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How Bernie Sanders Made A Meaningless Procedural Document Matter

Bernie Sanders and his supporters cheered a slew of progressive proposed amendments to the Democratic Party platform, but were ultimately dealt a setback in Orlando over the weekend when Hillary Clinton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s representatives on the party’s platform committee led the way in voting down amendments that would have supported a nationwide ban on fracking, criticism of Israel’s apartheid regime against Palestinians, the establishment of a single payer healthcare system, and indefinitely delaying a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

The setbacks came in the final meeting between representatives on the platform committee and only days before Sanders’ expected endorsement of Clinton Tuesday in a joint rally in New Hampshire, where he defeated her by a 22-point margin in the Democratic primary in February.

The Sanders campaign has been in close contact with the Clinton campaign in recent weeks, as the two sides have tried to find common ground ahead of the Democratic National Convention on July 25. The Democratic counterparts first met in mid-June, a tense meeting during which Clinton reportedly asked what it would take to land an endorsement from the Vermont Senator, who dominated Clinton with the youth vote.

To that end, Sanders’ camp has been able to force Clinton to earn his endorsement by pushing the presumptive nominee to the left on issues such as $15 minimum wage and health care: The language on the minimum wage — complete with Sanders’ very own “starvation wage” campaign terminology — was included in the final platform draft, and Clinton has included language supporting a “public option” for healthcare in recent statements to the press — mirroring some elements of Sanders’ medicare-for-all proposal. Sanders also was able to secure commitments from Clinton to support free in-state college tuition for families earning $125,000 or less annually.

Sanders has praised Clinton for the speedy progress in recent weeks, noting that “the Clinton campaign and our campaign are coming closer and closer together.” But Sanders has avoided an all-out endorsement, to the frustration of most in his adopted party.

In addition to the stalemates on fracking and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Clinton’s representatives on the platform committee voted down multiple initiatives relating to Social Security: an elimination of the cap on Social Security taxes as well as a new cost-of-living index for Social Security benefits. Sanders also has criticized the Democratic Party for its embrace of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal he has railed against and for which Clinton has switched her stance after initially calling it the “gold standard in trade agreements.”

Sanders has been much more vociferous in his opposition to TPP, slamming it as a corpotist attack on American jobs and regulatory measures and a potential source of human rights violations around the world. Sanders recently said as much in an op-ed for the New York Times, calling upon Democrats to “defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

While Clinton has said she opposes TPP, her campaign and many of her representatives on the platform committee have a history of sticking close to the legislative priorities of President Obama, who has promoted TPP repeatedly as a partnership that would give the U.S. an edge over China and would strengthen America’s relationships with countries around the world.

Amid frustration from the left on the committee’s refusal to pass Sanders’ reforms — particularly on the issue of TPP — some Sanders supporters observing the process chanted “Shame!” and “Are you Democrats?”

Nevertheless, the party platform, usually a symbolic document, has hewed left perhaps more than Sanders expected and is probably enough for him to proceed with his planned endorsement of Clinton Tuesday. In fact, he could use the platform to hold Clinton accountable to his base — as a checklist of issues on which Clinton has pledged to reach out to progressives in the party.

It is the most progressive Democratic platform ever, thanks to Sanders directing his supporters’ attention to the drafting process. It will be up to those supporters to hold Clinton and other Democrats to the promises that document makes.

 

Photo: U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders holds up his notes while speaking about his attempts to influence the Democratic party’s platform during a speech in Albany, New York, U.S., June 24, 2016.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Why Democrats Are Fighting Each Other Over The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Skepticism surrounding the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership has built up on both sides of the American political spectrum, and indeed around the world, but key differences of opinion are emerging on the left just weeks ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

Representatives of Hillary Clinton and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the party’s platform committee — which was thrust center stage by the Sanders campaign — led the fight last Friday against incorporating language in the DNC platform specifically opposing the TPP. In a 10-5 vote, split predictably along primary campaign lines, the Sanders camp suffered a setback in their effort to fulfill his pledge to stop the deal, which he has described as one that hurts workers and ultimately benefits the wealthy.

Clinton formerly supported TPP but officially came out against it in October, following pressure from the left wing of the party. She appointed a slew of experienced policy wonks, such as CAP President Neera Tanden and former EPA administrator and White House advisor Carol Browner, to the platform committee.

The decision by Clinton’s appointees to steer clear of a full-throated opposition to TPP could be a matter of simple loyalty to President Obama, who has lauded the partnership as one that is necessary for American business to succeed in a global economy and compete with China. A number of Clinton’s appointees served in the Obama administration, and the presumptive nominee has defended the president’s legacy and her role in creating it.

Paul Booth, a leader in the AFSCME public employee union and a Clinton representative on the committee, said he would prefer the platform plank on TPP to use “general, in-principle language” — providing cover, perhaps, for a greater acceptance of trade in a Clinton administration. During last week’s meeting, Rep. Keith Ellison, who represents the Sanders campaign, said, “I’d love to work with Mr. Booth, but I’m not picking up any spirit of cooperation from him.”

Amid a generational shift on attitudes toward trade and globalization, it’s worth examining Sanders’ reasons for opposing the TPP. According to the Vermont senator, the partnership “would make matters worse by providing special benefits to firms that offshore jobs and by reducing the risks associated with operating in low-cost countries.” He also slammed TPP for exploiting weak labor laws by promoting trade in countries like Vietnam, which he said has been cited by the Department of Labor, Human Rights Watch, and others for its poor human rights record. Sanders also says the TPP would compromise food safety and limit access to generic pharmaceuticals —  the result of a negotiation process that he says was largely carried out in secret.

On Tuesday, Sanders published an op-ed column in the New York Times comparing Americans’ anxiety over trade to British voters’ feelings about the European Union. He demanded that Democrats “wake up” and oppose a deal that does not serve the American working class. “We need to fundamentally reject our ‘free trade’ policies and move to fair trade,” he wrote. “We must defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Meanwhile, President Obama insists that the TPP boasts the “strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history.” He has broadly praised the agreement’s dedication to leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses. The underlying message in most of Obama’s remarks about TPP, however, is that he wants to ensure the United States stays ahead of China in the global market.

“The prescription of withdrawing from trade deals and focusing solely on your local market, that’s the wrong medicine,” Obama said Wednesday, responding to questions about another presidential candidate who doubts the value of global trade: Donald Trump.

On the surface, the rift within the Democratic Party is summed up by the conflict between Sanders’ progressive, non-establishment appointees to the platform committee, and Clinton’s more moderate, establishment appointees.

But reality is a bit more complicated: Clinton has distanced herself from the TPP, while her supporters at the highest levels of government nearly all support it (with a notable exception, Elizabeth Warren, who came out strongly against the deal a year ago).

Clinton will have to carefully tiptoe around the issue because she is counting on President Obama to make an economic argument for her candidacy in the months ahead. That may make for uncomfortable moments when Trump denounces trade deals while Clinton and Obama stand together on the campaign trail.

That tension, which has flared in Trump’s anti-trade wake, began months ago. Clinton called the TPP the “gold standard of trade” and had positive things to say about it in her book, Hard Choices. Yet, even after her about-face on the issue, her allies are maintaining flexibility on the deal while Democrats seek to lure Sanders supporters to Clinton’s side.

Even now, many American voters know very little about TPP, and those who know about the deal are split: a Morning Consult survey conducted last March revealed that 29 percent opposed it while 26 percent supported it; 45 percent said they did not have an opinion or did not know how to respond.

In the coming weeks and months, Sanders and his supporters will aim to raise enough awareness about the partnership’s downside — and indeed, the downside of global trade deals generally. If the tides of opinion keep turning, Obama may have to face some tough choices of his own.

 

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd R) meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  

Is Donald Trump Running A Presidential Campaign Or A Self-Promotion Tour?

Perhaps one of the first signs that something was fishy about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was the victory speech he used to promote his steaks, wines, and water bottles.

But now, as we inch closer to the general election, more is being exposed about how the presumptive Republican nominee for president is running his “campaign,” including the revelation of the vast cash disparity between Trump and Hillary Clinton, who had a $42 million to $1.29 million edge in cash-on-hand at the beginning of June.

That fundraising report begged the question: Is Trump genuinely in this to win it, or is he just enjoying his elevated national platform to reap the benefits of free PR? After all, NBC News spoke to anonymous aides in the Trump campaign who called the team “dysfunctional”: Trump lacks any communications team or rapid response team, and he has one of the smallest staffs of any major party nominee in decades.

Trump has acted defensively in response to talk about his small staff (especially after he — or his kids — fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski), pumping out tweets saying things like “small is good, flexible, save money and number one!”

Trump hasn’t produced many campaign ads, either, instead relying on the “free media” that handed him the Republican nomination. An ad tracking firm, Kantar Media/CMAG, reported that Trump has allocated no money for advertising between now and election day, while Clinton and her allies have allocated $117 million. Even if Trump believes his social media presence makes up for his lack of traditional media, he is still only reaching a limited demographic base — voters who follow politics on the web.

Trump’s new zeal for fundraising hasn’t made up much ground, either. His divisive nature, blatantly hateful rhetoric, and unprofessional name-calling routine has split the Republican Party, providing no incentive for GOP elites to wholeheartedly stand behind such an unelectable candidate. And considering his lack of any broad fundraising infrastructure, Trump probably won’t start seeing money flow into his campaign via small donations, as was Bernie Sanders’ model throughout his campaign, anytime soon.

Even if Trump feels that ad campaigns are unnecessary, one would expect him to work on his ground game: “Get out the vote” efforts, or GOTV, are considered the cornerstone of modern presidential campaigns. Barack Obama’s technological mastery of this game won him the presidency in 2008.

Hillary Clinton started mobilizing her staff in key swing states as early as April, but Trump has been content with holding events in states that he expects to vote Republican in the general election, such as Texas. Trump’s campaign says it only has about 30 paid staffers on the ground around the country, and only now have they finally started to plant staffers in some swing states.

If Trump’s definition of “appealing to voters” is sending a racist, sexist basketball coach like Bobby Knight up to the stage to talk about the good ol’ days, then Trump will face difficulties in appealing to anyone other than his existing supporters. Historical voting patterns indicate that Trump will have problems securing enough voters in bigger cities or swing states, where elections are won and lost.

In the event that Trump loses the election, it is hard to believe that this entire process could actually be deemed a success for his personal brand. While many people knew of Trump’s shady history before this election, the vast majority of Americans only knew him from The Apprentice, or perhaps from his playboy days in New York’s gossip columns.

What will be the legacy of this election for Donald Trump? He will be remembered now for his Trump University wealth seminar scam; for his racially-segregated apartment buildings; for his nativist Muslim Ban and racist campaign against undocumented Americans; for his mocking of a disabled reporter; for his systematic targeting of Megyn Kelly, Judge Gonzalo Curiel, President Barack Obama, and countless others.

For Trump, it seems, any PR is good PR — until it’s all exposed.

 

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to his supporters at the start of his campaign rally in Greensboro, North Carolina on June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake 

Republicans Bare Their Sexism As Senate Votes To Draft Women

The Senate on Tuesday passed an amendment to the defense budget requiring women to register for the draft, but that didn’t stop some Republicans from exposing perhaps a bit too much of their own biases about women’s “place” in society. 

It all started with Ted Cruz, the same guy who has been at the forefront of opposition to common sense social progress seemingly since childhood.

“The idea that we should forcibly conscript young girls into combat to my mind makes little or no sense… I could not in good conscience vote to draft our daughters into the military, sending them off to war and forcing them into combat,” he said.

Want evidence of the male hegemony in which our military and political institutions are seeped? Just read the arguments against drafting women: “Our daughters,” “young girls”?  Many Republicans still — in 2016 — cannot view women as adults. It’s more pervasive as bias than there was against gays under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

And how not-so-ironic that the language used by Republicans in this case is eerily similar to the language they used to justify their nonsensical campaign to ban transgender people from simply being able to use the bathroom. These are the same politicians attempting to add far more barriers to a woman’s right to choose than there are barriers to buying guns.

The opposition to women entering the draft is also shared by right-wing groups such as Concerned Women for America, whose spokesperson said “Leadership should know better than to disregard basic biology in order to embrace political correctness.” Yet, the reality of “basic biology” indicates that not only are many women able to meet the physical standards maintained by men, but studies have also proven that women fare better in other ways such as endurance. Studies have also shown that there is no difference between men and women in exercise-related injuries.

The idea of drafting both men and women isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Norway, Israel, and Mozambique are among nations that already require women to be drafted. Many other countries have allowed women to serve in combat roles, a development that has only recently gained steam in the United States. Women were banned from combat roles in the U.S. military in 1994, the same year Bill Clinton instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but Ash Carter has announced that women will be incorporated into combat roles starting in January of 2017.

It goes without saying that Republican opposition to women in the draft has everything to do with maintaining age-old stereotypes about them. The longstanding pattern in male hegemonic structure that has kept women in physically reserved, supportive roles has been challenged and proven wrong time and time again — even in the face of dangerous, vehement, and hostile resistance.

Katherine Switzer, the first woman who dared to run in the Boston Marathon despite its rules banning female participation, was determined to run the race in 1967 because a coach told her that it would be too long of a race for a “fragile person.” She ran the race anyway — and was physically attacked by a race official — and proved that with opportunity, women can do compete alongside men. Just six years later, Billie Jean-King defeated Bobby Riggs in the hyped-up “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match.

The physical barriers for women slowly continue to fall — more than 12,000 women ran in the 2016 Boston Marathon — but until some Republicans decide to enter the 21st century and embrace gender equality, we will have to wait until history exposes a backwards argument for what it is. 

 

Photo: U.S. army soldiers take part in a U.S.-South Korea joint river-crossing exercise near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Yeoncheon, South Korea, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

It’s Time: Democrats Are Speaking Up About Gun Control

Pressure from Democrats to finally push the needle on gun reform, after repeated mass shootings have been met with silence from the right, came just hours after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. Following House Speaker Paul Ryan’s usual moment of silence on the floor on Monday, Democrats chanted “Where’s the bill?” and dismissed the silence as meaningless without legislative action.

Democrats are pursuing a slate of legislation, including “No Fly, No Buy,” which would ban those on the FBI’s no-fly list from accessing guns; addressing the “Charleston loophole,” which allows guns to be sold after a three-day waiting period, even if the FBI’s background check isn’t complete; and legislation that would ban anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing guns.

On Wednesday, Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and other senate Democrats staged an old-school talking filibuster to urge movement on gun reform. And while a handful of conservative voices — and Donald Trump, via a tweet — have come out in favor of curbing access to military-style weapons, the vast majority pivoted towards focusing on “radical Islamic terrorism” in the wake of the attack.

Republicans talk a tough terrorism game, yet they don’t see a problem with suspected terrorists being able to purchase guns. As Hillary Clinton tweeted on Wednesday, “people can’t board planes with full shampoo bottles — but people being watched by the FBI for terrorism can buy a gun, no questions asked?” The nation was able to swiftly pass new airport security measures in the wake of 9/11, yet in the wake of the worst LGBT hate crime in American history, and the worst terrorist on American soil attack since 9/11, Republicans are holding back, hiding behind the Second Amendment.

The effort by Republicans to shift the debate away from gun control and towards ISIS is a reflection of who is really pulling the strings — the gun manufacturing lobby. Ted Cruz has raked in $36,229 from gun lobbyists. When, as speaker of the Florida House, Marco Rubio’s caucus failed to pass a bill allowing employees to bring firearms to work, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer complained ominously that Rubio “talked the talk, but he didn’t walk the walk.” 

The CEO of Sturm, Ruger, and Co., Michael Fifer, assured shareholders a month ago that, although demand for their product was “easing,” they should anticipate higher gun sales during the election season, as the “rhetoric from both sides” will “[keep] consumers aware and thinking about their firearm rights.”

Fifer didn’t try to hide his opportunism, adding that “If the political environment in this election year causes one or more strong spikes in demand, we may stretch our capital expenditures budget to take advantage of the opportunities presented.” In other words: Yes, the political fear mongering is purposeful, and yes, it is profitable. 

Despite the silence and inaction, Democrats are pushing forward in their campaign to make progress on gun control. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation that would ban anyone convicted of a hate crime from purchasing, possessing, or shipping a gun, marking the first proposed gun control legislation after the Orlando shootings.

Like other gun reform proposals, this one is common sense. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, 43,000 hate crimes committed in the United States involved the use or threat of a gun. And considering that the most recent one involved the slaughter of 49 people in a gay nightclub, or that the brutal shooting in Charleston, South Carolina resulted in 33 federal hate crime charges, there is ample need for the legislation. 

Democrats are also expected to continue pushing for the renewal of the ban on assault rifles. Rep. Seth Moulton, an Iraq War veteran, penned an op-ed for Wednesday’s New York Daily News in which he advocated for the ban. “I know assault rifles,” Moulton tweeted. “I carried one in Iraq. They have no place on America’s streets.”

“I had to look at pictures of dead and mangled bodies in order to understand the magnitude of what it meant to pull that trigger,” he wrote.

President Obama joined presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — and nearly every Democrat in national politics — this week in reinforcing calls for a ban on assault rifles, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004.

The pressure to change laws is a popular one, too: A CBS poll conducted this week found that the percentage of Americans who support banning assault weapons jumped to 57 percent, from 44 percent in December. And a White House petition to ban the AR-15 from civilian use has tallied more than 157,000 signatures in three days.

Republicans continue to repeat the polarizing message that those on the left are trying to “take your guns away” — a useful slogan that doubles as ad copy for gun manufacturers.

Meanwhile, they stand in the way of reforms that are not only long overdue and hugely popular, but also the only sensible answer to a brutal problem that every other nation on earth has legislated out of existence.

 

Photo: Gun enthusiasts look over Sig Sauers guns, including the Sig Sauer MCX rifle at top left, at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) annual meetings & exhibits show in Louisville, Kentucky, May 21, 2016.   REUTERS/John Sommers II 

After 49 Dead By One Man, Republicans Are Shutting Down The Gun Control Debate — Again

The disturbing trend of mass shootings amid lax gun laws continued in the early hours on Sunday in Orlando, Florida, but despite what happened there — or in Blacksburg, Virginia; Aurora, Colorado; or Newtown, Connecticut — Republicans refuse to talk about guns.

Republicans are more concerned with making sure they plant enough fear in Americans’ minds to validate their obsession with “radical Islamic terrorism” than they are confronting the real causes of violence motivated by those twisted beliefs. Republicans exploited the terrorist narrative by focusing only on Omar Mateen’s loose ties to ISIS, despite the more important facts at hand: Mateen’s assault rifle was purchased legally; the killer was an American citizen; and the LGBT and Latino communities were victims of the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history.

If Republicans really cared about stopping terrorists, that concern has not been evident: In December, they voted to allow “known or suspected terrorists” to buy guns.

Currently, federally licensed firearms dealers must notify the FBI of purchases so that the buyer’s name can be screened. Low and behold, Mateen was reportedly on two federal watch lists, in 2013 and 2014: he was first interviewed by the FBI after his co-workers reported that he made comments in support of terrorists, and he was interviewed again after communicating with an American who was involved with a suicide bombing in Syria.

But Mateen was removed from these lists in 2014, revoking any power the FBI had to block the sales. The legislation that failed in December is expected to be proposed again and would provide the federal government with more discretion to stop suspected terrorists from acquiring weapons. Mateen also sought out body armor, but the store denied to sell it to him, CNN reported.

Above all, that Mateen was easily able to purchase a similar weapon that shooters used in San Bernardino — a .223 caliber AR-type rifle — raises questions about the ample access to that weapon: Why are military assault rifles so easily available to would-be terrorists? Shouldn’t multiple mass shootings involving the same gun be enough to pass emergency cause-and-effect legislation as was passed in the wake of 9/11?

Nonetheless, Republicans would rather steer this discussion to ISIS, not gun control. In fact, any topic that would make Republicans uncomfortable is seemingly not up for discussion, either. GOP politicians were awfully quiet about the fact that the attack took place at an LGBT establishment on a Latin night. It was certainly an attack on America, but at its core, this was also an attack on the LGBT community that Republicans have repeatedly targeted themselves, and the Latino community for whom they rarely have sympathy.

The only time Republicans have bothered to mention homophobia in the wake of this attack is when it fits into their fear-mongering ISIS narrative, as we saw with Marco Rubio’s comments to The Advocate: “We know what ISIS has done to people they accuse of being homosexual.”

Donald Trump, who has never served in any national security capacity, did not once mention gun control in an expectedly bizarre series of tweets on Sunday. Instead, he took advantage of the spotlight and bragged about himself, sparking outrage. During the speech on Monday, Trump said he would ban immigration from countries with terrorist ties — even though Sunday’s attack was homegrown. Sunday also falsely accused Hillary Clinton, again, of wanting to somehow “abolish” the second amendment. 

Democrats swiftly reiterated their existing calls for action on gun control. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both echoed the other’s statements urging more stringent laws, specifically when it comes to the possession of automatic rifles. Sen. Chris Murphy, who represents Connecticut and has seen the devastation caused by gun violence firsthand at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, slammed Congress for failing to act.

“Congress has become complicit in these murders by its total, unconscionable deafening silence,” he said in a statement.

President Obama’s speech to the nation on Sunday afternoon sent a similar message to Congress and the American people. “This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon… And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be,” he said. “And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

Day after day, shooting after shooting, and debate after debate, it becomes increasingly absurd for anyone to justify the legality of such weapons when it is clear that lives would be saved by curtailing access to assault rifles designed to kill dozens of people in a short span of time — which is exactly what happened at Pulse Nightclub.

This is not a problem caused by the “foreign” Muslims whom Trump seeks to ban. This is not a problem caused by those on the other side of the wall Trump seeks to build. This is a problem caused by Americans with access to guns and permitted by Americans who refuse to interrogate that access.

No matter how many Republicans exclusively focus on the battle against ISIS — in which, incidentally, the U.S. and its allies have all but marginalized the physical caliphate in Syria in Iraq — there is nothing that takes away from the fact that the worst massacre on American soil since 9/11 was carried out by a weapon designed only for war.

 

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he walks offstage after delivering a campaign speech about national security in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S. June 13, 2016 in response to the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Democrats Fight Back Against Huge Cuts In School Lunches

House Democrats are calling out Republicans for sneaking provisions into the Child Nutrition and Education Act, which passed through committee in late May, that would adjust the requirement for free breakfast and lunch eligibility in public school districts

Today, school districts qualify for free breakfast or lunch if at least 40 percent of students are either homeless, in foster care, or belong to families receiving other benefits; under the Child Nutrition and Education Act, that percentage requirement would jump to 60 percent, effectively shutting out a whopping 20 percent of students who were previously eligible.

The bill also stipulates that sodium levels in school food would not be reduced without additional evidence supporting the change; it would increase the states’ prerogatives to make their own determinations about which children would be eligible for the meal-based aid; and it would roll out a three-state block grant pilot program for child nutrition assistance programs, which many Democrats believe would be used to cap — and in effect, limit — funds provided to states.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stood with Rep. Rosa DeLauro, driving force behind the opposition to the bill, to ramp up pressure ahead of the late-summer recess. DeLauro exposed the unfair bill and slammed the dangerous, cost-cutting tactics by Republicans as an extension of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s so-called anti-poverty plan unveiled earlier this week.

“Paul Ryan’s sham poverty plan task force says that it is focused on eradicating poverty, but it’s cuts like this that demonstrate where they’re coming from,” DeLauro said during a press conference on Thursday. “His plan will drive more and more Americans into poverty and make more and more Americans hungry.”

DeLauro highlighted the correlation between proper nutrition and academic performance, stressing that both food availability and nutrition would be compromised under the bill. DeLauro is reportedly continuing talks with leaders in Washington in an effort to convince Congress not to allow this bill to get to the floor for a vote.

The bill’s stringent requirements for aid further echo Ryan’s controversial poverty initiatives, which include extra barriers and qualification requirements for welfare recipients and those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp benefits. Ryan argues that the effort to combat poverty should be focused on allocating funds towards areas where there is the highest likelihood to see results. And although he has made comments pointing toward the failures of the war on poverty, programs such as SNAP — which he reportedly wants to cuthave proven to be effective.

This all comes despite a recent, apparently-not-so-genuine admission from Ryan that his approach to poverty was “wrong” in the past, because he referred to those on government assistance as “takers.”

“But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty,” he said. “I realized I was wrong.”

 

Photo: Flickr/ U.S. Department of Agriculture 

What Does Joe Biden Do Now?

Just months ago, Joe Biden was seriously mulling a third and final run for the presidency. Today, the vice president is preparing for a more supportive role during the general election matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

It is clear that Biden, who will be leaving office at the end of this year, wants unity in the Democratic Party. To that end, he will undoubtedly follow President Obama’s endorsement of Clinton with his own, though his support is likely to carry some reluctance due to his more progressive views on the economy and the pair’s sometimes-complicated relationship dating back to 2008: Biden has criticized Clinton for her war hawkish stances and Clinton’s camp reportedly was unhappy this year when Biden said she was “relatively new” to addressing economic inequality

His role on the campaign trail could be a downsized version of the one he had during the 2008 election when he was known for his ability to recruit working class voters — particularly men.

Sanders, who has praised Biden’s work for the “well being of working families,” may take the lead in swaying working class voters, especially considering his popularity with them this cycle, and his incentive to work together for the sake of his involvement under the probable future leadership of Senate Majority Leader Schumer. But Biden could be right behind him, and combined, the two could work to poach working class support from Trump in swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Biden has been more receptive to the platform of Bernie Sanders throughout the election cycle than President Barack Obama, who finally endorsed Clinton on Thursday but has largely stayed further in the background while awaiting his chance to campaign in support of the Democratic nominee. While Clinton has often laughed off Sanders’ proposals and branded them as unrealistic in an apparent effort to delegitimize the Vermont senator, Biden has called them as ambitious and representative of the values of the Democratic Party.

“I like the idea of saying, ‘We can do much more,’ because we can,” Biden said of Sanders to the New York Times in April. “I don’t think any Democrat’s ever won saying, ‘We can’t think that big — we ought to really downsize here because it’s not realistic.’ C’mon man, this is the Democratic Party! I’m not part of the party that says, ‘Well, we can’t do it.’”

In January, marking a stark contrast to Clinton’s dismissive claim that Sanders’ proposals “don’t add up,” Biden said, “I think that Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real, and he has credibility on it. It’s relatively new for Hillary to talk about that … No one questions Bernie’s authenticity on those issues.”

And just this week, perhaps in an effort to stay in line with the inevitability of Clinton’s candidacy while remaining sympathetic to Sanders and his millions of supporters, Biden straddled the party line by acknowledging Clinton’s nominee status while adding that Democrats should “be a little graceful and give [Sanders] the opportunity to decide on his own” when to formally drop out of the race.”

Biden’s support of Sanders and inevitable endorsement of Clinton could help broker a truce between the two rivals. Weeks before the final votes were cast in the Democratic primary race, Biden said he was confident that Bernie would support Clinton in the case that she were to become the nominee. “There’s no fundamental split” in the party, he added.

Biden said earlier this year that he regrets his decision not to run in 2016 but admitted he plans to remain involved. His first campaign for president, in 1988, initially gained traction and at one point, ahead of the Iowa caucuses, he had raised more money overall than Michael Dukakis and Richard Gephardt. But Biden’s campaign tanked when it was alleged that he plagiarized British politician Neil Kinnock.

Biden again briefly ran for president in 2008, prior to becoming President Obama’s running mate. He focused on forging more diplomatic solutions to the War in Iraq and attacked Clinton’s pro-war vote. He dropped out after earning only 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucus that year.

 

Photo: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young  

Donald Trump Hates Teleprompters Unless He’s Using One

Donald Trump was aided by a teleprompter during his speech on Tuesday night, but don’t tell him that.

Even if you couldn’t see the prompters in front of Donald Trump’s podium, you knew they were there: He was calmer, more subdued, and… “controlled,” as multiple TV networks put it. It came as no surprise that Trump’s team must have put him on a leash after an awful week, during which he attempted to delegitimize a federal judge based on his parents’ country of birth, to distract from two potentially disastrous class action lawsuits against Trump University.

But Trump has called out politicians all along for using teleprompters; it’s part of a broader marketing effort for his so-called authentic, deliberately-politically-incorrect, Nixon-esque “silent majority” campaign brand. He writes his own tweets, after all — complete with shoddy grammar and misspellings — and hidden within that obnoxiously long list of narcissism and insecurity, you’ll find a few gems:

Based on those tweets alone, it’s difficult to believe Trump would bother using a prompter. But Trump might not have a choice, as he faces pressure to fall in line with the “establishment” politicians he has slammed all along, most of whom disavowed his blatant racism towards Judge Curiel.

Trump also used a teleprompter during his recent speech on foreign policy, which led to headlines criticizing him for mispronouncing “Tanzania.” So much for his charge that Hillary Clinton — for better or worse, one of the more practiced orators in the world — was “Reading poorly from the teleprompter!”

Trump had his own struggles with the teleprompter on Tuesday. When discussing trade deals, someone in the crowd yelled “No TPP!” Trump, seemingly confused, responded by saying “No PPP, you’re right about that.” Moments later, he said, “And you mean no PP.”

The more reserved nature of his speech begs the question: How does a campaign “script” Donald Trump, and who does the scripting?. Reports indicate that the speeches were written by Trump’s “inner circle,” which includes his daughter Ivanka. Should Trump continue to rely on scripted speeches, which clearly aren’t a strength of his, that inner circle has a profoundly tall task ahead of it: if Trump can’t read as well as he demagogues, he’ll have to find a better selling point to his supporters other than his fragile “authenticity.”

Lou Dobbs said Trump “returned” during his speech on Tuesday night, and even went as far as saying, “What you saw is the guy I think we are going to see through the rest of this.” Bad news: teleprompters aren’t allowed on the debate stage.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump walks past a teleprompter as he departs after delivering a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, United States, April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Sanders Could Help Democrats And Progressives In Down-Ballot California Races

Bernie Sanders’ decision to stay in the Democratic primary race — and the competitive nature of that race in the state of California — could very well pay dividends for the Democratic Party in the less glamorous, but impactful down-ballot races.

California has a public primary system in which all candidates are on the same ballot regardless of party affiliation — the two top vote-getters face off in a general election.

Granted, Republicans aren’t a consistent threat to Democrats in The Golden State. California is a well-known strong blue state and Democratic presidential nominees have won the state in each of the last six election cycles. California’s 2014 election for governor was described by the Cook Political Report as “Solid Democratic,” meaning there was little chance that Jerry Brown would face much competition from his Republican counterpart, Neel Kashkari. Brown ultimately scored 4.3 million votes en route to a 60 to 40 percent victory over Kashkari, who earned just 2.9 million votes.

Yet even amid a heavily Democratic state, Republicans may have a chance to make some noise in down-ballot races. There are nine candidates vying for Rep. Lois Capps’ seat in the 24th District as she prepares to retire, and they are all broken down evenly: three Democrats, three Republicans, and three Independents.

But with low voter turnout expected in a Republican presidential primary race that has already been settled and a tight Democratic Presidential primary race in the state, Sanders’ and Clinton’s left-leaning independent and Democratic supporters could help propel the more progressive candidates to victory.

Meanwhile, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll suggests Sanders is a key ensuring a one-party general election showdown. Loretta Sanchez, who is polling in second place behind front-runner Kamala Harris in the Senate race, is relying heavily on Latinos, young voters, and Sanders’ supporters to maintain her second-place status in Tuesday’s primary race.

Polls indicate that among likely voters for Sanders, Harris only has a three-point advantage over Sanchez. And although Republicans lag behind, they are not behind enough to seal the deal for the two leading Democrats: Ben Winston, a researcher for the LA Times poll, said “[Sanchez’s] support is still somewhat weak and is likely dependent on turnout.”

Had Sanders dropped out prior to the California primary, down-ballot races likely would not look as favorable for Democrats. Races might not have been as competitive had Sanders not closed the gap in the state as quickly as he did, and that would have decreased the incentive for voters of both Democratic presidential candidates to do their part in turning out to vote.

Sanders has also influenced the race for Sam Farr’s congressional seat. Three out of five of the contenders in that race are neither Republicans nor Democrats, signaling a boost of confidence among those who believe they can compete amid a system that has historically proven to be limited to two parties.

One candidate, Joe Williams, a union stewart in the Peace and Freedom Party, said that he aligns with Sanders’ platform and that the Vermont Senator has given him “staying power” in the race.

Most of the down-ballot races hinge on whether Democratic voter turnout in the state ends up being as high as expected. The Associated Press controversially called the presidential primary for Hillary Clinton on Monday night based on unofficial responses from superdelegates in a survey, raising the question of whether or not voters will feel it is even necessary to show up at the polls.

Polls opened in California at 7 a.m. PT and will close at 8 p.m.

Photo: California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks at the Center for American Progress’ 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington, District of Columbia, U.S. November 19, 2014.  REUTERS/Gary Cameron

New Jersey Looks Like Clinton Country

The final Super Tuesday of the 2016 primary election season offers a cross-country glimpse of the Democratic electorate, but polls are indicating the comparison is anything but symmetrical.

Bernie Sanders has quickly closed the gap in California, and the Vermont Senator is now in a virtual tie with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in the Golden State. But in New Jersey, where voters are slightly less liberal, polls show Clinton has the edge by an even larger margin than in New York, where she won by 16 percentage points.

Clinton campaigned in Newark, New Jersey on Tuesday but cancelled further events in the state as her lead evaporated in California. Polls are showing that the former Secretary of State is comfortably leading in the New Jersey, 61 to 34 percent.

However, voting rules in New Jersey may be on Sanders’ side. Although it is officially a “closed” primary, Independents are not recognized as affiliated voters in the state and unaffiliated voters are allowed to declare themselves as Democrats or Republicans on primary day. Open primaries have often worked in Sanders’ favor, such as in Michigan, where he scored a historic upset victory after preliminary polls consistently showed Clinton ahead by double digits.

Unaffiliated voters in New Jersey outnumber Democratic voters by nearly a million — 2.6 to 1.8 million — but this number could change heading into the general election, depending on how many people register as Democrats on Tuesday. Democrats currently outnumber Republicans by 700,000 voters in the state.

Both New Jersey and California are widely expected to go blue during the general election. Some polls have shown only a slight lead for Clinton over Trump in New Jersey, but this could be because the Democratic primary is unsettled and third-party choices have picked up some steam in recent weeks.

Nonetheless, history has shown that nominees enjoy stronger results in the polls once primary and third-party competitors are narrowed down. According to a CBS poll, Sanders holds a 52 percent to 34 percent edge over Trump in a general election matchup among voters in New Jersey. Clinton holds a 49 percent to 34 percent lead over Trump in the same poll.

The Associated Press crowned Clinton as the presumptive nominee on Monday night, sparking outrage among critics who noted that superdelegates do not vote until the Democratic National Convention and who pointed out that the premature announcement could compromise voter turnout in California — though others say the appearance of a premature announcement from AP could spur protest votes for Sanders.

Clinton currently leads Sanders by 291 delegates after securing victories in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico primaries over the weekend. There are 126 delegates to be allocated in New Jersey and 475 in California.

Montana, New Mexico, and South Dakota will also hold Democratic primaries on Tuesday; North Dakota will participate in a Democratic caucus. Washington D.C. will vote next week, in the last primary of the year.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a speech during a campaign stop in Lynwood, California, United States June 6, 2016.   REUTERS/Mike Blake 

Sanders Is Lunging Left On Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis

Most Democrats back a bill passed by the House of Representatives to address the Puerto Rican debt crisis, but Sen. Bernie Sanders is asking for more. 

The bill, spearheaded by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and endorsed by the Obama administration, would institute a federal oversight board, with members chosen by the White House and Congress, to renegotiate Puerto Rico’s debt.

With Puerto Rico’s Democratic primary looming, the Vermont senator announced that he plans to introduce legislation next week that would do more, including permitting the Federal Reserve the ability to provide emergency loans while allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy — something that is not currently allowed to do, due to a mysterious 1984 law which also applies to the District of Columbia. Sanders’ proposed legislation would also allocate funds towards rebuilding the islands’ infrastructure while increasing Medicaid and Medicare payments to its residents.

Puerto Rico has long been mired in a debt crisis spurred by hedge funds taking advantage of the islands’ cheap junk bonds and favorable tax policies.

“These vulture funds are getting interest rates of 34 percent on tax-exempt bonds that they purchased for 29 cents on the dollar,” Sanders said. “It has been estimated that as much as half of Puerto Rico’s debt is owned by these vulture funds.”

The legislation reflects Sanders’ campaign’s call to improve the manner in which the federal government treats Puerto Rico, which has suffered due to its second-class status as a territory. Last year, Sanders called for Puerto Rico’s right to receive the protections and benefits granted to states. Puerto Ricans pay Social Security but are not eligible for the program’s Supplemental Security Income, and funding for Medicaid and Medicare for Puerto Rico is much less that would be were the island a state. And while Puerto Ricans are American citizens, they cannot cast a vote for president in the general election.

Sanders hopes his legislation will resonate with the working class people in Puerto Rico in time for Sunday’s primary vote. Both the Clinton and Sanders campaign have held rallies on the island, which sends 60 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Sanders traveled to the island while Clinton opted to send her husband, former president Bill Clinton, to campaign as a surrogate.

We have got to make it clear to these billionaire hedge fund managers that they cannot have it all,” Sanders said during a speech in Puerto Rico last month. “They cannot receive a 100 percent return on their investment while children in Puerto Rico go hungry.”

Gov. Alejandro Padilla endorsed Clinton on Wednesday, citing their joint support of the bipartisan bill.

Although polling data in Puerto Rico is scarce, Clinton holds a 65 percent to 34 percent lead in a poll conducted in March and April. Notably, Clinton defeated President Obama in the 2008 primary by a similar margin — 67 percent to 13 percent.

The voting process on the island could be problematic, however. A Puerto Rican newspaper has reported that the amount of polling stations available during the upcoming primary has been reduced by more than two thirds. Initially, the territory’s Democratic Party announced that 1,500 polling stations were planned for the primary, but that number has been trimmed to 430, raising concerns that low-income Puerto Ricans will be shut out of the only U.S. presidential vote they will be able to cast in this election cycle.

Photo: A worker takes off U.S and Puerto Rican flag after rally of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Who Deserves Bernie Sanders’ Endorsements?

Fresh off the heels of his announcement of a progressive slate of Democratic Platform Committee picks, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is looking to use his national platform to make a difference for down-ballot progressives.

Bernie Sanders recently announced endorsements of eight state legislative candidates, hailing their progressive records while reminding his supporters that change comes from the bottom up. Sanders’ selections for the DNC platform consisted of prominent progressive activists, some of whom had little history working within the Democratic Party.

The irony here is obvious: Why is Sanders endorsing candidates at all? The former independent democratic socialist has been a member of the Democratic Party for just a few months, and the vast majority of Democrats in politics have endorsed his rival for the party’s nomination. But that’s just it: Like the rest of his candidacy, Sanders is using endorsements as a tool for bringing progressivism into the mainstream, broadening the tent of the Democratic Party.

Here’s some background on Bernie Sanders’ latest endorsements:

Justin Bamberg is an attorney and member of the South Carolina House of Representatives who represented the family of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was murdered by police officer Michael Slager. Bamberg initially supported Clinton, but switched his support to Sanders because of his longtime support of “racial, social and economic justice.” Sanders has made criminal justice reform a key part of his platform, slamming private prisons while pushing for accountability among police departments amid disturbing trends of force against unarmed black men.

David Bowen is running for another term in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Bowen led the effort to pass a bill requiring a living wage of $11.32 per hour to employees of businesses that work with Milwaukee County. Last summer Bowen campaigned against the public funding of the Milwaukee Bucks’ new arena, which called for a whopping $400 million from taxpayers mostly in Milwaukee.

Clara Hart, candidate for the South Dakota House of Representatives, is an immigrant who escaped turmoil in Mozambique and now works to help immigrant families in the Sioux Falls school district. Sanders touted her work on immigration reform, a key part of his platform.

Terry Alexander, another representative out of South Carolina, landed Bernie Sanders’ endorsement thanks to his work on voting rights, health care reform, and raising the minimum wage.

Carol Ammons, the first African American representative to represent her district in Illinois, serves on a number of committees dedicated to issues relevant to Sanders’ campaign such as college affordability and the environment. She won her first election against a candidate whom Sanders described as a “well-funded establishment opponent.”

Chris Pearson is running for the Vermont State Senate. Sanders called Pearson a “champion” on the issues of livable wages, climate change, voting rights, and union advocacy.

Jane Kim is running to become a California State Senator and has fought for affordable housing and fair wages in San Francisco.

Joe Salazar is a representative of the Colorado State House and earned Bernie Sanders’ endorsement for his work on civil rights, criminal justice reform, and the effort against fracking.

A group of Sanders supporters who call themselves “Brand New Congress” have already started advancing a goal of securing progressive representation on the federal level by 2018, and Bernie Sanders’ endorsement spree could help continue that push nationwide — he’s asking supporters to split their donations between his campaign and those he has endorsed.

These endorsements aren’t Sanders’ first this election season. In April, he endorsed three key progressive women running for Congress: Zephyr Teachout, Pramila Jayapal, and Lucy Flores. He had asked supporters to split donations for them as well.

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders holds a rally in National City, California, United States May 21, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Blake 

Republicans Strip Local Health Departments By Failing to Address Zika

Health departments from coast to coast are in peril after Republicans ignored President Obama’s request not to depart for the long Memorial Day weekend without taking action on his requested funding for fighting the Zika virus.

The House of Representatives has allocated $622 million in funding while the Senate agreed to $1.1 billion — both figures are less than Obama’s requested $1.9 billion — and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has warned that finalizing the funds could take months.

Local health departments do not have months: In July, the Centers for Disease Control will shift $44 million of its emergency response funds to fight Zika unless the funds are allocated by Congress, a move that would have crippling effects on fighting Zika at the local level. According to a survey of local health departments performed by NACCHO, the National Coalition of County & City Health Officials, as many as 62 districts nationwide would be compromised.

The majority of survey respondents said they anticipated staff cuts in response. Respondents agreed that community preparedness would be, by far, the most negatively affected by funding cuts. And funding areas that would normally be covered by the federal dollars — testing, training efforts, and mosquito control — would all be compromised without necessary federal funding.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said the city is in jeopardy of slashing one third of its emergency response team. In Minnesota, $744 million has been shifted from the state’s emergency response fund. New York has taken a proactive approach by unveiling a three-year program to fight the virus, but mayor Bill de Blasio conceded in April that the city will still need federal funds. If Republicans fail to act, the subsequent slashing of local emergency public health budgets could put the nation at risk.

Funding has also been scarce outside of the United States. The United Nations has only secured $2.3 million of the requested $17.7 million to fight Zika. The UN has been forced to narrow its limited funds to focus on the most vulnerable areas instead of implementing widespread prevention efforts, further increasing the risk of Zika outbreaks spreading to the United States.

Congress is not scheduled to return to Washington until June 6. If Republicans continue to hold out, the nation may require even more money to offset outbreaks that would have been prevented had the funds been allocated in a timely manner. Some Republicans, particularly those in the most vulnerable areas, have joined Democrats in the effort to warn Congress of the devastating effects Zika could have on the US as the summer months approach.

“The cost of delay is unacceptably high,” Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) wrote in a letter. “Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said this weekend that mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus are expected to enter the U.S. mainland and begin infecting Americans within the next ‘month or so.'”

A CDC report issued last week detailed the increasingly widespread amount of Zika infections in The U.S., all of which were deemed “travel-associated cases.” There have been 121 laboratory-confirmed infections in Florida, 127 in New York, 44 in California, and 36 in Texas.
Photo: Test tubes with blood samples from patients who have been tested for Zika are seen at the maternity ward of the Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, Honduras April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera 

Neither Gary Johnson Nor Jill Stein Will Be President… But They Might Get Closer This Year

Jill Stein and Gary Johnson have something in common: they are both third-party outsiders in a presidential race led by two of the most disliked candidates in recent politics. And this year, they spot a huge opportunity to bring America’s two most prominent “third” parties to the fore. 

Stein, running for president as a member of the Green Party, made waves in 2012 when she notched 469,501 votes in the general election — the most for any female presidential candidate in U.S. history. Johnson was in the mix in 2012 as well, tallying 1.27 million votes in that contest as a Libertarian. Johnson has landed ten percent of the votes in two national general election polls this month while Stein has eked out two percent.

Both candidates could fare a bit better this time around, if only because, they posit, the rest of the presidential field casts them in a better light: For all of Trump’s (faux, in his case) economic conservatism and none of the unconstitutional Muslim-banning or impossible wall-building, Gary Johnson stands out. For progressive values without ties to big-money interests, fossil fuels, or a hawkish foreign policy, Stein stands out — once Sanders drops out, that is.

Unlike the other woman in the race, I don’t support bombing other people’s kids,” she said in a Facebook post Thursday, referring to Clinton.

Stein is campaigning against the choice of, as Bernie Sanders has similarly described Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, “the lesser of two evils.” She is a champion of social justice issues, as evidenced in her vociferous support of racial justice, LGBT rights, and women’s reproductive freedom. She has railed against trade deals favoring the wealthy; called for America to scale back interventionist foreign policy positions; pushed for higher taxes among the rich; and has supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Johnson, as a Libertarian, has advocated for a national sales tax system called FairTax in place of other pesky things like the IRS. He also has supported abortion access, marriage equality, marijuana legalization, and the abolishing of the death penalty.

Johnson has distanced himself from Trump, noting in one interview that he believes the billionaire businessman “alienates more than half of Republicans.” He cited Trump’s desire to build a wall and his willingness to kill families of terrorists.

Nevertheless, neither third-party candidate has history on their side; every president since Millard Fillmore, a whig who was in office in the 1850s, has been either Republican or Democrat. Sure, Ralph Nader may have bungled the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, but Nader still failed to notch even three percent of the popular vote. Notably, just as Trump’s support increased after his GOP counterparts dropped out, Clinton’s support is likely to improve once she secures the nomination — this happened in 2000 — further emphasizing the plight of third-party candidates.

Third party candidates face layers upon layers of obstacles in terms of access to the American people. Candidates are required to obtain hundreds of thousands of signatures in order to have their names printed on ballots, and must also meet specific criteria outlined by the Commission on Presidential Debates as well as other rules laid out by television networks in order to be included in critical presidential debates.

The CPD implemented a rule in 2000 requiring that presidential candidates receive 15 percent support in national polls in order to be allowed to participate in national debates. Stein and Johnson have both filed lawsuits against the CPD, accusing it of violating antitrust laws by imposing a Republican and Democrat-led monopoly within American politics — the CPD’s board is made up exclusively of members of the major parties.

I believe that debates are for the people, not the parties, and that open debates are essential if we are ever to have real democracy in our country,” Stein said in a statement earlier this year. “If I’m on stage at those debates, I will tell the American people that they don’t have to vote for political parties controlled by predatory banks, fossil fuel giants, and war profiteers.”

And while third party candidates have been attempting to circumvent barriers to exposure by increasing their respective social media footprints, Stein’s 92,000 Twitter followers, and Johnson’s 158,000, are a small fraction of the two major party’s frontrunners’ online presence: of Trump’s has 8.46 million followers and Clinton has 6.4 million.

The upcoming election poses the largest window of opportunity in some time, thanks to unfavorability among the top two choices and the rise of social media. And other political movements across the country, from Black Lives Matter to the Fight for $15 movement, are evidence of renewed civic participation outside the two major parties. But until we see presidential candidates polling within ten percentage points of Democrats or Republicans, the closest they can come to winning is by playing the role of a “spoiler.”

Texas Leads The Way In Transphobia, Yet Again

Texas is leading a pack of 11 states suing the Obama administration, to no one’s surprise, and this time the lawsuit comes on the back of the same ugly transphobia that has tainted the Lone Star state in recent years.

The lawsuit comes in response to a directive earlier this month by the Justice Department and the Department of Education that asks schools to allow students to use whichever bathroom matches their gender identities. Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, Tennessee, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, and Georgia joined Texas in the lawsuit.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a longtime, outspoken opponent of LGBT rights, praised the lawsuit in a statement this week, saying that President Obama “is more devoted to radical social engineering than to the democratic process and the separation of powers.” Cruz continued by saying that transgender equality will lead to the exploitation of girls at the hands of grown men, even though there are no known cases of transgender individuals taking advantage of bathroom access to commit a crime. 

The effort to brainwash the good people in Texas isn’t new. Texas’s struggle against recognizing transgender rights began last year with a proposed non-discrimination ordinance in Houston, first passed by the city council and then subjected to a city-wide vote by the state’s supreme court.

HERO, or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, included protections both gay and transgender residents and was championed by the city’s first lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.

In response to the effort, groups such as Campaign for Houston began a culture-wide propaganda campaign, enlisting the likes of former Houston Astros star Lance Berkman and pastor Ed Young. Conservatives in the state leaned heavily on the “men in girls’ bathrooms” narrative. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted before Houston voters took to the polls, urging residents to “Vote NO on City of Houston Proposition 1. No men in women’s bathrooms.

HERO was soundly defeated by Houstonians in a referendum vote.

This transphobic hysteria was so profound that it made waves in other states such as North Carolina, which went all-out by passing House Bill 2, an ordinance that trumped any local anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, including protecting the transgender community’s right to use bathrooms based on gender identity. The state legislature’s bill was introduced, passed, and signed into law in a single day. 

Texas’ latest transgender lawsuit follows a pattern by the state to challenge just about any move by the Obama administration that can be felt at the state level. Greg Abbott has spearheaded most of the lawsuits dating back to his time as Texas’ Attorney General, when he sued the federal government 31 times. His most prominent lawsuit came when he led 26 states in challenging Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

On the Democratic side, things are looking much different — as expected. Sen. Bernie Sanders took the lead this week by responding to a presidential questionnaire from the Trans United Fund. Sanders said he would utilize healthcare services and push for nondiscrimination policies.

“Too often, it seems as if the ‘T’ in LGBT is silent,” Sanders said. “In my administration, the T will not be silent.”

“It’s powerful that the Sanders campaign took the time to complete the survey and are unabashed in their support,” the Trans United Fund said, according to Buzzfeed. And although Hillary Clinton has vowed to stand with the transgender community, the group’s leaders said they felt “disappointed and perplexed” after the Democratic frontrunner failed to respond to the survey.

As Secretary of State, Clinton approved a policy allowing transgender people to change their gender identity on their passport as long as they obtain a doctor’s note certifying that they received “appropriate clinical treatment for gender transition.”

Photo: Texas governor Greg Abbott is given directions before an interview with CNBC on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in this July 14, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

Who’s Who: A Look at Clinton and Sanders’ Democratic Platform Committee Representatives

Bernie Sanders has spent this entire election season making a progressive case against Hillary Clinton, and now, the Vermont senator has secured enough momentum to shove the entire Democratic National Convention to the left.

The Clinton and Sanders campaigns worked in conjunction with the Democratic Party to strike a deal allowing each candidate to choose nearly the same amount of members of the Democratic Platform Committee: Clinton will select six; Sanders will select five; and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz will select four.

Sanders’ choices largely reflect his overall platform as a candidate willing to push boundaries in the pursuit of reforms from the left — some his picks for the committee are well-known activists who wouldn’t otherwise be involved in the Democratic platform at all. Clinton’s choices consist of committee members with — perhaps to be expected at the party’s national convention — a long history in the Democratic Party, including many who served in Bill Clinton’s presidential administration.

Here’s some background on Sanders’ and Clinton’s choices.

 

Clinton’s Picks

Wendy Sherman

Sherman served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2011-2015 and previously served as an advisor on North Korea for President Bill Clinton’s administration. She also briefly was Acting Deputy Secretary of State from 2014-2015. Sherman received positive reviews from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright following negotiations with former Dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il, which occurred at the tail end of Clinton’s presidency.

Carol Browner

Browner served as White House Office of Emergency and Climate Change Policy for two years during President Obama’s first term. She also served under Bill Clinton’s administration as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Browner had a significant role in the government’s response to the BP oil spill, but resigned in 2011 following the failure of an Obama-backed bill to address climate change.

Alice Reece

Reece is a member of the Ohio House of Representatives and serves as the Chair of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, which endorsed Clinton in March. Reece said in an interview with Cleveland.com that she will seek to use her elevated platform to make progress on criminal justice and voting rights issues.

Luis Gutiérrez

Gutiérrez is a member of the US House of Representatives from Illinois and has become a prominent voice in the fight for immigration reform. Considering Hillary’s public condemnation of the Obama administration’s raids on immigrant families, we can expect that he will have a significant platform to fight for more progress on the issue. Gutiérrez, born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents, has been an outspoken advocate for federal assistance to debt- (and vulture capitalist-) ridden Puerto Rico.

Neera Tanden

Tanden has close ties to the Clintons dating back to Hillary’s first presidential campaign. Tanden is currently the President of the Center for American Progress and helped Hillary shape her 2008 campaign. But Tanden has been embroiled in controversies in her role at CAP, including accusations she censored writers at CAP’s blog, ThinkProgress, in order to accommodate AIPAC and Israel President Benjamin Netanyahu over complaints that their content was too anti-Israel. Similar allegations were raised about CAP staffers’ interactions with corporate lobbyists representing donors including investment firms and biotech companies.

Paul Booth

Booth is a union leader representing the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union, and before that was a California state legislator and a leader in the “New Left” movement in the ‘60s.

 

Sanders’ Picks

Bill McKibben

Many of Clinton’s selections are balanced by more progressive voices from the Sanders camp, starting with McKibben, an historic figure in the environmental movement. McKibben has been vociferous on climate change and slammed the Obama administration for allowing Shell Oil to drill in the arctic. He’s the cofounder of 350.org, an international climate justice campaign.

Cornel West

Dr. West is an author, scholar, and activist with a history of tackling gender, race, and class issues. He has been a noted and vocal critic of the Obama administration on issues of race and militarism, a reputation that makes him one of the more controversial picks for the platfom committee. He wrote the foreword for Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow,” which was heavily critical of Bill Clinton’s policies on race and criminal justice. He as spoken frequently in favor of Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail.

James Zogby

Zogby, a Palestinian rights activist, is the founder and president of the American Arab Institute and was appointed by President Obama to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. He is also currently a DNC official and served as deputy campaign manager for Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Presidential campaign in the 1980s.

Keith Ellison

Ellison became the first Minnesotan African-American to be elected to the House of Representatives and the first Muslim elected to Congress. Ellison serves as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He became the second congressperson to endorse Sanders and the two have worked together to campaign against private prisons.

Deborah Parker

Parker is a Native American rights activist and served as Legislative Policy Analyst in the Office of Governmental Affairs for the Tulalip Tribe from 2005-2012. Parker successfully pushed for legislation within the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that would allow Native American tribes to prosecute non-Native Americans.

 

Though Sanders and Clinton’s’ platform committee picks are — like the candidates themselves — likely to agree in principle on the broad strokes that define the Democratic Party, many of the selections mark stark contrasts in the two candidates’ approaches to issues such as foreign policy and criminal justice reform. West’s criticism of Clinton on the issue of race and Ellison’s work to ban private prisons might force Clinton to stay to the left on prison reform, and other issues formerly confined to the anonymous corners of liberal activism.

On foreign policy, Sanders’ selection of Zogby, a Palestinian rights activist, is a significant departure from Clinton’s selection of Tanden, who, like most in mainstream American politics, is staunchly pro-Israel. Ellison, another one of Sanders’ selections, has worked to bridge the large gap in the Democratic party between pro-Israel traditionalists and the growing number of activists behind the Palestinian cause, and in 2009 he joined Rep. Brian Baird to become the first representatives of the U.S. government to visit Gaza in more than three years.

Gutiérrez stands out as the most prominent selection on the committee for advancing immigration reform. Gutiérrez could also be described as the most outspoken among Clinton’s selections, while Sanders’ choices — particularly West and McKibben — have advocated in ways that are rarely seen among members of the Democratic establishment. Both West and McKibben have openly criticized President Obama while Browner, a former Obama administration official, has remained more reserved, as is the fashion in Washington; when she resigned in 2011, she simply said there was “no back story — it was just time to go.”

Photo: Vimeo.