Welcome to Becoming a Citizen Activist ColumnI have been writing Citizenship Politics since September 1996, although it was published as Urban Politics up to September 2020. Initially, my focus was on Seattle and regional politics. Since leaving the Seattle Council, I’ve focused on national political and social trends. The Citizenship Politics newsletter is emailed out up to three times a month. As of April 2021, there are 10,000 subscribers; 70 percent are university faculty at over 250 universities and colleges throughout all fifty states. Subscribers can cancel at any time by replying “Unsubscribe Citizenship Politics” in the Subject Line. If you or a friend do not currently receive it, you can subscribe by scrolling down to the bottom of my home page http://www.becomingacitizenactivist.org and submitting your email address.

Trump-Republicans Should Fear Mike Pence – as a Libertarian Presidential Candidate

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on the Medium on 2/22/22


 

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Stephen M Dowell/AP

 Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly hinted that he will run again for President.

He ended this month’s influential Conservative Political Action Conference saying“Who knows, I may even decide to beat them for a third time.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is most often mentioned as the emerging Trump primary opponent. Fifty-one percent of the nationwide Republican base view him favorably — up from 43 percent in mid-May.

But the real threat to a future Trump-dominated Republican Party comes from his former Vice President Mike Pence, not DeSantis. That’s because Pence might just have enough sense to realize that he will not get the Republican nomination.

By avoiding the dead-end Republican primary, he could become a viable third-party candidate. One that could slice off a significant number of Republican and conservative independent voters in the general election to eliminate Trump’s chance of a victory. He may lose the election, but a new or revitalized non-Trumper Republican Party might just result.

Tara Setmayer, former GOP congressional communications director, summed up conventional logic last week on the NBC website that paints Pence as a loser. “There is no viable path to being the GOP presidential nominee without Trump’s MAGA supporters, who won’t support anyone publicly rebuking the former president.” Consequently, Setmayer declared that Pence’s political career was right on top of a heap of ash for telling the gasping Federalist Society that Trump was “wrong” and “un-American” for wanting Pence to reject certification of Joe Biden’s win.

Pence gave that speech smack-dab in the middle of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound. That same day the Republican National Committee passed a resolution censoring fellow Republicans Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Lininger of Illinois for joining the bi-partisan congressional committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection.

So, the political insiders and pundits chalk up Pence, once the undying loyal and servile Vice President to Trump, as now locked out of his party’s wheelhouse. But, seriously, didn’t he know criticizing Trump was tantamount to heresy.

But wait just a moment. Pence was the Governor of Indiana, a solidly red state. With Pence on the ticket as V.P. in 2016, Trump won the state with a 19% victory margin. Four years later, Pence’s Republican successor as Indiana Governor won with a 24% victory margin, while Trump’s presidential victory margin slipped to 16%. That slippage could be seen as totally due to Trump and not Pence since he was continually in Trump’s shadow.

There is another factor that accounts for the drop, the Libertarian Party. They are a growing force in Indiana. For example, in 2016, the Libertarian candidate for governor got 3.2%, but in 2020 their candidate received 11.4%. However, Libertarian candidates have never garnered more than 4% in a Presidential election. Still, since its formation in 1971, they have consistently outpolled the largest leftist party, the Green party, three to one. The Libertarian Party also is the only third-party registered in all fifty states to run a presidential candidate.

While the Libertarians come from both sides of the political spectrum, a Pew poll taken in the late summer of 2016 showed that 11 percent of them leaned to Republicans, 7 percent to Democrats. An earlier 2012 survey found only 5 percent called themselves Democrats or liberals (3 percent). And like the Trump-Republicans, they are overwhelmingly white (94 percent) predominantly male (68 percent). Consequently, a Libertarian-backed Presidential candidate would hurt the chances of a victory by a Republican candidate more than a Democrat in swing states.

Aside from raising critical issues, a third-party candidate can spike the chances of either of the major parties’ presidential candidate. It conceivably happened most recently with Green Party candidates in 2000 and 2016. Number crunchers have argued that Ralph Nader may have taken enough votes away from incumbent Vice President Al Gore in New Hampshire and Florida to allow George H. W. Bush to win the 2000 election by electoral but not popular votes.

Critics accuse Green Party candidate Jill Stein of taking votes away from Hillary Clinton in the three Democratic-leaning Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, which allowed Trump to win the 2016 race. His margin of victory was less than Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s vote count in those states.

Other past third-party attempts have derailed an incumbent or favored candidate from winning. For example, although no former Vice President has ever run against his former President from the same party, a former president ran against his former vice president, an incumbent president. In the 1912 election, Republican Theodore Roosevelt running under the Progressive Party, cost Republican Howard Taft to lose the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

Roosevelt ran to the left of both the Republican and Democratic candidates. Pence would be running to the right of the Democratic candidate. But even in comparison to Republican Donald Trump, he has the credentials for running as the most winnable right-wing candidate. As the Indiana Governor, FiveThirtyEight ranked him as the second most conservative governor. While serving in the House of Representatives, Pence was rated as a far-right Republican leader based on an analysis of bill sponsorship by the non-partisan GovTrack website.

Pence’s record helps him with the reactionary Republican voter base. A recent GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio, who previously did polling for Trump’s 2020 campaign, shows support for Pence at 19 percent and DeSantis at 17 percent among GOP primary voters ­without Trump in the mix. However, Trump gets 51 percent support when his name is added, trailed by Pence at 9 percent and DeSantis at 7 percent.

Still, Trump is not an unbeatable juggernaut. A CNN Poll conducted by SSRS from January 10 through February 6 shows that Republican and Republican-leaning voters are about evenly split between wanting their party to nominate Trump again (50%) or wanting a different candidate (49%). A majority of Republicans (54%) favored Trump, compared with 38% of Republican-leaning independents. In other words, overall, Republican and Independent conservatives are open to another candidate.

These polls show that Pence could hook up with the Libertarian Party to avoid the internal Republican Party blood bath if Trump is challenged in the Republican Primary. DeSantis’ reputation as a fighter makes it more likely to battle Trump within the party. He knows that the odds will be against him. That battle lands at the feet of the RNC, whichcontrols the party’s presidential primary and the nominating convention. And Trump owns the RNC. Nevertheless, the New York Times reported that DeSantis is refusing to commit to clear the way for Trump if the ex-president jumps into the 2024 presidential race.

The Daily Mail reported how DeSantis is preparing for a showdown with Trump by working media influencers. On January 6, for instance, DeSantis invited nine social media stars to Tallahassee to stop at the governor’s office, have dinner at the governor’s mansion and go for drinks at a local lounge. Each of the attendees, including those from Fox News, New York Post, Turning Point USA, and the Claremont Institute, had more than 95,000 Twitter followers.

Pence has also been making the rounds but in a quieter undertaking. For instance, he skipped the opportunity to speak at the critically important CPAC conference, while Trump and DeSantis were featured, speakers. So, what do the Libertarians have to offer Pence to offset going down the primary rabbit hole in the hope of getting the Republican nomination?

First, without hesitation, Libertarians publicly condemned the January 6 insurrection. As the U.S. Capitol building was being breached, Libertarian National Committee Chair Joe Bishop-Henchman issued the following statement: “This is not patriotism. This is not protesting. This is reprehensible violence and aggression and needs to stop now. We hope safety for all those who work in the Capitol.” Instead, the RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel identified the January 6 insurrection as “ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol.”

Pence is not a dynamic speaker like Trump or DeSantis, rather he is seen as a somewhat dull and everyday politician. His policies are almost identical to Trump and DeSantis’s, but his demeanor is closer to good-old plain Joe Biden’s. Liberals and moderates will vehemently fight against Pence’s reactionary policies that block social justice and environmental protection legislation. However, his extreme conservatism is not coupled with unquestionable loyalty to one man’s autocratic vision for this nation. In other words, he could be a safe candidate for conservative Republicans who, like Pence, believe in following the constitutional rules and norms even when they don’t validate your desires.

Vice President Mike Pence has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” Pence’s beliefs could be acceptable to Libertarians as long he accommodates their principles of opposing government censorship in any form, opposing all government interference with private property, and prohibiting initiation of physical force against others. On the issue of abortion, which Pence has intensely opposed, the Libertarian Party recognizes that its membership includes both “pro-choice” or “pro-life” advocates. However, the party believes these views should remain matters of individual conscience. Given the make-up of the Supreme Court, Pence doesn’t need to do much on abortion other than support state rights to regulate it out of existence as they choose.

Overall, a workable relationship for a campaign could be had between Pence and the Libertarian Party. For Pence to get the electoral votes in a state, he must run as a candidate from a new Republican-like third-party or the Libertarian Party. If both endorsed Pence as their candidate, just one of them would sponsor him in a state to not divide his vote in that state.

All states, but two, use party block voting (PBV), in which all the state’s electoral votes go to a party’s candidate that won the popular vote. The electoral voters swear to vote for their party’s candidate. So, if Pence won a state as a Libertarian or as a New-Republican candidate, the electoral voters would still be pledged to Mike Pence. The constitution does not obligate candidates to run from a party. Instead, the electoral voters are committed to the candidate, allowing the electoral votes to be combined to a single candidate when presented to Congress for a count.

With this strategy, Pence gains an invaluable social and political infrastructure for getting on the ballot in every state. The Libertarian Party would gain a unique opportunity to garner more votes than any prior third party had since the formation of the Republican Party, which saw the dissolution of the Whig Party. And the New-Republican party could see its candidate not be shut out from obtaining electoral votes.

This approach may also appeal to many non-activist Republicans who are disgruntled with Trump, either as individuals or organized into groups like the Lincoln Project. For example, many would agree with Representative Liz Cheney when she says, “I’m a constitutional conservative, and I do not recognize those in my party who have abandoned the Constitution to embrace Donald Trump.”

It is a strategy that conservative politicians like Cheney might see an independent presidential campaign, working in alliance with the Libertarian Party, as necessary to restore the Republican Party. A new entity could emerge which would be just as conservative as the current Republican Party. However, it would acknowledge the peaceful transfer of executive power every four years, which Trump-Republicans do not accept.

Here’s the final kicker. Funding this unique amalgam may well come from billionaires like the Koch brothers. For instance, Billionaire David Koch ran on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980, contributing $2 million, worth $7 million in 2022 dollars. His idea that government is the problem, and the free market is the solution to everything has been embraced by the Republican Party.

The Koch Charles and David brothers did not initially support Trump and have been critical of him. Although David died in 2019, Charles Koch and other reactionary billionaires could pump money into a Pence campaign if Trump snuffs out his opposition within the Republican Party. Having been hijacked by Trump, taking back “their” party could be the backdoor to funding Pence’s campaign effort.

Why Making the COVID Vaccine was a Long Shot

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 2/8/22


 

 

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An interview with David Heath, author of Longshot, reveals that government, businesses, and many researchers discounted the science that made the COVID vaccine possible. 

“Longshot: The Inside Story of the Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine” by award-winning investigative journalist David Heath exposes the political underside of how the race was won. Heath explains the complex chemistry involved in creating vaccines in understandable terms. He also describes the incredible challenges a handful of scientists faced in convincing other scientists and investors that making a COVID vaccine was possible.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Vaccines have been used for a hundred years but explain how the COVID vaccine introduced a revolutionary new approach to making them.
The COVID-19 vaccines are among the greatest achievements of modern medicine. Never before have we developed a vaccine fast enough to tame a pandemic. Traditionally, vaccines were made of dead or weakened viruses. The mRNA approach uses the same method as our body’s DNA to produce a protein that mimics the virus, thus triggering our immune system. Scientists also built on HIV vaccine research to replicate the protein with unusual precision — a method Jonas Salk could have never imagined. That’s why the vaccines are so safe and effective.

You wrote that scientists had looked at RNA but that, “The trends had moved on. Nobody cared about RNA.” How has this attitude influenced finding a new vaccine?
Most researchers thought using mRNA would be a revolutionary advance in treating many illnesses, but nobody could get it to work. Scientist Katalin Karikó spent her career trying to figure out why mRNA kept failing in experiments. Unfortunately, the government wouldn’t provide her any funding. Eventually, she and Drew Weissman solved the riddle of mRNA, but they did a poor job explaining the importance of their discovery. So it went largely unnoticed.

The COVID vaccines were created at speed unparalleled by historical standards. There had never been a vaccine developed in less than four years. What accounted for this incredible speed?
Actually, it took years to figure out how to make them. Barney Graham and one of his scientists, Jason McLellan, made the first critical breakthrough in vaccine science in 2013 while developing a respiratory vaccine that is still in clinical trials. Graham immediately employed this new approach on coronaviruses. He knew it was inevitable after SARS and MERS outbreaks that there would be another coronavirus epidemic eventually. By the time COVID appeared in Wuhan, Graham only had to tweak a MERS vaccine he had developed.

You write that although the CEO of Moderna was more of an extraordinary salesman than a scientist, without him, Moderna might not have developed an mRNA vaccine. 
Moderna takes credit for the scientific breakthroughs that made its vaccine possible. But based on my interviews with scientists who made the key discoveries, this is not true. Nevertheless, the CEO of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, raised an awful lot of money for Moderna, which made it possible for the company to mass-produce a vaccine when the pandemic hit.

How does resistance to vaccinations fit into your story?
Past epidemics, such as polio or smallpox, have been all but eradicated because everyone trusted science and got vaccinated. We even achieved herd immunity against the highly contagious measles virus. The U.S. had only 13 cases of measles in 2020. Anti-vaxxers say that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t perfect. That’s true of all vaccines; however, the pandemic will continue until virtually everyone is either vaccinated or gets sick.

How does the market economy influence the discovery and use of new vaccines?
Many vaccines are perceived as not terribly profitable. To inoculate the whole world, vaccines must be very cheap, like a dollar a shot. Moderna wasn’t all that interested in vaccines at first. The company didn’t think they’d be that lucrative. But, over time, it became clear that vaccines were the easiest way to show how mRNA could work as a marketable product and make money for the company.

You wrote that “The brutal truth is that this is not likely the last pandemic we will face. There is a high probability that we will see new strains of novel coronaviruses in the future.”  
As weary as we are of this pandemic, keep in mind that this is the third novel coronavirus epidemic in the past 20 years. Thousands of other coronavirus strains in bats could leap to humans. The worst-case scenario would be a virus as contagious as the omicron variant and as deadly as MERS, where 35% of those infected die.

Is there currently sufficient government oversight to assure that vaccine trials are safe and the results are reliable? 
Past protocols for testing vaccines on humans were insufficient. In the 1960s, researchers at the National Institutes of Health were using vulnerable African American babies at an orphanage as guinea pigs. There were three trials, and an experimental respiratory syncytial virus vaccine failed in all of them, with two toddlers out of 31 children dying. The vaccine had made them more vulnerable to RSV. To be clear, there is no evidence at all that the COVID-19 vaccines cause vaccine-enhanced disease. These vaccines are among the safest in history.

Why did Moderna initially resist adding Black and Latino participants in their trials?
Operation Warp Speed determined that it was unacceptable that Moderna was not recruiting enough minority candidates. Data at the time showed that people of color were more likely to die of COVID-19 and less likely to accept the results of scientific trials. Moderna’s CEO Bancel worried that delaying the trial to expand the number of participants might mean getting beat by Pfizer, but he relented after pressure from the government.

Did Seattle play a significant role in discovering a new COVID vaccine?
Seattle plays a pivotal role in my book “Longshot” for two reasons. First, it’s the site where the rest of the country first saw that the epidemic was out of control. And second, by coincidence, it was the site where the first experimental COVID-19 vaccine was administered. Jennifer Haller’s historic first vaccine on March 16, 2020, was the same vaccine that was approved by December of that year.

An obscure doctrine may allow Trump to win in 2024 regardless of the popular vote

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 11/23/2021


 

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Trump did not accept an election loss in 2020, and he may not have to in 2024.

Trump supporters have begun arranging a play for winning the presidential election no matter what the popular or electoral vote would indicate. The vehicle that will place him, or a Trumpite Republican, in the White House, is the Independent State Legislatures doctrine.

This is how the play unfolds in four acts.

The first act is pretty much completed. The audience has been prepped to expect that if a Republican loses the next presidential election, it will be because of fraud. For them, that is understandable because it has already happened.

For the last year, the chant of “the election has been stolen” has been repeated almost daily by Trump, Fox News, and other right-wing media outlets or a small but loud section of Republicans in Congress. Last August, a Yahoo News/YouGov poll showed that they have successfully convinced two-thirds of Republicans that “the election was rigged and stolen from Trump.” And Twenty-eight percent of independent voters think Trump won the 2020 election. To some degree, all major potential Republican presidential candidates have signed off on that lie to secure the Trump Republican base in the primaries, should he not run.

The second act is underway now. Republicans have begun rolling out candidates that they can count on for controlling key state offices that oversee federal elections in their states. Reuters found that ten of the 15 Republican candidates running for secretary of state in five battlegrounds states question whether Trump lost the 2020 election.

The five states investigated were Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin. Joe Biden won all of them. Three, he won by less than one percent, and Nevada and Michigan were less than three percent.

Except for Wisconsin, the secretary of state oversees the elections. These are the folks who will toss the voter’s majority vote for a Democratic winner to their Republican-controlled state legislatures if they think there have been fraud or voting irregularities. The legislatures can then overturn the popular vote if they believe it was tainted in some manner. Trump asked various state officials to do the same when he lost by a close vote in the 2020 election.

Republicans control both houses in four of the states and the governorship in Arizona and Georgia, which would make these last two states the most vulnerable to having a vote for a Democrat president overturned by the state legislature. Nevada has both chambers and the governorship in the hands of Democrats, which makes it the least vulnerable. It also has the fewest electoral votes (6) of this group.

While Michigan and Wisconsin have Democratic governors, they are both up for reelection and face tough elections. Past court decisions indicate that a governor may not halt a state legislature from replacing election results.

Until statewide elections are held in 2022, Trump’s organization may not have enough Trump politicians in power to judge the coming presidential election in the swing states. Nevertheless, Boris Epshteyn, a former special assistant to Trump, said the Republicans focus on secretary-of-state elections. “It’s vital they have the right ideals,” Epshteyn said. “That includes, first and foremost, … making sure widespread voter fraud doesn’t happen going forward.”

Act three builds on the assumption that the last presidential election did see widespread voter fraud. The Trump machine hauls out their big gun: the Independent State Legislatures doctrine. It rests on shaky legal ground because it’s vague and has been largely ignored in the past. But it has not been outright rejected, so it has been used as one way to interpret the Constitution’s Article II, which says, “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, [presidential electors].”

Hayward H. Smith explores the history of this doctrine in the Florida State University Law Review. He concludes that the founding fathers’ original understanding of Article II did not identify independent powers to state legislatures that the doctrine is based on.

He shows how the Supreme Court sketched a rough outline of an expansive interpretation of Article II to support an “independent legislature” doctrine. They decided to give that state’s electoral votes to George W. Bush, not Al Gore, in their 2000 presidential election. Smith writes that the Supreme Court’s decision meant that when a state legislature directs the manner of appointing electors pursuant to Article II, it operates with independence from its state constitution. Hence the state legislature is independent of the state constitution and possibly even of state court rulings.

In essence, the Supreme Court’s ruling federalizes the legislature’s responsibilities instead of having the state legislature subject to a state’s Constitution or judiciary. This interpretation would strengthen placing limitations on state’s rights which have run counter to the principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution.

If this doctrine is followed, the state officer or body overseeing the next presidential election could request that the state legislature intervene to direct the “manner of appointing electors.” Removing one set of electors, say from a Democrat to a Republican, is possible if there is a “sense” of massive fraud. However, any court challenge of that action would have to go through the federal courts, which would take enough time to halt the installation of a new president. Consequently, the Supreme Court would be asked to act immediately to avoid a constitutional crisis.

The fourth and final act belongs to the Supreme Court Justices. How will they handle this explosive issue if the election is a close count?

In the 2000 Bush decision Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas signed off on a concurrence statement that said any “significant departure” by a state court from the legislature’s elector appointment scheme “presents a federal constitutional question.” Smith sees this as a super-strong independent legislature doctrine. Justice Thomas is still on the Court. Could he convince the other justices that state legislatures have the authority to change the electors AFTER an election has been held?

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote an opinion a few years ago that the Constitution’s mentions of “the legislature” meant each state’s legislative process. It would entail the process of how both houses must pass bills, the governor must sign them, and the state’s Supreme Court must not rule them unconstitutional. The chance that two of the six conservative justices would support this liberal definition is non-existent.

If this issue comes before the Supreme Court, they would most likely repeat the Republican-dominated Supreme Court’s procedural approach on the Bush vs. Gore case. In that instance, the clock was ticking on the need for Florida to select their electors before a deadline. The Supreme Court stopped a recount that had been initiated upon a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. That effectively killed Gore’s chance for closing the gap of fewer than 600 votes from Bush’s total.

Trump has won many of his court battles by dragging out the appeal process so that the final decision is often moot. For example, a state legislature could switch electors from a Democrat to a Republican presidential candidate. To alter that action would require filing an appeal; however, there could be no time to reverse that decision. So, the new electoral votes would go to D.C. to be confirmed by a Democrat-controlled Congress and chaired by Democrat Vice President Harris. All of whom have vowed to follow the laws, not partisan politics.

It is far from certain that Trump’s efforts will unfold as planned. However, wearing blinders does not make this scenario any less probable. Democrats must coordinate a campaign like the Republicans to win elections for secretaries of state positions, state legislators, judges, and governors in crucial swing states. That is where the election will be won or lost.

If the Democrat Party continues to focus on just big-ticket legislation providing a better future for everyone, they could be blindsided by the independent legislature doctrine. It would hand over an election victory that the Democrats won by a popular vote to the Republicans.

 

 

Can the Global Corporate Tax Clip Corporate Power?

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 11/05/2021


 

What is the Proposed Global Corporate Tax?
In early October, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), consisting of 136 countries representing more than 90% of global GDP, agreed to levy a global corporate minimum tax rate of 15% on overseas profits from 100 of the world’s largest and most profitable multinational corporations (referred to as MNCs).

In addition, each country would be entitled to share in the revenue generated by the tax, which should raise a total of $150 billion. The increase in funds will allow developing countries to better pay for the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the deal will not take effect until 2023.

The Historical Context of State’s Trying to Control Capital 
Throughout history, there has been tension within the state between its governing body and other organizations. The state in its earliest forms can be viewed more as tribes than bureaucracies. Nevertheless, the struggle always came down to control of resources. The resources can take three forms: people’s loyalty, physical elements, or economic activities. Examples of each struggle can be easily illustrated during specific historical periods.

During the medieval ages, it was the state versus the church vying for allegiance; in the 19th century, it was the state versus ethnic entities vying for control of the land. Finally, in our present world, it is the state versus corporations vying for control of capital, i.e., financial wealth. All three conflicts existed and overlapped from the beginning of civilization and continue till the present day. The proposed Global Corporate Tax (GCT) is the current manifestation of the struggle for controlling the flow of capital.

Can a GCT shift the flow of capital from corporations to states?
That’s the plan, but since each country would incorporate the rate and rules of the multinational agreement into its own tax system, the effectiveness of a GCT country could be dramatically limited. For instance, the agreement, as it stands now, eliminates Trump’s Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) legislation which allows MNC’s income earned overseas to be brought back to the U.S. tax-free. Instead, that income would be taxed 15 percent under the CGT.

The GCT agreement is designed to discourage nations from tax competition through lower tax rates that erode their tax base. Biden’s U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen called the agreement “a once-in-a-generation accomplishment for economic diplomacy” that will “end the race to the bottom on corporate taxation.” Under the current tax system, MNCs could establish their headquarters in small countries lacking large infrastructures but offering lower tax rates. For example, Ireland’s top corporate tax rate is only 12.5%, whereas it is 21% in the U.S., 19% in the United Kingdom, and averages about 22% in the European Union.

While MNCs can range from a single-family to a network of intertwined legal entities, together, they shape the global market more than ever before. States primarily rely on revenue from a domestic tax base. When their homeland businesses conduct and establish branches in other states, they maximize their untaxed profits by exploiting gaps and mismatches between different countries’ tax systems.

According to Michelle P. Scott of Investopedia, creating a universal CGT gives little or no tax advantage to MNCs shifting profits to lower-tax jurisdictions. Importantly then, countries could compete globally on the relative strength of their infrastructure and skilled workforce. That advantage benefits developed countries. Consequently, it is not surprising that the organization representing the wealthiest countries, the G20, initiated establishing a CGT.

A critically important change in global taxation would be that corporate income from intangible property, like royalties from trademark, patent, and software licenses. They would be taxed where it was earned, even if the MNC didn’t have a nexus (i.e. a physical presence) in that country. Only the largest MNCs, approximately 100 companies, would be subject to the rule permitting countries to tax a corporation without having a nexus to that country.

Must the U.S. Senate ratify a Global Corporate Tax?
In the last 80 years, a succession of presidents has avoided U.S. treaties being confirmed by a two-thirds Senate vote. They have done that by signing treaties through an executive agreement. From 1940-1989, presidents entered into more than 13,000 executive agreements and signed only 800 treaties. The controversial executive agreements stand out, such as when President Franklin D. Roosevelt used an executive agreement in 1933 to extend America’s recognition of the Soviet Union. The 1937 Supreme Court ruled that executive agreements, signed and approved only by the president, have the same legal status as treaties.

Nevertheless, a succeeding president can withdraw from a prior president’s treaty entered into by an executive agreement. For instance, President Barack Obama signed the Paris Agreement as an executive agreement in August 2016 without ratification from the Senate. In 1920 President Donald Trump officially withdrew from the agreement without ratification from the Senate.

Two characteristics of a treaty by executive agreement. 
The first is a relatively minor procedural step. A law passed by a Democratic Congress required that the President’s Secretary of State must inform the Senate within 60 days of any executive agreement. With the real possibility of Republican opposition to the agreement, if the Biden administration misses this simple requirement, they will be inviting a needless obstruction.

Second, congress may not disavow an executive agreement, but it has plenary authority to modify or abrogate them regarding domestic law purposes. For instance, it passed legislation allowing American hostages and their families harmed by Iran to proceed with tort claims. It is unclear how this feature could impact the GCT if people, and corporations acting as people, bring suits under domestic laws to hinder the GCT somehow.

Two Alternative Paths Forward
There are two other paths that President Biden could take to get the GCT adopted, a reconciliation bill or a congressional-executive agreement. Both would require a majority vote by both Congressional houses and avoid being blocked by a filibuster in the Senate. However, the reconciliation bill has limits on the subject matter, such as being limited to revenue-related elements of the treaty. Also, reconciliation legislation has limits on how often it can be used. Parliamentarian rulings could come into play as they had in the past when they limited the breadth of Biden legislation.

Congressional-executive agreements do not face those restrictions. Instead, they have been used when a contentious proposal could muster up a simple majority in both houses. The 1992 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the agreement whereby the United States became a member of the World Trade Organization(WTO) in 1995 serve as good examples.

Unlike the sole executive agreements, one would expect that a new president could not overturn Congressional-executive agreements. However, last year Abigail L. Sia in a Fordham Law Review piece, concluded that “It is neither clear nor well settled whether the president has the constitutional authority to withdraw unilaterally from this type of agreement” [Congressional-executive agreement]. So, even if Biden were to get the majority of both houses to pass the GCT treaty, the next president might unilaterally withdraw from the treaty. And as a result, the nation would once again witness the conservative Supreme Court deciding the extent of presidential executive powers.

GCT could be a game-changer if we had a functional government
The GCT treaty could ignite a public struggle between the state and multinational corporations as to who determines a nation’s foreign policy, which is the ultimate exercise of sovereign power. It is most likely that Biden will choose the sole executive agreement path. The other paths lead to an inevitable rejection by the Senate if the Republicans oppose it.

In the executive agreement scenario, if a Republican becomes president in 2024, we could see the U.S. once again pull out of an international treaty after its executive officer signed off on it. That will reinforce the perception that U.S. foreign policy will be inconsistent for the foreseeable future. It is not just because Republicans and Democrats do not share a common vision for America’s future, which has always been the case. It is because of the excessive weight of private and corporate wealth in electing members to congress.

Corporate influence on congress has always been present, but the accumulation of wealth has led to them accumulating a historically high concentration of economic resources and political influence. Congressional criticism of the GCT will not manifest itself as sympathy for corporations. Instead, it will consist of both arcane stalling tactics and issues, like enforcing the agreement.

For advocates of maintaining the GCT treaty, it will be necessary to raise the question of where national political power to make foreign policy decisions should rest. Should it be with the elected representatives of the public or the corporate bodies which are legally bound to represent the interests of their investors? However, the debate must go one step further because many of those representatives of the public are also indebted to their corporate benefactors.

Consequently, the success of adopting and maintaining a GCT treaty must not rest on the shoulders of just one person, the president. Or even congress for the matter. It must be supported by a national discussion occurring in both red and blue states on what is the proper relationship between corporate wealth and a republican state that can be independent of their wealth’s influence.

Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 09/10/2021


 

 

Since the Sixties, college students have disrupted our politics and culture. On-campus, their activism has reshaped our higher education institutions; off-campus, they have expanded our concept of freedom. Students questioned the status quo by asking, why not try something different? Why not pursue peace instead of war? Why not treat blacks and whites alike? Why not protest if our democracy is not working?

A higher percentage of youth than ever before began attending college in the Sixties. Although overwhelmingly white, new ideas and knowledge pushed them to seek justice for everyone. While the Berkeley Free Speech movement and students occupying Columbia University buildings grabbed national attention, an activist student movement slowly formed in hundreds of lesser-known colleges. I attended one in the Ohio Bible Belt, where Republicans dominated the town and segregated fraternities dominated the campus.

Like the majority of students, I was from a white working middle-class family. My parents never completed high school, worked at factory jobs, and voted for the Democrats out of habit.

Going to college seemed like an unattainable dream. My grades were solidly average, and my parents saved for years to pay for one year of college. Two-year community colleges had not yet emerged. Thanks to federal low-interest loans and working in the dorm’s cafeteria and at McDonald’s during the summer, I attended Bowling Green State University, aka BG.

Books about Sixties activism often focus on the most radical and visible student-initiated groups: the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Most of them lack an insider’s view of the genesis of the student power movement and the counterculture phenomena. Absent is a feel of what average students experienced trying to adjust to those turbulent times. Notably missing is how activist students in the nation’s conservative regions tried to make radical changes peacefully. These insights are at the core of Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties.

During my freshman year (1965 to 1966), the only demonstration that occurred was a spontaneous outpouring of hundreds of male students rushing over to the girls’ dormitories, climbing onto the sides of their buildings, and chanting, “We want panties.” The riot caused an estimated $600 of damage and a displaced park bench left in the middle of a road. Meanwhile, the campus was seemingly unaware that the combat death rate that month for American soldiers in Vietnam was averaging 100 per week.

In my sophomore year, I joined a handful of students to start a chapter of SDS. It was a bold move to take at a university that hosted the American Nazi Party leader to speak to 3,000 attentive listeners that year. He told them that they had to fight for the “White majority” in this country. On BG’s campus, that was a pretty big majority. Black students made up just 1 percent of our student body.

Our chapter of SDS promoted a democracy to allow all citizens to participate in it equally. None of us were interested in the impenetrable language of leftist ideology. However, we did push students to question what was happening around them. Many recognized that they had no classes that taught the history of Blacks or women fighting for the right to vote or how the mainstream culture limited everyone’s opportunities. In response, we initiated a Free University providing open-air classrooms on these topics. The university’s Administration and faculty responded by creating new curricula. Eventually, whole new departments arose on hundreds of campuses dealing with Black and minority histories and women’s role in society.

We openly questioned the necessity of the Vietnam War in light of the mounting Vietnamese civilian deaths and the 30,000 casualties from our young soldiers. Consequently, we were considered communist sympathizers. The funny thing is, I had always wanted to meet a Communist since I grew up reading my Dad’s John Birch Society pamphlets. Now, I was possibly one of them.

This book is also about the cultural explosion that upended normality through simple acts of rebellion. In spring, a “Gentle Thursday” celebration occurred. The idea originated from a Texas SDS chapter. The event urged students to break out of their daily routine and alter their immediate environment. For one day, they didn’t wear shoes on campus, they held picnics on the campus lawns, and, most daringly, they broke the dress codes; women did not wear the mandatory skirt to their dorm cafeterias to have dinner. Alerted to this planned rebellion, the campus police came out prepared to do battle with us. Instead, they departed confused and amused by the campus’s central quad awash with colored chalked art on the sidewalks.

In the Sixties, anarchists were not known as firebomb throwers. Instead, they were counterculture troubadours, represented by the Yippies. They led thousands to the Pentagon to protest the war and threw Wall Street into panic by tossing dollar bills onto their Stock Exchange floor.

Our college life at BG was so culturally prosaic that the university newspaper headlined a student who had dropped out of college to visit San Francisco’s hippie mecca, the Haight Asbury neighborhood. A few months later, 21 police from five different bureaus raided the house that he and other cultural disruptors were renting. He was imprisoned for a year because they found a single joint of marijuana in the place.

Afterwards, I and others were determined to make a difference. Our SDS chapter began listening to what students wanted and not preaching to them about what they should want. I was then elected student body president, even though I had led our SDS chapter. I may be the only SDS organizer in the country elected to lead a university student government and remain in power.

Although I opposed the Vietnam War and promoted civil rights, I got the majority of the student council members to make some dramatic changes. They were still very conservative, representing a student body that supported Richard Nixon over Hubert Humphrey 64 percent to 18 percent, even though Nixon only beat Humphrey by 1 percent.

Nevertheless, they supported conscientious objector counseling on campus and passed a bill of rights for students that negated many of the Administration’s social codes. Most importantly, the council reversed the discriminatory institutional practices that had led to a 99% white student body. When Black students politely asked for two representatives on the council, the council agreed.

While student activism was altering colleges across the country, SDS imploded in 1969. I attended one of the last national conferences. At the final session, the two largest ideological factions chanted competing slogans “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh” and “Mao Mao Mao Tse-tung.” I wrote in our BG student newspaper that SDS “would falter and die, even if the student movement itself continued to grow.” Months later, the nation’s largest and most influential student organization was no more, but student activism continued to grow.

Activists in the twenty-first century can learn from the successes and failures of the Sixties. It is understanding that progress requires striking a balance between passion and pragmatism and between tactics and strategy, and, above all, recognizing that culture and politics are intertwined. Going forward is fueled by a culture that enjoys life and working with others so that they too can enjoy life.


Praise

“Licata tells how the student movement played a critical adversary role to the prevailing culture of accepting authority without questioning who benefits.”
Thom Hartmann
The Thom Hartmann Program

“Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties demonstrates how grand movements, like the student movement, begin by taking small steps.”
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Former editor of The Nation

“There is no more engaging or informative read to know how ‘60s campus protests unrolled and felt to participants ‘on the ground.’”
Paul Lauter
Author of Our Sixties: An Activist’s History; Past President of the American Studies Association.

Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties captures the evolution of the student movement coming from localized student rights.”
Ashley Brown
Program Executive Director, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

“This fascinating book should be on every student’s shelf.”
Peter Dreier
Founding Chair of the Urban and Environmental Policy Department, Occidental College

“You want to read this book. Licata writes with insight and humor about politics, student activism, counterculture, and music (yes, he went to Woodstock).”
Lance Bennett
Professor of Sociology, University of Washington; author of Communicating the Future

“Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties sizzles with the freshness of a first-person account of navigating his way through the pitfalls of the far left and far right. He became a believer in step-by-step democratic change.”
Harry Boyte
Backyard Revolution

Licata provides a primer on effective organizing; I recommend this book for classes dealing with community organizing, social movements, and people’s histories.”
BJ Bullert, PhD
Core Faculty at Antioch University

“Lessons are learned by traveling with Nick Licata—he was part of a movement that intended to change the community and the country for the better. As human beings, we are at our best when we believe in something much larger than ourselves. Therein lies the real hope for a better world.” (read the full review)
Patricia Vaccarino
, founder of PR for People


 

Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount at this link here. Enter PROMO25 at the checkout to redeem.

Fifty Years ago, there was a successful populist revolt in Seattle!

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 10/17/2021


 

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Sign-carrying members of the Friends of the Market picketed City Hall in February 1971 to protest the proposed Pike Plaza urban-renewal project for Pike Place Market. (Richard S. Heyza / The Seattle Times, 1971)

There is a lesson for progressives to learn from the past successful effort to save the Pike Place Market from being torn down.

Seattle’s initiative 1 in 1971 to save the Pike Place Farmers Market from a redevelopment plan that would have replaced 90 percent of the Market with offices, hotels, and a parking garage. The initiative collected 25,000 signatures in just three weeks. And this was done without any paid signature gatherer; it was accomplished with volunteers!

The initiative passed with 59% of the votes cast. Despite the city council having voted unanimously for the redevelopment plan, both daily newspapers endorsing the plan, and the federal government offering millions of dollars in urban renewal funds to tear down the old buildings.

This was a populist revolt against an elitist attitude of modernizing Seattle that ignored the city’s heritage. Yet, at its core, the initiative could be considered a conservative movement to improve the present conditions that allowed open access to everyone rather than to tear down the open forum of the Pike Place Market and replace it with a soulless market that would constrain public access.

Should progressives consider that populists will support change when it preserves a democratic condition that doesn’t threaten to tear it apart.

When Seattle Declared Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 10/11/2021


 

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President Joe Biden last Friday, October 4, issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Congress established Columbus Day as an annual October federal holiday.

Biden did a balancing act, in that he also issued a proclamation on Columbus Day, Monday, Oct. 11. However, while he praised the role of Italian Americans in U.S. society, he noted the violence and harm Columbus and other explorers of the age brought upon Native Americans.

Although there are now well over 50 cities & states that have adopted “Indigenous Peoples Day” as a holiday celebrated on the date designated for Columbus Day, Seattle and Minneapolis, according to Wikipedia’s timeline, appear to have been the first two major cities to make that change in 2014.

In 2014, then Seattle Mayor Ed Murray invited the Seattle City Council to join him in recognizing our continent’s First Peoples contributions to the United States by instituting an Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day.

The City Council did unanimously pass a resolution sponsored by Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant and me. It declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the City of Seattle and encouraged other institutions to recognize the Day.

When the Seattle City Council was adopting an Indigenous Peoples’ Day all hell seemed to break loose for me as the Italian community wanted to know why as a “good” Italian I was “disrespecting” Italian heritage by adding to the second Monday in October an observation of Native American culture.

One Florida trucker even called from the road suggesting we all face a firing squad. Seattle’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not, of course, abolish Columbus Day. Columbus Day has been and remains a federal holiday.

The following is a condensed reprint of my councilmember newsletter, Urban Politics, that gives a history and rationale for why an Indigenous Peoples’ Day was needed.

Indigenous People and Columbus Day

I have the good fortune of being one of only three people with an Italian surname elected to the Seattle City Council in the last one hundred years. I limit this to surnames because there could have been others of Italian descent. It is not apparent from their names.

This led me to meet with a number of prominent Italian civic and business leaders in my office to discuss my role as the defender of Italian pride and culture. This was the first opportunity I had to discuss this particular topic in the 16 years I’ve been on the council. Then again, I had not previously opened my mouth (aperto la bocca) to question the appropriateness of celebrating Columbus Day as something other than Italian Pride Day.

I am proud of my Italian heritage, though I did not follow my grandfather’s profession of being a barber. I am also proud to honor the heritage of many others with whom I share this country, especially those who lived here before Europeans came.

Let me set the context. Columbus discovered the New World for Europeans. Those already living here were aware of it. Columbus was an Italian – actually from Genoa, not strictly Italian, since Italy had to wait about three hundred more years to come into existence. But, Italians as a distinct ethnic group can be traced back to the Roman Republic and its Italian allies.

Although Columbus Day first became an official state holiday in Colorado in 1906 and Franklin Roosevelt declared it a federal holiday in 1937, our nation has celebrated Columbus Day since Colonial times, though not universally. Currently, Washington State, Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota do not recognize it as a legal state holiday.

In 1792, New York City and other U.S. cities celebrated the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World. President Benjamin Harrison called upon the people of the United States to celebrate Columbus Day on the 400th anniversary of the event.

During the four hundredth anniversary in 1892, teachers, preachers, poets, and politicians used Columbus Day rituals to teach ideals of patriotism. These patriotic rituals were framed around themes such as support for the war, citizenship boundaries, the importance of loyalty to the nation, and celebrating social progress.

According to the Pew Research Center, Columbus Day is now one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays. Federal employees get the day off, but in only 23 states is it a paid holiday for non-federal workers.

National Public Radio reports that since the 1980s, Denver’s American Indian Movement has taken to the streets almost every year to protest Columbus Day, with their demonstrations frequently ending in arrests.

And, anti-Columbus sentiment extends beyond the U.S. to Chile, where last year Mapuche activists held anti-Columbus demonstrations that turned violent; to Guatemala, where 2002 protests shut down highways across the country; and to Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, and Venezuela.

So, at the core of the current controversy surrounding Columbus Day is the question: what are we celebrating?

For many who claim Italian heritage, and for some who do not, it is an ethnic holiday akin to St. Patrick’s day representing Irish heritage. The irony here is that St. Patrick was actually British, having been kidnapped at the age of 16 and spirited off to Ireland.

Our flawed hero Columbus has been heralded over the centuries for a discovery that came at a terrible cost to those he found inhabiting that world.

His mission was to search for gold and the continent of Asia. In just 2 years, his quest resulted in the death of half of the 250,000 or so indigenous population of Haiti, due to murder, mutilation, or mass suicide under the conditions Columbus created. This comes from a young priest named Bartolome de las Casas, who participated in Columbus’ conquest of the new world.
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Description automatically generated The Taino Indians of Hispaniola (presently Haiti and the Dominican Republic), where Columbus ran his gold and cotton industry, were enslaved via the encomienda system, which resembled a feudal system in Medieval Europe. According to the historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, by 1548, 56 years after Columbus landed, fewer than five hundred of the original 250,000 Taino remained on the island.

History is written by the victors, not by those defeated, and certainly not by those driven into extinction.

Many Latin American nations celebrate Columbus Day as Día de la Raza, or “Day of the Race.” In the U.S., the holiday is generally observed by banks, the bond market, the U.S. Postal Service, other federal agencies, most state government offices, many businesses, and most school districts.

However, actual observance varies in different parts of the U.S., ranging from large-scale parades and events to complete non-observance. California and Texas actually abolished Columbus Day as a paid holiday for their government workers.

Slowly, society has come to realize it needs to recognize something beyond a conquering hero, that we all need to acknowledge and respect the once-dominant cultures that present cultures replaced, along with their descendants who remain with us today.

Making a case for Legalizing Psychedelics

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published on 9/11/2021


 

Making a case for Legalizing Psychedelics

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Peter Dejong, The Associated Press

 

Aside from issues that rightly dominate print headlines and social media, there is an inconspicuous national movement arising: legalizing psychedelics. 

This movement may cause many boomers to smirk as they conjure up memories of Dr. Timothy Leary, the iconic advocate for using psychedelics. He coined the phrase, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.Such skepticism also greeted the advocacy for legalizing marijuana, renamed more accurately as cannabis. In the sixties, it was unthinkable that possessing cannabis would be legal.

Fifty years ago, the jails were filled with Black citizens for smoking cannabis. Even in liberal California, after forty years of anti-cannabis laws, Black people were imprisoned ten times more often for possessing marijuana than other racial groups. As recently as 2010, cannabis arrests accounted for 52 percent of all drug arrests. Nearly eight million people were arrested on pot charges from 2000 to 2010, with cannabis arrests accounting for 52 percent of all drug arrests. And 88 percent of those arrests were for simple possession.

Nevertheless, despite police pursuing those arrests across the country, popular sentiment on using cannabis began shifting. In November 2012, Washington State and Colorado, through initiatives, became the first two states to legalize personal use of marijuana for adults twenty-one and over. Washington’s passed with 56 percent of the vote, and the majority voters in some of the most conservative regions of the state voted in favor of legalizing. 

Long before those votes, the path toward legalizing cannabis occurred through approving its use for medical purposes. California effectively legalized medical cannabis in 1996, when voters approved Proposition 215 by a 56–44 margin. By 2016 most states had legalized the medical use of cannabis, reaching 36 states in 2020.

Psychedelics are following the same path as cannabis did in being legalized. Advocates for both drugs argue that they provide medicinal properties to relieve pain, particularly in end-of-life treatments. That approach worked for cannabis. An April 2021 Pew poll found national support at 91% for the medical use of cannabis. 

But in taking that path, advocates for psychedelics don’t post any LSD signs. That’s probably because the history of LSD is embedded in the sixty’s colorful and anti-establishment counterculture. As a result, advocates emphasize plants, like psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, and iboga. All of them have psychoactive chemicals that profoundly affect consciousness, like LSD.

These plants are categorized as entheogens, historically associated with religious ceremonies that predate the sixties by hundreds if not thousands of years. Consequently, much of the legislation advocates pursue the use of the term entheogens and not psychedelics.

At the local, state, and congressional levels, legislation has been introduced that sets the stage for using entheogens for treating illnesses. As is often the case in rolling out most progressive legislation, cities are at the forefront. Even though they have fewer financial resources than state or federal governments, their proximity to tackling local issues encourages more citizen involvement to initiate creative solutions. Moreover, if their efforts are successful, they help push the need for state initiatives and congressional hearings. 

Denver was the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psychedelics. In the spring of 2019, Denver residents passed Initiative I-301 by a razor-thin margin. It directs police via ordinance to treat enforcement of laws against the possession of psilocybin mushrooms as their lowest priority. Although it did prohibit the city from pursuing criminal penalties related to the use or possession of psilocybin mushrooms, they remain illegal under state and federal laws. It also allows police to continue to enforce laws against the distribution and sales of psilocybin mushrooms.

Oakland became the second city when their city council unanimously passed legislation to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms in the summer of 2019. Oakland’s law extended coverage beyond psilocybin mushrooms so that possession of mushrooms and other plants and fungi containing psychoactive substances would also be decriminalized.

The following year, Washington D.C.  also ran an initiative in the fall of 2020 to decriminalize “natural psychedelics.” It catapulted to victory with 76 percent of the vote.

Portland residents didn’t have to go the initiative route or lobby the city council because, in November 2020, 56 percent of Oregon voters approved initiative 109 to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for medical use. In that same election, initiative 110 passed. It decriminalized small amounts of drugs, including psilocybin and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), among other drugs. 

In Seattle, the city council is working to decriminalize psychedelics citing new research, that show psychedelics can help treat mental health disorders like drug addiction, depression, and PTSD. Seven of nine council members signed a letter asking the Overdose Emergency and Innovative Recovery (OEIR) task force led by the grassroots organization VOCAL-WA for recommendations for liberalizing the use of entheogens. The task force released a one-page summary headed by the suggestion that penalties should be removed for controlled substances.

Except for Spokane, Washington, which was going to file an initiative to decriminalize psychedelics, the most visible and successful efforts have occurred in larger cities dominated by liberal or democratic politics. That demographic profile is also found in the smaller cities hosting large universities such as Santa Cruz, CA, Cambridge, MA, and Ann Arbor, MI. Those cities also liberalized their drug enforcement policies that include psychedelics. 

The decriminalization movement needs to attract voters beyond a liberal constituency to sustain a national movement. Advocates in cities that are more purple than blue may find passing legislation more difficult. For instance, in Spokane, Washington, which has many Republican voters, advocates have had to ease back on their efforts. They just don’t have as large or as active a constituency as the more successful cities in changing the laws. 

However, passing more initiatives in blue cities will build momentum for states adopting more liberal legislation. That is a similar path that cannabis took. Oregon was the first state to liberalize cannabis laws through decriminalization in 1973, and it took 26 years for the first state, California, to legalize medical cannabis. By 2021, 46 states have legalized cannabis for medical use. In 11 states, it is legal for recreational use.

Denver’s initiative to decriminalize psychedelics seems to have influenced public opinion in Colorado. A survey conducted by RBI Strategies & Research showed that some 50% of Colorado voters would support measures to expand psilocybin decriminalization throughout the state and legalize psychedelic mushrooms statewide. Colorado’s state legislature even passed the HB19-1263 law, which went into effect in March 2020, changing personal possession of any Schedule 1 or 2 drug in Colorado from a felony to a misdemeanor. However, other states have yet to adopt such legislation.

              On the federal level, Congress and the presidency have not addressed the issue of decriminalizing psychedelics. However, Democrats have introduced legislation on liberalizing drug policies. For example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., filed an amendment to a large-scale appropriations bill in 2019 to end the prohibition of federal money being spent on “any activity that promotes the legalization of any drug or other substance in Schedule I” of the Controlled Substances Act. It didn’t pass then or in 2021, but it gained about 50 “yes” votes on the second vote.

              This year Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) are sponsoring the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA) to decriminalize personal use and possession of drugs. Most importantly, it would shift federal drug policy from the Department of Justice to Health and Human Services. 

Republicans in CongressCongress have generally opposed lessening restrictions on personal drug use. However, their constituency seems to be more open to it. For instance, according to a 2017 Gallup poll, most Republicans support legalizing cannabis for the first time.

Outside of politics, serious research is being conducted on the potential use of psychedelics like psilocybin to address health issues. Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research has increased its research in this area of study. Somewhat surprisingly, in the fall of 2018, under the Trump administration, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin “breakthrough therapy” designation for its potential to help with treatment-resistant depression. In addition, this year, the Harvard Law School launched the Project on Psychedelics Law and Regulation (POPLAR) to inform legislation and help clinicians promote safety, innovation, and therapeutics in the medicinal use of psychedelics. 

Political progress is being made despite State and Federal reluctance and resistance to changing the laws. However, with the emerging scientific and academic commitment to research the possible benefits of psychedelics, politicians will be more comfortable making changes. 

It took over 40 years of constant grassroots efforts to get where we are today on using cannabis legally, but advocates need a long-range game plan.

Cannabis’s success was partly due to the eventual recognition of how the enforcement of anti-cannabis laws resulted in minorities, particularly the Black community, who bore the brunt of arrests and imprisonment. However, the situation with the use or possession of psychedelics is different. First, it is not a street drug. Second, arrests for possession and sale of psychedelics are minuscule to what they were for cannabis.  According to the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance, only an annual average of 0.1% of the U.S. population reported using any drug under the “hallucinogen” category (including psilocybin) within the last 30 days between 2002 and 2014.

Consequently, decriminalizing psychedelics is an invisible issue for two organizations with the largest and most active communities engaged in social justice issues, the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign. Local Progress, a national network of over a thousand progressive local officials, focuses on other urban justice issues. However, they support the Drug Policy Alliance efforts urging the Biden Administration to focus on harm reduction and abandon criminalization.

Monica Bridges, Co-Chair for Education and Outreach of Decrim Nature Seattle (DNS), an advocacy group that supports ending the prohibition of plant-based psychedelics, spoke out on how the role of psychedelics can help cities tackle addiction and generational trauma. “This is about developing community. I’ve seen a lot of this Western mentality, where people want to extract the compound, put it in a pill, monetize it, and then think that’s going to cure everything. But it’s not just the medicine. It’s the embodiment of the medicine in relation to community.”

A strategy for building a national movement should support psychedelics to address a community’s social justice issues and the individual’s freedom to explore their creative consciousness. Both activities recognize that citizens in a functioning democracy should control their lives in a safe and non-oppressive manner. This dual approach can bridge the ideological divide in our nation by refocusing on an issue that can work for the greater good regardless of one’s party affiliation.  

Ironically, the genesis to decriminalize out-of-date repressive drug laws emerged from what the media often characterized as the disruptive sixties. But then, it was an era where students encouraged the nation to look at the status quo and ask, “Can’t we do better?” That spirit did not die. Instead, it remains alive and the driving force for demanding more accountability from our leaders to protect our citizens’ welfare and freedoms. I cover the history and legacy of this era in my just-released book, Student Power, Democracy and Revolution in the Sixties (by Cambridge Scholars Publishing).

What is to be done about America’s growing disparity in wealth?

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 8/24/2021


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                                                                                                     lumber baron William Carson’s Victorian Mansion built 1886 – photo by N. Licata

Over the past year, new research has shown how a phenomenal accumulation of wealth has become concentrated among just 1 percent of Americans over the last four decades.

If that trend continues, our future as a democracy will come to an end. So, the first step is to recognize it, and the second is to address it now.
This trend was quantitively demonstrated in a RAND Corporation paper, Trends in Income From 1975 to 2018 by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards. They used a time-period agnostic and income-level agnostic measure of inequality that relates income growth to economic growth. A summary and commentary of their work by Nick Hanauer And David M. Rolf is readily accessible to the public in Time. 
The RAND study shows how from 1947 through 1974, real incomes grew close to the rate of per capita economic growth across all income levels. Since then, Americans whose wealth was already in the top 1 percent have received a much larger share of our nation’s economic growth. At every income level up to the 90th percentile, wage earners receive only a fraction of what they would have received if the inequality ratio had held constant from 1974.
In real wages, this means that an employee today with a median individual income of $36,000 would receive an additional $28,000 using the CPI as a measurement of growth. That comes out to an additional $10.10 to $13.50 an hour on top of the current wage.
Critics point out how the growing gap in wealth among Americans is not a random economic trend but a politically driven plan to protect a select group’s capital and their ability to increase it through manipulating our democratic decision-making process.
Political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, in Let them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality, argue that the Republican Party has merged plutocratic economic priorities with a right-wing populist appeal that threatens American democracy. In a YouTube interview referencing decades of research, Hacker and Pierson explain the doom-loop of tax-cutting that characterizes the Republican strategy.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse believes that approach is undermining our democratic government. His presentation during the confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court details how untraceable money from people “with practically unlimited resources have [manipulated] that most precious of American gifts—the vote.” It’s not just the popular vote they are attempting to control but also the votes in Congress to protect and expand their wealth.
A ProPublica piece by Justin Elliott and Robert Faturechi Secret IRS Files Reveal How Much the Ultrawealthy Gained by Shaping Trump’s “Big, Beautiful Tax Cut” uncovered confidential IRS records. They show billionaire business owners deploying lobbyists to make sure Trump’s 2017 tax bill was tailored to their benefit.
Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson threatened to vote “no” on Trump’s tax cut unless it included a pass-through provision as tax relief for “small businesses.” The reporters connected that tax break to two families of the largest donors to Johnson’s and Trump’s campaigns. They contributed around $20 million just to groups backing Johnson’s 2016 reelection campaign. That is a lot of money, but they also netted $215 million in tax deductions in 2018 alone from Johnson, altering Trump’s original tax-proposed package. Elliott and Faturechi’s finding was based on lobbying and campaign finance disclosures, Treasury Department emails and calendars obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, and confidential tax records.
Why haven’t revelations like these prompted a populist movement to redirect these types of tax benefits to the shrinking middle class? Unfortunately, that potential political movement has been hindered by a narrative, primarily pushed by the Republicans, that any increase in a tax will lead to less money in the average voter’s pockets and less freedom in their daily lives. Republicans adhered to that message in opposing any new tax on the wealthiest to help fund President Biden’s legislation investment in our dilapidated infrastructure, disregarding that it would have created a more robust economy and more significant employment opportunities.
A tax on the top 1% or even the top 10% of the population does not lessen the income of wage-working families. However, the growing wealth gap is not seen as important by those families. Polls of voters show that the distribution of wealth lands near the bottom of their concerns. This attitude may be partly due to the perception that to close this gap, socialism would result, which the Republicans repeatedly link to the authoritarian governments of Russia or China.
However, the two biggest communist governments in the world are experiencing the same growing wealth gap within their populations as the largest capitalist country in the world. Why is that? Even though Russia and China pledged to create an egalitarian society and the U.S. professes to protect individual freedoms, all three have removed or reduced regulations on their domestic market that would stop elites from monopolizing it. These elites may come from inherited wealth or political party status or just individuals working within each country’s economic system. The result is the same: a concentration of capital resources among fewer people is happening in both communist and capitalist countries.
For a moment, let’s look at what is happening in Russian and China. The grandest and longest experiment in eliminating the excessive concentration of wealth would be the Soviet Union. As the Soviet economy was formed, the royalty and the farmers who owned their land were stripped of their property, if not personally eliminated, because they hindered the creation of an egalitarian society. In some ways, that objective was achieved. For example, in the 1970s, the Soviet Union was heralded as a nation that had succeeded in providing more housing for its citizens than the U.S.
However, thirty years later, a new wealthy elite has emerged that rules Russia. Timothy Snyder, in On Tyranny, argues that the Russian oligarchy came to power after 1990 due to the efforts of President Vladimir V. Putin. They remain in control, not only destroying that country’s democracy but working to destroy democracies elsewhere.
China, the world’s largest “communist” nation, and like Russia communist in name only, is now struggling with how to contain its wealthy oligarchy, according to an article in Foreign Affairs by Anko Milanovic, a professor at the London School of Economics. Milanovic believes that “Inequality has become the Chinese system’s Achilles’ heel, belying the government’s nominally socialist tenets and undermining the implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled.”
The number of billionaires in Russia and particularly China has mushroomed. Beijing has more billionaires than New York City. If Hong Kong is politically merged with China, the U.S. will drop behind China in the number of billionaires. Russia currently has the fifth-largest number of billionaires in the world. Neither China nor Russia come close to having a democratic government or society, so the public has limited opportunity to close their wealth gap.
Some historians argue that there will always be some variation in the distribution of wealth in a society. In Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari notes that it may have begun when agriculture replaced foraging about 10,000 years ago. The resulting surplus food begat a “pampered elite.” Promoting the concentration of wealth in a society is rarely acclaimed as a goal by the rulers. Nevertheless, a history of revolutions initiated by the disenfranchised seems to always result in sustaining some noticeable gap in wealth among the population.
So, what is to be done about America’s growing disparity in wealth? As long as we have a functioning democracy that allows the public to shape our laws effectively, we can halt the growth of the existing wealth disparity and even reverse it. Our political parties must educate the public that it takes resources to maintain a stable society.
When the wealthiest do not contribute their fair share of resources, that society will witness populist movements pushing for radical and usually expedient but undemocratic changes. Coming from either the left or the right, they will support more opportunities to improve people’s lives. But, without a solid democratic framework that promotes the civil rights of all citizens, like encouraging the right to vote, their changes will not halt the emergence of powerful, wealthy elites, as is what is happening in Russia and China today.
The path forward is through establishing a fair tax structure to stop excessive wealth, and hence political power, from being accumulated by just a sliver of the population. There must be a tax system that does not reward speculation more than wage labor, as ours does now. Any political party stubbornly resisting a tax on those ablest to pay is traveling a fool’s journey into a long dark tunnel with no satisfying end in sight.

 

Trumpite multimillionaires push white ethnic nationalism while undermining democratic governance

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Written by Nick Licata | Originally published 8/11/2021


 

unnamed (7)Supporters of President Donald Trump gathered outside the office where ballots were being counted in Phoenix on Nov. 6.  Credit…Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

            Recently there has been extensive reporting on how a select group of the wealthiest Americans promotes Donald Trump’s accusation that he won the election, referred to as the Big Lie. Nothing new here.
However, the current reporting shows how multimillionaires, foundations, and news media stars use white ethnic nationalism to protect an unregulated market economy. An economy that best serves the richest from being tapped to fund government programs, like providing greater economic opportunities for the shrinking middle class. In that effort, a new role model for this strategy has emerged, the anti-immigration and anti-democratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
            The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer ignited a new round of discussing how the role of money in politics is undermining our democratic institutions. Her piece The Big Money Behind the Big Lie has received strong endorsements from other reporters, two of which are Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce and Dartagnan of the Daily Kos.
Mayer exposes who is behind the half-year-long Presidential election ballot recount in Arizona, despite no evidence that one was needed. She begins with the multimillionaire founder of Overstock.com, Patrick Byrn, who financed the film “The Deep Rig.” It claims that Joe Biden supporters, including Antifa members, stole the 2020 Presidential election. According to Mayer, “the film’s director, who had previously made an exposé contending that the real perpetrators of 9/11 were space aliens.”
The film is relevant to the Arizona recount because it introduces Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, a Florida-based company that consults on software security. Logan asserts that CIA agents, among other “deep state” bureaucrats, have intentionally spread disinformation about the election. He warns viewers that, “If we don’t fix our election integrity now, we may no longer have a democracy.”
Ignoring this attitude or because of it, the president of the Arizona State Senate, Karen Fann, put Logan’s company in charge of the “forensic audit.” His firm had never performed an election audit. They took months to complete an analysis of Arizona’s Presidential election vote. In July, the company released figures on how they funded the audit. They reported that private donations covered 97 percent of the cost. Public funding was $150,000; private funding was nearly $5.7 million. The identifiable funding groups were ones that have promoted false claims that the election was tainted. Do you think that might have influenced the auditors?
The attempt by Trump supporters to find fraud in their audit is not rationally justified by the data available to the public. For example, although the Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, certified Biden’s victory in Arizona, state and federal courts rejected fraud claims, two previous audits of Maricopa County, Arizona’s largest county, found the count had been accurate. That county went for Biden by more than two points.
Back in May, even the Republican-majority board of supervisors of Maricopa County in a public meeting called the audit a “sham” and a “spectacle that is harming all of us.” The Board Chair called the recount a “grift disguised as an audit” because Trump supporters raised funds for the recount without any public oversight on how the donated money was spent.
In August, a new report further weakened the justification for a recount. A team of three experienced election auditors using public records showed that Biden beat Donald Trump during every day of voting in the presidential election in Maricopa County, Arizona.
The researchers consisted of two from Clear Ballot, a federally certified election auditing and technology firm, and an experienced Arizona Republican Party election observer. They also discovered that the number of Arizona disaffected Republican voters who voted for Biden was over four times greater than the statewide margin of Trump’s vote loss to Biden. In other words, Biden won in Arizona because many Republicans voted for Republicans running for lower public offices but not for Trump.
So, why the need for a recount since there is so much evidence that the election was a fair one and no evidence to support the Big Lie that it was stolen? The answer is that the Republican Party needs Donald Trump’s populist appeal to turn out white voters in their primaries. And just as important, multimillionaire business owners will donate unlimited amounts to elect a Trump Republican candidate. So, the white voters believe they have someone who will protect their social interests and the business owners get someone who will protect their financial interests.
For both groups, servicing the economic needs and protecting the civil rights of everyone through mandated government regulations is seen as dangerously changing the status quo. They cannot believe that most Americans were so stupid to have voted for Biden, who would undoubtedly make their lives worse off. There must have been a conspiracy to steal the election from Trump. The only way to get Trump back in office is now to show how he lost the election through fraud.
Besides identifying individual multimillionaires Byrn and Logan, Mayer also identifies a couple of private foundations funding efforts to show that the election was stolen from Trump. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation’s website notes that a guiding principle is to “combat efforts to undermine economic freedom.” However, it has funded efforts over the last six years to find fraud in elections that have elected people who threaten that free market.
Mayer says Bradley’s track record shows how it has “become an extraordinary force in persuading mainstream Republicans to support radical challenges to election rules.” The foundation’s endowment of $850 million has funded a network of groups spreading fear about election fraud. Since 2012, when Barak Obama ran for his second term, the Bradley Foundation spent $18 million supporting eleven conservative groups involved in election issues.
Mayer also identifies the Heritage Foundation as one of the leaders in the well-funded movement to constrain access to voting. The Bradley Foundation is its third-largest contributor. Both foundations are now pursuing an objective that Paul Weyrich, one of Heritage’s founders, openly stated, according to Nancy Maclean in her book Democracy in Chains, “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
The Heritage Foundation’s Election Law Reform Initiative is headed up by Hans von Spakovsky, who worked in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, using the Voting Rights Act, to prosecute purported fraud by Black voters and election officials. Afterward, he was a lawyer for the Public Interest Legal Foundation, which immediately filed a suit against Maricopa County, alleging that a Sharpie-using voter had been disenfranchised. However, Arizona’s Republican attorney general concluded after a day of investigation that the Sharpie story was nonsense.
The camaraderie between Trump and the Heritage Foundation led to at least 66 Heritage Foundation employees and alumni receiving positions in the Trump administration. According to Jonathan Mahler of the New York Times Magazine, both share the same constituencies. Much like Trump’s, Heritage’s constituency is equal parts donor class and populist base. Its $80 million annual budget depends on six-figure donations from wealthy Republicans. The Foundation website claims to have voluntary support from more than 500,000 members, but there is no breakout of how much they provide to the foundation’s budget.
Appealing to aggrieved white Americans and frightened wealthy Americans is a dynamite formula for blowing up our democracy’s institutions. The passion of a reactionary populist movement and the deep pockets of the richest can dismantle any government trying to shift services and resources to those who have not been sufficiently receiving them.
And that is why Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has become the hero of this nation’s most-watched right-wing populist, Fox News host Tucker Carlson. He treated his 3 million viewer audience to a whole week of broadcasting from the Hungarian capital. In addition, Tucker personally met with Orbán and each posted photos of their meeting on social media.
He was in Budapest to address a conference of Mathias Corvinus Collegium. The New York Times reported that Orbán granted $1.7 billion (about one percent of Hungary’s GDP) to it to train a new generation of conservative elite across Europe.
However, like Orbán and Carlson, radical conservatives have relabeled a “conservative” as a proponent of primarily protecting the way of life for some racial or ethnic groups who fear other such groups from disrupting or destroying it. Immigration is the touchstone of such a fear in Hungary and America for them.
Carlson tweets that at the rate of immigration coming into Hungary, “unless something changes dramatically, there will be no more Hungarians.” Orbán’s solution, which Carlson applauds, is “helping the native population to have more children.” They both accuse liberals of supporting a policy to “import a replacement population from the Third World.” Sound familiar? Something like building a wall between America and Mexico. No need to stop Canadians; they’re one of us.
Orbán has embraced ethnonationalism (“Hungary for the Hungarians”) in opposing immigrants coming into his country who are not Hungarians. He also uses this perspective as a defense of “Christendom” against Islam and to save white Christian European Heritage from the corrupting influence of liberalism that accepts gays and women as equal citizens. Orbán banned gender studies from higher education and, in 2020, ended the legal recognition of transgender and intersex people.
Through these and other policies, he proudly hailed Hungary as an “illiberal democracy,” which he has recently renamed “Christian democracy.” But, unfortunately, the democracy component in either version has shriveled as Orbán has carefully undermined an independent press.  Reporters Without Borders listed Orbán as one of the world’s 37 “press freedom predators,” arguing that he “has steadily and effectively undermined media pluralism and independence since being returned to power in 2010.”
Hungary’s judiciary has also been severely compromised. When Orbán’s political party, the Fidesz, achieved a supermajority in parliament, they promptly changed the constitution to expand its constitutional court, which decides whether laws passed by parliament are constitutional. Orbán filled the new seats with Fidesz loyalists while also forcing all judges over the age of 62 to retire. He then filled their seats with Fidesz-friendly jurists.
Orbán and his party’s institutional changes have led to charges that Hungary is on the road to becoming an authoritarian state.  The European Parliament voted three years ago, in September 2018, to label Orbán’s government a “systemic threat to the rule of law.” More restrictions on traditional liberal freedoms have occurred since then.
Could this be America’s future if Donald Trump returns or Trumpites come to have a supermajority in congress?  Carlson asked his TV audience, “Should we follow Hungary’s example?” while lauding Hungary’s pro-nationalist and increasingly restrictive laws on personal freedoms.
An alliance of the very rich, the Christian white ethnic-nationalists, and the right-wing media are working very hard to win over the Republican Party to that cause. They appear to be succeeding.

Continued