Hillary Clinton’s Not-So-Strange Right-Wing Bedfellows

06/09/16 0 COMMENTS

Z Magazine, July 2016

Democratic Hillary Clinton supporters got churlish when they heard media reports last spring that Clinton was favored over Donald Trump by the right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and by leading arch-imperial foreign policy neoconservatives like Robert Kagan, Max Boot, and Eliot Cohen. But unpleasant as many mainstream corporate and Clintonite Democrats might find such “strange bedfellow” right-wing backing to be, an honest look at Hillary’s record should make the support she is getting from such noxious, arch-authoritarian “elites” as Koch, Kagan, et al. is less than surprising.

How outlandish is it, really, that some on the business and imperial right might prefer Clinton over Trump? Primary candidate Trump ran off the elite capitalist and imperial leash. He channeled some nasty things that have long been part of the Republican Party playbook: frustrated white nationalism, racism, nativism, and male chauvinism. At the same time, however, he often sounded remarkably populist in ways that white working class voters appreciated. He was critical of things that elite Republicans (and elite corporate Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalization, “free trade” (investor rights) deals, global capital mobility, and cheap labor immigration. He questioned imperialist adventures like the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the destabilization of Syria, and the provocation of Russia. He’s been a largely self-funded lone wolf and wild card who cannot be counted to reliably make policy in accord with the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. And he seized the nomination of a political organization that may have ceased to be a functioning national political party.

Things are different with Hillary Clinton. She’s a tried and true operative on behalf of the nation’s capitalist and imperialist ruling class who sits atop the United States’ only remaining fully effective national and major party—the Democrats. She’s a deeply conservative right-winger on both the domestic and the foreign policy fronts, consistent with the rightward drift of the Democratic Party (and the entire U.S. party system)—a drift that she and her husband helped trail-blaze back in the 1970s and 1980s.

 “The Conservatism That I Was Raised With”

In 1964, when Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said, “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a telling reflection. Clinton acknowledged that her ideological worldview was still rooted in the conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.” She spoke the language not of a liberal Democrat, but of a moderate Republican in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon. The language was a perfect match for Hillary and Bill Clinton’s politico-ideological history and trajectory. After graduating from Yale Law School, the Clintons went to Bill’s home state of Arkansas. There they helped “lay…the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)” (Doug Henwood). The essence of the DLC was dismal, dollar-drenched “neoliberal” abandonment of the Democratic Party’s last lingering commitments to labor unions, social justice, civil rights, racial equality, the poor, and environmental protection and abject service to the “competitive” bottom-line concerns of Big Business.

The Clintons helped launch the New (neoliberal corporatist) Democrat juggernaut by assaulting Arkansas’ teacher unions (Hillary led the attack) and refusing to back the repeal of the state’s anti-union “right to work” law—this while Hillary began working for the Rose Law firm, which “represented the moneyed interests of Arkansas” (Henwood). When the Arkansas-based community-organizing group ACORN passed a ballot measure lowering electrical rates for residential users and raising them for commercial businesses in Little Rock, Rose deployed Hillary to shoot down the new rate schedule as an unconstitutional “taking of property.”

During the Clintons’ time in the White House, Bill advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath fake-progressive cover, in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Bill Clinton collaborated with the right-wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans. Bill earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch- global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by deregulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. Hillary took the lead role in White House efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of health reform. The Clintons decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative—single payer—from the national health care “discussion.” (Obama would do the same thing in 2009.) The Clinton White House’s hostility to “big government” did not extend to the United States’ giant and globally unmatched mass incarceration state or to its vast global military empire. Clinton’s 1994 crime bill helped expand the chilling expansion of the nation’s mostly Black and Latino prison population. Clinton kept the nation’s “defense” (Empire) budget (a giant welfare program for high-tech military corporations) at Cold War levels despite the disappearance of the United States’ Cold War rival, the Soviet Union.

“Populist Rhetoric is Good Politics”

Clinton’s service to the rich and powerful has continued into the current millennium. As a U.S. Senator, she did the bidding of the financial industry by voting for a bill designed to make it more difficult for consumers to use bankruptcy laws to get out from crushing debt. As Secretary of State (2009-2012), she repeatedly voiced strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promises to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad. In Australia in November 2012, she said that “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements for open free, transparent, [and] fair trade.” Bernie Sanders supporters like to claim that they’ve been moving the eventual Democratic nominee Hillary “to the left.” But nobody actually moves a dyed-in-the wool Goldman Sachs-neoliberal-top-of-the Ivy League-Council of Foreign Relations Eisenhower Democrat like Hillary or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to the left. All that might shift somewhat to the portside is their purposely deceptive campaign rhetoric.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce knows this very well. A top Chamber lobbyist calmly observed last January that Clinton will be on board with the unpopular TPP after the 2016 election.

Nobody grasps the Machiavellian nature of her campaign rhetoric better than Hillary’s Wall Street funders. A report in the widely read insider online Washington political journal Politico last year was titled, “Hillary’s Wall Street Backers: ‘We Get It’.” One Democrat at a top Wall Street firm even told Politico that Hillary’s politically unavoidable populist rhetoric “is a Rorschach test for how politically sophisticated [rich] people are… If someone is upset by this it’s because they have no idea how populist the mood of the country still is.”

It’s nothing new. In his bitter and acerbic book on and against the Clintons, No One Left to Lie To (2000), the still-left Christopher Hitchens usefully described “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” It’s a story that goes back as far as the 1820s but nobody has perfected the game more insidiously and effectively in the neoliberal era than the Clinton machine. Partisan liberal Democrats don’t like to hear it, but, there’s nothing all that surprising about the Koch brothers turning to Hillary over Trump. It’s not at all difficult to believe that Bill Clinton will succeed in his recently reported efforts to court support from other Republican billionaires. It’s not at all surprising that Wall Street and corporate America prefer the good friend they know.

There’s also nothing all that strange or surprising about the support Clinton is getting from foreign policy neoconservatives. Let us turn now to her foreign policy history, showing why it makes perfect sense that top imperial neocons prefer Hillary over the at least outwardly “isolationist” and at anti-interventionist Trump.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: The first entry on Hillary’s neocon foreign policy résumé is Madeleine Albright. As First Lady, Hillary successfully lobbied her husband Bill to appoint Albright—a right-wing, Russia-hating Czech emigre dedicated to the provocative, ever-eastward expansion of (NATO)—as Secretary of State in 1997. Albright had already achieved notoriety as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in May 1996 by telling CBS News reporter Leslie Stahl that the death of half a million Iraqi children due to U.S.-led “economic sanctions” was “a price worth paying” for the advance of U.S. goals in the Middle East. Even the legendarily blood-soaked U.S.-imperial strategist Henry Kissinger (a good friend and backer of Hillary) was taken aback by Albright’s determination to concoct an “excuse to start bombing.”

SERBIA: Another line on Hillary’s Neocon résumé is Serbia. She urged an initially reluctant Bill Clinton to launch what became a two-and-a-half month bombing campaign that killed many thousands of Serb civilians. In urging this carnage on the president, she used the false claim that lethal military force was required to stop Hitler-like “genocide” in Yugoslavia.

This would become a leading Clinton war theme: the disingenuous and cynical assertion that foreign governments had to be targeted and overthrown by the world’s only military superpower and its top European allies (claiming together to represent “the international community”) so as to protect innocents against modern-day Holocausts (like the one the Clinton administration unmentionably aided and abetted in Rwanda in 1994). It was a first and successful run for the thoroughly disingenuous Western principle of “R2P: Responsibility to Protect.” The Clintons’ assault on Serbia helped create the corrupt and criminal state of Kosovo, where a massive U.S. military base stands guard over a nation that leads the world in the murderous harvesting of human organs.

IRAQ: A third entry is Clinton’s vote as a U.S. Senator in October 2002 on behalf of a Congressional measure authorizing the Neocon-stocked George W. Bush administration to criminally and mass-murderously invade Iraq on criminally false pretexts. Clinton did not admit that she’d “gotten it wrong” on Iraq until 2014 (in her tedious memoir Hard Choices). The Clintons, it should be remembered, were on board with Republican necocons calling for Saddam Hussein’s removal from power by the late 1990s, prior to the 9/11 attacks that Hillary helped Bush criminally connect to Iraq.

HONDURAS: A fourth line on Clinton’s Neocon résumé is Honduras. With her appointment as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State (of all things), Hillary’s first test on the foreign policy meaning of “change” came in late June 2009. That’s when a right-wing business and military coup overthrew Honduras’s democratically elected and populist, Hugo Chavez-admiring President, Manuel Zelaya. “It is easy,” the veteran left journalist and author Diana Johnstone notes, “to see what real change would have meant. The U.S. could have vigorously condemned the coup and demanded that the legitimate President be reinstated. Considering U.S. influence in Honduras, especially its powerful military bases there, U.S. ‘resolve’ would have given teeth to anti-coup protest.” Instead, Secretary Clinton played along with the coup regime’s bogus claims that Zelaya had been trying to establish a dictatorship and that Hondurans had, after the coup, experienced “free and fair elections” that restored “democratic and constitutional government” in Honduras. The nation has been mired in corruption, poverty, misery, repression, and extreme inequality ever since.

LIBYA: A fifth line is the destruction of Libya in the spring of 2011. As with Serbia and Iraq, the United States targeted a self-designated “dictator” for regime change, spreading false flag propaganda about his supposed plans to “kill his own people” with air attacks and foreign mercenaries.  The removal of Momar Gadaffi—“a hero to black Africa” (Johnstone) because of his efforts to create a progressive pan-African Union and his decent treatment of Black Libyans—through U.S.-led Western force, turned Libya into a jihadist nightmare zone. It discredited “R2P” across most of the world (though not in the heavily indoctrinated U.S.).

SYRIA: Hillary stood in the vanguard of the Obama administration’s R2P Libya policy. The same is true for the disastrous U.S.-led destabilization of Syria, which fueled a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people while helping create the barbaric Islamic State. Bleeding Syria (whose jihadists received weapons illegally transferred by the CIA through Libya with the criminal assistance of Secretary Clinton) is the sixth line on Hillary’s Neocon résume.

RUSSIA AND UKRAINE: A seventh line is Russia. Clinton has consistently sought to demonize and isolate Moscow, absurdly blaming the bloody Ukraine crisis on “Putin’s imperialism” and endlessly justifying Washington’s relentless provocation of Russia. Hillary’s close ally Victoria Nuland (a top member of Hillary’ State Department team) is Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and is married to the top imperial Neocon Robert Kagan. Nuland played a central role in engineering a bloody right-wing coup that installed an anti-Russian and significantly fascist, neo-Nazi regime (in the name of “democracy”) in Kiev in early 2014. The coup reflected longstanding, Clinton-led U.S. efforts to absorb Russia’s immediate western neighbor into the NATO orbit. The leading Russian historian, Stephen Cohen, explained the development of the broader U.S. policy behind the Ukraine coup during a talk organized last year by the American Committee for East West Accord: “This [Ukraine] problem began in the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration adopted a winner-take-all policy toward post-Soviet Russia…Russia gives, we take…. This policy was adopted by the Clinton Administration but is pursued by every major U.S. political party (all two of them—P.S.), every President, every American Congress, since President Clinton, to President Obama. This meant that the United States was entitled to a sphere or zone of influence as large as it wished, right up to Russia’s borders, and Russia was entitled to no sphere of influence, at all, not even in Georgia…or in Ukraine (with which Russia had been intermarried for centuries).”

It’s not for nothing that the top right wing Ukrainian oligarchs like Victor Pinchuk have contributed many millions of dollars (more than any other nation or national elite) to the global Clinton Foundation—a so-called charity that advances the global neoliberal agenda (including the European integration of the resource-rich Ukraine) of the U.S. ruling class. Several “training” graduates of the Global Clinton Initiative (a wing of the Clinton Foundation) currently sit in the right-wing Ukrainian Parliament.

Hillary’s aggressive New Cold War-mongering contempt for Putin and Russia poses a significant threat of global nuclear war if she becomes president.

ISRAEL, IRAN, AND SAUDI ARABIA: An eighth line is Hillary’s chilling speech at the annual convention of the super-powerful Zionist lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last March. In her address, Clinton condemned Palestinian terrorism without making any reference to the vicious and arch-criminal poverty, displacement, apartheid, mass murder, and repression that racist Israel imposes on its Palestinian subjects. She promised to invite her good friend Israel’s blood-drenched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House (a swipe at Obama’s testy relationship with Netanyahu) and slanderously accused what she called “the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS” (the anti-apartheid/anti-racist boycott Israel movement) of “antisemitism.”

Clinton has long and absurdly echoed Israeli propaganda by calling Iran a dangerous terrorist state (even preposterously calling it “the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism”) and ridiculously describing it (also in accord with Israeli doctrine) as “an existential threat to Israel.” Such ugly embrace of Israel and dismissal of Palestinian concerns is a longstanding and key part of the Neocon playbook. It’s nothing new for Hillary, who published a position paper in 2007 arguing that Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish state” with “an undivided Jerusalem as its capital…must never be questioned.”

In 2008, then Senator Clinton told AIPAC that “Iran threatens to destroy Israel,” called the Iranian Revolutionary Guard “a terrorist organization,” and backed “massive retaliation” if Iran attacked. “I want the Iranians to know,” Clinton said, “that if I’m president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”  Meanwhile. Hillary has long been a close friend of absolutist, monarchical Saudi Arabia—the actual leading global sponsor of global terrorism after its chief sponsor the U.S. She’s long advanced close U.S. relations with the deeply reactionary, jihad-fueling Saudis, who have donated at least $10 million to the Clinton Foundation.

This, too, is straight out of the neocon playbook, as is her embrace of cluster bombs, toxic agents and nuclear weapons as “deterrents” that “keep the peace.

Curious Ironies

Numerous liberals, progressives, and leftists are understandably perturbed by the violence, racism, white nationalism, nativism, and misogyny that exudes from the rhetoric and persona of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. But when it comes to the actual infliction of real violence primarily against non-white people (with all due respect for Serbian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians targeted by Hillary’s allies and agents) and including many women, Hillary has the (longstanding “private citizen”) Donald trumped, of course.

Another irony deserves mention: the streams of refugees and migrants that Trumps wants to build giant nationalist walls against are fed in no small part by the chaos Hillary has done so much to help the U.S. Empire generate in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

None of which is to deny that a climate change-denying, white nationalist and nativist Trump presidency would be certain to inflict significant murder and mayhem at home and abroad. You get your once-every-four-years “input” next November with a choice between two of the most widely and justly loathed people in the nation and world, my fellow Americans. Ain’t U.S. “democracy” grand?

Dirty Obama Secrets: From Warsaw to Dallas and Baton Rouge

06/09/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, July 15, 2016

Zbarackniew BrzObamski

One of Barack Obama’s dirty little secrets when he first ran for the United States presidency was that he was first and foremost an Empire man. Beneath his illusory and carefully crafted brand as an antiwar candidate and behind the primacy of domestic questions (chiefly the onset of the Great Recession and the color of the mixed-race Obama’s skin) in the 2008 election, Obama’s main goal was to sit atop the “Great Game” of global empire. All his stump speaking on “hope” and “change” in the homeland was just fluff on the path to wielding power on the world stage, the main place where the U.S. presidents are free to make history.

Obama’s special passion for imperialism goes back to his days at Columbia University early in the Reagan era. There he fell under the influence of the legendary Russia-hating U.S. imperial strategist and “international relations” professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who would become a top foreign policy adviser for candidate Obama. Like the Strangelovian maestro Brzezinski, Obama opposed George W. Bush’s clumsy invasion of Iraq not because it was a moral and legal crime but because it was bad for imperialism.

Obama’s foreign policy as president has been consistent with Brzezinski’s and other top Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) strategists’ call for the U.S. to shift the focus of its aggression from the Middle East and on to bigger and more dangerous post-/neo-Cold War targets: China and Russia. As the eminent left Australian author, filmmaker, and political commentator John Pilger recently observed in an essay titled “A World War Has Begun”:

“The Obama administration has built more nuclear weapons, more nuclear warheads, more nuclear delivery systems, more nuclear factories.  Nuclear warhead spending alone rose higher under Obama than under any American president. The cost over thirty years is more than $1 trillion…A mini nuclear bomb is planned. It is known as the B61 Model 12. There has never been anything like it…”

“In the last eighteen months, the greatest build-up of military forces since World War Two — led by the United States — is taking place along Russia’s western frontier.  Not since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union have foreign troops presented such a demonstrable threat to Russia…Ukraine – once part of the Soviet Union –  has become a CIA theme park. Having orchestrated a coup in Kiev, Washington effectively controls a regime that is next door and hostile to Russia: a regime rotten with Nazis, literally…In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — next door to Russia – the US military is deploying combat troops, tanks, heavy weapons. This extreme provocation of the world’s second nuclear power is met with silence in the West…”

“What makes the prospect of nuclear war even more dangerous is a parallel campaign against China…Seldom a day passes when China is not elevated to the status of a ‘threat.’  According to Admiral Harry Harris, the US Pacific commander, China is ‘building a great wall of sand in the South China Sea’…What he is referring to is China building airstrips in the Spratly Islands, which are the subject of a dispute with the Philippines – a dispute without priority until Washington pressured and bribed the government in Manila and the Pentagon launched a propaganda campaign called ‘freedom of navigation’…It means freedom for American warships to patrol and dominate the coastal waters of China.  Try to imagine the American reaction if Chinese warships did the same off the coast of California…The United States is encircling China with a network of bases, with ballistic missiles, battle groups, nuclear-armed bombers…This lethal arc extends from Australia to the islands of the Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls and Guam, to the Philippines, Thailand, Okinawa, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. America has hung a noose around the neck of China.”

Audacious Racism Denial by the Empire’s New Clothes

A second dirty little secret about candidate Obama was that he was a stealth agent of anti-Black U.S. societal racism. He brilliantly absolved the nation of its racist sins, past and present. He heralded and claimed to embody the emergence of a color-blind post-racial nation in which there was no longer any such thing as a “Black America” and a “White America” – only now a “United States of America.” He told rapt listeners that his “story” – of a supposedly unprivileged and Black American man’s climb from confusion and obscurity to the heights of national politics – was “possible only” in “this magical place America,” the purported land of opportunity for all. He craftily elided and figuratively deleted the savage persistence of American anti-Black racism, deeply and properly understood, an oppression structure cloaked by the simple symbolism of his ascendancy. Obama told grateful whites that rage against the continuing plague of racial subjugation was just the pathetic habit of cranky old Black people like Jeremiah Wright. His former minister was unceremoniously tossed under the bus to appease majority white sentiment on the over-ness of racism, though not until Obama had stolen the title of one of the preacher’s angry sermons for the title of the candidate’s imperial and American Exceptionalist campaign book The Audacity of Hope.

“See?” millions of white Americans could almost be heard singing in unison the last seven years, “the President is Black, so Stop Talking About Racism!” With some minor and occasional signs of discomfort and semi-complaint, the nation’s first half-half white chief executive has been happy to play along with the conservative Caucasian narrative. His collaboration with “post-racial,” neoliberal white supremacism has included repeated presidential indulgences of one of his nastier pre-presidential habits: lecturing poor Blacks on their own alleged personal and cultural responsibility for their position at the bottom of the nation’s harsh socioeconomic pyramids (which grew steeper thanks in no small part to his Wall Street-permeated administration’s continuation and expansion of the epic taxpayer bailout of the financial overlords who crashed the economy). Meanwhile, the still highly segregated and extant entity called Black America has experienced an epic decline in net worth, both absolutely and relative to White America. A horrifying epidemic of racist police shootings of mostly young Black men by mostly white cops has come to light under Obama – another great tribute to the post-racial era, along with the persistent epic mass incarceration and felony-marking of Black men, millions of whom have been stripped of economic value by the neoliberal order Obama has always embraced.

Meanwhile, Obama’s color and technically Muslim nomenclature combined with his smooth and telegenic eloquence and outward sophistication to hold great marketing significance for the post-Dubya American Empire. Those critical combined assets made him a darling of the ruling CFR set after he was vetted and cleared for the national stage by elite corporate political gatekeepers in the second half of George W. Bush’s first term. They understood him as an imperial re-labelling boon – a public relations windfall – on a global stage wherein Brand USA had been badly damaged by Cowboy Bush and his Neocon bumblers.

On the Front Lines of World War III

These two of candidate Obama’s dirty secrets (a third one was that he was always a darling of Wall Street and other Big Business elites) collided in curious ways during Obama’s recent trip to Europe. Why was the Obama, the empire’s once new clothes, in Warsaw last week? To attend a summit of NATO’s leaders (he being the top one), who are planning highly provocative and military deployments to Poland and three Baltic states in order to “counter” what the White House absurdly calls “mounting Russian aggression.”

In reality, Russia has undertaken some highly understandable defensive measures to offset mounting U.S.-led Western aggression, which includes a reckless “regional missile defense system” on Russia’s Western borders in Poland and Romania.

It’s imperial, neo-Strangelovian madness right out of the Brzezinski playbook.

“You’re Not Seeing Police Going After People Who Are Protesting Peacefully”

Why was Obama’s summer trip to the Continent cut short, forcing him to apologize to Spanish King Felipe VI? Because a still intensely race-divided and racist America just experienced yet two more high-profile, unnecessary, and videotaped murders of Black men by white police officers: Alton Sterling, senselessly shot while pinned to the ground in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Philando Castile, shot four while reaching for his wallet during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Then came the killing of five white Dallas, Texas police officers by Micah Xavier Johnson, a Black military veteran seeking (if we can believe the Dallas police department’s account of what he said before being killed by a robot-delivered bomb) revenge against “white people” for the killing of Blacks by police.

Johnson was a veteran of candidate Obama and Brzezinski’s Good War – the highly illegal U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the country whose initial destabilization and jihadification Brzezinski helped initiate (under Jimmy Carter) as part of his campaign to unravel the Soviet Union and humiliate Russia.

Johnson was immediately labelled “Micah X. Johnson” by a corporate media eager to make Caucasian-spooking historical parallels with Malcolm X.

Asked about the latest U.S. racial violence at a press conference in Warsaw, Obama did his bourgeois, race-neutral best to downplay the extent of racial discord and anger in the U.S. He said the United States was “not as divided as some have suggested…There is sorrow, there is anger, there is confusion about next steps,” Obama said during a news conference. “But there’s unity” and it wasn’t like the mass social unrest of “the 1960s” he said. “You’re not seeing riots, you’re not seeing police going after people who are protesting peacefully,” Obama added.

“One of the great things about America,” Obama further intoned, “is that individual citizens and groups of citizens can petition their government, can protest, can speak truth to power. And that is sometimes messy and controversial but because of that ability to protest and engage in free speech, America over time has gotten better. We’ve all benefited from that.”

Obama claimed that Johnson’s motives were difficult to know even though the Dallas police reported unequivocally that police killings of Black people had sparked the veteran to hate white Americans and white police officers above all.

If he hasn’t done so yet, the president might want to check out film footage of the Baton Rouge police going in full riot gear after peaceful protesters marching against the Sterling murder. Besides putting the town on a virtual anti-free speech lockdown, the local gendarmes assaulted protesters on the private home of a Black middle class couple that had offered marchers refuge on their front yard and house porch. The images of police in full paramilitary-imperial-NATO-like- war-of (“on”)-terror gear going after people who were protesting peacefully were clear and graphic. As should surprise nobody familiar with his administration’s long record of police state-repression, moreover, the heavy-handed suppression of civil liberties was greenlighted and facilitated by Obama’s Federal Bureau of Investigations. The FBI instructed regional police departments to treat the predictable peaceful protests pretty much as they would an enemy force.

Worthy and Unworthy Victims

Where did the “Consoler in Chief” (as Obama is now described by clever news anchors) rush to speak words of comfort and healing when he returned from his imperial mission to Europe? To Baton Rouge to comfort Alton Sterling’s family and friends? Did he stop in Falcon Heights to mourn Philando Castille? Did he stop off in Chicago to meet with the family of Laquan McDonald, the 17 year who was senselessly butchered by a white police officer who shot him sixteen times? In Staten Island to commiserate with the family of Eric Garner, the Black man who was choked to death by white NYPD officers for selling tax-free cigarettes? To Ferguson, to visit the shrine honoring Mike Brown, the Black teenager who was needlessly shot to death by a white police officer two summers ago, his body left to rot in the hot sun for more than two hours? To Baltimore, to honor the memory of Freddie Gray, his spinal cord fatally damaged by sadistic cops who took him for a “rough ride” handcuffed and unsecured by a seat belt in the back of a police van (a sadistic torture technique practiced by the fictional white NYPD detective Danny Reagan in the popular pro-police state CBS television series “Blue Bloods”)? Cleveland to comfort the parents of the late 12 year-old Tamir Rice? How about Saginaw, Michigan, where six police officers fired a psychotic, up-close fusillade of 46 shots at a mentally disturbed 49-year old Black man named Milton Hall in a shopping center parking lot after Hall half lunged with a small pocketknife at a police dog who was viciously snarling at him in the summer of 2012 (the cops handcuffed him as he bled out on the pavement) ? How about Houston, Texas, to comfort the family of Alva Braziel, a Black man shot down last Saturday with his hands in the air next to a gas station in the southern part of that city? I could continue…list of these killing goes on and on, replenished every other day or so it seems.

No, Obama headed to Dallas, home to the officially worthy victims – the murdered police officers. He offered the usual homilies about how the police are selfless “heroes” of pure “public service” who defend ordinary citizens at great risk to their own personal safety and how protesters need to respect law and authority. Yes, the president mentioned Castille and Sterling by name and even argued (tepidly) for the legitimacy of Black Americans’ sense that racial bias lives on in the American criminal justice system and society more broadly long after the passage of the Civil and Voting Rights Acts half a century ago. Obama talked about how police are expected to “do too much” in Black communities scarred by mass poverty, inadequate schools, and the under-investment of positive resources – all reflections of a long history of racial bias and discrimination going back to Slavery and Jim Crow. He even seemed to accept the term “Black Lives Matter.” White police officers sitting behind the president applauded when he praised police as noble protectors of society but sat stone-faced when he mildly suggested that racial discrimination had yet to completely disappear in the U.S.

God, Country, and Law and Order

Still, the main theme of Obama’s highly scriptures-laden memorial oration was national, post-racial unity, underscored by his references to the military records of the fallen officers and his claim that “we are not as divided as we seem.” (Never mind that the statistics of U.S. racial and class disparity today show that America is if anything more divided, not less divided than it seems.) Obama was not about to be out-Reaganed/Republicaned by his fellow speaker the ridiculous George W. Bush when it came to making the standard bipartisan invocations to God, Country, Family, the Military, Police, and Law and Order. The deep and savage racism and racialized classism of the United States – all too dangerously veiled by the ascendancy of white-capitalist-and imperialist-power-friendly Black elites like Obama and Dallas’ now media-lauded Christian police chief – were naturally off the table of serious discussion. The white officers at the memorial speech loved it when Obama proclaimed that “there is evil in the world…That’s why we have police.” It was unthinkable that the president might acknowledge that modern police forces exist not so much to defend all of us (“one nation under God” regardless of race, class, creed, gender, or sexual orientation, etc.) against “evil” and “bad guys” as to defend the nation’s reigning, overlapping, and interrelated hierarchies of race, place, property, class, nationality, and ethnicity. And to keep extant Black America in its place – really in in its interrelated socioeconomic and geographic places, separate and unequal.

American Emperors and Their Homeland Tightrope

As Obama’s meek liberal defenders always remind us, it is “politically impossible” for him or any other Democratic politician to be anything like seriously forthright about the depth and degree of American racism. He’s “walking a difficult tightrope” on race. The right-wing media and noise machine jumps all over anything that might be construed to sound remotely race-militant, turning such language to the advantage of the white-nationalist GOP.

That’s all true enough, but Barack Obama has never shown anything more than the slightest serious desire to buck majority white-denialist sentiment by telling the real story about anti-Black racism’s deep entrenchment and pervasive hold in the United States. He was widely praised in the media for saying in Dallas that his mere “words” have not been able to heal racial divisions in the country. But no respectable mainstream commentator is going to point out that Obama’s words (not to mention his deeds) have never cut more than slightly skin deep into the living historical beast that is American racial oppression.

The deeper truth is that Obama has always been ready to sacrifice domestic U.S. racial and other forms of social justice on the altar of what was always his favorite policy area, the one where U.S. presidents have the greatest field of autonomous action: Empire. He can perhaps say a bit more about race as a lame duck president than he could when he first smelled his shot at national and world power fourteen years ago. Still, he’s not about to screw things up with White America for the Clintons, who helped re-elect him in 2012.

Meanwhile, Hillary “Queen of Chaos” Clinton is practically dying to up the imperial ante. She can’t wait to take Washington’s tilts against Russia and China to new levels of lethal provocation. She, too, is all about Empire, U.S, president’s leading and favorite zone of agency. And she, too, must walk the nation’s highly racialized identity politics tightrope on the path to the pinnacles of America’s destructive global power.

Don’t Blame Me If Trump Wins

06/09/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, July 8, 2016

Could the white-nationalist, misogynist, and arch-narcissist reality-show buffoon Donald Trump really become President of the United States? I doubt it but anything is possible. The celebrated pundit of political prognostication Nate Silver has been underestimating Trump throughout the current election cycle.

A Perfect Match

Perhaps the likelihood of a Donald “Make America Great Again” Trump presidency receded a bit three days ago when FBI Director James Comey made his blockbuster announcement that he would not recommend an indictment of Mrs. Clinton for her illegal and inappropriate use of a private email server to conduct government business when she was Barack Obama’s warmongering Secretary of State. An indictment would have sunk Hillary’s candidacy, energizing Bernie Sanders before the Democratic National Convention and possibly sparking establishment Democrats to cobble together an emergency Joe Biden-John Kerry ticket.

Still, Comey’s statement bluntly contradicted her Nixon-like deceptions on the matter and left no doubt that she engaged in scandalously criminal behavior. (Nothing new for the Clintons: scandals follow them around like stink on shit). It gives Trump and the Republicans plenty to throw at “Crooked Hillary” through the general election.

At the same time, the non-indictment is an impeccable match for Trump’s charge that “the system is rigged” for the Democrats and the Clintons. How perfect is it for Trump’s accusation that Bill Clinton had a grotesquely tasteless airplane meeting last week with Comey’s boss, Obama’s Attorney General Loretta Lynch? (Who seriously believes that Mr. Clinton and Ms. Lynch exchanged no thoughts on the potential election year political implications of an indictment?) That was made to order for Trump’s blustering about corruption, cover-ups, and dirty deals. So was Obama’s appearance at a campaign event with Hillary (in a contested state with lots of Black voters) just hours after Comey announced that Hillary would escape prosecution.

Lesser Evil Voting as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Who will be to blame if Trump prevails next November 8th? Not the minority of Sandernistas and more radical lefties who won’t be able to mark ballots for the right-wing fanatic, war hawk and arch-global corporatist Hillary Clinton in contested states. If we must point fingers on the left, I think a more worthy culprit in a Donald Trump victory would be leading leftists who counsel us every four years to hold our noses and vote for the hopelessly corporate, corrupt, and imperial Democrats as the Lesser Evil (LE) It’s kind of hard to expect the Dismal Dollar Dems (DDD) to be less disastrously corporate, neoliberal and imperial when top DDDs know that top progressive luminaries will have their electoral back (in the name of LE voting [LEV]) once every 4 years.

The ever more nauseating rightward drift of the DDDs that is aided and abetted by LEV in the absence of serious movement building on the left is part of the context that lets Republicans absurdly suck up populist, working class anger. As the Green Party’s presidential candidate Jill Stein (who rightly calls for Hillary’s felony indictment) told me last February, “Lesser Evil strategy requires you to be silent, to turn your voice over to a corporate-sponsored politics, to a corporate-sponsored party. The politics of fear delivers everything we are afraid of by entrusting the fox to guard the chick coup. Silence is not an effective political strategy. And besides the Lesser Evil invariably paves the way for the Greater Evil.” Stein cited the right-wing Congressional election victories of 2010, which reflected mass popular anger and disgust with the corporate-neoliberal Obama’s failure to pursue a remotely progressive agenda when he enjoyed Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry citizenry ready to punish the plutocracy. Obama responded by acting to protect the bankers and “throw [ordinary middle and working class] people over the cliff.” By 2014, Stein noted, just a third of electorate came out to vote since “Lesser Evilism gives nothing to vote for. Eighty percent of young people stayed home. Labor stayed home. A lot of women stayed away…People don’t come to vote on what they fear,” Stein observes. “They vote on what they’re for.”

Raised Middle Fingers and Low-Hanging Fruit

The bigger culprits are the corporate and imperial Democrats themselves, of course. Trump may be atrocious, flippant, idiotic, and disgusting on numerous levels. Still, he’s not wrong when he points out that the Democrats have sold the nation’s working class down the river in the name of “free trade.” The Clintons’ noxious embrace of the North American Free Trade Agreement – a disaster for the U.S. working class – and Obama’s revolting championing of the arch global-corporatist, arch-authoritarian and darkly secretive Trans Pacific Partnership speak volumes about neoliberal-era Democrats’ deep enmeshment in the perverse politics of the financial Few over and against the Many and the common good.

Trump’s not wrong when he says that Hillary’s foreign policy positions and actions have sown chaos and disaster in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. And Trump’s not wrong when he says that Hillary and her husband have a long and terrible record of corruption reaching back to Whitewater, up through Benghazi and the email scandal, the atrocious globalist Clinton Foundation, and the Big Creep’s unseemly airport encounter with Loretta Lynch last week. The preposterous Trump’s cynical take on the shady, scheming, and elitist Clintons, Obamas, and other top Democrats is all too sadly rooted in reality.

It’s an epitome of the long neoliberal New Gilded Age. The ugly nativist tycoon and enemy of the working class Trump is absurdly permitted to pose as a friend of the working man. He gets to do this not simply through sheer cunning and devious, populism- and racism-/nativism-manipulating campaigning but also thanks to the vicious state-capitalist and imperial corruption of the nation’s not-so leftmost major political party, which has abandoned the working class over many decades of rightward drift championed by (guess who?) the Clintons. As privileged and pretentious upper and professional class (neo)liberal Dem elites give white Joe Six Pack the usual Goldman Sachs-financed middle finger and fake-progressively promote the bourgeois identity politics of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender (Obama’s campaign appearance with Hillary in Charlotte was a case study), much of the struggling and angry working and middle class is left like low-hanging fruit to be snatched up by a fake-populist billionaire demagogue like Trump.

As the left activist and writer Tom Wetzel recently commented to me online, “It seems lately that identity politics has come to function a lot as a mask for professional/managerial class disparagement of the working class.” In Iowa City in 2007 and 2008 it was very pronounced to me from numerous conversations that upper-middle class professionals’ and students’ eager readiness to vote for a Black presidential candidate – a certain unthreatening and bourgeois kind of Black candidate like Obama – was strongly connected to their disdain of the white working and lower classes. It was part of their professional/managerial/coordinator-class identity. Some of that same ugly energy is now afoot in this election cycle in relation to gender and Hillary. Is it any surprise that much of the contempt is dangerously returned?

Resentment’s Ugly Vacuum

Meanwhile, much of what passes for a progressive left in the U.S. operates from a meek calculus that perplexingly privileges fear of the rightmost party over real existential challenges (as in “do X or we will withhold voting support for you and thereby cost you the election”) to the other major party in the winner-take-all U.S. elections and party system. This contributes to the deadly vacuum of genuinely progressive voices for the legitimate “populist rage” and alienation of the nation’s working class majority. Resentment abhors a left democratic vacuum. In steps a Le Pen, a Trump, and, at the historical worst, a Hitler, to take ugly advantage of the sad silence/silencing of the left.

The Cowardly Lion

True, millions of Democratic primary voters and Caucus-goers backed a progressive Democrat named Bernie Sanders. Running against the 1% – the financial and corporate elite – that most Americans quite reasonably and naturally hate, Sanders scores/d far better than Hillary does with the populace on trustworthiness and likeability. He also significantly out-performed Hillary in match-up polls against Trump, who was beating Hillary on trustworthiness (45 to 37 percent) even before Comey slammed her three days ago. (How slimy do you have to be to be viewed as less trustworthy than Donald Trump?) Sanders would do far better than Hillary with the white working class and rural America in a general election.

But besides being an F-35-trumpeting Empire Man (something that negated much of his progressive domestic social agenda), the brass-lunged Bernie was and remains a true Cowardly Lion. He promised from the start to back the eventual Democratic nominee without conditions, foreswearing in advance any willingness to pose the aforementioned existential challenge to the Democratic Party establishment. He openly enlisted as a “sheepdog,” describing his “socialism” as an effort to boost turnout for the Democrats.

If he’d been remotely serious about becoming the Democratic nominee, the “revolutionary” Sanders would not have given Hillary advance cover on her egregious email scandal, announcing in an early debate that “the American people are sick and tired of hearing [from Republicans] about your [Hillary Clinton’s] emails.” He would have gone after the email crimes and Hillary’s criminal conduct on Benghazi as well.

When Sanders ended up doing far better than the Clintons, the DNC, and Bernie himself expected in the primaries (why his big rallies and vote totals were surprising to anyone is a mystery in a time when a handful of Wal-Mart heirs have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the nation), the Nixonian Clintons and the DDD establishment made sure that the nomination process was, well, rigged to keep the pretend “party of the people” safe for plutocracy.

A System That Needs to Die

The ultimate culprit is the American political set-up. The current reigning U.S. political system is an openly oligarchic institutional plutocracy, something that is widely acknowledged even outside left circles. Why do we focus so little on the politics of changing the rules of U.S. electoral politics compared to how much we focus on the fleeting voting decision? As Greg Wilpert rightly argues, the standard once-every-4-years intra-left debate on whether and how to participate in the U.S. presidential election “tends to appear to assume that the US is actually a democratic country…[and] that our participation in the electoral system could actually make a real difference…It sometimes seems to me,” Wilpert adds, “that every four years progressives spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money on the presidential race, which usually leads nowhere, instead of focusing more on making sure that the political system becomes something that might one day deserve the designation ‘democracy.’”

The specific electoral and party system changes required to make U.S. elections worthy of passionate citizen engagement are well known. “We need,” Wilpert writes, “to address issues such as: the influence of money on political campaigns, the lack of any proportionality in representation (first past the post system), gerrymandering, inequality in representation (that small states have about 40 times the weight in the Senate as a large state, and three times in a presidential election), lack of access to mass media in campaigns, etc.”   Yes: imagine the introduction of an elections and party system aligned with the notion of popular sovereignty (the U.S. Founders’ ultimate nightmare, by the way). A Democracy Amendment to the U.S. Constitution anyone?

Trump may end up being more viable in November than I originally thought. This will garner lefties living in contested states more lectures on our solemn duty to block “fascism” by voting for a right-wing fanatic (Hillary Clinton) – for a warmongering enemy of workers and the environment, a friend of Wall Street and “free trade” (the corporate Clinton wing of the Democratic Party defeated efforts to insert opposition to the TPP into the party’s platform), and a genuine threat to launch World War III. When I reject that counsel and Trump wins, if he does, I am not going to take the blame for the ascendancy of the Donald. Sorry. The dismal dollar Dems and their left enablers will have a lot more to answer for on that score.

In the meantime, let’s build a great popular grassroots democracy, justice, and eco-socialist movement beneath and beyond the nation’s rotten quadrennial election carnivals – a movement that includes demands and proposals for a party and elections system that would actually merit passionate citizen engagement. A system that offers us the “choice” between two highly unpopular and toxic ruling class slime-buckets like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton does not deserve to continue.

Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World

06/09/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, June 28, 2016

“The Revolution Starts Here”

In the days leading up to the U.S. electoral holy day that is the Iowa Presidential Caucus, Iowa was briefly home to a large number of Bernie Sanders-backing political visitors with out-of-state license plates and banners proclaiming on the sides of their gas-guzzling SUVs that “the Revolution Starts Here.” The slogan appeared inside an outline of the state of Iowa. I wonder how many of the white middle class politico-motorists inside those SUVs will be returning to Iowa to fight for “the revolution” and/or at least against the Bakken Pipeline.

“Put a Mark Somewhere, Go Home, and Let Other Guys Run the World”

The nation’s unelected dictatorship of money rules 24/7, moving forward on a steady basis with its many-sided pillaging of the common good, its never-ending poisoning of the well. The populace is diverted from this harsh reality by the ubiquitous media electoral extravaganza. Again and again, the citizenry qua electorate is told that going into a two-[capitalist-]party ballot box for two minutes once every two or four years is a great and glorious exercise in popular self-rule. So what if the major party candidates are generally vetted in advance by the capitalist and imperial establishment, from which they often come? And so what if the ruling class rules in numerous ways, every day, at multiple levels, beneath and beyond the big, mass-marketed candidate-centered major party election spectacles that are acted out on time-staggered, constitutionally appointed schedule? “Rejoice citizens,” the U.S. wealth and power elite and its ubiquitous commercial media tell us: “you had your input on Election Day. Freedom and democracy are wondrous indeed!” As Howard Zinn noted in an essay on “the election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left” as Barack Obamania took hold in the spring of 2008:

“the election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls… And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. … But before and after those two minutes [in a voting booth], our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

Under the American religion of voting, Noam Chomsky recently told Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world. It’s a very destructive ideology… basically, a way of making people passive, submissive objects.” Chomsky told Falcon and Isaacson that we “ought to teach kids that elections take place but that’s not politics.”

While Bernie Gave Speeches, Dakota Access Pushed Planet Plundering Pipeline

Speaking of the “other guys” we let “run the world” before and after we engage in the hallowed American voting ritual, imagine the clucking that must have taken place in the Dallas, Texas board rooms of Dakota Access LLC as the “election frenzy” surrounding the progressive Democrat and avowed climate change fighter Bernie Sanders took hold across Iowa last year. While thousands of white middle-class campus-town progressives flocked to Iowa rallies meant to sheepdog understandably disaffected voters back (via the “Bernie Revolution”) into the quiescence-inducing confines of the corporate Democratic Party, Dakota Access (a division of the eco-cidal corporation Energy Transfer Partners) moved methodically ahead with its plan to build the planet-baking Bakken Pipeline. This $4 billion, 1134-mile project will carry 540,000 barrels of largely fracked crude oil from North Dakota’s “Bakken oil patch” daily on a diagonal course through South Dakota, a Sioux Indian burial ground,18 Iowa counties, and a Native American reservation to Patoka, Illinois. It will link with another pipeline that will transport the black gold to terminals and refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.  Some of the “sweet crude” will be loaded onto rail cars for shipment to the east coast.

Last March, five weeks after Sanders essentially tied Hillary Clinton in the Iowa Caucus, the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) approved the giant Iowa portion of the project, granting the Dakota Access eminent domain rights across the whole route. It was the last key step. The state “regulatory” boards in the other three states had already signed off.

Dakota Access first applied to the IUB for a permit to assault Iowa farmlands and waterways (see below) in the fall of 2014, just before Sanders’ first visit to Iowa (to speak before an overflow crowd of campus town liberals and progressives in Iowa City). Slowly but surely, as media-driven popular excitement over the largely Iowa-focused presidential candidate carnival built last year, the company quietly made its “case” over the irrelevant and scientifically informed opposition of environmentalists and concerned citizens in numerous “informational meetings” and “public hearings” across the pipeline’s Iowa route. While the state grew heavy with regiments of election-crazed activists, campaign functionaries, and journalists, Dakota Access expertly moved the appalling pipeline through the required administrative and public relations hoops under the media-politics radar screen.

For Iowa progressives, it was all about Bernie, who never had a serious chance to block the corporate coronation of Hillary – and who may not have been seriously attempting that Herculean feat. And while Sanders was heard uttering a word or two against the pipeline in at least one of his many heralded Iowa orations, Bernie never made a case for mass citizen action to block it in any way. He never told his supporters to do the sorts of thing that revolutionary movements are supposed to do besides gathering to hear speeches from big fancy know-it-all  politicians.

Catastrophe

Which is too bad. Besides contributing to the catastrophic problem of anthropogenic – really capitalogenic – climate change (global warming driven largely by the excessive extraction and burning of fossil fuels), the Bakken Pipeline promises to help amoral capitalists make profits on the environmentally disastrous, water-wasting and water-polluting practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and threatens Iowa waterways, groundwater, and lands with terrible toxic leaks and spills. As the Bill Moyers-honored citizen action group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) noted last year: “If the Bakken Pipeline is built, it would seriously harm Iowa’s already impaired water quality, threaten the integrity of the fertile farmland of thousands of everyday Iowans, and contribute to our dependence on fossil fuels. This steers us away from developing renewable energy infrastructure and curbing the most catastrophic impacts of climate change.”

The project includes the assertion of eminent domain whereby Iowa farmers and others will be forced to grant Dakota Access, well, access to their supposedly private property. The pipeline requires a permanent easement 50 feet wide, with no structures allowed on the easement.  A wider, temporary easement will be corporately appropriated during construction. The company boasts that it has purchased voluntary easement agreements on 91 percent of the properties along the route in Iowa.

Iowa’s Meskawki Indian tribe objects to the pipeline, which will defile the group’s burial grounds and treaty-ceded territory. Also voicing opposition is the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi, whose Tribal Chair Judith Bender told the IUB last year that the “pipeline will cross every major watershed in Iowa. It will only take one mistake and life in Iowa will change for the next thousands of years. As a people that have lived in Iowa for thousands of years, we have environmental concerns about the land and drinking water…Our main concern is that Iowa’s aquifers might be significantly damaged. We think that should be protected, because it is the water that gives Iowa [its] way of life.” (As few Americans know, Iowa is one of the most river and stream-filled states in the nation.)

It is true that the Bakken pipeline still formally requires approval from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to obtain local-impact permits for air quality, water discharge, storm-water, flood plain and “sovereign [Native American] lands,” as the pipeline runs through state parks or public lakes. The Army Corps of Engineers also needs to issue a permit, because the pipeline routes through watersheds. But neither administrative hurdle is expected to pose anything more than a formality. The DNR is ready to play ball with the petro-capitalist master-class, of course. Look at the recent “oh by the way” news report from KCCI, the CBS affiliate in Des Moines:

“State officials have revoked a stop-work order on the Bakken oil pipeline where tribal officials object to disrupting sacred American Indian land in northwest Iowa that includes burial grounds. Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kevin Baskins tells The Des Moines Register reports that the state department granted Texas-based Dakota Access LLC an amendment to its sovereign lands construction permit…Baskins says the pipeline will be located about 85 feet underground in the Big Sioux River Wildlife Management Area by using special equipment rather than digging a trench for a route. State Archaeologist John Doershuk said in an email last week to department director Chuck Gipp that the proposed method is a satisfactory avoidance procedure…Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Dallas Goldtooth says his organization opposes the department’s decision to allow the pipeline to be constructed in the area.”

Beneath the Web version of this story on the KCCI Website when I read it last Thursday, the following “Recommended” stories were given links: “Kim Kardashian’s Short Skirt Caused a Major Scene;” “Why Donald Trump Avoids Talking About his Daughter Tiffany;” and “These Yoga Pants are the Fastest Selling Pants in History.”

Dakota Access is ready and rearing to lay some pipe. A major selling point and no small part of why Dakota Access has the state’s building trades unions on board is that the company promises to create between “12 and 15 permanent jobs” (whoopee!) and 2,000 and 4,000 temporary jobs.

Backing Candidates vs. The Things Real Movements Do

…. Sanders was and remains a major party politician who is all about giving speeches and directing people towards the duopolistic, corporate-dominated ballot box and its narrow, once-every-two-and-four-years and candidate-centered definition of popular input, NOT direct action and real grassroots movement-building organizing. As Jeffrey St. Clair noted on Counterpunch last April:

“More and more this vaunted [Sanders] ‘movement’ seems to be little more than a kind of moveable feast, which follows Sanders around like a swarm of post-modern Deadheads, from venue to venue, to hear the senator deliver the same tepid stump speech he’s been warbling for the last 8 months…What might a real movement have done? If Sanders could turn 30,000 people out for a pep rally in [lower Manhattan’s] Washington Square Park, why couldn’t he have had a flash mob demonstration mustering half that many fervent supporters to shut down Goldman Sachs for a day? If he could lure 20,000 Hipsters to the Rose Garden in Portland, why couldn’t he turn out 10,000 Sandernistas to bolster the picket lines of striking Verizon workers? If Sanders could draw 15,000 people in Austin, Texas, why couldn’t his movement bring 5,000 people to Huntsville to protest executions at the Texas death house? If Sanders could draw 18,000 people to a rally in Las Vegas, why couldn’t he just as easily have lead them in a protest at nearby Creech Air Force Base, the center of operations for US predator drones? Strike that. Sanders supports Obama’s killer drone program. My bad. But you get the point. Instead of being used as stage props, why hasn’t Sanders put his teaming crowds of eager Sandernistas to work doing the things that real movements do: blocking the sale of a foreclosed house in Baltimore, disrupting a fracking site in rural Pennsylvania, shutting down the entrance to the police torture chamber at Homan Square in Chicago for a day, intervening between San Diego cops and the homeless camp they seek to evict? Why? Because that’s not who Bernie Sanders is and that’s not what his movement is about. He’s willing to rock the neoliberal boat, but not sink it” (emphasis added).

To which I humbly add: if Bernie could draw tens of thousands of people to rallies for “revolution” in Iowa City, Ames, and Des Moines, Iowa, why couldn’t he have directed a few thousand Sandernistas to surround and occupy meetings of the Iowa Utilities Board, demanding a halt to the Bakken project and calling for a full, planet-saving break from fossil fuels?

Fear, LEV, and 400 PPM

Bernie Sanders is moving ever closer to his full and always-promised endorsement of the Wall Street’s and the Pentagon darling Hillary Clinton. The airwaves and Internet are abuzz with the debasing, personality-focused contest between the right wing fanatic Hillary and the white nationalist, uber-narcissist buffoon Donald Trump. Meanwhile epic, climate change-fueled wildfires have just taken out much of northern Canada’s boreal forest. Record heat has led to forest fires and evacuations outside Los Angeles and San Diego and deaths in Central California. Record flooding has just killed more than 20 people in West Virginia. The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reports that the global, fossil fuel-driven concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the leading force behind recent climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history. Levels that high have only been reached during the Pliocene era. According to Dr. Erika Podest, a leading carbon and water cycle research scientist, “This milestone is a wake-up call that our actions in response to climate change need to match the persistent rise in CO2. Climate change is a threat to life on Earth and we can no longer afford to be spectators.”

The nation’s and world’s top left intellectual (the same one quoted above on how the nation’s voting obsession turns citizens into “passive, submissive objects”) gravely counsels lefties on their solemn duty to vote for Mrs. Clinton (who has been endorsed by Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, a number of top foreign policy neoconservatives, and at least one of the Koch brothers) in contested states. The argument is that Trump represents a greater threat than Hillary does of precipitating nuclear war and of accelerating climate change. Maybe Trump does. Or maybe he doesn’t. Nobody really knows since Trump has no policy record and seems willing to say anything that he thinks (often incorrectly) might get him elected. The longstanding imperial “queen of chaos” Hillary seems far more aggressive than Trump towards nuclear Russia. She appears to be more likely than the Donald to sign off on the Trans Pacific Partnership, an arch-global-corporatist measure designed among other things to hamstring governmental efforts to reign in fossil fuel extraction and burning.

Whatever, the incredibly unpopular and openly absurd narcissist Trump has little chance of winning next November’s identity politics election. It’s Hillary’s cakewalk to blow. The Republican Party is in historic disarray at the national level, with the preposterous Trump gleefully leading the party’s self-destruction. (I’ve already seen a campaign ad in which an incumbent Republican U.S. Senator [Illinois’s Mark Kirk] tells voters that he’s not for Trump.) Mrs. Clinton is far, far ahead of Trump in the critical campaign finance sweepstakes, thanks to her sumptuous backing from the corporate and financial aristocracy.

The notion that it would somehow be the fault of left progressives who didn’t vote or who voted third party in contested states (because, guess what? they couldn’t block out the overwhelming stench of her arch-neoliberal corporatism and neoconservative imperialism) if Trump (miraculously) wins is a little hard to take. The usual sober warnings from left luminaries about the need for Lesser Evil Voting (LEV) seem more misguided than usual this time around. As the clever and incisive Andrew Levine recently noted on CounterPunch, “The only reason not to start [building an independent Left party outside the hopelessly corporate Democrats] now…is that too many deluded or willfully blind liberals, fearing that Trump might actually win, would object. Because Trump is bound to lose, there is a case to be made for not indulging their obsessions; there is also a case for not antagonizing them needlessly.” LEV is part of how we let rich guys run and ruin the world.

Meanwhile, Sanders is reported to still have more than $9 million of campaign funds raised from small donors who wanted to see a “revolution” against the corporate-financial plutocracy that is running livable ecology into the ditch. The Democratic Party naturally wants that surplus political capital invested in the crusade to stop the evil and preposterous Donald with the lesser evil Hillary.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Bernie gave that cash away to fund the kind of stuff that real movements do? How about a little chunk of that change to help actual revolutionaries undertake by any and all means necessary to monkey wrench petro-capitalism’s exterminist war on a livable Earth? I’d quit my day (well, night) job for just a small piece of that cash to wage war on the Bakken pipeline here in Iowa. Seriously. 

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014

Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age

02/07/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, June 24, 2016

History is written by the winners

– George Orwell, February 4, 1944

“The Few” v. “The Many”

Alexander Hamilton was no people’s champion. After four years serving as American Revolutionary War General George Washington’s chief of staff, Hamilton took up rhetorical and political arms against the egalitarian tendencies of the revolutionary times in which he lived. Viewing those tendencies and the new American republic’s popular classes with snooty contempt, he campaigned for a stronger central United States government run by and for men of great propertied wealth “whose principles are not of the levelling kind.” Like other top U.S. Founders and constitutional framers, Hamilton was revolted by the democratic sentiments of the new nation’s artisans, small farmers, and laboring classes. He looked with alarm at “unwise” democratic policies that had arisen in the colonies-turned-states during the American War for Independence.

Hamilton made his arch-classist sentiments clear in The Federalist Papers, which he penned in support of what became the U.S. Constitution along with James Madison and John Jay. In Federalist No. 35, Hamilton argued that the common people were incapable of serving in Congress and found their proper political representatives among the small class of wealthy merchant capitalists. “The idea of an actual representation of all classes of people by persons of each class,” Hamilton wrote, “is altogether visionary.” The “weight and superior requirements of the merchants render them more equal” than the “other classes,” Hamilton proclaimed. The “mechanics” (artisan workers) of his time, Hamilton argued, were “sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments” required for “deliberative assembly.”

“Whether the representation of the people be more or less numerous,” Hamilton elaborated in Federalist No. 36, “it will consist almost entirely of proprietors of land, of merchants, and of members of the learned professions, who will truly represent all those different interests and view.”

Hamilton agreed with Jay that “those who own the country ought to govern it” – govern it in accord with their own specific class interests, sold as the general interest of “all classes of people.”

Hamilton also shared Madison’s belief, expressed in Federalist No. 10, that a geographically vast republic was superior to a small one because vast scale made it more difficult for the non-propertied and property-poor majority of people “to discover their strength and act in unison with each other” against their rightful masters. As Hamilton explained in Federalist No. 9, an “enlargement of the [geographic] orbit within which” the new US government operated would help “repress domestic factions and insurrection” and “guard the internal tranquility of States.” That was the merchant-capitalist aristo-republican language of the time for taking the egalitarian risk out of “representative democracy.”

The “popular government” champion Hamilton was not content to rely on geographic dispersal and other “soft” methods (constitutional checks and balances, the Electoral College, etc.) to keep the dangerous people at bay. Hamilton’s Federalist No 28 contained what the reactionary post-WWII U.S. political scientist Clinton Rossiter (who argued for the legitimacy of temporary “constitutional dictatorships” in the early Cold War era) lovingly called “Candid remarks on the role of force in maintaining civil society.” Here Hamilton advocated a strong national standing army, required, he felt, to suppress domestic rebellion. Since “seditions and insurrections are, unhappily, maladies as inseparable from the body politic as tumors and eruptions from the natural body,” Hamilton reasoned, “the idea of governing at all times by the simple force of law (which we have been told is the only admissible principle of republican government) has no place but in the reveries of those political doctors who sagacity disdains the admonitions of experimental instruction.” Translation: sometimes the ruling class needs to raise troops to discipline – shoot, hang, torture, maim and jail – the lower orders, (as during Shay’s Rebellion of 1786-87 and the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794).

At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Hamilton argued that the U.S. presidency and Senate should come with life terms. He explained his underlying philosophy as follows:

All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The voice of the people has been said to be the voice of God; and however generally this maxim has been quoted and believed, it is not true in fact. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government. Can a democratic assembly, who annually revolve in the mass of the people, be supposed steadily to pursue the public good? Nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy.”

It doesn’t get much elegantly anti-democratic than that.

For Hamilton and others of his “rich and well born” ilk in the Federalist Party of the 1790s (the Hamiltonian party), “Freedom rested on deference to authority…The Federalists,” distinguished U.S. historian Eric Foner notes, “may have been the only major party in American history forthrightly to proclaim that democracy and freedom dangerous in the hands of ordinary Americans.”

“Captain of the 1 Percent”

After the passage of the nation’s highly un- and even anti-democratic Constitution, Hamilton used his position as the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury to advance his program to make the United States a major commercial and military power ruled by and for an opulent mercantile, financial, and, he hoped, industrial elite. His proto-state-capitalist plan to fund the early Republic’s Revolutionary War debt involved the federal government assuming the debts of the thirteen states. The plan provided huge profits to investors who had bought bonds from desperate Revolutionary War veterans for as little as 10 cents on the dollar. This great windfall expanded the wealth and power of financial oligarchs who manipulated currency and credit on the backs of the young nation’s farmers, artisans, and laborers.

Another part of Hamilton’s grand fiscal plan was the creation of the first national Bank of the United States – a federally charted private corporation that Jefferson criticized with no small reason as a tool to make elite mercantile and financial few richer and more powerful at the expense of “the many.”

Hamilton was the early Republic’s “captain of the 1 Percent. A leader of finance capital…He represented,” the distinguished U.S. historian Gerald Horne notes, “the interests of big finance at the beginning of the United States. He personified the grievances that continue, and that the Sanders campaign, and, to a degree, the Trump campaign, have objected to.”

“What am I Going to Do With My Life”? Be Like Hamilton and Get Things Done

What are 21st century U.S. citizens who believe in democracy and social justice supposed to make of the spectacular success enjoyed by the Broadway musical Hamilton – Puerto Rican- American director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s powerful hip-hope dramatization of the arch-elitist Founder’s life? Miranda’s production (in which he plays Hamilton) is a stunning sensation and cultural phenomenon. It swept the recent Broadway Awards ceremony, leading some to called the Tony Awards the “Hamiltonys.” It helped keep Hamilton on the $10 bill, sparing him Andrew Jackson’s fate of currency exile.

Miranda has entertained his fan Barack Obama in the White House. Obama even cut a rap video in which the president held up cards with the following words for Miranda to freestyle off: Constitution, POTUS, Obamacare, the Federalist Papers, Innovation, Supreme Court, Immigration, Oval Office, and Opportunity.

Concerned that the musical’s magic not be limited to the privileged folks who can afford its pricey tickets, elite foundations have teamed up with the show’s producers to bring tens of thousands of mostly Black and Latino New York City schoolchildren to take it in. The educational collaboration was financed by more than $1 million in grants from the Rockefeller Foundation and with backing of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. A “P”BS Newshour report last month gushed over how “the biggest show on Broadway” gives students “a lesson in life and art” and “a better understanding of Alexander Hamilton’s accomplishments and place in history.” The musical was credited with making the stereotypically dry and boring subject of history newly exciting for public school students – with bringing historical subject matter to life. As a Latino student told the Newshour, “Anything with a hip hop, flavor to it, it’s definitely more interesting than opening a dusty history book and trying to, like, fish out old information.

Miranda told the Newshour that “Not every student who comes to see the show is gonna have a life in the theater. But they are gonna have to reckon with how much Hamilton got done in his life. And that is going to spark a little bit of, ‘Well, what am I gonna do with my life?’”

Well, damn, how about striving to rise into power to push through a bunch of clever policies for the rich and powerful?

A Bootstraps Epitome and an Abolitionist to Boot

In its gushing account of the collaboration between the musical production and New York City schools, “P”BS showed the Facing History School’s Advanced Placement history teacher Paul Zuppello talking to students about a study and rap performance project they were working up after viewing Hamilton. “What do you have to do to keep historical integrity?” Zuppello asked his “frenzied” students. “It’s okay to create a new situation,” Zuppello said, adding that “It’s not okay to change who that character is.”

Miranda’s Hamilton is a super-cool and highly talented immigrant from a broken family who was born out of wedlock in the West Indies and came to North America determined to achieve wealth and fame. He’s a “scrappy and hungry” newcomer and “self-made man” who wants to work hard and rise up in accord with the labor theory of value and the belief that (in the words of the musical’s top applause line) “Immigrants get the job done!” He’s a bootstraps epitome. Played by the effervescent Miranda, Hamilton is determined that he’s “Not Gonna Waste my Shot.” The show opens with the following rap narrative:

The ten-dollar founding father

Without a father

Got a lot farther

By working a lot harder

By being a lot smarter

By being a self-starter

By fourteen, they placed him

in charge of a trading charter.

The message is clear: work real hard and you too can “rise up” out of your lowly station to achieve wealth and greatness.

Deleting the Hero’s Deferential Underclass and Nativism

Along with the show’s highly skilled and distinctly multicultural cast and clever hip hop score, it’s easy to see how this storyline could be compelling for a large number of New York City students of color, many from foreign countries and broken, fatherless families. It helps that Hamilton was by the 1790s publicly opposed to slavery. Miranda lovingly compares Hamilton with his arch-rival Jefferson, who Miranda has Hamilton denounce as a “slaver” whose “debts are paid cuz you [Jefferson] don’t pay for labor.” The cool immigrant striver disdained the exploitation of slaves cuz real, true blue founders rise up on the basis of their own skills and labor and pay wages to workers.

But how would audiences respond if Miranda’s musical had honestly portrayed what the Cornell political scientists Jason Frank and Isaac Kramnick rightly call “Hamilton’s insistent and emphatic inegalitarianism…Just as Jefferson’s republican championing of the people’s liberties depended on a permanent underclass of slave laborers,” Frank and Kramnick add, “so [did] Hamilton’s commitment to the success of the entrepreneurial self-made man depend on the assumption that there would be a deferential underclass to do all the heavy work.”

Immigrant rights symbol? As Frank and Kramnick note, Miranda’s “lionization of Hamilton as the examplar of America’s immigrant ideal neglects his ultimate endorsement of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made it harder to immigrants to become citizens while allowing their deportation if they were suspected for disloyalty…”

Valorizing Rich White Founders, Obfuscating Racism, and Blaming Victims

And just how anti-slavery was Hamilton? “Hamilton’s opposition to slavery,” Frank and Kramnick note, “was not central to his political vision. The musical’s suggestion that had he not been killed in the duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton would have gone on to play an important role in the abolitionist struggle is fantasy.”

Miranda’s distortion of “who that character [Hamilton] is [was]” is worse than that, actually. Part of a wave of white flight from the slave rebellion-torn British Empire in the Caribbean, Hamilton married into a slaveholding New York family. As historian Michelle Duross notes, Hamilton sold and bought slaves “on behalf of his in-laws and as part of his assignment in the Continental Army. Miranda insults the historical record – available to those willing to (imagine) “open…a dusty history book and try…to, like, fish out old information” – by following the right-wing historian Forrest McDonald in falsely portraying Hamilton as a noble and unwavering abolitionist.

But that’s not the most egregious racial-historical offence in Miranda’s Broadway extravaganza, “In the musical,” notes Ishmael Reed, “black actors play Washington and other [slave-owning] founding fathers [including Jefferson]. Are [the show’s producers] aware that Washington is known for creating strategies for returning runaways? That he was into search and destroy when campaigning against Native American resistance fighters…Among the Iroquois, he was known as Conotocarious, or ‘Town Destroyer’…Historians, who serve as lackeys for famous, wealthy white mean term him a ‘merciful slave master.’ An oxymoron.,,Now I have seen everything,” Reed adds: “can you imagine Jewish actors in Berlin taking roles of Goering? Goebbels? Eichmann? Hitler?”

In an insightful critique titled “Why Hamilton is Not the Revolution You Think It Is” James McMaster notes how the musical’s “multiracial ensemble” ironically and darkly functions to obscure and cloak “the essential anti-blackness of the United States” past and present:

“As I write, the Black Lives Matter movement continues to ‘rise up’ against the essential anti-blackness of the United States. Progressive audiences seem to want to read Hamilton, complete with its multiracial ensemble, as a production that is politically copacetic with this contemporary racial revolution. However, in Hamilton, the fact that the white men that founded the United States – colonizers all, slaveholders some – are played by men of color actually obfuscates histories of racialized violence in the United States…Rather than aligning with the critiques leveled against the United States by contemporary leftist social movements such as Black Lives Matter, Hamilton’s valorization of the revolution of 1776 merely indulges in the fiction of a small, innocent, and oppressed group of young (implicitly white) men fighting for freedom against tyranny. Such a narrative resonates much too loudly with contemporary…the show’s narrative – made palatable and profitable both by these referential concessions and by the neoliberal imperative of racial diversity in casting – ultimately amounts to a valorization of the US nation-state and it’s juridical and financial systems, systems Alexander Hamilton helped to establish, and systems that have always functioned to the detriment of black and brown bodies despite what the musical might have us feel.”

Adding to the “valorization” of the American System, Hamilton’s “Bootstraps Immigrant Narrative” (McMaster) feeds Caucasian capitalism’s timeworn victim-blaming story line on why some few folks succeed in climbing up the nation’s steep racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic pyramids while most fail. As McMaster notes:

“The assertion…that Hamilton worked harder and was smarter, true or not, imply that other immigrants who have not experienced success in their new nation are somehow at fault. They either do not work hard enough or, simply, are not smart enough. Such logic neglects and obscures the material obstacles and violence (structural racism, predatory capitalism, long-burned bridges to citizenship) imposed on racialized immigrants within the United States in order to celebrate the (false) promise of the American dream and the nation-state. This is the familiar and fallacious narrative that founds the logic of mainstream, immigration-unfriendly politicians on the right (Trump’s wall) and on the left (Obama’s exceptional DREAMers) in the contemporary moment.”

“Our Revolution…the Father of Our Nation”

Reading McMaster’s critique, I was sadly reminded of Barack Obama’s first Inaugural Address. The first technically Black president in the land of slavery asked Americans to remember how “In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people: ‘Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

It was disturbing to hear the nation’s first nonwhite president citing the white War for Independence as an example of how “we” Americans united against “one common danger.” The new republic’s snows and soils and forests and tobacco, rice, and cotton fields had long been stained with the blood and tears of Native Americans and black slaves. Many North American slaves, free blacks, and indigenous people found and acted on good reasons to favor the British over the colonists in the war between England and the rising new racist and settler-imperialist slave state. England, after all, had put some limits on the pace at which the North Americans could steal the land the ruin the lives of the nation’s original inhabitants and turn western frontiers into sites for the ruthless exploitation of enslaved blacks.  The British promised freedom to slaves who turned against their masters during the imperial settlers’ war of national slavery liberation. As Gerald Horne has shown, indeed, the “American revolution” was in fact a “counterrevolution” – a breaking off from England driven largely by ther4ich white Founders’ sense that North American Black chattel slavery would not survive the colonies’ continued subjection to London.

A Blunt Hamiltonian Lesson

McMaster’s and Horne’s critiques of Hamilton also remind me of Obama’s arch-neoliberal presidency of and for the 1 Percent. Staffed by Wall Street allies and insiders, the Dollar Obomber administration has played an actively regressive role in helping push the concentration of wealth and income to New Gilded Age levels that threaten to make the original Robber Baron era look vaguely egalitarian by comparison. Meanwhile Black Americans have suffered their biggest loss of net worth in U.S. history.

The liberal commentator William Greider captured the Hamiltonian essence of the Obama White House early on, in March 2009 editorial titled “Obama Asked Us to Speak But is He Listening?” Greider wrote at a critical moment. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates, an actually progressive President Obama could have rallied the populace to push back against the nation’s concentrated wealth and power structures by moving ahead aggressively with a number of policies: a stimulus with major public works jobs programs; a real (single-payer) health insurance reform; the serious disciplining and even break-up or nationalization of the leading financial institutions; massive federal housing assistance and mortgage relief; and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have re-legalized union organizing in the U.S. But no such policy initiatives issued from the White House, which opted instead to give the U.S. people (Hamilton’s hapless but dangerous “many”) what Greider memorably called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t.” Americans “watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform (the so-called Affordable Care Act) that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by the arch 1 percenter Mitt Romney. As Obama later explained to some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a month after trouncing Romney’s bid to unseat him: “When you go to other countries, the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.) You’ll have a sense of what a socialist is. (Laughter.) I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.” He might have added that his “health care reform” was dreamed up by Republicans, consistent with some of his elite supporters’ likening of the Obama White House to the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower.

It was “a touching ruling class moment. At a time of bitter partisan warfare in Congress and frequent mudslinging by business executives,” Danny Katch noted in Socialist Worker, “a bunch of CEOs were able to sit down with their president and realize that they really aren’t so different after all. Together, they shared a good laugh at the idea held by many ordinary people in both parties – that Obama and Corporate America are somehow on different sides.”

A Hamiltonian Project with a Racial Twist

It was all very consistent with Obama’s earlier, not-so- “outsider” history.  At the outset of his career in elected office in January of 1996, an unnamed Obama was properly identified by the Left and Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. as “a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics….His fundamentally bootstrap line [is] softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program — the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance.”

Ten years later, the U.S. Senator and soon to be announced presidential candidate gave the Keynote Address at an event announcing the formation of the Democratic Party-linked Bookings Institution’s openly neoliberal, finance-capitalist think tank. The new body bore an interesting name: The Hamilton Project. In a column titled “Hamiltonian Democrats,” the Washington Post’s Harold Myerson nicely captured the Wall Street-friendly essence of the body to which Obama gladly lent his name and star power:

“The chief project to restate Democratic economics for our time was unveiled a couple of weeks ago, and it’s named after the father of American conservatism, Alexander Hamilton. … Hamilton feared the common people, dismissed their capacity for self-government and supported rule by elites instead…That might…deter most Democrats from naming their firstborn economic revitalization scheme after him, but the authors of the Hamilton Project are made of sterner stuff. They include Peter Orszag, an estimable Brookings Institution economist; investment banker Roger Altman, formerly of the Clinton Treasury department; and, chiefly, former Treasury secretary and current Citigroup executive committee Chairman Robert Rubin, whose iconic status within the Democratic mainstream has waxed as the median incomes of Americans under …have waned. Rubin has also become a seal of good housekeeping for Democratic candidates seeking money from Wall Street…Unfortunately, some of Hamilton’s disdain for democracy seeps into their statement as well. The problem of ‘entitlement imbalances is so large,’ they fret, ‘that the regular political process seems unlikely to produce a solution,’ so they recommend a bipartisan ‘special process’ insulated from popular pressures. They also place such traditional Republican boogeymen as teachers unions on the list of problems that need to be solved. On the other hand, their list of national problems includes nothing about a corporate and financial culture that richly and reflexively rewards executives who offshore work to cheaper climes and deny their American employees the right to join unions…much of their statement amounts to whistling by the globalization graveyard. The authors place great stress on improving American education – a commendable and unexceptionable goal, but one that may do little to retard the export of our jobs since, as they acknowledge, it’s increasingly the knowledge jobs that are going to India and even China. But then, Rubin was the guy who promoted both NAFTA and unfettered trade with China…There’s nothing in the statement about raising the minimum wage or mandating a living wage; the word ‘unions’ is nowhere to be found, though unionizing our non-offshorable service sector jobs is the surest way to restore the broader prosperity for which Rubin and his co-authors pine.”

The Hamilton Project’s spirit and personnel were written all over presidential candidate Obama’s economics team and his administration, which became a prolonged seminar “on power, who has it and who doesn’t” and on how “the government has plenty of money when the right people want on it.” It was a lesson that Hamilton would certainly have appreciated and indeed a lesson he sought to teach to unruly artisans and farmers and “unwise” champions of “imprudent” democracy in the early Republic.

Along the way Obama has provided an intimately related lesson on the uses of racialized ethnic identity politics in cloaking plutocracy and providing brilliant service to the nation’s unelected dictatorships of money, empire, class, and race. Functioning as a useful Orwellian history-distorting shill for Obama’s successful experiment in identity politicized, fake-progressive neoliberalism in its last year (with the arch-globalist Trans Pacific Partnership looming to achieve final, lame-duck approval to secure Obama’s Hamiltonian legacy), Miranda was certainly inspired to place Black actors in the roles of Thomas Jefferson and other elite and white, slave-owning Founding Fathers by the real-life 21st century example of the nation’s first merely half-white president serving as a rich, ruling class white man’s president and imperial commander.

“Deliberation and Circumspection” in Our Glorious “Free Market System”

Is it any wonder that “cool” Obama loves the musical, going so far as to cut a rap video with Miranda in the White House Rose Garden? Of course he does! Obama embraced Hamilton in his nauseating 2006 campaign book with the title stolen from the Black Chicago preacher (Jeremiah Wright) the candidate threw under the bus on the path to presidency. In The Audacity of Hope. Obama praised Hamilton for understanding that “republican self-government could actually work better in a large and diverse society, where, in Hamilton’s words, the ‘jarring of parties’ and differences of opinion could ‘promote deliberation and circumspection.’…we are confident,” Obama added, “in the fundamental soundness of the Founders’ blueprints and the democratic house that resulted.” Hamilton “understood” something else, Obama elaborated: “only through the liberation of capital from local landed interests could America tap into its most powerful resources – namely the energy and enterprise of the American people.” His hero Hamilton brilliantly “nationalized the Revolutionary War debt, which not only stitched together the economies of the individual states but helped spur a national system of credit and fluid capital markets.”

True, Obama admitted, capitalist development could bring some disturbing instabilities so that “the sense of common kinship becomes harder to maintain. Jefferson was not entirely wrong to fear Hamilton’s [commercial and capitalist] vision for the country.” But “not entirely wrong” is the same as “mostly wrong” and, as Obama explained, the capitalism that Hamilton helped created produced a “business culture” that created “a prosperity that’s unmatched in human history…Our greatest asset,” Obama proclaimed, “has been our system of social organization…our free market system.”

Never mind that Hamilton felt that policy deliberation belonged entirely in the hands of the privileged few or that the republicanism embraced by Hamilton and the other Great White Founders was fundamentally opposed to popular sovereignty, that is to democracy – their ultimate nightmare. Never mind that the Founders’ blueprint was consciously meant and successfully designed to promote the rule of the propertied elite. Never mind that Hamilton’s Funding and Assumption plan was a device for the upward concentration of wealth in the hands of opulent investors. Or that that early Republic’s racial “diversity” (if that’s one what we want to call it) derived largely from the highly profitable capitalist perversity of Black chattel slavery. And never mind the long and terrible list of capitalism’s many terrible consequences at home and abroad, including an abject corporate-financial plutocracy that sits quite properly atop a political economy in which the top 1 percent owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent while 22 percent of U.S. children, including 38 percent of Black children and 36 percent of Native American children, live below the federal government’s scandalously inadequate poverty level. Meanwhile the investor class’s growth-addicted profits system pushes livable ecology to dangerous new tipping points, raising the real threat of human extinction in the not so distant future.

“A Decent Shot”

Obama has long embraced the bourgeois bootstraps narrative that celebrates the United States as the land that supposedly rewards hard and smart work and qualifies its belief in equality by tying it to supposedly decent opportunities (Miranda’s “my shot”) for all – not to a dreaded levelling of outcomes and rewards. In the reactionary American Exceptionalist 2004 Democratic Convention speech that turned him into an overnight national and global sensation, Obama launched into one of his favorite nationally and personally narcissistic and bourgeois themes. He hailed America as the ultimate “beacon of freedom and opportunity” for those who exhibit “hard work and perseverance” and laid claim to personally embodying the great American Horatio-Algerian promise. “My story” – one of a rise from (supposedly) humble origins to Harvard Law School and national political prominence – “is part,” Obama claimed “of the larger American story…In no other country on Earth,” he said, “is my story even possible.”

Obama quoted the famous Thomas Jefferson line about all “men” being “created equal,” but left out Jefferson’s warnings about the terrible impact of unequal outcomes on democracy and popular government. He advocated a more equal rat-race, one where “every child in America has a decent shot at life, and the doors of opportunity [the word “opportunity” recurred at least five times in his speech] remain open to all.”

In reality those doors aren’t weren’t remotely close to being “open to all” in the summer of 2004. America didn’t score particularly well in terms of upward mobility measures, compared to other industrialized states (and Brazil’s current chief executive was born into that country’s working-class). Things haven’t gotten considerably worse since, reflecting the continuing and remarkable upward concentration of wealth, income and opportunity under Bush43’second term and across Obama’s two terms.

Every kid deserves “a decent life,” not just “a shot” at one. Serious and principled opponents of class, race, ethnic, gender, and national oppression oppose social inequality in and of itself. The massive socioeconomic disparities that scar American and global life would be offensive to them – and supremely damaging to democracy and the common good in their view – even if all at the top of the pyramid had risen to their positions from an equal position at the starting line of a “level playing field.” There is no such field in really existing society, but the creation of such an equal beginning would not make it any less toxic and authoritarian for 1 percent of the U.S. population to own more than wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

A Perfect Wrap

Obama no doubt identifies strongly with Miranda’s Hamilton. The product of a broken family and a foreign father he hardly knew, the President fancies himself a shining example of what a highly talented, hard-working “outsider” can accomplish if they apply themselves and their skills so as not to blow their “shot” at success in the supposed great American land of opportunity that the holy Founders purportedly bequeathed to us with their glorious “free market” system. Obama has given Black high school and college graduates and other minority audiences stern Booker T. Washingtonian bootstrap lectures on hard work and the promise of upward mobility on numerous occasions, citing himself as an example that anything is possible for dutiful toilers. He has also aligned himself in the public mind with immigrants, posing as the friend of Dreamers who want to “play by the rules” of American striving.

Never mind the special backing he’s helped the federal government give to the already opulent financial elites who crashed the U.S. and global economy only to emerge yet more obscenely and parasitically wealthy than before the Great Recession thanks to the Hamiltonian support absurdly granted them by the likes of George W. Bush, Hank Paulsen, Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, and Timothy Geithner et al. Never mind that Booker T. Obama’s success always depended on his service to the wealthy white and parasitic Few – his leading backers – or the record number of immigrants the Deporter-in-Chief has expelled from the country.

Miranda’s Hamilton is in this sense a perfect cultural wrap up to the ugly neoliberal Obama years. It is a brilliant ahistorical monument to Orwellian, fake-progressive bourgeois identity politics in service to the very predominantly Caucasian financial elite and ruling class hegemony. Before getting too excited about this power-serving accomplishment, however, Miranda might want to reflect on a critical difference between the One Percent of Alexander Hamilton’s time and the One Percent of Barack. Prior to the onset of the neoliberal era in the 1970s, Noam Chomsky told Occupy Boston in the fall of 2011, the United States “had been, with ups and downs…a developing society, not always in pretty ways, but with general progress toward industrialization, prosperity and expansion of rights.” Since the triumph of finance capital, however, it’s been primarily about “de-development…a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise – producing things people need or could use – to financial manipulation.” Is it any wonder that millions upon millions of the onetime working people rendered obsolete and useless – “surplus Americans” – and trying desperately to scrape by in the vacuum created by the neoliberal age of globalization are less than rapturous about the influx of immigrants that is purportedly celebrated in Hamilton, a liberal-celebrated musical that some rich Manhattan residents and tourists are paying more than $3000 per seat to attend? 

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

Deleting the Real Story Behind the Great Canada Fire

22/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, June 16, 2016

Deletion and de-contextualization are standard instruments in the corporate U.S. media’s propagandistic, power-serving toolbox. The nightly news streams endless terrifying images of violent inner city Black criminality with no reference the savage jobless poverty imposed on the Black community by contemporary state-capitalist race-class apartheid. The typical white suburban news viewer is thereby encouraged to conclude that urban people of color are a mass of dangerous barbarians best handled with mass arrest and incarceration.

Nightly weather reporters regularly relay new heat, drought, rain, and snowfall records along with epic floods, unprecedented tornado and hurricane waves, and other extreme meteorology. They do so without reference to the anthropogenic – really capital-o-genic – global warming that lay behind the new planetary conditions. The mass viewing audience is encouraged to conclude that Mother Nature is going off on its own – with no assistance from the human-made Greenhouse Effect cooked up by modern capitalism and Big Carbon.

The national news blares horrifying footage of terror, violence, and “anti-Americanism” in Africa and the Middle East without reference to the role of the giant U.S. military empire in wreaking colossal, criminal, and mass-murderous destruction (with help from powerful allies like England, France, Israel, and the Saudi kingdom) in those lands. (No such destructive criminality can ever be acknowledged in dominant U.S. mass media, which doctrinally portrays Uncle Sam as an inherently noble, benevolent, and humanistic actor on the global stage.) The typical U.S. news consumer is incited to conclude that these parts of the world are chock full of bloodthirsty, Islamist lunatics who “hate us for no good reason.” Send in the drones, gunships, bombers, and special forces!

In the summer of 2014, U.S. corporate media gave spectacular coverage to the flood of “unaccompanied minors” fleeing abject poverty and endemic violence in Central America to the United States through Mexico. There was no reference in this reporting to the central and ongoing historical role of the United States in devastating El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and thus in creating the extreme misery that drove parents to send children on perilous northward journeys. U.S. news-watchers were encouraged to see the child migrants as unworthy of decent treatment from the United States.

Sometimes the failure to make basic contextualizing connections and the doctrinal practice of deletion reaches a level that seems almost beyond belief. I sat stunned while one broadcast news outlet after another reported on the historic, climate change-driven wildfire that razed much of the Canadian town of Fort McMurray and northern Alberta to the ground last month. None of the broadcasts dared to craft the obvious story connection begging to be made between the epic blaze and the large-scale extraction of tar sands oil in that region.

It was a remarkable story NOT to report. The fire took off and spread thanks to record-setting heat (into the low Fahrenheit 90s) that reflected a pronounced regional warming trend evident for years. Under the influence of climate change resulting from the excessive extraction, sale, and burning of fossil fuels, the northern latitudes are warming faster than anywhere else. One of the consequences is that North American wildfire seasons are getting bigger, fiercer, and longer than ever.

At the same time, to complete the story left out, Fort McMurray is a boomtown with rising population and business driven primarily by the extraction of exceptionally carbon-rich Canadian tar sands oil. The fire-ravaged town is smack in the heart of one of the world’s leading centers of planet-baking oil extraction. It sits beneath the Athabasca Oil Sands, whose “dirty [filthy carbon-rich] oil” is extracted on a giant, Earth-warming scale by great Big Carbon firms including Syncrude, Suncor Energy, CNRL, Shell, and Nexen.

The Alberta tar sands region is home to some of the most carbon-rich, planet-cooking fossil fuels on Earth. Alberta’s vast oil sands are the world’s third-largest crude reserves. Environmental concerns about the mining of those reserves were the main reason that climate activists like Bill McKibben engaged in high-profile protests of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline – a leading news story a few years ago.

The Canada fire story wrote itself, it would have seemed. Imagine the following obvious and reasonable headline: “Nearly 100,000 Flee Planet-Warming Oil Town – Mother Nature Uses Raging Inferno to Tell Canada and Humanity to Break Free From Fossil Fuels.”

In reality, no such headline had a snowball’s chance in Hell of making it into print in “mainstream” (corporate and commercial) U.S. media, which is intimately bound up with the vast, many-sided carbon-industrial complex.

What did appear in leading “mainstream” media was quite different from what any serious investigator concerned for the fate of a livable Earth would have known to be real story and hook behind the Canadian fire. Below I discuss the fire’s coverage in print and online corporate media. I pay special attention to the United States’ leading newspaper, the purportedly arch-liberal and even (the FOX News right would preposterously have Americans believe) left-wing The New York Times and add some critical (actually left and environmentalist) commentary on the depressing determination of “mainstream” reporters (and/or their editors) to omit the most relevant and urgent point.

“Forces of Nature Again Firefighters”

An early New York Times report, for example, was titled “Forces of Nature Against Firefighters Around Fort McMurray” (May 5th). Blaming the destruction on “strong, shifting winds,” Times reporter Fernanda Santos quoted a “senior disaster management response manager” on how “forces of nature we cannot control” had plagued firefighters. Santos cited an emergency commander who told the Times that “Mother Nature has conspired against us on multiple fronts.”

The article began with the following sentence: “The Alberta fire department said it would be a couple more days before investigators would be able to determine whether the fire there was caused by people or lightning.” The phrase “by people” referred to the chance that some human individual or group provided the immediate spark with, say, a campfire, not to the giant carbon-industrial complex that has been heating the planet to a treacherous degree for many decades.  Santos and/or her editor(s) did not see it as news worth printing that the “forces of nature” in question bore the clear and obvious, scientifically proven imprint of human-/capitalism-generated carbon emissions, fueled in no small part by the mining, refining, sale and burning of super-toxic, hyper-potent tar sands oil.

“One of the Largest Human Outposts in the Boreal Forest”

The Times’ editors knew that human-driven climate change was a factor in the Canadian fire, of course. A May 10tt article by the Times’ leading climate reporter Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain was cautiously titled “Global Warming Cited as Wildfires Increase in Fragile Boreal Forest.” Gillis and Fountain wrote that “the near destruction of Fort McMurray by a wildfire” was “the latest indication that the boreal forest is at risk from climate change.” They included the burning of fossil fuels alongside other factors – logging, insects, and inadequate emergency fire services – that were threatening the great sub-Arctic swath of woodlands stretching from Canada and Alaska into Russia.

Remarkably and revealingly enough, however, Gillis and Fountain never mentioned the planet-cooking industry that turned Fort McMurray into a boom town. They referred to Fort McMurray only as “a Canadian city” and as “one of the largest human outposts in the boreal forest.”

Both descriptions were accurate but they left something out: the “human outpost’s” core connection to one of the world’s largest and most toxic centers of human-generated, fossil-fueled climate-change.

Concerns About Supplies, Not Livable Ecology

To be sure, there was considerable business news reporting on one aspect of the relationship between the Canadian fire and oil sands production above Fort McMurray – on how the fire threatened that production and hence “economic growth.” A May 8th Reuters report was titled “Oil Sands Fared Well Through Canada Fire, But Restart a Challenge.” It discussed the oil sands industry but omitted the climate issue, treating the fire in purely short-term, bottom-line economic terms. Reuters’ correspondents Jessica Resnick Ault and Liz Hampton stuck obediently to relating how the disruption of the oil sands’ labor supplies and production, leading to an increase in oil prices:

“The mass evacuation of residents from the wildfire-devastated Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray is likely to significantly delay the restart of production, even though energy facilities themselves have escaped major damage from the flames, oil prices jumped in early Asian trading on concerns over the loss of production capacity caused by the fire – equivalent to around half of the country’s oil sands production.”

“…A prolonged shutdown will heighten concerns about supplies after three major oil firms warned on Friday they won’t be able to deliver on some contracts for Canadian crude…Only one oil sands production site, CNOOC unit Nexen’s Long Lake facility, has sustained minor damage, and provincial fire officials said on Sunday they expected to hold flames back from Suncor Energy Inc’s main oil sands plant north of Fort McMurray….The fire has shut down about 1 million barrels per day or 40 percent of total oil sands production.”

Reuters deleted the obvious scientifically demonstrated connection between oil extraction (including oil sands extraction) and the conditions that gave rise to the fire that interrupted oil sands production. Those are matters that (un)naturally hold no interest to good capitalist journalists who know to stick responsibly to nothing but the basic business facts.

It was unthinkable, of course, that Ault and Hampton might have conveyed environmentalists’ reasonable sense that a 40 percent reduction in tar sands oil extraction was a good thing for human beings and other living things.

“Staggering Blow to Economy,” Not Earth

Similar in its indifference to capital’s environmental arch-criminality and that criminality’s relationship to the Great Canadian Wildfire of 2016 was a May 11th New York Times report titled “Canada Fire Deals Staggering Blow to Oil Sands Industry and Economy.” Times reporter Ian Austen discussed the epic, capital-o-genically fueled blaze purely as a story about markets, production infrastructure, “global growth,” and fuel prices – really (though Austen could not say so) about profits:

“As the fire ripped through Fort McMurray, oil companies severely pulled back or stopped pumping altogether… While the oil markets have remained relatively stable and production is slowly picking up, the economic blow is significant to a region and a country already battered by weak oil prices and uncertainty over global growth…The full toll will depend largely on the health of the oil sands. The largest projects, north of Fort McMurray have been largely unscathed, protected in part by their wide, deforested perimeters…But oil companies are still assessing the damage to the electrical network, the aboveground buildings and the pipelines that ship Fort McMurray’s production. Then there is the complex nature of the projects, which means that oil will not necessarily start flowing again quickly.”

“The status of smaller plants, which are largely south of the city, is less clear…The southern plants, for the most part, bring the tarlike bitumen of the oil sands to the surface by injecting vast quantities of steam underground. Plants of that variety, like Japan Canada Oil Sands, have been operating for several years and have built up so much heat underground they can sit idle for up to 12 months and be restarted with comparative ease…The global oil markets are sensitive to that timeline. Goldman Sachs estimates that the lost production, assuming companies can ramp up production over 10 days, will total 14 million barrels. If so, that would have a relatively minor impact on North American stockpiles, which are nearly full” (emphasis added).

So what if oil extraction on the rapacious and reckless scale funded by the likes of Goldman Sachs puts livable ecology and a decent future at grave and ever more imminent risk? So what if tar sands oil is among the most carbon-rich fossil fuels that need to be kept underground if we are to avert environmental catastrophe? So what if the healthiest thing would be for the oil sands to be shut down? Who cares? “Global growth” – and the world petro-capitalist profit rate – must march on!

The “full toll” of the Canada fire includes the exacerbation of global warming, for the burning and vast boreal forest destruction become causes as well as consequences of climate change. But that is a matter of no concern to responsible business journalists.

“A Minimal Impact on Canadian Economic Growth”

The Wall Street Journal was less alarmist about threats to carbon-spewing capitalist growth four days earlier. In a May 7th article titled “Canada Wildfires Raise Threat to Oil-Sands Mining Operations,” the WSJ’s Chester Dawson noted that Suncor had “closed down production of 300,000 barrels of oil a day at two mines and a pair of oil-sands well sites, and its Syncrude unit has shut its 350,000-barrel-a-day-capacity mines.”   But such (supposedly terrible) developments (welcome for anyone who cares about livable ecology) were nothing for planet-baking investors to get too upset about. For, as Dawson reported:

“The outages are expected to have a minimal impact on Canadian economic growth, according to a report from the Conference Board of Canada released early Tuesday. The Ottawa think tank bases its findings on an estimated oil-production loss of about 1.2 million barrels a day over a two-week period…The Conference Board’s findings are based on information available before the latest evacuations. The latest setback could result in a ‘bigger [production] hit’ in May, but the industry will likely make up that lost output in June, assuming operations resume, said Pedro Antunes, the Conference Board’s deputy chief economist. Similarly, efforts to rebuild the oil-sands region will help to offset the decline in economic growth caused by the fires, Mr. Antunes said.”

That was good to know! It’s a shame that carbon-driven climate change is creating an environmental disaster that has emerged as the biggest issue of our or any time – a catastrophe that raises the not-so distant prospect of human extinction. Thanks to fossil-fueled anthropogenic global warming, the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado reports that we may have come to “the starting point when melting permafrost begins a likely irreversible release of 190 gigatons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere…Thawing permafrost is threatening to overwhelm attempts to keep the planet from getting too hot for human survival. Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, as much as two-thirds of the world’s gigantic storehouse of frozen carbon could be released…this might be irreversible.”

The northern latitudes are aflame like no time in recorded historical memory. But hey, Canadian economic growth will march on. And disasters often bring capitalist investment and growth opportunities, including rebuilding!

A Close Call

There had, however, been a close call. By Dawson’s account, “Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the fires approached the doorstep of oil-sands mines operated by industry leader Suncor Energy Inc. (SU -2.64 %) and its subsidiary Syncrude north of the town of Fort McMurray, which the blaze devastated this month. Provincial government officials said by late Tuesday firefighters succeeded in halting the advance of the flames to the south and west perimeters of those facilities, and that weather conditions were expected to help slow the spread of the fires later this week.”

What a shame it would have been if “the forces of nature” had claimed some of the most eco-cidal, life-gassing production facilities on Earth!

“A Loss of Production”

Things got scary again in Canada for Big Carbon in following days. A May 17th New York Times report was titled “Fort McMurray Wildfire Upends Plan to Restart Oil Sands Operations.” Times reporter Ian Austen noted that “Rapidly changing winds brought Alberta’s huge wildfire to the perimeter of two of the oldest and largest of Canada’s oil sands complexes on Tuesday, posing a new threat to an industry that just a day earlier had been preparing to resume full-scale operations.” The blaze was “now close to the Syncrude and Suncor oil sands plants” and threatened “to enter the open pit mines where gigantic excavators scoop up tar like bitumen and place it in similarly oversize dump trucks…” Austen reported the Conference Board of Canada’s calculation that “14 days of shutdown would mean a loss of production valued at 985 million Canadian dollars, about $762 million.”

How horrible. Never mind that reduced tar sands oil production is a positive for life’s ever-slimming chances of decent survival in an ever hotter and more volatile and uninhabitable world that carbon-addicted capital made.

So it’s not true that reporters made no connection between the Great Canada Fire of May 2016 and the Canadian tar sands oil industry. But the connection went one capitalist and extractivist way. It was all about how the fire, treated as a purely natural disaster, was interfering with oil sands production. The fact that oil sands production is a key part of the planetary carbon-industrial-complex that creates the climatological context for such fires as the one that nearly destroyed the oil sands boom town Fort McMurray was irrelevant as far as “mainstream” journalists were concerned.

Meanwhile, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reports that the global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the leading force behind recent climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history. Levels that high have only been reached during the Pliocene era. According to Dr. Erika Podest, a leading carbon and water cycle research scientist, “This milestone is a wake-up call that our actions in response to climate change need to match the persistent rise in CO2. Climate change is a threat to life on Earth and we can no longer afford to be spectators.”

By all means let’s “resume full-scale operations” in the Canadian tar sands!

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

 

A Debasing Spectacle: Behind and Beyond the Latest Quadrennial Carnival

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, June 10, 2016

I spoke last April at San Diego State University about what two clever Left political scientists there rightly called “the debasing spectacle” of the 2016 presidential election. I was asked to address four and excellent, thought-provoking questions, each of which are highlighted in boldface in the essay below, followed by my latest and best answers (updated for subsequent developments) in somewhat extensive written form. The questions: (1) What is the state of American democracy today? (2) What is the role of the two major U.S. parties? (3) What impact are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders having on the party system? (4) What is the way forward?

What is the State of American Democracy Today?

Oligarchy: “Those Who Rule America Behind the Scenes”

It’s a f$#$*ng joke (I’m sorry but I don’t know any other way to honestly put it). Seven years ago, the left scholars Edward S. Herman and David Peterson noted in passing that “an unelected dictatorship of money vets the nominees of the Republican and Democratic parties, reducing the options available to U.S. citizens to two candidates, neither of whom can change the foreign or domestic priorities of the imperial U.S. regime.” A year before that, the incisive Left historian Laurence Shoup explained things well in Z Magazine:

“Every four years many Americans put their hopes in an electoral process, hopes that a savior can be elected – someone who will make their daily lives more livable, someone who will raise wages, create well-paying jobs, enforce union rights, provide adequate health care, rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, and end war and militarism. In actuality, the leading ‘electable’ presidential candidates have all been well vetted by the hidden primary of the ruling class and are tied to corporate power in multiple ways. They will stay safely within the bounds set by those who rule America behind the scenes, making sure that members of the plutocracy continue to be the main beneficiaries of the system…It is clear that, at best, U.S. ‘democracy’ is a guided one; at its worst it is a corrupt farce, amounting to manipulation, with the larger population objects of propaganda in a controlled and trivialized electoral process” (emphasis added).

These are standard and supposedly cynical observations on the actual/radical Left but you don’t have to be a Left radical to think that popular sovereignty is trumped by plutocracy in the U.S. today. Jimmy Carter, no radical leftist, has been saying for years that the United States no longer has a functioning democracy. Donald Trump, certainly not a leftist, and Bernie Sanders, a longstanding liberal-left Democrat who plays a “revolutionary” on the campaign trail, both say that American democracy is broken by big money campaign donations.

Mike Lofgren, a long-time top Republican congressional aide, writes that The Deep State of corporate and financial power merged to the military industrial complex calls the shots behind “the marionette theater” of electoral and “parliamentary” politics in the U.S.

Mark Leibovich is the New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent and a self-described elite Washington insider. Three years ago, he published the widely read book This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking in America’s Gilded Capital. By his candid and bestselling account from the belly of the beast, Washington D.C. is a richly bipartisan and monumentally narcissistic “gold rush,” a “crucible of easy wealth” (p. 8) wherein political officeholders, lobbyists, consultants, public relations specialists, media personalities, socialites, and top staff of the two dominant parties are part of the same incestuous and “permanent” ruling “class of insiders.” The nation’s capital “becomes a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made” (p.142) – an “inbred company town where party differences are easily subsumed by membership in The Club” (p. 104), Leibovich wrote. “Getting rich,” Leibovich reported, “has become the great bipartisan ideal: ‘No Democrats and Republicans in Washington anymore,’ goes the maxim, ‘only millionaires.’ The ultimate Green party. You still hear the term ‘public service’ thrown around, but often with irony and full knowledge that self-service is now the real insider play” (p. 9).

The leading mainstream political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern argued less than two years ago that the U.S. political system has become “an oligarchy” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule.” Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page find that wealthy elites consistently steer the direction of the country regardless of and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which major party holds the White House and/or Congress. “The central point that emerges from our research,” Gilens and Page find, “is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy…while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens told the online journal Talking Points Memo two years ago, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.” (That’s what Joe and Jane Six Pack have always known, but it’s nice to hear it with data from Princeton and Northwestern).

Such is the harsh reality of “really existing capitalist democracy” in the U.S. —what Noam Chomsky calls “RECD, pronounced as ‘wrecked.’”

Capitalism v. Democracy

Now, you won’t hear mainstream American politicos and intellectuals acknowledge that the United States has never actually been a democracy. You won’t see them noting that popular self-rule was the last thing the United States’ rich and powerful Founding Fathers ever wanted to see break out in the merchant-capitalist aristo-republic they crafted – or that the U.S. Constitution was brilliantly designed precisely to protect elite property rights and to keep popular sovereignty at bay.

You also won’t see mainstream U.S. authorities and experts admit that democracy is essentially impossible under capitalism. You won’t hear them quote the great American philosopher John Dewey prophesizing 85 years ago that U.S. politics would remain “the shadow cast on society by big business” as long as power resided in “business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents, and other means of propaganda.”

“We must make our choice,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1941. “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” You won’t see mainstream U.S. thinkers make observe that Brandeis’s comment (unwittingly or not) admitted the anti-democratic essence of capitalism, which functions by definition to concentrate wealth upward into the coffers of an opulent minority.

Another thing you won’t hear about conventional U.S. thinkers is the militantly undemocratic authoritarianism of the capitalist workplace, where most working-age Americans spend the lions’ shared of their waking and “productively engaged” lives. As the Marxist economist Richard Wolff reminds us, “What remains the same across all…forms [of capitalism]…is the exclusion of the mass of workers that produces the output and generates the profits from receiving and distributing that profit, and from generally participating democratically in enterprise decisions. Capitalism excludes workers from deciding what is produced, how it is produced, where it is produced and how profits are to be used and distributed.” How can you have a democratic society without the democratic organization of work, the central shared daily experience of most U.S. adults and a quintessential human activity?

In the U.S. as in other capitalist societies, the authoritarian impact of the employer-employee relationship extends to life off the job. The long and often exhausting hours many wage- and salary-earners rent away to the employer class in order to purchase life necessities (and more) robs them of the free time and energy required for informed and effective engagement in public affairs. Fear of antagonizing employers and thereby losing one’s job (or promotion or job benefit) blocks “free speech” beyond as well as within the workplace. In the U.S., with its employment-based system of health insurance, workers put their health insurance and often that of their families at risk by doing or saying anything that displease their bosses. Employment-based health insurance is also a significant driving factor behind the United States’ remarkably long working hours (the most extensive among the world’s rich nations). (It’s amazing how little attention the many-sided authoritarian impact of employment-based health coverage and the related problem of overwork receive from left U.S. intellectuals and activists.)

All these critical omissions notwithstanding, it’s still useful and instructive to see privileged elites like Jimmy Carter, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders join mainstream academicians like Gilens and Page in recognizing that “the world’s greatest democracy” is actually an abject plutocracy.

What is the Role of the Two Major U.S. Political Parties?

Seven Class Rule Functions

Going back to the rise of the first mass parties in the United States, the two major U.S. parties (and it’s always been two such parties under the American system, with some very partial and short-lived exceptions) have at bottom been institutional mechanisms for capitalist class rule. They perform seven basic functions for the nation’s owning investor class.

Dressing Elite Interests in Commoner Garb

The first function has been to rally supporters organized as voters for different factions of the elite bourgeois class in its recurrent intra-capitalist policy struggles. Across much of the 19th century, some leading U.S. capitalist economic and political investors sought to advance their interests in the development of the domestic U.S. market and a manufacturing economy by pushing through an “American System” of government-subsidized internal improvements (transportation infrastructure above all), government central banks, and tariffs on imports. These capitalists tended to align with and fund the Whig Party and its anti-slavery successor the Republican Party. More export-, agricultural-, and free trade-oriented investors aligned with funded the Democratic Party. All of these capitalist parties made recurrent feverish electoral appeals to mass constituencies in the name of “the common man” to win votes in a republic with comparatively wide (universal white male across most of the nation by the eve of the Civil War) suffrage. The competing bourgeois parties needed to “masquerade as commoners” (in the words of the late and great U.S. historian Alfred F. Young) to put in elected office politicians pledged to their funders’ policy agenda.

Policy specifics and party alignments have since shifted more than once in accord with underlying political-economic and demographic factors. Still, the basic manipulative reality captured in Left political scientist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of [U.S. two-] party competition” has continued throughout. During the 1930s and 1940s, Ferguson has shown, the labor-allied New Deal (Franklin Roosevelt) Democratic Party rose to power with critical support from highly capital intensive multinational corporations and internationally oriented investment banks who were less concerned about wage bills than the more nationally oriented, anti-union, and protectionist industrial firms that dominated the reigning (Teddy Roosevelt, William McKinley and Howard Taft) Republican Party at the turn of the 20th century. The end of rapid growth and of the United States’ short-lived and near-absolute post-World War II global economic hegemony the late 1960s produced inflation and a growing fiscal and trade deficits, leading to sharply raised interest rates, a strengthened dollar, and an unprecedented flow of surplus capital from industry to finance. The resulting new finance capital explosion transformed the American party system, which stabilized around 1980 with finance as the “hegemonic bloc” of political as well as economic investors. With the arch-neoliberal Clinton presidency of the 1990s, big finance capital had clearly taken over the Democratic Party as well as the Republicans, along with most of the nation’s nonfinancial corporations.

There have been differences in the investor class profiles of the two dominant parties through this century, with (for example) “defense” (military) and oil and other Big Carbon firms tilting towards the Republicans and Silicon Valley and Hollywood tilting towards the Democrats. Beneath such differences, the 1% is united in neoliberal consensus across both parties around Wall Street-led globalization and a huge Pentagon System to expand and protect global finance capitalism. Both the Republicans and the Democrats are committed to the neoliberal world-capitalist and imperial order, with big finance calling the shots while unions, the working class, and the poor are relegated to the margins. Under the bipartisan ruling class and extreme-capitalist consensus, wealth and power concentrate on a scale that threatens to make the original Gilded Age look egalitarian by comparison.

Both parties play the game that Christopher Hitchens called (in his 1999 book on the Clintons) “the essence of America politics…the manipulation of populism by elitism.” They play it in different ways, with the Republicans taking the darker “bad cop” road of nativism, racism, white nationalism, hyper-masculinist sexism, more resonant in southern and Western “red state America.” The more urban, urbane, multicultural, and bi-coastal “blue state” Democrats pose as the “nicer cop” liberal and “progressive” alternative while their policies the wealth corporate and financial no less than do those of the official rich white man’s party, Republicans. The “dismal Dems” deceptive “left” branding and multicultural branding make the Democrats the arguably “more effective evil” (Glen Ford) in the two party regime.

Behind the Wizard of Oz curtain and “marionette theater” (Lofgren) of U.S. electoral and parliamentary politics, the nation’s finance-led investor class finds it useful to have two, not just one party in play. With the financial crisis of 2007-08 – the “crisis of neoliberalism” (really just the latest big capitalist financial meltdown) – the moneyed elite’s sharpest political investors deftly shifted allegiance from the Republicans to the Democrats. Behind the elite-managed rebranding (which earned the Obama campaign Advertising Age’s “Marketer of the Year” award for 2008) – replete with the “historic” installment of a Black family (headed by a man with a technically Muslim name) in the White House in the land of slavery – smart top investor class operatives understood that the basic neoliberal policy mix (including massive government subsidy for the wealthy and financial few and vicious market discipline for the rest) would remain intact. By stealing populist-sounding rhetoric from the 2011 Occupy Movement (even as his Department of Homeland Security helped Democratic city governments violently repress that movement from coast to coast) and having the luck to run against a classically elite Republican and super-wealthy finance capitalist (Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney) in 2012, Obama was able to extend his racially-enhanced variant of the Hitchensian-Clintonite game for a second term.

“You Had Your Input”: The Illusion of Democracy Through Elections

The second function, more broadly systemic and ideological. It is to sell the illusion of democracy through elections. Again and again, the population is told that going into a two-[capitalist-]party ballot box for two minutes once every two or four years is a great and glorious exercise in popular self-rule. So what if the major party candidates are generally vetted in advance by the capitalist and imperial establishment, from which they often come? And so what if the ruling class rules in numerous ways, every day, at multiple levels, beneath and beyond the big, mass-marketed candidate-centered major party election spectacles that are staged for us on the highly time-staggered, constitutionally appointed schedule. And so what if, as Rob Urie recently reminded us on Counterpunch, the only two officially viable and recognized parties, the Democrats and Republicans, represent just 30 percent of eligible U.S. voters. (The Democrats make up just 17 percent of those voters. The Republicans come it at an even more paltry 13 percent. “The largest category of eligible voters is those that don’t vote [48 percent!] followed by political independents [24 percent].”) As Urie reflects:

“fringe interests— those of a tiny political and economic elite, [have] been…successfully portrayed as democratic choice…The illusion of putting Hillary Clinton, who is a full-time employee of Wall Street and Exxon-Mobil and has the paychecks to prove it, or Donald Trump, who inherited a real-estate empire worth millions (billions in today’s dollars) and who is friends with the rich and powerful (including Hillary Clinton), forward as representatives of ‘the people’s’ interests requires radically misrepresenting those interests. By posing Clinton and Trump as oppositional a realm of difference is created that limits political choice to one or the other. Left unsaid is that registered Democrats plus registered Republicans constitute less than one third of the electorate— both candidates are ‘fringe’ in terms of public support for their Party’s programs” (emphasis added).

“Rejoice citizens,” the U.S. wealth and power elite and its ubiquitous commercial media and its many highly indoctrinated intellectuals tell the people, “you had your input on Election Day. Freedom and democracy are wondrous indeed. Don’t forget to salute your military heroes!”

Personalities Over Issues

As public opinion surveys have shown for decades, most members of the majority working class U.S. citizenry are left-leaning progressives. They are social democrats, egalitarians, environmentalists, and anti-imperial supporters of the common good when it comes to policy issues – and (for what it’s worth) to visions of a good and decent society. The ruling class doesn’t like that. Consistent with their captivity to Urie’s “fringe interests,” the two reigning parties and the broader money, media, and electoral system of which they are parts relentlessly over-focus voters and election “choices” on trivial matters of candidate personalities and imagery, NOT on serious and substantive matters of policy and social justice. Real issues that matter are pushed to the margins, particularly after the presidential primaries, when each party stages a giant marketing campaign around selling its chosen fake Voice of the People like advertisers pushing beer, toothpaste, cars, and pharmaceuticals. As Noam Chomsky noted on the eve of the 2004 presidential election pitting George W. Bush again John F. Kerry:

“Bush and Kerry can run because they’re funded by basically the same concentrations of private power. Both candidates understand that the election is supposed to stay away from issues. They are creatures of the public relations industry, which keeps the public out of the election process. The concentration is on what they call a candidate’s ‘qualities,’ not policies. Is he a leader? A nice guy? Voters end up endorsing an image, not a platform…Last month a Gallup poll asked Americans why they’re voting for either Bush or Kerry. From a multiple-choice list, a mere 6 percent of Bush voters and 13 percent of Kerry voters picked the candidates’ ‘agendas/ideas/platforms/goals.’ That’s how the political system prefers it. Often the issues that are most on people’s minds don’t enter at all clearly into the debate… During the primaries, before the main event fully gears up, candidates can raise issues and help organize popular support for them, thereby influencing campaigns to some extent. After the primaries, mere statements make a minimal impact without a significant organization behind them.”

This – the promotion of candidate traits, brands, properties, and personas over significant and sober issues and policy – is the third great class rule function of the dominant two U.S. political parties and the U.S. elections system.

“That’s Politics”: All About Elections

A fourth key class rule function of the U.S. party and elections system is to channel popular political energies into the constitutionally appointed major party candidate contests and away from the more urgent, significant, and effective politics of building mass grassroots popular movements and undertaking direct and disruptive, profit-threatening actions against the nation’s capitalist masters, guardians, and managers. Here again Chomsky’s 2004 essay is useful:

“Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is a method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics…The urgency is for popular progressive groups to grow and become strong enough so that centers of power can’t ignore them. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its core include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years…sensible [electoral] choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action.”

Chomsky’s sentiments were echoed four years later by his good friend the radical American historian Howard Zinn, who reflected on the “the election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left” as Barack Obamania took hold. It was nothing new, Zinn observed:

“the election frenzy…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls… And sad to say, the Presidential contest has mesmerized liberals and radicals alike. … But before and after those two minutes [in a voting booth], our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

“The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change,” Chomsky told Abby Martin of teleSur English last fall, “is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle.” Under the American religion of voting, Chomsky told Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson last week, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world. It’s a very destructive ideology… basically, a way of making people passive, submissive objects…[we] ought to teach kids that elections take place but that’s not politics.”

The U.S. major political parties are unusually focused on elections, it should be added. As Chomsky reminded Falcone and Isaacson, “the United States doesn’t have political parties. In other countries, take say Europe, you can be an active member of the political party. Here, the only thing in a political party is gearing to elections, not the other things you do.”

The impact of U.S. major party electoral politics on social movements is worse than mere and momentary diversion. The major parties, their candidates and their elections serve as the graveyard of social movements and as demobilizing and co-opting “shock absorbers” that capture and contain the popular anger and energy that might sustain such movements. The parties and their elections and candidates are where social movements go to die, get dismantled, and co-opted once every 2 or 4 years. Even worse, major party activists constantly work to infiltrate social movements and create faux-popular “Astroturf” organizations that pretend to stand apart from the election cycle but are actually all about steering popular energy into the narrow channels of the major party’s electoral agenda. The Democratic Party-captive “progressive movement” is already at work trying to capture and channel grassroots activism in the aftermath of the current election cycle.

The paralyzing impact of all this on real peoples’ movements is deepened by the unreal length of the “quadrennial extravaganza[s].” The U.S. presidential major party election process is absurdly prolonged. Major mass media saturate the politically sentient populace with a seemingly interminable flood of stories about major party candidates and their “qualities,” quirks, and scandals for at least a year prior to the actual presidential election. The presidential primaries are strung out from early February through June, followed by major party conventions in August and then a three-month orgy of mudslinging between the two major party finalists. “That’s politics” never seems to go away.

Maintaining America’s “Signature Exclusion”

A fifth class rule function of the two dominant parties is to make things impossible for third and fourth parties who want to advance demands outside and against the narrow, elite-managed capitalist and imperial spectrum. In what the leading election reform advocate Jamin Raskin calls “America’s signature exclusion,” third and fourth parties are prohibited from competing with the duopoly on a free and equal basis.

One of the many different areas where Republicans and Democrats have always eagerly and easily collaborated is the construction of ballot access laws and campaign finance rules and the maintenance of an authoritarian winner-take-all structure that makes it impossible for any party outside the two dominant organizations to win or even to gather strength. For what it’s worth (not much), this is in direct violation of majority public opinion, which has held for decades that the two reigning parties do not accurately reflect that real spectrum of political opinion in the U.S. With the Trump insurgency on the right and the Sanders campaign on the left, it’s clear that the U.S. populace could easily back three or four parties if the United States were to honor public opinion by constitutionally creating a multiparty system.

Identity Over Class Politics

A sixth basic class rule function of the two reigning U.S major political parties is to organize and channel the electorate’s political consciousness and electoral “choices” around real and perceived differences of regional, racial, ethnic, national, personal, sexual, religious, and/or familial identity instead of shared class sentiments and issues. In the neoliberal era, “identity politics” has come, in the words of the eminent Marxist historian Perry Anderson, “to replace what was once [during the long New Deal era of 1935-1980] something like class politics…as the basis of coalition formation and electoral mobilization [in the U.S.]. In the process,” Anderson noted three years ago, “traditional income formations [of voting behavior] have been losing their salience, or warping into their opposite.” In 2008, for example, Republican presidential candidate John McCain won the majority voters living on less than $50,000 a year and the Democratic victor Obama won a majority of those receiving over $200,000 a year.

Obama’s two presidential victories depended not on labor and working class support so much as on the votes of racial and ethnic minorities, the rising female vote, unmarried professionals, single parents, and gays. Obama was what Anderson called “the perfect candidate for the new [identity-politicized] hour: not only younger, cooler, and more eloquent but magnetic for the minorities on which victory depended.” So what if Obama set new Wall Street campaign funding records in 2008 and consistently as President served the corporate and financial elites who rule the nation in numerous ways (campaign finance is just the tip of the iceberg)? Democrats hold the upper hand over Republicans in U.S. presidential contests, winning the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections (but losing the Florida governor’s and U.S. Supreme Court’s vote in 2000) largely because the racial, ethnic, gender, and broader social demographics of the national electorate have changed in their favor.

This does not mean that U.S. citizens necessarily or inherently privilege social identity over economic class in terms of what they think matters in public affairs. It reflects the significant extent to which the U.S. party and elections system privileges non-class social identity politics when it comes to forming coalitions and marshalling voters and Democrats “long-term trend away from economic class issues” (Jeff Faux) in deference to the wealthy few. Reduced to a corporate-managed electorate (Sheldon Wolin), the citizenry is identity-played by a moneyed elite that pulls the strings behind the duopoly’s candidate-centered spectacles of faux democracy. As the Left author Chris Hedges noted three years ago, “Both sides of the political spectrum are manipulated by the same forces. If you’re some right-wing Christian zealot in Georgia, then it’s homosexuals and abortion and all these, you know, wedge issues that are used to whip you up emotionally. If you are a liberal in Manhattan, it’s – you know, they’ll be teaching creationism in your schools or whatever…Yet in fact it’s just a game, because whether it’s Bush or whether it’s Obama, Goldman Sachs always wins. There is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.”

“We Don’t Have the Numbers”

A seventh class rule function of the reigning U.S. party and elections system is to feed the illusion that left progressives don’t reflect majority public opinion when they advocate things like single-payer national health insurance, progressive taxation, serious environmental protection, major government jobs programs, and a transfer of taxpayer dollars from the gargantuan U.S. military empire to positive social programs. Candidates who advocate such things typically don’t get very far in the Democratic Party’s congressional and presidential primaries because party gatekeepers, donors, and the media generally make sure to crush them. The fact that such candidates campaign on behalf of policies that most US citizens actually support but lose out in the supposedly democratic (in fact rigged and plutocratic) primary elections system fuels the deadly and false belief that progressive, social-democratic policies lack majority support. This can further feelings of futility and isolation among progressive citizens and activists.

“Two Wings of the Same Bird of Prey”

Left radicals often claim that the two parties are completely identical, the exact same – that there are no real differences between them. I never quite say that. I prefer to follow the 20th century U.S. socialist Upton Sinclair in calling the Democrats and Republicans “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Yes, they’re both state-capitalist. Yes, they’re both nationalistic, militaristic and imperial. But the ruling class could not effectively sell the major party duopoly if there were no differences whatsoever between them. They have different histories, different regional bases, different racial and ethnic and gender and religious constituency profiles, different positions on various social and identity issues, and so on. They also have somewhat different investor class profiles (in terms of which structural, regional, and cultural blocs of big capital they represent) even if finance capital (itself not without internal divisions) is the leading force in both parties in the neoliberal era.

At the same time, there’s a related division of labor between the two major parties. For various historical reasons, it’s the Republicans who tend to identify themselves more with hatred of big government, government regulation and the welfare state. The Republicans exemplify Hitchens’ “essence of American politics” (the manipulation of populism by elitism) in a more outwardly ugly way than do the Democrats – with no small hint of open white-nationalist racism, nativism, sexism, and evangelical false piety. The Democrats are by far and away the most skilled, effective, and well-positioned party when it comes to buying off and shutting down popular, Left and potentially Left social movements and when it comes to co-opting independent Left politics. It’s the more urban/urbane, racially and ethnically diverse, female, and outwardly liberal, and purportedly progressive, socially concerned Democrats who have most effectively contained and captured the energies when it comes to the labor, environmentalist, civil rights, feminist, gay rights, antiwar, and immigrant rights movements. The Democrats are the top shock absorber when it comes to keeping popular forces weak and divided. And it’s the Democrats who tend to own the racial and ethnic minority vote and the female vote, which is the main reason they tend now to win presidential elections in an increasingly non-white America with more and more people living outside the traditional patriarchal family.

What Impact Are Trump and Sanders Having on the Party System?

Trump: Right Wing Racist Populism Manipulation

Reflecting widespread mass anger at the ever steeper hyper-inequality, ubiquitous economic precarity, and soulless corporate-financial plutocracy of the 21st century New Gilded Age, the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders “insurgencies” have roiled the major party’s corporate, financial, and imperial establishments. The considerable popular support that the fascist-lite Trump has received in the primary campaign has been great enough to seize the Republican nomination from a ridiculously large field of candidates divided between a scattering of more mainstream and neoliberal, corporate-Wall Street Republicans (Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Chris Christie) and a crazy cadre of hard-right characters (the loathsome Christian-constitutionalist neo fascist Ted Cruz, the ludicrous free market brain surgeon Ben Carson, the evangelical comedian Mike Huckabee, and the vicious bastard Rick Santorum et al.). As the Left economist and political commentator Jack Rasmus notes, “Primaries are tolerated so long as they don’t challenge party leadership control. Sometimes a candidate from below slips under the fence—like [Democrat George] McGovern in 1972 or Trump today in 2016.” In the wake of Trump’s triumph over the GOP establishment, Rasmus rightly adds, “the Republican party elite will no doubt do its fence mending to prevent another Trump.” The GOP leadership will change its primary and nomination system to make sure that an independent challenger like The Donald can’t break through again.

The nominally socialist Sanders’ far more genuinely populist, polite, and civilized upsurge has targeted the One Percent, with extreme U.S. economic inequality and (the) plutocracy (that follows in such disparity’s wake like stink on shit) his consistent and wildly popular (for some very good reasons) top issue. Bernie has exceeded all original expectations (including those of his own team) but has not been able to defeat the arch-neoliberal Eisenhower Republican Hillary Clinton (the preferred candidate of least resistance for the financial elite) in the far less splintered Democratic field (neither Martin O’Malley nor the hapless Jim Webb ever registered more than a tiny bleep on the candidate radar screen). Along with vast personal financial resources to invest in his campaign, Trump’s advantages over Sanders have included a far bigger field of competing candidates in the party whose nomination he sought and a vast windfall of free coverage from the corporate media of which he is largely a creation.

Trump is the more disruptive force on the rightmost side of the right-wing U.S. party system. He’s been ripping at the fabric of a Republican Party that is already badly frayed by class differences between its super-wealthy corporate and financial elite and its white middle and working class base. He’s run off the elite capitalist neoliberal and imperial (Council of Foreign Relations) leash in ways that resonate with a lot of angry and alienated working class and lower middle class white voters. Along with his highly personal and incredibly juvenile attacks (almost like something from Jersey Shore) on top Republican politicians and his incredibly high disapproval numbers especially among women (70 percent of whom view Trump unfavorably), that’s why a fair portion of the Republican establishment has tried to block his nomination. Many top Republicans won’t back him in the general election. (One of the Koch brothers has even recently suggested that he’ll go with Hillary Clinton over Trump, along with foreign policy neocons like Robert Kagan and Max Boot). It’s hard to see how many evangelical Christians (a key part of the Republican base) could get seriously behind a candidate who is so obviously a product and eager, uber-narcissistic embodiment of the salacious, soulless, and amoral culture of celebrity and worldly goods.

Primary candidate Trump has run with some very noxious rhetoric that has long been part of the elite, Machiavellian, populace-manipulating Republican playbook. He has tapped and intensified ugly strands of frustrated white nationalism, nativism, and male chauvinism that the arch-plutocratic GOP has been cultivating for decades. At the same time, however, Trump has often sounded remarkably populist on jobs, trade, and corporate conduct in ways that specifically working class voters appreciate and wealthy Republicans loathe. He has been critical of policies and processes that opulent Bush and Romney Republicans (and elite Clinton and Obama Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalization, so called free trade, global capital mobility, cheap labor immigration. Trump has also raised some crude “isolationist”-sounding objections to something else that establishment Republicans and Democrats both like: destructive U.S. imperialist adventurism. Trump has dared to question the wisdom of the U.S. the bombing of Libya, the destabilization of Syria, and the provocation of Putin’s Russia.

Trump has on occasion threatened to bolt the GOP and to launch his own campaign outside the Republican Party. He boasts of being so wealthy that he doesn’t have to rely on establishment corporate and Wall Street funders. His personal fortune (probably less spectacular than he claims) is part of his populist appeal, ironically enough.

Along with the free media attention he has received, the notoriety he already enjoyed as a television celebrity, and the significant extent to which he channels (highly understandable) mass hatred of U.S. politicians (and of Hillary Clinton) and refined upper middle class liberals, the blustering billionaire Trump’s devious but performance as angry champion of the (white) working man is no small part of why he has risen above the usual sorry non-establishment Republican pack to seize the nomination from the Wall Street-vetted sorts who normally ascend in accord with Ferguson’s “investment theory.” It’s an extraordinary and no small indication of how dysfunctional and out of touch with underlying socioeconomic reality the “apocalyptic cult” (leading Republican thinker Norman Ornstein) that is the GOP today has become.

Still, it may be easy to exaggerate the extent to which Trump is truly upsetting the establishment-ruled Republican applecart and the U.S. two-party system. His actual policy positions and the people he and the GOP put around him (an old Washington maxim notes that “personnel is policy”) will much more closely match the standard ruling class neoliberal and imperial (CFR) agenda than his populist primary campaign rhetoric. In the wake of securing enough delegates to prevail at the Republican National Convention, Trump has made some peace with key players atop the Republican establishment, including the noxious Ayn Rand-worshipping House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Trump is playing the Hitchensian game in a dark, possibly Hitler-inspired way.  He certainly knows that he needs establishment support if he is serious about moving his reality television show into the White House.

In an editorial calling Ryan’s recent endorsement of Trump “a sad day for the GOP – and America,” the Washington Post’s establishment editorial board noted that “Judging by his wild swings of position over the years, Mr. Trump does not believe in much of anything.” That would seem to be an accurate judgment: Trump is all about image, marketing, wealth, celebrity, uber-narcissism, personal insult, and sociopathic self-promotion, period.

But then the Post editors wrote the following: “The convictions that he does hold – against free trade and U.S. leadership abroad, for dividing the nation by religion and ethnicity – are antithetical to the principles Mr. Ryan sa[ys] guide him.” There’s quite a bit wrong with that second sentence, including the deletion of Ryan’s deep commitment to racism, nativism, and state capitalism and the identification of imperial adventurism with global “leadership.” For the purposes of the present essay, however, the Post editors’ main mistake is to believe (for some mysterious reason) that Trump sincerely opposes so-called free trade (unlimited global investor rights).

Meanwhile, Trump obviously exacerbates some of the terrible, hallmark aspects of the U.S. party system discussed in the second sub-section of this essay. The ridiculous, bombastic, and interminably insolent Donald – brash mocker and enemy of established norms of civility – carries the mass media’s infantilizing obsession with candidate personalities, “qualities,” images, and brands to new heights (Trump is himself darkly and creepily fixated on such matters). At the same time, Trump’s vaguely neo-fascistic white nationalist racism and nativism (which may be sincere or may just be more manipulation) reinforce the racial and ethnic identity politics focus and (indeed) obsession that is a critical class-rule component of the U.S. two party order. As political scientist Emily Thorson noted on Politico last March:

“After Barack Obama’s inauguration, it was easy — and reassuring — to believe that the country had finally moved beyond the racial divides that have long shaped the American political landscape. Racial fault lines run deep in American life, and for generations, presidential candidates have carefully tiptoed around the topic…Not Trump. From the beginning of his campaign, he has loudly declared such tiptoeing to be part of the problem, choosing instead to make issues of race and identity a centerpiece of his political strategy. He has characterized Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists, called for a ‘total and complete’ ban on Muslims entering the U.S., and, more recently, implicitly condoned attacks on black activists at his rallies.”

“These actions are not isolated incidents of racist speech; they are critical parts of Trump’s larger campaign narrative, which seeks to ‘make America great again’ by rewarding those whom he sees as deserving (the people who originally ‘made America great’) and punishing the undeserving (those he sees as contributing to the nation’s downfall)….Trump’s laser-like focus on who deserves what — and his willingness to explicitly draw connections between deservedness and race — resonates with many Americans…Trump’s rhetoric has…tapped a set of beliefs already held by many Americans: that the system treats white people unfairly, and that minorities are getting more than they deserve.”

One day after Ryan gave him his endorsement, the orange-faced Trump went on a racist and nativist rampage. He’s been making heavily racialized attacks ever since against the U.S.-born Mexican American federal judge who is overseeing a class action lawsuit against the fraudulent “Trump University.” The Donald has “doubled and tripled down on the attacks—and has ordered his surrogates to do the same – even though he has no support inside the Republican Party on the issue. Many of Trump’s closest allies, including Newt Gingrich, have condemned his remarks, which means that Capitol Hill Republicans – many of whom will be up for reelection in the fall—are beside themselves. The Democrats,” the centrist New Republic reports with disgust, “are taking this controversy national, revealing a strategy to saddle every Republican across the country with Trump’s antics.”

Then there’s Trump’s many degrading and demeaning statements about women have resonated with millions of sexist males. The Donald’s nauseating misogyny and sexism are also bound to reinforce the hold of identity over class politics in the U.S. They seem likely to doom him in a contest with Hillary Clinton, who can now (after her crushing defeats of Sanders in New Jersey and California) be finally called the presumptive Democratic nominee and who hailed her nomination triumph last Tuesday as a victory for women’s rights. Females make up 52 percent of the electorate in the U.S.

The Republican Party’s sharpest elites will try to keep a healthy distance from their party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, this fall. They have no choice if they want to sustain their hold over Congress and not lose power in the states. Surely they are already at work fashioning adjustments to make the Trump phenomenon a bizarre one-off experience. Among other things, look for them to dramatically reduce the number of candidates permitted to enter the primary race.

Sanders: Neo-New Deal Populism in Service to Establishment Neoliberalism

Bernie Sanders has been less threatening to establishment Democrats than Trump has been to the Republican establishment. Sanders may talk about leading a “political revolution.” He may on occasion be willing to let himself be called a democratic socialist. He’s raised some embarrassing points about Hillary Clinton when it comes to her Wall Street funding profile, her Goldman Sachs speeches, her longstanding support for (and transparently calculated campaign reversal on) the arch-global-corporatist Trans Pacific Partnership, and her sickening vote for the Iraq War.

The enthusiasm his campaign has evoked, most particularly among young people, has gone far beyond anything Bernie and his team anticipated. His giant and roaring crowds, his record setting mass of small donations, and his caucus and primary vote totals have exceeded anything Hillary and the DNC expected when she at first happily welcomed her “good friend” Sanders into the race. The Clintons and their establishment party allies have felt compelled to respond to the Sanders phenomenon in nastier and dirtier ways than they ever imagined. They certainly did not envisage having to rely on the openly authoritarian ruling class fail-safe device (introduced to prevent another left-liberal like George McGovern from winning the Democratic nomination) called the “super-delegates” (the 15 percent of openly unelected Democratic Party Convention delegates comprised of Democratic Party officials and elected politicians) to claim victory. Sanders may not get the nomination but he has certainly caused considerable discomfort in the Clinton camp and the in the Democratic National Committee (DNC). As Rasmus observes, “Democratic party leaders will never allow another ‘independent,’ like Sanders, to ever contest for their party’s nomination. Sanders has given them a political scare. The Democratic party fence will undergo some major rewiring.”

Still, Bernie’s challenge to the Clintons and the DNC has been tepid and cowardly on the whole. Sanders said from day one that he would “of course” back the eventual corporate Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, with no questions asked and no conditions demanded. He’s an Empire Man who refuses to make substantive criticisms of the U.S. permanent global war of terror and the giant Pentagon System despite the fact that his liberal domestic social agenda would require massive cuts in the nation’s globally and historically unmatched war machine.

Last April on CBS and NBC, leading up to the New York primary, Bernie contritely exonerated Hillary for her revolting 2002 Iraq War vote. He cowered meekly before the looming establishment media alpha donkey Charlie Rose to claim that “of course I do not hold her accountable” for “Iraq War deaths.” It was terrible to watch, but it was all too darkly consistent with Sanders’ previous and eager endorsement of Obama’s vast jihad-fueling drone war program, which has been aptly described by Chomsky as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times.” Perhaps the Sanders campaign should have coined a new campaign slogan: “Hold Democrats Accountable for War Crimes? Never!”

Bernie’s been very careful not to go for the kill against Hillary. If he had been serious about preempting her coronation, he would have gone after her egregious, Nixonian e-mail scandal (a result of Mrs. Clinton’s determination to hide damning communications with elite donors to the corrupt global-capitalist Clinton Foundation during her years atop the U.S. State Department) instead of writing that criminal outrage off as a cheap charge launched by nasty Republicans – and as something “the American people” were “tired of hearing about.” He would also have targeted her terrible Kissingerian conduct in Libya (Benghazi included), Syria, Ukraine, and Honduras. Seriously contesting Hillary’s anointment would have meant going after the neoliberal and imperialist atrocity that is the Clinton Foundation. It would have meant highlighting the early and leading role the Clintons played in turning the Democratic Party further to the pro-Big Business right back in the 1970s and 1980s. It would have involved going hard at the dreadful record of the 1990s Clinton administration in deregulating Wall Street, passing the arch-neoliberal North American Free Trade agreement, in passing the viciously poor-bashing and racist so-called welfare reform of 1996.

Seriously contesting “Lady Klynton Kissinger-Sachs (as she is known on Wall Street)” (Jennifer Matsui) would also have involved a much more intelligent, honest, and radical approach to Black America and the problem of racial oppression in America. That would have required calling out the cruel, underlying mass-incarceration-ist racism that has always been at the heart of the cold-blooded Clinton project (another good source on that besides the Michelle Alexander essay just hyperlinked is the eleventh chapter of Elaine Brown’s masterful book The Condemnation of Little B). It would have meant connecting Sanders’ own youthful Civil Rights activism (oddly underplayed in his campaign) to campaign oratory about the central role that white racism and ruling class racial divide-and-rule (a game the southern-seasoned Yale Law graduates Bill and Hillary have long mastered with Machiavellian expertise) has always played in keeping the American ruling class prosperous and powerful. It would have meant Bernie not bluntly dismissing reparations as a “divisive” issue and Bernie learning how to adjust his humorless and rapid-fire speaking style for Black church audiences. That’s all part of how Sanders (from the whitest region of the nation) might have avoided being so badly played by the racial identity politics card that the Clinton machine dealt to defeat him.

From the outset, Sanders explicitly admitted that his real role in this election was to help expand turnout for Hillary Clinton and the mainstream Democrats – to help the dismal dollar Dems bring more young and understandably disaffected voters into the major party electoral process. It’s what Black Agenda Report’s Bruce Dixon called Bernie’s “sheepdog” role and what I have called his “Judas Goat” assignment: to herd reasonably alienated voters back into the corporate-managed social movement cemetery and radicalism-butchering abattoir that is the Democratic Party.

The “socialist” Bernie could have done significant, maybe even fatally disruptive damage to the wretched neoliberal nightmare that is the Democratic Party, once aptly described by the former top Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips as “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” But that was never the what Sanders and his team wanted, despite their misleading talk of “revolution.” Why not? As Jeffrey St. Clair noted on Counterpunch last April:

“For starters, many of Sanders’s top advisers, such as Tad Devine, are Democratic Party loyalists, who will certainly want jobs in other Democratic campaigns in the next election cycle. More pressingly, although Bernie talks of political revolution, he’s really a reformer. His goal is to refashion the Democratic Party from the inside… His entire political life testifies to his liberal incrementalism. The man has been in elected office since 1981, tweaking at the gears instead of monkey-wrenching the machine. If Sanders now seems like a radical, it’s only a measure how far to the right the Democrats have migrated since the rise of the neoliberals…Ultimately, Bernie Sanders is a loyalist to liberalism. That’s why he voted for Bill Clinton’s racist Crime Bill. It’s why he voted twice to overthrow Saddam Hussein during Clinton time and endorsed a cruel sanctions regime that killed more than 400,000 innocent Iraqi kids. It’s why he backed the Clinton war on Serbia, voted for the AUMF that has been used to justify total and enduring war since 9/11, backed the Libyan intervention and, most crucially, pledged to support Hillary if she is eventually the nominee, which she was pre-ordained to become” (emphasis added).

At the same time, Sanders reinforces the exaggerated focus of progressive activism on major party, candidate-centered electoral politics instead of social movements, popular disruption, and direct action around issues and radical change beneath and beyond the games that politicians play. Here again St. Clair hit the bulls eye:

“More and more this vaunted [Sanders] ‘movement’ seems to be little more than a kind of moveable feast, which follows Sanders around like a swarm of post-modern Deadheads, from venue to venue, to hear the senator deliver the same tepid stump speech he’s been warbling for the last 8 months…What might a real movement have done? If Sanders could turn 30,000 people out for a pep rally in Washington Square Park, why couldn’t he have had a flash mob demonstration mustering half that many fervent supporters to shut down Goldman Sachs for a day? If he could lure 20,000 Hipsters to the Rose Garden in Portland, why couldn’t he turn out 10,000 Sandernistas to bolster the picket lines of striking Verizon workers? If Sanders could draw 15,000 people in Austin, Texas, why couldn’t his movement bring 5,000 people to Huntsville to protest executions at the Texas death house? If Sanders could draw 18,000 people to a rally in Las Vegas, why couldn’t he just as easily have lead them in a protest at nearby Creech Air Force Base, the center of operations for US predator drones? Strike that. Sanders supports Obama’s killer drone program. My bad. But you get the point. Instead of being used as stage props, why hasn’t Sanders put his teaming crowds of eager Sandernistas to work doing the things that real movements do: blocking the sale of a foreclosed house in Baltimore, disrupting a fracking site in rural Pennsylvania, shutting down the entrance to the police torture chamber at Homan Square in Chicago for a day, intervening between San Diego cops and the homeless camp they seek to evict? Why? Because that’s not who Bernie Sanders is and that’s not what his movement is about. He’s willing to rock the neoliberal boat, but not sink it” (emphasis added).

When Saul Isaacson recently asked him if “the Sanders movement” is “around to stay,” Chomsky answered as follows:

“I think a lot of it’s up to him. I mean what they should have been doing all along is kind of marginalizing the focus on elections, which is secondary, and using the opportunity to build or sustain the ongoing movement which will pay attention to the elections for 10 minutes but meanwhile do other things. Now it’s the other way around. It’s all focused on the election. It’s just part of the ideology. The way you keep people out of activism is get them all excited about the carnival that goes on every four years and then go home, which has happened over and over. The Rainbow Coalition [had this effect] …the time to be political is not when you have parties and carnivals. It’s kind of a show, the election. It affects something but not that much” (emphasis added).

(And, of course, Bernie’s not really a socialist. He’s a social-democratically inclined neo-Keynesian New Deal liberal at leftmost. He has picked an argument not just with Karl Marx and Eugene Debs but with Webster’s Dictionary by falsely proclaiming that socialism is consistent with continued private, for-profit ownership of the means of production, distribution, and investment. This is no small or merely academic error because it is becoming clearer every day that capitalism properly understood is institutionally hard wired to dismantle livable ecology and destroy all prospects for a decent human future.)

The Sanders campaign certainly deserves credit for showing that (in Ron Jacobs’ words on Counterpunch) “a substantial number of Americans are interested in redistributing wealth and making government work for the 99 percent.” But reputable surveys have shown for decades that most Americans already supported those things. And Sanders’ coming, inevitable, and promised surrender to Hillary Clinton is likely to play the deadly seventh role of the U.S. major party system I discussed above: fueling the false belief that progressive, social-democratic policies lack majority support and furthering a sense of futility and isolation among progressive citizens and activists.

Bernie Sanders ran as a New Deal Democrat, pushing for “something like class politics” (Anderson) in a post-New Deal neoliberal era. But besides being something of a quiet imperialist (something that fiscally negates social democracy), he’s a man out of time. We inhabit an epoch where the critical institutional components of the long lost New Deal coalition (chiefly a rising new industrial labor movement and a world-leading capital intensive mass-productionist multinational corporate sector) no longer hold sway. It is a time in which the globalization of capital and markets make the living standards and consuming power of the U.S. working class majority a matter of far less concern to the national and global economic elite than they were was back in the “Fordist” and Keynesian days of Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower.

Just how successful Bernie will be in convincing his supporters, and especially his young socialist-leaning backers to line up with the noxious neoliberal Clinton machine is an open and fascinating question. Many young American voters are unimpressed both with the major party duopoly and with “the game of Lesser Evils” (Michelle Alexander) – a game that has delivered little if anything progressive under eight years of Barack TransPacific Obama. A fair portion of Bernie’s supporters would vote for an actually left and socialist third or fourth party if the U.S. was magically transformed into a multiparty nation. Many of them will prefer to sit the election our or vote for Jill Stein and the Green Party before marking a ballot for Lady Klynton Kissinger-Sachs. And I suspect that a certain significant number of older independent voters for whom Bernie Sanders was their first choice will opt for renegade Trump in the general election.

The most remarkable thing about the critical question of how Sanders’ supporters will vote (or not) next November is the stark readiness the Clintons and the Democratic Party establishment and its many allies in the mass media have shown to alienate and insult Bernie’s many left-leaning fans. As I argued in a recent Counterpunch essay titled “Feel the Hate,” this seemingly self-destructive willingness to disrespect Sanders’ supporters is just the latest reflection of the bottomless hatred that establishment Democrats have long held for “very liberal” (the pollsters’ term) progressive Democrats. I won’t repeat here all the examples of that contempt I gave in that essay but one subsequent and stunning illustration merits mention. It appears that some establishment Democrats are making contingency plans for the possibility that Hillary’s campaign could be derailed by a federal indictment (over her very real and serious e-mail crimes) by thinking about how to put together an emergency Joe Biden-led presidential ticket. So what if Sanders has mounted an historic campaign on progressive ideals and issues? “I think that would be a terrible, terrible idea,” Sanders has told the Young Turks, a pro-Sanders online news show. “That would say to the millions of people who have supported us, that have worked with us, that would say all of your energy, all of your votes, all of your beliefs are irrelevant.” Gee, Senator Sanders, do ya think?

Behind all this flaying around lay what Counterpunch’s Eric Draitser cleverly calls “the elephant (and donkey) in the room: both major parties are wholly owned subsidiaries of finance capital and the corporations that rule over us. This,” Draitser adds, “is the realization that millions of Americans have already made, and which millions more are making.  This is the realization that keeps Democratic and Republican apparatchiks up at night.  And this critical revelation is what Bernie, Liz [Warren] & Co [‘progressive Democrats’ pledged to support Hillary Clinton] are there to suppress.”

What is the Way to Move Forward?

The System Works for Them

The “unelected dictatorship of money’s” overall political contributions (more difficult to definitively trace in the Citizens United era) will tilt as usual toward GOP candidates this year, but not in the presidential race. Smart corporate and Wall Street operatives prefer the imperial ruling class operative they know very well – Hillary Clinton. They also love the identity-politicized drama of purported “partisan warfare” between the executive and legislative branches in Washington. The Blue-Red divide provides useful diversion, division, and the purported “democratic” cause of supposed government paralysis (presumed “gridlock”) while the One Percent continues to wield (actually effective) financial state-capitalist power for business rule as usual. The “marionette theater” is useful indeed for Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Boeing, Exxon, and Raytheon et al.

As Leibovich found on the ground in the nation’s capitalist capital, the “hopelessly polarized” system functions quite nicely for the opulent minority. Much what is perceived as “Washington’s dysfunction” — gridlock, hyper-partisanship, the failure of Republicans and Democrats “to work together”—is highly purposeful in a business-friendly way. Washington DC in the New Gilded Age has become more concerned with economics than politics, Leibovich noted, and “much of the Washington’s economy – lobbying, political consulting, and cable news – is predicated on the perpetuation of conflict, not the resolution of problems” (Two Funerals, p. 99). It is conflict that attracts viewers and readers, after all. It is conflict that keeps cash flowing into Super PACs, conflict that sells political advertisements, and conflict that creates political careers that an ever-growing army of former office-holders turn into lucrative careers in the private sector – “monetizing their government service” (p. 40) by taking lucrative positions as lobbyists, consultants and media talking heads. Leibovich reported that an astonishing 50 percent of retiring U.S. senators and 42 percent of retiring congresspersons become lobbyists.

Politics as partisan and ideological theater, it turns out, is more materially rewarding than “doing the people’s work” and serving the common good. All the partisan, outwardly “ideological” shouting over the airwaves and across the cable news spectrum is “winking performance art” meant to hide the “’reality,” that “off-air, everyone in Washington is joined in a multilateral conga line of potential business partners” (p. 99). Behind the scenes, smart Washington operatives of both parties are figuring out how to profit from “the continued and sweaty orgy raging between corporate and political enterprise” (p. 308) and the ongoing “romance between Washington and Wall Street” (p. 331). The “partisan” and “ideological” bickering that dominant media point to as the source of “Washington’s [constantly bemoaned] dysfunction” (and as proof of “big government’s” inherent failures) is all part of the big capitalist hustle. “The city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected” (p.10) by the “sweaty,” cross-party contest for gain, fame, and pleasure…for more. Constantly said to be “not working,” Washington actually works quite well for its permanent class of insiders, including an army of lobbyists and consultants granted hefty payments for coordinating the orgy behind the scenes – and the journalists who profit from the ongoing spectacle of partisan and “ideological” dysfunction.

“Voting Will Not Alter the Corporate Systems of Power”

Real progressive people’s hope has little to do with U.S. politicians and their endless rolling electoral dramas that are broadcast 24/7 across the cable news empire. Hedges said it very well four years ago, writing in the wake of his arrest along with other activists for joining an Occupy demonstration outside the headquarters of Goldman Sachs in New York City:

“Voting will not alter the corporate systems of power. Voting is an act of political theater. Voting in the United States is as futile and sterile as in the elections I covered as a reporter in dictatorships like Syria, Iran and Iraq. There were always opposition candidates offered up by these dictatorships. Give the people the illusion of choice. Throw up the pretense of debate. Let the power elite hold public celebrations to exalt the triumph of popular will. We can vote for Romney [2016 update: Trump] or Obama [2016: Hillary] but Goldman Sachs and ExxonMobil and Bank of America and the defense contractors always win. There is little difference between our electoral charade and the ones endured by the Syrians and Iranians.”

Real radical and democratic hope rests in the majority working class citizenry and the possibility that a critical mass from its ranks will join a great social and political movement against capitalism and its evil siblings imperialism, racism, sexism, and ecocide. The most urgent political task of all is to create and expand such a movement beneath and beyond the rigged, candidate-centered electoral spectacles, whatever their partisan outcomes. The quadrennial electoral extravaganza is no place to go looking for justice, much less for popular and democratic revolution. “The really critical thing,” Howard Zinn once said, “isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in–in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories.”

Elections, candidates, and parties come and go, though now the debasing major party election spectacle seems to last forever. Far more relevant to hopes for a decent future is our determination to build radical and lasting through-thick-and-thin peoples and workers power organizations both to win needed reforms and to undertake what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called near the end of his life “the real issue to be faced: the radical reconstruction of society itself.”

Neither progressive policy proposals and programs nor radical societal vision beyond capitalism are in short supply.   Leftists are commonly, even almost ritually told that they carp and complain without offering solutions. But as Chomsky wrote ten years ago, “there is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘they present solutions and I don’t like them.’” What is most missing on the Left are not policy and societal solutions but rather cohesive, resilient, long-lasting radical organization tying together the various fragmented groups and issues around which Left progressive and Leftists often fight very good struggles in the U.S. Without serious, durable, unified, and convincing Left organization, neither revolutionary vision nor reform proposals are going to go very far. This is no small matter. Given capitalism’s systemically inherent war on livable ecology – emerging now as the biggest issue of our or any time – the formation of such a new and united Left popular and institutional presence has become a matter of life and death for the species.  “The uncomfortable truth,” Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 15 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”

This year as every four years, the U.S. Left, such as it is, can be counted on tear itself up in the usual quadrennial debate about how to best respond to the narrow and stupid, plutocratic electoral choices on offer from the horrid party and elections system I discussed in the second section of this essay. We can obsess and hold our breath until we’re blue in the face about supposedly nice cops (Carter, Clinton I, Obama, Clinton II) versus bad cops (Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II, Trump) – about execution by bullet versus execution by hanging, death by heart attack vs. death by stroke – or we can stop, inhale, and dig down to do the elementary work of building “ongoing, dedicated, popular movements” with deeply rooted and durable lives and a revolutionary mission beneath and beyond the masters’ ever more endless election cycles.

An old IWW slogan ran “don’t mourn, organize.” I see nothing wrong and much good about proper mourning. We on the Left have much to mourn about what the profits system and its many intimately related evils have done to life on Earth – and about how we have failed to respond in a remotely adequate fashion. Let’s mourn and organize like never before beneath and beyond the latest quadrennial big money-major party-candidate-centered-mass-marketed shit show, whatever its outcomes.

 

Feel the Hate

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 27, 2016

any Bernie Sanders activists and supporters are understandably disgusted by the contemptuous mistreatment they and their candidate have received from the corporate-Clintonite Democratic Party and its numerous media allies. The examples of this disrespect and abuse include:

The discourteous rapid-fire inquisition that the New York Daily News editorial board conducted with Sanders and then released as an interview transcript prior to the New York Democratic presidential primary last April.

Hillary Clinton telling MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that the Daily News grilling “raise[d] a lot of questions” about Sanders’ qualification for the presidency.

Bill Clinton in New Hampshire calling Sanders and his team “hermetically sealed” purists, hypocrites, and thieves and mocking Sanders as “the champion of all things small and the enemy of all things big.”

Hillary “proving that there is nothing and no one she won’t sacrifice on the altar of her political ambition” (Mark Finkelstein) by sending her daughter Chelsea out to absurdly charge that Sanders’ single-payer health care plan would “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance.”

Former top John Kerry and Obama communications strategist David Wade using his perch at the widely read online political journal Politico to call Sanders “the zombie candidate” – a “doomed” challenger at risk of “becom[ing] Trump’s best ghost-writer for the general election” and a de facto “Nader” who will destroy his party’s nominee with “friendly fire attacks” (establishment Democrats cling to the self-serving myth Ralph Nader is to be blamed for George W. Bush’s victory over the listless corporate Democrat Al Gore in 2000)

Hillary’s prizefighter Paul Krugman viciously and absurdly likening Sanders’ common-sense and majority-backed health insurance proposal to “a standard Republican tax-cut plan” and accusing Sanders of “deep voodoo economics” and “unicorn politics.” (Krugman likes to call Sanders’ supporters “dead-enders.”)

Hillary’s good friend the blood-soaked mass murderer Madeline Albright telling female voters there was a “special place in Hell” for them if they backed Bernie.

The fake-progressive feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s curious claim that young women were voting for Sanders because “when you’re [a] young [woman], you’re thinking ‘where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”

The repeated suggestion by Hillary and her surrogates, staffers, and allies that Sanders’ moderately progressive domestic policy proposals are “impractical” and excessively idealistic – relevant only to silly young people who need to learn to trust more balanced and down-to-earth elites (people like the dollar-drenched neoliberals Bill and Hillary Clinton) who to use the standard fake-progressive Democratic Party mantra) “know how get things done” (make policy with right-wing Republicans, that is) in Washington.

The ludicrous, power-worshipping Rolling Stone publisher Jan S. Wenner (the man who took childish fake-progressive ObamaLust to frightening new heights in 2008) insultingly and inaccurately describing Sanders as just “a candidate of anger.” (“But it is not enough to be a candidate of anger. Anger is not a plan…”)

The endless stream of establishment “liberal” talking heads and pundits (with Krugman as the leader of the pack) across “mainstream” (corporate) U.S. media who have treated Sanders’ neo-New Deal agenda as a radically outlandish pipedream beyond the pale of serious discussion.

The constantly repeated claim that Sanders’ lacks Hillary’s ability to defeat Trump despite one match up poll after another showing Bernie doing substantially better than Mrs. Clinton against The Donald.

The repeated false charge that Sanders’ supporters at the Nevada state Democratic Party conventions became a raging mob of “chair-throwing” thugs on par with the worst hooligans at Donald Trump’s rallies.

Clintons’ refusal to debate Bernie in California, a clear statement that “Zombie” Sanders no longer merits the time of day as far as she and the party establishment are concerned.

It hasn’t just been about insults, put-downs, and smears. There’s also the Clinton-captive Democratic Party’s systematic and authoritarian distortion and, yes, rigging of the primary nomination process at the local, state, and national levels. There are abundant reasons to believe that Hillary has benefitted from electoral and administrative shenanigans across the (seemingly endless) primary season. The fixing process was evident in Las Vegas recently, when the Nevada Democratic Party chair “shut down debate behind a screen of uniformed police” after the party excluded 58 Sanders delegates with sudden “rules changes” clearly made to block Sanders’ rightful claim to have won Nevada. No wonder a Sanders delegate grabbed a chair and thought about tossing it.

How openly perverse a mockery of democracy is it that a significant portion of Hillary’s convention delegate lead over Sanders – enough to give her the nomination without a contest on the convention floor – derives from the 525 explicitly unelected and so-called superdelegates pledged to her before Sanders even declared his candidacy?

Adding more insult to insult and injury, Hillary plays the timeworn elite Democratic game of fake-progressive and pseudo-populist posing, trying to steal Sanders’ rhetorical thunder on her left while smilingly knifing him in the back.

The Hate Goes Back

Bernie supporters are right to be upset by the malicious and dirty ways that their candidate, and his campaign have been treated by the Clintons and others atop the dismal dollar-drenched and deeply conservative Democratic Party – and by the Clintons’ many friends in the dominant U.S. corporate and commercial media. At the same time, younger Sanders supporters above all need to understand that this is nothing new. It’s all just the latest reflection of the bottomless hatred that deeply conservative establishment and neoliberal Democrats have long had for left-leaning, “very liberal” (the pollsters’ term), and progressive/social-democratic Democrats. The atrocious and explicitly anti-democratic “superdelegates” were created by party elites precisely to prevent someone like Sanders – an actual progressive Democrat – from getting the party’s presidential nomination. It was an authoritarian party response to the left-leaning and antiwar George McGovern presidential campaign of 1972.

Democratic National Committee operatives and funders have long and regularly worked to marginalize progressive and seriously antiwar candidates in the party’s primaries. Doing that was one of Congressman and future Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel’s top jobs in 2006.

Two years earlier, conservative Democratic Party operatives forbade the open expression of anti-Iraq War sentiment on the part of delegates to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where John “Reporting for Duty” Kerry pledged to conduct the criminal occupation of Mesopotamia more effectively than George W. Bush. Prior to the convention, Kerry gave a nice raised middle figure to progressives in his party by announcing at a New York City fundraiser that “I am not a redistribution Democrat.”

One of Emmanuel’s jobs as Obama’s top assistant was to occasionally attend regular Tuesday night gatherings of Washington’s “progressive [liberal] movement” leaders. Big Brother Rhambo would scream and curse at the labor, environmentalist, human rights, and civil rights chieftains who dared to target conservative Congressional Democrats. “Anyone who went after Democrats,” Emmanuel said, was “fucking stupid.”

Hurting the People Who Voted Them In: Obama and the First Two Clinton Terms

When tens of thousands of progressive Democrats and others swarmed to protest the arch-Republican Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation in late February and early March of 2011, the mainstream Democrat Barack Obama did not deign to issue one word of support for their cause. Wisconsin’s Democratic Party leadership dismantled the protest movement and channeled its energies into a doomed campaign to recall Walker and replace him with a lame business Democrat (the listless Tommy Barret) who Walker had already trounced two years earlier.

Plenty of progressive Democrats joined actual anti-capitalists (like myself) and others in the many hundreds of Occupy Wall Street camps that were shut down with police state force by local Democratic Party-run governments across with the country. The repression was conducted with assistance from Obama’s Department of Homeland of Security, working in tandem with the nation’s leading financial institutions in the fall and early winter of 2011. As Naomi Wolff noted in The Guardian one year later, citing documents discovered by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, “the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves – was coordinated with the big banks themselves.”

Speaking of Obama and the financial elite, Obama held an interesting gathering with some of his rich friends at an event called The Wall Street Journal CEO Council a year after using Occupy’s rhetoric (among other things) to trounce Mitt “Mr. 1%” Romney. “When you go to other countries,” Obama said, “the political divisions are so much more stark and wider. Here in America, the difference between Democrats and Republicans–we’re fighting inside the 40-yard lines…People call me a socialist sometimes. But no, you’ve got to meet real socialists. (Laughter.)…I’m talking about lowering the corporate tax rate. My health care reform is based on the private marketplace.”

That was (among other things) yet another raised corporate Democratic middle finger aimed at progressive Democrats and everyone to their left. Now Obama hopes to cap his fake-progressive presidency and seal his “legacy” by securing post-election lame duck Congressional passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promises to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad.

Obama’s time in the White House office has been a big wet kiss to the super-rich and powerful (whose wealth has concentrated yet further under his presidency) combined with a raised middle finger pointed in the direction of the party’s progressives and the nation’s working class majority. As the investigative researcher Eric Zuesse noted last summer, “Under Presidents G.W. Bush and Barack Obama, economic inequality in America has been more extreme, for more years, than under any Presidents in all of the previous U.S. history. But, at least, Bush didn’t pretend to care about it. Obama does. He pretended to a concern for justice which he never really had; he was always merely faking liberalism.”

Faking liberalism while serving the wealthy few was also a defining aspect of Bill and Hillary’s first two terms as co-presidents. During their first eight years atop the executive branch, the Clintons advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath faux-progressive cover in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Bill Clinton collaborated with the right wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans.

Mr. Clinton earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. He knew the score from day one of his presidency. As the famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward noted in his 1994 book The Agenda, Clinton said the following just weeks after winning the 1992 election: “we’re Eisenhower Republicans here…. We stand for lower deficits, free trade, and the bond market. Isn’t that great?” Clinton added that his post-election policy direction would “help the bond market” and “hurt the people who voted us in.”

The Clintons certainly do know how to get things done.

Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)

“David, tell me something interesting.” That was then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s weary and exasperated response – as head of the White House’s health reform initiative – to Harvard medical professor David Himmelstein in 1993. Himmelstein was head of Physicians for a National Health Program.  He had just told her about the remarkable possibilities of a comprehensive, single-payer “Canadian style” health plan, supported by more than two-thirds of the U.S. public.  Beyond backing by a citizen super-majority, Himmelstein noted, single-payer would provide comprehensive coverage to the nation’s 40 million uninsured while retaining free choice in doctor selection and being certified by the Congressional Budget Office as “the most cost-effective plan on offer.”

Anti-Progressive Neoliberal Trailblazers

There was no dishonesty in Hillary’s dismissive remark. Consistent with her neoliberal DLC world view, she really was bored and irritated by Himmelstein’s pitch. What the First Lady advanced instead of the Canadian system that bored her was a hopelessly complex and secretly developed system called “managed competition.” (It would be left to Obama to get fake-progressive, corporate- and “market”-friendly health insurance reform done.)

The contempt that Hillary shares with Bill, Rahm, and countless other top corporate Democrats for progressives in “their” party’s ranks should not be underestimated. In 1964, when Mrs. Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a telling reflection. The First Lady acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in the anti-progressive conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.” This was the language of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) – the right-wing Eisenhower Republican (at leftmost) tendency that worked to push the Democratic Party further to the Big Business-friendly right and away from its progressive base. Bill and Hillary helped trail-blaze that plutocratic “New Democrat” turn in Arkansas during the late 1970s and 1980.

Hillary can pretend to be against the TPP for vote-getting (and progressive Democrat-pleasing) purposes in the primary season. Top corporate lobbyists know that this is just populism-manipulating politics as usual and that she can be counted on to advance the “free trade” agenda once she gets back into the White House. As Secretary of State (2009-2013), Hillary repeatedly voiced strong support of the TPP. In Australia in November of 2012, she said that “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements for open free, transparent, [and]fair trade…” She has already suggested that she will put the arch-neoliberal Goldman Sachs Democrat Bill Clinton in charge of White House economic policy once she returns.

Clintonite Calculations

Why are the Hillary campaign and its allies in the DNC so arrogantly disrespectful towards Sanders and his followers, even as the Senator from Vermont continues to rack up primary victories and come in with more than 40 percent of the vote? Don’t they worry that their contempt will make it more difficult for them to garner votes from Bernie’s millions of followers in the general election? (By some polling estimates, close to a third of Bernie’s backers won’t vote for her). “Unless Clinton is able to convince a large proportion of Sanders supporters to vote for her,” a progressive Democrat writes in the liberal weekly The Nation, “she’s unlikely to win in November.”

The Clintonites are calculating, I think, that identity politics and Trump’s related high negatives will hold the day. They expect The Donald to be so toxic to female, nonwhite, and immigrant voters as to make his victory impossible. They are banking also on lots of crossover votes and funding from Republicans who can’t stand Trump. They are counting on enough Bernie supporters acting in accord with Sanders’ advance promise to deliver his voters to the party’s eventual nominee (Hillary) in the name of blocking the horrible Republican Party (recently described by Noam Chomsky as possibly “the most dangerous organization in human history”) – a promise they expect Sanders to deliver on soon and during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this summer. And they expect the ugliness they’ve spewed at Sanders and his supporters and the related hostility that many progressive Democrats feel for the Clintons and the DNC to slip down Orwell’s memory hole once the quadrennial extravaganza boils down to either Hillary or Donald (two of the most widely disliked people in the nation and on Earth).

Don’t Forget the Hate – and Return It

But don’t forget the hate – the sheer unmitigated contempt that elite corporate Democrats from the Clintons on down feel for progressives in the ranks of “their” party, and indeed for anyone who challenges their superior wisdom and right to rule. As Ron Fournier noted in The Atlantic last February, “there has always been a [dark] side of the Clintons. They can’t fathom why anybody would challenge their motives, doubt their veracity, or criticize their policies. The Clintons’ self-conceptions are yoked to their sense of public service and joint commitment to making lives better—and they believe their ends justify their means…If you’re not for them, you’re not just an opponent—you’re beneath contempt.”

(Making lives better? As the economist Robert Pollin noted in the progressive Democratic journal The Nation earlier this year: “Clintonomics was a disaster for most Americans…Under Bill Clinton, Wall Street created a ruinous bubble, while workers lost wages and power… Bill Clinton’s presidency accomplished almost nothing to improve conditions for working people and the poor on a sustained basis. Gestures to the poor and working class were slight and back-handed, while wages for the majority remained below their level of a generation prior. Wealth at the top exploded with the Wall Street bubble. But the stratospheric rise in stock prices and the debt-financed consumption and investment booms produced a mortgaged legacy. The financial unraveling began even as Clinton was basking in praise for his economic stewardship.”)

I sensed the hate – and left the Democratic Party – decades ago. I wouldn’t vote for a “right-wing fanatic” (Arun Gupta) like Hillary Clinton – an arch-imperial war-mongering enemy of workers and friend of Wall Street – for less than $ 225,000 (the price of just one of Hillary’s Goldman Sachs speeches in 2013), four-fifths of which I would give away to radical working class and environmentalist activists. Personally, I recommend that young Sanders supporters return the contempt and refuse to act on Sanders’ forthcoming call for them to play the game of Lesser Evils. That toxic, viciously circular, and self-fulfilling game is part of how to we got in current big tangle of a situation wherein the top 1 percent owns more than 90 percent of the nation’s wealth along with most of government and the media while their soulless and cancerous profits system (capitalism) pushes humans and other living things over the edge of economic, military, authoritarian, racist, sexist and (last but not least) ecological catastrophe. “If voting changed anything,” the great American anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “they’d make it illegal.”

That said, there’s nothing wrong with lodging a Left protest vote, without electoral illusion, beyond the Democrats and Republicans, once aptly described by Upton Sinclair as “two wings of the same bird of prey.” Walk into that “coffin of class consciousness” (Alan Dawley) called the American voting booth and vote as if it might give life, not death (it would take a major and overdue Constitutional overhaul for that to happen) if you want. Be my guest. It takes all of two minutes. Then walk back out and turn to the real and more urgent politics of radical grassroots movement-building and revolutionary disruption. That’s every day work. One thing is clear: we will not vote ourselves out of this mess. You can take that to the bank.

Hillary Clinton’s Neocon Resumé

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 20, 2016

Liberal Democratic Hillary Clinton supporters get defensive when they hear that Mrs. Clinton is favored over Donald Trump by right-wing billionaires like Charles Koch and (with much more enthusiasm) by leading arch-imperial foreign policy Neoconservatives like Robert Kagan, Max Boot, and Eliot Cohen. But an honest look at Hillary’s record should make the support she is getting from such noxious, arch-authoritarian “elites” less than surprising.

My last essay reflected on Hillary’s deeply conservative, neoliberal, and pro-Big Business career in domestic U.S. politics and policy. This article turns to her foreign policy history, showing why it makes perfect sense that top imperial Neocons prefer Hillary over the at least outwardly “isolationist” and at anti-interventionist Trump.

Madeleine Albright

The first entry on Hillary’s Neocon foreign policy résumé is Madeleine Albright. As First Lady, Hillary successfully lobbied her husband Bill to appoint Albright – a right-wing Russia-hating Czech emigre dedicated to the provocative, ever-eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – as Secretary of State (the nation’s top diplomat of all things) in 1997. Albright had already achieved notoriety as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in May of 1996 by telling CBS News reporter Leslie Stahl that the death of half a million Iraqi children due to U.S.-led “economic sanctions” was “a price worth paying” for the advance of U.S. goals in the Middle East. Ms. Albright’s “greatest diplomatic success was to obstruct diplomacy” (Diana Johnstone) – diplomacy that might have prevented the unnecessary and criminal U.S.-led NATO bombing of Serbia in the spring and summer of 1999. Even the legendarily blood-soaked U.S.-imperial strategist Henry Kissinger (a good friend and backer of Hillary) was taken aback by Albright’s determination to concoct an “excuse to start bombing.”

Serbia

Another line on Hillary’s Neocon résumé is Serbia. She urged an initially reluctant Bill Clinton to launch what became a two-and-a-half month bombing campaign that killed many thousands of Serb civilians. In urging this carnage on the president, she used the false claim that lethal military force was required to stop Hitler-like “genocide” in Yugoslavia.

This would become a leading Hillary war theme: the disingenuous and cynical assertion that foreign governments had to be targeted and overthrown by the world’s only military superpower and its top European allies (claiming together to represent “the international community”) so as to protect innocents against modern-day Holocausts (like the one the Clinton administration unmentionably aided and abetted in Rwanda in 1994). It was a first and successful run for the thoroughly disingenuous Western principle of “R2P: Responsibility to Protect.”

The Clintons’ assault on Serbia helped create the corrupt and criminal state of Kosovo, where a massive U.S. military base stands guard over a nation that leads the world in the murderous harvesting of human organs.

Iraq

A third entry is Hillary’s vote as a U.S. Senator in October of 2002 on behalf of a Congressional measure authorizing the Neocon-stocked George W. Bush administration to criminally and mass-murderously invade Iraq on criminally false pretexts. Mrs. Clinton did not admit that she’d “gotten it wrong” on Iraq until 2014 (in her tedious memoir Hard Choices). The Clintons, it should be remembered, were on board with Republican Necocons calling for Saddam Hussein’s removal from power by the late 1990s, prior to the 9/11 attacks that Hillary helped Bush criminally connect to Iraq.

Honduras

A fourth line on Hillary’s Neocon résumé is Honduras. With her appointment as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State (of all things), Hilary’s first test on the foreign policy meaning of “change” came in late June of 2009. That’s when a right-wing business and military coup overthrew Honduras’s democratically elected and populist, Hugo Chavez-admiring President Manuel Zelaya. “It is easy,” the veteran left journalist and author Diana Johnstone notes, “to see what real change would have meant. The U.S. could have vigorously condemned the coup and demanded that the legitimate President be reinstated. Considering U.S. influence in Honduras, especially its powerful military bases there, U.S. ‘resolve’ would have given teeth to anti-coup protests…”

Instead, Secretary Clinton played along with the coup regime’s bogus claims that Zelaya had been trying to establish a dictatorship and that Hondurans had after the coup experienced “free and fair elections” that restored “democratic and constitutional government” in Honduras. The nation has been mired in corruption, poverty, misery, repression, and extreme inequality ever since.

Libya

A fifth line is the destruction of Libya in the spring of 2011. As with Serbia and Iraq, the United States targeted a self-designated “dictator” for regime change, spreading false flag propaganda about his supposed plans to “kill his own people” with air attacks and foreign mercenaries.  The removal of Momar Gadaffi – “a hero to black Africa” (Johnstone) because of his efforts to create a progressive pan-African Union and his decent treatment of Black Libyans – through U.S.-led Western force turned Libya into a jihadist nightmare zone. It discredited “R2P” across most of the world (though not in the heavily indoctrinated U.S.).

Syria

Hillary stood in the vanguard of the Obama administration’s R2P Libya policy. The same is true for the disastrous U.S.-led destabilization of Syria, which fueled a civil war that has killed more than 350,000 people while helping create the barbaric Islamic State. Bleeding Syria (whose jihadists received weapons illegally transferred by the CIA through Libya with the criminal assistance of Secretary Clinton) is the sixth line on Hillary’s Neocon résumé.

Russia and Ukraine

A seventh line is Russia. Mrs. Clinton has consistently sought to demonize and isolate Moscow, absurdly blaming the bloody Ukraine crisis on “Putin’s imperialism” and endlessly justifying Washington’s relentless provocation of Russia. Hillary’s close ally Victoria Nuland (a top member of Hillary’ State Department team) is Obama’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and is married to the top imperial Neocon Robert Kagan.

Nuland played a central role in engineering a bloody right-wing coup that installed an anti-Russian and significantly fascist, neo-Nazi regime (in the name of “democracy”) in Kiev in early 2014. The coup reflected longstanding, Clinton-led U.S. efforts to absorb Russia’s immediate western neighbor into the NATO orbit. The leading Russian historian Stephen Cohen explained the development of the broader U.S. policy behind the Ukraine coup during a talk organized last year by the American Committee for East West Accord: “This [Ukraine] problem began in the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration adopted a winner-take-all policy toward post-Soviet Russia … Russia gives, we take. … This policy was adopted by the Clinton Administration but is pursued by every [major U.S.] political party [all two of them – P.S.], every President, every American Congress, since President Clinton, to President Obama. This meant that the United States was entitled to a sphere or zone of influence as large as it wished, right up to Russia’s borders, and Russia was entitled to no sphere of influence, at all, not even in Georgia… or in Ukraine (with which Russia had been intermarried for centuries).”

It’s not for nothing that the top right wing Ukrainian oligarchs like Victor Pinchuk have contributed many millions of dollars (more than any other nation or national elite) to the global Clinton Foundation – a so-called charity that advances the global neoliberal agenda (including the European integration of the resource-rich Ukraine) of the U.S. ruling class. Several “training” graduates of the Global Clinton Initiative (a wing of the Clinton Foundation) currently sit in the right-wing Ukrainian Parliament.

Hillary’s aggressive New Cold War-mongering contempt for Putin and Russia poses a significant threat of global nuclear war if and when she ascends to the White House.

Israel

An eighth line is Hillary’s chilling speech at the annual convention of the super-powerful Zionist lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) last March. In her address, Mrs. Clinton condemned Palestinian terrorism without making any reference to the vicious and arch-criminal poverty, displacement, apartheid, mass murder, and repression that racist Israel imposes on its Palestinian subjects. She promised to invite Israel’s blood-drenched Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the White House (a swipe at Obama’s testy relationship with Netanyahu) and slanderously accused what she called “the alarming boycott, divestment and sanctions movement known as BDS” (the anti-apartheid/anti-racist boycott Israel movement) of “antisemitism.”

Such ugly embrace of Israel and dismissal of Palestinian concerns is a longstanding and key part of the Neocon playbook. It’s nothing new for Hillary, who published a position paper in 2007 arguing that Israel’s right to exist as a “Jewish state” with “an undivided Jerusalem as its capital…must never be questioned.”

Numerous liberals, progressives, and leftists are understandably perturbed by the violence, racism, white nationalism, nativism, and misogyny that exudes from the rhetoric and persona of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. But when it comes to the actual infliction of real violence primarily against non-white people (with all due respect for Serbian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians targeted by Hillary’s allies and agents) and including many women, Hillary has The (longstanding “private citizen”) Donald trumped, of course.

Another irony deserves mention: the streams of refugees and migrants that Trumps wants to build giant nationalist walls against are fed in no small part by the chaos Hillary has done so much to help the U.S. Empire generate in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

Your Input

None of which is to deny that a climate change-denying, white nationalist and nativist Trump presidency would be certain to inflict significant murder and mayhem at home and abroad.

You get your once-every-four-years “input” next November with a choice between two of the most widely and justly loathed people in the nation and world, my fellow Americans. Ain’t U.S. “democracy” grand?

I’ll be sending a contribution to the Green Party’s Jill Stein and voting for a Marxist this year (or the other way around), and I live in a contested state. Is this going to help the “fascist” Trump? I very much doubt it. As the incisive anti-capitalist and feminist Barbara MacLean recently explained on CounterPunch:

“Another argument I get from people is that if I don’t vote for Hillary we’ll end up with Trump. I don’t believe that will happen. It’s not in the best interest of the capitalists to crown a candidate who says that he wants to bring the jobs home and that he will build a wall to keep out the Mexicans who he has labeled rapists and murderers. After all, who will work the miserable jobs nobody else wants to work, picking fruit, cleaning toilets, doing hard labor off the books? And how can capitalists keep their profits high if they don’t set up their business in countries where they can pay people slave wages? No – not to worry – the capitalists will not let that happen…Socialist feminists know that we do not live in a true democracy and feminism only has a chance during and after the overthrow of capitalism. It doesn’t matter what color or gender the capitalists are.”

Hillary and the Corporate Elite

20/06/16 0 COMMENTS

Counterpunch, May 17, 2016

“Mainstream” U.S. media is struck by the “strange bedfellows” phenomenon whereby a number of right wing foreign policy neoconservatives and top business elites – including at least one of the notorious hard right-wing Koch brothers – are lining up with Democrat Hillary Clinton against the Republican Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential race. But what’s so strange about it? Trump is off the elite capitalist and imperial leash. He channels some nasty things that have long been part of the Republican Party playbook: frustrated white nationalism, racism, nativism, and male chauvinism.

At the same time, however, he often sounds remarkably populist in ways that white working class voters appreciate. He has been critical of things that elite Republicans (and elite corporate Democrats) hold dear, including corporate globalization, “free trade’ (investor rights) deals, global capital mobility, cheap labor immigration. He questions imperialist adventures like the invasion of Iraq, the bombing of Libya, the destabilization of Syria, and the provocation of Russia. He’s a largely self-funded lone wolf and wild card who cannot be counted to reliably make policy in accord with the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire. And he’s seizing the nomination of a political organization that may have ceased to be a functioning national political party.

Things are different with Hillary. She’s a tried and true operative on behalf of both the nation’s capitalist and imperialist ruling class who sits atop the United States’ only remaining fully effective national and major party – the Democrats. She’s a deeply conservative right-winger on both the domestic and the foreign policy fronts, consistent with the rightward drift of the Democratic Party (and the entire U.S. party system) – a drift that she and her husband helped trail-blaze back in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 1964, when Mrs. Clinton was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a telling reflection. The First Lady acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in conservatism of her family of origin. Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.” She spoke the language not of a liberal Democrat but of a moderate Republican in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon.

The language was a perfect match for Hillary and Bill Clinton’s politico-ideological history and trajectory. After graduating from the venerable ruling class training ground Yale Law School, the Clintons went to Bill’s home state of Arkansas. There they helped “lay…the groundwork for what would eventually hit the national stage as the New Democrat movement, which took institutional form as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC)” (Doug Henwood). The essence of the DLC was dismal, dollar-drenched “neoliberal” abandonment of the Democratic Party’s last lingering commitments to labor unions, social justice, civil rights, racial equality, the poor, and environmental protection and abject service to the “competitive” bottom-line concerns of Big Business.

The Clintons helped launch the New (neoliberal corporatist) Democrat juggernaut by assaulting Arkansas’ teacher unions (Hillary led the attack) and refusing to back the repeal of the state’s anti-union “right to work” law – this while Hillary began working for the Rose Law firm, which “represented the moneyed interests of Arkansas” (Henwood). When the Arkansas-based community-organizing group ACORN passed a ballot measure lowering electrical rates residential users and raising them for commercial businesses in Little Rock, Rose deployed Hillary to shoot down the new rate schedule as an unconstitutional “taking of property.” Hillary joined the board of directors at the low wage retail giant Wal-Mart.

During the Clintons’ time in the White House, Bill advanced the neoliberal agenda beneath fake-progressive cover, in ways that no Republican president could have pulled off. Channeling Ronald Reagan by declaring that “the era of big government is over,” Clinton collaborated with the right wing Congress of his time to end poor families’ entitlement to basic minimal family cash assistance. Hillary backed this vicious welfare “reform” (elimination), which has proved disastrous for millions of disadvantaged Americans. Mr. Clinton earned the gratitude of Wall Street and corporate America by passing the arch-global-corporatist North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act (which had mandated a necessary separation between commercial deposit and investment banking), and by de-regulating the burgeoning super-risky and high-stakes financial derivatives sector. Hillary took the lead role in the White House’s efforts to pass a corporate-friendly version of “health reform.” Along with the big insurance companies the Clintons deceptively railed against, the “co-presidents” decided from the start to exclude the popular health care alternative – single payer – from the national health care “discussion.” (Barack Obama would do the same thing in 2009.)

The Clinton White House’s hostility to “big government” did not extend to the United States’ giant and globally unmatched mass incarceration state or to its vast global military empire. Clinton’s 1994 crime bill helped expand the chilling expansion of the nation’s mostly Black and Latino prison population. Clinton kept the nation’s “defense” (Empire) budget (a giant welfare program for high-tech military corporations) at Cold War levels despite the disappearance of the United States’ Cold War rival the Soviet Union.

Mrs. Clinton’s service to the rich and powerful has continued into the current millennium. As a U.S. Senator, she did the bidding of the financial industry by voting for a bill designed to make it more difficult for consumers to use bankruptcy laws to get out from crushing debt. As Secretary of State (2009-2012), she repeatedly voiced strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a secretive, richly corporatist 12-nation Pacific “free trade” (investor rights) agreement that promises to badly undermine wages, job security, environmental protections, and popular governance at home and abroad. In Australia in November of 2012, she said that “TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements for open free, transparent, [and]fair trade…”

Bernie Sanders supporters like to claim that they’ve been moving the eventual Democratic nominee Hillary “to the left.” But nobody actually moves a dyed-in-the wool Goldman Sachs-neoliberal-top-of-the Ivy League-Council of Foreign Relations Eisenhower Democrat like Hillary or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to the left. All that might shift somewhat to the portside is such politicians’ purposively deceptive campaign rhetoric. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce knows this very well. A top Chamber lobbyist calmly observed last January that Mrs. Clinton will be on board with the unpopular TPP after the 2016 election. The Chamber understands that she has no choice right now but to pose as an opponent of the measure as part of her unavoidable election year job of impersonating someone who cares about the working class majority.

Nobody grasps the Machiavellian nature of her campaign rhetoric better than Hillary’s Wall Street funders. A report in the widely read insider online Washington political journal Politico last year was titled “Hillary’s Wall Street Backers: ‘We Get It.’” As Politico explained, “Populist rhetoric, many [of those backers] say, is good politics – but doesn’t portend an assault on the rich…It’s ‘just politics,’ said one major Democratic donor on Wall Street…many of the financial-sector donors supporting her …say they’ve been expecting [such rhetoric] all along.” One Democrat at a top Wall Street firm even told Politico that Hillary’s politically unavoidable populist rhetoric “is a Rorschach test for how politically sophisticated [rich] people are…If someone is upset by this it’s because they have no idea how populist the mood of the country still is.”

It’s nothing new. In his bitter and acerbic book on and against the Clintons, No One Left to Lie To (2000), the still left Christopher Hitchens usefully described “the essence of American politics” as “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” It’s a story that goes back as far as the 1820s but nobody has perfected the game more insidiously and effectively in the neoliberal era than the Clinton machine.

Partisan liberal Democrats don’t like to hear it, but, there’s nothing all that surprising about the Koch brothers turning to Hillary over Trump. It’s not at all difficult to believe that Bill Clinton will succeed in his recently reported efforts to court support from other Republican billionaires. It’s not at all surprising that Wall Street and corporate America prefer the good friend they know.

In a subsequent essay, I will show why there’s nothing all that strange or surprising about the support Hillary is getting from foreign policy neoconservatives.

This essay originally appeared on teleSur English.

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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