This is the personal blog of Rick Staggenborg, MD. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the official positions of Take Back America for the People, an educational 501.c3 nonprofit established by Dr Staggenborg.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016





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 na├»ve, 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



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



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



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.