A Populist Platform for 2016

Want a policy platform to suggest to a lawmaker, candidate or advocacy organization? Here is a one-page statement that reflects American values and includes economic policies that are all wildly popular:

A Populist Platform for 2016

For the past 30 years, our nation’s economic and political playing field has increasingly favored moneyed interests over the majority. As a result, the gap between the rich and the rest of America has never loomed so large. This is contrary to our fundamental American values.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

  • Government policies should benefit all the people, not primarily the wealthy or the special interests.
  • Our economy should offer opportunity for all, and make the American dream accessible to every family.
  • America works best when everyone gets a fair chance, everyone gives their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

Therefore, to put people back to work and get our economy back on track, we insist that America’s leaders side with the people on these basic economic issues:

1.     AGAINST further enriching the Wall Street banks; it is imperative to break the grip that Wall Street has held over national public policy.

2.     FOR holding accountable the bankers and brokers who have defrauded millions of Americans, wrecked the financial system, paid huge bonuses to themselves, and went unpunished.

3.     AGAINST cutting either Social Security or Medicare benefits for middle- and working-class families.

4.     FOR raising the taxes paid by millionaires and billionaires so that they can contribute their fair share of the costs of national security, educating our children, and protecting our citizens’ health and safety.

5.     AGAINST raising taxes on the middle class or small businesses that are struggling to weather the current economic storms.

6.     FOR closing tax loopholes that benefit rich special interests; for example, stop rewarding big corporations that ship jobs overseas and eliminate subsidies to the world’s biggest oil companies.

And finally…

7.     In complete SUPPORT of  vigorous efforts to create jobs by rebuilding roads, schools, and mass transit, and retaining teachers, firemen, police officers, and other first responders.

America is the strongest nation on Earth. We can do whatever it takes. We can build an economy that benefits all Americans. We can ensure that the American dream endures for the next generation. We can create an economic recovery based on the timeless American values of freedom, opportunity and security…for all.


Our goal is not to change beliefs, it is to change behavior:

In almost every jurisdiction, in order to win political battles, we must persuade at least some non-aligned or “swing” voters. We call them “persuadable voters.”

These Americans aren’t like you and me. They don’t pay much attention to public policy. They are neither staunch conservatives nor avowed liberals. They don’t often read the political news. They don’t even like to watch it on TV. In general, they’re the citizens who are least interested in politics. After all, if they paid attention, they would already have taken a side.

To political activists’ ears that may sound like an insult; it is not. The persuadables are normal people. Instead of focusing on the next Democratic presidential nominee, they are thinking about what to fix for dinner tonight, chores that need to be done next weekend, and how to pay for the kid’s braces next year. Just by reading this blog (or by writing it), we’re singling ourselves out as oddballs.

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Did Arne Duncan Just Surrender on Standardized Testing?

Days ago, the U.S. Department of Education announced a dramatic policy shift on standardized testing of public school students. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, echoed by President Obama, admitted that a Council of the Great City Schools study was right—there is too much reliance on standardized testing, hurting schoolchildren, teachers and administrators. The Education Department, therefore, published a Testing Action Plan which they claim will help states and school districts to roll back over-testing, at least to some extent.

This about-face is astonishing because Arne Duncan is substantially responsible for our schools’ overreliance on standardized tests. He made evaluating teachers by student test scores a condition of both federal Race to Top funding and his Department’s waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). And it was Duncan who forced states to add standardized tests in subjects like social studies, science, languages, and even physical education.

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What Can We Do About Guns?

In response to the massacre at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, President Obama said:

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America.  We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.

I assume the President was talking to the majority in the U.S. Congress because average citizens do not agree with the longstanding political choice of doing nothing. Americans favor—and have always favored—strong legislation to oversee and restrict gun ownership: 93 percent favor a background check for every gun sale; 76 percent favor registration of all guns; 77 percent favor licensing of all gun owners.

Among these policy solutions, recent evidence demonstrates that handgun licensing can dramatically reduce crime and save thousands of lives. The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that after Connecticut enacted a licensing law in 1995, gun-related homicides dropped 40 percent over the following decade. In contrast, five years after Missouri repealed its licensing law in 2007, there was a 25 percent increase in firearm homicides.

Gun licensing (especially if it includes a fingerprint background check) clearly saves lives and is overwhelmingly popular. It should be a top priority for gun policy advocates. And yet, we’re not even talking about it on the national level. Why?

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Pope Francis Suggests a Progressive Freedom of Religion

Last Saturday, Pope Francis delivered a homily at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Billed as an address on religious freedom, conservatives hoped and expected the Pope to praise their hard-line opposition to abortion, contraception and LGBT rights. Right wingers could not have been more disappointed.

There was not a sentence, not even a word, in the Pope’s speech that cannot be embraced by progressives. We all understand that Francis wants Catholics to follow church teachings in their daily lives. But the Pope never said that Catholics should impose their religious beliefs on non-Catholics. In fact, he said the opposite.

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What, if anything, is causing violent crime to increase?

Recently, the New York Times published a front page story headlined “Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities.” Much of the media have run similar reports, including USA Today, Reuters and Time.

First we must consider whether the storyline is entirely true. Both the Washington Post’s Wonkblog and FiveThirtyEight wrote analyses demonstrating that there is no uniform rise in violent crime across all or even most cities. According to data compiled by FiveThirtyEight, comparing similar periods in 2014 to 2015, homicides decreased or stayed the same in 23 of America’s 60 biggest cities.

Across all 60 of these cities, however, the number of homicides from January through mid-August increased from 2,963 in 2014 to 3,450 in 2015, a rise of 16 percent. And there have been undeniably significant increases in murder in Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Louisville, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Omaha, St. Louis, Tulsa and the District of Columbia.

It seems something awful is happening. Yet, we must cautiously qualify that statement. Since the late 1980s, murder, violent crime, and crime in general have all plummeted. The United States has become tremendously safer over the past 30 years—although no one really seems to know why.

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Common Core “results” aren’t actually test scores

A few states have now released results from the Common Core standardized tests administered to students last spring. The Associated Press recently published a story about it, and over the next couple of months we can expect a flood of press releases, news articles and opinion columns bragging about the “success” of these tests.

But nearly all the news and opinion pieces will be wildly misleading. That’s because Common Core “results” aren’t actually test scores. In fact, the numbers tell us more about the states’ test scorers than they do about schoolchildren.

Consider the AP story, for example. It says that, across seven states, "overall scores [were] higher than expected, though still below what many parents may be accustomed to seeing." But the only things that have been released are percentages of students who supposedly meet "proficiency" levels. Those are not test scores—certainly not what parents would understand as scores—they are entirely subjective measurements.

Here’s why. When a child takes a standardized test, his or her results are turned into a "raw score," that is, the actual number of questions answered correctly, or when an answer is worth more than one point, the actual number of points the child received. That is the only real objective “score,” and yet, Common Core raw scores have not been released.

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Time to kill the death penalty

In February 2015, Pennsylvania issued a moratorium on executions. In May, Nebraska became the 19th state, and the seventh state since 2007, to abolish the death penalty. And weeks ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, saying “…this state’s death penalty no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency and no longer serves any legitimate penological purpose.”

Nevertheless, states have executed 19 prisoners so far this year—15 of them killed by the states of Texas and Missouri alone. Texas, Missouri and Florida accounted for 28 of the 35 people executed in 2014. In contrast, 23 states and the federal government have not executed anyone for at least the past ten years.

There’s been quite a turnaround from the late 1980s and early 1990s when leaders opposed to the death penalty were afraid to speak out against it. At that time polls indicated that about 80 percent of Americans favored capital punishment while only 16 percent opposed it. The polls are better today, but, at least on the surface, Americans still favor the death penalty by a margin of two to one.

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Why is the generic conservative philosophy so popular?

First, let’s be clear: Americans like the concept of “conservative.” Nearly 40 percent of Americans—including nearly 20 percent of Democrats—identify themselves as conservative. And 62 percent of Americans—including 47 percent of Democrats—have a positive view of the word “conservative.”

Americans are also quite favorable to a generic description of “conservative.” A nationwide poll by Lake Research tested this description, based on a speech by Newt Gingrich:

We need to limit government and create space where private institutions, individual responsibility, and religious faith can flourish. That means less economic regulation and lower taxes, but it also means a return to traditional moral values, support for families, and protecting the sanctity of human life.

On a scale where ten means extremely convincing and zero means it is not convincing at all, Americans gave this statement a rating just below eight, with 39 percent rating this description a “ten.”

Even the Democratic base likes this conservative message—nearly 40 percent of them rank it a ten and only nine percent of Democrats give it a negative score.

A simpler way to describe the generic conservative philosophy is that is stands for “less government, lower taxes, free markets, strong military and family values.” Stated that way, hardly any persuadable voters oppose it.

Do you wonder why that message is so popular? There’s nothing wrong with it! Who wants a bigger or more expensive government than we need? Who opposes “free” markets (when understood as most Americans do)? Who can oppose a strong, effective national defense? Who is against morality?

It is not so surprising that these ideas are popular. What’s astonishing is that self-described "progressives" refuse to acknowledge it.


Worst state and local defeats so far this year

Our last blog listed some really great progressive victories in the states and localities so far this year. Now it’s time to face some grim music.

The fact is, state legislatures were more conservative in 2015 than they were in 2014, and far more conservative than they were in 2010. The 2010 and 2014 elections strengthened the right wing, and their leaders decided to take advantage of their new-found power.

Here are some particularly painful examples:

Guns—Progressives were pretty thoroughly out-gunned in state legislatures this year. Texas passed a law to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on college campuses and then legalized “open carry.” Kansas allowed residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit or any training. Wisconsin eliminated its long-standing 48 hour waiting period for purchasing guns and allowed off-duty and retired police to carry concealed weapons in public schools. Louisiana enacted legislation to allow the National Rifle Association’s “gun safety” program to be taught in elementary schools. Georgia allowed carrying of concealed weapons in government buildings. Mississippi directed that anyone can transport a loaded pistol without any permit if it’s in a purse, handbag, briefcase or satchel. Maine permitted residents aged 21 or older to carry a concealed weapons without any license. There’s more, but let’s turn to the good side of the issue: Oregon enacted a law requiring universal background checks covering nearly all gun transfers, the sixth state to do so over the past two years.

Discrimination against LGBT people—Despite the historic victory for marriage in the Supreme Court and fine victories in some legislatures, most state LGBT legislation enacted this year promotes discrimination. Yes, Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was watered down following nationwide protests, but the final version—like another law passed in Arkansas—still encourages individuals and businesses to discriminate. New legislation in Michigan allows taxpayer-funded “faith based” adoption agencies to refuse same-sex couples. The North Carolina legislature overrode the Governor’s veto to assure court officials that they can refuse to participate in same-sex marriages. Oklahoma, Texas and Utah enacted measures asserting that religious and nonprofit organizations can refuse services for same-sex marriages. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback rescinded rules that had protected state employees from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order asserting that companies, individuals and nonprofits can discriminate against same-sex married couples.

Privatization of public education—The worst education law this year is Nevada’s creation of the broadest school voucher scheme in the country, giving any student’s family about $5,000 toward private school tuition or even home schooling. Nevada also enacted a tuition tax credit bill that allows corporations to offset state taxes with donations to private school scholarship funds. Arizona passed a measure that will give all children living on Indian reservations access to private school vouchers. Montana’s legislature a bill, without the Governor’s signature, to provide tuition tax credits for donations to private education. And the Ohio budget increases the amounts of taxpayer dollars that voucher programs will pay to private schools.

Social services—Kansas enacted cruel limits on TANF recipients, reducing cash withdrawals and banning TANF funds for a long list of uses, including some absurd items like cruises, swimming pools and tattoos. The Missouri legislature overrode a governor’s veto to ratchet down the length of time that a family can have social services benefits and ramp up the requirements for low-income parents to get job training, do volunteer work or complete high school and vocational education. Similarly, Arizona, as part of their budget, reduced the lifetime limit for TANF recipients to the shortest window in the nation—twelve months.

“Right to Work” and Prevailing Wage—Wisconsin a so called “right-to-work” bill, making Wisconsin the 25th state with such a regressive law in place. (A “right-to-work bill passed by the Missouri legislature was killed with veto.) Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner launched an effort to create “right-to-work” zones that would let employees opt out of paying “fair share” fees, although the state Attorney General has said this plan is illegal. The Indiana Legislature repealed the state's 80-year-old prevailing wage law, becoming the first legislature to do so in 27 years. Nevada enacted a law suspending the state's prevailing wage rules on school construction projects. And West Virginia eliminated prevailing wage requirements for construction of public improvements.

Reproductive Rights—From January to June, states enacted no fewer than 51 abortion restrictions—some are being challenged in court. Kansas and Oklahoma became the first and second in the nation to ban the dilation and evacuation procedure that is used for most second-trimester abortions (legislation that is almost certainly unconstitutional). Arkansas and Arizona passed legislation that requires doctors to lie to their patients, telling them that they could potentially reverse the effects of a medication abortion, even though there is no scientific merit to that assertion. Oklahoma and North Carolina required a 72 hour waiting period before a woman could obtain an abortion, while Arkansas and Tennessee imposed 48 hour waiting periods. Arizona passed legislation that bars women on the federal health care exchange from receiving coverage for abortions and adds new reporting requirements for clinics that perform abortions. The West Virginia legislature overrode the governor’s veto to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.


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