US voters in Britain feel the Bern

February 29, 2016 at 3:48 pm (Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, internationalism, London, posted by JD, reformism, United States)

This article first appeared in the Morning Star:

With Super Tuesday tomorrow, ERIC LEE examines Sanders’ prospects with expat Democrats


TUESDAY March 1 is known as “Super Tuesday” in the US Presidential election, because it’s the first day in the long season of primaries and caucuses on which more than one state gets to vote.

Until now, each individual state had its moment in the sun. Hundreds of reporters from all over the world filled every hotel and guest house in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But on Super Tuesday voters in a dozen states get to choose between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. And Republican voters get to choose between Donald Trump and several other contenders, most of them equally odious.

Some of those states could be easy wins for Sanders, including his home state of Vermont. But others are seen as fairly solid for Clinton, especially some of the Southern states.

What the mainstream media has largely ignored is the 13th state holding a primary that day.

I’m referring to Democrats Abroad, the official Democratic Party group that represents some six million US voters who live overseas. Those voters get to choose 13 delegates who will go to the Democratic National Convention in July in Philadelphia. Any US citizen can show up at voting centres around the world, produce their passport and vote. In Britain there will be such centres in London, Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and St Andrews. Voting takes place over the course of a week, and there are also options for absentee ballots, including post and email.

The last time there was a contested election inside the Democratic Party, the upstart candidacy of Barack Obama did exceptionally well, beating Clinton two-to-one in the Democrats Abroad global primary.

This year, Clinton stands to lose as well. Sanders is the most likely winner of the global primary. Let me explain why.

Hillary Clinton has a formidable political machine behind her. She’s been able to raise tens of millions of dollars from wealthy backers, including from US citizens living abroad. Her campaign held fundraising events in places like Singapore and Shanghai. In London the Clinton campaign has largely consisted of just such fundraising events. At an upcoming event in London, one can meet Chelsea Clinton — Hillary and Bill’s daughter — for just $500. For another $500, one can be photographed with her.

But there is no evidence of a Clinton campaign on the ground — for example, among the thousands of US students studying in Britain.

The Sanders campaign in London and elsewhere is entirely different. The closest thing to a fundraising event has been the production and sale of some “London for Bernie” T-shirts. There have been several well-attended public meetings, including a launch event in the House of Commons, hosted by a Labour MP, in November, and a more recent event held in union Unite’s headquarters. Both of those events were addressed by Bernie Sanders’s older brother, Larry, who has lived in Britain since the 1960s. The Sanders campaign team, including a very enthusiastic group of students, meets weekly, and has conducted extensive canvassing in the streets of London. It also has a strong online presence on Facebook and the web.

So we can expect the Sanders campaign to win simply because it is better geared up for an election, but there are other reasons as well.

US citizens living abroad are far more likely to be Democrats than Republicans (the Republicans don’t bother to hold a global primary). And among the Democrats, they tend to be on the left wing of the party.

US voters living in Britain, for example, are likely to understand the advantages of single-payer health care based on their experiences with the NHS. In Europe and elsewhere, where public universities are tuition-free, Bernie Sanders’s advocacy of such policies doesn’t come across as particularly radical.

And even Sanders’s embrace of the words “democratic socialist,” which are thought to be a liability among some US voters, are far less likely to scare off US citizens who have lived in countries with large, well-organised labour and social democratic parties.

For those reasons and more, and regardless of what happens in states like Arkansas and Alabama on Super Tuesday, Sanders supporters in Britain are confident that he will win the majority of delegates — but only if people turn out to vote. In conversations with US citizens, including students, it turns out that the vast majority are unaware of the global primary. For that reason, the entire effort of the campaign in the next week or two is devoted to raising awareness and boosting voter turnout.

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Bernie Sanders and the Dilemma of the Democratic “Party”

February 13, 2016 at 4:26 pm (class, Democratic Party, elections, posted by JD, socialism, United States)

By Jason Schulman (first published at New Politics):

Some months ago I responded to a piece that appeared on the New Politics blog by my longtime fellow NP editorial board member and friend Barry Finger.1 In my own blog, I argued that Barry had a better, more sophisticated understanding of the peculiarities of the Democratic Party and the U.S. electoral system than do many on the radical left who refuse to support any Democratic candidate regardless of that candidate’s personal political platform. However, I also made clear that I believed that Barry still suffered from certain misunderstandings regarding just how different American political parties are from parties that exist anywhere else in the world, and this meant there were defects in his suggestions as to how left-wing socialists should relate to the Sanders campaign. Other defects still characterize the arguments of those who claim that to support Sanders, however critically, is to support a candidate of a party of capital. While invoking my debate with Barry, I’ll touch upon those other arguments and their problems and explain why I think that critical support for the Sanders campaign is a necessity if we’re to build a much larger socialist movement and how the campaign may lay the basis for an independent party of the left.

The Non-Party Party

Barry writes:

The totality with which socialists have traditionally viewed the Democratic Party has been this. The agenda of the Democratic Party is determined by its corporate financiers. It is they who keep the party competitive, who write and prioritize legislation and it is they who provide lucrative post-electoral revolving door employment opportunities for faithful party standard bearers. The two parties provide a full spectrum career subculture, designed to incentivize, entice and indoctrinate candidates and office holders to ruling class perspectives. Its base, organized as voting blocks, has no membership privileges.

Indeed, the two parties are not private, voluntary organizations sustained by membership fees, but political utilities of the ruling class, which, like other public utilities, are internally regulated by the state and protected from outside competition by upstart third parties through a dense network of legal encumbrances to market entry. Because the Democratic Party is sustained and disciplined by the mobilization of outside capitalist wealth, the voting blocks aligned to the Democrats cannot compete for influence on this terrain. Their power is limited primarily to the threat of abstention from electoral participation.2

Much of this is true. Regardless of their origins, today the Democratic Party and Republican Party are not real, “European-style” political parties. They ceased to be so over the course of the twentieth century. The political machines with their party bosses that used to control who could run for office on which party label—particularly in the Democratic Party—are overwhelmingly a thing of the past. In the words of former NP editorial board member Arthur Lipow,

Only in America is it true that direct membership participation in the parties does not exist except in the sense that individuals register their party preference with an official agency of the state or are habitual voters for one or another party. The parties themselves and the choice of candidates are strictly regulated by law in the states in which the individual parties exist. … As a party, control over its own candidates is virtually non-existent.3

That is to say, both the Republicans and Democrats (and any “third” parties on the ballot in any state) exist as state-run ballot lines, not private voluntary associations that can control their own memberships or who runs on their ballots.

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Barry and others have some understanding of this. But where their analysis goes awry is the conclusion that if you are running on the Democratic Party ballot line, you yourself are necessarily being “sustained and disciplined by the mobilization of outside capitalist wealth.” Were this true, it’s unlikely that Bernie Sanders—with his rather radical platform and his steadfast refusal to take any money from “the billionaire class” to fund his campaign—would be able to run for president in the Democratic presidential primary in the first place. Michael Hirsch, another NP editorial board member, was not wrong to write, “The Democratic Party is barely a party; it’s a series of shifting coalitions in 50 state organizations and some 3,000 U.S. counties. In many states, the center-right controls it. In city and county politics, real estate and banking interests dominate the local councils. But that doesn’t make it a corporate party.”4 Why not? Because its leaders at either the national or local level have no control over who runs on the Democratic Party ballot line. Each candidate runs on their own specific political platform (the official Democratic Party platform is an irrelevancy that no one reads). And party leaders find it all but impossible to ensure that all elected Democrats will vote in legislatures the way that they’re “supposed to.” Hence, different Democrats will vote in different ways—with no fear that they’ll be kicked out of the Democratic Party for disloyalty. There exists no legal basis by which they can be kicked out, unlike in parliamentary systems with real, private-association political parties. Dissidents can get kicked out of Democratic Party or Republican Party clubs, of course—but as those have no real power over what the elected officials do, they don’t really count.

Obviously, those Democrats who do rely on “outside capitalist wealth” have an advantage over those who do not—just as in our single-member-district, winner-take-all electoral system, those who run for office as Democrats or Republicans have an advantage over those who do not. (In nonpartisan races this advantage is greatly diminished; this helps to explain why an open socialist like Kshama Sawant, taking no corporate cash and winning support from local unions, was able to win a seat on the Seattle City Council.) And it is true, unfortunately, that at the national level even the most left-wing Democrats do take some corporate political action committee (PAC) money. For example, a cursory glance at opensecrets.org reveals that the top three contributors to Rep. Keith Ellison for 2013-2014 were TCF Financial, General Mills, and Masimo Corp.; for Rep. John Conyers, DISH Network, Avenue Ventures, and Sony; for Rep. Barbara Lee, a union, the IBEW, but also the San Francisco Regional Center and Gallo Winery.

Of course, proportionally Ellison, Conyers, Lee, and other progressive Democrats take more PAC cash from labor than from capital. But why do these elected officials accept corporate PAC money at all? It’s not because as Democrats they’re required to do so, but because of the horrendous U.S. campaign finance system. If one hopes to win a major House (let alone Senate) race against an opponent with much more money to spend, and who gets 95 percent of his or her funding from business PACs, then it’s almost inevitable (except in Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, it seems) that one will take some amount of corporate PAC money—albeit much less than the truly pro-business candidate. Further, the bulk of business PAC contributions will come from those who are ultimately unable to press the leftmost Democrats to vote the wrong way on important legislation. Money may buy access but not always influence in regards to votes. This is what explains why the leftmost Democrats are able to vote the right way most of the time. (On Israel/Palestine, matters are often different—but Sanders himself, as many of his leftist critics have noted, is also rather imperfect on this issue.) As long as the current rotten system of private financing continues—and as long as the labor movement remains a shadow of its former self—one will find few progressive politicians, at least at the national level, who take no money at all from corporate PACs. Will those campaign contributions that one needs to win be a heavy influence on one’s voting record? The evidence suggests that if one has a diversified contribution base and receives one-third or more of one’s money from labor and progressive ideological groups, then one will most likely be able to vote from the left without serious problems. (It’s worth noting that business PACs are incredibly dispersed, as no PAC can give more than $10,000 to any one candidate.)

Given these circumstances—parties that are not really parties and an oligarchical system of campaign financing—I do not consider supporting the leftmost Democrats to be a betrayal of class-struggle politics, or to be the equivalent of supporting (say) the Canadian Liberals. There are, of course, Democrats who obviously represent the ruling class, like Barack Obama and his dominant wing of the Democratic Party, and also there are Democrats who, however very imperfectly, represent the working class. I see nothing class-collaborationist in opposing the former and critically supporting the latter. Yes, ruling-class politicians usually win Democratic primaries simply because they raise more campaign funds, have name recognition, are incumbents, and so on—but not always. (Only the Democratic Party fundraising committees are pure shills for corporate America, and left-liberals and radicals running as Democrats aren’t required to take any money from those committees.) So when genuine left-liberals or radical leftists win office on the Democratic Party ballot line, as has happened and will continue to happen in various parts of the country, the Democratic Party is not simply a “political utility of the ruling class.” It would be if the neoliberal, bourgeois leadership of the Democratic Party could impose parliamentary discipline on all elected Democrats, but there really is very little that it can do beyond removing dissidents from congressional committees.

Does this mean that it’s likely that the Democratic Party will be taken over by progressives, that the “realignment” sought by the late Michael Harrington is near? No. But the primary reason for this, aside from the fact that it’s rather hard to democratically control a state-run ballot line, is the same reason why an independent labor party, which left-wing socialists have advocated for years, is not forthcoming any time soon. Organized labor is simply too weak and, due to the AFL-CIO’s lack of control over its affiliated unions’ political choices, too diffuse. I agree with most American socialists that a labor party based on the unions should have been formed at least by 1948, when 35 percent of the U.S. workforce was unionized and the United Auto Workers in particular was a real power in the country. But Walter Reuther didn’t do what we wanted him to do, and today we are unfortunately where we are. I was active in Labor Party Advocates and then the Labor Party in two states in the 1990s; I really wanted it to take off and become politically important. It didn’t. Nor is it likely that the Green Party, which has existed in one form or another since the 1980s, will ever displace the Democrats. As former Labor Party national organizer Mark Dudzic has said, “If you can’t even put out enough poll watchers to cover every precinct in an election campaign, and you can’t call on a substantial portion of the labor movement to come out and support your candidate, you’re not building anything, and there’ll be little that remains afterwards.”5 I’ve voted for Greens many times in my life but eventually one tires of voting for protest candidates.

Pushing Political Discourse to the Left

This brings us back, finally, to Bernie Sanders. Whatever the flaws in some of his political positions, his running as a candidate in the Democratic presidential primary has led millions of people, even in the corporate media, to talk about “democratic socialism” and “political revolution.” His interpretation of those terms may be far more moderate than that of NP writers, but he is pushing political discourse in the U.S. significantly to the left, and in a country where “socialist” has long been a swear word in mainstream politics, this is no small feat. His campaign is providing an opening for U.S. socialists that hasn’t existed in decades, and he’s made it clear that it won’t be possible to win the radical reforms that he (and we) want without an ongoing mass movement that will outlast his campaign. Yes, we must, as Barry says, “hold Sanders’ feet to the flames if he wavers or weakens his stance against the Party establishment.” But to do this effectively we have to actively support him, not abstain and only offer criticism, however constructive, from the outside. Both the “critical” and “support” in “critical support” are very important in this case. Support of Sanders is the only way to get the thousands of working-class people already involved in Sanders’ campaign—most of whom know nothing of Marxism or the organized socialist left—to take us seriously. Criticism of Sanders’ shortcomings will fall on deaf ears if we do not work with such people in an honest effort to get Sanders elected president.

And Sanders would not be winning over millions of Americans if he had not decided to run for president as a Democrat. He would not have been able to introduce himself to millions who knew little or nothing of him via the Democratic presidential candidates’ debates. The mainstream media would have simply ignored him, and so would have virtually everyone else in the country, had he run as an independent or as a Green. As the late Julius Jacobson, founding co-editor of NP and a genuinely revolutionary democratic socialist, said of Jesse Jackson’s run for president as a Democrat in 1988, “To take advantage of the facilities offered by a Democratic Party primary involves no necessary compromise of socialist principles” provided that it is being used “as a vehicle for propagandizing a position with an eye on building a movement outside the Democratic Party.”6 Jackson failed to do this, but this describes precisely what Sanders is doing, which is commendable.

Furthermore, contrary to the “Bernie Sanders as sheepdog for Hillary Clinton” argument made by various far-leftists, at the moment there’s hardly anyone at all to “sheepdog,” not even a quasi-mass movement for a left-wing third party. If there was, my judgement of Sanders running in a Democratic primary would be quite different. I do acknowledge that Ted Kennedy in 1980, Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Dennis Kucinich in 2004, and John Edwards in 2008 all ended up endorsing the candidate of the ruling class in their respective Democratic presidential primaries once they lost. And they should not have done so. But it’s important to realize that they did not have to do so but chose to do so. Most have forgotten, but Jerry Brown did not endorse Bill Clinton in 1992. More recently, on the Republican side, look at Ron Paul. He very openly did not support John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012; he supported minor right-wing party presidential candidates. And yet he remained in office as a Republican. Look at the Seattle Democratic elected officials that have endorsed Kshama Sawant’s re-election campaign. Such a thing is simply not possible anywhere else in the world—try to imagine Canadian Liberals endorsing New Democratic Party candidates for office!—and it further proves that our “parties” are not real parties because they lack party discipline, and that applying class-struggle principles to U.S. electoral politics is a far messier business than it is anywhere else in the world.

Yes, Sanders has already said he would endorse Hillary Clinton if he loses to her in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. But Sanders, as explained above, can’t be forced to do this. He’s made a choice. Contrary to what some socialists believe, there are no actually enforceable Democratic Party rules that prohibit him in advance from “harming the Democratic Party.” So, I think that socialists should pressure Sanders’ campaign to “pull a Ron Paul”; at the very least he should not encourage his voters to support Clinton if he loses the presidential primary. If he refuses this request we should openly criticize him for it. But again, the only way we can effectively apply such pressure is if we are active in his presidential campaign. Pressure from the outside simply won’t work. By all means, let’s relentlessly attack Clinton and other “billionaire class Democrats” who dominate the Democratic Party line. One can do this just as easily as a registered Democrat as a registered Green or independent. No one can silence you, just like Fannie Lou Hamer couldn’t be silenced as a civil rights and anti-Vietnam War activist of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which in 1968 did become the official Democratic Party of Mississippi, despite being betrayed by Lyndon Johnson and those who supported him in 1964.

Barry argues that

If the Sanders campaign is competently run, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party establishment will be confronting an incipient rank-and-file mutiny demanding the complete overhaul and repudiation of what the party currently stands for. An increasingly politically conscious grassroots movement motivated by a militant and credible anti-austerity message heralds the development in the foreseeable future of a “split” situation in the Democratic Party when these demands are blocked, watered down, frustrated or compromised with, as they invariably must.

This split may very well happen. Sanders campaign activists are quite aware of the problem of Democratic Party Superdelegates. To quote a recent email I received from People for Bernie, the Superdelegate system is “one of many ways that the system is rigged to ensure corporate-friendly Democrats almost always get the presidential nomination. And it’s almost always longtime party insiders that cast votes as Superdelegates. In an ordinary election year, it’s one of many ways that they disenfranchise people like us.” This is why it’s important that Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison endorsed Sanders, and more pressure needs to be put on other Congressional Progressive Caucus Democrats to do the same. Selection of Superdelegates in fact depends on state Democratic Party rules, and state Democratic parties are not immune to popular mobilization.

But let’s assume the ruling-class Democratic Party Superdelegates turn out to be the sole barrier keeping Sanders from winning the Democratic presidential primary. Then it’s entirely possible that People for Bernie and the mass movement supporting Sanders will make up the base of an independent left-wing party, sooner rather than later. But again, we need to be in the Sanders campaign to help make this happen, and, as NP writer and lifetime class-warrior-unionist Steve Early has said, we need to get as many unions as possible to support Sanders and not Clinton (either in the primary or the general election).7 And we will need the leftmost elected Democrats—the ones who support social-democratic reform and primarily rely on union PAC money and the financial contributions of “ordinary” people—to “jump ship” to this new party, which requires critically supporting them as well. (I see this as no worse than voting for the social-democratic wing of a popular front, which revolutionaries certainly did in the past, and the Democratic Party today is more like a popular front unto itself than a genuine political party.)

Yes, this is a complicated process, and I wish Marxists could simply stand outside Democratic Party politics entirely and convince the toiling masses to “break with the elephant, break with the ass, build a party of the working class.” But decades of revolutionary socialists doing precisely this has been no more successful than the attempt in the 1970s by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, a predecessor of today’s Democratic Socialists of America, the only U.S. socialist group fully supporting the Sanders campaign, to realign the whole of the Democratic Party into a social-democratic party. The movement to elect Sanders represents the best opportunity to build a much larger socialist movement—and hopefully a split from the Democratic Party that results in an independent leftist party—that I’ve seen in my lifetime. To make that party a reality, ironically enough, means getting involved in a Democratic Party presidential campaign. Yes, most elected Democrats are ruling-class politicians; yes, the Democratic Party was once the party (a real party) of white supremacy in the United States; yes, it was the party of dropping nuclear bombs on Japan and of the Vietnam War. Therefore any involvement in Democratic Party primaries involves “dirty hands” to some extent. But, to paraphrase a French philosopher, “it is easy to have clean hands if you have no hands.” Better dirty hands than none at all.

1. Jason Schulman, “The Sanders Campaign and the Democratic ‘Party,’” New Politics blog, May 27, 2015.

2. Barry Finger, “Further Reflections on the Sanders Campaign,” New Politics blog, May 26, 2015.

3. Arthur Lipow, Political Parties & Democracy: Explorations in History and Theory (London: Pluto Press, 1996), 20-21.

4. Michael Hirsch, “Socialists, Democrats, and Political Action: It’s the Movements That Matter,” New Politics (Vol. XI, No. 2, Summer 2007), 119.

5. Mark Dudzic and Derek Seidman, “Whatever Happened to the Labor Party?Jacobin blog, October 11, 2015.

6. Julius Jacobson, “The Duality of the Jackson Campaign,” New Politics (Vol. II, no. 2, Summer 1988), 5-6.

7. Steve Early, “Labor for Bernie,” Jacobin blog, May 26, 2015.

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US Socialist Worker on Election 2016

February 2, 2016 at 10:07 am (Democratic Party, elections, posted by JD, Republican Party, United States)

Here’s the US Socialist Worker‘s take on the run-up to US Election 2016, written before the Iowa caucuses, in which Ted Cruz beat Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders very nearly defeated Hilary Clinton. By the way, the US SW has nothing to do (any more) with the UK SWP:

Year of the renegades?

The usual election circus is reflecting broader dissatisfaction with the status quo.

IT SEEMED so simple–and soul-deadeningly boring–a year ago. Election 2016 would be a match-up between two political dynasties–the Clintons and the Bushes–with nothing but months of Super PAC spending and stage-managed sound bites between then and the election.

Now, we’re headed for a February where the Republican heir apparent Jeb Bush is bumbling along among the also-rans in opinion polls, and the first primary contests seem certain to be won by right-wing maniacs who regularly denounce their own party’s establishment leaders. Billionaire Donald Trump remains the runaway frontrunner, but Tea Partier Ted Cruz is coming up on the outside.

And on the Democratic side, a self-identified socialist has a fair shot at winning at least the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary over Hillary Clinton, who was once thought to have the Democratic presidential nomination in the bag a full year before the party’s convention.

For anyone on the left, this should inspire both dread and enthusiasm.

Neither Trump nor Cruz may survive what promises to be a bruising and unpredictable GOP primary battle that won’t be decided for months. But in the meanwhile, they give legitimacy to ideas at the far right of the mainstream political spectrum–and then some.

As for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, he has a lot more obstacles–like, for example, the Democratic Party’s completely undemocratic practices, like seating party insiders and officeholders as unelected “superdelegates,” specifically designed to head off left challenges–between him and the party’s presidential nomination.

But Sanders has tarnished the aura of inevitability that once surrounded Hillary Clinton–and what’s more, he’s done so by generating real excitement among millions of people who vote Democratic mainly because they despise the Republicans, not because they feel inspired by the corporate-dominated party that falsely claims to speak for them.

Sanders is talking about the issues that should matter in a real election campaign, like jobs, health care, poverty, challenging racism and the like. It’s no wonder that so many people see him as a breath of fresh air–though he has also gone along with many conventional mainstream Democratic positions, most obviously to defend and extend the power of the American empire.

We can celebrate the opinion polls that show Sanders gaining support against Clinton, most of all because of what they show us about the growth of a layer of people in society who are looking for a radical alternative to the political and social status quo.

If Sanders fails in his still-long-shot quest to win the nomination and then does what he has promised from the start and endorses the presidential candidate of a pro-corporate party, he won’t have answers for the questions those people are asking. Socialists need to be ready with answers of our own, and we can start now, as this election year is unfolding.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

AT ONE point not too long ago, Hillary Clinton greeted Sanders’ candidacy within the Democratic Party as a positive. Clinton understood that Sanders’ campaign would motivate the party’s base of progressive supporters, while she could still be seen as the “realistic” candidate who stood the best chance against the Republicans in a general election.

Since then, opinion polls have shown that Sanders could hold his own against the Republicans. In December, in a hypothetical race against the GOP’s front-running reality TV star, the Vermont social democrat came out ahead by 13 percentage points–stronger than Clinton’s 7 percent–according to a Quinnipiac poll.

As Sanders has climbed in the polls–building a clear lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, threatening in Iowa and creeping toward a real contest nationally–the Clinton campaign went on the attack.

Often enough, this merely provided further evidence of what a cynical political insider she’s always been. According to the Nation, for example, the Clinton campaign put out a press release calling Friends of the Earth Action a “dark money group”–after it put out TV ads commending Sanders’ fight against the Keystone XL pipeline.

During a candidates’ debate in South Carolina, Clinton claimed that Sanders was going to undo all of the Obama administration’s hard work on a health care law and tear up the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Clinton acted as if she was attacking Sanders from the left, but as Sanders explained during the debate, he favors a much more radical solution to the health care crisis that the ACA has made worse in numerous ways: a universal, “Medicare for All” health care plan.

For the most part, though, Clinton is sticking to what she knows. That’s her claim to be the only “viable” candidate against a host of scary Republicans.

As the first primary contests approach, the organizations whose jobs it is to rally followers behind the conventional liberal choice–the Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood, a number of unions–are announcing their endorsements of Clinton. This despite her record of betraying the very people who are expected to campaign for her–as in the case of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which only recently backed the campaign for a living wage at Walmart, where Clinton once served on the board of directors and silently sat by while the mega-retailer rolled over workers.

The Clinton campaign understands that the odds are still with her winning the party’s nomination. But victories for Sanders in New Hampshire, Iowa and beyond would damage her inevitability factor in a race against Republicans.

What all this reveals is something that mainstream political commentators have a hard time predicting or processing–despite all the talk about Clinton being the most viable candidate among the widest range of voters, Sanders is showing that there is a huge opening for unapologetically liberal and even radical political ideas.

The huge electoral support for Sanders is a reflection of the state of U.S. politics, where a growing number of people are expressing their dissatisfaction with status quo politics. That sentiment is expressed in specific attitudes about issues like police violence or racism, but it can also be seen in the widespread feeling that political leaders don’t represent us–and don’t even try. No event illustrates this more than the protests by residents of Flint, Michigan, whose elected officials allowed their drinking water to be poisoned.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ON THE other side of Election 2016, the Republican Party establishment is discovering that its anointed “inevitable” candidates–conservatives like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio with just enough sheen of moderation to appeal in a general election–are in big trouble.

The reason is that the Republican right–unleashed as attack dogs during the Obama years to drive the political mainstream further and further to the right–isn’t going away. It wants its place in the spotlight.

The mobilization of the Tea Party fanatics, backed by big-money right-wingers like the Koch brothers, was central to the Republican victories in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. But Republican base voters were whipped up not only against “big government” and “special interests,” associated with the Obama administration, but the “Washington elite” in general–which sometimes meant Republican leaders like former House Speaker John Boehner who were judged to be not fanatical enough.

Now that it’s time to elect the president, the GOP establishment would like the right-wing fringe to step aside. But no such luck. In spite of every vile statement and blunder, billionaire Islamophobe and immigrant hater Donald Trump has stayed well ahead of the pack in opinion polls. After the rise and fall of crackpot Ben Carson, Ted Cruz has been the only contender to make a real run at Trump–and in some ways, he’s more of a threat to the party establishment than Trump.

The structure of the Republican primaries, with delegates awarded based on the proportion of votes in each contest, guarantees that the nomination battle will drag out for months. It’s impossible to predict whether Trump or Cruz will survive to become the party nominee, or if the establishment will unite around an alternative. But whatever the case, this is a recipe for chaos and splits within the historic party of Corporate America.

The enduring appeal of the Trumps and Cruzes in Election 2016 is more evidence of the instability and polarization in a society that’s motivating people to reject politics as usual. But it’s not only that.

In Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this month, he boasted about the amazing U.S. economic recovery. But for most working-class Americans, there are few signs of these better times. This, coupled with the Obama administration’s escalation of the “war on terror,” has produced a frightening and unpredictable world.

This is why Trump can gain a hearing for right-wing ideas that attempt to redirect the blame onto scapegoats, such as immigrants or Muslims.

In this respect, Trump is leading the way for the Republicans, as conservative ideologues Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru wrote in the National Review: “[W]hile Trump is not a conservative and does not deserve conservatives’ support, Republicans can nonetheless learn from him…He has exposed and widened the fissures on the American right. If conservatives are to thrive, they must figure out how to respond creatively, sensibly and honorably to the public impulses he has so carelessly exploited.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IT FRIGHTENING to think of the “public impulses” that Lowry and Ponnuru want another Republican to exploit less “carelessly.” But as the atrocities of the Republican presidential contenders pile up, it will be important to remember that the same political circumstances are radicalizing people to the left.

The strong support for Bernie Sanders is the most obvious evidence. But the people being won over to Sanders won’t necessarily stop with a campaign within the Democratic Party. While Election 2016 goes on, there will be many opportunities for protest and politics, with those enthused about the Sanders campaign certain to play a role.

And the odds are still strong that Sanders will ultimately confront those supporters with a choice later on this year. They can join him in supporting the candidate who beat him for the Democratic nomination, even if they represent everything that millions of Sanders supporters are fed up with.

Or they can stand for a real alternative. That will mean casting a ballot for an independent left candidate next November. But even more important, it will mean participating in the grassroots movements and struggles well beyond the ballot box that, as history has shown us, can bring real change.

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Sanders: a socialist headed for the White House?

January 23, 2016 at 5:10 pm (Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, posted by JD, socialism, United States)

By Eric Lee

This article appears in the current issue of Solidarity and on Eric’s own blog


Sixty years ago, the Socialist Party ran its last presidential campaign in the United States.

In its heyday, the party could capture upwards of a million votes, achieving this result in 1912, 1920 and again in 1932. The best result was the first one, when Eugene V. Debs led the party to six percent of the national vote. But less than a quarter century after Norman Thomas won nearly 900,000 votes at the height of the Great Depression, the total number of votes the Socialist could muster nationwide was a mere 2,044. Its final Presidential candidate, the successor to the legendary Debs and Thomas, was the little-known Darlington Hoopes.

By then, even the last stalwarts in the party accepted that it was no longer feasible to wage presidential campaigns. Within a year of the Socialists reaching their electoral nadir, the party was strengthened by the decision of Max Shachtman’s Independent Socialist League to join their ranks. The Shachtmanites rejected the traditional independent electoral strategy and called instead for the Socialists to join the ranks of the Democrats.

It took Shachtman and his comrades a decade to achieve their goal under the charismatic leadership of Michael Harrington. While the Socialists were grappling with issues of electoral strategy, a young man joined their youth organisation in Chicago, the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL).

His name was Bernie Sanders.

Like many other YPSLs (pronounced “Yipsels”), the young Brooklyner was active in the peace movement through the Student Peace Union and the civil rights movement through the Congress of Racial Equality. Before joining the YPSL, Sanders was introduced to politics by his older brother, Larry, who would take him to political meetings. Larry was active in the Young Democrats. It was in the YPSL that Bernie would learn about democratic socialism.

Half a century later, he continues to define himself as a democratic socialist. He advocates a program of reform that most socialists would be very comfortable with, including breaking up the big banks, investing hundreds of billions of dollars in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure and creating employment, health care as a right for all citizens, free tuition at all public universities, campaign finance reform, strengthening union rights, and much more.

His campaign for the presidency launched earlier this year has galvanized the American political system and given new hope for a rebirth of a democratic socialist movement in the country.

What has changed that allows a democratic socialist to emerge, seemingly out of nowhere, to become a serious contender for the presidency sixty years after the unfortunate Darlington Hoopes won only 2,044 votes? And what are his chances to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency in November?

I think that three things have happened to allow a professed socialist to run a credible campaign for the presidency in 2016.

First of all, the economic crisis that hit America (and the world) from 2008, triggered – as it did in many countries – a rise in critical thinking about capitalism. We have seen big gains for parties and leaders once considered “far left” in several European countries, and while this cannot express itself in America in the creation of a new mass party of the left like Syriza, it can and does express itself in social movements like Occupy, in the trade unions and in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

But an economic crisis alone cannot create the basis for the rise of a socialist left in a country like America. There have been a number of economic crises, with periods of mass unemployment, in the years since 1932, but none of these resulted in the rise of an overtly socialist candidate or movement.

The second factor that allows for the rise of Sanders is the passage of time since the end of the Cold War. One cannot overstate the importance of Stalinism in undermining and weakening the American left over many decades. Whether it was McCarthy-era red-baiting and persecution (which affected everyone on the left, not just the Stalinists) or the idiotic, counter-productive tactics of the Stalinists themselves, it was nearly impossible to say the word “socialism” aloud in America so long as the Soviet Union existed.

But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, a generation of Americans has grown up with no personal memory of that period, people for whom the word “socialist” is not necessarily a deal-breaker. There are people voting for Bernie Sanders today who were born in 1998, nearly a decade after the Wall came down. All voters under the age of 40 came of age politically only after Communism’s historic defeat.

None of this applies to Sanders, of course. The 74-year-old is a veteran of the YPSL from a time when socialists really were on the margins of American life, and when “socialism” really was a dirty word. But his supporters largely come from an entirely different generation, who’ve grown up in a different world.

The third thing that has happened is that Bernie Sanders, who his entire political life has been an independent, an opponent of the two-party system, has chosen to run as a Democrat. Some people on the small organised left in America would have preferred it otherwise. They would have liked to support a campaign like Ralph Nader’s, free of the taint of what Socialists use to call the “sewer” of the Democratic Party.

Nader himself followed in the tradition of a large number of well-intentioned but long-forgotten attempts to forge left-wing third parties in America. These included the peace campaigner Dr Benjamin Spock (People’s Party) who received fewer than 80,000 votes, or ecologist Barry Commoner (Citizen’s Party) who received 234,000 votes. Sanders was personally sympathetic to Nader, Spock and Commoner, campaigning for the latter two. But he learned an important lesson: to win a Presidential election in America, you need to run as a Democrat.

The extraordinary success of his campaign so far – regardless of what happens next – shows that he was right. His campaign is a vindication of everything Max Shachtman, Michael Harrington and their comrades fought for on the American left from the mid-1950s until now.

But does Sanders really have a chance?

I write these words two weeks before the Iowa caucus vote on February 1, the first electoral test of the Sanders candidacy. At the moment, all the polls show Iowa to be a tie between Sanders and Clinton. In the following vote, on February 9 in New Hampshire, polls show Sanders winning. If America wakes up on February 10 to learn that Bernie Sanders has won both Iowa and New Hampshire, it will represent a political earthquake.

Sixty years after the disappearance of the Socialists from the main stage of American politics, they have made a triumphant return. A former YPSL member from Chicago, still talking about the same democratic socialism he learned in the party of Debs and Thomas, may be on his way to becoming the forty-fifth president of the United States.

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Bernie Sanders’ black problem

July 27, 2015 at 6:10 pm (Anti-Racism, Cross-post, Democratic Party, Paul Canning, United States)

Cross-posted by Paul Canning:

The rest of the world loves to laugh at America’s never ending election process. Heck, Americans laugh at it. Jon Stewart for one. But those vaguely playing attention, especially those reading The Guardian, will have had their ears prick up at the campaign of one Bernie Sanders.

Senator Sanders is that rarest of things in the good ol’USA, an actual socialist. His rallies for the Democratic party’s nomination have been massive so of course a Guardian writer, Mary O’Hara, is waving to get Brits attention yelling that “it’s invigorating to witness what’s happening in the US.” My friends at Shiraz Socialist are no less dizzy saying that the Sanders’ campaign is “probably the most exciting development in US politics since the 1930s.”

Oh my. Thing is the Sanders campaign just got knocked sideways by black activists. So much so that one of the largest grassroots progressive groups, Democracy for America, has now changed its nominating process. They “will ask how candidates will support the Movement for Black Lives and confront racism and our “culture of white supremacy”.” Other groups are certain to follow. That is, that all the assumptions about why a self-proclaimed socialist would automatically win progressive endorsement have been changed. For ever. Sanders has consistently polled low numbers with minority voters but things came to a head when he did not react well to a stage invasion by #blacklivesmatters activists at the Netroots Nation conference, a big leftwing shindig. Those theatrics drew the attention but the warning signs were already there, as Tommy Christopher points out in this analysis of an earlier interview with George Stephanopoulos.

Says Christopher:

Sanders decided to tell Stephanopoulos that black voters would love him if they just understood things better, an idea that is uncomfortably similar to the conclusion reached by the Republican Party’s infamous 2012 “autopsy report,” and an echo of the GOP’s point man on minority outreach, Rand Paul.

Sanders’ argument, that the policies he advocates for everyone should also be particularly attractive to black and Hispanic voters, is an approach that is favored by politicians who take minority votes for granted, as well as those who take for granted that they won’t get those votes. Sanders’ problem is that Hillary Clinton supports all of the policies he cites, but he has not taken up any of the issues that Hillary Clinton has used to solidify her support with the Obama coalition.This is no accident; Sanders has long emphasized winning white voters by deliberately avoiding what he considers “demographic stuff” in favor of economic issues.

Sanders problems are not just presentational, they’re political. As one of the biggest black websites bluntly puts it “a job isn’t going to stop a bullet”. Christopher:

Substantively, Sanders’ philosophy misses the point that many of those “demographic” issues are economic issues. For black Americans, the criminal justice and policing reforms that Hillary Clinton has advocated are directly tied to their economic well-being, or that of their close friends and relatives. And while Sanders decries the role of money in politics, the Obama coalition is much more urgently concerned with whether they’ll even be allowed to vote in the next election.

The political problem for Sanders is underlined in another area in this article by Jesse Berney on abortion access, which is a enormous issue in America where access remains under constant attack.

In an interview with Rolling Stone a few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders spoke about the economic populism driving his campaign. “Once you get off of the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns — and into the economic issues,” he told writer Mark Binelli, “there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand.”

This formulation isn’t uncommon, even among progressives like Sanders. It’s easy to ascribe the fierce debates on issues like abortion and LGBT rights to cultural differences, and to wish we could just push them aside and finally convince rural white voters to vote for their “economic interests.”

But putting abortion rights in a box separate from economic issues ignores the reality of the women who find it increasingly difficult to obtain an abortion in this country. Abortion is an economic issue: wealthy women will always have access to abortion, while restrictions and obstacles affect low- and middle-income women disproportionately.

Berney explains how Clinton is getting it right.

Sanders puts economic inequality and corporate power at the top of his agenda, and deliberately excludes reproductive rights from that list.

In a recent event in Iowa where she shared the stage with Sanders and the other Democratic White House candidates, Hillary Clinton made a point to say traditional “women’s issues” are actually “economic issues.” Clinton has mostly stuck to issues safer than abortion – like family leave and child care – when talking about the economic impact of issues that have traditionally been “women’s issues.”

But she’s doing the work to erase that distinction, while Sanders draws that line ever more clearly. These priorities matter, and the candidates’ words matter.

Berney warns that Sanders risks losing a whole other part of the Democrats base, the majority, women:

Abortion rights are under severe threat in this country, and exiling them to an imaginary “social issues”category necessarily relegates them to second-class status.

Immediately after the Netroots Nation fiasco the Sanders campaign made some tweaks, as Imani Gandy notes in her fabulous, excoriating piece ‘You’re White and Marched With Dr. King: So What?’ – But Sanders’ supporters are giving a very good impression of learning nothing at all from the exercise.

Progressives are complaining that the protesters were disrespectful and rude. They’re whining that interrupting a speech isn’t an “invitation for solidarity.”

I’ve seen some white folks complaining that they no longer feel safe at Netroots because—you know—unruly Black women. The horror! Still others don’t think the protest “looks good.” (Because as we all know, change comes when you politely ask for it, not when you disrupt and demand it, which, by the way, is what Dr. King did. White people tend to forget that Dr. King was a disruptor when they are using him as a Pokémon to shut Black people up.)

Rather than support these brave Black women activists in what is quite literally a fight for the lives of Black people, there you are in all your pearl-clutching glory talking about how disrespectful the activists were, and how it’s such a shame that the uppity Black people were being so rude to an obvious ally, and how the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so disorganized and is protesting the wrong things at the wrong time in front of the wrong people.

“Why are you alienating allies?”

“Don’t you know how much Bernie cares for you?”

“What’s wrong with you people?”

“Hillary would be worse!”

“What are you going to do, vote for Donald Trump?”

“Why won’t you ever be satisfied?”

“You’re doing it all wrong!”

“You’re going to make us quit caring about Black lives if you don’t shape up and act the way we want you to.”

Most Black voters want the answer to one question: What is Sanders’ plan to address the police brutality crisis in the Black community?

And the answer to that question is never: “Bernie marched with Dr. King.”

I can vouch for this reality because even I got whiny tweets after retweeting Gandy, who tweets at @AngryBlackLady.

And it is not like there aren’t black people trying to patiently explain what Sanders’ may be doing wrong. Here’s Roderick Morrow, who got so fed up with reaction from so-called ‘progressives’ that he started the joke hashtag. #BernieSoBlack.

It’s like they’re almost trying to outblack us. “Oh, you’re a black person, what could you possibly understand about our candidate? He was marching before you were even born!” Okay, that’s cool, but you gotta stay on top of it. So I made a joke that’s like, “Bernie’s blacker than us! Bernie’s SO BLACK!” That’s how it feels when they come into our mentions and tell us that we don’t know what we’re talking about, and even though [Sanders] doesn’t talk about #BlackLivesMatter right now, we should just kind of shut up. So I was just like:

Honestly, the joke is not even on Bernie Sanders. That’s what’s so funny — the joke is on the defense of him, which is, if you extrapolate to the furthest extent, he can do no wrong on race. Like, we should not even expect anything of him, he put in his time already, we need to just shut up.

I’m sure it does happen, but I can’t imagine people doing this to other constituencies, because you do rely on those votes. At Netroots Nation, you’re going to be addressing a very diverse but very black-centric audience, and to not really be prepared to talk about race there is a little bit of a slap in the face. So for us — and when I say “us,” I just mean black people, I’m not any level of an activist or anything — for us to just say, Hey, you kind of did a bad job, hope you do better in the future, and then get bombarded with “He marched in 1968!” it’s like, All right, man, I don’t know what to tell you.

That. That right there.

Edited to add@BobFromBrockley has pointed out this socialist response, not to this but to the entire movement (I think)! A progressive I have followed for years, Martin Bowman, has also written despairingly here, comparing the movement to a marriage and fearing that we’re heading for divorce.

I won’t Fisk either but I would point out one thing. I’m a white gay man and I’m from the generation that lived through HIV/Aids. So there is a connection I have to a ‘crisis’ of people dying and there is also a connection to having to yell and scream to get attention – from everybody. So we had Act-Up and Peter Tatchell invading pulpits, but then we also had lobbyists and McKellan having tea with John Major. Movements always piss people off. From what I can tell the people supporting Sanders are pissed off and from my perspective, as another minority, then I don’t know why that’s a bad thing.

Edited to add: It’s also worthwhile noting these comments (via Nancy LeTourneau) from Dara Lind:

There is a legitimate disconnect between the way Sanders (and many of the economic progressives who support him) see the world, and the way many racial-justice progressives see the world. To Bernie Sanders, as I’ve written, racial inequality is a symptom — but economic inequality is the disease. That’s why his responses to unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore have included specific calls for police accountability, but have focused on improving economic opportunity for young African Americans. Sanders presents fixing unemployment as the systemic solution to the problem.

Many racial-justice advocates don’t see it that way. They see racism as its own systemic problem that has to be addressed on its own terms. They feel that it’s important to acknowledge the effects of economic inequality on people of color, but that racial inequality isn’t merely a symptom of economic inequality. And most importantly, they feel that “pivoting” to economic issues can be a way for white progressives to present their agenda as the progressive agenda and shove black progressives, and the issues that matter most to them, to the sidelines.

So Sanders’ performance at Netroots confirmed the frustrations that his critics felt. And Sanders’ supporters’ reaction to the criticism was just as predictable.

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The problem with Bernie Sanders

July 21, 2015 at 10:05 am (Cross-post, Democratic Party, elections, Eric Lee, posted by JD, reformism, United States)


Supporters with Robin Hood faces of Bernie Sanders (Photo by Charlie Leight/Getty Images)

By Eric Lee

The Bernie Sanders campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is probably the most exciting development in US politics since the 1930s. And it’s not a coincidence that both the resurgent left of that decade and the Sanders phenomenon have followed the spectacular economic crashes of 1929 and 2008.

The Sanders campaign is a phenomenon. He’s not only rising rapidly in the polls, posing a clear threat to Hillary Clinton, but he’s raising millions of dollars in small donations and filling arenas with supporters – including in some surprising places, like Phoenix, Arizona.

A self-described democratic socialist and a former member of the Young Peoples Socialist League (YPSL), Sanders was influenced by an early visit to a kibbutz in Israel in the 1960s, and by the model of Scandinavian social democracy. He’s proposed a number of radical reforms that put him far to the left not only of any other mainstream presidential candidate this year, but to the left of anyone in living memory.

There’s not been a campaign like this since Norman Thomas led the Socialist Party to its second-best result ever in 1932, polling just under 900,000 votes. (The Communist Party back then polled only a fraction of the Socialist vote.)

But there’s a problem with Sanders’ call for a “political revolution” in America. It’s not going to happen without organisation. And a presidential election campaign is not an organisation. Read the rest of this entry »

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Giuliani’s attack on Obama fuels racism

February 21, 2015 at 3:24 pm (Democratic Party, Guest post, Obama, Pink Prosecco, Racism, Republican Party, United States)

6a00d83451b85a69e2017eea56d9c4970d-pi.jpg
Above: Rudy Giuliani

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

The controversy kicked off on Wednesday night when Rudy Giuliani, formerly Mayor of New York, accused Obama of not loving America.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Mr. Giuliani said at the event. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
To call this a dog whistle is an understatement.

Now he’s compounded the problem by insisting that his remarks couldn’t possibly be considered racist.

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

Yes, logically, he might be able to claim that he wasn’t targeting Obama’s black/African heritage, but the way his mother brought him up, the milieu in which he was raised. But that’s pretty disingenuous given the way (some of) Obama’s opponents focus on his birthplace and his religion. Many of those gleefully applauding Rudy Giuliani’s speech won’t have parsed them with Giuliani’s own retrospective punctiliousness. The former Mayor has irresponsibly fuelled the suspicions of bigots, while maintaining plausible deniability.

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Why the US Founding Fathers forbade torture

December 10, 2014 at 10:50 pm (Democratic Party, history, Human rights, posted by JD, reblogged, Republican Party, terror, United States)

By Juan Cole (reblogged from Informed Comment):

I have argued on many occasions that the language of patriotism and appeal to the Founding Fathers and the constitution must not be allowed to be appropriated by the political right wing in contemporary America, since for the most part right wing principles (privileging religion, exaltation of ‘whiteness’ over universal humanity, and preference for property rights over human rights) are diametrically opposed to the Enlightenment and Deist values of most of the framers of the Unites States.

We will likely hear these false appeals to an imaginary history a great deal with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. It seems to me self-evident that most of the members of the Constitutional Convention would have voted to release the report and also would have been completely appalled at its contents.

The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution is full of prohibitions on torture, as part of a general 18th century Enlightenment turn against the practice. The French Encyclopedia and its authors had agitated in this direction.

Two types of torture were common during the lifetimes of the Founding Fathers. In France, the judiciary typically had arrestees tortured to make them confess their crime. This way of proceeding rather tilted the scales in the direction of conviction, but against justice. Pre-trial torture was abolished in France in 1780. But torture was still used after the conviction of the accused to make him identify his accomplices.

Thomas Jefferson excitedly wrote back to John Jay from Paris in 1788:

“On the 8th, a bed of justice was held at Versailles, wherein were enregistered the six ordinances which had been passed in Council, on the 1st of May, and which I now send you. . . . By these ordinances, 1, the criminal law is reformed . . . by substitution of an oath, instead of torture on the question préalable , which is used after condemnation, to make the prisoner discover his accomplices; (the torture abolished in 1780, was on the question préparatoire, previous to judgment, in order to make the prisoner accuse himself;) by allowing counsel to the prisoner for this defence; obligating the judges to specify in their judgments the offence for which he is condemned; and respiting execution a month, except in the case of sedition. This reformation is unquestionably good and within the ordinary legislative powers of the crown. That it should remain to be made at this day, proves that the monarch is the last person in his kingdom, who yields to the progress of philanthropy and civilization.”

Jefferson did not approve of torture of either sort.

The torture deployed by the US government in the Bush-Cheney era resembles that used in what the French called the “question préalable.” They were being asked to reveal accomplices and any further plots possibly being planned by those accomplices. The French crown would have argued before 1788 that for reasons of public security it was desirable to make the convicted criminal reveal his associates in crime, just as Bush-Cheney argued that the al-Qaeda murderers must be tortured into giving up confederates. But Jefferson was unpersuaded by such an argument. In fact, he felt that the king had gone on making it long past the time when rational persons were persuaded by it.

Bush-Cheney, in fact, look much more like pre-Enlightentment absolute monarchs in their theory of government. Louis XIV may not have said “I am the state,” but his prerogatives were vast, including arbitrary imprisonment and torture. Bush-Cheney, our very own sun kings, connived at creating a class of human beings to whom they could do as they pleased.

When the 5th amendment says of the accused person “nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself” the word “compelled” is referring to the previous practice of judicial torture of the accused. Accused persons who “take the fifth” are thus exercising a right not to be tortured by the government into confessing to something they may or may not have done.

Likewise, the 8th Amendment, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” is intended to forbid post-sentencing torture.

The 8th Amendment was pushed for by Patrick Henry and George Mason precisely because they were afraid that the English move away from torture might be reversed by a Federal government that ruled in the manner of continental governments.

Patrick Henry wrote,

“What has distinguished our ancestors?–That they would not admit of tortures, or cruel and barbarous punishment. But Congress may introduce the practice of the civil law, in preference to that of the common law. They may introduce the practice of France, Spain, and Germany.”

It was objected in the debate over the Bill of Rights that it could be ignored. George Mason thought that was a stupid reason not to enact it:

“Mr. Nicholas: . . . But the gentleman says that, by this Constitution, they have power to make laws to define crimes and prescribe punishments; and that, consequently, we are not free from torture. . . . If we had no security against torture but our declaration of rights, we might be tortured to-morrow; for it has been repeatedly infringed and disregarded.

Mr. George Mason replied that the worthy gentleman was mistaken in his assertion that the bill of rights did not prohibit torture; for that one clause expressly provided that no man can give evidence against himself; and that the worthy gentleman must know that, in those countries where torture is used, evidence was extorted from the criminal himself. Another clause of the bill of rights provided that no cruel and unusual punishments shall be inflicted; therefore, torture was included in the prohibition.”

It was the insistence of Founding Fathers such as George Mason and Patrick Henry that resulted in the Bill of Rights being passed to constrain the otherwise absolute power of the Federal government. And one of their primary concerns was to abolish torture.

The 5th and the 8th amendments thus together forbid torture on the “question préparatoire” pre-trial confession under duress) and the question préalable (post-conviction torture).

That the Founding Fathers were against torture is not in question.

Fascists (that is what they are) who support torture will cavil. Is waterboarding torture? Is threatening to sodomize a man with a broomstick torture? Is menacing a prisoner with a pistol torture?

Patrick Henry’s discourse makes all this clear. He was concerned about the government doing anything to detract from the dignity of the English commoner, who had defied the Norman yoke and gained the right not to be coerced through pain into relinquishing liberties.

Fascists will argue that the Constitution does not apply to captured foreign prisoners of war, or that the prisoners were not even P.O.W.s, having been captured out of uniform.

But focusing on the category of the prisoner is contrary to the spirit of the founding fathers. Their question was, ‘what are the prerogatives of the state?’ And their answer was that the state does not have the prerogative to torture. It may not torture anyone, even a convicted murderer.

The framers of the Geneva Convention (to which the US is signatory) were, moreover, determined that all prisoners fall under some provision of international law. René Värk argues:

“the commentary to Article 45 (3) asserts that ‘a person of enemy nationality who is not entitled to prisoner-of-war status is, in principle, a civilian protected by the Fourth Convention, so that there are no gaps in protection’.*32 But, at the same time, it also observes that things are not always so straightforward in armed conflicts; for example, adversaries can have the same nationality, which renders the application of the Fourth Convention impossible, and there can arise numerous difficulties regarding the application of that convention. Thus, as the Fourth Convention is a safety net to persons who do not qualify for protection under the other three Geneva Conventions, Article 45 (3) serves yet again as a safety net for those who do not benefit from more favourable treatment in accordance with the Fourth Convention.”

Those who wish to create a category of persons who may be treated by the government with impunity are behaving as fascists like Franco did in the 1930s, who also typically created classes of persons to whom legal guarantees did not apply.

But if our discussion focuses on the Founding Fathers, it isn’t even necessary to look so closely at the Geneva Conventions.

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The phrase “all men” means all persons of any nationality.

We know what the Founding Fathers believed. They believed in universal rights. And they believed in basic principles of human dignity. Above all, they did not think the government had the prerogative of behaving as it pleased. It doesn’t have the prerogative to torture.

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US shutdown: ‘good cop/bad cop’

September 30, 2013 at 11:21 pm (Democratic Party, posted by JD, reaction, Republican Party, United States)

From the US International Socialists:

Barack Obama and Ted Cruz

Above: Obama and Cruz

The good cop/bad cop routine in Washington
The Republicans may not get away with defunding Barack Obama’s health care law, but they’re pushing ahead with all their favorite anti-worker, pro-business measures
.

THE LATEST congressional showdown over federal spending–with another threat of another government shutdown looming over it all–is starting to look like a bad TV police drama, ending with a familiar scene of “good cop/bad cop.”

The “bad” cop: the Republicans, led by foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Partiers like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, threatening a shutdown of the federal government unless Barack Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is defunded.

The “good” cop: the Obama administration and the Democrats, loudly insisting that they’ll never give up on health care reform or let the government close because they care about working people–while quietly agreeing to many of the cuts and concessions that the Republicans want, and claiming they’re being “responsible” for doing so.

The two sides seem so far apart that they’ll never agree on anything, but we all know how “good cop/bad cop” works. The Republicans and Democrats are getting much more of what they each want than anyone lets on–and the target of their routine, which in this case is tens of millions of working-class Americans, is getting played.

The same scene has spun out over and over during the Obama presidency–the Republicans playing the part of the budget-cutting maniacs, pushing hard to shred the social safety net altogether, while the Democrats act like they’re powerless to do anything about it, and then go along with most of what the Republicans want.

The Democrats support the least-worst “realistic” option–and claim it’s the best they can do.

At the end of 2010, after almost two years in office, Obama and the Democrats finally acted on their campaign promise to rescind the Bush-era tax cuts for the super-richest of Americans. Even though a majority of people supported them, even though the Democrats were still a majority in both houses of Congress, the Democrats agreed to a two-year extension of the tax cuts for the rich, in return for a temporary extension of supplemental unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut.

In the summer of 2011, the Obama administration needed an act of Congress to raise the debt ceiling or the U.S. government would go into default–but the Republicans refused even Obama’s offer of a “grand bargain” to impose three times as much reduction in spending, including Social Security and Medicare, as increases in tax revenues. Even Corporate America warned against the Republicans’ game of chicken with the world economy. But it was the Democrats who capitulated, agreeing to even deeper spending cuts.

There were more showdowns at the start of 2013, in the wake of an election that Obama won easily. The outcome: Obama agreed to $85 billion in federal spending cuts, including furloughs of thousands of federal workers and cuts to supplement jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

If this is “standing up” to the Republicans, you don’t want to know what caving in looks like.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

NOW, THERE’S another looming government shutdown, and the Affordable Care Act is on the chopping block. October 1 is supposed to be the start date of the new state-based “insurance exchanges,” created under the 2010 health care law, where individuals who don’t have health insurance can go to obtain “minimal essential” coverage. If they don’t, they risk paying penalties with their taxes.

The individual “mandate” will force millions and millions of new customers into the arms of private insurers–and leave billions and billions of dollars in their bank accounts. The insurance giants knew there were windfall profits to be made from a new health care law, which is why their lobbyists were in place to help shape the legislation–to make sure, for example, that there was no “public option” for mandated insurance that would compete with private companies.

That was the “inside” strategy, while the Republicans represented the “outside” strategy–continual obstructionism to make sure the Democrats continued to compromise on every question.

This “Plan B” continues today. Last week, the Republican-controlled House voted–almost exactly on party lines–to continue funding federal government operations after the cutoff date of September 30, but to defund the ACA. With a tear in his eye, House Speaker John Boehner called this a “victory for the American people and a victory for common sense.”

Then, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took the fight to the Senate, where he staged his own filibuster on Tuesday, claiming that the Democrats were willing to risk a government shutdown rather than put the brakes on the health care law.

Most Senate Republicans distanced themselves from Cruz. But they don’t want to distance themselves from the assault on the health care law. Thus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he disagrees with the threat to shut down the government as of September 30–but he’s just fine with gutting the ACA.

The ACA is a far cry from what’s needed to provide access to affordable health care in the U.S. But that’s not why Republicans are opposing it. From Boehner to Cruz and the others, the Republicans’ fierce opposition to “Obamacare” is another example of playing politics with people’s lives for personal gain–sometimes very personal gain.

While Cruz says his stance on health care is all about the folks back home in Texas, there’s a much bigger influence on him. In May, he was among the special guests at an exclusive party thrown by the arch-conservative oil billionaire Koch Brothers in Palm Springs, Calif.

At the “party,” the Kochs outlined a new focus for Republicans, working toward smaller government and deregulation rather than pressing losing social issues like immigration. Cruz, one of the “rising stars” at the event, is an important part of the project.

The Koch Brothers are up to their elbows in the crusade against Obama’s health care law. In the run-up to the October 1 start-up of the insurance exchanges, they’re backing a campaign to get people to not sign up. For example, a Virginia-based organization with ties to the Kochs is running a campaign of television ads–complete with gynecological exams being performed by a spooky Uncle Sam figure–aimed at scaring off college students and young people.

Meanwhile, the Democrats are more than happy to have fanatics like Cruz attacking them in Congress–it helps them look like they’re trying to get something done. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that the Democrats would reject any attempts by Cruz and others to gut the ACA–but he invited advice from “responsible” Republicans on even more compromises in a thoroughly compromised law.

The Republicans won’t get away with defunding the health care law as long as the Democrats control the Senate. But in the meanwhile, they’re loading up spending legislation with all their favorite anti-worker, pro-business measures: means-testing for Medicare, medical liability “reform,” shredding the federal employee retirement system, eliminating the Dodd-Frank financial regulations passed in 2010, weakening the Environmental Protection Agency, restricting other federal regulators, and expanding offshore energy production.

With Democrats talking tough about the ACA, but showing their willingness to compromise on other questions, who knows how many of these pet projects of the right–most of them considered fringe issues for many years–will make it into the “compromise” that ends this latest crisis.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE LACK of a real debate over health care has had an effect–opinion polls reflect the effects of the confusion being sown by the Republicans. Some 42 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the ACA, compared to only 37 percent with a positive view, according to an August poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Republican scaremongering has had a lot to do with that result–but it also shows the widespread misgivings about the real inadequacies that have been exposed about the health care law.

Amid the phony debate about Obamacare, there’s a real health care emergency taking place in America. Last year, some 48 million people–about 15 percent of the population–went without health insurance, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A quarter of people who earn less than $25,000 annually don’t have health insurance.

“Reform” as it exists in the Obama health care law–rife with loopholes, compromises and watered-down provisions–won’t come close to fixing this gap. The ACA won’t confront skyrocketing health care costs or reform the wasteful and inefficient way for-profit health care is delivered.

But the opposition to the law in Washington isn’t only about the ACA. We’re seeing the same script play out: Intransigent Republicans go on the attack–with or without a majority–and Democrats compromise. For all the flashes of anger and indignation, the good cop and the bad cop end up working together to carry through an austerity agenda that whittles away at the living standards of working people.

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Phew! That Putin “lifeline” to Obama

September 10, 2013 at 9:55 am (Democratic Party, Jim D, Middle East, Obama, Republican Party, Russia, Syria, war)

Obama, Putin Briefly Interact at G20 Beginning
Above: it’s almost as though they like each other

Most decent people will, instinctively, welcome Putin’s proposal that Assad places his chemical weapons under some kind of international control. Anything that makes an escalation of the conflict less likely can only be A Good Thing. Whether the proposal actually comes to anything is, of course, highly doubtful.

Juan Cole (http://www.juancole.com/2013/09/congress-embarrassing-themselves.html), as usual, carries a pretty shrewd analysis of what’s going on, noting that Putin has (for whatever reason) helped Obama “avoid the most embarrassing defeat in congress on a major international issue since that body told Woodrow Wilson where he could stick his League of Nations.”

However, it seems to me that Cole is a little too willing to give credit to Putin (Cole of course is a liberal-leftist, but the right-wing media, like Fox News, are taking the much same line). After all, the proposal came initially from John Kerry, even if it was an off-the-cuff remark. And Cole’s dismissal of Obama’s claim that the Putin initiative “would not have come about without his own sabre-rattling” seems to be a dismissal of something that’s merely a self-evident statement of fact.

Of course, Assad (against all the evidence) has still not admitted to having used chemical weapons in Ghouta on 21 August, though Putin now seems (de facto, at least) to accept that even if Assad didn’t personally order the atrocity, elements within the Syrian army were responsible.

If the Syrian rebels were supportable, we’d be calling for their victory over the mass-murderer Assad. But they’re not, so we can’t. The best we can realistically hope for is a compromise between the rebels and the regime: as Cole argues, when both sides are sufficiently exhausted, there may be the sort of agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war in 1989. Not ideal, but probably the least-bad option going.

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