Mark Weisbrot

Trump's coup is failing — but a similar effort backed by the US already succeeded

In recent weeks, Donald Trump has been ridiculed, slathered with contempt, and repeatedly branded a "liar," as well as an existential threat to democracy in the United States, by the biggest media outlets in the country. This is in response to his attempts to reverse the results of the U.S. presidential election, and claiming—without evidence—that it was stolen. He still clings to these allegations, but he will be leaving the White House on January 20.

But just over a year ago, a similar effort was launched in Bolivia, and it actually prevailed. The country's democratically elected president, Evo Morales, was toppled three weeks after the October 20 vote, before his term was finished. He left the country after the military "asked" him to resign.

The similarities are remarkable. Leaders of the Bolivian opposition indicated before the votes were counted, as Trump did, that they would not accept the result if they lost. Like Trump, they had no evidence for their allegations of fraud when the votes were counted. And as with Trump, the falseness of their charges was obvious from day one.

Some readers may question the relevance of the comparison with a developing country whose democratic institutions have a shorter history, and are in important ways weaker than those in the U.S. government. But the Bolivian right would not have succeeded, where Trump has failed, if not for another important difference: the Bolivian right had powerful help from outside the country in pulling off their coup.

Not surprisingly some of this help came from the Trump administration, which stated the day after the coup that "Morales's departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard."

Even more important help came from the Organization of American States (OAS), which, not coincidentally, gets 60 percent of its funding from the United States. The OAS also currently has a leader, Luis Almagro, who at the time of Bolivia's election needed the support of Trump and his allied right-wing governments in the Americas in order to be reelected as the head of the organization. The OAS issued a statement the day after the election, expressing "deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results."

This allegation turned out to be "false," as the New York Times would later report; but as the Times noted, this false allegation "changed the South American nation's history." It changed history because it served as the political foundation for the military coup on November 10, 2019.

Another similarity: remember when Trump and his Republican allies were saying that the Democrats were "stealing" the election here because the later, mostly mail-in votes were coming in overwhelmingly from Democrats? Of course this was false; the truth was simply that more Democrats than Republicans were voting by mail.

The OAS allegation in Bolivia was the same: for various reasons—including geography—votes in the pro-Morales areas came in later than those for the opposing candidates. This was obvious from the day after the election by simply looking at the areas where the earlier and later votes were coming from; the data was all on the web. That's why 133 economists and statisticians from various countries—the majority from the United States—signed a letter demanding that the OAS retract its false statements.

That's why four members of the U.S. Congress asked the OAS if they ever considered the possibility—which amazingly was not mentioned in three more OAS reports—that the later-reporting precincts were politically different from the earlier ones.

It's been a year, and the OAS still hasn't answered.

In October, the de facto government, which took power after last year's coup, held elections, after postponing them twice. Luis Arce, Evo Morales's economy minister for 13 years, won by a margin of more than 26 percentage points.

But the people killed by the post-coup government, including at least 22 people killed in two massacres committed by security forces, cannot be brought back to life. The victims were all Indigenous.

Like the effort of Trump in the United States—as seen in the recent Republican attempt to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes from Detroit, Michigan, where nearly 80 percent of residents are Black—the assault on democracy in Bolivia is also tied to systemic racism.

Evo Morales is the first Indigenous president in a country with the largest percent of Indigenous population in the Americas, who have overwhelmingly supported him and his party; the leaders of the coup are infused with white supremacists and seek to restore the dominance of the mostly white elite who ruled the country before Morales was first elected in 2005.

U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, both of Chicago, have called for Congress to investigate the role of the OAS in Bolivia following the 2019 election.

This is vitally important, because the coup, and the violence and political repression that followed, might never have happened without the OAS's pivotal role. Perhaps most importantly, the OAS had an enormous impact on the international and domestic media, with many journalists mistakenly believing that the OAS Electoral Observation Mission was impartial, and that therefore their allegations were true.

But the Bolivian coup is not the first time that the OAS has abused its authority as an electoral observer, in order to support a U.S.-backed effort to topple a democratically elected government. This happened in Haiti between 2000 and 2004. And also in Haiti, the OAS did something in 2011 that perhaps no election observers had ever done: they reversed the results of a first-round presidential election, without even a recount or a statistical analysis.

The OAS and its leadership must be held accountable, or these crimes will keep happening.

Mark Weisbrot is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Failed: What the "Experts" Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015).

This article was produced in partnership by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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The OAS has been manipulated by Washington many times over the years in the service of regime change. Twenty-first century examples include Haiti (2000-2004, and 2011), Honduras (2009), and Paraguay (2012). It was in response to Washington’s manipulation of the OAS, in the process of consolidating the 2009 military coup in Honduras, that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was formed. It includes all countries in the hemisphere except the United States and Canada.

But in these other cases, Washington had to pretend it was doing something other than carrying out a political campaign against a sovereign government. Almagro is much more brazen. Like the communists of Karl Marx’s time, he “disdains to conceal his views.” He is a radical and seeks to win his goals by any means necessary.

His main goal at present is to get rid of the current government of Venezuela. In the run-up to the congressional elections there last December, he worked tirelessly to try and convince the media and the world that the government was going to rig the elections. When the vote count was universally acknowledged as clean, he made no apologies but simply switched tactics.

Almagro’s latest offensive involves invoking the OAS Democratic Charter, which allows the organization to intervene when there is an “unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state.” Never mind that Venezuela still has an elected president, unlike Brazil, where a cabal of corrupt politicians has manipulated the legislative and judicial branches of government to suspend the head of state in a desperate effort to protect themselves from investigations for corruption. Almagro’s offensive is about politics, not democracy. It’s about what Washington and its right-wing allies want for the region.

Exhibiting a profound lack of respect for the political norms of Latin America, Almagro posted an article by Washington Post editorialist Jackson Diehl on the OAS website. The article praised Almagro for “revitalizing the OAS” with his crusade against a member state. It is no more appropriate for the head of the OAS to campaign against a member country than it would be for the head of the European Commission to do so in Europe.

In Latin America there is a deep historical tradition that values national sovereignty and self-determination, however incomprehensible and arrogantly dismissed those concepts may be in Washington. Diehl is a hard core neoconservative, an American supremacist who uses the editorial pages of the Washington Post to trash almost all of the left governments of the region, and to support military intervention anywhere that it might vaguely serve “American interests.” He was one of the most prominent and vocal supporters of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, with the Post running 27 editorial board pieces supporting the war in the six months prior to the invasion.

Basking in the praise of someone like Jackson Diehl, for any literate Latin American, is the equivalent of Trump’s infamous tweet quoting Mussolini.

There are immediate and risky consequences of Almagro’s malfeasance and abuse of power. Venezuela is confronting an economic and political crisis and the country is politically divided. The political opposition in Venezuela is also divided; as throughout its 21st century history, some want to advocate peaceful and electoral change, while others want to overthrow the government. A normal leader of the OAS would do what the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is doing — try to promote dialogue between the two opposing forces. Since the main opposition group (MUD) and other opposition leaders refuse to meet with the government, UNASUR has enlisted José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (former prime minister of Spain), Martín Torrijos (former president of Panama), and Leonel Fernández (former president of the Dominican Republic) to meet with both sides in order to facilitate dialogue.

But Almagro is not interested in promoting dialogue; he is more interested in using the OAS, and its reach in the media, to delegitimize the Venezuelan government, a goal that Washington has pursued for most of the past 15 years.

Impatience with Almagro within the OAS is mounting. Many governments have publicly criticized him, and several have called for his resignation. He had previously been denounced by former president Pepe Mujica of Uruguay, whom he had served as foreign minister.

Most importantly, in June, 19 countries (a majority of the OAS membership) ordered that the Permanent Council of the OAS discuss his behavior. This is long overdue, and hopefully will lead to a change of leadership.

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There's a reason for this well-established trend that the Democrats tend to win among those who vote on economic issues. Although both parties are subject to undue influence from powerful corporate interests, the Republicans have been much more consistent in advocating government policies that redistribute income from working and middle-class Americans to the rich. They are also much less friendly to the most important government programs that insure people against economic catastrophe, such as Social Security and Medicare.

These partisan differences are evident in the current presidential campaign. On Social Security, McCain has in the past supported President Bush's partial privatization plan, which was rightly rejected as an attempt to undermine the nation's most important anti-poverty program and social safety net. McCain has also undermined Social Security by wildly misrepresenting its financial condition, alleging that the program is "going broke." (For the record, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, Social Security will pay all promised benefits for the next 40 years without any changes whatsoever. It would need only minor changes, less than those adopted in each of the decades of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to remain solvent for 75 years).

Obama rejects privatization of Social Security -- as well as Medicare, where the Republicans have increased the role of private insurance companies by giving them wasteful taxpayer subsidies. On health care, one of the most interesting features of Obama's proposal is the establishment of a public insurance program similar to Medicare, which employers and uninsured individuals could buy into. This would be subsidized and could be an important step towards universal health insurance.

McCain wants people to buy their own private health insurance. He is willing to give them a subsidy from the government, but the $5000 he offers is far less than the $12,500 it costs to insure a typical family. Even worse, he proposes to tax the health insurance benefits provided by employers, which are currently tax-free. This would be a hefty tax increase for tens of millions of working Americans. It also puts at risk the health insurance of many of the 160 million people who depend on employment-based insurance policies.

McCain has also been reluctant to support a fiscal stimulus that will be necessary to limit the size and duration of the current downturn. This could be a costly mistake. As consumers cut back on spending -- which is already happening this quarter -- the recession will deepen unless the government is willing to make up for it. Obama has proposed a stimulus package that is too small, but will almost certainly support larger plans that will come from the Democratic Congress.

McCain has proposed yet another cut in the capital gains tax -- from 15 percent to 7.5 percent. This would go overwhelmingly to rich people, and would have little or no effect on economic growth. He also wants to make permanent President Bush's tax cuts for rich households. By contrast, Obama has proposed to cut taxes for everyone earning under $250,000 -- about ninety-five percent of taxpayers -- and pay for it with an increase on the five percent who make more than that.

With millions of Americans facing foreclosure notices on their homes, insufficient and collapsed retirement savings, rising unemployment, falling real wages, and what is likely the worst recession for at least three decades -- it's getting tougher to distract voters from the most important economic issues that affect their lives. Hence, the Republicans' bad luck in the polls.

How World Leaders Can Reverse the Economic Meltdown

The current economic crisis is the result of an extraordinary period of extreme economic mismanagement. The world's central banks, most importantly the Federal Reserve Board in the United States, made the decision to ignore, if not actively cultivate, the growth of asset bubbles. This was the case with stock market bubbles in the 90s and housing bubbles in the current decade.

They compounded this mistake by ignoring the explosive growth of credit and new complex derivative instruments. They allowed financial institutions to become hugely over-leveraged, ensuring that the collapse of the bubble would lead to major financial disruptions.

Finally, they failed to recognize the seriousness of the problem, understating the size of the problem at every step. This has slowed efforts to muster an adequate response to the situation. President Bush and other political leaders markedly worsened the situation when they raised the specter of the Great Depression and otherwise sought to raise fears in order to gain public support for the bank bailout package.

The meeting this weekend of the G-7 provides an extraordinary opportunity to begin the reversal of this dismal record. First, it is necessary to have a coordinated financial and monetary policy to stem the immediate financial crisis. This will require bank bailouts that focus on the direct injection of capital into the banking system, following the example of the United Kingdom earlier this week.

The financial system will also benefit from further cuts in overnight lending rates, especially by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB's focus on concerns over inflation at this economic junction is almost as foolish and potentially more harmful than the decision to ignore the growth of the housing bubble.

The other key component of an economic recovery package should be a coordinated fiscal stimulus. In the United States, this stimulus should be on the order of $300 billion to $400 billion (2.0-2.7 percent of GDP). This stimulus is essential for counteracting the sharp falloff in consumption that is following the loss of $5 trillion in housing wealth and President Bush's scare tactics for promoting his bank bailout.

The stimulus should be designed to quickly boost demand. In the United States, this can best be done by aiding state and local governments, extending unemployment benefits, tax rebates to low income individuals, accelerating infrastructure spending and support for energy conserving retrofits of homes and businesses. It is also essential that the dollar fall against other major currencies in order to bring the trade deficit back to a manageable level.

It is possible that even larger boosts to spending may be necessary to restore normal economic activity. The federal government must be prepared to spend whatever amount is needed to keep the economy creating jobs. This was the main lesson that we learned from the Great Depression. Concerns over deficits prevented the government from taking sufficient measures to boost the economy out of its slump until World War II left the government no choice. It would be an enormous tragedy for the country and the world if the United States were to repeat the same mistakes almost 80 years later.

Employee Free Choice Act Could Be Biggest Reform Since New Deal

While it hasn't gotten much attention, one of the most important issues that our elections this November could decide is the future of organized labor in the United States. This is important not just for the 15.7 million workers who happen to be in unions, but for the vast majority of the entire 154 million-member U.S. labor force. The wages, benefits, and working conditions of most employees are affected by collective bargaining even if they don't have a union. For example, employers who want to keep unions out will sometimes have to offer their workers such amenities as health insurance.

One of the most important problems that our economy has faced for the last 30 years has been stagnating real wages. With inflation now running at 10.6 percent over the last quarter, the problem appears to most people to be rising prices, including food and energy. But for more than two decades prior to the past year, inflation has been tame. Yet the real -- inflation-adjusted -- wage of the typical employee barely increased at all over the whole 34 years from 1973-2007.

This is amazing, when we consider that productivity -- the amount that workers produce per hour -- increased quite substantially over the period. Measured very conservatively, if we take "usable productivity" -- the increased production that we can expect to be reflected in rising wages -- it rose by 48 percent from 1973-2007. So our economy grows but, unlike in the past, most employees do not share in the gains.

One important reason for this great leap backwards is that the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively have been sharply curtailed over the last three decades.

For example, employees still have the legal right to petition for a federally-run election at their workplace, in which workers can vote on whether or not to join a union. To get such an election, they need the signatures of at least 30 percent of the employees. But after the employees get enough signatures for the election, employers very often intimidate workers through threats and firings before the vote is held. The Center for Economic and Policy Research has estimated that one in five workers who are actively involved in a union organizing drive can expect to be fired. Many others are "persuaded" to vote against the union through a long, captive audience campaign of employer threats and harassment.

As a result of these tactics, only about 12 percent of employees are organized in unions today, as compared with 35 percent in the 1950s. Reform legislation called the Employee Free Choice Act would give employees a fighting chance to regain some of their lost rights. This bill would mandate that an employer recognize the union if it obtains the signatures of a majority of employees. There would be no need for the long and costly -- especially to the workers who are fired -- election campaign.

A poll by Global Strategies Group this month found that 68 percent of middle-class Americans support the Employee Free Choice Act. Polls also indicate that tens of millions would join a union if they had the choice.

The bill passed the House 241-185 but was filibustered by Republicans in the Senate. It's a party-line split in the Senate (except for support from Republican Senator Arlen Specter). So the bill would need a Democratic president and something close to 59 Democrats in the Senate in order to pass.

This law would probably change Americans' lives more than any legislation since the New Deal brought us Social Security. The political influence of millions of new union members would also bring us closer to such basic reforms as universal health care. It's all long overdue.

Anti-War Movement Successfully Pushes Back Against Military Confrontation With Iran

Who says there's no anti-war movement in the United States? In the past two months, the anti-war movement has taken on one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States in an important fight. And so far, the anti-war movement is winning.

Here's the story: On May 22, a bill was introduced into Congress that effectively called for a blockade of Iran, H. Con. Res. 362. Among other expressions of hostility, the bill calls for: "prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran ... " This sounded an awful lot like it was calling for a blockade, which is an act of war. A dangerous proposition, especially given all the efforts that the Bush-Cheney administration has taken to move us closer to a military confrontation with Iran, the bluster and the threats, and the refusal to engage in direct talks with the Iranian government. The last thing we need is for the war party to get encouragement from Congress to initiate more illegal and extremely dangerous hostilities in the Persian Gulf. If the bill were to pass, the Bush Administration could take it as a green light for a blockade. It's hard to imagine the Iranians passively watching their economy strangled for lack of gasoline (which they import), without at least firing a few missiles at the blockaders.

Whereupon all hell could break loose.

By June 20 this bill was zipping through Congress, with 169 co-sponsors, soon to accumulate more than 200 Representatives. Amazingly, it was projected to appear quickly on the House Suspension Calendar. This is a special procedure that allows the House of Representatives to pass non-controversial legislation by a super-majority. It allows the bill to avoid amendments and other procedural votes, as well as normal debate. An aide to the Democratic leadership said the resolution would pass Congress like a "hot knife through butter."

Groups opposed to military confrontation with Iran sprang into action, including Peace Action, United for Peace and Justice, the National Iranian-American Council, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Code Pink, and Just Foreign Policy. They generated tens of thousands of emails, letters, phone calls, and other contacts with members of Congress and their staff. The first co-sponsor to change his position on the bill was Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), an influential member of Congress who chairs the powerful House Financial Services Committee. He apologized for "not having read [the bill] more carefully," and pledged that he would not support the bill with the blockade language.

Then Robert Wexler, (D-FL), peeled off, also stating that he would not continue to support the bill if the blockade language were not changed.

Most of the major media ignored the controversy, but two newspapers noticed it. The first was Seattle's Post-Intelligencer, whose editorial board denounced the resolution on June 24 and asked, "are supporters of Res. 362 asleep at the wheel, or are they just anxious to drag us into another illegal war?"

Then on June 27 the editorial board of Newsday published an editorial calling for a full debate on the bill. Newsday has a large circulation, and perhaps more importantly, it publishes in the New York district of Congressman Gary Ackerman -- the lead author of the H. Con. Res. 362.

Then, earlier this month, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) wrote: "[Howard] Berman [Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs] has indicated that he has no intention of moving the bill through his committee unless the language is first altered to ensure that there is no possible way it could be construed as authorizing any type of military action against Iran ... I will withdraw my support for the bill if this change is not made."

The result, so far: no Congressional endorsement of a blockade against Iran. A dangerous piece of legislation, primed to pass through the House without debate, stopped in its tracks by an anti-war movement. And some Members of Congress are going to be a bit more careful about doing things that could move the country down the road to another war.

The anti-war movement's victory was all the more impressive given that the main lobby group promoting H. Con. Res. 362 was AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Although AIPAC does not represent the opinion of the majority of American Jews, it is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. To get a flavor of how much influence it has, AIPAC's annual policy meeting in Washington in June was attended by half of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Washington Post. It's tough to think of another Washington lobby group that could pull off something like that -- certainly no other organization concerned with foreign policy comes to mind.

Of course, this is just one skirmish in the long battle to end this current, senseless war in Iraq -- a war that has needlessly claimed the lives of more than 4000 Americans and, according to the best scientific estimates, more than a million Iraqis; and to prevent our leaders from launching another criminally insane war. But it shows that, even in the rather limited form of democracy as exists in 21st century America, there is an organized anti-war movement and it has real power. It doesn't look like the anti-war movement of the last century, with street demonstrations, nationally known leaders, and regular expressions of public outrage. (It's not clear that the major media would give much more attention to the movement or its views -- that is, the views of the majority of the country -- even if it did pull huge crowds into the streets.)

But it is there, it is organized, it is intelligent and strategic. It will continue to grow, no matter what happens in November.

Why Subsidize Purchases Made on the Internet?

Can our state and local governments afford to subsidize businesses that conduct their sales only on the internet, rather than through physical retail stores? And if we could, is there a good reason to do so?

These are the two most obvious questions when addressing the issue of whether internet businesses, such as the e-commerce pioneer, should have to collect and pay the same sales taxes as your neighborhood brick-and-mortar music store (if you have one) has to do. Currently they do not.

On the affordability question, the answer appears to be no and getting more no. Fiscal year 2009 begins in a few weeks, and at least 29 states plus the District of Columbia are facing budget shortfalls. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, these states have faced a combined shortfall of $48 billion, or more than 9 percent of their general fund budgets.

Although many of these states have been taking measures to close their budget gaps, the current projections are likely to wind up being over-optimistic. The recession in this country has barely begun, and most governments are very likely under-estimating their revenue declines for the coming fiscal year. The housing bubble that accumulated between 1996 and 2006 gave homeowners an extra $8 trillion of paper wealth. But what a bubble giveth, it taketh away too, and only about half of this bubble has deflated.

As the rest of the bubble collapses, there will be a lot less property tax revenue to fund schools, police, and other government services. As the recession deepens, unemployment rises, and consumers cut back on spending, state and local government revenue from income tax, sales tax, and other sources will decline more than anticipated. Unlike the federal government, most states cannot borrow to cover an operational budget deficit. This means that they will cut spending, including such items as health insurance for children and low-income families, child care, and elementary education. In fact, at least 18 states are already making these kinds of cuts, and the recession has barely started.

In the last recession, which lasted only eight months and was mild compared to what can be expected this time, more than a million people lost health coverage because of state spending cuts.

So we cannot afford to lose tens of billions of dollars in state and local tax revenues by exempting internet sales. But even if it were affordable, there is no good economic reason to do so. Why should our governments favor far-away internet distribution centers over local businesses? This is not good for local or regional economic development. The problem will worsen as internet sales increase each year.

It has been argued that the burden of following the sales tax regulations for 50 states and thousands of local taxing jurisdictions is too much for internet businesses. But the availability of software and service companies has taken the wind out of this argument. Others complain that sales taxes are in general regressive - that is, such taxes take proportionately more from lower-income groups. This is true, but exempting internet sales makes the tax system even more regressive, since internet buyers as a group have higher-than-average income.

So if your local sporting goods store can collect and pay a sales tax on the running shoes that it sells, the big internet retailers can do the same. No need to give e-commerce a 4 to 9 percent advantage to ship from across the country and use more packaging and delivery services. They can compete on the same terms as everyone else, and stop draining badly needed revenue from our state and local governments.

The Audacity of Populism

Eighty-one percent of Americans now agree that "things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track," the most since this question has been asked and a remarkable preponderance of pessimism by any comparison.

And this recession is only beginning; real home prices have dropped only about 13 percent, since peak) after rising 70 percent (in real, inflation-adjusted terms) from trend levels until mid-2006. There is a long way to go before we see a sustained recovery.

The combination of a long, deeply unpopular war and what looks like it will be the worst recession in at least 25 years -- and possibly much longer -- carries the potential for serious political upheaval. It would take political incompetence of the highest order for the Democrats not to score significant gains in Congress and win the presidency in November.

But first Barack Obama, the likely Democratic candidate, has to clinch the nomination. The experts agree that if he wins Pennsylvania on April 22, the race will be effectively over.

His major obstacle is the race issue, and this will probably be true for the general election. The white working-class voters that will swing Pennsylvania in the Democratic primary will probably also be the swing voters in the general election (if it turns out to be a close election). The whole flap about Obama's pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, was mainly a means of introducing race into the campaign.

Obama's brilliant speech on March 18, which confronted the issue head-on, elevated the level of discussion and managed to win high praise from both the New York Times (which had endorsed Clinton) and the Washington Post (an early and strong supporter of the Iraq war) editorial boards. This was no mean feat. But there is only a limited amount of education about race and racism that can take place during an election campaign -- in fact we may have already seen most of it.

The Democrats have not taken the majority of the white vote in a presidential election in 44 years. After the civil rights movement had won its victories in voting rights and other institutional changes in the 1960s, President Nixon's "Southern Strategy" molded the white backlash into a semi-permanent electoral majority for the Republican Party. President Reagan launched his 1980 campaign with a speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi -- a place most known for the murder of three civil rights workers in the 1964. The speech was about "states' rights," long known to Southern whites as code for racial segregation. It was no coincidence, and Reagan's other coded messages about such concepts as "welfare queens," helped to consolidate the Republicans' political niche as the "white people's party." It is rarely talked about here, but similar phenomena in poorer countries are often referred to as "tribalism."

But there is one way that Obama can reach those white working class voters who are currently -- without consciously recognizing that it might have something to do with race -- groping for excuses not to vote for him. It may be old fashioned, but he can appeal directly to their class interests. He has moved in that direction since losing these voters in Ohio and elsewhere. In Pennsylvania, he is talking about how he has "met too many workers who have to compete with their teenage kids for jobs at the local fast-food joint that pay $7, $8 an hour because they lost their pension and their health care."

But he needs to do more. He needs to convince these voters that he will do everything in his power to protect them from the impact of this recession. He should say: "Enough already with the billions of our tax dollars going to the bankers and the homebuilders and the greedy, irresponsible, super-rich people who got us into this mess." He can promise he will fight for legislation that would ensure that no homeowner who can pay the current rental value of their home -- now generally much less than their mortgage payment -- will be evicted. This is something that could be guaranteed easily with no cost to the taxpayers.

He needs to propose a bold stimulus package -- several times larger than the relatively small amount that Congress has passed -- on a scale that we have not seen since the New Deal. Something that would focus on employment creation and deliver jobs to the de-industrialized areas where 3.8 million manufacturing jobs have been lost over the last decade. He needs to promise labor law reform that will restore the right of workers to join unions and protect their wages, which have not even kept up with inflation over the last year and have stagnated over the last three decades.

This kind of appeal won't please the media and the pundits, who will rail against "class warfare" and "populism." But it can win over these "Reagan Democrats" whom the party has been unable to capture since 1964. They are more ready than ever for a strong populist message, and as the recession deepens, the gap between them and the media's conventional wisdom will widen. He can talk about how the Iraq war, too, drains resources that could be used to help working people here at home.

According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, only 13 percent of registered voters think Obama would pursue polices that favor the rich over other citizens; 53 percent think McCain would do so. What Obama needs to do is convince the swing voters that this difference will have a significant impact on their lives. If he can do that, he will do well in Pennsylvania, and will most likely become the 44th President of the United States.

Appalling Spread of False Information Requires Stronger Media Accountability

"A free press is supposed to function as our democracy's immune system against . . . gross errors of fact and understanding," wrote Al Gore in his book, The Assault on Reason. But it doesn't - as Gore explains -- and that is what makes the mass media one of the most important obstacles to social and economic progress in the 21st century.

How the media treats repeated falsehoods is a key issue. For example, when the New York Times reports on the allegation -- spread by his enemies -- that presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, there is a sentence that follows immediately: "In fact, he is a Christian. . ."

The media didn't do this kind of "immune system" work when it reported on the run-up to the Iraq war. As a result, more than 70 percent of Americans were convinced that Saddam Hussein was involved in the massacre of September 11. More than 4,000 Americans and over one million Iraqis have been killed in the violence that perhaps could have been averted with better journalism.

A 2008 study by the Center for Public Integrity, "The War Card: Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War," documents 935 false statements by President Bush and seven top officials of his administration. The report notes that "much of the wall-to-wall media coverage provided additional, 'independent' validation of the Bush administration's false statements about Iraq."

Filmmaker Michael Moore told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "We're in the 5th year of this war because you, and CNN… didn't do your jobs back then and now here we are in this mess."

The mass media fails us on many issues other than war and peace. Most Americans under 50 think they are never going to see their Social Security benefits. In fact, the probability that they won't get their Social Security benefits is about the same as the chance that there won't be a U.S. government when they retire - pretty close to zero. The media could correct this widespread false belief by merely inserting a few undisputed facts about Social Security when reporting false statements from politicians and interest groups. For example: "Social Security is more financially sound than it has been throughout most of its 71-year history"; or "Social Security's projected shortfall over the next 75 years is less (as a percent of national income) than what was fixed in each of the following decades: 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s."

Millions of Americans are now "under water" on their homes -- that is, they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. The rate of mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures is breaking records, and has much further to go. Many of these personal financial tragedies could have been avoided had the media reported on the obvious risks of buying a house while a record bubble in house prices was ballooning. Instead, the number one media source on the housing market was David Lereah, then chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, and author of the book Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust and How You Can Profit From It. Reporting on the stock market bubble of the late 90s was even worse.

Of course the media is not monolithic, and the TV media -- the main object of Gore's criticism -- tends to be worse than the print media. And some reporters break with current trends. In 2006 the New York Times used the Center for Economic and Policy Research (where I am Co-Director) as its most cited source on the housing market, and therefore was able to see the housing bubble before it broke. But it is surprising how uniform the major media is on many issues, given that there are competing news organizations. A herd mentality often prevails: journalists know that they will almost never get in trouble for reporting something that is wrong when everyone else is also saying it; but they do take a risk when they report something different, even if it is true.

Here in Washington, when one raises the issue of media responsibility, a common response - from policy analysts, political operatives, and journalists - is that the problem is with the American people, that they are just stupid. Interestingly, however, when one strays a bit from their own area of expertise or concentration, it appears that these professionals also believe a number of falsehoods on important issues -- apparently from having heard these things repeated in the media.

Of course the best counterweight to the media's transgressions is an informed and active citizenry. Part of the reason that the media treats Barack Obama more fairly than it treats Social Security is that Obama has millions of active supporters who would raise hell if the media were to engage in serious abuses of him or his candidacy.

Over the long run, we will need to subject the privately owned mass media to more competition. This will come increasingly from the Internet, but real competition will also require an expanded and better quality public media sector. But until this competition gets a lot bigger, it will be up to the citizenry to hold our highly concentrated media accountable as best we can.

Is Washington Undermining Democracy in Bolivia?

This week's news that the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia has repeatedly asked Peace Corps volunteers and then a Fulbright Scholar to spy on people there is much more serious that it has so far been treated. In fact, together with other activities funded there by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and National Endowment for Democracy, there are grounds for a Congressional inquiry.

These actions reinforce Bolivian officials' claims that Washington seeks to destabilize and even topple their democratic government. This has potentially severe consequences in a region where in recent years approval of the United States, and especially its foreign policy, have reached the lowest levels in the non-Muslim world.

These interventions are also morally reprehensible, and put the United States on the wrong side of a struggle for civil rights, justice, and equality that has much in common with our own civil rights movement of the 1960's. It is perhaps not surprising that the Bush Administration, whose party was on the wrong side of that struggle, too, would be intervening against the government of Evo Morales.

Morales, an Aymara Indian, broke more than 500 years of tradition by being elected Bolivia's first indigenous president at the end of 2005. While vowing to end centuries of discrimination against Bolivia's indigenous majority, who are much poorer than their compatriots of European ancestry, most of the government's measures have benefited the vast majority of Bolivians - of all ethnic groups. For example, the government's re-nationalization of its hydrocarbons industry - mostly natural gas - has brought more than a billion dollars of additional revenue to the government. (This would be equivalent to more than $1.4 trillion dollars in the United States). The government has begun to use this revenue to build hospitals and schools, promote land titling and land reform, and to increase social security payments for the elderly - a major anti-poverty initiative.

All of this has run into opposition from Bolivia's traditional elite, and especially opposition governors who want to keep the gas revenues in the provinces where the gas is located, rather than sharing more of it nationally. It is ironic that the United States ostensibly supports the national sharing of such revenues in Iraq, but not in Bolivia.

USAID has a special "Office of Transition Initiatives" (OTI) that is operating in Bolivia, funneling millions of dollars of training and support for right-wing opposition governments and movements, and trying to influence other political actors as well. According to USAID, "OTI intervenes rapidly and undertakes quick-impact interventions through short-term grants that catalyze broader change." The OTI also claims to support democracy, but they appear to be mostly supporting the "white separatist movement" that has already had four governors declare their provinces autonomous, threatening to break up the country.

Unfortunately, some elements of the Bush Administration have adopted a "Cold War" attitude toward Bolivia. In this new Cold War, Venezuela is the equivalent of the old Soviet Union (never mind that it has a democratically elected government and a capitalist economy) and governments such as Bolivia and Ecuador are seen as client states. Hence the Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholar were asked to report on any Venezuelans or Cubans that they saw in the country.

But there is no evidence that Venezuela - despite the billions of dollars of aid and loans it dispenses throughout the region - has influenced government policy in Bolivia. This is in sharp contrast to the twenty years prior to Evo Morales' government, when Bolivia operated under IMF agreements for virtually the entire two decades. There is a whole paper trail of agreements showing Washington's clear influence over major economic decisions, including macroeconomic policies, privatizations, and trade policy. These policies were also a disastrous failure on their own terms- income per person in Bolivia ended up less than it was 27 years prior.

Since Bolivia has become independent of these institutions, and its democratic government is attempting to deliver on its promises, President Bush has stated that he is "concerned about the erosion of democracy" there -- and his administration is intervening. Now they have put Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars at risk. Congress should investigate these abuses.

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