal pay for equal work.
- Health Care as a right, not a privilege with Medicare for all, eliminating the need for employer or personally financed health insurance. Lower prescription drug prices.
- Strengthening Social Security and increasing payments to the elderly and disabled.
- Cancellation and/or revisions of trade deals to provide greater protection of American jobs from imported low-wage products.
- Free public education through four years of college.
- An extensive program for improving rural life and to increasing the incomes of family farms. Included is use of the anti-trust laws against dominant agribusiness and food corporations and revisions in farm subsidies, nearly all of which go to big corporations.
- Programs paid for with a tax on Wall Street transactions, elimination of corporate tax breaks, tax reform, restoring the progressive income tax with higher rates for higher income families and individuals, increasing the Inheritance tax for large estates, lifting the cap on Social Security, increasing employer medicare payments as well as employee withholding.
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
The most wasteful spending of the federal government is the defense budget. Huge sums of money - tens of billions of dollars - are blown up - truly blown up. What if that money were invested in the country?
What I found most disturbing about the Republican debate last night was the harping by so many of the candidates - maybe all of them - on how we need to spend more on defense. And they were not challenged by the CNN folks. Our basic defense budget is more than $600 billion. That doesn't count veterans benefits and I don't believe it includes the cost of maintain our 5,000 (!) nuclear weapons - weapons we really can never use and far more than we need for deterrence.
Here is a chart that shows our defense budget is equal to the TOTAL defense expenditures of the seven countries that spend the most on defense other than us. How can any rational person justify spending more?
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Why the Minimum Wage Should be Increased to $15.00/hour
By Dan Riker
We have an economic crisis in the United States today. We need a major increase in the incomes of most Americans. And there is one simple way that can be done - make the minimum wage a living wage. Raise it to $15.00 an hour.
We have the worst economic situation in the U.S. since the Great Depression. We have enormous economic inequality, a lack of upward mobility, and declining economic opportunity. Our economy is growing but nearly all of the growth is going to the top 10% and much of that to the top 1%.
Despite the fact that the GDP has tripled since Ronald Reagan was President in the 1980s, average wages have not increased at all. A Portland State University study just released this past week reported that the average income in Portland actually has declined. Reagan's economic policies, which generally have been followed by every President since, caused millions of good-paying jobs to be shipped overseas, millions more to be eliminated by corporate mergers and millions more replaced by automation. Many of those jobs have been replaced by jobs that pay what the government classifies as low wages - an average of $12 an hour or less - not living wages.
Add to this the loss of most of the home equity American homeowners had because of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and while the banks were bailed out, homeowners were not and many lost their homes or still are stuck with mortgages greater than the value of their houses.
Recent studies reported that only 29% of Americans have more than $1,000 in savings and nearly half have none at all. Most Americans today have no money to spend on anything but necessities and are one job loss or serious illness or accident away from destitution - and they know it and they hate it.
This economic crisis has contributed greatly to our present political crisis. Across the country right-wing politicians are being empowered by the hatred, fear and resentment of millions who are struggling to stay out of poverty and who get little government assistance themselves.
Many lower middle class whites, particularly in the South and in Rust Belt areas, already held racist views and had begun to vote Republican after the Civil Rights laws were passed in the 1960s, but the Republican Party today is vastly different from the one they joined a couple of generations ago. Voting Republican today is irrational and self-destructive. Right-wing Republicans not only don't want to do anything to improve the economic circumstances of the lower and middle-middle class - they actually want to take away or at least reduce what few benefits they may receive - such as Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicaid and Medicare.
This self-destructive behavior was just seen in Kentucky. This state, that had one of the most successful roll-outs of Obamacare that provided medical insurance to hundreds of thousands of its residents for the first time, just elected - with extremely low voter turnout - about 30% - a right-wing Republican governor who promised during the campaign to abolish the program.
And if there wasn't already enough evidence that millions of people are losing their minds - now we have the fascist, racist and bully, Donald Trump, as the leading contender for the Republican Presidential nomination.
Government at all levels is losing support. Fewer and fewer people are voting and increasing numbers of those who do - no longer believe in the social contract - the duties that we have to each other to preserve freedom, democracy and equality of opportunity.
What can we do about this? One simple thing will make a huge difference.
Raise the minimum wage to at least $15.00 an hour over a three-year period and index it to inflation.
We must look past the fact that less than 4 million people are working at or below the minimum wage, to the fact that more than 50 million are working for low wages - for less than $12.00 an hour on average - including 25% of the workers in Portland. And it is projected that 45% of new jobs in Oregon in the coming years will be low-wage jobs.
Think about it. Nearly one-third of all full-time workers in the United States currently are working for less than what they need to live and that number is likely to grow. What is this if not a form of slavery?
In order to survive, in order to support a family, millions work more than one job. Many also have to utilize the Earned Income Tax Credit, Food Stamps and other programs in order to feed their families and provide a place to live. There is no way these people can go to night school to improve their skills and get better work. There is no bootstrapping one's way out of this slavery.
Walmart and other corporations are employing the modern version of slavery to earn billions of dollars in profits and make their owners among the riches people in the history of the world. Walmart employees receive more than $6 billion in government benefits to make up for their low wages. Walmart also is the major beneficiary of Food Stamps because so many are cashed at their stores, especially by their own employees. If Walmart increased its minimum wage to $15.00 over a three-year period it could cover the cost with about a 5% increase in prices and maybe not that much.
We spend $133 billion on the Earned Income Tax Credit and Food Stamps. What if a substantial portion of that money could be used to repair our highways and bridges, reduce the cost of education, provide more aid to small businesses and fund increased scientific and medical research? Tens of thousands of good paying jobs would be created.
Raising the minimum wage to $15.00 will cause a major expansion in the nation's economy, improve economic and educational opportunity and dramatically reduce poverty.
And that will happen because of simple economics.
Increasing the minimum wage to $15 helps far more people than the four million who work for it now. Increasing the minimum wage to that level will drive up the wages of tens of millions of workers - the 50 million who now are low wage and others up the line as their incomes are adjusted.
The people will spend this new income on consumer goods and that will propel the economy to grow faster than it has in many years. Consumer spending represents 71% of our economy - our Gross Domestic Product - of $18 trillion annually. I have computed that this will increase the GDP possibly by as much as 5% - twice the current growth rate - effectively tripling the growth rate. And a multiplier effect would set in, driving the GDP even more.
People would buy more houses, cars and consumer products of all kinds. Millions of people would be able to seek technical and collegiate education. Health would improve. People would be happier and the nation would prosper as companies expanded to meet the increased demand, creating even more and better jobs.
Some argue that such an increase would cost jobs. There is no significant historical evidence that increases in the minimum wage have had negative effects on employment. In fact, right now there is plenty of evidence that the much higher minimum wages in effect in Seattle and elsewhere are stimulating their economies and creating more jobs - not fewer. However, as a society we must take the position that if a business can only survive by turning its workers into virtual slaves that business does not deserve to exist.
We can and must end this modern slavery. We can change America dramatically for the better - we can reduce the bitterness and resentment of tens of millions of people near the poverty line - by deciding that no full-time job can pay less than a living wage.
And a living wage today is a minimum of $15 an hour.