Friday, April 22, 2016

Vexed by Vaxxed

“Ideology, after all, is more influential than laws.….[N]o one…would dream of making legislation to force people to read certain books and prevent them from reading others.”1
--Literary critic H. Bruce Franklin

The treatment of the movie Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe is an astounding example of ideological discipline performed by the American cultural elite.

As everybody knows by now, Robert DeNiro selected Vaxxed for his Tribeca Film Festival. Because he and Grace Hightower have a child with autism, he thought it was important that the issues raised in the film be shown to the public.

Vaxxed presents a personal admission and documentary evidence from Dr. William Thompson, a senior scientist and the lead author of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) study that purported to disprove a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. His evidence indicates that the panel actually found a link—and specifically a 300% increase in risk among African-American boys—and contrived to hide it. The panel’s effort to manipulate the data and destroy evidence in order to bury the link extended an inquiry that was meant to take six months into four years.

Thompson says that he, his co-authors, and the CDC, “omitted statistically significant information”; that “my supervisors have broken laws”; that they destroyed evidence in a way he “assumed … was illegal and would violate both FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] and DOJ [Department of Justice] requests”; that he hasstopped lying,” and has “great shame now when I meet families of kids with autism because I have been part of the problem….I was complicit, and I went along with this, we did not report significant findings.” He also describes the atmosphere that reigned in the CDC thusly: “The federal government is hostile to anyone who says anything negative about any industry.2

That is the crux of the movie. It makes the case that this participant’s stunning statement-against-interest evidence of fraud should be seriously investigated. You’ll be excused if you had no idea this is what the film is about, or if you thought—i.e., if the media coverage of it led you to believe—it was about something else entirely, about making some “anti-vaccination” argument. There is nothing in the film that is “anti-vaccination.” Unless criticizing the side-effects (now acknowledged, but once completely ignored) of Lipitor makes one “anti-drug.” Believe me, there are some voices out there that reject the efficacy and theory of vaccines in general. Neither Vaxxed nor anybody in it is one of them. In fact, the film explicitly supports vaccination, even as it urges more serious attention to the safety of one specific vaccine.  But you’d have to see the movie to know that.  (If you want a good idea of what the film is like beyond the trailer, take a look at this segment from Thom Hartmann’s show.)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bernie Wriggles On The Obama Hook

Image result for bernie sanders and obama and hillary

In previous posts (here, here, and here) I’ve expressed skepticism about whether Bernie Sanders will really go through to the end with the knockdown fight against the Democratic Party machine that will be required to win the nomination.

My skepticism is based on the contradiction between, on the one hand, Bernie’s call for a political revolution against the “rigged” social economy of the 1%, and, on the other, his explicit commitment to running in the Democratic Party, keeping it united, and supporting whatever candidate the party chooses, including Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic Party as an institution, and Hillary as a political persona, are primary obstacles to any such political and social revolution.  It is the programmatic ideology promoted and practiced by Bill and Hillary Clinton, and honed by the Obama administration, that has defined the Party as a strategic partner of the ruling class for at least twenty-five years. It’s hard to make a revolution from within a principal political institution of the counter-revolution. And I think it’s beyond Bernie’s ability (and perhaps his intent) to transform that institution into its political opposite.

This contradiction within the Sanders campaign, and within Bernie’s political persona, is, of course, a reflection of the contradiction within the Democratic Party between its popular class base and its elite institutional interests. For leftist Sanders supporters who accept this analysis of the Democratic Party, the implicit argument must be that he’s indeed mounting a coup to revolutionize the Party. But there’s a flip side to that argument: If he’s not mounting a coup, he’s not really running a campaign. For skeptical leftists, it is obvious that Bernie systematically avoids and elides this contradiction in order to protect the fictional and precarious unity of the Democratic Party against what he sees as the greatest evil of the Republicans. That strategy of protecting, via avoidance and elision, the precarious and pernicious unity of the party makes Bernie Sanders at one with Hillary Clinton, as a Democrat.

If FDR’s grand historical project was to save capitalism from itself, I fear that Bernie’s more modest mission is to save the Democratic Party from itself.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What Does Bernie Want? - Part 2

I’m prompted by some of the reactions to my Bernie Sanders piece the other day, to make some further comments. Many people seem to think I was being unkind and unfair to a man who has had a long and honorable career “wisely and effectively” promoting progressive causes. It was not only unkind of me to suggest that Bernie had “entered this race planning to lose,” it was horribly “cynical” (a word that appeared in a number of comments).

First of all, I want to say that this is not about personally dissing Bernie Sanders. I agree that Bernie Sanders has often been a wise progressive on many issues, consistently head and shoulders above almost all of his colleagues. It is also true that Bernie Sanders is not all that radical. It's not a very progressive cohort, after all. His limitations from a left, socialist, or anti-imperialist perspective are well-known. (You can find them analyzed in the sources in note 1 of yesterday’s post.)

Bernie is an FDR-New Deal-type American liberal, with all the limitations that entails. He's a moderate welfare-state social democrat, who calls himself a socialist in a way that can resonate within the strange paradigm of American politics. It’s another peculiar effect of the American political paradigm that Bernie Sanders ever appeared to be super radical. It’s particularly disturbing, as we should all notice, that his brand of FDR social politics is now seen as marginal, exceptional, and out of touch with reality within the Democratic Party.

It’s also the case that, though Sanders has been an effective, if limited, progressive on a local and congressional level, he’s never been, or tried to be, a nationally transformative figure, and never evinced serious Presidential aspirations.

Bernie has also had a particular, cozy, relation to the Democratic Party. Though he's always identified himself and run as an independent socialist, he has maintained close, reciprocally-supportive relationships with the Democratic Party. He participates in the Democratic Senatorial caucus, and the party defers to him in Vermont, never fully supporting a Democratic opponent for his Senate seat. Bernie may not formally be a Democrat, but he's an Adjunct Democrat as least as much as he's an Independent Socialist.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What Does Bernie Want?


The assumption was that Bernie Sanders would have no chance of becoming the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. It was understood that he would get a few months to highlight the issues of austerity and inequality before quickly succumbing to Hillary Clinton's highly experienced and well-financed political machine in the early primaries—probably right after the votes were counted in New Hampshire, if not Iowa.  He would then exit gracefully, assuring his supporters, with Hillary at his side nodding in agreement, that the important problems facing the “middle class” had been forcefully and irreversibly placed on the Democratic Party's presidential agenda, that it was going to be wonderful for America to have its first woman president, and that the most important thing to do now was to make sure the goddamn Republicans don't win.

I'm still betting we are going to hear that speech. But the path to it is becoming considerably more complicated, and the stage may not look the same. It’s interesting to consider how the dynamic of the Sanders campaign within the Democratic Party is unfolding.

Preliminary note: I am not going to focus on the deep problems with Bernie’s politics, which are important, but not crucial for this essay. For the purposes or this discussion, I’m going to treat the Sanders campaign as a vehicle that has attracted and mobilized many good progressives for substantively good reasons. My point here is to think about where this campaign is likely going. To clarify where I stand, I’ll put some remarks on two of the substantive political issues that should not be ignored into the first endnote.1

Let’s first consider Hillary’s assets and advantages.

We must begin with the superdelegates. The superdelegate system, through which 20% of the convention delegates are appointed essentially ex officio, with no vote of the party’s constituency, was created after the McGovern defeat precisely to prevent anyone remotely leftist from winning the Democratic nomination. This system gives the un-Democratic Party’s establishment great confidence that it can squelch the kind of uprising of its popular base that is now roiling the more democratic Republican Party. Those superdelegates, and the Party establishment to which they belong, are, of course, overwhelmingly Hillary supporters. That means she starts out with a 20% lead.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lawyers, Guns, and Twitter: Gun Battles and Class Struggle after San Bernardino

Kent State, 1970 
14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio, crying over the body of 20-year-old Jeffery Glenn Miller. Photo: John Filo

As can be expected, in the aftermath of the horrific San Bernardino mass murder committed by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in December, the issue of “gun control” and “gun violence” comes to the fore again, highlighted by a teary appeal from President Obama for new “gun safety” measures. I’ve dealt with the issue of gun rights in a comprehensive essay after a previous mass shooting (Sandy Hook), and I stand by the position laid out therein.1

There are two considerations that, I think, count for something:

1)   The right to own firearms is an important political right. That is not a right-wing position. In fact, I consider the defense of that right part of the populist tradition in left revolutionary politics. Therefore, any necessary regulations on that right – and there will be some – must be as carefully considered as the limitations on any other important right.

2)   The American capitalist state is an apparatus whose main purpose is to protect class rule and its accompanying injustices, and to project compliance-inducing aggression on behalf of the American elite and its favored allies — locally, nationally, and internationally. Any mitigations of these injustices and aggressions are not the products of the liberal state’s inherent neutrality and altruism. They are the hard-won, always-precarious, fruits of social movements that scare the liberal capitalist state into forgoing particular wars, advancing particular minority and civil rights, establishing remunerative social welfare policies. etc.

In most “gun control” discourse, the first point — that gun ownership is a fundamental political right — counts for less than nothing. Most such discourse, in fact, considers it important that gun ownership not be considered a right, but some kind of frivolous luxury. Those who think that should acknowledge it, and advocate openly for the rescission and denial of that right, as do now the major organs of mainstream liberal opinion in the United States, the Washington Post (“The problem with Obama’s promise not to take away your guns”) and the New York Times (“it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up”). The strongest, most forthright, statement of this position is given by Israeli-American sociologist Amitai Etzioni in his Huffington Post column, “Needed: Domestic Disarmament, Not 'Gun Control'”.2