Bernie Sanders

Don Pesci: The rhetorical career of Bernie Sanders, socialist

Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders

It is no longer true, as your mother may once have told you, that you are judged by the company you keep. Former President Barack Obama had a few diamonds in the rough on his friends list. There were the Chicago terrorist bombers Bill Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, now an American elementary education theorist, and his wife Bernadine Dohrn, responsible for bombings of the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and several police stations in New York, as well as the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion that killed three of its members. Dohrn left a position in 2013 as “Clinical Associate Professor of Law" at the Northwestern University School of Law.

Far from being a repentant sinner, Ayres told The New York Times in 2001 "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." Ayers and Obama served together on the board of directors for the Woods Fund of Chicago, their terms overlapping for three years, and Ayres is credited with helping to jump-start Obama’s political career. In 1995, Alice Palmer introduced Obama as her chosen successor in the Illinois State Senate at a gathering held in the Ayers home.

Obama also attended for 20 years the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Chicago church where, apparently, he snoozed through sermons such as "Confusing God and Government" in which Wright dammed America. Wright officiated at the wedding ceremony of Barack and Michelle Obama and baptized their children. The title of Obama's 2006 memoir, The Audacity of Hope, was inspired by a Wright sermon.

Wright claimed his offending message had been taken out of context, to which Salon editor-in-chief Joan Walsh responded: "the whole idea that Wright has been attacked over 'sound bites,' and if Americans saw his entire sermons, in context, they'd feel differently, now seems ludicrous. The long clips [Bill] Moyers played only confirm what was broadcast in the snippets… My conclusion Friday night was bolstered by new tapes of Wright that came out this weekend, including one that captures him saying the Iraq war is 'the same thing al-Qaida is doing under a different color flag,' and a much longer excerpt from the 'God damn America' sermon that denounces 'Condoskeezer Rice ...”

Obama’s past associations certainly presented no bar to his accession to the presidency.

It is doubtful that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unsavory past and present associations will figure negatively in his own presidential bid. Assuming that Sanders wins the Democrat primary campaign and goes toe to toe with President Trump in a general election, he may find it difficult to grouse, after losing, that Russian spooks spiked his campaign because they preferred Trump to Sanders, the Hillary Clinton gambit.

Sanders, after all, spent his honeymoon in Russia in 1988 during the bad old days of Soviet Imperialism where, under the influence of vodka, he belted out Woody Guthrie’s ancient anthem “This Land Is Your Land.” Then too, Sanders is a socialist anti-capitalist dragon, belching fire out of his snout every half hour. One year after his Moscow honeymoon, Sanders visited Cuba, and his praise of Castro – a puff adder who was smoking gays and persecuting black Cubans at the time, not to mention the petite bourgeois small “d” democrats littering Castro’s jails -- was effusive.

Sanders, who was a congressman and the mayor of Burlington, Vt., before being elected to the Senate, did pause in his praise to note Cuba’s “enormous deficiencies” in human rights. How could he help but notice? In the United States, freedom-loving radicals like Sanders, longing to bow before the socialist shrine, bit their smothering tongues, but most of them were not shameless enough to throw bouquets at the feet of men like gods. Sanders declared he never saw a hungry child or a homeless person while in Cuba, but he did see a revolution “that is far deeper and more profound than I understood it to be.” One can hardly expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to disagree with Sanders’ pro-socialist leanings.

Senior adviser to Sanders presidential campaign Heather Gautney is convinced that “Today’s neoliberal capitalist system has become utterly incompatible with the requisites of democratic freedom.” High unemployment, Gautny said on an Iranian TV show, is a blessing because it gives people more down time to engage in protest movements. And Sanders speech writer David Sirota wrote glowingly about “Hugo Chavez’s Economic Miracle” in 2013, just as food shortages were “beginning to surface in Caracas and the countryside,” according to a piece in the Washington Times.

As a young man, Sanders should have been studying Churchill – “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy,” a near perfect description of the last ten stump-speeches of Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. But Sanders’ ideological antennae were tuned to the Soviet Union, where he spent his honeymoon. The embrace of the indefensible is fatal in the long run, but in the short run, it is an indispensable element in the rise of autocrats. And in the long run, people who have lost an animating, democratic virtue long only to sleep under the warm, benevolent smile of a dictator.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.

Don Pesci: Where Bernie Sanders's utopian dreams would end up

New Harmony   , a utopian project in Harmony Township, Ind., as envisioned by    Robert Owen   . (1771-1858).

New Harmony, a utopian project in Harmony Township, Ind., as envisioned by Robert Owen. (1771-1858).

Empty shelves in a supermarket in Venezuela, which is led by socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro.

Empty shelves in a supermarket in Venezuela, which is led by socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro.

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever”

 – George Orwell.

CBS News has announced that the "Medicare for All" bill of Vermont’s socialist senator, Bernie Sanders, would, according to Sanders himself, "get rid of insurance companies and drug companies making billions of dollars in profit every single year." The bill is a universal health care, one size fits all, tax financed, proposal. Connecticut's U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, CTMirror reportswas one of 14 co-sponsors of Sanders’s bill.

“In my view,” Sanders said of his bill, “the current debate over 'Medicare for All' really has nothing to do with health care. It’s all about greed and profiteering. It is about whether we maintain a dysfunctional system which allows the top five health insurance companies to make over $20 billion in profits last year.”

But, of course, the Sanders bill has everything to do with health care. If adopted into law, it would effectively abolish insurance companies. Sanders himself has said that his "Medicare for All" scheme would "get rid of insurance companies and drug companies making billions of dollars in profit every single year.”

Reducing the insurance industry to rubble in an effort to curb profits that Sanders considers obscene is a bit like burning down the house to rid the living room of a mouse, or cutting off your nose to spite the fly on it.
For the thoroughgoing socialist however, all profits, exorbitant or not, are obscene.

The two socialist autocrats in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro, nationalized profits and, a few years after socialist hero Chavez had assumed room temperature, toilet paper in Venezuela disappeared, as did food and medicine. Disappearing products and services in perfected socialist states are replaced with armed soldiers, a disarmed populace, brown shirts and fists, not to mention draconian punishments for anyone who presumes to question an omnipotent and omnipresent state.  

Sanders is a socialist by trade and inclination, and socialists abhor company profits, without which industries could not stay in business. Adolf Hitler, a white national socialist, solved the profit problem by incorporating businesses into his fascist program. Like communism, fascism is a perfection of the socialist idea. Both Hitler and Mussolini were socialists before they settled comfortably into fascism. Mussolini perfectly defined the fascist credo in the following terms: “Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing above the state.”

He might easily have been describing Stalin’s Russia, or Maduro’s Venezuela, or the future utopia of Bernie Sanders. Mussolini certainly was not describing the average conservative/libertarian view of the proper role of government, which is to pursue policies that promote the general welfare – not the same thing as imprisoning the general populace in welfare penitentiaries.

The perfecting of Sanders’ s socialist scheme necessitates a hostile takeover of the insurance industry by the socialist administrative state. But this is only the beginning. If insurance profits are verboten to committed socialists, why should the energy industry, also profitable, survive the attentions of Sanders/Blumenthal, or the real estate industry, Blumenthal’s own golden goose? Indeed, why not nationalize every profitable industry?

It might be useful to attempt an understanding of why Blumenthal, a Greenwich millionaire many times over, supports a scheme of government that will run insurance companies out of Connecticut and the nation.
Theories abound. One holds that Blumenthal has never had a handle on how the private marketplace really works.

After marrying the daughter of a New York real-estate mogul – Blumenthal’s in-laws own the Empire State Building, in addition to other prime holdings – the Harvard/Yale graduate went directly into Connecticut politics. As attorney general of the state for two decades, Blumenthal used businesses as a foil to ingratiate himself with the voting public and a fawning state media, both equally indispensable to his acquisition of political position and power. Blumenthal is now schmoozing with Sanders, so the theory goes, to further his own political ambitions. Even Bill and Hillary Clinton, long-time friends of Blumenthal, had great difficulty keeping down Sanders’s elixir.

The second theory goes like this: The National Democrat Party is playing with the economic DNA of the United States – only for political (read: campaign) reasons. Seizing the profits generated by a still relatively free marketplace in the United States, encumbering it with unsupportable taxes and regulations, may not advance the general good, but it certainly helps to improve the lot of political destructors-elect. Socialist Maduros of the world live in opulent splendor, while the people who struggle under Maduro’s socialist rule in Venezuela, once a pearl of Latin America, are forced to search through garbage bins for their lunch.
In Blumenthal’s case, both theories may be true -- not that truth has anything to do with the daily operations of political shysters.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist. Editor’s note: George Orwell was a democratic socialist.

Josh Hoxie: Past time for a sociopathic generation to leave the political scene

Baby Boomers watching TV in the late '50s.

Baby Boomers watching TV in the late '50s.



Historians won’t look fondly on 2017.

The news cycle was dominated by sexual assault, widespread anxiety, the unedited musings of a mentally unstable president, rising economic inequality, and an opioid epidemic. And in case you forgot, the planet is still on track to boil.

In short, things were bad.

This year, it’s time to transition from despair to action.

We saw the beginnings of this transition as hundreds of political newcomers came out of the woodwork to run for state and local office last year. And thousands more started the process to run in 2018 and beyond.

Democracy isn’t a spectator sport, and it’s good to see a younger generation more politically engaged than their parents. Unfortunately, the younger folks will have many messes to clean up left by their elders.

Bruce Cannon Gibney goes so far as to depict Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, as sociopaths in his book, A Generation of Sociopaths: How The Baby Boomers Betrayed America.

Not all of them, of course.

Gibney limits his analysis to mostly white, native-born, powerful Baby Boomers — the ones in position to make decisions on behalf of everyone else. At each critical juncture, Gibney argues, these Boomers looked after themselves at the expense of everyone else.

Thanks. For. Nothing.

We saw this play out most recently in the tax cut package just passed by Congress. Regardless of the bluster coming from the White House, this bill was nothing more than a wealth grab by the already ultra-wealthy. Over 80 percent of the tax cuts go to the top 1 percent.

Poll after poll showed the majority of Americans understood this. Yet congressional Republicans chose to work on behalf of their donors instead of their constituents.

We see this playing out again as they threaten the Medicare and Social Security of future beneficiaries. That’s millennials they’re targeting, not Baby Boomers. That’s not a coincidence.

In case you couldn’t tell by the abundance of wrinkles and white hair on C-Span, the people making the decisions in Washington are not young. The average age in the Senate is 61, eight years older than 1981. More than a quarter are over 70. The last four presidents have all been Baby Boomers. They oversaw the greatest expansion in economic inequality in modern history.

Young people are inheriting an economy in which it’s all together common to start adulthood tens of thousands of dollars in debt, thanks to a higher education system rooted in exploitation. Meanwhile wages are generally stagnant, and the federal minimum wage falls below the cost of living of every major city in the country.

Young people are rightfully outraged at this inequality and are ready to take bold action to address it. Or, as legendary Republican pollster Frank Luntz put it, millennials are “terrifyingly liberal.”

Naturally, age isn’t everything. Paul Ryan, born after the Baby Boomers, wants to completely destroy the social-safety net. Bernie Sanders, technically too old to be considered a Boomer, might be the biggest advocate for young people in Washington.

Bernie also has massive support among youths. More Millennials cast a ballot for him in the 2016 presidential primary than both Clinton and Trump combined. Unfortunately, Sanders is the exception, not the rule, among his cohort in Washington.

Young people are ready, willing, and able to take a leadership role in healing our deeply broken society and environment. It’s time for the “olds” in Washington — either of age or of ideology — to make way for the rising generation.

Josh Hoxie directs the Project on Taxation and Opportunity at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Looking for indigenous affirmation

N ative American tribes in southern New England as of about 1600.     -- Map by Nikater, adapted to English by  Hydrargyrum

Native American tribes in southern New England as of about 1600.

 -- Map by Nikater, adapted to English by Hydrargyrum

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in

There was  a brief uproar last week when Donald Trump, speaking at a ceremony at the White House to honor Navajo “code talkers,’’ who were very helpful in the U.S. military in World War II, made a joke about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s claim to have some  Native American ancestry. He yet again called her “Pocahontas.’’ Like most of this con man’s jokes, it was stupid and nasty.  Still,  I, too, doubt if the Massachusetts senator has any Native American blood, though she has suggested she does. How about having your DNA tested, senator? That would clear this up.

(Some of my relatives have insisted that we have Cape Cod Wampanoag blood. Another romantic family myth. Or looking for some casino money….)

More troubling was that on the wall behind Trump and the honorees was a big portrait of the horrible President Andrew Jackson, the thug who helped force thousands of Indians from their homelands in the Southeast to west of the Mississippi. Many thousands died on this “Trail of Tears.’’

Trump has frequently expressed his admiration for Jackson, and indeed had that portrait hung there.


Speaking of Warren, I wonder if the Democrats will be crazy enough to nominate her or Bernie Sanders for president in 2020. The Dems should be in a strong position to win back the White House in three years because of Trump’s corruption and incompetence and what’s likely to be a recession in the next couple of years. But the stridency of Sanders and Warren is unlikely to be a big hit in the next campaign. And they’d both be too old. By that point, I think, Americans will be looking for a calm and only slightly left-of-center leader, preferably someone who had been a successful governor. (But watch Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand, of New York....)

Or it may be a name  that few Americans would recognize now.



Chuck Collins: Best wishes to the most indebted class


Congratulations, college graduates! As you enter the next phase of life, you and your parents should be proud of your achievements.

But, I’m sorry to say, they’ve come at a price: The system is trying to squeeze you harder than any previous generation.

Many Baby Boomers, perhaps including your parents, benefited from a time when higher education was seen as a shared social responsibility. Between 1945 and 1975, tens of millions of them graduated from college with little or no debt.

But now, tens of millions of you are graduating with astounding levels of debt.

This year, seven in 10 graduating seniors borrowed for their educations. Their average debt is now over $37,000 — the highest figure for any class ever.

Already, some 43 percent of borrowers — together owing $200 billion — have either stopped making payments or are behind on their student loans. Millions are in default.

This debt casts a long shadow on the finances of graduates. During the last quarter of 2015 alone, the Education Department moved to garnish $176 million in wages.

There’s no economic benefit to this system whatsoever. Indebted students delay starting families and buying houses, experience compounding economic distress, and are less inclined to take entrepreneurial risks.

One driver of the change from your parents’ generation has been tax cuts for the wealthy, which have led to cuts in higher education budgets. Forty-seven states now spend less per student on higher education than they did before the 2008 economic recession.

In effect, we’re shifting tax obligations away from multi-millionaires and onto states and middle-income taxpayers. And that’s led colleges to rely on higher tuition costs and fees.

In 2005, for instance, Congress stopped sharing revenue from the estate tax — a levy on inherited wealth exclusively paid by multimillion-dollar estates — with the states. Most state legislatures failed to replace it at the state level, costing them billions in revenue over the last decade.

In fact, the 32 states that let their estate taxes expire are foregoing between $3 to $6 billion a year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. The resulting tax benefits have gone entirely to multi-millionaires and billionaires — and contributed to tuition increases.

For example, California used to raise almost $1 billion a year in revenue from its state-level estate tax. Now that figure is down to zero. And since 2008, average tuition has increased over $3,500 at four-year public colleges and universities in the state.

Florida, meanwhile, lost $700 million a year — and raised tuition nearly $2,500. Michigan lost $155 million a year and hiked average tuition $2,200.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Washington State went the opposite route.

Washington taxes big estates and dedicates the $150 million it raises each year to an education legacy trust account, which supports K-12 education and the state’s community college system. Other states should follow this model, and students and parents should take the lead in demanding it.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said at a Philadelphia town hall meeting that there’s one thing he’s 100 percent certain about.

If millions of young people stood up and said they’re “sick and tired of leaving college $30,000, $50,000, $70,000 in debt, that they want public colleges and universities tuition-free,” he predicted, “that is exactly what would happen.”

Sanders is right: Imagine a political movement made up of the 40 million households that currently hold $1.2 trillion in debt.

If we stood up and pressed for policies to eliminate millionaire tax breaks and dedicate the revenue to debt-free education, it would change the face of America.

Graduates, let’s get to work.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

Llewellyn Smith: Hedrick Smith a torchbearer for beaten-down middle class


The middle class has been taking a shellacking for years. It began in the 1970s, when the business and political elites separated from the people and it has been accelerating ever since, according to Hedrick Smith, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and editor, an Emmy award-winning PBS producer and correspondent, and a bestselling author. In short, an establishment figure.

Add to Smith’s establishment credentials schooling at Choate, the private boarding school, a stint at Oxford, and you have the picture of someone with the credentials to join the elite of his choosing. Instead Smith is a one-man think tank, a persuasive voice against the manipulation of the public institutions, such as Congress, for money and power.

But Smith is not a polemicist. He uses the reporter's tools, honed over decades in Moscow and Washington and on big stories,  such as the civil-rights movement and the fall of the Soviet Union, to make his points against the assault on the middle class.

It all began with Smith's looking into what was happening to American manufacturing, which led to his explosive 2012 book, Who Stole the American Dream? Encouraged by the book's success, he created a Web site,, which now has a substantial following. In the past three years, he has lectured at over 50 universities and other platforms on his big issue: the abandonment of the middle class by corporate America and its corrupted political allies.

Smith documents the end of the implicit contract with workers, where they shared in corporate growth and stability. He outlines how money has vanquished the political voice of the middle class.

Instead, according to Smith, corporations have knelt before the false god of “shareholder value.” This has resulted in the flight of corporate headquarters to tax-friendlier climes, jobs to cheap labor, and a managerial elite indifferent to those who built the companies they manage.

In Smith’s well-researched world it is not only the corporations that have abandoned the workers, but the political establishment is also guilty, bowing to lobbyists and fixing elections through redistricting. Two big villains here: money in politics and gerrymandering electoral districts.

The result is a democracy in name only that serves the powerful and perpetuates the power of those who have stolen the system from the voters.

Smith cites the dismal situation in North Carolina, where districts have been drawn ostensibly to ensure black representation in Congress, but also to ensure Republican domination of all the surrounding districts. The two districts that illustrate the mischief are called “the Octopus” and “the Serpent” because of the way they are drawn to identify the voter preference of the inhabitants.

The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are testament to the broken system, says Smith. They are symbolic of the rising up of the middle class against the predations of the elites.

But Smith is hopeful because, he says, the states have taken up arms against the Washington and Wall Street elites. People should “look at the maps,” he says, “They will be surprised to find out that 25 states are engaged in a battle against partisan gerrymandering, or that 700 cities and communities plus 16 states are on record in favor of rolling back ‘Citizens United’ and restoring the power of Congress to regulate campaign funding.”

Smith sees the middle class reclaiming America: a great social revolution that again unites the government with governed, the creators of wealth with the managers of the wealth. Smith is no Man of La Mancha, tilting at windmills, but a torchbearer for a revolution that is underway and overdue.

“My thought is that more people would be emboldened to engage in grassroots civic action if they could just see what other people have already achieved,” he told me.

Smith’s Web site has drawn 82,000 visitors in the past year, and Facebook posts have reached 2.45 million, he says.

Smith cautioned me to write about the Web site and cause and not the man. But the man is unavoidable, and unique. He has as much energy as he had when I first met him in passing in a corridor at the National Press Club in Washington decades ago. At 82, Smith still plays tennis, skis, hikes, swims and dances with his wife, Susan, whom he describes as a “gorgeous dancer.”

At 6 feet 2 1/2 inches, Smith is an imposing figure at the lectern, but his delivery is gentle and collegiate: a reporter astounded and pleased with what he has found in the course of his investigation of the American body politic.

Llewellyn King is host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. He is a long-time publisher, columnist and internationalist business consultant. This piece first ran on Inside Sources.

Robert Whitcomb: Mr. Brooks finally discovers that the natives are restless


In an April 29 column by The New York Times’s David Brooks headlined “If Not Trump, What?’’ he writes that to understand Donald Trump’s GOP popularity (and by implication Bernie Sanders’s among Millennials):

“{I]t’s necessary to go out into the pain. I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable….’’

“….Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.’’

How little effort  much of the elite have made  to know the plus-90 percent of the nation who aren’t. You’d think that big-time journalists would try to talk more to “everyday Americans,’ at least for show. But media celebs such as Mr. Brooks are addicted to the money, privilege and ego-gratification that go with spending most of their time with the rich and/or powerful.  Meanwhile, many business/economics journalists have been fired to help maintain media outlets’ profit margins. So rigorous, data-driven coverage of socio-economic changes has declined in the media that American most look at in favor of, well, nonstop coverage of Mr. Trump’s latest insults. (I’m a former business editor.)

Mr. Brooks, et al., now seem to fear that massive social unrest is coming unless members ofthe “middle class’’ think that they will get a better deal.  (Of course, many low- and middle-income people could help their situations by, for example, avoiding having kids out of wedlock and other disorderly behavior linked to poverty. They could also vote.)

The nub of the problem:

Government data show that American economic productivity  in 1945 -1973 rose 96 percent and inflation-adjusted pay 94 percent; in 1973-2014 productivity grew 72.2 percent and inflation-adjusted pay 9.2 percent, with almost all of the growth in 1995-2002. 

This suggests that the folks owning and/or running companies have become  much less willing to share. At the same time, tax laws remain very skewed in favor of investment income over earned income. This keeps reinforcing a plutocracy based on inherited capital and privilege. The Sunday New York Times weddings section displays this crowd in all its glory.

Meanwhile, the elite’s  disinclination to share has slowed economic growth by constraining most Americans’ purchasing power.

The very rich have increasingly sequestered themselves from the poor and the middle class through, among other things, jet travel, globalization,  the Internet and gated communities. Thus they’re less likely to  see and be embarrassed by extreme divergences of wealth. Ever more large local enterprises are owned by far-away companies and/or individuals rather than by people in the communities where the companies operate. The local employees are mere numbers on a screen rather than people whom senior executives and major shareholders might awkwardly encounter on the street.

In some of the burgs where my family have lived over the past century, such as Brockton, Mass., when it was a shoe-making capital, and Duluth, Minn., an iron-ore and grain shipping port, my relatives  who were executives, factory managers and the like would encounter a wide range of the population daily, from rich to poor. Now, the descendants of these folks who have not yet drunk away the old money made in these places tend to spend six months and a day enjoying tax avoidance in Florida , and those who own and/or run largeenterprises with operations in places like Duluth and Brockton may never visit them at all.

Out of sight, out of mind.

But now there’s the glint of pitchforks in the sun. It’s too bad that the leading spokesmen for the new “populism’’ are con man Donald Trump (see: and a naïf like Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t understand the need to always encourage entrepreneurialism  to raise living standards.  As for the Clintons, all too often they act like establishment grifters.

Anyway, we need capitalism, but adjustments are long overdue.

Robert Whitcomb (, a former Providence Journal editorial page editor, a former International Herald Tribune finance editor and a former Wall Street Journal editor, oversees New England Diary and is a partner at Cambridge Management Group and president of Guard Dog Media, based in Boston.

Isaiah J. Poole: Give 'tax and spend' a chance


This time of year, a whole lot of Americans are feeling taxed enough already.

But the astonishing momentum of Bernie Sanders’s presidential candidacy reveals something else: Millions of taxpayers are willing to entertain the idea that some of us aren’t taxed enough, and that it’s hurting the rest of us.

Sanders has propelled his race against Hillary Clinton on a platform that would ramp up government investment — in infrastructure, education, health care, research and social services — while boosting taxes on the wealthiest Americans and big business to cover the cost.

Clinton’s own vision is less ambitious, but it’s also a far cry from “the era of big government is over” days of her husband’s administration.

The old conservative epithet against “tax-and-spend liberals” hasn’t completely lost its sting, says Jacob Hacker, a political-science professor at Yale University who pushed the idea of a public option for health insurance during the Affordable Care Act debate. But “we are moving toward the point where we can have an active discussion” about why “you need an activist government to secure prosperity.”

Hacker’s latest book, with Paul Pierson of the University of California at Berkeley, is American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.

Hacker and Pierson argue that it was “the strong thumb” of a largely progressive-oriented government, in tandem with “the nimble fingers of the market,” that created the broad prosperity of the post-World War II era. Conservative ideologues and corporate leaders then severed that partnership.

Anti-government activism replaced the virtuous cycle of shared prosperity that existed into the 1970s with a new cycle that’s reached its depths in today’s radical Republican-run Congress: Make government unworkable. Attack government as unworkable. Win over angry voters. Repeat.

But in today’s mad politics, growing numbers of voters seem to have gotten wise to the routine and how it’s been rigged against them. Some are gravitating toward Donald Trump, as Hacker puts it, out of “the need to put a strong man who you know is not with the program in Washington in charge.”

Sanders has the opposite vision. He’s looking to spark a people-powered reordering of what government can do, with the biggest wealth-holders paying the share of taxes that they did when America’s thriving middle class and thriving corporate sector were, together, the envy of the world.

That vision is embodied in "The People's Budget.'' a document produced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus as an alternative to the House Republican budget.

It’s based on the premise that America can break out of its slow-growth economic malaise through a $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan that would create more than 3 million jobs, increased spending on green-energy research and development, and universal access to quality education from preschool through college.

“There are two messages that come out of the progressive budget,” Hacker said. One is that “we can actually increase investment if we don’t cut taxes further on the wealthy.” The other is that “if we got tougher with the modern robber barons in the healthcare and finance and energy industries, we could actually achieve substantial savings without cutting necessary spending.”

Unfortunately, The People’s Budget won’t get close to a majority vote in Congress — and that’s if it gets a vote at all in the dysfunctional Republican House.

Yet together with the debate provoked by the Sanders campaign, Hacker says, it shows that now “we have a little bit more of an opening for the kind of conversation we should’ve had 20 or 30 years ago, when we were trashing government and abandoning all of these long-term investments that are essential to our prosperity.”

Isaiah J. Poole is the online communications director at Campaign for America’s Future ( 

Robert Whitcomb: The gig economy


I’m old and lucky enough that most of my working life took place when large U.S. enterprises usually made long-term commitments, albeit often rather vague, to their competent workers. If a recession hit, senior executives would grit their teeth and try to hang on to their employees.  Back when I was a business editor at The Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune and elsewhere, Fortune 500 senior executives’ commitment to their fellow employees often impressed me. Not much anymore!

There was something like two-way loyalty, and the top people often showed a certain sensitivity about public perceptions of their compensation.

Now the idea is to maximize short-term profit and stock price and thus senior execs’  and board members’ compensation above all else.  I have seen that in some sectors where managements that used to be satisfied with 15 percent profit margins raised them to over 30 percent. And CEOs now make  on average over 300 times the average pay of their employees, compared to 20 times in 1965!

Thus many companies  refuse to spend money on long-term investments, such as employee  training: While such outlays strengthen companies in the long haul, they cut into short-term net income. So train yourself – you may well be laid off next month anyway.

Then there’s the rise of the “gig economy,’’ in which “on-call’’ workers, “permatemp workers,’’ “independent contractors’’ and people employed  by such  contract firms as Manpower comprise an ever larger share of the workforce.

The Wall Street Journal reports that these days 17 percent of women and 15 percent of men have such “alternative employment.’’ Such jobs are up by more than half from 2005. (See ‘’’Gig’ Economy Spreads Broadly,’’ WSJ March 26-27).

These positions, with  their very unpredictable hours, pay lower wages than regular jobs and offer few if any fringe benefits.  They are spreading rapidly across more sectors, such as law and healthcare, pulled by computerization and globalization. They have long been particularly common in higher education,  which depends on low-paid adjunct teachers to offset the cost of almost-impossible-to-fire tenured professors, with  their high salaries and big benefits.

Employers obviously need flexibility to adjust their staffing levels. But when they reduce the ranks of their full-time employees beyond a certain point to keep short-term profit margins and senior executive pay sky high, they risk undermining the viability of their enterprises by destroying the institutional memory and employee morale and loyalty needed formost enterprises’ long-term success.

Short-termism usually triumphs. CEOs don’t expect to have their jobs very long; thus they want to accelerate their compensation.

Meanwhile, the economy as a whole tends to stay in a low-growth pattern as the purchasing power of most people shrinks and national wealth is increasingly concentrated in a tiny group whose members can perpetuate their (and their children’s)  power with the aid of cash (and later, lobbying and other jobs) for politicians in return for favorable policies.

We’ll see a revival of private-sector unionization as more workers see that as the only way to obtain a modicum of economic security. We’ll also see an increasing number of economically insecure Americans following the siren song of such con men as Donald Trump and such presumably sincere but wrong-headed reformers as Bernie Sanders who don’t understand the need  to encourage the “animal spirits’’ of entrepreneurism; Mr. Sanders has never had a job in business. There are reasonably centrist policies that can make things better, such as adjustments in the tax code and labor regulations.

None of this is to say that “contingent’’ and/or freelance employment can’t work well for some people. I myself have enjoyed some of its flexibility as a partner in a couple of small businesses. But you can’t build a strong economy on it.


Post-Brussels, President Obama and some other sensitive souls continue to avoid saying “Islamic’’ before  “terrorism’’. They’re being intellectually dishonest. Islam (mostly its Sunni side) has big problems, the worst being that too many of its emotionally needyfollowers adhere to the 7th Century barbarism  and supremacism in some of its scripture. Islam needs a reformation.

Robert Whitcomb ( is a Providence-based editor and writer and overseer of this site.







Llewellyn King: America's great gale of 2016


If you accept that seminal means an event or moment after which things will never be the same again, then we are living through a seminal year.

In matters big and small, change is in the wind.

This wind has been blowing through presidential primary and caucus states and is defining the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not so much the leaders of this time of change, but rather the products.

The product is something hard to pin down, but it is there nonetheless — a sense that it is time to turn the page, to read the next chapter; a yearning for something fresh.

The Millennials, hunched over their cell phones, are looking for the future in their small screens. The rest of us are looking for it in new leaders, new lifestyles; and new thinking, sometimes about old ideas.

Societies go through periods when they feel the need to change up things. But they want a sped-up evolution rather than a full-fledged revolution. This is such a time.

Change is everywhere from the bold, new things television is doing — frontal nudity, gay coupling and interracial love — to the kind of car we favor.

While we grapple with change and yearn for the new, we are surprisingly open-minded. American values appear to be undergoing a recalibration: We are getting more socially tolerant. Social conservatives are a diminished force.

Young people do not have the same commitment  that their parents had to conventional employment, to be defined by where they work. This leads to a world where people are less concerned with appearances, and all that goes with appearances. The business suit and its essential accoutrement, the necktie, are on the way out – and in much of the country, they are now curiously out of date. Apartments are being favored over houses because of new social values.

My generation experienced the hopeful 1940s (just the tail end), the smug 1950s, the turbulent 1960s, the oil-shocked 1970s, and the computer-excited 1980s, which continued unabated until the dot-com bubble burst at the turn of the century – but re-inflated with new developments in Internet products like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

In recent times, the only new American billionaire outside of the Internet was Hamdi Ulukaya, who popularized Greek yogurt in country hungry for yogurt choices. That is a dumbfounding fact. It means that it will be harder to get investment in old-line businesses and start-ups. The smart money has become myopically obsessed with the cyberworld.

If you were to go to Wall Street today to raise money for a new nuclear reactor that put all doubts of the past to rest and offered income for 100 years — there are such machines on the drawing board – you would find it hard to raise money; easier for a new Internet messaging system. This when there is no shortage of Internet messages (too many, I cry each morning). We are leery of the hard and enamored of the soft.

We sense that the education system is not doing its job; that it is broken and needs fixing. But how, we are not sure. We are sure, though, that we are going to change it.

We sense that we had the dynamic wrong in foreign affairs; that change at home, like toppling a generation of political leadership, is desirable, while toppling leaders abroad is a fraught undertaking, as with Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad.

We feel less good about the wealthy, and we are less sure that there are secure places for us in the future. We watch cooking shows and order in pizza. We gave up smoking and started jogging. But we are, so to speak, deaf to the damage we are doing to our ears with incessant music piped to them by earbuds.

We are more nationalistic and less confident at the same time. We treasure our values more, and wonder about their long-term durability.

The largest contradiction that can easily be inspected is in the themes of Trump and Sanders: Trump has rehabilitated a kind of racism aimed at immigrants, while Sanders has made the taboo word “socialism” acceptable in political dialogue.

The desire for change has moved from a slight wish to a hard desire for a new alignment. It is everywhere, from what we eat to how we feel about the climate. But we do not agree on this new alignment, hence the huge gulf between Sanders followers and Trump adherents. 

Llewellyn King is a long-time publisher, international business consultant and columnist (and friend of the overseer of New England Diary). This piece first ran inInsideSources.

Jill Richardson: Believe it or not, no candidate is perfect

Let me tell you something people don’t often say when arguing about presidential candidates on Facebook: No candidate is perfect.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth choosing to support one.

For example, you can support Bernie Sanders because you believe he’s the best all-around candidate, while simultaneously accepting that he tends to be clumsy when it comes to matters of race.

It’s also possible to support Hillary Clinton while noting that you dislike her vote in favor of the Iraq War, or are concerned about the millions of dollars her family’s foundation accepted from Saudi Arabia.

The same goes for Republican candidates. Each of those contenders comes with advantages and disadvantages.

In other words, whatever your leanings are, you need to weigh each candidate’s pros and cons. How well do their proposals match your values? Do you believe they have a shot at actually getting something done?

It’s a balancing act.

Hillary has more foreign policy experience than Bernie, although you might not consider that a good thing if you don’t like the decisions she made as a senator and secretary of state. Bernie doesn’t have a history of supporting pro-corporate economic policies like Hillary, and that’s a perk if you share his economic populism.

A ridiculous way to choose a candidate, by the way, is by selecting the one whose genitalia matches your own. And it’s an insult to women to suggest that any of us ought to, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright did when she said there’s a “special place in hell” for women who don’t support Hillary Clinton.

Even if you make your choice based on the issues, however, whomever you choose is still imperfect. In fact, it’s dishonest to claim that your preferred candidate is, by virtue of being the best person running in your eyes, without flaws.

And it’s dumb.

If you want what’s best for America, then it makes sense to pick the best candidate — and then push them to become even better.

On the flip side, it’s also foolish to abstain from supporting any candidate because no contender perfectly matches your views.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a good reminder of one of the most enduring legacies that any president can leave: Supreme Court justices. President Ronald Reagan appointed Scalia, who carried on Reagan’s values long after he left office.

Our next president will remain in office for up to eight years, but his or her Supreme Court nominees will probably shape our legal system for decades to come. No matter your feelings on the individual candidates, a win for your party in November could create an opportunity to nudge the Supreme Court in the direction of your choice for the next 20 or 30 years.

In other words, we should behave like rational, logical grownups as we select the next leader of our country. All candidates have their own flaws. Our job as citizens is to pick the best one and push them to become even better after we vote.

Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. 

Hilary Cosell: Sanders an egomaniacal spoiler


What is almost amusing about Bernie Sanders and his “revolution” is how
non-revolutionary he and his message are. He’s old school New Deal, he’s
Sixties revolution/protest, and he could be a character out of Clifford
Odet’s play Waiting for Lefty.

Sanders and Clinton are from basically the same era, the same formative
politics, the same up-against-the-wall, anti-establishment point of view.
But while Hillary Clinton’s graduation speech at Wellesley drew national
coverage, Bernie was – Where? Doing what? Apparently hanging out in
Vermont, starting up left-wing political parties that flamed out, eeking
out a living, and occupying not Wall Street or Main Street but his own head.

Meanwhile, Secretary Clinton went on to Yale Law School, worked for the
Senate Watergate Committee, went undercover in the South for civil rights,
worked for the Children’s Defense Fund…need one continue?

Since Sanders finally made it to the U.S. House and then the Senate, after a stretch as mayor of Burlington, Vt., what has he accomplished?

Almost nothing of note --- no important legislation enacted, no speeches on the floor of
Congress that made him a senator to “watch.” Clinton has been on the front
lines of the battle for health care, women’s rights, civil rights and so
much more -- and has won some battles --for as many decades as Sanders has been ineffective.


Even the description of him as anti-establishment could be amusing, except
that he takes this description, and himself, so seriously. So retro, so
Sixties, one can almost hear Bernie shouting through a bullhorn at a University of Chicago protest in 1965. God knows, many of us shouted and
protested a great deal back then.

How dispiriting to watch college kids seemingly innocent of history cheer
him on, and pundits rave about his “authenticity.” Where has he been all
these years?

Why now, Bernie? At age 74?  A one-termer, if  you win. What’s motivating
you, besides your one-issue, income-inequality obsession? Where's your head
at? What's your thing? You remember the McGovern debacle in 1972 as well as I do.
Do you want to repeat it?

You’re an authentic, ego-driven spoiler.

Go, Hillary. You’ve earned it.

Hilary Cosell is a Connecticut-based writer.

Llewellyn King: In search of the real Elizabeth Warren


I went to Boston last week in pursuit of the real Elizabeth Warren. You see, I don’t think that the whole story of Warren comes across on television, where she can seem overstated, too passionate about everyday things to be taken seriously.

Like others, I've wondered why the progressives are so enamored of the Massachusetts senator. Suffolk University (in Boston), mostly known for its authoritative polls, gave her platform as part of an ongoing series of public events in conjunction with The Boston Globe. But whether the dearest hopes of the progressives will be fulfilled, or whether the senior senator from Massachusetts has reached her political apogee is unclear.

What I did find is that Warren has star power. She is a natural at the podium, and revels in it. At least she did at Suffolk,  where the cognoscenti came out to roar their affirmation every time that she threw them some red meat, which she did often.

Here's a sampling:

On student loans: “The U.S. government is charging too much interest on student loans. It shouldn’t be making money on the backs of students.”

On the U.S. Senate: “It was rigged and is rigged [by lobbyists and money in politics]. The wind only blows in one direction in Washington ... to make sure that the rich have power and remain in power.”

Warren's questioner, Globe political reporter Joshua Miller, led her through the predictable obstacle course of whether she was angling to be the vice-presidential candidate if Joe Biden runs and becomes the Democratic nominee. She waffled this question, as one expected, admitting to long talks about policy with Biden and declaring herself prepared to talk policy with anyone. She said  the subject of the vice presidency might have come up.

Short answer, in my interpretation: She would join the ticket in a heartbeat. This is not only for reasons of ambition -- of which she has demonstrated plenty, from her odyssey through law schools, until she found a perch at Harvard as a full professor -- but also age.

Warren is 66  and although her demeanor and appearance are of a much younger woman, the math is awkward. There are those in the Democratic Party who say  that she needs a full term in the Senate to get some legislative experience and to fulfill the commitment of her first elected office. But eight years from now, she'll probably be judged as too old to run for president.

Clearly, Warren didn't fancy the punishment and probable futility of a run against Hillary Clinton. But the vice presidency might suit her extraordinarily well, given Biden’s age of 72.

Warren has stage presence; she fills a room. She is funny, notwithstanding that you can be too witty in nation politics, as with failed presidential aspirants Morris Udall and Bob Dole. She reminds me of those relentlessly upbeat mothers, who were always on-call to fix things in the children’s books of my youth.

Although Warren comes from a working-class background, years of success at the best schools has left her with patina of someone from the comfortable classes -- someone for whom things work out in life. She counters this by stressing the plight of the middle class, the decline in real wages and her passion for fast food and beer -- light beer, of course.

Warren's father was janitor in Oklahoma who suffered from heart disease and her mother worked for the Sears catalog. The young Elizabeth did her bit for the family income by waitressing.

However, it's hard to imagine her at home at a union fish fry. My feeling is  that she'd be more comfortable -- the life of the party, in fact -- at a yacht club.

Progressives yearn for Warren and she speaks to their issues: lack of Wall Street regulation, and federal medical-research dollars, and the need for gun control, student-loan reform, equal pay for equal work, and government contracting reform.

She is  a classic, untrammeled liberal who is less dour than Bernie Sanders, and less extreme. So it's no wonder that so  many  Democrats long for her to occupy the presidency or the vice presidency.

All in all, I'd like to go to a party where she is the host: the kind where they serve more than light beer.

Llewellyn King ( is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. 

Co-host and General Manager,

"White House Chronicle" on PBS