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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

THE IMPECCABLE LOGIC OF BERNIE OR BUST



                                                                       

                                  

                                                                           

Now that Clinton has virtually sewed up the Democratic nomination, it’s time for Sanders supporters to reassess their commitment to the political revolution he represents. There seems little doubt that those who have not yet voted will cast their ballots for him when they have the chance. The issue is what they will do in November. It is a sure thing that the revolution will not continue if Bernie’s backers line up behind with Clinton. Will they submit to the politics of fear, hold their noses and vote for the representative of all that they stand against, as Clinton and her smug supporters assume?  Or will they hold their ground, choosing to risk a Trump presidency to make the point that there is a line that progressives will not cross? That is the question at the heart of the Bernie or Bust strategy.

It has been argued that Bernie or Bust was a way to influence how Democrats voted in the primaries. The idea was that if voters leaning toward Clinton understood the depth of disgust toward the darling of Wall Street, they would realize that she could actually lose by Sanders supporters withholding their support. The hope was that many of those who preferred Sanders’ stands on the issues would quit rationalizing their support of Clinton on the false premise that she was more electable, which polls have consistently indicated is not the case.  That argument is now moot, however. So, is there still a place for the Bernie or Bust strategy, or was it always just about appealing to the fears of Democratic rank-and-file?  For anyone who understands just how desperately we need a political revolution, the only possible answer is a resounding “yes.”

It is positively mind-blowing to many Sanders supporters that a majority of Democrats nationwide have up until now cast their votes for a candidate backed by Wall Street who has  a record of unrivaled militarism, claims that universal health care is economically unsound despite all the proof to the contrary, who lies even about trivial things (and then about lying about them), backs free trade except when running for President, calls her Democratic opponent a liar and his supports naïve, then insists that he is destroying the Democrat’s chance to beat Trump. There are no rational grounds to argue that she is any kind of progressive, even in the absolutely broadest sense of the term.  Those serious about political “revolution” can hardly support her just when they have the chance to make clear the depth of their conviction that they can no longer accept the status quo.

What Clinton supporters do not seem to realize is that this election is not just about what we are going to accomplish in the next four years. It is about how to reverse the 25-year slide to the right the US has undergone since the last Clinton gave us the “third way,” which many refer to as “Republican lite.” Blind Democratic loyalists do not seem to realize that the party has not failed because “conservative” ideas have become more popular, but because those who profess progressive ideals are unwilling to demand that politicians fight for real political solutions, or even discuss them. The Democratic strategy for negotiations always starts with the assumption that nothing is “politically possible” if it challenges the interests of the economic elite who finance the campaigns of candidates of both Duopoly parties. This reflexive attitude is a direct result of Bill Clinton’s capitulation to the corrupting influence of money in politics, the fight against which is at the heart of the Sanders campaign.

It started when Bill Clinton supported NAFTA, welfare “reform,” banking deregulation, “humanitarian intervention” in Kosovo, three strikes, discriminatory drug crime sentencing and other policies favored by the conservatives and corporate donors he was courting. He has never been held responsible for doing what no Republican would have been able to. Like Hillary, he was granted immunity from all his reprehensible actions because he was unjustly accused of others. The time for excuses is over.

The American economy has been devastated by the actions of Clinton’s Wall Street patrons, who not only remain unpunished but continue to direct economic policy. Economic inequality rivals that of the Gilded Age. College debt is economically handicapping a generation. Health care costs remain out of control and tens of millions remain uninsured despite the added cost to taxpayers of Obamacare. We are engaged in what appears to be endless war, with Clinton promising to double down in Syria, Libya and anywhere else where the interests of her corporate backers in the military industrial complex are threatened. Most critically, we are entering a period when climate instability threatens the existence of human civilization and possibly the survival of mankind.

It seems unlikely that Clinton will have the courage to challenge the Wall Street-dominated fossil fuel industries when she has collected millions from bundlers and individuals working in the fossil fuel industry and from SuperPacs funded by large industry donations. While Sanders has received contributions from individuals in the industry, he has not only refused to take any money from fossil fuels corporations, but has sponsored in each of the last three Congresses constitutional amendments that would ban corporate campaign contributions. He has also explicitly come out against fracking, which Clinton has long supported. While Clinton called the phony “war on terror” her number one national security priority, Sanders correctly identified it as global climate change.

Climate change will determine how much time we have to deal with the consequences of corporate control of the US government. As Bill McKibbin and others have been warning with increasing urgency, time is running out to act. There is nothing in Clinton’s record to suggest that she will stand up to those who have put her in power. Even when she claims to oppose a corporate power grab like TPP or NAFTA, she only does so when she is in the spotlight of a presidential campaign and in doing so, lies about her record of past support. How can we trust her when the survival of the planet is at stake?

“Incrementalism” has proven itself over the years to be two steps backward for every one forward. Clintonism has been the path that has led to this point. We cannot wait four years or more to let the Democratic Party know that we are not going to tolerate the corruption of the system that has led nearly 40% of Americans to give up on voting. If we are ever going to force our government to act in our own interests, we must refuse to vote for candidates who make excuses for not even trying, calling it “pragmatism.” The only reason that single payer health care, ending a self-defeating “war” on terror, regulating the banking and finance industry and creating an economy that works for everyone are “not politically possible” is that average Americans and their elected officials accept the corruption of money in politics as normal, when it should be unacceptable.

Now is the time for the real revolution to begin.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

BERNIE’S LAST SHOT





                                                     




Most people, myself included, predicted that if Sanders didn't win New York he would be pretty much out of the race. Admittedly, the math doesn't look good. Even if you disregard the highly debatable assumption that the superdelegates who have endorsed Clinton would defy the will of the voters in the event that Bernie pulled off a miracle, he will have to win a remarkably high percentage of Democratic votes in the remaining primaries to enter the convention with even a slim lead. There is a way that he could do that, however: Clinton-leaning Democratic voters in the remaining races could choose to vote for the candidate who best represents their views. 

How many Clinton voters have you heard say "I love Sanders' positions on the issues, BUT"?" These reluctant "supporters" have been voting for her in large numbers only because they believe that she is the most viable candidate in the general election or that she is the one who could get the most done, regardless of all the evidence to the contrary. What if a significant proportion of them decided to stop rationalizing their decision to voting against their preferred candidate? While I am not aware of any poll data to back this up, I suspect this would give Sanders the edge he needs to bring in the kind of numbers that would make superdelegates think twice about defying the will of the voters.

None of the earlier arguments about why Sanders still has a chance have changed, even if the odds have dropped because of his unexpectedly sound defeat in New York. He still has the advantage of momentum. It's true that this has momentarily stalled, but one loss does not a trend make. He has still won seven out of the last eight races and is the favorite in the upcoming primaries. While Clinton's more fanatical supporters seem blind to the fact, superdelegates will surely have to recognize that the better Sanders is known, the better his poll numbers, while the more familiar voters become with Clinton's record (as opposed to her resume) the lower her favorability ratings. That's not what delegates endorsing her want to see when their own political futures depend on backing the winning horse.

In terms of electability come November, Sanders has won about as many swing states as Clinton, but may have a better chance in the general. He outperforms her with independents and continues to outpoll her in head to head polls against Trump and other potential Republican nominees. Add to this the fact that 25 percent of Sanders supporters say they will not vote for her, and there could be harm to the party's down ticket prospects as well since many young voters will likely not show up at all. Ignoring the anger at politics-as-usual, Clinton supporters have been demanding that Sanders supporters bend to the party will, hold their noses and vote for yet another corporatist candidate. Since they sincerely believe that it is only logical to vote for whatever politician has a D after his or her name, even those who say they won't vote for Sanders because they are upset at some of his supporters would be unlikely to withhold their votes for him should he be nominated.

Viability in the general election is by far the most important issue superdelegates should be concerned with, since that is what determines their reward for supporting a candidate. If enough Democrats decide that they are tired of voting for candidates who won't make a serious effort (if any) to fight on basic issues like single payer, a $15 minimum wage, ending destructive free trade policies, addressing global climate change, winding down endless wars or seriously taking on Wall Street, their reward will be even greater: They will have an advocate who will keep the spotlight onto the corruption of the political process that has led the party to the brink of selecting a candidate who epitomizes neoliberal and neoconservative values that are antithetical to traditional Democratic positions. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

SYRIA: OBAMA’S BAY OF PIGS



         
                                                                                  





No one is going to get rich reading tea leaves to predict the outcome of the US-backed terrorist invasion of Syria. There are so many confusing events that it’s difficult to keep track of trends that might indicate which way the war on Assad (and the majority of Syrians) is going. That’s why few people have noticed certain positive developments that may indicate that Obama is seeking a way out with what is left of America’s honor. Whether this will lead to a stand down of US efforts at regime change will depend on whether Obama is willing to risk yet another confrontation with influential neocons who are still intent on crippling Iranian influence in the region through destabilizing the Syrian government.

The most recent round of peace talks are not likely to be the sham that previous ones were. Despite Kerry’s tough talk of a Plan B, the US has dropped demands that Assad step down as a precondition to a deal. The alternative to a negotiated resolution, recently leaked to the Wall Street Journal, would involve escalating the conflict by providing more dangerous weapons to the jihadist “rebels.” However, the plan is most likely being presented as the only credible alternative to capitulation to Russian demands in Geneva.  Knowing how man-portable air defense systems (Manpads) could be used by the terrorists in the wake of a collapse of the Syrian government, supplying them to the al Qaeda-affiliated anti-Assad forces would be lunacy. It would make little sense for Obama to give in to Saudi demands to do so at this point, when he has resisted the temptation for five years.

Erdogan may be starting to see the futility of further attempts to take down Assad. The most recent evidence of this is a series of high level Turkish visits to Saudi Arabia and Iran. While Turkey and Iran have common economic interests and a mutual desire to prevent the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, it is hard to imagine that they could make much progress on working together as long as Turkey is pursuing a foreign policy course that is an existential threat to Iran’s status as a regional power. There are other compelling reasons for Erdogan to try to make nice with the Sauds, but it is unlikely that he will be able to thaw relations at the same time he is negotiating with their nemesis. Unless, that is, they are also discussing letting go of the goal of toppling Assad.

There are also clues that the Obama administration US efforts are being stepped up to curb further Saudi aid to terrorist “rebels.” The barrage of criticism that the Saudis are taking in the US media is unprecedented and most likely orchestrated. It is also somewhat risky, in that it highlights the cynicism of US “humanitarian interventions” against targeted dictators while it is allied with the most brutal, repressive regime in the region. From Biden pointing out that it is the chief financial sponsor of terrorists in the region to recent critical reports on the generally politically correct Frontline and 60 Minutes to Obama’s announcement that the government is about to make a decision after two years on declassifying the 28 pages of a report said to implicate high level government officials in financing the 9/11 attack, the heat is clearly being turned on these feckless “allies.”

Cynics who charged that this was only a ruse to buy time to regroup for a renewed attack on Syrian forces seem to be ignoring evidence that the situation has changed since the earlier attempts to “negotiate” a US-dictated solution in Geneva. Realists in the Obama administration seem to be serious this time. Kerry was forced into agreeing to talks by the timely intervention of Russia.  He had no real choice.  Had the offensive continued unchecked, Assad’s forces would have routed ISIS and Putin would have been able to dictate terms.  This is what forced Kerry to agree to peace talks despite having to bargain from a weak position.

In addition, Erdogan’s panicked response to the prospect of new peace talks suggests that he believes that the Americans are looking for resolution. Having responded to advances by the Russian and Syrian militaries and Kurdish defense forces by stepping up threats, he doubled down once talks were announced, at one point declaring that an invasion was not off the table although when directly confronted with Russian accusations, he denied any such intent. The Turkish military was reported to be against such an ill-advised action, but troop buildups along the border had convinced many that he was serious.

The Turkish call for invasion was echoed by Saudi Arabia, which offered to take part in a joint campaign if it was led by the US.  This was obviously just bluster. After all, the threat of invasion was the result of Erdogan’s frustration at US unwillingness to prioritize defeating Assad or to abandon its alliance with Syrian Kurds in the fight against ISIS. There was no way that the US was going to support an invasion that would risk WWIII by targeting both the Kurdish YPG and Assad, backed by Russia and Iran.

Nonetheless, at this point many analysts still assumed that Turkey and Saudi Arabia were merely following orders from Washington. Others saw Erdogan’s increasingly rash actions as desperate attempts to salvage the standing of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) amidst an economy in decline at least partly because of Russian sanctions. Rumor had it that he even had reason to worry about an impending military coup. Although the Turkish military denied it and analysts generally dismissed the idea, had he tried to order his generals to carry out a full-scale invasion in defiance of US wishes, a coup would have been much more likely.

When the US proceeded to resume peace talks on Syria while Turkey and Saudi Arabia talked war, it became clear that the actions of the three nations were not coordinated. Saudi Arabia and Turkey had become isolated on the global stage.  Obama had established that he was not going to allow the tail to wag the dog, and that he was going to act in what he considered US interests. There is a reason that Obama is no longer making Assad’s departure a precondition for negotiations. It would not have changed anything unless the US had been allowed to pick his successor. The only way that was going to happen was through direct military force, which Obama has clearly been trying to avoid. He was willing to use al Qaeda associated “rebels” as proxy fighters as he did in Libya, but the goal was not so much regime change as destabilizing and ultimately balkanizing the country, a goal which has largely been achieved. The strategy of dividing a nation into smaller political entities to weaken it is the essence of the Oded Yinon plan for establishing a Greater Israel. The idea was to use this tactic against any neighboring nation that resisted Israeli hegemony.

It is important to understand this point. Given the incestuous relationship between Israel and US neocons, it is not surprising to see the Yinon strategy being used in areas in which the US has chosen to intervene. In Iraq Biden is renewing calls for the weak federal system he first proposed in 2014. It is an idea that has been partially realized with the increasingly autonomous status of the KRG, the Iraqi Kurdistan government.  The divisions left in the wake of the Libya “debacle” are another example of the same idea, only much messier. Libya was not considered a failure by fans of this strategy. They did not care so much about the chaos they left as about the fact that there was no longer a strong central government to resist NATO plans for Libya and the region. In fact, in a chilling prelude to the assault on Syria, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen enthusiastically referred to the Libyan experience as “a teaching moment.”

Despite mixed signals from the Obama administration since the cessation of hostilities for the latest round of peace talks, there is reason to believe that the President is serious about cutting his losses in Syria. As detailed in the recent Atlantic article by Jeffrey Goldberg, he was never enthusiastic about attacking Syrian forces directly in the aftermath of the false flag sarin attack on Ghouta in 2013. He dragged his feet on acting despite his harsh rhetoric, allowing saner voices to be heard. In the Atlantic article, Obama criticized all the major players in the continuing humanitarian crisis in Syria; the Saudis, Erdogan, Netanyahu and the neocons who wrote the “playbook” he says he is pressured to follow. Their game plan essentially calls for the use of US military force against any nation that stands in the way of a global corporate empire nominally led by America and its allies.  The fact that Obama is so open about these politically incorrect opinions at this point suggests that he may be trying to prepare us for a shift in official US policy.

The always-doubtful argument that intervention in Syria is motivated by humanitarian concerns is wearing increasingly thin. Obama regards giving in to Clinton’s pressure to attack Libya as the “greatest mistake of (his) presidency.”  If Obama wants out, Erdogan has few options but to go along. The Saudis, increasingly on the defensive in the US propaganda wars, are no doubt aware that they cannot challenge US will on their own, even if their neocon allies remain on their side. If Obama tries to push a diplomatic solution that leaves Assad in power and the “freedom fighting” al Qaeda types stranded, the still-powerful neocons are sure to push back. If he fails to act according to his realist principles, a Clinton presidency could be disastrous because she is still pushing for a no-fly zone, which would require a direct US assault on Syria’s air defenses.

That’s why this is Obama’s Bay of Pigs moment. He can do the right thing and try to limit the damage that American imperialists can do on his watch, or he can submit to the pressure of an out-of-control military industrial complex for a senseless and entirely avoidable war.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A ROLLING STONE GATHERS MOSS-JANN WENNER ENDORSES CLINTON






                                                               
                                                                           



I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone: The front page article was an editorial by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner endorsing Hillary Clinton. Seriously. The magazine that inspired young Americans when they took to the streets for change in the 60s now calls for the election of a politician who epitomizes the Establishment. What does it say about our hopes of saving the US and the world from a hostile corporate takeover when the publisher who brought the world Hunter Thompson’s gonzo journalism can’t understand why the US needs a political revolution, or what Sanders means when he talks about it?

God help us when the magazine that introduced most of us to Matt Taibbi is now calling for the election of Goldman Sachs’ BFF. This is perhaps the strongest evidence yet of the deflated ambition that Clinton support by rank-and-file Democrats represents. Ignoring the obvious conflicts of interest inherent in Wall Street financing of her candidacy, Wenner relies on fully discredited arguments to support her campaign against someone whose whole purpose for running is to challenge the corruption of a political system that is breaking down. Does he seriously believe that she will “get things done” by working for incremental change within the same corrupt system that has led America and the world to the brink of existential crisis?

His most forceful argument regards climate change, an issue his young readers take much more seriously than those of their elders who back Clinton because of her putative support for less politically divisive issues such as the rights of women and children (she presumably favors puppies as well).  It should be noted that despite the serious decline in Rolling Stone’s political reporting since the departure of Taibbi as a staff writer, it has managed to do a pretty good job covering the facts about global climate change. Where it has fallen woefully short is in its analysis of the politics of doing something about it.

Rolling Stone articles have praised Obama’s largely symbolic challenges to the fossil fuel industry in areas where it is weakest, but have failed to call him out on the fact that he consistently avoids talking about the reality of what it will take to deal with climate change.  Is that what he means when he says that Clinton will carry on his legacy? Sanders has called it our most important national security issue, while Clinton has consistently supported the expansion of fracking and wars to control fossil fuel sources in the Mideast. Despite this, the editorial argues that Clinton can do more to address climate change with an incremental approach than Sanders can do by demanding a serious response to what Wenner acknowledges is a planet-threatening emergency. Has his advanced age rendered him too senile to see the obvious contradiction?

Wenner’s makes a couple of more or less original arguments in his editorial, both of which are equally fallacious:

First, he accuses Sanders of substituting anger for a real plan, while making virtually no mention of Sanders’ detailed plans for dealing with the economy, tackling global climate change, reducing income inequality, improving health care and education and regulating Wall Street. Is it any wonder that Sanders is angry about the Democratic establishment’s unwillingness to tackle any of these problems effectively? The fact that Wenner cites Obamacare as a key “victory” shows that like many other Democrats, he has become so preoccupied with defending his party’s timidity against Republican stupidity that he fails to see that both have contributed to the imperiled state of the American middle class. Every other nation has a system of universal health care, yet Clinton claims it cannot be done here. If she is right, it is because Democratic acceptance of the corrupt status quo makes it impossible.

Second, he compares Sanders to Nader as a “spoiler.” Not only does this perpetuate the myth that Nader cost Gore the 2000 election, but it ignores the obvious distinction between running in the general election when it might cause a more viable candidate to lose and running in a primary, where it is to everyone’s benefit that voters choose who shall represent them. Having muddled that point, he cites the devastating McGovern loss in 1968, in asserting that no matter how dire the circumstances, “America chooses its presidents from the middle” This is obviously false. It depends on how badly change is needed and how ready the country is for change. Has he forgotten that Roosevelt was considered a radical at one time? Given that Hillary’s supporters seem blithely unaware of the steady rightward drift of the party since Bill introduced the “third way,” they might be inclined to agree.

Wenner’s endorsement dismisses all concerns about Clinton’s veracity as if they are too silly to merit rebuttal. This is typical of her supporters, who refuse to honestly examine her record for evidence of how it reflects on her character. Given the distortions of the corporate media about various false accusations in the past, it is perhaps understandable that he admirers overlook the fact that she lied about having illegally established a private email server for government business, but shouldn’t it raise questions when she is caught lying about things for no apparent reason than to glorify herself, in Trump fashion? I have yet to see a Clinton supporter try to justify her claim that she landed under fire in Bosnia in 2008, when video shows she was welcomed by a ceremony rather than snipers. She also claims to have spoken out against the Iraq War before Obama and to have been broke when she left the White House, among other demonstrably false statements.

Speaking of lies, her claim to have opposed NAFTA has also been debunked (by CBS, no less!). Not only does Wenner ignore this, but he justifies his support for her in part by describing as disingenuous Sanders’ argument that free trade policies were not responsible for the decline of the US auto industry. He fails to mention that while there may be other factors in that example, there is absolutely no doubt that free trade agreements that she has consistently supported have devastated American manufacturing. And to add to her list of “disingenuous” claims, she now claims to oppose TPP, an agreement she was instrumental in negotiating.

There is no sense repeating rebuttals to the claims of Clinton’s superior electability and her ability to work with a hostile Congress when those who don’t know refuse to listen. Let’s leave it at this: Wenner is channeling Ronald Reagan in arguing that while young people tend to have idealistic expectations, when they mature they become conservative. That is only a natural conclusion to those who have benefited from the system as it is and don’t want to admit that they have compromised all the values they held when a better world seemed possible. Like other baby boomers that support Clinton, Wenner seems to have grown too old to appreciate the dismal future facing our grandchildren.  He should be ashamed to risk leaving them to it when we have a chance to spark a real revolution by electing someone willing to lead the fight to save the US and the world from the forces that Clinton represents.

RIP, Rolling Stone. We hardly knew ya…apparently.

Friday, March 11, 2016

IF YOU LIKE TRUMP, YOU'LL LOVE BERNIE


                                                                                     




                                                                                         
         



Sanders supporters are understandably excited by his surprise victory in Michigan, but few take for granted that he will continue to build momentum for the nomination. The corporate media and the DNC seem determined as ever to continue promoting the myth that Clinton will be the inevitable Democratic candidate for president. Despite the fact that her positions are largely out of step with the Democratic mainstream, the rationalizations for voting for her remain persuasive for a large proportion of the party faithful.  Bernie will need to take advantage of every opportunity to tap into that segment of the electorate hungry for change.  While it may seem counterintuitive, Trump supporters may provide the margin he needs for victory.

The consensus opinion on the left is that Trump’s appeal is based on his racist positions on immigration and his Islamophobia, both of which attract the most extreme right wingers who disproportionately support Trump. However, James Robertson offers a persuasive argument that that is not the case. He concludes that Trump’s base is composed of a wide spectrum of conservative voters who are tired of being taken for granted by the lies of the corporate politicians who comprise the establishment of the Republican Party. His powerful argument explains why Trump continues to build support despite his wildly inconsistent views, many of which contradict conservative dogma.

If Robertson’s thesis is correct, it suggests that Sanders and his supporters have a unique opportunity to forge an alliance between left and right. With the right approach, they could unite moderate dissidents across the political spectrum around issues of common concern. While the idea will strike many as far-fetched, it has also been suggested by at least one conservative blogger who makes a strong argument for it.  In addition, as Sanders pointed out in the FOX debate, he was reelected by a nearly 3:1 margin in 2012 in the most rural state in the union. While Vermont is exceptionally liberal for a rural, largely white population, it still has a significant proportion of conservatives.

While it remains to be seen how many conservatives would be willing to register Democratic in the primaries in order to vote for Sanders over Clinton, there is no doubt this is a demographic that Sanders would want on his side in the general election. The more successful a primary effort to sway conservatives who are developing doubts about Trump, the stronger will be the argument that Sanders is the best candidate to prevail in the general election, despite the assumption by many that his self-identification as a “socialist” will doom him.

It would be naïve to think this will be an easy task. The corporate media remains a powerful force to reckon with. However, the more that Sanders and Trump defy its predictions the clearer it will be that Americans will need to tune out the echo chamber and learn to think for themselves. Should they face off in the general election, they will present the clearest choice of what kind of nation we want to be since the “Second Revolution” in 1800, when Jefferson defeated Adams on the promise that ours would not be a government that dictated to the people, but one that responded to the popular will.

Our goal as Americans should not be to assure that one or the other of the Duopoly parties wins, but to elect a president who can best address our common problems. We are at risk of leaving the next generation of Americans to be the first to have a lower standard of living than their parents. Fortunately, the media is performing at least one useful function that could help us change the tide by electing a champion of the People: It is informing the Trump supporters about why it would be so dangerous to elect a megalomaniac with no experience in politics and little understanding of how to do anything but appeal to the anger of his base. It is up to us to make them understand that they have an alternative in an independent who shares their anger at the corrupt Duopoly establishment.

The key is to do what Sanders supporters have largely failed to do in trying to convince Clinton supporters to adopt their point of view, which is to treat their differences of opinion with respect.  That is not as hard as it seems. We are used to having these discussions with others who consider themselves liberals and many of us have been shocked at the anger that greets any criticism of the anointed heir to the Obama presidency. It really shouldn’t be surprising that normally rational people get upset when people who agree on goals agree acknowledge what seems obvious to them: we cannot continue to accept the choice of corporate politicians in the DNC and expect to ever achieve the goals of the progressive agenda.  There is a simple reason that we need a political revolution, but for some reason the message is not sinking in with many of the Democratic Party faithful in the baby boomer generation. To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s campaign slogan, “It’s the corruption, stupid!” That is a non-ideological message progressives should be able to sell to conservatives.

It’s easier to be patient when you go into a discussion expecting disagreement, as long as you do not fall into the trap of expecting the other person to be convinced on the spot. It’s a matter of planting the seeds and letting them mature in an environment that is becoming increasingly hostile to both Trump’s extremism and Clinton’s cynical corporatism. Only the most dedicated Clintonite would argue that it is naively idealistic to worry about it the corruption of the system. It is certainly not an attitude we are likely to get from Trump supporters. We can expect wide agreement on this fundamental issue from conservatives who have recognized that politicians claiming to represent them are lying.

We are witnessing the fracturing of the façade of the Duopoly in the face of its glaring hypocrisy. The success of Sanders and Trump in their respective races has challenged the complacency of the corporate core of both major parties. This is a moment of historic opportunity to not only unify the left around a progressive agenda, but to gain support for it from many self-identified conservatives. Doubters should remember that there is historical precedent for this. Roosevelt was elected after a period of Republican dominance that led to the Great Depression. It was that economic pain that led Americans to challenge the simplistic beliefs they had bought into by Republican corporatists during the relative prosperity of the 20s. In the midst of our ongoing Great Recession, we should be able to do the same. Stripped of ideological rhetoric, Sanders’ platform is a common sense approach to getting America back on its feet.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

NATIONAL AND GLOBAL IMPLICATIONS OF CLINTON’S RECORD ON FREE TRADE




                                                                       





Given the extraordinary importance of challenging the three major free “trade” agreements currently being considered, it is remarkable that Democrats have spent so little time discussing the differences between Clinton and Sanders on the issue. While it is perfectly understandable that the corporate media would continue to ignore the explosive consequences of TPP, TTIP and TISA, it is concerning that more attention has not been paid by voters who would be affected by the massive transfer of government power to transnational corporations.

For those who need reminding, the issues involve preserving national sovereignty, protecting internet freedom, allowing governments to control the devastating consequences of reckless financial chicanery by Wall Street, preventing the pharmaceutical industry from gaining even more power to rip off governments and consumers, promoting the interests of Monsanto and other powerful corporations, and much more.

The media blockade of information about the negative consequences of free trade has resulted in most Americans being ignorant of the consequences of the neoliberal philosophy of free trade. These policies have been championed by the Clintons and Obama and staunchly opposed by Sanders, highlighting the difference in their priorities. Establishment Democrats show allegiance to the transnational corporations that dump money into their campaign coffers, while progressives like Sanders are fighting to hold the line against increasing corporate power over governments and the people they are supposed to represent.

Clinton’s shifts of position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership are particularly revealing. After playing a pivotal role in negotiating the secret trade agreement, she began to express doubt about it around the time it became obvious she preparing to announce her run for the presidency. For months, she refused to take a firm position on the issue. Then, in an turnaround that surprised many (but shouldn’t have), she stated that she opposed the final product. Seemingly learning for the first time that it contained no real protections for American workers from the job losses that all free trade agreements produce, she disavowed her own work. Some think that it was no coincidence that she had this change of heart after Sanders had been quite vocal in his opposition to the increasingly unpopular agreement, as were unions.

For those whose memories are longer than the latest news cycle, this should have come as no shock. Although she claims she has always opposed NAFTA, her contention is demonstrably false. She very publicly promoted it when it was being sold to America in 1993, over the strenuous objections of labor and environmentalists. Her supporters also seem to have forgotten that she insisted during her 2008 presidential run that NAFTA had to be renegotiated. Although he proved to be a strong free trade advocate himself, Obama jumped on her inconsistency at the time. Her apologists say it is unfair to criticize her for what happened during her husband's administration. They fail to acknowledge that she launched her political career as “co-President." Thia was the main qualification she had to run as a carpet bagging Senator from New York. Whether she really privately expressed reservations about NAFTA prior to its passage is irrelevant. She clearly had her eyes set on a political career at the time, and was under no obligation to actively promote a policy she opposed. That is practically the dictionary definition of hypocrisy.

Clinton’s claim that she was suddenly persuaded to oppose TPP because of failures that were evident in the agreement as she was helping to negotiate may seem disingenuous, but it would seem to be buttressed by her vote against the Colombian Free Trade Agreement. I say it would “seem” so because recently released emails indicate that she was privately lobbying for the agreement even while publicly opposing it.

One of the main objections to CAFTA, in addition to its typical lack of protections against job losses and environmental degradation, was the fact that union organizers in Columbia were being systematically murdered by right wing paramilitaries who appear to have been funded by the virulently anti-union Coca-Cola corporation. No problem for Clinton. She just claimed that the problem was improving, even though the number of murders the year before its passage was near record highs. 

Her blatant disregard for the lives of Central American workers mirrors her lack of concern for the lives of Hondurans murdered by a coup government she supports or their children, who are sent north unaccompanied by desperate parents hoping to spare them the violence that now plagues the nation. Her position on what to do about the flood of refugees from the violence of right wing US-backed governments in Central America is clear:  Send them back.

The Battle in Seattle against the WTO in 1999 gave hope to millions of people who understood the significance of the increasing power of transnational corporations over government. It was considered to be the opening shot in a war to defeat the neoliberal movement that was gaining unprecedented power during the Clinton co-presidency. Unfortunately, corporate power brokers upon which the Democratic Party establishment have allowed themselves to become dependent are better funded and organized. They are winning the war to establish David Rockefeller’s dream of a one-world corporate government, where nations would become an anachronism. Using their power over the mainstream media, they have hidden this reality from most Americans, even as they do it in plain sight.

The time to redouble the fight against neoliberalism is now. With a vote on TPP looming and the potential for worse to come, we can use the fact that both candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination and the leading Republican contender are on record as opposing TPP to rally opposition. We have to keep in mind though that only one of them has actually been in the front lines of this fight before now.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

WHICH WAY TO THE REVOLUTION?






                                                                                





It’s fascinating to follow the discussion about the “Sanders revolution,” a vague phrase that lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Depending on your point of view, the term may be one of hope or derision. For others, it just provokes blank stares.

The idea of a political revolution inspires those who can see that today’s Democratic Party is the captive of a system in which special interest money finances increasingly expensive campaigns. In the post-Citizens United era, these people recognize the historic significance of a candidate making a serious run for President without the backing of corporations or wealthy individuals, and despite the efforts of well-connected party leaders aghast that he is challenging one of their own. Beyond setting an example of how to beat this corrupt system, Sanders is out to change it. He is increasingly making campaign finance reform a centerpiece of his campaign. To many of his supporters, the “revolution” is defined as ending a system where the wealthy determine who are viable candidates to ostensibly represent us, while at the same time protecting their interests.

Those who see the need to address the corrupting influence of money in politics find it hard to understand Democrats who can’t grasp why this prospect is causing such excitement. Party stalwarts are puzzled by the backlash against “the Establishment,” a term most Sanders supporters consider a euphemism for “corporatists.” In their frustration at what appears to be willful ignorance, they lash out at those who they should be trying to convince. Fortunately, Sanders’ popularity continues to increase with the exposure that the corporate media can no longer deny him. We will soon know if his momentum will continue to build fast enough to carry him past Super Tuesday. But even if it does not, the “revolution” must continue.

Critics of Sanders on the left argue that his campaign will actually undermine progress toward more lofty goals, such as ending capitalism.  Most commonly, this view holds that as long as people support Democratic candidates there is no hope for changing the system of which both major parties are part. Since Bernie has chosen to run as a Democrat and to throw his support to Clinton should he not get the nomination, so this reasoning goes, it is a no-win proposition. They then point out with what often seems like grim satisfaction, “How will people ever realize that the Duopoly is part of the problem?”

While they have a valid argument, they offer no reasonable alternatives. Voting for either of the corporate-captured parties is a sham? To some extent that is true, but what do we do about it?  Third parties are not viable, and given the state of leftist politics they will not become so before global climate change renders the point moot. Mass civil disobedience? In a country where the leading contender for the Presidency is the multimillionaire wife of a former President? Get real.

The naivete of these arguments is matched only by the arrogance of those of their proponents who call Sanders supporters naïve. The smug self-assurance of these self-styled radicals masks a deep cynicism that prevents them from seeing how the Sanders campaign might actually aid their cause. Those who scorn the idea that he is the vanguard of a revolution in any meaningful sense of the term don’t seem willing to consider how his campaign can advance the cause of a more expansive transformation of the political system. In time-honored leftist tradition, they are busy forming a circular firing squad to attack the Sanders campaign from a position opposite that of Clinton backers who are also trying to shoot it down.

Those critics who are serious about to build a movement for what they consider genuine revolution might want to consider the effect of dismissing millions of people who are at least aware of the need for a dramatic change. It is irrelevant that many may not fully comprehend what that means. It is impossible to create a mass movement if you expect everyone to agree with you. Differences are bound to arise and inflexibility causes schisms, destroying the solidarity on which any movement depends. It is elementary strategic thinking to consider how to work together where possible to achieve agreed upon objectives, even when there is disagreement on strategy or ultimate goals.  How in the world can anyone expect a mass uprising of a population so steeped in the current system that half of those who consider themselves “progressive” would consider voting for a candidate backed by the finance industry, apparently believing her claims to be its sworn enemy?

It is hard to see how anyone can argue with the idea that addressing the corrupting influence of money in politics is a good way to organize a movement. How many Americans would disagree with the notion that government doesn’t work because those in power put the interests of the 1% over those of the rest of us? The idea is so elementary that when Adbusters first wrote about Occupy, the idea of a constitutional amendment to reform campaign finance was the single action item they suggested. Occupying Wall Street symbolized that the ultimate power behind that money was the banking and finance industry that nearly destroyed the economy (or is in the process of doing so) and with it, the middle class (not to mention the poor). With a well-defined enemy and a clear objective, the movement had a chance to become much more than a symbolic protest, The problem was that Occupy activists refused to prioritize goals, making strategic political action impossible.

Campaign finance reform is not the answer to all our problems, but it is the first step to finding one. If Sanders were to make this point clear, he might just convert a few skeptics. So far, he has focused on a promise to vet any candidates to the Supreme Court according to their willingness to overturn Citizens United. While laudable, Clinton has made the same promise. Despite the fact that this is yet another example of a promise to work on an issue she has avoided in the past and the fact that she depends on the system she now vows to destroy, her supporters trust her to keep it. That’s why Sanders should also be talking about his proposed constitutional amendment intended to end the doctrine that money spent to influence elections is protected speech.

The key to using this to build a movement is that as President, he could promote the idea of voting only for candidates who would support such an amendment, as suggested by Move to Amend, as well as other reforms like the American Anti-Corruption Act. For those unfamiliar with the latter, it would address a variety of other ways that special interest money can influence politics, including putting limits on lobbying to include closing the revolving door (or at least significantly narrowing it). Keeping the need to address the corruption of the system in the forefront of American consciousness cannot but help the effort to get Americans to sustain pressure on Congress to put the needs of people over profit. The only way to advance any aspect of the progressive agenda is to first address the corruption that has created the problems in the first place.

The Sanders “revolution” is just the first phase of the kind of fundamental change in American politics that can put us back on the path toward true representative democracy. How far we go will be up to us.
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