In the most shocking primary upset in years, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was soundly defeated by Dave Brat, a political newcomer who was outspent 25-1 in a campaign that seemed to be motivated by Brat’s charges that Cantor was an out-of-touch Washington insider who was too soft on immigration reform.

The weekend before the election, Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, pounced on Cantor’s statement that he had told President Obama “there are some things we can work on together,” but Cantor added, “We can work on the border security bill together, we can work on something like the kids. So far, the president has just insisted that it’s all or nothing — my way or the highway. That’s not going to happen.”

To Brat, that sounded like support of “amnesty,” even though Cantor was one of the architects of the “Party of No” strategy that had denied Obama bipartisan policy agreements since the GOP took control of the House in 2011. Also, the immigration bill has gone nowhere and would have required immigrants to wait 13 years, pay a fine and go to the back of the line to qualify for citizenship.

Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (6/11) that immigration reform actually is very popular among the district’s voters. A Public Policy Polling survey done for Americans United for Change on primary night found that 72% of voters in Cantor’s district support the bipartisan immigration reform legislation on the table in Washington, while only 23% were opposed. And 84% said it’s important for the US to fix its immigration system this year, including 57% who say it’s very important. “Even among Republicans 58% say it’s ‘very’ important, suggesting that some of the backlash against Cantor could be for a lack of action on the issue,” said poll director Tom Jensen.

Jensen also noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham, who’s been far more moderate on immigration than Cantor, beat six no-name opponents to win renomination in his South Carolina Republican primary. But Cantor had only a 30% approval rating in his district, which is centered in suburban Richmond, with 63% of voters disapproving. Among GOP voters, Cantor’s approval was 43/49. “Cantor didn’t lose because of immigration. He lost because of the deep unpopularity of both himself personally and of the Republican House leadership,” Jensen wrote.

Brat spent spent about $200,000 on his campaign, while Cantor reportedly spent more than $5 mln. His pollster, McLaughlin & Associates, reportedly had Cantor ahead by 34 points two weeks before the election. McLaughlin told the National Journal there was unexpectedly high turnout, with 65,000 voters compared with 45,000 two years ago, last-minute Democratic meddling in the open primary, and stinging late attacks on amnesty and immigration.

Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a Virginia political consultant who managed Wayne Powell’s (D) challenge of Cantor in 2012, said on the Stephanie Miller radio show (6/11) that Cantor’s defeat had more to do with his arrogance, the Democratic crossover vote and Brat’s frequent talk about economic fairness. “The story of the election is the new age of economic populism and economic fairness,” he said. “[Cantor] is a champion of the greedy and that resonates, and that’s what people were talking about on the street.”

But Brat is a textbook libertarian, Saunders noted, and the morning after the election, Brat showed he might not be ready for prime time. Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd whether there should be a minimum wage, Brat — an economist — replied, “I don’t have a well-formed response.”

Charles B. Pierce noted at Esquire.com (6/11) that Brat’s background is shot through with conspicuous religiosity that should make him especially appealing to conservative organizations. National Review reported that Brat chairs the department of economics and business at Randolph-Macon College and heads its BB&T Moral Foundations of Capitalism program, whose funding came from John Allison, the former CEO of BB&T (a financial-services company that took Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout money in 2008) who now heads the Cato Institute. The two share an affinity for Ayn Rand: Allison is a major supporter of the Ayn Rand Institute, and Brat co-authored a paper titled “An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand,” which Pierce noted, “must have been food for a few laughs.” But Pierce added, “Professor Dave Brat has taught his first lesson. The worst possible thing any Republican politician can do — even a powerful politician, even a member of the congressional leadership — is to demonstrate, however faintly, that the national government should work at all.”

Pierce also noted that a lot of the credit for Brat’s upset is going (rightly) to various radio hosts who took payola from wingnut sugar daddies as described by Ken Vogel and MacKenzie Weinger at Politico (4/17). “Mark Levin took almost $800,000 from Americans For Prosperity. Laura Ingraham was on the arm, too,” Pierce wrote.

“In brief, Brat’s job, and the support he got from the Raving-Loon Industrial Complex, all was financed in some way or another by the same vast lagoon of plutocratic payola with which we’ve all become sadly familiar. This is not going to be prominent in the mainstream analysis of what happened.”

TEXAS REPUBLICANS ADOPT IMMIGRANT-BASHING PLATFORM. If Republicans hope to keep control of Texas, they must attract a respectable share of the Latino vote that is an increasingly large percentage of the state’s electorate. The state GOP convention struck a blow on that plan as delegates, dominated by xenophobic white supremacist teabaggers, discarded the much-ballyhooed, market-based “Texas Solution” guest worker economic plan that the party’s business-minded conservatives proposed two years ago. Instead, the teabaggers recommended that America follow a policy based on restricting and punishing Texas’ 1-mln plus undocumented immigrant workers and their employers and industries.

“Along the way, Republicans also gave Texas Democrats exactly what they wanted for the fall: a rival party that wants to turn employers and law officers into federal snitches, lock up many Hispanic voters’ parents and relatives, and deny Texas-schooled children the same college tuition rates as their classmates,” Bud Kennedy noted in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (6/7).

A 2005 study by the Texas comptroller’s office estimated that illegal workers and employers generated $17.7 bln yearly in economic development.

Lt. gov. candidate and border hawk Dan Patrick told Republicans not to worry about Hispanic voters. “They are with us,” he said.

Kennedy said, “He might check again.”

As for the ethnic demographics, Sylvia Manzano of Latino Decisions reported (2/26) that the Hispanic population in Texas is just under 10 mln, which is larger than the entire population in 43 states, and 77% of those Texas Latinos are citizens. Within the next six years, Hispanics will constitute a plurality of the Texas population (43% by 2020). But while already one out of four registered voters in Texas are Hispanic, 61% of Hispanics who are eligible to vote did not cast a ballot in 2012. That 39% Hispanic turnout was 22 points lower than the white turnout. “Texas would be as competitive as Florida in statewide elections if this untapped electorate voted,” Manzano noted.

In 2012, President Obama got an estimated 70% of the Texas Hispanic vote, but still lost the state to Mitt Romney 57% to 41%. If the additional 2.9 mln eligible Hispanics had voted, Romney’s victory margin would have been 0.4%. Obama campaign veterans have launched Battleground Texas to raise funds and organize Democratic strongholds in Dallas, Austin, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.

A poll of Texas Latino voters by ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions in November 2012 found that 58% knew somebody who was an undocumented immigrant and immigration reform was the most important issue to 34% of Texas Latinos.

PROGRESSIVE CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATES WIN. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) claimed three big wins on June 3 primaries. Bonnie Watson Coleman won in New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District with a strong message of expanding Social Security and Medicare and taxing millionaires to invest in jobs. She’s seeking the seat Rep. Rush Holt (D) gave up after he lost a special election for the Senate. Pat Murphy, who led the fight to raise the minimum wage and ushered in universal pre-K in Iowa as Speaker of the Iowa House, won a five-way primary for Iowa’s 1st District, campaigning on expanding Social Security, requiring millionaires to pay their fair share and making college affordable. He’s seeking the seat Rep. Bruce Braley gave up to run for the US Senate. (Braley also is supported by PCCC and was unopposed 6/3.) Rep. Mike Honda (D), one of the leading progressives in the House who has strong support from organized labor and environmentalists, placed first with 49% in a four-way primary in California’s 17th District. He’ll meet Ro Khanna, a former trade rep in the Obama administration who is supported by the tech industry, in November.

Other progressive Democrats running this year and endorsed by the PCCC include Rick Weiland for the US Senate in South Dakota; Kelly Westlund in the 7th Congressional District in Wisconsin; Brian Schatz for re-election to the Senate in Hawaii; Shenna Bellows for the Senate in Maine; Alan Grayson for re-election in Florida’s 9th District; Keith Ellison for re-election in Minnesota’s 5th District; Donna Edwards for re-election in Maryland’s 4th District; Mark Pocan in Wisconsin’s 2nd District; Hakeem Jeffries in New York’s 8th District; and Raul Grijalva for re-election in Arizona’s 3rd Distrct. See boldprogressives.org.

CALIFORNIA’S ‘TOP TWO’ PRIMARY ELIMINATES 3RD-PARTY RIVALS. California’s “Top 2” primary gives third-party and independent candidates a nominal chance to advance to the general election, but they were shut out on (6/3). Richard Winger of Ballot Access News reported (6/4) that all 25 minor party candidates who were on the ballot failed to place first or second.

Ellen Brown, a contributing writer to TPP, got the most votes of any third-party or independent candidate, with 218,847 (6.4%) supporting her as Green candidate for state treasurer on a state bank platform. Laura Wells, who also ran as a Green on a state bank platform, also received 5.6% of the vote for state controller.

Seth Masket noted at MischiefsOfFaction.com (6/5) that every incumbent on the California ballot is going to be in the November runoff. All but four ranked first in the primary vote. The major parties endorsed 112 non-incumbents. Of those, 104 advanced to the runoff, including 28 who ranked first and 76 ranked second.

Brown wrote in a column at Truthdig.com (6/8) that “Top Two,” which was passed as a statewide proposition in 2010, made it harder for third-party candidates to get on the primary ballot. From 1992 to 2010, the Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom and American Independent parties averaged 127 primary ballot candidates among them in each election cycle. In 2012, Two Two’s first year, they were able to qualify only 17 for state legislative and congressional races, the fewest since 1966, when only Democrats and Republicans were on the ballot. The alt-candidate count dropped to 13 in 2014 legislative and congressional races, with only 10 others running for statewide offices, down from 33 in 2010.

Among the barriers to participation enacted by the Top Two legislation was an increase in the number of signatures needed to be on the statewide primary ballot, from 150 to 10,000 or pay a filing fee of $2,784 to $3,480 (2% of the officer’s annual salary). Candidates for the state assembly must now collect $1,500 or pay $953 (1% of the annual salary).

Meanwhile, the fee for a candidate’s statement in the Voter Information Guide — the chief way many voters learn about candidates — was raised to $25 per word, putting the cost of a full statement at more than double the candidate filing fee, Brown wrote. “The result was to radically reduce the number of words many smaller-party candidates can afford,” she wrote.

“By eliminating party primaries, Top Two increased the cost of running for office – and the need for early big money – for candidates from all parties. Candidates now have to campaign to the entire electorate in June as well as in November (assuming they manage to reach the general election). That means the role of money in California politics has only increased as a result of Top Two, making it even easier for ‘the 1%’ to buy elections.”

In California, the Green Party recommends replacing Top Two with a system of multi-seat districts with proportional representation in the legislature, so a party receiving 10% of the vote would win 10% of the seats, 30% of the vote would win 30% of the seats, and so on. For statewide executive offices, the Greens recommend “ranked choice,” or “instant runoff” voting, where voters rank the candidates by preference and the candidate with the most votes wins. For all elections, public financing is needed, to ensure that voters hear from all candidates, rather than just the most well-funded.

“The money is with the 1%, but the vote count is with the 99%,” Brown wrote. “We can prevail, if we can get that great mass of disillusioned voters into the voting booths. And that is just the sort of game-changing event that Top Two is calculated to prevent.”

REPUBS BLOCK STUDENT LOAN REFINANCING PLAN. President Obama took executive action (6/9) to let millions of college graduates cap their student loan payments at 10% of their income, which is designed to help alleviate the burden for young Americans saddled with the student loans. Senate Republicans blocked a bill by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) that would have enabled millions of Americans refinance their expensive student loans into cheaper debt. The 56-38 vote (6/11) showed a Senate majority in favor of Warren’s bill, but it fell short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

Warren’s proposal, which mostly targeted student loans owned or guaranteed by the Department of Education, sought to fund the reduction in borrowers’ student loan payments by increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The proposal failed despite widespread agreement that $1.3 tln in student debt risks choking US economic growth as student loan payments take ever bigger chunks of workers’ paychecks. Some 40 million Americans have student loan debt, according to the Education Department. The average borrower owes nearly $30,000.

Only three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — voted in favor of Warren’s proposal. (Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recorded a vote against it for procedural reasons in order to preserve the Dems’ ability to reconsider it at a later date.)

Obama’s action expanded on a 2010 law and could provide relief for 5 mln people who took out loans before October 2007 or stopped borrowing by October 2011.

For a 2009 college graduate earning $39,000 a year but carrying $26,500 in loan debt, the plan would reduce monthly repayments by $126 per month and $1,500 a year compared to the standard repayment plan, the White House said.

Robert Reich wrote on his Facebook page (6/10) that President Obama’s steps to make student loans more affordable is “probably all he can manage with a gridlocked Congress, but it’s still tinkering with a system of college financing that’s spinning out of control. What’s really needed is to make college free of charge and require all graduates to pay 10% of their earnings for the first 10 years of full-time work into a fund that pays the costs (additional years of graduate school means added years of payments). That way, nobody graduates with debts; young people from lower-income families can afford to attend; graduates who go into high-wage occupations in effect subsidize those who go into lower-wage work; and we move toward a system of genuinely equal opportunity.”

DEMS PROPOSE SOCIAL SECURITY EXPANSION. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) announced a Social Security reform bill that would expand the program, flying in the face of proposals from Republicans to trim Social Security benefits, Jennie Phipps reported at Bankrate.com (6/11). The bill, called the Retirement and Income Security Enhancement Act (or RAISE), would do four things:

• Levy a 2% payroll tax on earnings over $400,000. Currently, wage earners only pay Social Security taxes on the first $117,000 of earnings.

• Improve benefits for divorced people. Currently, a divorced spouse is only entitled to benefits under the former spouse’s earnings if the couple were married 10 years. Beginning in 2016, this proposal would phase in eligibility for those married from 5 to 10 years.

• Enhance survivor benefits when both spouses are eligible for workers benefits. This alternative benefit would equal 7% of the sum of the survivor’s own worker benefit plus the primary insurance account, or PIA, of the deceased spouse.

• Extend benefits for young adults. Under current law, children of retired, disabled or deceased workers no longer get benefits after age 18, or 19 if they’re still in high school. This provision would extend benefits to full-time students until age 23.

GOP TO GI’S: WE’LL GET TO YOU MAYBE. Republican leaders are sticking to their new position — reached shortly after President Obama announced (5/31) that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been released from Taliban custody in return for the release of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo — that the President should not negotiate for the release of American prisoners of war until he gets clearance from Congress. In a world where the currency for negotiating the release of American prisoners are the prisoners of war that the US is holding at Guantanamo, House Republicans have put the President on notice that he cannot release any prisoners from Gitmo without congressional clearance, and the GOP also has put US soldiers in Afghanistan on notice that if they happen to be captured by the Taliban or other hostile groups, US military forces might have to wait for congressional authorization before they proceed with any actions to free the prisoner.

However, Republican Congress members who expressed shock and outrage to learn that the administration was negotiating with the Taliban (many of which Congress members had been demanding to know why President Obama had done nothing to free Bergdahl up to the moment that he made the announcement of the prisoner swap) forget that their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, negotiated with hostage-takers on several occasions. In the most outrageous case, Iran’s ex-President Bani-Sadr disclosed in 2013 that Reagan’s presidential campaign struck a deal with Ayatollah Khomeini in 1980 to delay the release of American hostages from the US Embassy in Tehran to prevent President Jimmy Carter’s re-election. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor (3/5/13) in an essay criticizing inaccuracies in the Oscar-winning film “Argo”, Bani-Sadr said he and most other Iranian government officials favored freeing the American personnel quickly. But after becoming president in February 1980 he discovered that “Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the ‘October Surprise,’ which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place. The fact that they were not released tipped the results of the election in favor of Reagan.”

Over the years, Republicans have adamantly denied that Reagan or his campaign struck a deal with Iranian radicals to extend the hostage crisis through the 1980 election. But substantial evidence has built up supporting Bani-Sadr’s account and indicating that the release of the 52 hostages just as Reagan was taking the oath of office on 1/20/1981 was no coincidence, that it was part of the deal, Robert Parry wrote at ConsortiumNews.com (3/7/13). Parry, a former reporter for the Associated Press and Newsweek, wrote “America’s Stolen Narrative” that explores political deceptions that surrounded the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes and explains how that false history entrapped Barack Obama.

The Reagan administration later secretly agreed in 1985 to sell 1,500 missiles to Iran, which at that time was at war with Iraq, as part of an effort to win the release of seven American hostages who were being held by terrorists affiliated with Iran in Lebanon. Three hostages were released, only to be replaced with three more, in what then-Secretary of State George Shultz called “a hostage bazaar.”

While probing the arms-for-hostages deal, then-Att’y Gen.Edwin Meese discovered that only $12 mln of the $30 mln the Iranians reportedly paid had reached government coffers. Lt. Col. Oliver North of the National Security Council explained that he had been diverting funds from the arms sales to Nicaraguan Contras, with the full knowledge of National Security Adviser Admiral John Poindexter and with the unspoken blessing, he assumed, of President Reagan.

North ended up being convicted of lying to Congress, but his conviction was overturned on a technicality and he has remained in the public eye.

In 2011, he wrote on his Facebook page, “Today, I received from the National League of POW/MIA families, a “Never Forget Bracelet” emblazoned with the name of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl. He was seized on June 30, 2009 in Afghanistan and is being held by the Haqqani Organization — a Taliban affiliated terrorist group — in northwest Pakistan. Sgt Bergdahl and his loved ones here at home deserve our prayers and encouragement until he is rescued or released. That’s what we do. We’re Americans.”

But after Bergdahl was released, Heathy Digby Parton noted (6/5), North complained that the government “must” have secretly paid a ransom, which he found outrageous.

“Someone paid a ransom,” North said. “Whether the Qataries paid it, or some big oil sheik, or somebody used our petrodollars, but there was a ransom paid in cash for each one of them, my guess somewhere in the round numbers of $5 or 6 mln to get Bergdahl freed. I know that the offer that was on the table before was close to a million.”

He then demanded that reporters ask the administration how much they paid and Did the government of the United States, either directly or indirectly, finance a terrorist organization?”

“Because that would be very wrong,” Digby wrote. “Unless it’s done by a Sainted Republican president. (And hey, if some enterprising young colonel can kick some of the profits to some ‘freedom fighters’ somewhere, all the better, right?)

“North is far from the only right-wing hypocrite fulminating about POWs and hostages today after earlier beating the administration over the head for failing to secure Bergdahl’s release. But he takes it to a new level. After all, he was only spared from jail time by the fact that a judge ruled that the congressional inquiry that immunized him for his testimony made it impossible to charge him with a crime. It takes some real chutzpah for him to even use the word ‘ransom’ in public.

“So, it’s fair to grant the administration critics this one point. When you see the inconsistency and rank hypocrisy of which Republicans are capable, it’s hard to see why a Democratic administration would assume that Republicans would reflexively support ‘the military’s time-honored ethos to leave behind none of its own on the battlefield.’ They have shown over and over again that nothing is so sacred that they can’t toss it aside for cheap political advantage.”

NIXON AIDE CONFIRMS CAMPAIGN SCUTTLED VIET PEACE TALKS. Reagan’s interference in attempts to release the hostages in Iran in 1980 wasn’t the first time a Republican presidential campaign had secretly worked to frustrated a sitting president for political purposes. A former White House aide to Richard Nixon recently confirmed that Nixon’s operatives scuttled Vietnam peace talks in 1968 in a political maneuver to help him defeat Humbert Humphrey in that fall’s election, In an oral history, Tom Charles Huston, author of a comprehensive, still-secret report he prepared as an aide to Nixon, said “there is no question” that Nixon campaign aides sent a message to the South Vietnamese government, promising better terms if it obstructed the talks, and helped Nixon get elected, John Aloysius Farrell reported in Politico (6/10).

Nixon’s campaign manager, John Mitchell, “was directly involved,” Huston told interviewer Timothy Naftali in the oral history conducted by the National Archives and published by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library (6/4). And while “there is no evidence I found” that Nixon participated, it is “inconceivable to me,” said Huston, that Mitchell “acted on his own initiative.”

Like many of Nixon’s actions, this transgression was born of paranoia. As the 1968 election approached, Nixon and his aides feared that President Lyndon Johnson would try to help the Democratic nominee — Vice President Humphrey — by staging an October surprise.

When LBJ announced that he was calling a halt to the bombing of North Vietnam to help the peace talks, Anna Chennault, a Republican activist with ties to the South Vietnamese government, sent word to Saigon that it would get better terms if Humphrey lost and Nixon took office, the FBI discovered. The South Vietnamese dragged their feet, infuriating LBJ who, in a taped conversation with then-Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) released by the Johnson presidential library in 2008, can be heard denouncing Nixon for “treason.”

Nixon narrowly defeated Humphrey and by the time he ended the war in 1973, another 25,000 Americans had died in Vietnam during his term.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2014


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