JIm Hightower - The South is rising again

In the past year, we've seen a burst of audacious political assertiveness coming out of Old Dixie, and I'm not talking about those Trumpeteering, tiki-torch-brandishing, tinhorn KKKers the media focuses on. The real story is that a fresh, "Reclaim the South" movement of young African-American populists is emerging, kindling long-suppressed hope in the racially scarred Deep South and offering the possibility of real economic and cultural progress.

Guess who's mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, the state's capitol city? Chokwe Antar Lumumba — a black, 34-year-old lawyer who was raised in Jackson in a family and community of longtime Black Power activists. Last June, backed by Our Revolution and Working Families Party, Lumumba was elected with 93 percent (!) of the vote, and he promptly pledged to make Jackson "the most radical city on the planet." By radical, he means aggressively innovative in developing policies and programs focused directly on lifting up Jackson's middle-class and poor residents, rather than adopting the failed trickle-down model of nearly every other city. For example, instead of giving away government subsidies to lure rich corporations, Lumumba is trying to make the city a national showcase of home-grown cooperative enterprises owned by the people themselves.

In August, the incumbent mayor of Birmingham, Alabama — an old-style, don't-rock-the-boat politico favored by the city's power brokers — thought he was cruising to an easy re-election. Then wham! — an underdog populist challenge by 36-year-old African-American attorney, Randall Woodfin, stunned the city powers with a first-place showing that forced the mayor into an October runoff. Woodfin, a city prosecutor and school board member, went on to defeat Birmingham's corporate and political establishment by winning the mayorship with 58 percent of the vote. He did it by proposing an all-out populist agenda, building a broad coalition of local progressive activists and running a dogged ground game with the full support of Our Revolution, Working Families Party, and other national groups. Our Revolution, for instance, deployed some 70 volunteers to help in the runoff and sent more than 11,000 text messages to voters urging support for Woodfin.

Likewise, other full-bore, African-American populists won big in races for local offices across the South, including:

—Khalid Kamau, a Black Lives Matter activist and national Democratic convention delegate for Sanders, won a South Fulton, Georgia, council seat with 67 percent of the vote.

—Braxton Winston, a young community activist and battler against rampant inequalities in the enforcement of justice in Charlotte, N.C., won a City Council seat.

—And La'Shadion Shemwell, a 30-year-old barber and Black Lives Matter proponent, pulled 57 percent of the vote in his extraordinary run for a City Council seat in McKinney, Texas. The suburban city on Dallas's north side had long been considered a safe Republican bastion.

The nationwide progressive offensive in 2017 produced other ground-shifting results such as many victories by millennials (five elected to the Statehouse in Virginia alone); victories by immigrant candidates, including in Somerville (MA), Helena (MT), and Minneapolis; a rebellion in previously red suburbs; and (4) several wins by openly transgender men and women including House of Delegate (VA), several city council seats and even a few seats on local school boards. Victories like these are proliferating because immigrant populations are growing, the LGBTQ community has become more readily excepted, Trumpism and GOP extremism are turning voters off, a rapid and relentless downsizing of the middle class is altering attitudes, and serious grassroots political organizing by Our Revolution, Democratic Socialists of America, Working Families Party, and other progressive groups is making a difference.

We can draw two big lessons from these wins in the "red" South and victories by others previously counted out of the by the status quo: progressives with a full-throated populist message (Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, corporate money out of politics, etc.) can win nearly anywhere; and the assertion by establishment Dems (echoed by corporate media) that progressive populism is not a winner is — in two words — bovine excrement.

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.

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Patrick Buchanan - Is U.S. being sucked into Syria's war?

Candidate Donald Trump may have promised to extricate us from Middle East wars, once ISIS and al-Qaida were routed, yet events and people seem to be conspiring to keep us endlessly enmeshed.

Friday night, a drone, apparently modeled on a U.S. drone that fell into Iran's hands, intruded briefly into Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights, and was shot down by an Apache helicopter.

Israel seized upon this to send F-16s to strike the airfield whence the drone originated. Returning home, an F-16 was hit and crashed, unleashing the most devastating Israeli attack in decades on Syria. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu says a dozen Syrian and Iranian bases and antiaircraft positions were struck.

Monday's headline on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page blared: "The Iran-Israel War Flares Up: The fight is over a Qods Force presence on the Syria-Israeli border. How will the U.S. respond?"

Op-ed writers Tony Badran and Jonathan Schanzer, both from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, closed thus:

"The Pentagon and State Department have already condemned Iran and thrown their support behind Israel. The question now is whether the Trump administration will go further. ... Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (has) affirmed that the U.S. seeks not only to ensure its allies' security but to deny Iran its 'dreams of a northern arch' from Tehran to Beirut. A good way to achieve both objectives would be back Israel's response to Iran's aggression — now and in the future."

The FDD is an annex of the Israeli lobby and a charter member of the War Party.

Chagai Tzuriel, who heads the Israeli Ministry of Intelligence, echoed the FDD: "If you (Americans) are committed to countering Iran in the region, then you must do so in Syria — first."

Our orders have been cut.

Iran has dismissed as "lies" and "ridiculous" the charge that it sent the drone into Israeli airspace.

If Tehran did, it would be an act of monumental stupidity. Not only did the drone bring devastating Israeli reprisals against Syria and embarrass Iran's ally Russia, it brought attacks on Russian-provided and possibly Russian-manned air defenses.

Moreover, in recent months Iranian policy — suspending patrol boat harassment of U.S. warships — appears crafted to ease tensions and provide no new causes for Trump to abandon the nuclear deal Prime Minister Hassan Rouhani regards as his legacy.

Indeed, why would Iran, which, with Assad, Russia and Hezbollah, is among the victors in Syria's six-year civil war, wish to reignite the bloodletting and bring Israeli and U.S. firepower in on the other side?

In Syria's southeast, another incident a week ago may portend an indefinite U.S. stay in that broken and bleeding country.

To recapture oil fields lost in the war, forces backed by Assad crossed the Euphrates into territory taken from ISIS by the U.S. and our Kurd allies. The U.S. response was a barrage of air and artillery strikes that killed 100 soldiers.

What this signals is that, though ISIS has been all but evicted from Syria, the U.S. intends to retain that fourth of Syria as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

In the northwest, Turkey has sent its Syrian allies to attack Afrin and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened Manbij, 80 miles to the east, where U.S. troops commingle with the Kurd defenders and U.S. generals were visible last week.

Midweek, Erdogan exploded: "(The Americans) tell us, 'Don't come to Manbij.' We will come to Manbij to hand over these territories to their rightful owners."

The U.S. and Turkey, allies for six decades, with the largest armies in NATO, may soon be staring down each other's gun barrels.

Has President Trump thought through where we are going with this deepening commitment in Syria, where we have only 2,000 troops and no allies but the Kurds, while on the other side is the Syrian army, Hezbollah, Russia and Iran, and Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?

Clearly, we have an obligation not to abandon the Kurds, who took most of the casualties in liberating eastern Syria from ISIS. And we have a strategic interest in not losing Turkey as an ally.

But this calls for active diplomacy, not military action.

And now that the rebels have been defeated and the civil war is almost over, what would be the cost and what would be the prospects of fighting a new and wider war? What would victory look like?

Bibi and the FDD want to see U.S. power deployed alongside that of Israel, against Iran, Assad and Hezbollah. But while Israel's interests are clear, what would be the U.S. vital interest?

What outcome would justify another U.S. war in a region where all the previous wars in this century have left us bleeding, bankrupt, divided and disillusioned?

When he was running, Donald Trump seemed to understand this.

(Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, "Nixon's White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.")

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Bob Meade - Address the real problem

As this is being written, the government shutdown has ended. It had been brought about by Senate Democrats refusing to pass a budget or a continuing resolution if the House and Senate Republicans didn’t vote to legalize Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and for the president then to sign the bill. We’re now waiting for round two ... who knows?

In June of 2012, DACA was brought about by President Obama taking executive action to allow over an estimated 800,000 immigrants under the age of 32 (called “Dreamers”), who were brought to this country illegally, to be given legal status. (Please note that estimate is low and some believe the number to be upwards of three million.)  At that time, President Obama had Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano issue a memorandum to the acting commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, directing them to use “Exercise prosecutorial discretion with respect to individuals who came to the United States as children.” The agencies were essentially directed to not follow the normal process for their deportation unless the individuals had been involved in serious criminal activities.

That action led a number of states to challenge the constitutionality of the DACA program and, according to Politifact.com: “Texas and 25 other states won a lawsuit against the Obama administration by having a federal district judge block the implementation of an expanded version of the 2012 DACA and of another deportation reprieve program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). An appeals court upheld the ruling, and in 2016 the Supreme Court ruled 4-4 on the case, leaving in place the lower court's ruling.”    Since that ruling there has been a plethora of additional lawsuits filed in numerous Federal District Courts seeking to reverse those rulings and return back to the Napolitano memo.

President Trump had a widely televised meeting with Democrat and Republican members of Congress and openly stated he was sympathetic to the individuals in the DACA program and said if the Congress could work out a Legislative solution, he would sign it.  However, he also stated that their deliberations must also address the border protection problem – including provisions for a border wall where necessary.  That’s when Democrat leadership chose to initiate the “resistance” that led to the government shutdown.

At some point politicians have to understand that at the top of their “to do” list is to protect our sovereignty, our independence. If we don’t reasonably protect our borders, we are ceding our sovereignty. At the same time, our leaders have to understand that sympathy alone is not a solution to the global poverty problem. Roughly half the world lives in poverty as they earn less than $2 per day. Clearly, because of our privileged position, we should do everything we can to help them overcome poverty and achieve a better life.  For every one million in poverty that we accept in this country every year, the countries from which they come add another 80 million to their poverty numbers. In short, our sympathy and our generosity do almost nothing to stem the rise in poverty across the globe.  (Please copy this link into your browser and take a few minutes to watch this presentation:( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpjzfGChGlE)  — if you are unable to copy it, please  email me at:  (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> and I will send you the link.) 

The bottom line is that we need to use our resources, our people, our technology, and our knowledge and go to where the poverty is rampant and teach them how to overcome and outgrow poverty.  To not do so is shoveling sand against the tide — you can’t eliminate a nation in poverty by adding poverty to other nations.

We must address the basic problems at their source — education, job training, clean water, transportation, infrastructure, housing, medical, safety, and other issues must be addressed and be overcome or improved if we/our objective is to reduce the additional 80 million people that are entering into poverty each year.  Clearly, this is a challenge  facing not only this country, but all nations of the world.  The United Nations should have the poverty issue at the top of its priority list and develop and implement a program to address the issues mentioned, and every U.N. member should actively participate and contribute to the solution.  The United States contributes over 22 percent of the U.N. budget; we should insist this issue be its number one priority.

The skills, knowledge, and abilities necessary to eliminate poverty across the globe exist.  All it takes is a willingness to do so and the leadership necessary to make it happen.  If the United Nations can’t step up and address the issue, why does that organization even exist?

Bob Meade is veteran, retired businessman and longtime volunteer in Laconia.

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Froma Harrop — The tax cuts are truly a crummy deal for most of us

Would someone kindly replace Nancy Pelosi as a spokesperson for Democrats? The House minority leader's riff on the tax bill as "crumbs" for average Americans bombed on two fronts. One was her snide and preachy tone. The other was linking "crumbs" to $1,000-or-better bonuses that a few companies said they will distribute out of their tax savings.

Not that Pelosi was entirely wrong. House Speaker Paul Ryan rescued her with his tweet about a woman doing backflips over a tax cut amounting to $1.50 a week.

"A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, PA, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week," he posted on Twitter. "She said (that) will more than cover her Costco membership for the year."

Ryan was widely mocked for showcasing such paltry savings as an example of Republican beneficence in the recently passed law. He wisely deleted the tweet.

As a longtime member of Costco in good standing, I can attest that $1.50 a week will indeed pay for the year, plus most of a bag of Kirkland Signature pecan halves. But for those who live above subsistence level, that's not exactly winning the lottery.

And the tax law seems even less of a deal when you consider that it will dump nearly $1 trillion in new U.S. government debt onto the shoulders of American taxpayers. That's just for this year. We're talking an 84 percent(!) leap in government borrowing over 2017.

And yes, the Congressional Budget Office came up with that percentage after factoring in the economic growth the tax cuts are expected to produce. Clearly, steep, sloppy tax cuts don't pay for themselves, as Americans should have learned during the George W. Bush years.

Lowering the corporate tax rate was the one sensible part of the law. U.S. corporate tax rates were quite high by international standards. Smart Democrats, Barack Obama included, had long been pushing for corporate tax reform.

The big flaw was the money grab. The top 0.1 percent of earners — those taking home something north of $3.5 million — will, by 2027, enjoy an average tax cut of $182,030 a year. That's enough to buy the whole pecan farm. And at a time of soaring debt, bestowing princely tax cuts on those already getting richer faster than everyone else would seem highly irresponsible.

Meanwhile, a large group of middle-income Americans is not getting even crummy tax cuts. Rather, it is facing tax hikes. That's because the tax law sharply curbs deductions for state and local taxes. This hits many residents of high-income, high-tax states right in the kisser.

Republican lawmakers undoubtedly thought themselves quite clever by sticking it to taxpayers in generally Democratic-voting states. The problem with such reasoning is that these Democratic states send enough Republicans to Washington to preserve the GOP majority. Many of the stuckees are the very blue state people who do vote Republican — or rather, used to vote Republican.

As for Walmart's $1,000 bonuses, they go only to employees who've been with the company for 20 years. At the same time, Walmart hiked wages not as charity but to retain workers in a tight labor market.

The partisan portrayals of the tax law have left us with two unattractive visuals. One is Pelosi leaving the impression that she wouldn't bend down to pick up a $50 bill. The other is Ryan expecting the peasantry to do cartwheels over $1.50 a week.

But those are just the optics. On policy, there will be no false equivalency here. This abomination of a tax law is solely the handiwork of Ryan and associated Republicans. It will end in tears.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

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Michael Barone - Gentry liberals own the Democratic Party

 Amid the brouhahas about the Nunes memo and immigration, an item from Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business caught my eye. Demographers crunching census data estimate that Chicago's black population fell to 842,000, while its white non-Hispanic population increased to 867,000. National political significance: In our three largest cities — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — gentry liberals have become the dominant political demographic.

That's consistent with election results. Gentry liberals — the term is urban analyst Joel Kotkin's — are the political base of those cities' mayors, Bill de Blasio, Eric Garcetti and Rahm Emanuel. That's something new in American politics. Modest-income Jews used to be the key group in New York. White married homeowners were it in Los Angeles. "Bungalow ward" ethnics dominated in Chicago. In time, they faced challenges from candidates with nonwhite political bases — blacks, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York, Mexicans in Los Angeles, and blacks and Hispanics in Chicago. Now gentry liberals are on top.

This reflects demographic change. Blacks have been moving from central cities to suburbs and the South. Mexican immigrant inflow largely shut down circa 2008. Affluent professionals and single college graduates have colonized — gentrified — neighborhoods such as Park Slope, Silver Lake and Wicker Park, with bedraggled but potentially attractive housing stock convenient to downtowns.

The trend is visible elsewhere — not only in San Francisco, Seattle and Portland but also in Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and even Cleveland and Detroit. It's widespread and strategic enough to be changing the face of the Democratic Party.

There's irony in this. Gentry liberals have produced the metropolitan areas with the highest income inequality in the nation. They decry gentrification — and the accompanying movement of low-income blacks and Hispanics out of their neighborhoods — even as they cause it. They sing hymns to diversity even as they revel in the pleasures of communities where almost everybody believes and consumes exactly the same things — and votes Democratic.

Gentrification thus inevitably reshapes the Democratic Party, which, from its beginnings in 1832, has been a series of coalitions of people regarded as somehow unusual Americans but who, taken together, are a national majority.

Consider two of Democrats' priorities during the presidency of Barack Obama, who has lived all his adult life in gentrified neighborhoods: increased taxes on high earners, which gentry liberals are happy to pay (if they weren't, they would have joined other affluent folk moving to Florida and Texas), and an infrastructure bill that was, as the American Enterprise Institute's Christina Hoff Sommers documented in The Weekly Standard, titled and tailored at the behest of feminists to invoke higher pay for teachers and nurses rather than new jobs for "burly men."

Similarly, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed through passage of cap-and-trade legislation, a priority of her fellow Bay Area gentry liberals, which predictably cost Democrats multiple Rust Belt House seats.

This year, New York's Andrew Cuomo and California's Jerry Brown have been bellowing against the Republican tax reform for eliminating most of the deduction for state and local taxes. But that provision has virtually no impact on people who aren't in high-tax states and don't make over $100,000 a year — i.e., who aren't gentry liberals. First constituencies first.

And whom are Democrats eyeing as possible 2020 presidential nominees? Identity politics, a favorite talking point of gentry liberals, have them focusing mainly on women and minorities — e.g., Kirsten Gillibrand, who met her husband while working in Manhattan, Elizabeth Warren of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Cory Booker, raised in Harrington Park, New Jersey, and Kamala Harris, who is from San Francisco.

Not often mentioned is Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has won nine elections for national office in the classic swing state of Ohio. Brown has been a consistent critic of trade agreements, an issue that strikes gentry liberals as vulgar. Similar repugnance may explain the disinterest in Sens. Mark Warner, whose early victories were won by appealing to rural Virginians, and Michael Bennet, whose record as Denver school superintendent was not in lockstep with teachers' unions. Gentry liberals may seek to appease other party constituencies, including blacks and Hispanics, but they insist on their own priorities.

Dominating the party is one thing; producing candidates and issues with appeal to the broader national electorate is another. Gentry liberals have the microphone and the money to dominate the Democratic Party. Whether they can overcome their snobbish disdain and bitter contempt for those beyond their comfortable enclaves and come up with a winning national strategy is unclear.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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