The Fight Over the Speaker of the House

W.J. Astore

If only Progressive Democrats had fought at all when they had the chance in 2021

There is no Left in America, not in Congress, at least. Whenever the so-called Left, or Progressives, or the Squad have an opportunity to drive policy changes, they cave to the corporate centrists within the Democratic Party. Which is why I laugh, however ruefully, when Republicans warn about the “radical left” and how powerful it allegedly is in America. What “radical left”?

Two years ago, before Nancy Pelosi was yet again elected Speaker of the House, so called Progressives (perhaps we should call them PINOs, or progressives in name only) had a rare opportunity to drive change by withholding their votes for Pelosi as Speaker, just as Republicans are doing now for Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. Like today’s Republicans, the PINOs could have extracted concessions from Pelosi, including a House vote on Medicare for all, for a $15 federal minimum wage, and similar policies the PINOs claim are at the top of their agenda. They chose to do nothing. They got no concessions. They drove no change. And thus the centrist/corporate Democrats continue to ride roughshod over them.

Remember this, Democrats? Force the vote was a rare opportunity to drive change, but the PINOs caved to Pelosi and got nothing in return

Which is why I salute the Republicans who are holding up McCarthy’s appointment as Speaker. They have convictions and are willing to fight for them. They are extracting concessions from McCarthy. Meanwhile, all the PINOs are doing is posing for selfies while poking fun at alleged Republican disorder.

No, you PINOs. This is what true democracy looks like. It’s messy. It involves in-fighting. You have to be willing to get bloodied, at least figuratively speaking. And if you’re unwilling to fight, to “bring the ruckus” to your own party, as AOC claimed she wanted to do, party rulers like Pelosi and current House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will diss, dominate, and demote you, as they did and do. 

Let’s take a quick look at the new House Minority Leader.  CNN praised Jeffries as “the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.” That’s truly what matters, right? Diversity. More Black faces in high places. Or more women at the top. Or more LGBTQ+ and so on.

But what if “diversity” results in no meaningful policy changes? What if diversity, as my wife puts it, is mainly an optical illusion?

Jeffries, as Sabby Sabs of RBN (the Revolutionary Blackout Network) notes here, is just another corporate Democrat who’s especially skilled at fundraising for the Party. He’s against Medicare for all, he despises the Squad, he’s a fervid supporter of Israel (the “sixth borough of New York City,” he quipped), and his resume includes Georgetown University and (of course) a law degree.

Hakeem Jeffries, House Minority Leader

Can we expect progressive policies from Jeffries? Is he a radical leftist? Of course not! He’s a younger version of Pelosi, a corporate shill who’s sold as a change agent because he’s the first Black party leader in Congress, just as Pelosi was praised for the “change” she represented as the first Madam Speaker.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s generally a good thing when more women, more BIPOC, and other traditionally underrepresented groups attain positions of power. But if their ideas, policies, commitments, and practices are basically the same as those old white fat tomcats who preceded them, where’s the progress? Where’s the change?

In so many ways, today’s Democrats are yesterday’s Republicans. They are pro-war, pro-military, pro-business, and thoroughly corporate. Their alleged diversity is mostly optical. Meanwhile, the Republicans, whatever else they may be, are showing true diversity of views, as manifested by Kevin McCarthy’s messy fight for votes from his own party.

All those corporate Democrats and PINOs in Congress should take a very long look in a truth-telling mirror before crowing about how dysfunctional the Republicans allegedly are. If dysfunction means fighting for change that’s consistent with your principles and campaign promises, the Democrats could truly use some of that “dysfunction.” So too could America.

Democrats Keep Control of the Senate

W.J. Astore

Democracy Is Saved!

I woke up today to the news the Democrats will keep control of the Senate through 2024. Democracy is saved! I guess the Russian bots didn’t steal the election this time around, nor did election deniers mount a coup against democracy. The status quo prevails in America. What great news for all workers, all those who are struggling to make ends meet, to learn that nothing has fundamentally changed in the best of all possible countries.

Heck, it’s even good news that Republicans are likely to gain a narrow majority in the House, thereby demoting Nancy Pelosi to House Minority Leader. I can look forward to House impeachment proceedings against various Democrats, because such proceedings are truly what working-class Americans want and need from their government.

President Biden promised to take action to codify Roe v Wade into law if the Democrats won, so I suppose he’ll weasel his way out of this promise if the House tips Republican. Not that his action was going to change anything, since Biden refuses to touch the Senate filibuster.

What we can look forward to is two more years of divided, do-nothing government in Washington, DC, with politics being dominated by Donald Trump’s new run for the presidency against Sleepy Joe and Giggles Harris. Happy days are here again!

Of course, a “divided” Congress will still come together to support massive Pentagon spending and a blank check of military aid to Ukraine. Nothing unites Democrats and Republicans like weapons and wars.

What you won’t see, of course, is a higher federal minimum wage, single-payer health care, or anything else the working classes could truly use. America, of course, is an oligarchy and Congress and the President serve the oligarchs. As George Carlin memorably said: “You have no rights” — and no say.

Ready for a depressing repeat?

One clear result from this election is Joe Biden’s commitment to run again in 2024, when he’ll be 82 years old. Truly, anyone can be president in America, as long as the oligarchs sign off on you. Biden running again reminds me of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the early 1930s, when Paul von Hindenburg, also in his eighties, ran against and defeated a certain Adolf Hitler in 1932. Of Hindenburg it was said that the men around him “shoved him — with dignity.” And I suppose the operatives around Biden will also shove him about, with (or without) dignity, as age takes its inevitable toll on him. 

Biden will likely keep Kamala Harris as his vice president, not wanting to admit his mistake in picking her. Put charitably, Harris has been a non-entity as VP, so she’s perfect for the job, but if Biden runs and wins in 2024, there’s a decent chance she could become president during Biden’s second term. Of course, the oligarchy vetted and picked her exactly because she’s predictable and obedient to power. But some people will crow about how amazing it is to have a Black Asian female president when her views and allegiances are almost exactly the same as a white Catholic male president like Biden. But, you know, diversity!

So it’s two more years of hearing Democracy is in peril because Trump is running again when we all know or sense that whatever democracy we had ended in America decades ago, and most certainly by 1980. (Of course, America was founded as a republic by a bunch of privileged white guys, who weren’t exactly trusting of democracy, seeing it as mob rule.) Still, I like to think there’s hope in America, because more and more people are waking up to the harsh realities we face as a people. Don’t tell me I’m wrong about this; I’d like to keep a scintilla of hope, if only to preserve my own sanity, which will be sorely tested in the run up to the 2024 election.

So here’s to another two years of “democracy,” American-style, meaning no democracy at all. I wonder why an obvious con man like Trump gains so much traction here in the land of the not-so-free?

When Losing Is Winning

W.J. Astore

Corporate Democrats Would Rather Lose to Republicans than Enact Progressive Reforms

Call me cynical, but the establishment Democratic Party would rather lose to Republicans, even those Maniacal Trumpers, than win with strong progressive candidates.

The reason is obvious: money. The Democratic Party is all about raising money. The best way to raise money is to do the bidding of the corporate overlords. That’s why you don’t see firm commitments to a $15 federal minimum wage, or single-payer health care, or reducing the Pentagon budget. The Democrats are a pro-business, pro-rich, pro-establishment party with a large hierarchy that thrives on corporate cash. Whether it wins at the polls or loses, it still wins at the one “poll” that matters, and that’s raising corporate cash.

Consider the “big names” in the Democratic Party. The Obamas, the Clintons, the Bidens, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris, and so on. They are all bought and paid for. They have all been corrupted by money, willingly so. They see it as their right to cash-in on their public “service.” They are the servants of Wall Street, Big Pharma, the military-industrial complex, and other power centers. That’s how they attained thier positions in the first place.

It’s something of a truism that Democrats would rather lose to Republicans than submit to a progressive agenda like the one espoused by Bernie Sanders. (Forget about Ralph Nader; to the Corporate Democrats, he may as well be the antichrist.)

Things are so bad that the Democratic establishment is actually funding Trumpian Republicans, thinking that the latter will be unelectable because they’re too far right, too batshit crazy. But, my fellow Americans, there’s plenty of room on the right, and plenty of support for batshit crazy positions in this land of ours.

America is a strange bird with two right wings. I guess that’s why we don’t soar as a country anymore. We just flap aimlessly in circles on the ground, our withered left wing incapable of providing balance and lift.

Which Corporate Party Will Win on Tuesday?

W.J. Astore

It’s been a depressing election season but the end is finally near (hopefully not THE END). The Democrats tell me I must vote blue no matter who because democracy is at stake and only they can save it from the fascist Republicans. The Republicans tell me to vote for them because Biden the radical socialist/liberal is out to groom our kids, take away our guns, and disrespect our religion (it’s assumed here that your religion is Christianity). Both parties are hyping fear of the other as a motivating force. It’s not a shooting civil war; we don’t have a Bleeding Florida (yet) like we had in the 1850s in Bleeding Kansas; but the stoking of divisions in this country for electoral gains is truly dispiriting.

After reviewing my state’s ballot online and looking over the choices, I expect I’ll be voting mostly for Democrats, not because I want to but because the third-party choices are either uninspiring or non-existent. I live in a solidly blue state, so I don’t really have to worry about a red tide of Republicans surging across my little corner of this earth. Elsewhere in America, I expect Republicans will do quite well.

The reason is simple: The Democrats’ message, like Biden himself, is old, corporate-centered, and uninspiring. I can’t name one policy the Democrats are truly embracing to help ordinary Americans. A $15 federal minimum wage? Nope. Single-payer health care? Nope. A firm commitment to getting big/corporate money out of politics? Nope. Reductions to Pentagon spending and a peace dividend to those in need? Nope. I could go on and on. Just about the only clear Democratic message is “vote for us because the Republicans are going to destroy democracy.”

Of course, Democracy is already destroyed in America. Both parties are corporate-dominated. They obey the owners and donors and ignore us. The people who need the most help in America are those with the weakest voices; those who are dominant keep scheming successfully to get more and more even while loudly crying “foul.” It’s socialism for the corporate rich, dog-eat-dog capitalism for everyone else, and both parties are firmly committed to keeping it that way.

So why do I vote? I truly believe it’s one of my civic duties. Besides, there are issues/questions on the ballot that do matter in my state, and I want to have my say.

So, my fellow Americans, don’t despair at tomorrow’s results. Don’t become fearful about one party or the other winning followed by democracy’s destruction. For that happened decades ago, and we’re still chugging along, even though I’m seeing more black smoke billowing from the engine compartment.

My dad knew the score, and his words haunt me. He survived poverty, the Great Depression, World War II, and low-paying factory work before securing a decent civil service job that kept us solidly in the middle class. In the 1990s, he told me he’d had it tough in the beginning of his life but easy at the end; but he predicted the reverse would be true for me: relatively easy at the beginning but tough at the end. I hope he’s wrong, but I fear he’s right. The proof is evident at every election. Sigh.

Political Illogic in America

W.J. Astore

Don’t tell me I voted for the very bad guy when I voted for a very good one

Let’s look at a political ballot with three candidates. (I use “guy” without a specific gender in mind.)

Candidate (R): Very Bad Guy

Candidate (D): Bad Guy

Candidate (G): Very Good Guy

I only have one vote. I choose Candidate (G).

But wait, the critics scream. (G) doesn’t have a chance. Only (D) can win against (R). You must vote for (D) or children and democracy will die!

As Mr. Spock would say, this is highly illogical.

If (R) wins the election, the voters who cast their ballots for the Very Bad Guy are responsible. Not me.

If (D) loses, i.e. failed to win enough votes, then Party (D) should have nominated a better, more attractive, candidate, instead of a Bad Guy.

If (D) does win, and remember he’s a Bad Guy, his party will feel vindicated and will likely keep nominating bad guys. Why change a winning formula?

Logically, if I want a Very Good Guy to win, I have to vote for him. And if I want to drive Party (D) to nominate better candidates, I can’t do that by giving their bad guys my vote. I have to incentivize Party (D) to change, and they won’t change if I just roll over and vote for them because Party (R) is allegedly even worse.

So, if lots of Very Bad Guys win on Tuesday, blame those who voted for them. Prod those voters who stayed home and didn’t vote (perhaps by fielding better candidates in the future). Ponder why the big “choice” was between Very Bad Guy and Bad Guy. Just don’t blame me for voting for the Very Good Guy.

In 2022, What Are the Democrats For?

W.J. Astore

Tuesday’s elections won’t be kind to the aimless Democrats

President Joe Biden is not a message guy. Nor is Nancy Pelosi. Nor is Chuck Schumer. The senior leaders of the Democratic Party lack charisma, lack communication skills, and seemingly have no compelling core principles except the usual ones for politicians (raise money, stay in power). I’ve seen plenty of political ads, heard plenty of speeches, read plenty of articles, and what I’ve gathered is that I should vote Democrat because the Republicans are dangerous to democracy and beholden to Trump. And that’s about it for a “message.”

My guess is that this magnet is selling well

Oh, there is one thing. Biden promised he’d attempt to codify Roe v Wade into law if the Democrats can somehow keep control of the House and Senate, which at this point is unlikely for the House and dodgy as well for the Senate. Here’s the problem with that “promise.” In 2007, Barack Obama promised to codify Roe v Wade if he won the presidency, saying it would be his top priority. After he was elected, he changed his mind and did nothing. In 2020, Joe Biden made a similar promise; he has also done nothing in the last two years. Yet now we’re supposed to believe Biden’s new “promise,” even though it’s an obvious and desperate ploy to rally pro-choice forces to vote blue no matter who on Tuesday.

That Democrats are not Republicans is enough for more than a few voters, and I get that. What’s truly shocking is that’s pretty much the Democrats’ message. And it simply isn’t persuasive enough to appeal to undecided voters. More and more voters, fed up with both parties, are “independents” or otherwise unaffiliated, and you have to give them a reason to vote for you other than “the other guy (or gal) is worse.”

Consider, for example, the Democrats and war. Democrats fully support massive budgets for the Pentagon; Democrats fully support $100 billion or more for Ukraine in its war against Russia; Democrats fully embrace the “new Cold War” and aggressive support of Taiwan. Recall that Biden suggested “Putin must go” as a goal of the Ukraine war, and that Nancy Pelosi, that skilled and deft diplomat, traveled to Taiwan to stir up anti-American sentiment in China. If you’re at all interested in slightly downsizing the Pentagon budget, of ratcheting down tensions with Russia and China, of pursuing diplomacy with words instead of weapons, of occasionally fostering the idea of “peace,” today’s Democratic Party is not for you.

As inflation continues to rise, hollowing out the working and middle classes even more, the Democrats have no solutions except higher interest rates and a bit more government aid here and there so that you can keep making (barely) your rent or mortgage payments while putting food on the table and paying for heat. Forget about a higher federal minimum wage. Forget about single-payer health care. Even student loan debt relief is very limited (it may go away completely if the courts rule Biden exceeded his executive authority).

As Democrats lecture people about saving democracy, Americans wonder where democracy went. Obviously, both political parties are beholden to big money, the owners and the donors, and ordinary people have no say, except on Tuesday when we’re each allowed to cast one vote.

I will be voting, of course. As the saying goes, my vote must have some value or the powers that be wouldn’t be spending so much money to buy it. Where possible, I’ll be voting for candidates whose values most closely align with mine. That often means I’ll be voting third party, which my critics tell me is a vote for Trump and his evil minions. Sure, keep on scolding me for wanting honest and principled candidates like Matt Hoh, who’s running for the Senate in North Carolina for the Green Party. It’s all my fault for wanting candidates who truly offer hope and change, instead of more of the same.

Blame the voters, Democrats! It’s a surefire way to victory, if “victory” means another shellacking at the midterms by the Party of Trump. Sigh.

Whatever else is true, it’s not morning again in America.

Do You Know What Your Candidate Stands For?

W.J. Astore

So many people vote for a Democrat or Republican without having a clue what their candidate stands for. Politicians are adept at refusing to take positions; profiles in courage they are not. This is one big reason why I respect Matthew Hoh, candidate for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina. He takes firm stances based on his personal convictions and principles. Here, courtesy of INDY Week in North Carolina, is an article that details these. Not surprisingly, the Democratic and Republican candidates chose not to answer these questions.

My suggestion: Find a candidate in your district who’s willing to go on the record with strong stances that you believe in. If you can’t find such a candidate, write someone in, or don’t vote for that office, or (big ask) consider running for office yourself in the future, or consider joining new parties that seek to break the corrupt hold on our politics that the Democrats and Republicans have enjoyed for far too long.

Candidate Questionnaire: Matthew Hoh, US Senate

Name as it appears on the ballot: Matthew Hoh 

Screen Shot 2022-10-15 at 2.43.14 PM.png

Age: 49

Party affiliation: Green

Campaign websitehttps://www.matt4senate.org

Occupation & employer:  Disabled veteran

Years lived in North Carolina: 9

1) What are your primary concerns for the State of North Carolina?

I have been to all parts of North Carolina throughout the campaign, and the three things I hear everywhere are healthcare, housing, and drugs. 

Millions of people in NC live without healthcare due to being uninsured or underinsured, while more than 20% of NC adults are in collections for medical debt. Housing is unaffordable across the state. Home prices are out of reach for most working families, while rents have increased at a criminally staggering rate of 25-50%. Individuals, families and communities, particularly Black, Latino, and Native American communities, have been devastated by the War on Drugs. Every day 12 North Carolinian lives are lost from fatal overdoses. At the same time, the mass incarceration and prohibition policies of Republicans and Democrats have ruined lives and wrecked families, destroyed neighborhoods, and sustained cycles of crime. 

These are the same issues I see in my life. My family, friends and neighbors suffer and are hurt by these deliberate bipartisan policies. I’m running to make sure there is a voice in this race for Medicare for All and not for for-profit healthcare; that there are meaningful, affordable housing policies that are not simply tax breaks and subsidies for developers and banks; and that we end the War on Drugs and treat substance abuse and addiction as public health matters rather than as crimes.

2) What in your background qualifies you to represent the people of this state effectively? What would you cite as your biggest career accomplishments?  

I’m a disabled Marine Corps combat veteran. I live paycheck to paycheck, often solely on my veteran disability payments. Due to my disability, I went five years unable to earn an income. This, more than anything else, has prepared me to represent working families in Washington, DC.

In 2009, I resigned my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest over the escalation of that war. I’ve worked in Washington, DC with members of Congress and their staff for over a decade on war and peace, veterans issues and foreign policy. I’m very familiar with how Congress and the DC establishment operate, and this, perhaps, is the best explanation as to why I am running with the Green Party and not as a Democrat or Republican. 

Locally, I have done peer support in the veterans and homeless communities.  

If elected, what three policies would you prioritize and how would you work across the aisle to enact those initiatives? 

I believe there are Democrats who are willing to break with their party and support meaningful climate and healthcare legislation (not giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and healthcare insurance companies such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the Affordable Care Act.) At the same time, some Democrats and Republicans are willing to reduce the bloated military-industrial complex, rein in the gross violations of constitutional rights and liberties by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and end corporate subsidies. I look forward to working with progressives and libertarians on ending the War on Drugs, protecting and expanding civil liberties, particularly LGTBQIA+ rights, and ending our militarized foreign policy.

To accomplish this, I will work in a manner similar to how Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have operated these past two years. However, rather than my efforts being for the benefit of fossil fuel companies and hedge fund managers, as with Senators Manchin and Sinema, my efforts will be for the working and middle classes. I have said repeatedly: no one will get $15 billion aircraft carriers unless our people get healthcare.

3) More than 1 million Americans have died due to COVID-19 and millions more are struggling with astronomical medical bills. Do you believe the American health system is working? What is your plan for making sure health care is affordable and accessible to all American citizens? Are you in favor of a single-payer option?

I’m running because I have many people in my life, people I love, that must check their bank account before calling their doctor. Around a third of all COVID deaths occurred due to people’s inability to afford medical care. That is a consequence of our for-profit healthcare system and a legacy of the Affordable Care Act. Before the pandemic, tens of thousands of Americans were dying each year as a result of not being able to pay for healthcare. I support Medicare for All, which would provide people with affordable and quality healthcare under a single-payer system. This would save our society hundreds of billions of dollars annually while ensuring everyone can get the healthcare they need. I’m also in favor of canceling all medical debt.

4) What factors are fueling the country’s growing political polarization and how will you work to mend it?

Politicians in both parties have increasingly relied on culture war rhetoric to maintain voter loyalty, despite taking millions of dollars from corporations who couldn’t care less about issues like LGBTQ rights or religious freedom. Additionally, partisan gerrymandering has increasingly resulted in noncompetitive districts, denying voters the chance to support candidates from other parties. I support reforms like ranked-choice voting, proportional representation for legislatures, and public campaign financing. These improvements would take the pressure off voters not to “split the vote” and allow them to vote for candidates based on issues and policies and not party identity.

Rent, property taxes, and home sale prices have generally been rising over the past several years. What, if anything, should the federal government do to address this growing affordability crisis?

The federal government plays a dominant role in housing as it backs loans and mortgages, subsidizes development and construction, and provides grants to developers. This allows the federal government to institute rent control, which should be done. Public banking would allow working families to qualify for home loans based on their rental histories. Corporations, banks, and investment firms should be banned from purchasing single-family homes. Housing policy, like other areas of the economy, needs a reversal of the decades of bi-partisan support for corporations, banks and the wealthy at the expense of the working and middle classes. Our homeless epidemic, a massive moral failing, is the direct consequence of this choice to prioritize profit over people.

5) Do you believe the federal minimum wage should be increased? If, by how much? If not, why? 

I support a federal living wage that annually increases to match inflation and the rising cost of living, particularly housing costs. That would currently equal around $22 an hour. I fully support the right of workers to organize through unions for higher wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. Additionally, we need to incentivize employee ownership, cooperatives and workplace democracy.

6) What specific policies or programs do you endorse or would pursue to combat inflation?  Do you foresee the US heading into a larger economic recession and if so, what is the best way for Congress to address it?

Food and energy price increases are a result of climate change and war. Droughts, floods, and wildfires will continue to impact our economy, as will foreign wars, while our dependence on fossil fuels will keep us at the mercy of US and foreign oil companies. We need a Real Green New Deal to address these causes. 

Supply chain shortages, resulting from decades of infrastructure neglect, are another reason for inflation. Most significantly, however, the current inflation rate is driven by corporate greed and price gouging, not labor costs or productivity issues. Fed interest rate hikes, meant to cause unemployment and which will fully push us into a recession, are not the answer.

Economic inequality has devastated the working and middle classes. This has resulted from deliberate policies over decades meant to ensure those at the top not only remain at the top but see their wealth grow. Working families have been squeezed to the point that 60% of us now live paycheck to paycheck while a third of families can’t make ends meet, with that number rising to more than half of Black and Latino families. I’m  the only candidate in the race for US Senate calling for Medicare for All, rent control, public banking, universal public education from pre-K through university, including vocational and trade schools, and living wages adjusted annually for cost of living increases. These measures will substantially and fundamentally address economic inequality and establish healthcare, housing, education and jobs as human rights.

7) The US Supreme Court issued a ruling this summer overturning Roe v. Wade. Do you believe abortion should be a fundamental human right? If elected, would you support a federal ban on abortion? What role, if any, should Congress play in restricting or expanding access to abortion?

Abortion, like other reproductive rights, is healthcare, and healthcare is a human right. Abortion is ultimately the sole decision of a woman. Like all other forms of healthcare, abortion should be available through a universal single-payer healthcare system available to all people without cost at the point of service. Abortion should be available without conditions and judgment. We must ensure women and their families have all the resources they need for healthy and productive lives, and we must protect abortion seekers and providers from violence.

8) Please state three specific policies you support to address climate change.

Ban fossil fuel extraction techniques and infrastructure, such as fracking, offshore drilling, and oil and gas pipelines. Invest in green energy tech, industry, transportation, agriculture and infrastructure to decrease and end our dependence on fossil fuels. Support training programs to help workers in fields like mining and farming transition to high-paying jobs in sustainable energy and agriculture. These and other actions to mitigate the climate collapse and to assimilate to our changing world, particularly transforming and strengthening our economic and societal infrastructure, are key elements of the Green Party’s Green New Deal. 

9) What more, if anything, should Congress do to regulate firearms?

I carried rifles and pistols in combat. The American people have the right to use firearms for self-defense and hunting. Still, measures like background checks, proper training standards, and mandatory waiting periods need to be implemented so that these weapons don’t end up in the hands of people who plan to harm others. A thorough in-person licensing and training program should be a requirement for possessing a firearm, especially outside the home. These measures must be consistent across states. We must also work to dismantle the gun lobby, whose continued obstruction of common sense gun regulations puts us all in danger.

Prohibition and poverty are and have long been, the primary root causes of crime. End the decades-long, failed, counterproductive and shameful War on Drugs. We must address the deep state of poverty by ensuring all people are paid a living wage and have healthcare and access to free public education from pre-K through college (including trade/vocational programs.)

10) Are there any issues this questionnaire has not addressed that you would like to address?

Environment: I’ve lost track of the number of NC communities that can’t drink their water. The poisoning of our air, land and water by corporations backed and protected by Democrat and Republican politicians is a mass environmental catastrophe that has caused immense environmental harm, devastated wildlife and sickened and killed North Carolinians.

Immigration: My grandparents were immigrants. If any other nation were treating people at its border the way the US treats people at its southern border, we would decry it as a crime against humanity. The bipartisan Democrat and Republican border policies have not only been failures but are massive human rights violations. We must treat all people with dignity and address the systemic reasons why people leave their home countries.

This nation needs immigrants to grow and develop our economy. There is no reason we cannot achieve an immigration policy that treats people humanely, allows for a pathway to citizenship, and provides economic benefits to our society. It’s simply a question of choosing to do so rather than continuing decades of racist fearmongering for political gain.

Democracy: Voting should be expanded, strengthened and made more inclusive. We need to make voting more accessible and easier for individual voters and we must update and modernize our political process.

A Pew poll found that 70% of Americans support the need for more political parties. Voters should have more options. I support ranked choice voting, proportional representation, abolishing the electoral college, ending gerrymandering, establishing term limits and fighting continuously to get money out of politics.

This past summer, the North Carolina Green Party and my campaign had to go to federal court to participate in this election. This was necessary because of a well-funded legal campaign by the Democratic Party to keep the Green Party off the ballot. At all levels, the Green Party prevailed (multiple county boards of elections, NC State Boards of Elections, Wake County Superior Court, US District Court and US Federal Appeals Court); however, the effect on our ability to participate in elections and to represent voters who otherwise would not be represented was dramatically impacted. Voter suppression occurs in multiple forms by both of the major parties.

Reparations: I support Black and Indigenous-led efforts to provide reparations.

Joe Biden’s Red-Tinged Speech

W.J. Astore

President Joe Biden denounced “extreme MAGA ideology” at a recent speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I’ve been to Independence Hall, but never did I picture it like this, lit in a garish red light:

Readers here know I’m critical of Biden and Donald Trump. I don’t want either man to get a second term. And MAGA, as in make America great again, is a movement that has cult-like elements in the way it elevates Trump as some kind of leader/savior figure. Being critical of MAGA is one thing, but Biden’s speech had all the subtlety of the red-tinged image above.

Having watched too many episodes of “Star Trek,” what I think of here is Red Alert. But painting all Trump supporters with the same red brush only aggravates tension and division.

Sorry, I don’t see my MAGA neighbor as my enemy. He or she is a fellow American, probably one who’s frustrated with the system as it exists today and is seeking an alternative to politics as usual. The shameful thing is our country’s political duopoly, which offers only two choices, Biden or a Biden clone versus Trump or a Trump clone. Maybe the “enemy within” is the duopoly itself?

Biden’s speech was disheartening. The way to win people over is not to paint your rival in red. Give people hope. Give them meaningful reforms. A $15 federal minimum wage. Affordable health care. Higher education that doesn’t lead to huge personal debt. Environmental policies that preserve the earth and address climate change. An end to gargantuan military budgets and overseas wars. Heck, I’ll settle for potable drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan.

Railing against an “enemy” is easy. Sharing the fruits of America equitably among all Americans is the real challenge. Biden pushed a big red “easy” button that placed his followers on red alert against the MAGA foe, as if they weren’t our fellow Americans but a quasi-Klingon empire of aliens out to attack and conquer. It’s a move both wrong and wrongheaded. It’s also yet one more reminder that America needs new political parties and a new direction.

Vote for What You Believe In, Not for Crumbs

W.J. Astore

As a progressive-leaning person, I’m deeply disappointed by Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.  I’m an independent and have no allegiance to either party.  The Republican Party, dominated by Trump, is a non-starter for me.  The Democratic Party is corporate dominated, a party of the moneyed interests, so I have little interest in it at the national level.

The Progressive Caucus keeps praising Biden instead of pushing him, so they’re part of the problem.  The so-called Squad (AOC and company) never seem to use their combined power for anything meaningful.  A concerted minority can make a difference: look at the Tea Partiers.  But the Squad basically does as they’re told by Nancy Pelosi.

People tell me the Squad is small and their influence is limited by the mathematics of Congress.  But what Congressional hills have they chosen to hold fast and fight on, if any, to effect true change?  United, a squad of progressives could drive policy because Pelosi often needs their votes.  Yet they refuse to come together to drive change that might upset Pelosi/Biden, so how progressive are they, truly?

When you look at the specifics of Democratic actions, they (the actions) disappoint.  A climate change bill saluted and applauded by the oil and gas industry.  Changes in drug pricing that don’t take place until 2025, and only to a short list of drugs.  The complete abandonment of a government-option for health care.  Basically, the Democrats have kowtowed to lobbyists for fossil fuel, big pharma, and private health insurance companies.

In short: nothing has fundamentally changed, exactly what Biden promised to his big donors. He is what he’s always been: a conservative-leaning Democrat who serves the moneyed interests, who supports expanding police forces and prisons, and who believes the best way to promote peace is by supporting massive military budgets and overseas wars.

Even if there’s truth to my critique, my Democratic friends say, you must still vote blue no matter who, because the Republicans are so much worse.  Yet if we continue to vote for Democrats because they give us a few more crumbs than the alternative, all we’ll ever get is crumbs.

A colleague of mine, Matthew Hoh, is running for the Senate as a Green in North Carolina.  The Democratic Party there did everything it could, legal and less-than-legal, to block his access to the ballot.  It took a lawsuit and a federal judge to get his name added to the ballot.

Matthew Hoh, candidate for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina

Matt Hoh is a former Marine and State Department guy who resigned publicly to protest the Afghan War.  He has strong progressive principles and unassailable integrity and supports policies most Americans would loudly applaud.  Again, the Democrats did everything they could to block him from the ballot.

Some people say that a vote for Matt Hoh and third-party candidates like him is a vote for Trump and the Republicans.  For me, that’s total BS.  Candidates like Matt Hoh help us.  They drive an agenda that’s truly for workers, that’s truly for change.  If nothing else, they force corporate-tool Democrats to turn slightly leftward rather than always toward the right.

Perhaps you know the saying about Democrats: fake left, run right.  They fake left in the primary, exciting the “liberal” base, then they run right in the main election and, if they win, they then rule and legislate from the right as well.  The mainstream corporate press terms this “sensible” and “moderate.”

We need more principled leaders like Matt Hoh to drive real change.  If they “help” Trump and the Republicans by “stealing” votes, that’s not their fault: it’s the fault of the Democrats who are reluctant to be seen as truly liberal or progressive and who are basically tools of the moneyed interests.  

If Matt Hoh wins lots of votes in North Carolina (and I hope he does), all credit to the voters for seeing him as he is and for voting for what they believe in.  Indeed, instead of people insisting that Matt Hoh should drop out to help the mainstream Democrat, it’s the mainstream Democrat who should drop out to help Matt Hoh.

I do my best to vote for what I believe in.  Which is why I won’t be voting for Trump, or DeSantis, or Biden (or Harris or Mayor Pete or whomever) in 2024.  I’ll be voting for candidates who in their words and deeds promise us something more than crumbs. Leaders like Matt Hoh.

Liz Cheney Loses

W.J. Astore

The big news in U.S. politics today is Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, losing her House seat to a Trump-backed challenger.

Liz Cheney has recently built a reputation as the “sensible” Republican, calling on other Republicans to reject Trumpism, alternative facts, fake news, and all the rest of Trump’s baggage. She was an outspoken critic of Trump’s role in the January 6th Capitol riots. She broke from the Trump cult and was punished for it.

Liz Cheney concedes defeat

Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is indeed strong, but I don’t see him as a cult-like leader. I think many of Trump’s followers are with him because of the lack of viable alternatives. Trump’s strength, in other words, is the weakness of his competitors, including Republican has-been challengers like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but especially of Democrats like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Nancy Pelosi.

There’s been much hype in the mainstream media about Joe Biden having finally found his groove, with legislation being passed that is supposed to address climate change, to lower prescription drug prices, and to make health care more affordable. But when you look closely at what Biden has signed into law, the benefits largely disappear. Provisions to address climate change include massive handouts to the fossil fuel industry. New regulations to lower drug prices won’t come into effect until 2025 at the earliest, and only for a small number of drugs. (The cost of insulin will remain high for anyone not on Medicare, i.e. anyone under 65 without excellent health insurance.) Subsidies for health insurance are available but drive people into the “marketplace” where they can buy private for-profit health care plans that include high co-pays and deductibles.

In short, the Democrats, the main opposition to Trump, are up to their usual tricks, promising to make things better for the working classes while doing the bidding of their owners and donors. It’s Democratic actions and inaction, more so than the wonders of Trump’s personality, that drive so many people to look to Trump as a viable alternative.

The Democrats could win back many of Trump’s supporters if they simply kept their campaign promises. Those included, among others, a $15 federal minimum wage, significant student debt relief, a public option for health care, and family-friendly benefits for child care, family leave, education, and the like. They simply haven’t done it, and won’t do it, because the quest for corporate money and donors continues to drive policy.

So the Democratic playbook for this fall is the same as it’s been for years: scare the people into voting against “crazy” Republicans. Indeed, the Democratic establishment has actively funded more extreme right-wing candidates, boosting their chances in primaries against more moderate Republicans, because the Democrats assume they’ll have a better chance defeating the “crazy” right-wingers in November. One might ask Hillary Clinton how that worked out for her campaign in 2016 as she boosted Donald Trump against candidates like Jeb Bush, knowing in her heart that Trump would be far easier to defeat. What happened there, Hillary?

Trump, of course, has always been a sly con man. In a sense, he isn’t a hypocrite. What you see is what you get with Trump. With the Democrats, what you see is not what you get. We keep being told that Biden is accomplishing great things, that he’s channeling FDR (!), when it’s obvious he is what he’s always been: a centrist law-and-order Democrat who’s loyally served Wall Street, Big Pharma, and similar big money and corporate interests for virtually his entire 50-year career.

Those Americans who choose to follow Trump, in short, are not a bunch of irredeemable deplorables, they’re not gullible cultists, they’re not bigots, racists, and white supremacists. Not in the main. They’re Americans looking for answers, caught in a vise, being squeezed by the uncaring powers around them, including their own government, and including politicians like Liz Cheney.

Liz Cheney’s father didn’t prevent the 9/11 attacks. He got America involved in two disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that killed and wounded tens of thousands of U.S. troops and hundreds of thousands of Afghan and Iraqi people. He was a director of America’s military-industrial complex that harmed so many of the sons and daughters of parents who became Trump supporters because they were tired of endless wars that served no one but the friends of Cheney. And Liz Cheney used her father in campaign ads that touted her as a patriot against the corruption of Trump.

That obviously didn’t sit well with the people of Wyoming.

There’s an increasing sense of desperation in America, a growing sense that things are getting worse, that we’re headed for Dickensian times of hardship and exploitation. And Democratic “solutions” aren’t even half measures. Nor was signing up Liz Cheney as an ally to rail against Trump and his MAGA followers.

The answer — and we’ve heard it before — is hope and change. Real hope and real change. We had a candidate and a movement in 2008 who seemed to embody true change, but as soon as he won the presidency, he disbanded his movement, kowtowed to Wall Street, and passed a Republican health care bill that ironically became known as Obamacare. After that record, you can see why so many Americans decided they “won’t get fooled again,” and why more than a few Obama supporters switched to Trump in 2016.

What’s the answer? One thing is certain. It’s not “centrists” like Liz Cheney — or Joe Biden. The voters have spoken.