who helped make our 25th anniversary with Jeremy Scahill a success!
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"How Do We Build A Mass Movement to Reverse Runaway Inequality?" with Les Leopold, author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice,"May 22, 2016, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 860 11th Ave. (Between 58th and 59th), New York City. Between The Lines' Scott Harris and Richard Hill moderated this workshop. Listen to the audio/slideshows and more from this workshop.
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Listen to the full interview (30:33) with Jeremy Scahill, an award-winning investigative journalist with the Nation Magazine, correspondent for Democracy Now! and author of the bestselling book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," about America's outsourcing of its military. In an exclusive interview with Counterpoint's Scott Harris on Sept. 16, 2013, Scahill talks about his latest book, "Dirty Wars, The World is a Battlefield," also made into a documentary film under the same title, and was nominated Dec. 5, 2013 for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category.
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"For Natives, a "Day of Mourning"by Reginald Johnson, November 23, 2016
"A Bitter Harvest" by Reginald Johnson, Nov. 15, 2016
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[Editor's note: On Friday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gave an 8 1/2-hour speech on Obama's tax cut deal with the GOP to keep the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy]
Interview with Arshad Hasan, executive director of Democracy for America, conducted by Scott Harris
In the aftermath of the Democrats' loss of the House in November's midterm congressional election, the expiring Bush-era tax cuts was one of the main issues facing legislators in the lame duck session which closes out at the end of the year. Unemployment insurance is also about to expire for millions of out-of-work Americans. But, the Republicans' strategy was to hold extending support for the unemployed hostage and continuing middle-class tax cuts in return for getting President Obama to renege on his campaign pledge to end the Bush tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest citizens.
The GOP gambit worked, as Obama announced a deal with congressional Republicans on Dec. 6 that extended tax cuts to middle class, as well as for the top two percent of income earners for another two years. In return, the president received Republican support for a 13-month extension of jobless benefits; a two percent employee payroll tax cut and the continuation of other tax credits included in the president's stimulus legislation.
Obama's supporters maintained that this was the best deal that the White House could get without the votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. But progressive activists and some congressional Democrats voiced strong opposition to the deal, citing polls that suggested a majority of the country would have backed the president if he chose to stand and fight. There is also resistance to a part of the agreement that would set the estate tax top rate at 35 percent for estates over $5 million, the lowest since 1931. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Arshad Hasan, executive director of the group Democracy for America, founded by former presidential candidate Howard Dean in 2004. Hasan explains why his group vehemently opposes the Obama-GOP tax deal and the campaign now being organized to derail the White House concessions that many progressives view as the ultimate political surrender.
ARSHAD HASAN: Americans don't want a tax cut for the richest two percent. They do want the unemployment benefits to be extended. We're basically trading something that nobody wants for something that people don't want. I mean, we're not just giving away the farm, we're giving it away and getting crap in return for it. So, we should be passing unemployment benefits extension because that's what Americans want. We should not be passing the tax cuts, because that's not what Americans want.
Instead, Obama's doing making a deal with the Republicans to do exactly the opposite.
BETWEEN THE LINES:When this is discussed, it's often put in the context of if Obama doesn't cave in, the Republicans will hold everyone's tax cuts hostage. Thereby, this blackmail will result in people blaming the White House and Obama for not permitting a deal like is being discussed now to go through. Politically speaking, people surrounding the president and the president himself perceive this as a deal they have to make or they will suffer political consequences. How do you respond to that idea?
ARSHAD HASAN: Well, that doesn't make any sense. And I've seen that interpretation played about in some of the newspapers and online as I've been reading. But here's the thing. If the Republicans were really serious about a tax cut, they would have voted for the tax cut that was offered to them in the House. They were even given a choice in the House of Representatives. The Democrats did pass a tax cut, or an extension of these tax cuts, it just excluded the top $250,000 of income, which really, only 2 percent of Americans make anyway. Republicans have voted against that, in favor of this sort of gambit that they're playing, that they want to make the Democrats look bad.
But, the fact of the matter is that they had the opportunity to vote for a middle-class tax cut. They refused it, and instead, they're playing this game. It doesn't make sense because it is a fact that they had a chance to vote for this tax cut. It is a fact that Democrats did pass a middle tax cut. It wasn't good enough for them, so they're sort of holding it hostage. Really, if President Obama wanted to be a leader on this, he can start talking about the tax cut that the Democrats did pass, that Republicans did obstruct. Instead he is playing into the hands of Republicans, honestly, making it more difficult for Democrats to have a clear message on middle-class priorities.
BETWEEN THE LINES:Now, one the elements of the Republicans' argument for supporting tax cuts for the two percent wealthiest citizens is that they say that (if the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are not reinstated), it will hinder job creation. And of course, this hinges on the whole "trickle-down philosophy": give the rich enough money and they'll invest it in creating businesses and thereby, jobs. And certainly a lot of people are convinced by that argument because they're looking for something that will tamp down this nearly 10 percent unemployment rate.
ARSHAD HASAN: Well, that trickle-down economic theory hasn't really been proven right in the last three decades. Certainly not in this last decade. Remember that in the '90s, we had slightly higher taxes that we would default to if there's no tax cut passed. For the '90s. We had a great deal of economic prosperity. Not true, in these last few years when we've had these tax cuts. And here's one of the reasons why: Wealthy people, very wealthy people -- and I'm not talking about your successful neighbor down the street -- but very wealthy people, when they have extra money, they don't necessarily spend it all.
If you take a look at exactly the opposite -- which are unemployment benefits for people who are looking for jobs, they don't have obviously, a job, so they don't have a great deal of money. So the money they do get, they need to spend on necessities: food, clothing and so on, so that money will be spent. That money will go into the economy. Very wealthy people, when they get another two percent that they don't get taxed, there's no guarantee that they're spending that two percent on things which enrich the whole economy at large.
So, the entire theory of trickle-down economics doesn't really work in practice.
BETWEEN THE LINES:What's the game plan now for progressive activist groups like yours? Explain to us what people are mobilizing to do now in the face of this negotiation over the Bush tax cuts.
ARSHAD HASAN:So here's what's happening next. One thing that your listeners can definitely do is to call your senator. I think it's a good idea to call your senators, regardless of whether they're a Democrat or Republican. Now, you're not going to get as far with a Republican, but it's important to get those voices out there. Remember, Tea Partiers didn't just talk to Republicans, they made a lot of noise for the Republicans and Democrats. So it's important to call your senator. That's one thing that all of us can do. Whatever deal Barack Obama cuts with some of these Democratic leaders in the Senate, that's just one step. That's not the legislation itself. So the Senate then passes this deal. So they have to get through that.
Now Bernie Sanders, or any Democratic senator could decide to filibuster, which would be kind of a peculiar case right there. So, if Bernie Sanders decides to filibuster, then he's putting himself against not just Barack Obama, but also a number of people in the Senate Democratic leadership. He's going to need to get 40 Democrats to vote with him against the Republican and against what looks like to be some of the Democratic party leadership.
Now, we actually have another chance even after that. So, let's say that this deal passes the Senate, that our filibuster is unsuccessful. The problem with that is all tax and revenue bills have to originate in the House. Because this bill will be different than the one the House passed, the House would have to repass the compromise bill. That means it will have to go through Nancy Pelosi, and go through the House progressives who've been far more united on this issue, and they're the ones who have already passed the middle-class tax cut that excludes income over a quarter-million dollars. So really, there's a number of steps here, and I think we'll have couple more opportunities to really stop this. But I'd really rather see this stopped in the Senate, because they're not going to just let it go, let it pass the Senate without it already having cut some deals in the House. If we can stop it here, this is our best chance. If it passes in the House and Senate, obviously Barack Obama will sign it, and we'll have a lot more difficult time campaigning in the next two years.
Contact Democracy for America by calling 802-651-3200, or visit their website at democracyforamerica.com