Tag Archives: bernie sanders

The News of the Day: Does it Matter?

Of today’s two big news stories, one of them, excerpts from Michael Wolff’s new book will be obsessively consumed as political junk food always is.

But it won’t tell us anything we didn’t know before.

We already knew Donald Trump is the worst person in the world.

If it tells us anything at all, it is something slightly different. That is that even those we already knew to be the worst people in the world can be even worse than we thought they were.

But this says more about us than it does about Trump.

In particular, what is shows is that we lack imagination.

This was painfully apparent during the election.

Again and again, those urging voting in swing states to make sure Clinton was elected were met with the completely obvious rejoinder that she was a terrible candidate-a lying, neoliberal warmonger in Adolph Reed’s words. It was also entirely irrelevant since anyone with minimal contact with the planet earth also knew that Trump was-and would be-worse, possibly even much worse as he has turned out to be.

But again and again, this simple logical fact-i.e. that X is terrible does not imply that Y can’t be worse-was dismissed or never even registered on the consciousness of more than a few leftists. Hence they, which is to say we, became a small but not insignificant part of the reason why we are currently living a nightmare.

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The second news story is getting much less attention but is self-evidently far more serious and significant. This involves James Risen’s disclosures that New York Times editors Phil Taubman and and Bill Keller actively colluded with the Bush administration to spike Risen’s reporting on NSA spying in 2004, a decade before it was revealed by Edward Snowden.

Risen also details how the Obama administration, in the face of hopes that it would roll back some of the worst aspects of the police state imposed by the Bush administration worked to advance them and cement them in place.

One example was Risen’s own prosecution by the Bush administration justice department for refusing to reveal his sources. This was, as Risen reports, intentionally delayed by the presiding judge Leonie Brinkema based on the expectation that it would be dropped under a Democratic administration. As we now know, Eric Holder moved forward threatening Risen with many years of imprisonment only dropping the case in Obama’s final months when it was clear it was not sustainable.

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But as important as all this is, it is also, like Wolff’s book, mostly irrelevant to what needs to be our major if not exclusive goal from now until November 2018 and then November 2020: to remove from all positions of institutional power the Republican Party, “the most dangerous organization in human history” as Chomsky referred to it.

The Wolff bombshells, if they are believed, (regardless of whether they are true), only matter in that they are likely to further drag down the Republicans’ prospects. But this will only increase the pressure for Republicans to accede to an impeachment resulting in a President Pence with a return to “normal” Republican rule-no less dangerous than Trump, but only less flamboyant, and more competitive. If this is to materialize, there is nothing to celebrate about Wolff’s book-as dadaistically amusing as some might find it.

The Risen story raises a different category of problems in that it shows how, when it comes to matters of national security and the military budgets which are required to support an increasingly aggressive international posture, how little difference there has been between the Republicans and Clinton/Obama neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party. It is unlikely that their anointed candidate will depart from this suicidal path.

This is one of many indications that if it is to have any chance of reversing its string of losses, the DP will need to fundamentally change course in the direction which the Sanders wing is pointing. While far from ideal, Sanders has a long record of opposing the worst excesses of militarism having during the campaign, for example, denounced Henry Kissinger and Benjamin Netanyahu, brought up the U.S. support for dictators such as Pinochet while running on his opposition the Patriot Act and the Iraq War.

While Sanders’s foreign policy shortcomings are significant, everything that does not involve fighting for the course change his wing of the party are trying to effect against neoliberal elites dead set on maintaining it is a distraction.

We should consume, and for that matter make, our news with that in mind.

Nancy Fraser on Progressive Neoliberalism

While some might find the academic style of Nancy Fraser’s recent piece slightly offputting, I recommend that everyone make the effort to read through what is one of the more perceptive and useful guides to where we are, how we have gotten there, and where we need to go.

As is required of any informed and rational discussion of these topics, Fraser recognizes the major force which is responsible for our current plight, namely, the set of political and economic assumptions categorized by the term neoliberalism.

Fraser’s main insight is to recognize a distinction between two variants of neoliberalism referred to by her as progressive and reactionary . The former, according to her, derives from an alliance of “mainstream liberal currents of the new social movements (feminism, antiracism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and LGBTQ rights)” with “the most dynamic, ‘high-end symbolic’ and financial sectors of the U.S. economy (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood).”  The latter designates the more familiar combination of “unshackl(ing) market forces from the heavy hand of the state and from the millstone of ‘tax and spend,’ . . .  the liberaliz(ing) and globaliz(ing of) the capitalist economy . . .   the dismantling of barriers to, and protections from, the free movement of capital; the deregulation of banking and the ballooning of predatory debt; deindustrialization, the weakening of unions, and the spread of precarious, badly paid work.”

Fraser’s perspective runs counter some of the best known left critiques of neoliberalism, for example, those of David Harvey and Phillip Mirowski. They and their followers, most notably verticalist elements within the Jacobin circle, see neoliberalism as an exclusively reactionary project having its roots in the Mt. Pelerin society then gradually insinuating itself into the political mainstream creating a globalized, international consensus around a core of what are traditional reactionary right wing economic assumptions.

What this leaves out is progressive neoliberalism, or, more specifically, an understanding of its key role within the political trajectory required for neoliberalism to be established.   Why was it that labor based social democratic parties both here and in Europe capitulated to neoliberal policy prescriptions, accepting them as consistent with their core values even when it was clear that they were an attack on their fundamental essence?  How could an ostensibly left political formation advance these policies? Progressive neoliberalism provides the answer.

The most conspicuous domestic variant of this dynamic was the coup which took place in the Democratic Party following the McGovern defeat in 1972.  As recounted by Thomas Frank and Matt Stoller (whom I discussed here), among others, this involved labor unions and other traditional liberal interest groups being displaced from leadership positions in the party. Progressive neoliberalism added the crucial element of replacing these with what Fraser refers to as “the new social movements.” These simultaneously provided a smokescreen for the takeover of the party by Wall Street, business and finance while also conferring legitimacy on the enlightened wings of capital, most notably the high tech industries which were characterized by diverse hiring practices based on meritocratic advancement.

 

Those following Harvey and Mirowski in viewing neoliberalism as a reactionary monolith tend to ignore this history.  For them, the Democratic party was never an active site of class conflict. The New Deal gains, rather than as product of active struggle by activist organizations, are no more than temporary concessions by elites always firmly in control of the party agenda. Never seriously committed to social democracy, that they would roll back welfare state protections when they were in a position to do so was predictable.

With respect to the current opposition to neoliberalism now assuming the form of the Sanders insurgency,  attempts to re-establish the aspirations of the 99% at the center of the Democratic Party are seen as, at best, misguided and politically naive, easily manipulated by party elites.  At worst, those doing so are derided as opportunistic, mainly concerned with exploiting the political system for self-advancement at the expense of the constituencies they claim to represent.

Extending this analysis internationally, the left tendencies within social democratic parties serve mainly to corral opposition to neoliberalism into an organizational structure where they will be ignored and marginalized.

Of course, there is some evidence for this cynical view, most conspicuously in the capitulations of Syriza on which the left had placed hopes.  But while recognizing Greece as a defeat, it is becoming increasingly apparent that neoliberalism can be challenged. Most notably, within the British Labor party, the site of one of its major triumphs, neoliberalism has been effectively erased, with the likelihood that a return to something like traditional social democratic governance will materialize within the next years.

Similarly, within the Democratic Party, the near victory of the Sanders campaign showed the underlying tenuousness of party elites’ hold on power.  They will, needless to say, deploy every weapon at their disposal to defeat it in 2018 and 2020, as they did in 2016. Just as a unified front in the British Left is supporting Corbyn so too should there be a similar left consensus that the Sanders campaign and its offshoots provides the main, and perhaps only, vehicle through which neoliberalism can be dislodged.
But assuming this is in the cards, what will replace it?  Fraser proposes what she refers to as progressive populism centered around “combining egalitarian redistribution with nonhierarchical recognition.”  Fraser contends that “this option has at least a fighting chance of uniting the whole working class. More than that, it could position that class, understood expansively, as the leading force in an alliance that also includes substantial segments of youth, the middle class, and the professional-managerial stratum.”
Fraser does not hold out hope for an explicity anti-capitalist politics to emerge from it any time soon, even if Sanders forces begin to exert significant influence in 2018 and 2020.  What does seem reasonable is the prospect for an “anti-neoliberal” politics eliding into some sort of progressive populism as “a way station en route to some new, post-capitalist form of society.”
While there’s much to be alarmed by in the present political climate, it has been many years since anything similarly hopeful appeared on the political horizon.
Installing progressive populism and progressive populists at the heart of the national Democratic Party, possibly supported by local and even state level third party efforts where viable, appears to be where we need to place our hopes for this transformation to be achieved.
One could do worse for a New Year’s resolution to commit to devoting as much time and energy as one has available towards beginning to make it a reality.

How Was it Rigged?

The bombshell revelations in the excerpts from Donna Brazile’s soon to be published book are, of course, important and should be given wide circulation,  But these should not obscure what was, as I have previously noted, the major, albeit universally unrecognized factor in Sanders’ defeat.  That is, in the words of Hamilton Nolan, one of the few journalists to get it right, “labor fucked up.”

This is the same conclusion reached by Bill Curry in an excellent Real News interview with Aaron Maté:

70% of labor, in almost every case, without consulting their membership, endorsed Hillary Clinton. Labor told the country, and told its members, that its highest priorities were defeating the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership and obtaining a living wage. Hillary Clinton was on the opposite side of both issues. In the face of polling data, even the polling data they usually prize too much, they decided to swing all of their support to her. Without teachers in Massachusetts, Bernie would have won. Without the culinary workers working under the table for Clinton in Nevada, Bernie would have won here. He certainly would have won Iowa without AFSCME, and so on. You can just go right across the board.

There’s a half-dozen states. She’d have lost them all and her campaign probably would have ended, may well have ended. She opened with three defeats to Bernie Sanders. I think she was cooked, and so I do believe that our allies did more to nominate Hillary (than the DNC)”

In other words, our supposed movement “allies” in the unions sold us out. Not something which is easy to admit. It is, however, the fact of the matter.

Brazile’s disclosures immediately reinitiated the discussion of some months ago as to whether the primary was rigged, though now with new urgency.  The issue strikes me as a red herring in that it obscures how the Clinton machine operated to insure a victory. In a literal sense, at least, they did not rig the nomination, rather they exerted their influence. An example of how they did returns us to Curry’s remarks.   As Curry points out, the major unions immediately endorsed Clinton, this despite her offering them virtually nothing, not to mention having served in an administration which did much worse than nothing by ramming through jobs destroying trade agreements, failing to enforce NLRB decisions and harsh reductions in the public sector workforce.

Why did they endorse? While it will be hotly denied, the answer likely has to do with quid pro quo arrangements made with union leadership who, in addition to serving in positions within Democratic administrations, were also provided access to Clinton global initiative junkets, seats on corporate and foundation boards, positions at major “progressive” think tanks and other perks provided to respectable and “serious” insiders.  These favors were expected to be returned in the form of an immediate endorsement-dutifully provided, as we know, to the displeasure and disadvantage of rank and file membership which supported Sanders.  Did the Clintons calling in their chips constitute “rigging” of the election?  Again, not in a strict literal sense.  But at a certain point, the distinction becomes merely semantic: it is clear that in essence that’s exactly what it was.

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The predominant left reaction to Brazile’s charges has been to engage in yet another round of ritualistic thrashing of the DP leadership.  But, while eminently deserved,  no one with a basic familiarity with the facts should have regarded them as anything other than servants of the corporate donor class, which is to say, enemies of everything we are trying to accomplish.  On the other hard, the labor unions are still, at least in some circles, seen as allies.  That they could have won the nomination for Sanders but chose not to do so is, as I just mentioned, too bitter a pill for most of us to swallow.

That includes, most conspicuously radicals in the unions some of whom have been actively advocating #Demexit, withdrawing support from all Democratic candidates-presumably with the intention of founding a new labor based party.   But that raises the question, why embark on the herculean task of doing so when all that would have been necessary for the most pro labor candidate in U.S. history to win a major party nomination was  your own union leadership doing the minimum required of them-acting in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the unions members.

And why are those union leaders, most conspicuously, teachers union head Randi Weingarten whose contempt for the rank and file seems to know no bounds, not being seriously challenged for leadership?

The answer seems to be it’s always easier to dream of tilting at windmills than to get your own house in order.  While the dirt Brazile has dished will, hopefully, serve as useful ammunition for the Sanders insurgency, and help to drive it forward, it won’t change the direction on which it has had it course set since the election: to replace the dominant corporate neoliberal leadership whose cynicism and corruption is now impossible to ignore.

The Big Club Which You Ain’t In

An Intercept piece from last year by Zaid Jilani contains the useful observation that now disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein was not only one of the chief bankrollers of the Clinton campaign, he was an informal campaign advisor. In frequent contact with Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook, Weinstein was particularly concerned with Sanders’ inroads into Clinton’s support among women and African American voters.

One component of the strategy to head this off involved tarring Sanders male supporters as “Bernie Bros“. Those on the receiving end of the smear will recall that it consisted of raising doubts about Sanders supporters’ commitment to civil rights while accusing them of opposing Clinton based on their inability to accept female leadership. Some of them, it was claimed, went farther in directing obscene misogynist attacks on Clinton’s supporters on social media platforms.

Having participated, along with many others, in the small industry required to rebut many of these charges, I’m not going to rehash them here,

What is worth mentioning are not the smears themselves but those who were circulating them. Among them were New York pundits Rebecca Traister, Joan Walsh and others who were quick to point to Sanders’s supporters “reminding their feminist peers that misogyny and bitter gender resentments are not — as they have never been — the sole province of the American right,” thereby doing their part to foment the myth that they were comparable to and in some cases little better than the benighted “deplorables” on the other side of the aisle.

This was dishonest and plenty reprehensible then. What makes it in retrospect even more so is that, as we now know, Weinstein’s predations were common knowledge to Traister, Walsh and others in the elite media circles they inhabit.

Indeed, Traister herself now admits that she had a front row seat, Weinstein having called her a “cunt” after she confronted him with an “impertinent question.”

But she “never really thought of trying to write the story” about Weinstein’s predations, even though she was aware of many incidents similar to those which have now come to light. She is only speaking out now that others have taken the risk-and not incidentally only after Weinstein’s checks were banked by the Clinton campaign and cashed by many of Traister’s friends working within it.

How do Traister and others justify giving Weinstein a pass on his all too real assaults while circulating smears against those whose only crime was supporting a candidate disapproved of by the Democratic Party Wall Street wing?

No doubt they will not deign to answer “impertinent” questions from media unknowns like myself.

But the main conclusion is unescapable: when they emanate from the purveyors of respectable conventional wisdom, charges of sexism, racism and anti-semitism have nothing to do with achieving justice for the victims. Rather they often function as a weapon against those attempting challenges to Weinstein and similar plutocrats who have owned and operated the Democratic Party for decades.

None of this, of course, is meant to deny the existence of institutional white supremacy, misogyny and even anti-semtism.

But compromised sources such as Traister should be viewed with extreme suspicion: their accusations along these lines invariably have an agenda-one which involves protecting those in the club. Which is, as George Carlin famously noted, the same club that they use to beat over the head those of us who aren’t in it, and never will be.

chomsky.kissinger.thewhitehouseyears

Who are the (Sanders) Movement Candidates?

Those of us who grew up in activist households a half century ago will remember those who were referred to as “movement candidates.”  These materialized when activists, those involved in leafletting, sit ins, phonebanking, and the other retail aspects of anti-war and civil rights protest were either chosen or decided on their own to run for office.  While they were not necessarily reliable once elected, it was reasonable for the protest movement to assume that they would be more accountable and likely to advance their agenda than those who were nowhere to be found on the streets but were asking for their support.

It is with them in mind that the various candidates now being promoted by Democratic Party leadership should be assessed: Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, Kirsten Gillibrand and Deval Patrick are in no way movement candidates.  Rather they are longtime party insiders being sold to the left with the expectation they will be able to mollify and demobilize what has become an increasingly effective insurgency centered around the successor organizations to the Sanders campaign.

Their main strategy, then as now, is to do what all politicians do which is to tell potential supporters what they want to hear:  Already, most of them signed on to one or another plank of the Sanders platform: Booker has come out in favor of marijuana legalization.  Harris appears to support some version of single payer health insurance.  Biden repeatedly praised Sanders’ focus on wealth inequality and served on a presidential commission supposedly devoted to addressing it. Former Blue Dog Gillibrand has arguably gone the farthest of all having voted against all of Trumps appointees,  becoming one of the first senators to endorse single payer along with strong stands on immigrants rights. The exception is Patrick who appears to believe that bland evocations of hope and change will be sufficient to overcome a longstanding relationship with Mitt Romney’s firm Bain Capital, whose paychecks he now cashes.

Sanders supporters will not be impressed nor should they be,  recognizing these as pro forma concessions to the left by candidates who will likely govern according to neoliberal orthodoxy demanded by the party’s financial backers, albeit with certain moves to the left insofar as the movement is able to pressure them.

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Will one of the approved candidates be successful?  That is history yet to be written.  The Sanders insurgency already has its 2020 candidate, namely Sanders himself.  And if, for some reason, he is unable to, there are others who could mount a credible national run.  The most likely of these is Congressman Ro Khanna who has become an admittedly somewhat unlikely though increasingly powerful and reliable voice of Sanders wing of the Democrats. The powerhouse Ohio State Senator Nina Turner is another possibility though having not held a national office may make her a less credible presidential candidate.

We should, needless to say, make every effort to insure that they succeed. If we do, 2020 and 2018 will provide us what we didn’t have previously, namely, candidates to vote for rather than to vote against. And we should be discussing and strategizing about what is necessary to bring that about.

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The final point which needs to be discussed is what happens if we fail and the eventual nominee is yet another pressed out of the Obama/Clinton neoliberal mold.  What should our response be?

Here the answer should be easy based on four years experience with “the most dangerous organization in human history” not to mention the recent atrocity in Charlottesville.

Those on the left who don’t understand by now why they need to be defeated, probably never will.

Meanwhile, our efforts to create a system which produces candidates to vote for rather than against are already bearing fruit.

The must continue and they will continue.

Seven things Noam Chomsky believes (on electoral politics)

Seven things Noam Chomsky believes (on electoral politics) that much of the “left” does not.

1) Chomsky believes that it is likely that the Bernie or Bust contingent played a role in throwing the election to Trump.

2) Chomsky does not believe that the Democratic Party is “self destructing”. Rather he believes a) that the neoliberal wing of the party may be self-destructing and b) that this is a good thing.

3) Chomsky believes that a takeover of the DP by the Sanders wing is possible, desirable (obviously) and very much worth the investment of activist energies.

Continue reading Seven things Noam Chomsky believes (on electoral politics)

Bernie Lost. Here’s How to Deal with It.

Berniebots are not going to want to hear it, but the fact of the matter, is that Hillary did “win” the debate in the only way that matters: as polls have clearly indicated, she was perceived as having won not just by media pundits but by the overwhelming majority of those who saw it.

Rather than deal with this reality, the left has responded, typically and depressingly, by claiming a conspiracy involving CNN’s corporate ties to the Clinton campaign, allegations of deleted comments from Sanders supporters, pundits

In addition to coming across as foolish and ridiculous, by adopting this line the left obscures what should be the most import lesson from the debate which was how Clinton won the debate.  She did it the old fashioned way, as I pointed out previously, by lying: copiously, shamelessly and with complete assurance knowing that she would not be called out on her lies by the media or by Sanders himself who has interpreted his strategic decision to run a positive campaign as allowing Clinton’s lies to pass unchallenged.

If the Democratic Party base fails to view Clinton’s lies as consequential-dishonest campaign rhetoric to obscure her longstanding sleazy role as a servant of corporations and the wealthy-she will coast to the nomination.

Those who are sufficiently aware of the facts need to expose Clinton’s lies for what they are. That goes for Sanders’s most enthusiastic supporters who believe that they don’t need to do so: that Bernie’s message is sure to catch on and that it will be sufficient to counteract Clinton’s total domination of all of the institutional structures of the DP (not to mention her virtually unlimited funds). The fact is that Sanders remains a long shot, and those who fail to see this are fooling themselves.

And that goes for those on the left who rationally, or more commonly otherwise, view Sanders with contempt. If they think that an unchallenged continuation of four decades of neoliberal governance in the form of a Clinton II administration will constitute anything other than a planetary catastrophe they are deluded too.

Notes on Spoiling

For a decade and half, the spoiler factor has been a third rail of progressive politics.

Some of those who have raised the issue are genuinely concerned with the prospect of a third party candidate enabling a far right victory.

But others are Democratic Party operatives who, in Matt Taibbi’s phrase, “would triangulate their own mothers” to maintain their lock on power. Spoiling for them is a bad faith exercise in maintaining electoral politics as a bipartisan gated community from which left, populist candidates are excluded.

Fortunately, there are signs that its effects are beginning to wear off.

One factor has to do with Obama’s valedictory lurches to the right, drilling in the ANWR, attacking Elizabeth Warren for her opposition to the TPP as well as Seymour Hersh’s revelations of some of the most shamefully transparent lies in the history of the presidency. These have shown that there’s very little left to spoil.

And so Democratic loyalists have to make ever more extravagant and ridiculous gestures to apply the spoiler label to those challenging the party’s three decades long neoliberal drift.

A good indication is a recent posting on the blandly illiterate Forward Progressives website which urges us to focus on “Sanders’ entrance into the presidential race (which) is already making it more likely that Republicans could win the White House in 2016.”

Worth noting here is the slippage in the definition of the concept “spoiler”. A decade ago, it applied to a candidate endangering the front runner by competing in swing states. Very quickly it would apply to competing even in safe states.

Now we have reached the point that those daring to compete in the primaries are “spoilers”.  Soon it will apply to those guilty of suggesting a possible alternative candidate to whoever the DP leadership anoints and eventually to any criticism of the “dear leader” at all-those doing so reflexively denounced as “Naderites.”

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All this would be comical if it didn’t serve the underlying purpose of obscuring precisely what the Dems don’t want us to see.

And that is that the real spoilers are not those running third party campaigns, but the Democrats themselves. Again and again, they have shown that they care relatively little about winning elections when doing so would upset the business as usual in which they are comfortable operating.

This became apparent in the weeks before the 2000 election which found Jesse Jackson to our great surprise campaigning for local candidates in New Haven, as well as in New York, Boston and Chicago. He was everywhere but in Florida which was known to be a toss up and where his presence could have and, as it turned out, would have mattered. But the Democrats chose instead to deploy him to drive down the Nader vote in states which Gore had already locked up rather than work to achieve a victory for their own candidate.

Another example relevant to the 2000 election was the Democratic legislature in Florida having some years before passed mandatory disenfranchisement of ex-felons, almost all poor, working class, and/or minority, hence disproportionately likely to vote Democratic. The result was the loss of 1.5 million potential voters, a factor never mentioned in the Florida debacle as doing so would shine a light on Democrats’ direct complicity in their own defeat.

A third example also involves New Haven and other cities where local Democratic machines make little effort to register voters. That is particularly the case in African American neighborhoods, where often less than 30 percent of potential voters are on the rolls, the overwhelming majority of whom would reliably vote Democratic. The absence of serious voter registration drives is due to the Democrats’ preference for low turn out as this makes their control of a few voting blocks (most notably the African American churches) disproportionately significant. So they are willing to sacrifice large numbers of voters and ultimately lose to the Republicans in state and national races rather than have to deal with a possible threat to their control which might emerge from greater participation.

Of course, the best known indication of Democrats’ blasé attitude to their own defeat was their having failed to contest the Republican theft of the election in Florida. But that could be attributed to fecklessness and incompetence, not cynicism and bad faith. It is the latter that defines the Democratic Party more so than the former.

The Democrats are more aware than anyone that the goods they have been selling for generations have passed their “sell by” date. They will continue in business only for as long as they are able enforce their monopoly. The spoiler charge is their main weapon in maintaining it. It is high time that the left recognize the spoiler charge for the exercise in empty sloganeering which it has long since become.