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.
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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.
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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.”
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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.
Johnathan Freedland’s always excellent Radio 4 programme The Long View, today compared the loathsome Donald Trump with three previous “outsider”/”celebrity” populists who, at various times, seemed to be potential contenders for the US presidency: William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh. All were extreme reactionaries, anti-semites (though there is some evidence that Hearst belatedly changed his attitude towards Jews), and islationists. At various times, all three expressed admiration for Hitler.
In fact, only Lindbergh got anywhere near to being a serious political force, and in his brilliant book The Plot Against America Philip Roth creates a convincing alternative history in which Lindbergh won the Republican nomination in 1940 and went on to defeat Roosevelt in that year’s election.
Freedland reminded listeners that a recording of Lindbergh’s September 11 1941 Des Moines anti-war speech can still be heard. A terrifying forewarning of what Trump now parades before the American people and the real threat he poses to the whole world:
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.
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.
“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.
The Increasingly Awkward Conservative Crush on Putin: Mad about Vlad
All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.
What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”
Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.
This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.” (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.
The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”
Sarah Palin, for example, said this last night to Sean Hannity:
Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not exercising that peace through strength that only can be brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue, that only a strengthened United States military can do.
Put aside the syntax for a moment and ask: is there not a bit of envy here? Isn’t Palin very clearly desirous of a tough-guy president who wrestles bears and drills for oil? (The swooning over Bush’s landing on that aircraft carrier was a telling sign.) Now read Rush Limbaugh:
In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were.
If only America wasn’t distracted by silly things like the Oscars, perhaps we would have the strength to stand up to the tough Russia. (On his web page, Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin.) In case the point isn’t obvious enough, Limbaugh continues:
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.
Limbaugh quite clearly wants this kind of leader.
Also on view over the past few days is the idea that Putin must be smarter and cagier and stronger: “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Russians are thus necessarily craftier than our weak and vacillating (key word) democratic leader.
The silliness inherent in all this talk is that when American presidents have generally acted above the law, or engaged in stupid and immoral wars, or bullied neighbors, or cracked down on domestic dissent, it has backfired in the worst ways on them and the country. (The examples are too obvious to list.) Moreover, I notice that conservatives seem to view some of Obama’s domestic actions–appointing czars, for example–as being the result of a vindictive, bloodthirsty, and authoritarian mindset. However absurd the particular claims may be (Cass Sunstein as Stalin), it is proof that the people who seem to secretly pine for an American Putin don’t really want one.
Orwell’s response to this sort of thinking was to write, of Burnham, “He ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country.” Of course this is not a guarantee that this crisis will play itself out in a way that is beneficial to American or Western (or Ukrainian) interests. But the presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right. (Olga Dukhnich, in The New York Times, makes the point that this crisis may backfire just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did. Whether correct or not, it is a nice counter to the reigning right-wing ultra-pessimism.)
Orwell closed his essay as follows:
That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order, shows what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.
It is now Team Obama that styles itself realist, in quite a different way than Orwell was talking about. And large chunks of the American right would now also scorn the term. What they haven’t scorned is the mindset, which is the problem in the first place.
From the US International Socialists:
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.
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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.
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.
I spent most of yesterday in a room full of British trade unionists, all of whom would regard themselves as (to varying degrees) on the political left. To a person, every one of them that I spoke to, or overheard, expressed pleasure and relief at the US election result.
In fact, I find it inconceivable that any socialist or, indeed, liberal, wouldn’t feel that way. I do not include deranged anti-Americans of the Pilger/Counterpunch variety.
Of course, a general sense of pleasure and/or relief at the outcome need not, necessarily, be predicated upon having advocated a vote for Obama. And there is, of course, a long-standing leftist (specifically Trotskyist) argument against advocating a vote for the US Democrats, which I’ll come on to in a moment.
But even those of us who have never had any great illusions in Obama, need to recognise what his presidency represents for Afro-Americans and other minorities (notably Hispanics), and just what a blow to their morale and self-confidence a Romney victory would have been. It is also a fact that, rightly or wrongly, the majority of unions in the US backed Obama. All reports suggest, as well, that the mass of ordinary people outside the US, feared that a Romney victory would make the world as a whole a more dangerous place.
Now, of course, the orthodox (and not-so-orthodox) Trotskyist position has always been that the Democrats are simply a bosses’ party (in a way, for instance, that the UK Labour Party, being a “bourgeois workers’ party”, isn’t) and so a vote for them is impermissible. Instead, we should advocate the creation of a US ‘labor party’. The great American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon (of whom I am a considerable, though not uncritical, admirer), wrote extensively on this subject, and his articles repay study. Unfortunately, they are not readily available these days.
James P. Cannon
Here’s an excerpt from a 1954 article entitled “A New Declaration of Independence”. I had better explain that Cannon regarded McCarthyism as “American fascism in incipient form.” Whether or not he was correct about that (and, indeed, whether such an analysis of the Tea Party movement would be appropriate today), is not the central issue here.
Cannon argued that:
“[T]he myopic policy of the liberals and the labor leaders is concentrated on the congessional elections next fall, and the presidential election to follow in 1956. A Democratic victory is counted on to deal a death blow to the McCarthy aberration. ‘McCarthyism is becoming a danger all right, and it begins to look like a fascist movement; but all we need is a general mobilisation at the polls to put the Democrats back in power.’ Such are the arguments we already hear from the Democratic high command, the literary liberals, the labor leaders and — skulking in the rear of the caravan, with their tails between their legs — the Stalinists.
“This would really be laughable if humor were in place where deadly serious matters are concerned. The Roosevelt New Deal, under far more favourable conditions, couldn’t find a way to hold back the economic crisis without a war. A Stevensonian version of the same policy, under worse conditions, could only be expected to fail more miserably. A Democratic victory might arrest the hitherto unobstructed march of McCarthyism while it re-forms its ranks. It might even bring a temporary moderation of the fury of the witch-hunt. But that’s all.
“The fascist movement would probably begin to grow again with the growth of the crisis. It would probably take on an even more militant character, if it is pushed out of the administration and compelled to develop as an unofficial movement. Under conditions of a serious crisis, an unofficial fascist movement would grow all the more stormily, to the extent that the labor movement would support the Democratic administration, and depend on it to restrain the fascists by police measures.
“Such a policy, as the experience of Italy and Germany has already shown, would only paralyze the active resitance of the workers themselves, while giving the fascist gangs a virtually free reign. Moreover, by remaining tied to the Democratic administration, the labor movement would take upon itself a large part of the responsibility for the economic crisis and feed the flames of fascist demagogy around the question.
“That would be something to see: The fascists howling about the crisis, and stirring up the hungry and desperate people with the most extravagent promises, while the labor leaders defend the administration. The official labor leaders are fully capable of such idiocy, as they demonstrated in the last presidential election. But with the best will in the world to help the democratic administration, they couldn’t maintain such a position very long.
“The workers will most probably accept the recommendation of the labor leaders to seek escape from the crisis by replacing Republican rascals by Democratic scoundrels in the next election. But when the latter become officially responsible for the administration, and prove powerless to cope with the crisis, the workers will certainly draw some conclusions from their unfortunate experiences. The deeper the crisis and the more brutal the fascist aggression fed by the crisis, the more insistent will be the demand for a radical change of policy and a more adequate leadership.
From all indications, the workers’ discontent will be concentrated, at first, in the demand for a labor party of their own. This will most probably be realized. It will not yet signify the victory over fascism — not by a long shot — but it will represent the beginning of a counter-movement which will have every chance to end in victory.”
I have to say that I find most of Cannon’s case unconvincing and (ironically for an outspoken anti-Stalinist) verging upon Third Period Stalinism. Just at a factual level, I don’t think it’s accurate to dismiss the New Deal as something that could not have succeeded without a war, or to suggest such a policy in the 1950’s was doomed to “fail miserably”. Certainly, Cannon produces no evidence to back up that claim. His argument against illusions in the Democrats and the dangers of being seen to defend a Democratic administration are fair enough, but do not amount to a coherent case against even voting for the Democratic Party – any more than the danger of sewing illusions in the UK Labour Party and giving uncritical support to a Labour government, are arguments against a Labour vote.
In fact Cannon, it seems to me, fundamentally undermines his own argument by concluding that workers’ discontent with a Democratic administration at that time would result in the demand for a labor party, which “will most probably be realised.” That would seem to be an argument in favour of getting the Democrats elected, not against it.
I have quoted Cannon’s argument at some length so as not to risk the charge of having taken him out of context. And I decided to quote Cannon in the first place because his writings on the US labor movement are generally of a high standard, and because his arguments are still, essentially, the arguments put forward by serious people who oppose a Democrat vote.
(NB: “A New Declaration of Independence” was published in The Militant of April 12 1954, republished in Notebook of an Agitator, pub: Pathfinder Press 1958 & 1973)
I’m bloody glad I don’t live in the USofA.
Because the more I see of, and hear from, this asshole…
…the more I just know that were I a US citizen right now, I’d be chucking overboard the traditional Trotskyist position and voting for Obama.
“It is noteworthy that four of the best decisions that Obama made during his presidency ran against the advice of much of his own administration. Numerous Democrats in Congress and the White House urged him to throw in the towel on health-care reform, but he was one of very few voices in his administration determined to see it through. Many of his own advisers, both economists steeped in free-market models and advisers anxious about a bailout-weary public, argued against his decision to extend credit to, and restructure, the auto industry. On Libya, Obama’s staff presented him with options either to posture ineffectually or do nothing; he alone forced them to draw up an option that would prevent a massacre. And Obama overruled some cautious advisers and decided to kill Osama bin Laden.”
That wise commentator, Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, comments upon Mitt Romney’s dangerous and ignorant comments about the Middle East.
Above: Avnery at checkpoint protest
The whole article is essential reading (A Message from Romney at http://www.avnery-news.co.il/english/index.html), but Avnery’s thoughts on Romney’s rejection of the two-state solution, and others who also reject it for a vast range of different reasons, is absolutely spot-on:
THE GIST of Romney’s message is that the two-state solution is dead. This reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
It is now in fashion to say so. Quite a trend. However, different people have different reasons for believing that the two-state solution is dead.
Parents, teachers, pedophiles and cannibals all say they love children. But their motives are not the same. This is also true for the would-be undertakers of the two-state solution. They include:
One: Idealists, who wish for people of different nations to live together in harmony and equality in one state. (I would like them to study the history of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Sudan, and the present situation of the French in Canada, Scots in Britain, Flemish in Belgium and Basques and Catalans in Spain.)
Two: Arabs, who really believe that this is a peaceful way to get rid of Israel.
Three: Settlers, who want to turn the whole of historical Palestine into their dominion and, if possible, “cleanse” the country of non-Jews.
Four: Israelis, who believe that the settlements have created a situation that is “irreversible”. (Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, coined this phrase already in the early 1980s, when there were less than 100 thousand settlers. I told him then that nothing was irreversible except death. Situations created by human beings can be changed by human beings.)
Five: Anti-Zionists, including Jewish anti-Zionists, who hate Zionism indiscriminately, with all its good and bad aspects, and for whom the very existence of a “Jewish” state is an abomination.
Six: Muslim fanatics, who believe that Palestine is a Muslim waqf (religious grant), so that allowing any part of it to non-Muslims is a deadly sin.
Seven: Jewish fanatics, who believe that all of Eretz-Israel, from the Nile to the Euphrates, has been promised to the Jews by God, so that conceding any part of it to non-Jews is a deadly sin.
Eight: Christian fanatics, who believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be possible only after the ingathering of all the Jews in this country (with no place in it for anyone else.)
Sorry if I have forgotten someone.
SOME OF these people have invented something called the “one-state solution”. That is an oxymoron. There is a one-state problem, there is no one-state solution.
From time to time it is worthwhile to come back to the basic facts of our life:
There are two peoples living in this country.
Neither of the two will go away. They are here to stay.
While the Arab Palestinians living in the country are still a minority, they will constitute the majority quite soon.
Both peoples are intensely nationalistic.
The two peoples have different cultures, languages, religions, historic narratives, social structures, standards of living. At present, after some 130 years of continuous conflict, there is intense hatred between them.
The possibility that these two peoples could live peacefully in one state, serving in the same army and police, paying the same taxes and abiding by the same laws enacted by the same common parliament, is nil.
The possibility that these two peoples could live peacefully side-by-side in two states, each with its own flag and its own elected government (and its own soccer team), does exist.
Such co-existence can take different forms: from a loose confederation with open borders and free movement to closer forms of evolving structures, like the European Union.
I hope this is not too complicated for Romney to understand. But it may become irrelevant if — as I fervently hope — he is not elected.
I would hate for an ignoramous to be given the opportunity to learn world affairs on our backs.