Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 21, 2016

Bernie Sanders announces plans for a new left party

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 3:52 pm


Sanders being arrested at a 1963 anti-segregation protest in Chicago. He was later found guilty of resisting arrest and charged $25. (From Wikipedia)

(This is a thought experiment based on some of the discussion taking place around the need for the Sanders campaign to “continue the struggle” after Clinton becomes the Democratic Party candidate for president.)

My fellow Americans, it is always difficult to admit you are wrong especially when you are a Senator. But the refusal of the convention to approve or even consider reforms that will make the Democratic Party more attractive to voters leaves me with no alternative but to begin the difficult but necessary task of building a new party that not only embraces such reforms but fights for them in municipal, state and national elections. It was my hope that the Democrats could return to the values of the New Deal and the New Society but in the final analysis they insisted on defending the values of Wall Street banks. If they refuse to stand up for the middle class, we have no alternative except to make a stand for the overwhelming majority of Americans who survive from paycheck to paycheck.

The fact that over 4 out of 10 voters agreed with me on the need for a $15 minimum wage, single-payer health insurance, breaking up the largest banks and an end to fracking shows that a basis for a new party exists, one that is not afraid to take on the special interests on Wall Street and that is willing to fight for the right of middle class Americans to enjoy job security, good health and a better future for their children. These were rights that were once at the core of the Democratic Party, the ones that FDR named as the Four Freedoms. If the party has abandoned its core beliefs, then it is up to us to reclaim them in the name of fairness and decency.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=12557

March 10, 2016

On Bernie Sanders’s “political revolution”

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 6:42 pm

Graphic from Socialist Workers newspaper

Being a senior citizen is a mixed blessing. On the debit side, I have to put up with ailments that tend to develop once you are past 50 (which I am well past) such as cataracts, hypertension, and the male-only benign prostatic hyperplasia. On the credit side, having been on the front lines of most of the political battles of the past 50 years, I have gained a lot of experience that allows me to be a bit more skeptical of the Sanders campaign that many younger people on the left embrace like a shiny new toy.

Of course, there are some grizzled veterans who are also fixated on the new toy, which can be explained by their viewing votes for a Democrat as a tactical matter. To give credit where credit is due, I would say that Ethan Young’s article on the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung website titled “A Political Revolution” is the most skillful attempt to justify voting Democrat—much more informed than, for example, the Socialist Alternative people whose article explaining their participation in the Sanders campaign appears juvenile by comparison.

I should mention that the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is basically the NY branch office of Die Linke, the German left party that generally fights the good fight even though it has erred badly on Syria. In my view, the USA is urgently in need of such a party as the Socialist Alternative comrades argue in their article but mistakenly believe—as does Young—that the Sanders campaign can mutate into such a party. It is more likely that I will mutate into Rosa Luxemburg.

Young starts off by making comparisons between Debs and Sanders that might seem plausible at first blush since Sanders had his picture in both his mayor’s office in Burlington and now in his Senate office. In 1979, he made an LP that paid tribute to “a socialist, a revolutionary and probably the most effective and popular leader that the American working class has ever had.” Young writes: “Sanders is the first self-proclaimed socialist to win a national audience since Eugene V. Debs ran as the Socialist Party’s presidential candidate in the early 20th century, and the size of his base is arguably greater than that of any socialist leader in U.S. history.”

Missing from this equation is any understanding of what socialism meant to Debs. If Debs evaluated Sanders’s political record, he would most certainly state, paraphrasing Marx, “if that is socialism, I am no socialist.” For Debs, socialism was the implacable enemy of the capitalist system. If you can find any resemblance between a Sanders speech and what Debs said in his 1912 “Capitalism and Socialism”, you are probably having hallucinations and should make an appointment with a psychiatrist. Debs said, “The Socialist party is the only party in this campaign that stands against the present system and for the rule of the people; the only party that boldly avows itself the party of the working class and its purpose the overthrow of wage-slavery.” He also said:

The Republican, Democratic and Progressive conventions were composed in the main and controlled entirely by professional politicians in the service of the ruling class.

There were no working men and no working women at the Republican convention, the Democratic convention, or the Progressive convention.

These were clearly not working class conventions. Ladies and gentlemen of leisure were in evidence at them all. Wage-slaves would not have been tolerated in their company. They represented the wealth and culture and refinement of society and they were there to applaud and smile approval upon the professional politcians and patriots who were doing their work.

So please, comrades, let’s not take the name of Debs in vain from now on. Furthermore, what does it mean to say that Sanders is now making the term socialism popular among young people? If it is nothing but a synonym for New Deal policies that have doubtful possibility of being reenacted in a transformed American capitalist system, the confusion assumes biblical proportions. Back in the 1960s, when I used to sell the stupid Militant newspaper door to door in Columbia University dormitories as a “socialist newsweekly”, I often had to waste 5 minutes of my time pointing out that it was not what existed in Sweden. Mind you, I don’t think it would be a bad thing to see the kinds of social welfare programs that exist there to be replicated in the USA just as long as it is understood as capitalism with a human face and not meant for the hapless immigrant encroaching on Aryan terrain.

Ethan Young has a rather peculiar idea about what made parties such as Eugene V. Debs’s apparently so irrelevant:

Repeated attempts to introduce a social democratic or labor party that could eclipse the Democratic/Republican duopoly have never succeeded. From 1900 to 1946, the political Left was largely embodied in two parties: Socialist and Communist. Both of these parties fell to the background during the years of the New Deal and World War II.

First, on the SP. It did not “fall to the background”. It was pushed there by the American Trotskyist movement that entered the party with the goal of destroying it as part of the “French turn” that Trotsky encouraged. It was a parasitic tactic to recruit the party’s left wing on the behest of a Leninist sect. Its leader James P. Cannon gloated over its success in leaving the SP as a “dead husk”.

For its part, the CP worked in the opposite direction. Instead of helping to build a broad-based labor party that could confront the Roosevelt administration on a class basis, it threw its considerable weight behind the New Deal and even sabotaged efforts to build a labor party—ironically through its involvement with the American Labor Party.

When the CP made its turn to Roosevelt as part of its obedience to the Comintern’s new Popular Front strategy, it joined with rightwing Social Democrats who had defected from Debs’s party now under the imperfect but generally principled leadership of Norman Thomas in initiating something called the Labor Non-Partisan League. Trade union bureaucrats in the needles trade like Sidney Hillman et al were upset by the SP getting 200,000 votes in the New York City elections of 1935, something they saw as undermining Roosevelt’s campaign the following year. In other words, these were the Demogreens of their day.

In the summer of 1936, the LNPL transformed itself into the American Labor Party with the clear goal of making it possible for a nominally independent party to provide a ballot line for the Democrats after the fashion of the Working Families Party who provided one for the dreadful Andrew Cuomo in 2014. In 1938, the LNPL and the CP backed Michael Igoe for Senator from Illinois. Igoe was a long-time operative in the Kelly-Nash Democratic Party machine in Chicago that the CP regarded as a “friend of labor”.

In an article by Roger Biles on Edward J. Kelly, who was mayor of Chicago from 1933 to 1947, that appears in the collection titled “The Mayors”, we discover how internecine the ties were between a corrupt and brutal DP and its allies on the left:

The Democratic machine also received the support of organized labor, despite the potentially disastrous Memorial Day Massacre of 1937. In that incident, Chicago police fired pistols into a crowd of fleeing picketers, killing ten and wounding thirty more. Kelly staunchly defended the actions of the police, but a well-publicized investigation by a U.S. Senate Committee chaired by Robert LaFollette, Jr., condemned the police action and the city’s blatantly partial investigation. The Democratic leadership so feared retaliation by working-class voters that they met with CIO officials to discuss ways of improving their rap-port. Kelly offered them future exemption from police interference in return for official forgiveness for Kelly’s role in the Memorial Day affair. The CIO worked for the machine in subsequent elections and, amazingly, a steelworker whose eye had been shot out in the 1937 skirmish gave Kelly a radio endorsement during the 1939 mayoral campaign. Thereafter, Chicago police assumed a more circumspect stance during labor-management confrontations, and the CIO took its place among the supporters of Chicago Democracy.”

Notwithstanding its diehard support for FDR and other Democrats far to his right like Edward G. Kelly, the American Labor Party was contested territory between the CPUSA and trade union militants who sought to turn it into an instrument of struggle.

Emile Mazey, a UAW leader whose brother Ernie was in the SWP, was one of them. In 1943 he and other leftists took over the moribund Michigan LNPL with the hope of leveraging it into a Labor Party just as it had given birth to the ALP in NY. They found an ally in the David Dubinsky wing of the ALP that was locked in battle with the Sidney Hillman-CPUSA wing of the party. Hillman, a rightwing social democrat, saw eye to eye with the Stalinists on backing the Democrats. Dubinsky, for his part, was dissatisfied with its subservience to the NY State Democratic Party even though he continued to be a New Deal stalwart. Needless to say, the Hillman-CPUSA faction saw people such as Dubinsky and Mazey as “ultraleft”.

This was a party of 100,000 or so members that held lofty perches in most of the CIO unions. When you have this kind of duplicitous electoral strategy, it is rather misleading to refer to past third party efforts as Quixotic efforts. It was not a question of a hallucinatory knight tilting at windmills. No, comrades, the windmills were real and tilting at us.

After a reasonably accurate chronology of the left’s difficulties since 2000, Young turns his attention to the Sanders campaign and with a purview for defending his running as a Democrat and promising to support the DP nominee unlike the troublesome Ralph Nader:

To avoid the stigma of splitting the Democratic vote and ensuring a Republican victory, Sanders pledged to support whomever won the party’s nominated candidate if he lost the primaries or was squeezed out in the national convention. (Ralph Nader’s run as a Green in 2000 may or may not have led to a tie vote between George W. Bush and Al Gore, and still sits badly with Democratic leftists…)

Of course it sits badly with the Democrats who would not think of blaming themselves for running a lame candidate like Al Gore—the real cause of their loss. At the risk of sounding Talmudic, let me quote Marx and Engels on the question of splitting the vote:

Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled. The progress which the proletarian party will make by operating independently in this way is infinitely more important than the disadvantages resulting from the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body. If the forces of democracy take decisive, terroristic action against the reaction from the very beginning, the reactionary influence in the election will already have been destroyed.

–Marx and Engels, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League, London, March 1850

If you modify the excerpt above to read “Democrat” rather than “democrat”, it holds up pretty well.

In the penultimate paragraph of Young’s article, he says some things that I’ve heard many times before in a lifetime on the left:

Part of the emerging, reconstructed Left will likely take the form of an anti-neoliberal “Sanders Democrats” wing of the Democratic Party. This could directly challenge party centrists in every state, and change the direction of policy battles in Congress and in state and city governments. It would also further challenge the view on the Left that holds to a purist stance of permanently attacking the Democrats as a class enemy. This tendency, which sees the formation of a third party as always the immediate priority in electoral politics, claims that its opponents are careerists or naive liberals. However, the most widely held view among independent leftists is an “inside/outside” strategy, favoring independent candidates where the power of the party machine excludes progressive reformers. Some die-hards of the other camp have been swayed by the upsurge for Sanders.

Let me try to sort this out and fill in some background. Ethan Young was a member of the Line of March group whose leader Irwin Silber, like Ethan, used to work for the weekly radical newspaper The Guardian. It emerged out of the New Communist Movement (ie. Maoism) in the 1970s that Max Elbaum wrote about in “Revolution in the Air”.

Unlike the CPUSA which by then had calcified into a wing of the DP (recently it endorsed Hillary Clinton), the Maoists were more discreet. They were for an “inside/outside” approach that might at times opt for supporting Nader (outside) and at other times backing outlier DP campaigns such as Jesse Jackson’s in 1984 and 1988, Harold Washington for mayor of Chicago and now Bernie Sanders. Each time we are told that there was “something different happening”. Although Young was not a Progressive for Obama in 2008, some of the people who did declare for the “transformative” candidate came out of the New Communist Movement—including Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher Jr.

As I said early on this article, I have seen these arguments many times in the past including in 1984 when members of the Line of March and the Maoist Communist Workers Party (now both defunct) argued in favor of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador becoming part of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition campaign in the DP primaries in 1984.

Then, like now, there was a tremendous leap of faith that a DP candidate dwelling on the far left reaches of the party could help to either transform it or lead to a radical split after the fashion of Lincoln leaving the Whigs. Indeed, there was much more of a movement in the foundations of the Jackson campaign than there is in the Sanders campaign today. Jackson was a pole of attraction for many grass roots radicals who understandably gravitated to a candidate whose program was inspired by Fred Hampton, the martyred Black Panther.

But once the primaries were over and when Walter Mondale became the candidate, the “movement” evaporated like the morning dew. Even when Jackson ran again in 1988, with arguably double the impact, nothing came out of that either.

I can understand the moth-like attraction to Bernie Sanders’s flame. People on the left feel beaten down and isolated. So when Sanders, speaking in the name of socialism, wins a primary in Michigan, the juices start flowing.

Unlike some on the left, I don’t quibble over Sanders’s programmatic decisions such as backing the continued use of drone missile attacks or even his refusal to identify capitalism as the underlying problem.

My problem is with his decision to run as a Democrat. This is a party that dates back to 1828, making it the world’s oldest active party. Now I may be old but I am not old enough to have been around when its first presidential candidate Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokees to leave their homeland and walk to Oklahoma in the genocidal “trail of tears”. But I can read the history books, starting with Howard Zinn, to know that it is the enemy of working people. For those who write sophisticated arguments for continuing to back its candidates—even on the far left—I can only pray for your misguided souls.

March 2, 2016

Tulsi Gabbard: a real piece of work

Filed under: Bernie Sanders,Islamophobia,Syria — louisproyect @ 6:39 pm

Tulsi Gabbard: “antiwar” Democrat getting decorated

I had never come across the name Tulsi Gabbard until October 30, 2015 when Mike Whitney, the go-to guy for Baathist talking points, advised CounterPunch readers that “Everything You Needed to Know About Syria in 8 Minutes” could be found in a video interview with the House member from Hawaii for which he furnished a transcript, bless his crooked heart.

It originated in a CNN interview with her conducted by the atrocious Wolf Blitzer of CNN. This exchange is obviously what got our boy’s juices flowing:

Blitzer:  So what you are saying is that the Russian military involvement in the air and on the ground Iranian involvement in Syria right now, the Hezbollah involvement, they are actually doing the US a favor?

Gabbard:   They are working towards defeating our common enemy. When you look at the groups that are on the ground there, the most effective fighting groups who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, they are predominantly ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra and these other Islamist extremist groups. They make up the vast majority of these so-called “Syrian rebels.” They are the most effective force, who has gained the most territory. So the people they (Russia and their allies) are attacking, and the Russians are dropping bombs on are these al Qaeda people who are our enemies who attacked us on 9-11.

Interesting to see a leftist like Whitney getting so enthusiastic over a politician whose rhetoric barely differs from Blitzer’s, a warhawk who cheered on George W. Bush’s war in Iraq as a necessary step to protect us from another 911 attack. This is also the mindset incorporated in Barack Obama’s far-flung drone war on wedding parties and the like—a necessary preemptive strike to make sure the bad guys don’t attack the Homeland.

The big news this week, of course, is that Gabbard has resigned from the DNC and joined the Bernie Sanders campaign as Ben Norton reported for Salon.com, a reliable source of Baathist propaganda:

Gabbard, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has condemned U.S. policy in Syria. In late 2015, she introduced a bipartisan bill that called for “an immediate end to the illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow” Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

“The war to overthrow Assad is illegal because Congress never authorized it,” she said, calling the U.S. policy of arming and training rebels “counter-productive because it actually helps ISIS and other Islamic extremists achieve their goal of overthrowing the Syrian government of Assad and taking control of all of Syria — which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis, and pose a greater threat to the world.”

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has continuously called for a more aggressive U.S. policy in Syria. She pushed for the Obama administration to bomb Syria in 2013, and has persistently called for a no-fly zone, which critics warn could lead to a new international war.

Before Norton got on the Salon payroll, he probably would have been a bit more critical of Gabbard’s spiel, especially in light of a blog article he wrote on December 10, 2014 that called attention to how “The ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Nations of Iran, Syria, and Libya Participated in the CIA Torture Program”. Referring to a map that depicted countries that tortured on behalf of the CIA, Norton commented:

Take a look at the map of the nations involved and you’ll see that, in spite of the insistence of the fervent authoritarian, RT- and Press TV-watching pseudo-“leftist” (or, in actual leftist parlance, “tankie”) to the contrary, the supposedly “anti-imperialist” nations of Iran, Syria, and Libya indeed participated in the CIA torture program.

He is singing a different tune now, sounding much more like the execrable Patrick L. Smith at Salon who is about as bad as Mike Whitney. When I see such a transformation, I am glad that I was a programmer rather than a professional left journalist who must be mindful of his publisher’s agenda or else be out of a job.

As I have said on numerous occasions, support for Assad from people like Gabbard and Whitney is fueled by the same kind of “al-Qaeda is gonna get your mama” hysteria that was pervasive during the war on Iraq, particularly from Christopher Hitchens, Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff except in this instance it is the Kremlin rather than the White House that symbolizes Enlightenment values, diversity, tolerance and decency. Did the massive casualties in Iraq ever cause Christopher Hitchens a sleepless night? No more so, one would assume, than barrel bombing and sarin gas discomfit the likes of Tulsi Gabbard and Mike Whitney.

Alternet’s Zaid Jilani summed up her worldview succinctly: “To Gabbard, the fact that Syria and Iraq have been through years of brutal civil war, wrecked economies and massive displacement is irrelevant; the only reason they have an extremism problem is because of Islamic theology.”

And here is Gabbard having a grand old time with arch-Islamophobe Bill Maher. Just go to 5:00 and hear her nodding her head in agreement with Maher about Islam being the problem:

To show that she is open to engagement with people clearly not in line with the Sanders campaign, here she is hobnobbing with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto, where she lashes out at the White House for even talking to American Muslims.

Although my view of Salon.com is obviously disdainful, I give credit to one of their reporters for recognizing where Gabbard is coming from. Written just one day after Whitney’s valentine to Gabbard, Sarah Burris titled her article “Bill Maher’s nasty new Islamophobia recruit: ‘Real Time’ turns ugly on ‘barbaric’ Muslim beliefs”. She writes:

Bill Maher hates religion, but he really hates Islam. On Friday evening’s “Real Time,” the host spoke to Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii about their shared quest against Muslims.

Gabbard told Maher she believes it is “crazy” that Secretary of State John Kerry says that extremism comes from poverty — and that President Obama won’t say “Islamic extremism” instead using the words “violent extremism.” She thinks it’s important to “identify our enemy so that we can defeat them.” Secretary Kerry’s comments are particularly absurd to her because she thinks that giving someone a house to live in and a skateboard isn’t going to solve the problems of violence abroad.

I don’t know about houses and skateboards but you can bet your ass that not using drones on wedding parties would help. Speaking of drones, Gabbard supports them. This is something that deeply troubled the Maui Time, a newspaper that regarded her statement okaying their use overseas as reflecting her solidly “pro-military” views. You can bet that Gabbard’s support for drone warfare did not disqualify her in Bernie Sander’s eyes since he too believes they are necessary to protect the Homeland.

In doing some searches for “Gabbard” on CounterPunch, where I suspected there would be other effusive takes on her “antiwar” stance, I found that David Lindorff was cheered over her enlistment in the Sanders campaign since “She had the courage to introduce a bill in a Congress filled with war-besotted ‘chicken-hawks’ to require the US to end its illegal intervention aimed at ‘regime change’ in Syria.”. For his part, Binoy Kampmark was delighted that she introduced legislation that would terminate an “illegal war” to overthrow the Assad regime. As I continued my search, I found an article by Stephen Zunes, a name I usually don’t associate with the Baathist left. The name “Gabbard” came up in the article, however, in a rather different context. Zunes reported:

On July 29, the U.S. House of Representatives, with more than 100 co-sponsors from both parties, passed a resolution by unanimous consent insisting that the Israeli attacks were exclusively “focused on terrorist targets” and that Israel “goes to extraordinary lengths to target only terrorist actors.” Co-sponsors included such prominent Democrats as Alan Grayson (FL), Jared Polis (CO), Eric Swalwell (CA), Richard Neal (MA), Joseph Kennedy (MA), Tulsi Gabbard (HI), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Brad Sherman (CA), Elliot Engel (NY), and Debbie Wasserman-Schulz (FL).

Now that’s some cast of characters Gabbard is lining up with: Alan Grayson, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Elliot Engel—three of the more hard-core Israel lobby old reliables you can find in what Alexander Cockburn once called Washington Babylon. Were Whitney, Lindorff or Kampark aware of this? Probably not. When you are in the cherry-picking business, things tend to slip past you.

And to show you how steeped in Likudnik filth Gabbard is, just go to the Christians United for Israel website linked in this picture and take a look at the featured speakers. Guess what. Gabbard is one of them.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 1.05.11 PM

Let me conclude with a passage from Ziad Jilani’s Alternet article on Gabbard, which is the best I have seen. In addition to nailing her Islamophobic beliefs, he investigates her ties to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, an outfit that is widely regarded—accurately—as fascist. While of American Samoan descent, Gabbard is a convert to Hinduism and likely has absorbed its fundamentalist wing’s hatred of Muslims.

Laments about Congress’ polarization are common, and it’s rare that large numbers of Republicans and Democrats can agree, especially on progressive legislation. But in November 2013, a group of 26 House Democrats and 25 House Republicans introduced HR 417, which called on India to improve the human rights situation of its religious minorities, especially citing the case of Gujarat.

The text of the bill is fairly unoffensive; it does not single out Hindus as perpetrators of religious violence, but rather calls for all groups in India to be treated fairly and given full human rights. However, Gabbard made it her personal mission to crusade against the bill.

The following December, Congressmember Tom Lantos’ Human Rights Commission held a hearing on religious freedom in India. Rather than review the litany of abuses that have occurred in the country, Gabbard mused she did “not believe that the timing of this hearing is a coincidence….I am concerned that the goal of this hearing is to influence the outcome of India’s national elections.” She went on to state that even holding a hearing on the issue was “an attempt to foment fear and loathing purely for political purposes.”

In other words, her concern was that Modi’s electoral chances would be hurt by an honest look at religious persecution in India.

HR 417 was never voted on, and Modi won his election.

Why did Gabbard work so hard to shield BJP abuses from congressional review? The answer lies in her base of supporters. The BJP draws on support from the large Indian expatriate community through an organization called the Overseas Friends of BJP. In August of last year, the group convened a large number of Indian American BJP supporters in Atlanta as part of an eight-city tour designed to prepare for Modi’s first visit to the United States the following month.

Gabbard attended the meeting, posing with a sash adorned with the BJP’s party logo. Here she is with BJP activist Vijay Jolly.

Ironically, she spent much of her Atlanta speech condemning religious persecution—of Hindus and Iraqi Christians, not Muslims in India.

“There was a resolution supported by a few congressmen, it was basically anti-Modi, as well as anti-India resolution. And at that time, the congresswoman got up and said, ‘That, no this is wrong. We are interfering in the internal affairs of India. And that’s why this resolution should not be passed.’ So you can see that’s what she’s been doing for us,” said one BJP speaker introducing Gabbard at the event. “It is necessary that we support [a] person like Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Whatever the donations you make, it is not enough, because she needs to win this 2014 election, that’s important for us.”

That’s Tulsi Gabbard for you, a real piece of work.

February 16, 2016

Left-leaning critics of Sanders? Left of Attila the Hun that is

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 4:52 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 11.48.09 AM

When I saw the headline in today’s NY Times “Left-Leaning Economists Question Cost of Bernie Sanders’s Plans”, I bet myself a bottle of good Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand before reading the article that the “left-leaning” economists are not people like Michael Perelman or Richard Wolff. Naturally, given the paper’s backing for Hillary Clinton, this was a safe bet. The wine will go nicely with the Mahi Mahi later tonight that was probably caught in the waters near New Zealand. Yummy.

Before examining the article, I should say that I am very sympathetic to Sanders’s economic program. Calling for universal Medicare and free college education is a perfect way to counter the neoliberal programs of every other candidate and even to force Clinton to shift to the left (mostly rhetorically). That being said, I have not voted for a Democrat since 1964 when LBJ essentially carried out Barry Goldwater’s agenda in Vietnam. It was only three years later when I became a Trotskyist that I fully understood how the American two-party system operated. Unlike the training I got from people like Farrell Dobbs and George Novack, however, I am much more flexible on the type of party I find acceptable. James P. Cannon regarded Henry Wallace’s 1948 campaign as “bourgeois” while I consider it a model for the type of party that is needed now. Since Jill Stein’s candidacy for the Green Party is close to that in spirit, that is who I will be voting for.

Turning to the Times article written by one Jackie Calmes, a member of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, it justifies a complaint to the Times ombudsperson at public@nytimes.com. This is like a number of think tanks at Harvard, a marriage of the corporate elite and the media hacks who have scrambled to the top of the heap defending its interests. The center was started with funding by Walter Shorenstein, a real estate developer who was a long time power broker in the Democratic Party. To give you an idea of the Center’s politics, Michael Ignatieff, a major supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq, is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Press, Politics and Public Policy. This is like having someone like David Horowitz being named the Edward Said professor at Columbia University.

The article begins with an attack on Medicare for All that claims that Clinton was not aggressive enough in her charge that it would increase the size of government by 40 percent. It cited a “respected health economist” who said it would be more like 50 percent. So who is this left-leaning critic of Medicare for all?

It is none other than Kenneth Thorpe, who was Deputy Assistant Secretary in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet and had a central role in formulating his ill-fated health care reform proposals.

Next in line to take a whack at Medicare for All is one Austan Goolsbee:

By the reckoning of the left-of-center economists, none of whom are working for Mrs. Clinton, the proposals would add $2 trillion to $3 trillion a year on average to federal spending; by comparison, total federal spending is projected to be above $4 trillion in the next president’s first year. “The numbers don’t remotely add up,” said Austan Goolsbee, formerly chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, now at the University of Chicago.

Left-leaning? Austan Goolsbee? Before Obama was a nominee for President in his first term, I came to the conclusion that his “hope and change” mantra was garbage based simply on the economics advisers he chose for his campaign.

Although it is not widely understood, Obama is pretty much committed to the neoclassical economics outlook of his home-town University of Chicago. Since becoming Senator, he has relied on the advice of a professor named Austan Goolsbee, who calls himself “a centrist, market economist” (Washington Times, July 16, 2007).

Goolsbee has been a columnist for Slate.com and the NY Times, as well as a standup comedian. His economics are not meant as a joke, as I understand it. His columns are written very much in the same vein as fellow U. of Chicago neoclassical economist Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics,” examining everyday problems such as “Why you get stuck for hours at O’Hare.” Most are fairly uncontroversial except for the swipe he took at Michael Moore’s “Sicko”, whose single-payer recommendations violate his free market principles.

Right. Very left-leaning if the comparison is to Attila the Hun, I suppose.

By the way, if you are looking for what genuinely left-leaning analysts think of this business, I urge you to read David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler’s dismantling of Thorpe that appeared in the Huffington Post:

In summary, professor Thorpe grossly underestimates the administrative savings under single-payer; posits increases in the number of doctor visits and hospitalizations that exceed the capacity of doctors and hospitals to provide this added care; assumes that the federal government would provide state and local governments with huge windfalls rather than requiring full maintenance of effort; makes no mention of the vast current tax subsidies for private coverage whose elimination would provide hundreds of billions annually to fund a single-payer program; and ignores savings on drugs and medical equipment that every other single-payer program has reaped.

Although he did have some credibility as a left-leaning economist in a previous lifetime, Jared Bernstein sold his soul to the devil when he became Vice President Biden’s economic adviser. Ensconced now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Bernstein was called upon to deliver a verdict on a paper by Gerald Friedman of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who is Sanders’s adviser.

“We need a deep investment in infrastructure, more efficient health care and less student debt,” Mr. Bernstein said. “But when you put it all together, government’s role in the economy goes well beyond anything we’ve ever considered.” He said protecting the Affordable Care Act against Republican opposition should be a higher priority — a critique echoed by Mrs. Clinton.

Just what you’d expect from someone drawing a salary from the Obama administration. Worries over “government’s role in the economy” and protecting Obamacare. Feh.

Calmes also invokes Paul Krugman as a “left-leaning” critic of Sanders. I don’t want to waste any words on Krugman except to say that I stopped reading him about eight years ago when he began focusing most of his wrath on Obama’s enemies in the Republican Party. That was also around the same time I bailed on MSNBC.

Next up in her rogue’s gallery is one Henry J. Aaron, “a longtime health economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington” (Brookings is a dead giveaway that he is a centrist) who belongs to a “lefty chat group”, which you can be assured is not PEN-L or anything remotely resembling it. In that chat group, Aaron has been arguing that fighting for a single-payer plan would destroy his political capital.

Since Aaron is a member along with Jared Bernstein at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it is worth saying a word or two about this outfit. To start with, its founder Robert Greenstein was one of Bill Clinton’s appointees to the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform in 1994. Co-chaired by the neoliberal war criminal Robert Kerrey and Republican Senator John Danforth, it proposed among other things raising the age for the full benefits for Social Security from 65 to 70. I have no idea how Greenstein voted in the deliberations there but do have to wonder how he was nominated in the first place. I doubt if Sanders would have been picked if you gather my drift.

All these people from Kenneth Thorpe to Jared Bernstein represent “left-leaning” to the political arbiters of the permissible spectrum at the NY Times. Clearly, Sanders falls outside that spectrum in more or less the same way that Trump falls outside the Republican Party spectrum. It is too bad that Sanders lacks the killer instinct of Trump who had the guts to lambaste George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq. I only wish that Sanders had half the gumption to go after the entire Carter-Clinton-Obama Democratic Party neoliberal edifice that is likely to continue with the election of Hillary Clinton. If Sanders would lose votes if he stopped pulling his punches, the real loser would be the American people who need to hear a critique of how we have ended up in such an unequal society that is rotting apart like a dead animal’s carcass in the desert. At least we have Jill Stein who knows how to throw a powerful uppercut (http://www.jill2016.com/plan):

A Green New Deal:

Create millions of jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, and conservation.

Jobs as a Right:

Create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work, replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Advance workers rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.

End Poverty:

Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.


February 14, 2016

Bernie Sanders pulls his punches

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 11:16 pm

I am a big sports fan but it is very rare for me to watch a basketball, baseball or football game from beginning to end. Generally I prefer to read sports columns in the NY Times or, even better, to listen to ESPN or WFAN with “Vinnie from Staten Island” waxing eloquently on Phil Jackson’s Zen deviations.

It is sort of the same thing with presidential elections, which are generally treated as a sporting event as well–like “Sanders and Clinton are neck in neck in Iowa”, etc. I like to read the commentary but would prefer root canal to sitting through a Sanders-Clinton debate. It was a lot easier for me to read the transcript for the latest debate that was moderated by a couple of knuckleheads from PBS.

After skimming through it, I am beginning to wonder if Sanders is fighting with one hand behind his back. Hillary Clinton has figured out that by wrapping herself in Obama’s flag she can line up Black votes. In the PBS debate,  she kept demanding that he kneel before the President under whom Black poverty has increased geometrically and under whose watch cops shoot Black people with impunity.

For example, she said that Sanders “wrote a forward for a book that basically argued voters should have buyers’ remorse when it comes to President Obama’s leadership and legacy.” Well, it turns out that he wrote no forward but just a blurb for Bill Press’s “Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down.”

Sanders tried to wriggle out of this by saying that the blurb was not actually an attack on Obama but only one that said “the next president of the United States has got to be aggressive in bringing people into the political process.” The exact words:

Bill Press makes the case why, long after taking the oath of office, the next president of the United States must keep rallying the people who elected him or her on behalf of progressive causes. That is the only way real change will happen. Read this book.

So Clinton was lying about what Sanders wrote–no surprise there. Meanwhile Sanders took the opportunity to demonstrate his fealty to the “transformative” President:

President Obama and I are friends. As you know, he came to Vermont to campaign for me when he was a senator. I have worked for his re-election. His first election and his re-election.

But I think it is really unfair to suggest that I have not been supportive of the president. I have been a strong ally with him on virtually every issue. Do senators have the right to disagree with the president? Have you ever disagreed with a president? I suspect you may have.

So, comrades, what kind of socialist characterizes himself as “a strong ally” of Barack Obama on “virtually every issue”? As far as I am concerned, Obama has been a disaster across the board, virtually functioning as the third and fourth term of the George W. Bush administration. He has backed Wall Street’s efforts to remain above the law. He has thrown his weight behind the charter school movement that is not only inimical to the interests of unionized teachers but one that is of dubious educational value. He has given the green light to oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas and boosted fracking and nuclear power. This is not to speak of his rancid foreign policy initiatives that are hallmarked by drone attacks across the entire planet victimizing the innocent and trade agreements that are in the Clinton NAFTA mold.

So how in the fuck does Sanders say he was with Obama on “virtually every issue”? Is he trying to con his audience? Or us? We know that he has been opposed to fracking and Wall Street crooks but how can you really be opposed without drawing a clear class line between yourself and the chief executive, at least if your “socialism” has a smattering of engagement with the ABC’s of socialist theory, namely that society is divided into classes. Maybe Sanders’s “socialism” is just a word he has some kind of emotional attachment to like Linus’s blanket. From my perspective, he has about as much connection to socialism as I do to Madame Blavatsky’s spiritualism.

Joan Walsh, the insufferable Hillary Clinton supporter who edits Salon.com, has a piece in the latest Nation titled “Bernie Sanders Has an Obama Problem” (http://www.thenation.com/article/bernie-sanders-has-an-obama-problem/) that tut-tuts Sanders for racial insensitivity. When asked by halfwit Judy Woodruff how a Sanders presidency would improve race relations, he replied that he would create jobs that would end young Blacks “hanging out on street corners”. For Walsh, this was tantamount to racism:

Again, I’m sure he didn’t mean it this way, but Sanders essentially said that race relations will improve when black kids stop hanging out on street corners and live productive lives instead. That would be the worst of respectability politics, if that’s what Sanders meant.

This is as disingenuous as anything Clinton would have said. It was obvious that Sanders was decrying the unemployment rate of young blacks that was 21.4 percent in 2014 and probably gotten worse. Furthermore, if anything Sanders was a lot less obtuse than Obama who has practically reduced the question of Black failure to the kind of pop psychology Bill Cosby made infamous.

In May 2013, Obama gave a commencement speech at Morehouse College, a historically Black institution, where he said:

We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices.  And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself.  Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down.  I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. . .

Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was.  Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination.  And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them.  And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too.

After eight years of this kind of bullshit, isn’t about time that Obama got called out? What kind of socialist is Sanders to pull his punches on Obama? In terms of sporting events, what is he trying to do? Emulate the Washington Generals who used to play the Harlem Globetrotters?

What a strange campaign that Sanders is running. Every other word out of his mouth is on Wall Street billionaires. He is appalled by the Koch brothers but has little to say about how Obama catered to Wall Street interests over the past 8 years.

What you need to do is Google “Obama” with the domain of https://berniesanders.com. It speaks volumes to see what comes up in the first page of results. I didn’t go past the first page because it was too depressing to press forward.

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