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Fed Up With Corporate Politics, Progressive Democrats Are Organizing — And Winning

Last June, after Democratic candidates had lost four straight special Congressional elections (Rob Quist in Montana, James Thompson in Kansas, Archie Parnell in South Carolina, and Jon Ossoff in Georgia), America’s purveyors of conventional political wisdom simultaneously jumped to the conclusion that the policies and message of Democrats were just too progressive for our nation of moderate-right voters. The Washington cognoscenti expressed dismay that, despite Trump’s dismal public approval ratings and the nationwide surge of “Resist!” campaigns, the hapless Democratic Party was still unable to score any electoral victories.

“Why Do Democrats Keep Losing in 2017?” queried a June headline in The Atlantic. “Democrats just went 0-4. When will they win?” asked a cynical CNN reporter. “It is a bit surprising that Democrats haven’t managed a single victory yet,” declared a University of Wisconsin election expert. “Panic is setting in on the left,” exclaimed a Vox headline.

Really?

No, not really.

The professional political observers are like cats watching the wrong mouse hole. They are so fixated on the minutia of Washington-centric politics that they’re missing the much bigger story of transformative political changes that have erupted in every region of the country. Far from panicking, America’s political left is organizing, strategizing, mobilizing … and WINNING. Coalitions of local progressive activists (newly energized by an infusion of dynamic, creative young people and people of color) came together after the 2016 election. They recruited and trained candidates from their own ranks; methodically knocked on doors, having thousands of front-porch conversations with voters on basic issues; mobilized supporters for intensive election-day turn-out drives; and elected scores of audaciously populist mayors, council members, legislators, and other officials.

This is the mouse hole to watch, for it’s where ordinary people — those fed up with the corporate-rigged, business-as-usual politics and policies of both major parties — are actively rebuilding democracy and beginning to produce real change. It’s a nationwide rebellion made up of spontaneous local rebellions, each sparked by various specific grievances with America’s ruling royalists. Linking these uprisings together is a shared determination to restore our nation’s unifying ethic of the Common Good, a principle that my old daddy used to express this way: Everybody does better when everybody does better.

This burgeoning movement is not merely about protesting or lobbying the government — it intends to become the government. It’s a new politics embracing a three-front strategy I call R-I-P:

—Resist the Trumpeteers and corporatists of all parties who’re imposing plutocratic rule over us commoners.

—Insist on enacting a positive, aggressively progressive people’s agenda.

—Persist in organizing from the ground up to sustain both “little-d” democratic politics and “everybody” policies.

The most common characteristic of last year’s progressive, populist candidates is that they were genuinely of the people, not career pols who were next in line. And they were not simply running for office, but running for specific economic, social and political changes to make America better for families and neighborhoods like theirs. They didn’t need campaign consultants to tell them what to say and not to say, for they were politicized by personally experiencing assorted assaults on their values and sense of justice. Politics is not a game to them — they know who they are, what they’re fighting against and, more importantly, what they’re fighting for.

Knowledgeable and trusted local groups have been key to the recent election victories by bona fide progressives. These groups build relationships through work in their communities, know whom to speak with and can tackle the intensive work of going door to door. Several national organizations understand the power of a local focus and have invested in identifying amazing grassroots partners — their 2017 results speak to the potential of this emerging network. Groups like Our Revolution, Working Families Party, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America, People’s Action, Progressive Democrats of America, Democracy for America, and the Movement Voter Project are just some of the organizations doing important work. As the Movement Voter Project said in its recent report, “Failure is not an option. Not for our children. Not for our grandchildren.”

Populist author, public speaker, and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes The Hightower Lowdown, a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.

What Can You Possibly Buy For 47 Cents These Days?

Although most of us take it for granted, America’s postal service is an amazing bargain. For only 47 cents, you can purchase A “Forever” postage stamp.

Buy one 47-cent stamp, and postal workers will deliver your envelope to any address in the country by plane, train, bus, boat, truck, car, bike, pushcart, mule, on-foot or all of the above. Stick it on a letter, document or other missive, and our phenomenal network of postal workers and letter carriers will deliver it within a few days right to the specific mailbox of your addressee in any of the approximately 43,000 zip codes covering every nook and cranny of this vast country. For 47 cents! Also, that “Forever” stamp from our public postal service means it’s good for first-class delivery next year, next decade or forever — protecting you from future increases in stamp prices. What a deal!

But to really get your money’s worth, mail something to someone in this zip code: 48222.

That’s the only floating zip code in the U.S. It’s a 45-foot mail boat that has been a registered U.S. Post Office since 1948. Named the J.W. Westcott II, this postal boat is the mail box for crew members working aboard the giant freighters hauling grain, iron ore and other commodities across the five great lakes. Except for loading at one port, then unloading hundreds of miles away, these long-haul merchant ships never stop, with crews stuck on board for weeks.

So the Westcott, based near Detroit, chugs out to deliver letters and packages as each of the freighters passes by. The skilled pilots of the mail boat maneuver it right up against a steep steel side of the moving freight vessels, keeping perfect pace with the big ships’ speed.

Then, in a very low-tech (but highly-efficient) delivery technique, someone on the freighter lowers a bucket tied to a rope down to the Westcott. The mail boat pilot puts a bag of letters and packages addressed to people on that ship into the bucket, which is pulled back up, and then the little boat peels away from the freighter. Now that’s service!

The official motto of the 48222 zip code is “mail by the pail.” It’s all part of our public Post Office’s amazing commitment to deliver service to all — not just to the rich and the easy-to-reach.

But look out, for a deal-breaker looms over your post office. A cabal of corporate predators and Koch-headed ideologues have been scheming for years to take “public” out of this public agency and strip “service” out of the U.S. Postal Service. The most effective ploy of these price-gouging privatizers has been a diabolical Big Lie — a massive PR hoax to depict this essential public service as a hopeless money loser, sucking billions from taxpayers every year.

Unfortunately, our lazy media establishment keeps spreading their lie. Here’s an August New York Times article falsely asserting that “the Postal Service has sunk deeper underwater — net losses for the second quarter of 2016 were $2 billion.”

Bovine excrement! In fact, our Post Offices earned $1.3 billion in profit so far this year, making this year the fourth straight that it has operated in the black. The discrepancy stems from phony paper losses manufactured by corporate lobbyists and right-wing lawmakers who’ve insisted since 2006 that the Postal Service must prefund retiree health benefits for 75 years in the future. No other agency and no corporation operates under this absurd and totally unnecessary burden, which adds billions of dollars in fictional costs to the agency’s balance sheet.

Here’s another reality the sloppy corporate media ignores: Our postal network costs taxpayers zero, for we consumers finance its operations by purchasing those stamps and other services. It’s time to put a Forever stamp on this public jewel.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Dear Media Elites, Here’s How You Have Trump Completely Wrong

Published with permission from AlterNet.

Being a muckracking political writer often makes me feel like a custodian in a horse barn, constantly shoveling manure. It’s a messy, stinky job — but on the bright side, the stuff is plentiful, so the work is steady. Indeed, I’m now a certified equine excrement engineer, having developed a narrow but important  professional specialty: cleaning off the horse stuff that careless politicos and sloppy media types keep dumping on the word “populist.”

As you might imagine, in this year of global turmoil, I’ve been especially busy. Populism — a luminous term denoting both an uplifting doctrine of egalitarianism and a political-economic-cultural movement with deep roots in America’s progressive history — has been routinely sullied throughout 2016 by elites misusing it as synonym for ignorance and bigotry:

When right-wing, anti-Muslim mobs in a few European nations literally went to their national borders to block desperate Syrian war refugees from getting safe passing into Europe, most mainline media labeled the boisterous reactionaries “populists.”

Flummoxed elites in Great Britain, frantic over Brexit, blindly blamed their people’s vote to exit the European Union on the “populist” bigotry of working-class Brits.

When in the United States, the unreal reality show “The Donald” spooked representatives of the corporate and political establishment, which denied that Trump harnessed public fury toward them, smugly attributed his rise solely to “populist” bumpkins who embraced his demeaning attacks on women, Mexicans, Muslims, union members, immigrants, people with disabilities and veterans, among others. Indeed, the power elites sneeringly branded Trump himself a “populist.”

Excuse me, but if that bilious billionaire blowhard is a populist, then I’m a contender in his Miss Universe contest.

Populism is not a style — and this is important to note in this moment of “The Donald” — nor is it a synonym for “popular outrage.” Populism is a historically grounded political doctrine that supports ordinary folks in their ongoing democratic struggle for power over their lives.

This past June, I was pleasantly surprised that out of the blue a major player in this year’s presidential race gave me a big helping hand in cleaning the manure off the democratic ideal of genuine populism. “I’m not prepared to concede the notion that some of the rhetoric that’s been popping up is populist,” said my fellow scrubber. He added that a politico doesn’t “suddenly become a populist” by denigrating people of other races, cultures, religions and nations.

“That’s not the measure of populism. That’s nativism or xenophobia or worse. Or it’s just cynicism. So I would just advise everybody to be careful about suddenly attributing to whoever pops up at a time of economic anxiety the label that they’re a ‘populist.’ Where have they been? Have they been on the front lines for working people? Have they been [laboring] to open up opportunity for more people?”

You tell ’em, Bernie! But wait. That wasn’t Sanders. It was Barack Obama delivering an impromptu tutorial on populist doctrine at a June 29 press conference.

Granted, Obama himself has hardly been a practicing populist. But he was nonetheless right about what populism is not. He also noted that real populists embrace the inclusive democratic values of egalitarianism and pluralism, which are presently under a ferocious assault by a horde of faux populists led by Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, and other foam-at-the-mouth immigrant bashers.

While the incitement of anti-immigrant prejudice for political gain is shameful and socially explosive, it is certainly not new or uncommon in our country. Nor is it unbeatable. For more than two centuries, the U.S. has experienced periodic eruptions of such ugliness from within our body politic, yet generations of Americans have successfully overcome the xenophobic furies of their times by countering the bigotry with our society’s prevailing ethic that all people are created equal. And after all, almost all of our families came from somewhere else.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of the book Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow (Wiley, March 2008). He publishes the monthly Hightower Lowdown, co-edited by Phillip Frazer.

How Can A CEO Feel Good About Being Vile?

Corporate price gouging is never nice. But gouging people on the price of medicines they rely on to stay alive is worse than not nice — it’s predaceously evil.

And if you think corporate morality can’t go lower than that, how about gouging people on the price of a life-saving medicine in order to jack up the personal pay of a drug maker’s CEO? That’s the bottom level of grotesque immorality where Heather Bresch dwells. She is chief executive of Mylan, a pharmaceutical profiteer that markets the EpiPen medical device, which literally is a lifesaver for people who suffer deadly anaphylaxis allergy attacks.

These allergy attacks kill nearly 200 people a year in the U.S. alone. Within seconds, something as common as peanuts or a bee sting can cause sever rash, swelling of the airways, drops in blood pressure, shock, and if not treated right away, death. So, naturally, we would want to increase access to the life-saving medicine that prevents these attacks, right?

Increasing that access is hard to do at today’s price. For years, a two-shot packet of EpiPens cost under $100, but Mylan bought the rights to the injectable drug in 2007, gained monopoly control of the market, and in 2012 suddenly began sticking dependent patients again and again with drastic price hikes. Now, the two-pack averages more than $600, with some paying above $900!

Drug makers routinely claim they must charge high prices to recoup their cost of developing their products — but Mylan didn’t develop the EpiPen, taxpayers did. The original research was initiated by the Pentagon back in 1973. Today, the device and the medicine in it cost Mylan only a few dollars to produce, and the product itself is essentially unchanged from when Mylan bought it. So the company’s only real contribution to the EpiPen has been to raise its price by more than 600 percent — a shameful act of sheer profiteering that rips off hundreds of thousands of users and endangers the lives of those families who simply can’t afford it.

Mylan’s CEO, the one responsible for this price gouge, regards herself as a self-made corporate success story — a woman who came out of hard-scrabble West Virginia and scrambled to the top of the food chain at Mylan. “There is a work ethic and grit about [West Virginia] that allows me to help make a difference,” Bresch told the New York Times.

Well, yes, grit, hard work — and having the advantage of being the daughter of the state’s former governor and current US Senator, Joe Manchin III. Take the MBA degree she got from West Virginia University, an academic credential bestowed on her 10 years after she left the school, having completed only about half of the coursework required to get a degree. The state university later conceded that Bresch was awarded this business degree… well, because her father was governor at the time, overseeing the school’s budget. It’s this sort of ethical “grit” that Mylan’s chief exec has employed to pick the pockets of thousands of vulnerable customers who rely on EpiPen.

Heather’s greed has sparked a furious public backlash, leading to congressional investigations. But, again, her “grit” might pay off, for she has bought off several top allergy-patient advocacy groups who are not backing the people. Why? Because she’s been dispensing millions of dollars to them in PR grants, making them “allies” in her blatant price-gouging scheme.

One thing that has risen higher than EpiPen’s price: CEO Heather Bresch’s paycheck. It’s up by 671 percent since 2007, and last year alone she pocketed $18.9 million! But I wonder — is that enough to make her feel good about being so vile? Of Course, Congress and the courts will do nothing to deter her and the other Big Pharma gougers — but surely the lowest level of Dante’s Inferno has rooms reserved for all of them.