Sunday, November 13, 2016

Ship of Fools: What Trump Teaches


It happened.

Yes, I was surprised. Since I spend a lot of time in western Pennsylvania, I knew there was more support for Trump than the media let on, but he just seemed too incompetent, incoherent, and disorganized a candidate to defeat the Clinton machine. I enjoyed torturing my friend who has been very close to Hillary for decades with scary stories about Trump surging. But in our early election day texting, I confessed that I thought it would be called for Hillary by 11PM at the latest. I was as wrong as everyone else.

I did not vote for either Hillary or Trump, and was resigned to taking my chances with either horrible outcome, but I was implicitly anticipating the dangers of a Clinton administration. I also thought, however, that there might be one positive effect of Hillary’s presidency. Contrary to what might be considered the usual leftist line that electing the explicitly ultra-reactionary Trump would foment the revolution, or at least radical discontent, I thought that, in the American context, Hillary being president would help the left the most.

If Trump wins, I argued, and his policies fail miserably and obviously, Democrats and liberals would spend the next four years saying: “See, you should have voted for Hillary,” and channeling oppositional energy into a familiar anti-Trump, anti-Republican, “Let’s make sure we elect a Democrat in 2020” politics—as we saw after Bush’s election in 2000.  The Democrats would once again present themselves as the system’s way out.

On the other hand, I thought that, if Hillary were to win and wreak her expected havoc on America and the world, Democrats and liberals would not be able to blame the Republicans. It would be the left that could say “See what you voted for?” The system would have failed in its Democratic guise. Because this might finally persuade more progressive-minded people to break with the Democratic Party once and for all. It was Hillary’s presidency, not Trump’s, that would open new paths for the left.

Now we have Donald Trump as president. His election is a disgrace, and we know what a disaster his administration will be for the country and the world. Mr. Anti-establishment, “drain the swamp,” tribune of the forgotten, is already filling up his clown car cabinet with the same-old tired Republican reactionaries and incompetents (Sarah Palin, Giluliani, Christie, Bolton), not to mention turning to industry and Wall Street lobbyists (and here) and, of course, Goldman Sachs (Steven Mnuchin) to run the Treasury. As business news site Quartz so aptly headlines: Trump criticized Clinton for her Wall Street ties, but he’s the best thing to happen to big banks.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tom Hayden's Haunting

George Brich, AP

As an old SDS-er, I found it hard to see Tom Hayden go. However meandering his path, he was at the heart of radical history in the 60s, an erstwhile companion, if not always a comrade, on the route of every boomer lefty.

One of his finer moments for me, which I’ve never seen mentioned (including among this week’s encomia) since he wrote it, was his 2006 article, published on CounterPunch with an introduction by Alexander Cockburn, in which he apologized for a "descent into moral ambiguity and realpolitick that still haunts me today.” It would be respectful of Hayden’s admirers and critics, on the occasion of his passing, to remember which of his actions “haunted” him the most.

The title of the article says it clearly: “I Was Israel’s Dupe.” In the essay, Hayden apologizes for his support of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which was for him that “descent into moral ambiguity” More importantly, he explains why he did it, in a detailed narrative that everyone should read.

Hayden sold out, as he tells it, because, in order to run as a Democratic candidate for the California State Assembly, he had to get the approval of the influential Democratic congressman Howard Berman. Berman is a guy who, when he became Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was proud to tell the Forward that he took the job because of his  “interest in the Jewish state” and that: “Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist.”

Hayden had to meet with Howard’s brother Michael, who, acting as “the gatekeeper protecting Los Angeles’ Westside for Israel’s political interests,” told Hayden: "I represent the Israeli Defense Forces”—a sentence that could serve as the motto of most American congress critters today. The “Berman-Waxman machine,” Hayden was told, would deign to “rent” him the Assembly seat on the “one condition: that I always be a ‘good friend of Israel.’”

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hillary’s Hide-and-Seek


This Sunday’s New York Times (NYT) article by Amy Chozicko, headlined “Issues in Hillary Clinton’s Past Leave Her Muted in Furor Over Donald Trump” (“Clinton Treads Lightly Amid Furor Over Trump” in the print edition) provides a fine example of how the mainstream press covers up Hillary Clinton’s problems, even when they claim to be reporting on them.

The article introduces itself as explaining Hillary’s “virtual silence” regarding the issues of Donald Trump’s piggish treatment of women—issues that she herself raised in this campaign. The article mentions, in the most non-specific way possible, that she’s an “imperfect messenger” for these issues because of her “missteps” in dealing with her own “husband’s history” of piggish behavior. It alludes to her “role in countering the women who accused him of sexual misconduct” as part of a “painful past” that “haunted Mrs. Clinton last Sunday” when Trump brought some of her husband’s accusers to the debate.

The article goes on at length to quote from Michelle Obama’s speech, to elucidate how Hillary slyly changes the subject to cat videos when asked, and to talk about how she struggles to overcome the electorate’s lingering resistance to a woman president. It mentions how, “without mentioning the accusations against Mr. Trump,” she says things like: “This election is incredibly painful. I take absolutely no satisfaction in what is happening on the other side with my opponent.”

What the article does not do is mention a single specific “misstep” or “imperfection” in the way she “countered” her husband’s “accusers” and verified mistresses. In an article of some 1300 words, there is not one that clearly describes any of the things that Hillary Clinton did and said in that regard—the precise things that cause Hillary to “tread lightly” about Donald Trump’s abusiveness, and cause her the discomfort the article purports to explain.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Waiting To Exhale: Hillary, In Sickness And In Health


What’s wrong with Hillary? Since her collapse on 9/11, that question has become inescapable.

I am not going to try to prove that Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s Disease, or some other serious, degenerative neurological or neuro-vascular condition. I suspect she does, especially since her collapse on 9/11, and the acknowledgement that she was passing off as an allergy what she now claims is pneumonia. Suddenly, the various videos of her strange tics, and the diagnoses thereof, have been less easy to dismiss. One can’t help but wonder what better explains her lackluster campaign?

But the speculation is futile at this point. Either she has some serious condition or she doesn't, and if she does, it will likely manifest itself in undeniable ways. If her head-shaking, coughing, and collapsing episodes are effects of discrete, trivial things like allergies and overheating, these episodes will stop, and she'll continue merrily along with her campaign (and likely presidency). She'll have a lot of public appearances, perform well in the debates, hold regular press conferences, etc., without incident. Of course, the obvious and best thing for her to do, if she’s really healthy, would be to show full medical files with raw test results.

If she does have a serious and degenerating neurological condition, she will try to avoid press conferences, lengthy public appearances with lots of people, and any stressful event where she cannot be physically managed by handlers. But avoiding all that in a presidential campaign is virtually impossible, starting with the debates. So if she is seriously ill, it’s inevitable that obvious symptoms will re-appear, in public and with more frequency.

We shall see.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Prime Directive: Trust the System, Blame the Russians





There are increasing doubts about the trustworthiness of America’s now ubiquitous electronic voting systems. For all the reasons I put forth in my previous post, including the suspicious results in the Democratic primary this year (analyzed in detail in a Stanford study), wider swaths of the public are aware and concerned about whether voters can have confidence that their votes will be counted for whom they are cast.

So the establishment media had to address this issue in some way. I guess that’s why the New York Times put David E. Sanger and Charlie Savage on the case, with their September 14th article, “Prime Danger in Vote Hack: Sowing Doubt.”

As the title indicates, the prime objective of this article is to allay any doubt voters might have about the reliability of the American electoral process, while at the same time acknowledging (kinda, sorta) that there’s some “danger” involved in the opaque, proprietary technologies that now determine the outcome of our elections. It’s a tricky needle to thread, and the convoluted and self-contradictory argument they use to do it is woven around the first two words of the article: “Russian hackers.”

Strike the Vote


As we enter the final lap of another quadrennial presidential horserace, let’s consider again the question of how to vote. This is not just a question of whom to vote for; it is also a question of whether to vote at all. Before deciding whom to vote for, we must, and do (explicitly or implicitly) make a decision about the electoral system that solicits our participation. We should make that decision explicitly, based on a clear-eyed understanding of how the electoral system actually now works.

It's my reluctant but considered conclusion that, in the United States of America today, the only effective way to use one's own vote is by withholding it. An organized, public boycott of the presidential election is, I think, the only tactic, within the electoral process, that might provoke important reforms—including of the electoral process itself—that would make other advances possible.

To be clear, I think voting is a fundamental political right. I have seen how people who don’t have that right fight for it, embrace it, and go to extraordinary lengths to use it.  Although electoral politics is only one aspect of a thoroughgoing democratic polity and of individual political engagement, it is hard to conceive of a democratic schema in which a transparent, trusted voting process was not important. It may be one among many, but a vote is an important political tool, and a terrible thing to waste.

There’s also the noteworthy fact that without honest, transparent elections, there is no possibility of significant change by non-violent means.

That’s why I have always made sure to register and vote. For me, in American presidential elections, the most un-wasteful use of my vote has been for some third-party candidate or party whose politics I could actually support. No matter how few votes that candidate got, I thought it was important that support for an alternative politics – substantively left and at least quasi-socialist – be registered and recognized. In the present case, the Stein-Baraka ticket and the Green Party would be such an alternative. 

At this point, however, given what the American electoral system has become, I have concluded that, even in these limited terms, voting for a third party is no longer a politically relevant gesture.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Turkey Invades Syria. America Spins The Bottle.

  Tom Janssen | CagleCartoons.com

So within the space of a few days, the United States has, first, commanded the government of Syria to keep its air force away from part of its own sovereign territory, Hasakah, occupied by American soldiers and their Kurdish “partners”; it then, with applause from other NATO countries, provided air support for a Turkish invasion of Syria and seizure of the Syrian town of Jarablus from those “partners.” These are unambiguous acts of war, and Orwellian acts of doublethink aggression.

Note that Hasakah, where the incident with the Syrian Air Force took place, is not in an area controlled by ISIS. So whatever American troops were doing there, they were not fighting ISIS. Note also that Turkey’s announced reason for seizing Jarablus—in order to seal the border and prevent ISIS in Syria from receiving recruits and supplies—is a flimsy excuse that, as the New York Times (NYT) reports, the Turks don’t even try to maintain: “Turkish officials made little secret that the main purpose of the operation was to ensure that Kurdish militias did not consolidate control over an area west of the Euphrates River.”’

As Al-Qaeda cleric Al-Muhaysin has assured would-be recruits: “The truth is that the Turks don't prevent anyone from entering Syria.” If the Turks wanted to close the Syrian border, across which they’ve been trafficking ISIS soldiers, arms, and oil for years, they could just close it, on their side. No need to invade Syria. In fact, ISIS was informed of the attack, and left Jarablus before the brave Turks and their Syrian rebel partners arrived. The Washington Post said: “The rebels encountered almost no resistance from Islamic State fighters, who fled ahead of the advancing force.” The blogger Moon of Alabama (MoA) made the point more sharply: “There was no resistance to the move. The Islamic State, which had been informed of the attack, had evacuated all fighters and their families out of Jarablus. … As one commentator remarked: They even left mints on the pillows. The toleration of ISIS by Turkey, which includes some not so secret support, will likely continue.”

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Obamacare Death Spiral


Obamacare is in big trouble. Major insurers—Aetna, Humana, and United Health (the nation’s largest)—are pulling out of most exchanges. Remaining companies are seeking double-digit premium increases (at least 25% in 20 different states, some over 60%), while increasingly offering only “narrow network” plans that severely restrict available doctors and hospitals. With these developments, the scam of Obamacare, and its inevitable failure, are becoming too obvious for even the mainstream media to ignore.

The scam of Obamacare was that its main purpose was to ensure, or at least “move toward” healthcare coverage for everyone. Its real primary purpose, however, was to protect and extend the healthcare “market”—the for-profit private health insurance industry and its co-dependent for-profit health delivery system.

Obamacare was not designed to, and does not, provide healthcare to anyone. The subsidies it pays go to health insurance companies; not to doctors or patients. It does not, and cannot, ensure universal healthcare coverage. It can only enhance “access” to healthcare—which means actually forcing everyone to purchase whatever profitable insurance plans the private companies decide to provide, at whatever price they decide to charge.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Democrats Promote Lies and War To Attack Trump

Newsweek.com

With his outrageous response to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq, Donald Trump has demonstrated once again that he is one of the nastiest and most narcissistic assholes in the known universe. His penchant for saying the perfectly offensive thing, on cue, does make one wonder if he hasn’t been put up to this whole thing by his friends, the Clintons, to split the Republicans and ensure Hillary’s victory. Then again, as a New Yorker familiar with his bloviant personality, I’m fairly certain his journey into historical ignominy is self-propelled.

But, like the proverbial clock, Donald’s unstoppable tongue is right twice a month or so. And egged on by the Clinton campaign, a lot of people are reinforcing various packs of dangerous lies in order to up the ante in trashing Trump. None of these is worse than the warmongering narrative about Russia and Ukraine that’s been reinforced by the bipartisan liberal-conservative commentariat after Trump’s recent interview with George Stephanopoulos. ThinkProgress, run by Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta, put up a story by Aaron Rupar on this that is being passed around the internet, with the title, “Trump Appears To Be Ignorant Of A Major International Conflict.” Translation: “Trump Goes Off-Script On Ukraine. Must Be Punished.”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Democrats’ Theater of Discipline


I must say: I’m surprised.

Not that Hillary was going to be the nominee. Not that Obama was in her camp. But by the gratuitously insulting and imperious way in which Obama, on behalf of Hillary, shut Bernie down.

Bernie was not going to win the superdelegates. Obama could have worked with Hillary quietly, behind the scenes, to ensure that, and to make sure the convention went smoothly enough, while maintaining his public neutrality.

By endorsing Hillary at this time, in this way—within minutes of his meeting with Sanders where Bernie had praised Obama for not “putting his thumb on the scale,” before Bernie had even started his next meeting of the day, before the final primary, before the vote at the convention that formally decides the nominee, and with an ad that Obama had filmed for Hillary in advance, posted on Facebook by the Clinton campaign—Obama was making a deliberately excessive gesture.

He was effectively telling Bernie, in a publicly brutal way, who’s the boss: “You’ve had your fun. Now get with the program. Oh, and, by the way, as you leave, make sure that those little ‘uns you got all riled up vote for Hillary.”

Forget thumb, Obama put his fist on the scale, effectively telling the superdelegates how he wants them to vote.  Obama is now campaigning for Hillary while Bernie is still officially in the race, and daring Bernie or anybody to complain about it. “Hey Bernie: Not the superdelegates, not anybody in this party, is going to defy me. Are you?”

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Taking Liberty: Killing Americans To Protect Israel


On this day in 1967, the Israeli Air Force attacked an American reconnaissance ship, USS Liberty, killing 34 American sailors and wounding 174. Over a period of an hour-and-a-half after Israeli pilots identified the ship as American, while the sailors battled to save the ship and their lives, the Israelis attacked the ship from the air and torpedo boats, hitting it with armor-piercing rounds, at least one bomb and one torpedo, and strafing the lifeboats. The Israelis wanted no survivors to embarrass them. Israeli jets had also targeted the antenna, to keep the ship from calling for help. But, as James Bamford recounts, a couple of radiomen:
patched together enough equipment and broken antennae to get a distress call off to the Sixth Fleet, despite intense jamming by the Israelis. "Any station, this is Rockstar," [radioman] Halman shouted, using the Liberty's voice call sign. "We are under attack by unidentified jet aircraft and require immediate assistance." 
"Great, wonderful, she's burning, she's burning," said an Israeli pilot. 
But, hey, the Sixth Fleet had the message. We all know what happened next. Seen it in every movie. The cavalry was on the way. You can hear the order to American pilots: “Splash the bastards.”

Er, no. Wrong movie. (Try Exodus.) What actually happened was that the Secretary of Defense (Robert McNamara) and the President of the United States (Lyndon Johnson) twice recalled the American planes that were launched from nearby carriers to defend the ship.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Bernie's End



Today, the morning after the Associated Press and other media outlets declared Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee. Glenn Greenwald gave the perfect headline: 
Perfect End to Democratic Primary: Anonymous Superdelegates Declare Winner Through Media
On the one hand, I understand why Bernie supporters are pissed-off about the media making this announcement on the eve of the California primary (taking place as I write). Bernie defeating Hillary in California would demonstrate her political weakness (always a good thing). Today’s announcement will likely depress the vote and make that less likely, and it would be naïve not to suspect that this announcement was made because someone wanted just that.

On the other hand, what we’re seeing here is only the reality of the Democratic Party made blatant. Pace Bernie and his supporters, the problem here is not that the media is reporting about superdelegates and how they say they’re going to vote. The problem is the superdelegate system itself, and what it exemplifies about the Democratic Party. Sandernistas love to show the math and the dates, and insist that, really, the 750 superdelegates have not yet voted. But the reality here—the political math—is that Bernie is not going to persuade hundreds of superdelegates to switch to him. The political reality is that those superdelegates were put in place to prevent someone like him from ever getting the nomination. And they are going to do their job. For which they are well paid in various ways. Bernie and his supporters are running into the Democratic Party wall, and they don’t want to hear it.

It’s not the media, but the Sanders campaign, that is perpetuating a diversionary myth—in this case, about who and what the superdelegates are. They are, in the main, not political actors amenable to reason or ethics in figuring out who is the best candidate, but agents of the money and power interests that control the Party, appointed to vote as those interests wish. Which is worse: To report the political truth or perpetuate a political myth? 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Plan B Is Not Bernie

I admit: It’s all speculation.

On April 4th, I wrote on Facebook: “My prediction: the next President of the United States will be someone who is not yet in the race. (e.g., Possible alternative Dem ticket: Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.) How crazy am I?”

This wasn’t just a wild guess. It was based on a few considered convictions.

The first major conviction is that Bernie Sanders was not going to be Democratic nominee.

To begin with, the Democratic Party, an institution dedicated to plutocratic class rule and imperialism, would not allow Bernie Sanders to be their nominee. The plutocracy will not permit Bernie Sanders to be the CEO of American and world capitalism, let alone the Commander-in-Chief of the American empire.

Furthermore, Bernie Sanders does not want to play either of those roles. He entered the race, as his advisors acknowledged to the New York Times, “to spread his political message about a rigged America rather than do whatever it took to win the nomination,“ and he has repeatedly pledged to support whomever the Democrats nominate.

Whatever unexpected and undeniable success his campaign has had, it’s a “political revolution” that will be limited to exerting pressure on the Democratic Party and its eventual nominee. One can complain that it’s been blocked by electoral hijinks or by the anti-democratic superdelegates, but those sores have been festering for a long time in the party Bernie chose to run in. At this point, if Hillary comes to the convention with one more pledged delegate and more popular votes than Bernie—which she will—she will win fair and democratically square—and any attempt by him to use superdelegates against her would contradict his own erstwhile complaints about them. At any rate, those supredelegates were put in place expressly to prevent anyone like him from becoming the nominee, and are not going to be persuaded, even by wonderful arguments based on electoral logic, to forsake their duty. Which of these folks is going to switch to Bernie because polls show he’d do better against Trump in the general?


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 has stopped 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

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