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California’s Damaged Democracy

            The world closely watched the U.S. election results last November, correctly concerned about shifts in economic, military, and foreign policy that could have been created by a swing in political power.  While the U.S. federal elections largely left the balance of political party power unchanged (President Obama winning re-election over a split Congress), several major changes in California were clearly evident.  The 2012 election in California should be closely studied because it was the first election run under the so-called “open primary” system.  The “open primary” was put in place when voters approved Proposition 14 in June 2010.  Voters believed that their voting freedoms were being enhanced, but the 2012 results clearly prove that Prop 14 has actually restricted voting rights and given the Democratic Party an unfair advantage, particularly over the Republican Party.  Proposition 14 has damaged democracy in California.

            California voters, like most in the United States, had only been allowed to vote for primary candidates in the parties they were registered with.  For example, a voter registered as a Republican could only vote for Republican primary candidates, just as a registered Democrat could only vote for Democratic primary candidates, and so on with all political parties.  Propositions approved by California voters in the 1990s took the first steps in opening primary elections so that voters from any party (including unaffiliated voters) could vote for candidates from any party (included unaffiliated candidates).  Therefore, a registered Republican could vote for candidates from any party in the primary election.  This policy was correctly seen as “opening” the primary to voters that may be disenchanted with their own party’s candidates.  This opening of the primary had become normal for California elections until Proposition 14 was approved in June 2010.  Prop 14 changed California elections again, this time keeping the “open primary” system while added the “Top Two Candidates” provision.  Prop 14’s giant change was to only let the two highest primary vote-getters into the General Election in November.  “The candidates who are the top two vote-getters at a voter-nominated primary election for a congressional or state elective office shall, regardless of party preference, compete in the ensuing general election.” (“Text of Proposed Laws, Proposition 14” Section 5 (a), pages 65-66.  The entire document can be read at http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2010/primary/pdf/english/text-proposed-laws.pdf#prop14)  Any registered party was capable of getting on the November ballot even with an open primary system up until 2012, the first General Elections held under Prop 14’s new rules.  The outcomes are clear and undeniable to anyone that has taken the time to study the 2012 General Election results.

            Proposition 14 specifically targeted the elections for California’s representatives in the U.S. Congress (both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives) and for the California state legislature (both the State Senate and State Assembly).  There was only one U.S. Senate race for California in 2012.  Republican and Democratic candidates won the two most votes in the Primary Election, so the General Election ballot showed a candidate from both major parties.  Most California voters probably did not notice that they only had two choices in the General Election in November because both major parties were on the ballot.  The General Election ballots for the U.S. House of Representatives were often a far different experience, as many California Districts ran two candidates from the same party.  These parties were able to dominate the General Election ballot in these Districts because two rival candidates from the same party gained the two highest vote totals in the Primary Election.  The final election results show that 12 California Districts eliminated one of the major parties, with 6 Districts only running Democrats, 2 Districts only running Republicans, and “unaffiliated” candidates (labeled as NPP for “No Party Preference”) being a finalist in 4 Districts.  The following table simplifies these numbers:

 

                                             Elections     Dem     Rep      3rd      NPP        Total   (%)

U.S. House of Reps.             53              6           2          0           4               12    (22.6%)

 

“Third Party” candidates were eliminated completely from the General Election because their candidates were not two of the top vote-getters in any Primary.  “Third Party” voters should be outraged at such a result, but so should Republicans because Republican candidates were eliminated from 9 Districts (the 6 Districts dominated by Democrats and 3 Districts that featured a Democrat vs. an unaffiliated/NPP candidate).  Democrats were only eliminated from 3 Districts (the 2 dominated by Republicans and District 23 that featured a Republican vs. an unaffiliated/NPP).  Proposition 14 in effect disadvantaged Republicans by eliminating Republican candidates from 9 Districts while the Democrats were only evicted from 3.  In total, 12 Districts eliminated one of the “major” parties from their General Election ballot.  That accounts for 22.6% of California Districts that eliminated opinions held by large numbers of voters – nearly 1 in 4 California Districts harmed democracy in dramatic ways in the 2012 General Election.

            Similar problems are found in the General Election results for the California State Legislature.  Twenty seats were up for election in the California State Senate in 2012.  Democrats were the top Primary two vote-getters in two Districts, so were allowed to dominate the General Election ballot in those Districts.  The Peace and Freedom Party got their candidates onto the General Election ballot in two other Districts.  Table 2 accumulates the results below:

 

                                             Elections     Dem     Rep      3rd      NPP        Total   (%)

U.S. House of Reps.             53              6           2          0           4               12    (22.6%)

California State Senate        20             2           0          2           0                 4    (20.0%)

 

Though a “Third Party” got two candidates into the final round of voting, both candidates were crushed in the General Election (getting only 14% of the vote in District 9 and 20% of the vote in District 20).  (“State Senate – Results of All Districts,” published by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen at http://vote.sos.ca.gov/returns/state-senate/district/all/)  Republicans were again the biggest losers of Prop 14’s results: Republicans were eliminated from the General Election in 4 Districts (the two dominated by Democrats and the two Districts that voted between a Democrat or a Peace and Freedom Party candidate) while Democrats were eliminated from none!  Four out of 20 Districts eliminated the Republican Party from its General Election, which accounts for 20% of all Districts that held elections in 2012.  The Republicans should be outraged at their exclusion and should start thinking about ways to alter or rescind Prop 14.

            The ugliest example of California’s retreat from democracy was in the vote for California State Assembly.  California held 80 elections for State Assembly in 2012.  Democrats were the top two vote-getters in 13 District Primaries, so were allowed to dominate those ballots in November.  Republicans dominated only 7 Districts, while there was one Peace and Freedom candidate in District 15 and one unaffiliated/NPP candidate in District 28.  Table 3 reveals the final statistics:

 

                                             Elections     Dem     Rep      3rd      NPP        Total   (%)

U.S. House of Reps.             53              6           2          0           4               12    (22.6%)

California State Senate        20             2           0          2           0                 4    (20.0%)

California State Assembly  80          13           7           1           1               22    (27.5%)

 

Again, Republicans should be outraged at these results: Republicans were eliminated from the general ballot election in 15 Districts (the 13 dominated by Democrats, District 15 that featured a Democrat vs. the Peace and Freedom nominee, and District 28 that ended with a Democrat and NPP on the ballot).  Democrats were eliminated from only 7 Districts.  This means that Democrats gained a 2 to 1 advantage over Republicans in the 2012 election!  Overall, 27.5% of California State Assembly ballots eliminated one of the two major parties.  Only one District gave its voters a “third party” choice.

            The results are clear: about 1 in 4 Californians looked at their ballot in November 2012 and found little meaningful choice.  The “Top Two Primary” winners were exclusively Democrats or Republicans in many areas; Republicans were eliminated from 28 elections, Democrats were cut out of 10 elections, while “third party” and “unaffiliated” candidates were excluded from a whopping 145 elections.  Californians were not told that such results were likely when they were asked to vote on Prop 14.  Now that we know its results, all Californians that love democracy should mobilize to overturn Proposition 14.  The “Top Two Primary” system obviously benefited Democrats because other parties were excluded at a far higher rate, so Republicans, Third Parties, and Independent voters should start a grand coalition to bring real choice back to California.  The Democratic Party could easily dominate California, and the American population could mistakenly come to believe that there is no viable alternative in California politics, if Prop 14 is kept in place. 

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It’s the Corruption, Stupid!

            The Republican and Democratic National Party Conventions are today little more than political infomercials designed to sell their party’s presidential candidate to the American voter.  Many speeches are given and many videos are played, focused entirely on presenting their candidate as an example of deified human perfection..  When the candidates’ turn to speak finally arrives, they largely discuss the problems that cripple government and have caused recent economic catastrophes.  Unfortunately, the candidates only rarely mention the disease that causes nearly all political problems: corruption.  The fact that politicians have to beg rich people and companies for campaign donations in order to have enough money to buy the advertising resources that mostly win today’s elections, and that the rich only give money when they get promises for special favors when their candidate takes office, is never mentioned.  The Party Conventions could be described as the most effective infomercials on television: they give a list of problems and advertise their product (their candidate) as the miraculous solution to those problems without ever discussing what causes such problems.  Any simple reading of the convention speeches reveals this; we can look particularly to speeches given by President Obama, Paul Ryan, and Elizabeth Warren as examples of such trickery.  The political parties and the candidates clearly believe that the American voting public is stupid enough to believe the infomercial, so the public should analyze these key speeches for content to understand what the politicians promise … and what they want to avoid discussing.

           President Obama’s speech has been hailed as powerful and inspiring, but Obama made only two small references to corruption.  “If you give up on the idea that your voice can make a difference, then other voices will fill the void, the lobbyists and special interests, the people with the $10 million checks who are trying to buy this election and those who are trying to make it harder for you to vote. . . .” (Barak Obama, Transcript: President Obama’s Convention Speech, published by National Public Radio September 6, 2012 at http://www.npr.org/2012/09/06/160713941/transcript-president-obamas-convention-speech)  Obama argued that the people can stop corruption by voting, but he refuses to lay out a program for ensuring that the rich cannot use their wealth to threaten democracy in the first place.  Obama’s indignation is righteous, but his solutions are non-existent.  Obama later advised the American people that “[i]f you reject the notion that our government is forever beholden to the highest bidder, you need to stand up in this election.” (Obama, Convention Speech)  Again, Obama refuses to give any ideas on what laws could be passed to eliminate a rich person’s ability to buy political favors through campaign donations.

           Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not even imply that corruption is the main reason for most American political problems.  Instead, his vice-presidential running-mate Paul Ryan was given the task of diagnosing corruption as the central disease that must be cured.  Unfortunately, Ryan merely described the problems of corruption.  “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst.”  (Paul Ryan, Transcript: Rep. Paul Ryan’s Convention Speech, published by National Public Radio August 29, 2012 at http://www.npr.org/2012/08/29/160282031/transcript-rep-paul-ryans-convention-speech)  Ryan never described how the corruption created by campaign contributions leads to patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism.  He described the symptoms of corruption’s disease without actually diagnosing the disease!  Ryan merely says that Mitt Romney can end corruption: “Mitt has not only succeeded, but succeeded where others could not.  He turned around the Olympics at a time when a great institution was collapsing under the eight of band management, overspending, and corruption – sounds familiar, doesn’t it?” (Ryan, Convention Speech)  Ryan alludes to a comparison between Olympic corruption and U.S. government problems, and his lack of ideas on how to solve those problems sound very similar to other basic Republican statements.  He simply wants to elect Romney and then trust Romney to solve problems that Ryan himself does not appear to understand.

           Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Party’s nominee for Massachusetts senator, went only slightly further than Obama and Ryan in diagnosing corruption as the central political disease that must be cured.  Warren alluded to corruption in government: “People feel like the system is rigged against them.  And here’s the painful part: they’re right.  The system is rigged.  Look around.  Oil companies guzzle down billions in subsidies.  Billionaires pay lower tax rates than their secretaries.  Wall Street CEOs—the same ones who wrecked our economy and destroyed millions of jobs—still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them.” (Elizabeth Warren, Transcript: Elizabeth Warren’s Democratic Convention Speech, published by ABCNews September 5, 2012 at http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/transcript-elizabeth-warrens-democratic-convention-speech/story?id=17164726#.UFq_W65kG-Y)  Warren failed to indentify the campaign finance system as the source of political corruption, wasteful spending, and lopsided tax rates.  Later in the speech, she talked about how such problems had been solved in the past.  “About a century ago, when corrosive greed threatened our economy and our way of life, the American people came together under the leadership of Teddy Roosevelt and other progressives, to bring our nation back from the brink.” (Warren, Convention Speech)  However, Warren still avoided describing what the politicians did in the early 1900s, what laws were passed, how corruption was reduced, or why corruption has re-emerged so powerfully in our own time.

           Elizabeth Warren’s clearest statements on solutions to corruption are hidden within attacks against Mitt Romney and the Republican Party.  “Republicans say they don’t believe in government.  Sure they do.  They believe in government to help themselves and their powerful friends.  After all, Mitt Romney’s the guy who said corporations are people.”  This ignores the fact that the Supreme Court has enforced corporate personhood and avoids any clear statements on what she would do to end corporate personhood.  Instead, she moves on to discuss banking fraud, her specialty issue.  “I had an idea for a consumer financial protection agency to stop the rip-offs.  The big banks sure didn’t like it, and they marshaled one of the biggest lobbying forces on earth to destroy the agency before it ever saw the light of day.” (Warren, Convention Speech)  Warren correctly identified bank fraud as a giant problem that could be solved by government oversight and punishment, and even correctly revealed corporate lobbying power as the greatest threat to such protection.  However, she refused to say how we can eliminate corporate lobbying power, instead simply saying that having a good person in the White House is the key to winning such battle for government oversight.

           Are candidates such as Obama, Ryan, and Warren too stupid to understand the central role that corruption has played, and continues to play, in castrating the United States government?  No, these politicians are clearly intelligent and strategic people.  They know the American voter is angry at the government, and that politicians must give voice to that anger to win elections.  The problem is that politicians also need to avoid offending the rich in order to keep getting big donations so they have enough advertising money to get votes.  American politicians therefore play a complex tightrope-walking game of talking about American problems without discussing the role that corruption plays in causing those problems.  They are great tricksters, and their conventions resemble strange political informercials.

           Instead, American voters act stupidly when they are angered by corruption but keep voting for Republicans and Democrats that never clearly say why these problems occur and never take steps to solve these problems when in power.  Other parties exist, many of which have given stronger statements on how to end corruption.  One idea for eliminating corruption is to cut the link between rich campaign donors and political campaigns.  It can be read for free at www.machineryofpolitics.com

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Sarah Palin’s Thoughts on Solving Government Corruption

Many Americans are realizing that the United States government is ineffective due the drastic levels of corruption that plague our electoral system and heavily impact the decisions and statements our candidates make as they run for Congress and the White House.  Washington’s policies are absurd because big campaign donors only give money to get political favors, and those favors are paid by our elected officials when they allow the rich to avoid paying taxes, demand ever-increasing amounts of government subsidies, and get away with causing environmental disasters.  Our politicians are not stupid and weak; they are actually strategic and strong, but so heavily corrupted by their need for campaign cash that they sell their votes to the highest bidder.  Both frequent political phenomena over the past few years, the conservative Tea Party and the liberal Occupy Movement, openly recognize and criticize the existing system.  Former Alaskan governor and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave a surprisingly clear portrayal of the corrupt system in a September 2011 speech titled “Restoring America.”  (the transcript can be located on her website at http://www.sarahpac.com/posts/governor-palins-speech-at-the-restoring-america-tea-party-of-america-rally-in-indianola-iowa-video-and-transcript and a video of the speech can be viewed athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0-CLyI8BIE)  Palin described her ideas for ending such corruption, though those ideas are not likely to have much impact on the central problem of money dominating our elections.

After some introductory words of thanks to her audience, Palin quickly launched into a description of current U.S. economic problems.  “Today, one in five working-age men are out of work. One in seven Americans are on food stamps. Thirty percent of our mortgages are underwater. In parts of Michigan and California, they’re suffering from unemployment numbers that are greater than during the depths of the Great Depression.” (Palin, “Restoring America,” September 3, 2011)  Nothing is mysterious about such statements;  even the Princeton economist Paul Krugman agrees with the use “Depression” to describe current circumstances in his book End This Depression Now (W.W. & Norton and Co., Inc.: 2012).  Palin also described how the Depression has been caused by political corruption.  “We sent a new class of leaders to D.C., but immediately the permanent political class tried to co-opt them – because the reality is we are governed by a permanent political class, until we change that.” (Palin, “Restoring America”)  It is unclear whether she referred to the Democratic Party’s victory in the 2008 elections or the Republican Party’s resurgence in 2010 elections.  Either way, nothing much has changed politically because voters are far less powerful than the “permanent political class” of rich donors, lobbyists, and corporate executives that largely decide which candidates win by controlling political advertising money.  Palin is correct to describe our national leaders as co-opted and controlled by money, and that we must change the ability of money to dominate our elections if we hope to ever affect real political change.

Palin next drew a clear connection between the rich that control politicians and how those politicians give in to the rich.  She continued to call the rich and powerful the Permanent Political Class.

Yeah, the permanent political class – they’re doing just fine. Ever notice how so many of them arrive in Washington, D.C. of modest means and then miraculously throughout the years they end up becoming very, very wealthy? Well, it’s because they derive power and their wealth from their access to our money – to taxpayer dollars.  They use it to bail out their friends on Wall Street and their corporate cronies, and to reward campaign contributors, and to buy votes via earmarks. There is so much waste. And there is a name for this: It’s called corporate crony capitalism. This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk. No, this is the capitalism of connections and government bailouts and handouts, of waste and influence peddling and corporate welfare. (Palin, “Restoring America”)

Palin revealed that the rich are often rich because they get government favors.  They spend a part of their income to influence candidates and choose which candidates go into Congress or the White House.  The newly-elected leaders quickly move to give more government favors to their own financial supporters – a financial give-and-take that leaves the rich wallowing in wealth and power, and the rest of the taxpayers wondering where their votes and their money went.  In short, the use of money in politics controls later government decisions, which in the end hurts government efficiency, economic growth, and the general public.

Unfortunately, Sarah Palin then went on to attack President Obama and the Democrats for many of their corrupt deals while largely overlooking the details of her own Republican Party’s similar deals with oil companies and other corporate interests.  Even as she says the American voters must overturn the whole system, she does not name Republican leaders as participating in corrupt bargains.  “So, this is why we must remember that the challenge is not simply to replace Obama in 2012. The real challenge is who and what we will replace him with. It’s not enough to just change up the uniform. If we don’t change the team and the game plan, we won’t save our country.” (Palin, “Restoring America”)  Her statements are still focused, though, on changing the money and advertising systems that largely choose which candidates win elections – she still advocates changing the “game plan” in a fundamental way.

However, she fails to give any ideas likely to change the existing system.  Instead, she begins her plan with a general statement on supporting capitalism but hating corruption.  “I believe in the free market, and that is why I detest crony capitalism.” (Palin, “Restoring America”)  Palin fails to see that crony capitalism is the direct result of what one might call “free market politics.”  Capitalism is the theory of investment, risk, and profit as a reward.  Allowing free market economic ideas into political campaigns naturally allows the rich to invest the most money and, therefore, dominate the election results.  That is how Free Markets create Crony Politics.  Palin fails to see that obvious connection, and therefore fails to understand that giving all candidates equal funding and making it illegal for any candidate to take private money are the best ways of avoiding Crony Politics.  (All of these ideas can be read in detail at www.machineryofpolitics.com)  Instead of advocating for government-funded elections that would eliminate private money, Palin calls for the following policies to end Crony Politics:

1. Reduce Federal government power

2. Create Free Market Health Insurance programs

3.Entitlement reform, but with no suggestions for changing Social Security

4. Drilling for domestic oil sources to make U.S. into an “energy superpower”

5. Eliminate Federal income taxes on corporations

6. Cut corporate loopholes to end Corporate Welfare

7. Create a fully Free Market Economy

Conservative politicians have been demanding such policies since at least the 1980s.  When looking at the outline of her ideas for ending corruption, it is clear that her program will do little to end the dominance of money in our campaigns or in political advertising, and therefore will not change government corruption or eliminate waste.  In fact, many of her ideas could make the current corruption worse by inviting the rich to spend even moreto control government policy.  Opening up all U.S. oil reserves to private drilling companies would convince those companies to spend lavishly on political candidates in order to ensure that their company would gain access to the oil.  Eliminating federal taxes on corporations would give companies even more money to spend on politics, especially if some companies fear losing the profits they currently gain from Corporate Welfare.  Demanding a fully Free Market Economy, Free Market Health Insurance coverage, and reducing government power would likely give even more wealth and power to the rich that already seek to avoid having to follow government laws and regulations designed to protect the public.

In total, Sarah Palin gave a strong description of how money corrupts our politics, how corrupted politicians make wasteful and harmful decisions, and that the existing money-in-politics system must be changed if we hope to save the United States from catastrophe.  She clearly understands the problems that plague government today, but seems to have little idea how to solve those problems.  She powerfully called for a change to the “game plan,” but her conservative ideas distracted her from what the game is and confused her plan for changing it.

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The Incredible Shrinking President

Barack Obama represented many aspects of progressive politics in the 2008 election, and he promised several solid economic policies: a Health Care “Public Option,” an end to President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, a renegotiation of Free Trade Agreements, an end to U.S. support for foreign dictators that have propped up the U.S. economy, and movement toward ending the U.S. “addiction” to foreign oil imports.  These were his major platform promises in 2008, but he has failed to implement any of them.  In fact, when conservative politicians attacked these logical policies, President Obama repeatedly gave up his platform and caved in to their demands.  Progressives should be outraged at President Obama.  They need to make their demands even clearer during his re-election campaign if they expect to influence the president beyond 2012.  Americans in general also need to overhaul the electoral system that has clearly corrupted his judgment as president.

Health-care was one of the overwhelming topics of debate in the 2008 election.  Barack Obama was a major proponent of changing the existing system to make it more equal for the mass majority of Americans.

If you don’t have health insurance, then what we’re going to do is to provide you the option of buying into the same kind of federal pool that both Sen. McCain and I enjoy as federal employees, which will give you high-quality care, choice of doctors, at lower costs, because so many people are part of this insured group. . . .  This will cost some money on the front end, but over the long term this is the only way that not only are we going to make families healthy, but it’s also how we’re going to save the federal budget, because we can’t afford these escalating costs.  (Third Presidential Debate, held October 15, 2008 in Hempstead, New York.)

Obama here proposed what came to be known as the “public option” in health care: allowing un-insured Americans to purchase coverage in the same pool as federal employees.  Economists estimated that this would, indeed, lower the costs of health insurance due to the pool’s large size, which would allow it to collectively negotiate the best prices.  This is largely already in place in Japan, whose citizens are generally amongst the healthiest in the world.  (For more on Japan and other national health insurance systems, see T.R. Reid, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, New York: Penguin, 2010).  Candidate Obama’s proposal was logical and well-proven, but President Obama completely abandoned it in the health care debates of 2009.  He continued asking for a “public option” even in September 2009, when gave a joint address to Congress.  (Barack Obama, Address to a Joint Session of Congress, September 9, 2009)  However, he completely abandoned this demand as Congress approached an actual vote in winter 2009.  The “public option” was not included in the eventual law, and President Obama signed off on this failure in March 2010.   (The final laws that reorganized the health insurance system are H.R. 3590 “The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010” and H.R. 4872 “The Health Care Education Reconciliation Act of 2010).  The law today requires each citizen to purchase health insurance but does not provide the “public option” Obama campaigned for in 2008, which will result in many citizens being forced to buy overpriced, unreliable insurance through private corporations that are the heart of the American health care catastrophe.

Taxation was also a major debate in 2008.  Obama took a hard stand against President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which he accused of mostly benefiting the wealthiest citizens.  Obama repeatedly promised to end such tax cuts for the wealthy and to keep taxes low for the middle class and poor.  “I will give a tax break to 95% of Americans who work every day and get taxes taken out of their paychecks every week. And I’ll help pay for this by asking the folks who are making more than $250,000 a year to go back to the tax rate they were paying in the 1990s.”  (Remarks by Senator Barack Obama on November 2, 2008 at Columbus, Ohio)  Obama proposed that tax rates for the rich should return to pre-Bush levels, saying that the government needs revenue to invest in its infrastructure.  “[N]obody likes taxes. I would prefer that none of us had to pay taxes, including myself. But ultimately, we’ve got to pay for the core investments that make this economy strong and somebody’s got to do it.”  (Third Presidential Debate, held October 15, 2008 in Hempstead, New York)  The Bush tax cuts were set to expire at the end of 2010, which would have sent all taxes back to the 1990s levels.  Conservatives demanded that all tax cuts continue, including the tax cuts for people making over $250,000 per year that Obama had specifically campaigned against in 2008.  President Obama surrendered again to conservative demands in December 2010, permitting tax cuts for the rich to continue until the end of 2012.   (The 2010 tax cut extension was included in H.R. 4853, “The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010”)  Somebody’s got to pay for future investments, but Obama is unwilling to force the wealthy to do it.

Free Trade Agreements, which open international trade by eliminating taxes on imports, was mentioned in the Third Presidential Debate.  Obama focused on the shortcomings of Free Trade Agreements, even agreeing with long-held progressive and union stances that labor rights and environmental protections should be included in such treaties.

I believe in free trade. But I also believe that for far too long, certainly during the course of the Bush administration with the support of Sen. McCain, the attitude has been that any trade agreement is a good trade agreement. And NAFTA doesn’t have — did not have enforceable labor agreements and environmental agreements. . . .  [W]e have to stand for human rights and we have to make sure that violence isn’t being perpetrated against workers who are just trying to organize for their rights, which is why, for example, I supported the Peruvian Free Trade Agreement which was a well-structured agreement.”  (Third Presidential Debate, held October 15, 2008 in Hempstead, New York)

Candidate Obama approached a demand to renegotiate NAFTA and other Free Trade Agreements in his support of labor and environmental standards.  However, President Obama avoided such discussions.  Perhaps most disturbingly, his avoidance of new talks comes without counter-demands from conservatives.  Instead, President Obama appears to have made this decision on his own.  In other words, on the topic of free trade, President Obama cannot even be accused of surrendering to public pressure.

Another major problem is that many of these tax reducing deals are made with the agreement of foreign dictators.  The United States has used and abused foreign nations in order to create cheap products for its own economy since the end of World War Two.   (For more on this history, see John Perkins, Secret History of the American Empire: The Truth About Economic Hit Men, Jackals, and How to Change the World, New York: Plume, 2008, and Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, New York: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004)  Some examples are the coups against Iran in the 1950s and support for dictatorships in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iraq beginning in the 1970s – and these are merely the countries that the U.S. targeted for oil reserves!  The U.S. government’s stance for the last 60 years has been to support dictatorships if they are friendly to the United States.  Barack Obama took a clear stand against such policies in 2008, even promising to personally end such foreign relations.

[T]he problem, John, with the strategy that’s been pursued was that, for 10 years, we coddled [Pakaistani dictator Pervez] Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic. We had a 20th-century mindset that basically said, ‘Well, you know, he may be a dictator, but he’s our dictator.’ . . .  That’s going to change when I’m president of the United States.  (First Presidential Debate, held September 26, 2008 in Oxford, Mississippi)

Sadly, that has not changed since Obama became president.  The most stunning example is Egypt, where the Obama Administration has reportedly given $1.5 billion per year to a clear military dictatorship that tortures its own citizens in order to stay in control, but which also supports many U.S. foreign policies in the Middle East.  The Obama Administration refused to support the Egyptian democratic protests in early 2011, and Obama himself did not clearly call for the end of that disgusting regime until after its leader had already resigned.  President Obama has been a major disappointment for those who found hope in his promise to end U.S. support for destructive, but pro-Western, dictatorships, and voters should remind him of that in 2012.

Obama seems to understand that the United States has historically supported brutal dictators largely to guarantee American access to oil reserves.  He repeatedly stated in 2008 that his energy policy would focus on relieving and eventually ending U.S. dependence on Middle-Eastern oil.  He proposed two means of accomplishing that lofty goal within 10 years.  First and foremost, Obama promised to invest heavily in renewable energy technologies.  “I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy — wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and 5 million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.”  (Barack Obama, Nomination Address. Delivered August 28, 2008 in Denver, Colorado)  Not only would this long-term plan end reliance on foreign energy sources, but it would also help the U.S. economic recovery because it would create a massive new internal energy infrastructure that largely has to be built from scratch.

Sadly, the yearly federal budgets that President Obama has signed fall short of his campaign’s promise to invest $150 billion over ten years.  That figure averages out to $15 billion per year, but the first two budgets that President Obama singed fell far short of that promise.  The Budget for Fiscal Year 2010 provided only $2.3 billion renewable energy programs, and that only increased to $2.4 billion in the 2011 Budget!  (Budget of the U.S. Government: Fiscal Year 2011.  The entire Budget can be downloaded at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2011-BUD/content-detail.html.  The $2.4 billion figure appears under the Energy Department’s descriptions of spending on page 70.)  That is a long way from the $15 billion per year that he to implement if elected in 2008.  $2.4 billion is only 16% of his promised $15 billion, and only 8.4% of the overall Energy Department’s Budget in 2011.  That is an unacceptably low amount, and a badly broken promise.  Progressives should give voice to their disappointment in 2012.

Obama’s secondary energy proposal was to increase oil production from reserves already existing in the United States, particularly along its coastlines.  In order to end foreign reliance on Middle-Eastern oil, he said “that means, yes, increasing domestic production and off-shore drilling, but we only have 3 percent of the world’s oil supplies and we use 25 percent of the world’s oil. So we can’t simply drill our way out of the problem.”  (First Presidential Debate, held September 26, 2008 in Oxford, Mississippi)  Obama clearly showed in 2008 that he supports offshore oil drilling, but only within a larger plan of developing renewable energy sources.  Obama promised that new domestic drilling would only be one small piece of a larger solution.  President Obama has held to his promise to increase offshore drilling, notably by opening new areas to offshore drilling beginning in late March 2009.  At the time, he noted that this would be a short-term solution to the nation’s energy needs, but that the long-term solution lies with renewable energy development.

…I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and the long run. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake.  (Obama’s March 31, 2009 announcement can still be read on Democracy Now!’s website at http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/1/gas_drill)

Unfortunately, Obama has given up on his demands for renewable energy even while allowing offshore drilling to increase.  Obama’s inability to push for renewable energy was best revealed by the failure of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which passed the House of Representatives but was hardly even discussed in the Senate. (There were actually two different bills proposed in June 2009: H.R. 2454 and H.R. 2998.  Both were abandoned within weeks of being introduced in the Senate.)  Even with a so-called “super-majority” in 2009, President Obama did not support the Act heavily enough to push its passage into law.  The result is that offshore drilling, which he wanted to be a minor piece of the solution, has become the major focus of U.S. energy policy.

President Obama has not fought to fulfill the promises he made in 2008.  He has given up, given in, and surrendered his promises for a “public option” in health care, ending tax cuts for the rich, renegotiating labor and environmental protections in Free Trade Agreements, stopping support for foreign dictators, and investing in renewable energy technology.  The only piece of the 2008 platform that President Obama has actually enforced is the promise to increase offshore oil drilling, which conservatives mostly support.  Therefore, President Obama has succeeded in one promise, but given up on five others.  Progressives should send him a clear signal of their disappointment in 2012 if they hope to have an impact on future presidential decisions.

Beyond that, Americans should realize that Obama has repeatedly shown us how ineffective a popular, recently-elected politician is when they are forced to work within an overwhelmingly corrupt electoral system.  We cannot only blame Obama personally for his many political failures since winning the 2008 election; we must also accept the need to change our electoral system if we hope to change our most important government policies.

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