Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 5, 2016

Should Syria be a litmus test for the left in the 2016 elections?

Filed under: Green Party,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:23 pm

At the risk of alienating people who I have strong affinities with, it is necessary for me to explain why I support Jill Stein even though her VP candidate Ajamu Baraka is someone I have described as a “pro-Baathist hack”. I can honestly say that if Baraka had been the presidential candidate, I probably would have endorsed another left candidate even though my support for the Greens over the long haul would have persisted. As I have made clear for the past two decades or so, there is an urgent need for the American left to form a party to the left of the Democrats. This party might not be the one that leads a socialist revolution but as Trotskyist James P. Cannon once put it, the art of politics is knowing what to do next.

In fact, if in the unlikely event that Bernie Sanders had declared that he was launching such a party, I would have switched my allegiance to it for the simple reason that quantity turns into quality as Plekhanov would have put it. With the millions of dollars and tens of thousands of passionate supporters he could count on, Sanders would have raised the ante considerably in the long and arduous fight against the two-party system.

As it happens, the same complaints about Stein were made against Sanders by my comrades in the pro-Syrian revolution camp, which is to be expected if Syria is a litmus test. I have my own litmus test obviously, which is the need to oppose the Democrats on a principled basis in the same way that the Bolsheviks opposed the Cadets, the Russian version of the Democratic Party.

For example, Jett Goldsmith, who works with Elliot Higgins’s Bellingcat project, wrote an article for the Middle East Eye about Sanders’s failings on Syria:

The Syrian regime – which Sanders opposes intervening against – is so corporatist, corrupt, and non-democratic that its basic structure shatters Sanders’ entire “getting money out of big politics and restoring democracy” platform. The Assad regime was born and bred from the special interests-laden corruption of the Baath Party in post-Mandate Syria, and functions as a government that controls society through a patronage system paid for by the Assads’ inner circle, which Hafez worked for decades to foster, while suppressing civil society and essentially all political dissent.

Jett Goldsmith is entirely correct, of course, but the creation of a left party in the USA would have had been a major step forward in confronting capitalist rule. It might not be obvious at first blush but Sanders’s accommodation to Assad and his unwillingness to run as an independent go hand in hand. That is the consensus of the American ruling class that Sanders was willing to challenge but only up to a point. Liberal opinion in elite circles is consistent with Obama’s willingness to see the Syrian revolution be drowned in blood and Sanders is definitely at one with it.

You could have seen the same hostility to Jeremy Corbyn who had the crowning bad judgement to make Seumas Milne his press secretary. Seumas, like Baraka, is a pro-Assad propagandist of the worst kind as I pointed out in a September 2015 article where I took issue with his reliance on the Judicial Watch document that “proved” the USA backed the Islamic State—this despite the fact that the document warned that such an eventuality would be a disaster. What? You were expecting Milne to write truthfully?

James Bloodworth is an outspoken British opponent of the Baathist dictatorship who blasted Corbyn in a December 2015 article titled “The bizarre world of Jeremy Corbyn and Stop the War”. As much as I sympathize with any article that details the sordid record of the STWC on Syria, I have to part ways with Bloodworth on the broader questions of capitalist politics. He has a neo-Eustonian outlook that shares Tony Blair’s opposition to Corbyn, even to the point of condemning STWC for showing solidarity with the Sunni resistance to the American occupation of Iraq in the early 2000s. Given the inconsistencies of the “anti-imperialist” left, it makes perfect sense that John Rees and company would now adopt a kind of inverse Eustonian outlook with respect to Syria since Russian imperialism is kosher in their calculations. I know, I know. It is difficult to keep track of such gyrations.

Returning to the Jill Stein campaign, there are a number of things worth pointing out.

To start with, as I have pointed out before, a search in Nexis for “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “Syria” returns zero articles while for “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “fracking” returns 18 and “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “global warming” returns 21. So this will give you an idea of where her priorities are.

I hate to say it but when I see my Syrian solidarity comrades looking for incriminating quotes from her on Syria, I can’t help but be reminded of the “anti-science” critiques. My general impression is that her opinions on Syria are about the same as Bernie Sanders and hardly ones that she would emphasize in her public talks.

If you go to her official website and look at her platform, there is not a single word about Syria. I should add that the website does not have anything about Ajamu Baraka, which might be a function of it not having been updated yet or—as I suspect—the secondary character of all vice presidential candidates.

Essentially the only way to understand Green Party problems with Syria (and there are some as this misinformed article would indicate) is to see it in context. The likelihood of Jill Stein or any other leading Green adopting positions on Syria that resemble my own or my comrades is almost zero. People don’t evolve political positions in a vacuum. They tend to rely on the word of the leftist universe in which they dwell. If you get your ideas from The Nation, Salon, CounterPunch, ZNet, Truthout, Consortium News, the LRB, Mondoweiss, CommonDreams, Alternet et al, you will simply find very few articles defending the Syrian rebels. You need to consult websites that are generally not on the radar screen of a Jill Stein such as Pulse Media, magazines like New Politics or books such as “Burning Country” or “Khiyana”. Studies in the sociology of knowledge would probably explain how certain ideas remain beyond the pale but I suspect that to a large extent it can be explained by Islamophobia. With literally thousands of articles describing Syrian rebels as either al-Qaeda or collaborating with its fighters, you end up going along with the crowd. It is also a major problem with some truly retrograde characters taking up the cause of the Syrian rebels, starting with Hillary Clinton who some Syrian solidarity activists regretfully urge a vote for.

There are historical precedents for the tendency of good people (the best actually given the horrors of the Baathist tyranny) to make Syria a litmus test. In 1948 Henry Wallace, a member of FDR’s cabinet, broke with the Democrats and ran as a candidate of the Progressive Party. In my view, this third party bid was the most significant of 20th century history as I tried to point out in an article on the Ralph Nader campaign in 2000.

The Wallace campaign has served as a whipping boy for dogmatic Marxist electoral theorizing, much of which I took seriously when I was in the Trotskyist movement. It was supposed to prove what a dead end middle class electoral politics was, in contrast to the insurmountable power and logic of a Labor Party. Unfortunately, the Labor Party existed only in the realm of propaganda while the Wallace campaign, with all its flaws, existed in the realm of reality.

While most people are aware of Wallace’s resistance to the Cold War and to some of the more egregious anti-union policies of the Democrats and Republicans, it is important to stress the degree to which his campaign embraced the nascent civil rights movement.

 Early in the campaign Wallace went on a tour of the south. True to his party’s principles, he announced in advance that he would neither address segregated audiences nor stay in segregated hotels. This was virtually an unprecedented measure to be taken at the time by a major politician. Wallace paid for it dearly. In a generally hostile study of Henry Wallace, the authors begrudgingly pay their respects to the courage and militancy of the candidate:

 The southern tour had begun peacefully enough in Virginia, despite the existence in that state of a law banning racially mixed public assemblies. In Norfolk, Suffolk, and Richmond, Wallace spoke to unsegregated and largely receptive audiences. But when the party went on into supposedly more liberal North Carolina, where there was no law against unsegregated meetings, the violence started. A near riot preceded his first address, and a supporter, James D. Harris of Charlotte, was stabbed twice in the arm and six times in the back. The next day there was no bloodshed, but Wallace was subjected to a barrage of eggs and fruit, and the crowd of about five hundred got so completely out of control that he had to abandon his speech. At Hickory, North Carolina, the barrage of eggs and tomatoes and the shouting were so furious that Wallace was prevented from speaking, but he tried to deliver a parting thrust over the public address system: ‘As Jesus Christ told his disciples, when you enter a town that will not hear you willingly, then shake the dust of that town from your feet and go elsewhere.’ If they closed their minds against his message, he would, like Jesus Christ, abandon them to their iniquity.  (Henry A. Wallace: His Search for a New World Order, Graham White and John Maze)

When I wrote this, I wasn’t thinking much about anti-Stalinist opposition to Henry Wallace but it was not just about rejecting the “bourgeois” character of the Progressive Party along the lines of the World Socialist Website’s vituperative attacks on the Green Party. It was more than that. You have to keep in mind that Henry Wallace’s campaign was influenced to a large extent by the CPUSA’s leading role as well as Wallace’s friendliness to the Kremlin that was a legacy of FDR’s New Deal. By 1948, many people on the left had woken up to the depravities of Stalinism even if not to the extent of the post-Khrushchev revelations. But as is the case today, the consensus was that the USSR was a “socialist country” even if it was authoritarian—in other words given the same kind of leeway as Gaddafi’s Libya or Assad’s Syria.

And Henry Wallace was exactly the kind of person who bought into these lies as indicated in a New Yorker article titled “Uncommon Man” dated October 14, 2013.

Wallace was hardly the only politician of the period to form an unduly rosy picture of Stalin’s regime, but he went further than most. In May, 1944, he embarked on a good-will mission to Soviet Asia and China, and during a tour of Siberia he fell for an elaborate Potemkin-village presentation. In his 1946 travelogue, “Soviet Asia Mission,” he wrote admiringly of Red Army choruses, needlepoint artwork, and enlightened farming methods. “The larch were just putting out their first leaves, and Nikishov gamboled about, enjoying the wonderful air immensely,” Wallace wrote. He was referring to General Ivan Nikishov, the master of the Kolyma Gulag system. In China, Wallace showed himself more alert to the shortcomings of Chiang Kai-shek. (He did not favor the Communists, though, as he was later accused of doing.) A diplomatic amateur, he was too easily impressed by whichever host responded to his interests or appreciated his gifts, which included a shipment of fifty baby chicks and a glow-in-the-dark portrait of Stalin executed in radioactive paint.

If I had been around in 1948, I would have urged the left to back Henry Wallace despite all this. Whatever flaws he exhibited on Stalin, there was an urgent need back then to create a party to the left of the Democrats that was in favor of civil rights, the CIO, and against the looming Cold War and witch-hunt. When such a party came into existence, there would be other fights necessary to make it an instrument of the rank-and-file rather than the Stalinist hacks but it had to be born first. Instead it was strangled in the cradle just as the Clintonites are trying to do to the Green Party. Make no mistake about it. The fight to defend Jill Stein as a legitimate candidate of the left is necessary, warts and all.

 

 

August 1, 2016

Is Jill Stein anti-science?

Filed under: Green Party — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

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In addition to the charge that a vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump, the “lesser evil” contingent in various liberal and left outlets maintain that she is “anti-science”.  We of course understand that if her views on mercury in vaccines were in conformity with “science”, this would matter little to the vote-for-Hillary brigades that would go digging up some other dirt on her.

A lot of the “anti-science” stuff has been posted on the Patheos website, one that describes itself as devoted to the subject of religion and that was founded in 2008 by Leo and Cathie Brunnick–two web developers in Denver, Colorado. It is not exactly clear why a website investigating spirituality and the like would become a forum for anti-GP attacks but a search on “GMO” reveals numerous articles there making the case for genetically modified crops, all by self-avowed atheists who are the same people bashing Jill Stein. One has to wonder if the real beef with Stein is less about her views on mercury but on Green Party concerns about GMO’s.

Articles about Jill Stein being “anti-science” have been written by Dan Arel, a leftist who has written for CounterPunch, Michael Stone, a self-described progressive secular humanist, Matthew Facciani, a neuroscience PhD student and activist, and Bo Gardiner, an environmental scientist. Gardiner is probably the most obvious example of the sort of understanding that these people have of science since she is gung-ho not only on GMO but nuclear power. In a July 27 article titled “Dr. Jill Stein Is Anti-Science, Bad for the Environment, and Deserves Her Anti-Vax Label”, Gardiner writes:

Perhaps the most obvious point anti-GMO activists leave out is that banning GMOs would mean the conversion of thousands more square miles of land to agriculture, creating more pesticides, more waterway-killing fertilizers, and more carbon emissions. And, of course, the story of the mass farmer suicides in India due to GMOs has been thoroughly debunked. In other words, Stein is willing to sacrifice biodiversity on the altar of bourgeois, pseudoscientific food purity.

The link for “thoroughly debunked” takes you to a website titled Neurologica: Your Daily Fix of neuroscience, skepticism and critical thinking. I wonder if there is some connection between neuroscience and this sort of “scientific” thinking that more often than not is funded by Monsanto. I do know, however, that the organized Skepticism movement is very much pro-capitalist and pro-GMO as this would indicate. You can find out more about how rancid these skeptics are in my article on Michael Shermer who is one of its leading lights. Although I haven’t done any deep investigation of the matter, my guess is that atheist and skeptic associations have overlapping memberships.

Gardiner’s position on nuclear power is clearly in the same vein:

Then there’s her party’s inflexible stand opposing nuclear power, which almost certainly will have to be part of the solution in accelerating the weaning off of fossil fuels before we do further irreparable planet-wide damage. The climate and oceans can’t afford to wait until better solutions are widely available.

I haven’t seen Gardiner cited by my FB anti-Stein friends (isn’t there a better word for such people you have never met or spoke to on the phone even, like maybe acquaintances, which is really what they are). They tend to post articles by Dan Arel, who has a bit more credibility on the left. Why you can even find an article by Arel on CounterPunch titled “The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party” so naturally one might conclude that he is no ordinary “lesser evil” talking head. He even declaims, “if Sanders stands on the podium at the Democratic National Convention and asks supporters to rally behind Secretary Clinton he will be betraying his revolution but that does not mean the revolution must come to an end.” Whoa, big fellow. Make sure when you write stuff like this you don’t get the FBI breathing down your neck.

For those leftists arguing for the “lesser evil”, Dan Arel is a rather double-edged sword. Despite his fulminations about Jill Stein’s views on mercury and GMO’s, he still supports her. If anything, he is critical of her from the left stating that the Greens have to catch up with his bold call for socialist revolution.

There was a time when such a position on GMOs was more widespread on the left when Frank Furedi’s group in England was publishing Living Marxism and had some credibility in leftist circles. If there is any barometer of leftist opinion on GMO’s, a search for articles in support of the technology on Counterpunch would be a good place to start. There are none.

Although I can’t be sure that Arel has still decided to vote for Stein, his reaction to a Washington Post interview with her suggests someone at a breaking point—sort of like Leon Trotsky trying to decide in the late 1920s whether Stalin had degenerated to the point where a new International would be necessary. The video interview only lasts 2 minutes and 38 seconds and contains these two statements:

I think there’s no question that vaccines have been absolutely critical in ridding us of the scourge of many diseases — smallpox, polio, etc. So vaccines are an invaluable medication,” Stein said. “Like any medication, they also should be — what shall we say? — approved by a regulatory board that people can trust. And I think right now, that is the problem. That people do not trust a Food and Drug Administration, or even the CDC for that matter, where corporate influence and the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of influence.

Monsanto lobbyists help run the day in those agencies and are in charge of approving what food isn’t safe. There is rampant distrust of our institutions of government right now. The trust level for the presidency is somewhere around 15 percent. The strong confidence in Congress is somewhere around 4 percent, and the same is true of our regulatory agencies.

Let’s take up the GMO question first. With all due respect to Stein, I don’t think the question is whether GMO foods are safe or not. It is more about the possibility that they will allow corporations like Monsanto to use their intellectual property rights to bring farmers under their thumb and also lead to the development of superweeds that develop a resistance to Monsanto’s glyphosate in the same way that pests developed a resistance to pesticides. When such a resistance develops, there is a tendency to increase the amount of chemicals that get poured into the air, water and soil in a vicious cycle. This is the real problem, not whether eating a GMO tomato will give you cancer. I searched in vain for any article written by Arel that mentions glyphosate. If you can find one, your researching skills are better than mine and mine are pretty good.

After reading what Stein had to say about vaccines, it would be difficult to maintain that she is an anti-vaxxer so Arel takes a somewhat different tack. He refers once again to the Washington Post interview:

As a medical doctor, there was a time where I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved. There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don’t know if all of them have been addressed.

For Arel, this is pandering to those parents who believe that there is a connection between autism and the mercury that was used in vaccinations to kill bacteria and fungus. In reality those concerns came from within the establishment itself as the NY Times reported in a November 10, 2002 article titled “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory” that profiled Neal Halsey, the director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins. He was also the chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on infectious diseases between 1995 and 1999 and often quoted in places like the NY Times saying things like: “Many of the allegations against vaccines are based on unproven hypotheses and causal associations with little evidence.”

Reacting to parents’ concerns about mercury, a Congressman from New Jersey directed the FDA in 1997 to take inventory on the amount of mercury (called thimerosal) that was being included in vaccinations. The NY Times reported on Halsey’s reaction to the findings:

The F.D.A. team’s conclusions were frightening. Vaccines added under Halsey’s watch had tripled the dose of mercury that infants got in their first few months of life. As many as 30 million American children may have been exposed to mercury in excess of Environmental Protection Agency guidelines — levels of mercury that, in theory, could have killed enough brain cells to scramble thinking or hex behavior.

”My first reaction was simply disbelief, which was the reaction of almost everybody involved in vaccines,” Halsey says. ”In most vaccine containers, thimerosal is listed as a mercury derivative, a hundredth of a percent. And what I believed, and what everybody else believed, was that it was truly a trace, a biologically insignificant amount. My honest belief is that if the labels had had the mercury content in micrograms, this would have been uncovered years ago. But the fact is, no one did the calculation.”

Making matters worse, the latest science on mercury damage suggested that even small amounts of organic mercury could do harm to the fetal brain. Some of the federal safety guidelines on mercury were relaxed in the 90’s, even as the amount of mercury that children received in vaccines increased. The more Halsey learned about these mercury studies, the more he worried.

”My first concern was that it would harm the credibility of the immunization program,” he says. ”But gradually it came home to me that maybe there was some real risk to the children.” Mercury was turning out to be like lead, which had been studied extensively in the homes of the Baltimore poor during Halsey’s tenure at Hopkins. ”As they got more sophisticated at testing for lead, the safe level marched down and down, and they continued to find subtle neurological impairment,” Halsey says. ”And that’s almost exactly what happened with mercury.”

The only thing I would add to this reporting is to link it to the lead poisoning that has afflicted the people of Flint, Michigan who were victims of the state’s regulatory bodies failure to do their job. Arel should really take heart at Stein’s statement that it is “really important that the American public have confidence in our regulatory boards so that all of our medical treatments and medications actually are approved by people who do not have a vested interest in their promotion.” If anything, that is a sign that she sees the real need to make sure corporations and capitalist politicians don’t put a muzzle on regulatory bodies. One would think that someone in favor of socialist revolution would understand that.

 

July 29, 2016

The demonization of Jill Stein

Filed under: Green Party,third parties,two-party system — louisproyect @ 6:09 pm

After it became clear that the Sanders Political Revolution was history, the pro-Clinton propagandists redirected their fire at Jill Stein. The contrast between Sanders and Stein could hardly be greater but that made little difference to those who not only favored the two-party system but the hegemonic role of ruling class politicians like the Bushes, the Clintons and Barack Obama within it. Even though Sanders never had any intention of making a breach with corporatist Democrats, he was considered a trouble-maker for pointing out the obvious, namely that the system was rigged in favor of Wall Street.

As a standard-bearer of the anti-Sanders propaganda offensive, it was to be expected that the Washington Post would turn its attention to Stein once the relatively toothless Senator from Vermont was out of the way. On July 26th an article titled “As Green Party’s Stein woos Sanders backers, some see unhappy flashbacks to 2000” appeared. Like the last time a relatively successful Green Party campaign for President made an impact on American society, the Democrats worry that Stein might steal votes from Clinton just like Nader supposedly stole votes from Gore:

“I’m sure she’s a great person, but I can’t see how the effort can lead to anything but helping Trump,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (Minn.), who had been one of Sanders’s most high-profile supporters but is now urging the party to unify behind Clinton. “Trump is such a clear and present danger to the republic that we’ve got to get behind the candidate who gives us the best chance of defeating Trump.”

To make sure that people got the message, an op-ed piece titled “A vote for Jill Stein is a vote for Donald Trump, and that’s the point” appeared the very next day making the same point. Tom Toles, the Post’s cartoonist, warns: “This is one where there doesn’t need to be any confusion. Voting for Jill Stein (in a competitive state) is voting for Donald Trump to be president. There isn’t any room to quarrel on this.” The repetition of basically the same article in the Post and others referenced below remind me of Adolf Hitler’s observation: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”

The same basic article appeared on the Huffington Post: “Think Really, Really Hard Before Voting For A Third Party Candidate. Really Not content with just one such article, Huffington ran another a day later: “The Progressive Case Against The Green Party’s Jill Stein”.

At one point Salon.com was relatively fair-minded about Stein’s campaign in keeping with its liberal pretensions but since the demise of Sanders’s Political Revolution, the gloves have come off. Amanda Marcotte, a typical “progressive” hack of the sort that Salon hires, crapped on both the disaffected Sanderistas and Jill Stein in an article titled “Hanging with “The Bernouts” and Jill Stein: The Bernie-or-bust crowd is loud at the DNC — but they’re powerless”:

Like the Cleveland rally, this one was composed mostly of white men who really, really hate Hillary Clinton and aren’t afraid to make wild accusations about the first woman to be a major party nominee for president. Or to carry signs that they probably did not realize communicate subconscious phallic fears of Clinton’s ascension to power.

“White men” and “phallic fears”? Very transparent use of racial and sexual demagogy, isn’t it.  Maybe the problem is that people don’t want to vote for a candidate who represents everything the left hates.

A day later Salon reporter Sean Illing conducted a hostile interview with Stein that included questions in the “When did you stop beating your wife” vein:

In 2000, people implored Ralph Nader to run only in “safe states.” (non-swing states). He refused to do so and we know what happened. The idea was to allow progressives to vote their conscience in greater numbers and send a message to the Democratic Party without empowering the GOP. Voters know the Green Party or the Libertarian Party candidates aren’t going to win. These are protest votes, and more people would cast them if they were confident they weren’t doing Donald Trump or George W. Bush a solid. This matters a great deal to people who detest the two-party system but care deeply about core liberal principles or the balance of the Supreme Court. Why won’t you do what many now wish Nader did?

Slate Magazine, which is much more in tune with Hillary Clinton’s political agenda than Salon, chimed in with “Jill Stein’s Ideas Are Terrible. She Is Not the Savior the Left Is Looking For”. The author is Jordan Weissman who also complained about Sanders’s attack on free trade. Since he believes that “The fact is, most of the world has seen its standard of living improve quite a bit in the era of free trade,” naturally he would have no use for Jill Stein.

One of the more vitriolic attacks on Jill Stein came from a character named Dan Savage who writes for an alternative newspaper in Seattle called The Stranger and produces radio show podcasts at http://www.savagelovecast.com/. In May, after someone called in to express support for Jill Stein, Savage went postal:

Disaster will come. And the people who’ll suffer are not going to be the pasty white Green Party supporters — pasty white Jill Stein and her pasty white supporters. The people who’ll suffer are going to be people of color. People of minority faiths. Queer people. Women.

Don’t do it. Don’t throw your vote away on Jill Stein/vote for, bankshot-style, Donald Trump.

Since Savage is gay, the demagogy about “pasty white” Jill Stein and suffering gay people was to be expected. It is also worth mentioning that he was a big-time backer of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, saying “Because we’re not just at war with al Qaeda, stupid. We’re at war with a large and growing Islamo-fascist movement that draws its troops and funds from all over the Islamic world. Islamo-fascism is a regional problem, not just an al Qaeda problem or an Afghanistan problem.” So naturally he might be motivated to support Hillary Clinton who voted for the war like him and also like him ultimately admitted that it was a “mistake” to back the war in 2002. You can bet your last dollar that if the war in Iraq had gone smoothly, neither Savage or Clinton would have decided it was a mistake.

This brings me to the matter of Jill Stein’s problematic position on Syria that shares most of the left’s tendency to see it terms of a potential repeat of 2002 as if the USA ever had any intention of “regime change”. In 2013, a year after her last campaign for president, Stein assembled a Shadow Cabinet that included David Swanson as “Secretary of Peace”. In brief, Swanson’s views on Syria are identical to those of most on the left. He has written nothing about the uprising and focuses exclusively on alleged American plans to remove Bashar al-Assad going back to 2006.

He has written: “In 2012, Russia proposed a peace-process that would have included President Bashar al-Assad stepping down, but the U.S. brushed the idea aside without any serious consideration, suffering under the delusion that Assad would be violently overthrown very soon, and preferring a violent solution as more likely to remove the Russian influence and military — and perhaps also due to the general U.S. preference for violence driven by its weapons industry corruption.” In fact no such proposal was ever made as I pointed out in a September 2015 article.

Furthermore, her statements on Syria have not been so much in the Swanson apologetics mode but more in the vein of wishful thinking:

The US and Russia should support diplomacy leading toward a peace settlement in Syria. A peace settlement should include provisions for civil society in Syria that has been working for democracy. The US and Russia should work cooperatively to help resettle refugees feeling the war and the drought.

There is about as much chance of this happening as Hillary Clinton breaking up Wall Street banks.

While I consider Syria to be a kind of litmus test for the left, I tend to apply it a little less forcibly when it comes to someone whose speeches are almost totally about Wall Street criminality, fracking, immigrant rights, single-payer health insurance, and police killings.

Unlike Swanson, I doubt that Stein has ever paid much attention to Syria, something backed up by a search of Nexis. From 01/01/2012 to 07/29/2016 there were 132 articles that turned up in a search on “Jill Stein” and “Green Party” but when you add Syria to the search, nothing comes up.

In fact, the candidacy of Jill Stein and Ralph Nader’s should be understood less as a smorgasbord  of positions than about the possibility of opening up a space on the left that can facilitate coordination and common struggle around burning questions facing American working people. When I attended a sold-out Madison Square Garden rally for Ralph Nader in 2000, I was less interested in what he had to say than I was at the sight of nearly 18,000 warm body in the seats. I said to myself that if only ten percent of these people could become serious activists in a nationally coordinated organization that could fight for clean air and water, jobs for all, civil rights, etc., Nader’s bid would be worth it even if much of what he said was beside the point. If I remember correctly, he went on for ten minutes about how bad Coca-Cola was for youngsters. While I don’t think that he was wrong to attack a drink that apocryphally has been used to clean car batteries, it might have been a better use of those ten minutes to explain why Al Gore was a fake on the question of climate change. I doubt that Nader had any ability to expound upon Marxist economics given his preference for Jeffersonian small businesses, but it would have also been great to hear something about the capitalist system’s contradictions.

After Nader was blamed for Gore losing the election, the Green Party became demonized by the same sorts of people who are demonizing Jill Stein today. In 2004 the pressure exerted by people like Eric Alterman and Todd Gitlin resulted in the nomination of David Cobb, an obscure figure who the “Demogreens” felt would pose no threat to John Kerry. It turns out it was Kerry’s terrible campaign, just like Gore’s in 2000, that led to his defeat.

Jill Stein has the courage of her convictions. In an interview with Paste Magazine, she was emphatic: “The lesser evil thing is false. It’s not going to fix this problem. We’ve been using that strategy since Bush-Nader-Gore and where has it gotten us? The politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of. All the reasons you were told you had to vote for the lesser evil is exactly what we’ve gotten: expanding wars, the meltdown of our climate, the prison-industrial complex, more student debt, police violence, the off-shoring of our jobs, Wall Street.”

It is her stiff-necked determination to push forward that will help to build the Green Party. There is an enormous potential for the growth of the left that hasn’t been seen since I was in my 20s. On February 5, 2016 the Washington Post reported that in a poll on socialism versus capitalism, respondents younger than 30 rated socialism more favorably than capitalism (43 percent vs. 32 percent, respectively). Now, of course, these are likely people who understand socialism in terms of Sweden rather than Cuba but if you have the ear of someone who simply has little use for capitalism, you at least are dealing with someone who can be reached politically.

Furthermore, a WSJ/NBC poll revealed that there was a big opening for Third-Party candidates due to the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump. Reporting on the poll, the Washington Post noted:

Those whose views on the race haven’t hardened seem open to choosing Mr. Johnson or Ms. Stein. These “persuadable” voters comprised nearly three in 10 of those surveyed.

Of them, 28% leaned toward Mr. Trump and 25% toward Mrs. Clinton. Some 21% favored Mr. Johnson and 12% went for Ms. Stein.

To me those are jaw-dropping figures. Imagine that, Stein’s favorability was only half that of Hillary Clinton even though the media has been hostile to the Greens as indicated at the start of this article. Actually, that’s probably one of the reasons people are leaning in her direction.

April 8, 2015

Naomi Klein, Jodi Dean and the debate over “Green Keynesianism”

Filed under: economics,Global Warming,Green Party,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 6:40 pm

this changes everything

Despite its obvious intention to challenge the corporate-dominated status quo, some Marxists fault Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything” for supposedly straddling two opposing and mutually exclusive systems: capitalism and socialism. For every criticism, there has been a defense of “This Changes Everything” from other Marxists, including those who have had long-standing affinities with the critics–thus demonstrating that deep divisions do not have to stand in the way of a unified movement. As such, the debate is a reminder that as long as our primary focus is on challenging capitalist rule, there is no reason why we cannot air out our differences in the public arena without the schisms that have harmed out movement in the past.

In a December 30, 2014 Jacobin article, Sam Gindin praises Klein for attacking capitalism as the source of climate change but faults her for leaving too much “wriggle room” for capitalist reform. By hammering away at “villains” such as the Koch brothers et al, the left can effectively let the system off the hook. While Gindin does not identify her as a Keynesian—the term that is widely identified with the leftwing policy studies base of the Democratic Party—he leaves the impression that she is not much different than Bill McKibben. When he writes that “It is one thing to ask how we can organize ourselves better to register our dissatisfaction and to pressure or lobby corporations and states to modify some of their ways within capitalism”, it is clearly a warning that Klein’s agenda is one of capitalist reform.

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November 3, 2012

25 reasons not to vote for Obama

Filed under: Green Party,Obama,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 11:03 pm

1. His key appointments indicated a tilt toward Wall Street. Tim Geithner, his Secretary of the Treasury, was the brains behind TARP–in other words “too big to fail”. As head of the United States National Economic Council, Larry Summers pushed for tax cuts rather than New Deal type spending on roads, bridges, etc. Before becoming Attorney General, Eric Holder was at a Washington law firm that represented a Who’s Who of big banks and other companies at the center of alleged foreclosure fraud. That, no doubt, is why a Justice Department panel investigating mortgage security fraud is being starved for funds.

2. Working-class homeowners have suffered under the Obama administration. On taking office, Obama promised that up to 9 million of them would be protected from foreclosure but only 2.3 million have gotten assistance. Moreover, the White House never addressed the problem of plunging house prices that left owners being both unable to stay and to leave.

3. Despite their slavish support for Obama, trade unions have been treated poorly. Obama promised that he would fight for EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), an act that would expedite union certification. Once in office, it was relegated to the back burner.  When Wisconsin governor Scott Walker went on a union-busting rampage, Obama did nothing to back the protests and limited his support for a Democrat in a recall election to a tweet. When Chicago teachers went on strike against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Scott Walker-like attack, Obama stood aloof. This was to be expected, of course, since his Secretary of Education is a proponent of charter schools.

4. Despite foolish expectations that Obama would be a new FDR, Obama has functioned more like Hoover on the jobs creation front. There has been nothing like the WPA or the CCC, despite an aging infrastructure. And despite all the hoopla over the auto bailout, the net result has been a downsizing of the big three auto companies, as well as a sharp cut in benefits.

5. Both Obama and Romney love free trade. As liberal wonk Matt Iglesias put it, “And what’s more, all indications are that Barack Obama also doesn’t think Bain was doing anything wrong. As president he’s made no moves to make it illegal for companies to shift production work abroad and has publicly associated himself with a wide range of American firms—from GE to Apple and beyond—who’ve done just that to varying extents. And we all remember what happened to Obama’s promise to renegotiate NAFTA after taking office, right?”

6. Obama done nothing to solve the problem of greenhouse-gas related climate change, a point made by Al Gore in a Rolling Stone article. Despite the EPA’s requirement that new (but not existing) coal-fueled plants cut their emissions by half, there are signs that this will have little to do with reducing greenhouse gases since coal is being replaced across the board by the far cheaper natural gas.

7. Natural gas extraction is being facilitated through the use of hydrofracking, an environmentally devastating practice that the Obama administration has accepted without qualms. In his latest State of the Union speech, Obama’s pro-natural gas stance earned the praise of the pro-hydrofracking Independent Oil & Gas Association. His EPA chief Lisa Jackson told a Senate Committee that she knew of no instances where fracking affected water, a stance that endeared her to the ultra-reactionary NY Post. Finally, he gave TransCanada the OK to build the southern portion of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in June of this year. By contrast, Jill Stein was arrested when she was resupplying activists blockading the pipeline.

8. In the same month that he gave TransCanada the green light, Obama permitted oil drilling in the Arctic. This follows a decision in January to re-open 38 Million Acres in Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling. The fact that BP has given the largest chunk of its $3.5 million campaign contributions to Obama might well have something to do with this.

9. Obama has supported the building of nuclear power plants, even after Fukushima.

10. In 2009 Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave his personal approval for a 381-acre clear-cut in Tongass National Forest, America’s largest stand of temperate rain forest.

11. Last and far from least, Obama lifted the ban on hunting gray wolves in eight northern states in 2011. Maybe he and Sarah Palin can go shoot the beasts from a helicopter some time next year in the spirit of collaboration between the two parties. They can bring Chris Christie along, after making sure that the helicopter can carry all that weight.

12. Obama promised to close down Guantanamo but the prison remained open even after he said in the ill-conceived Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: ” I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war…That is why I ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed.”

13. When men imprisoned in Guantanamo demanded that they be tried in a U.S. court, the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. On Obama’s urging, the court denied a hearing, thus leading some to assert that a president with a background in constitutional law was gutting habeas corpus.

14. Obama maintains a secret kill list that included American citizens. This suspension of habeas corpus not only led to the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki—an American—but his 16 year old son who was never charged with a crime. Robert Gibbs, Obama’s former press secretary, defending the killing this way: “I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children.

15. Obama’s raid on Osama bin-Laden’s house was essentially illegal. Amnesty International described it as an extrajudicial execution.

16. His use of drones has led to the deaths of many noncombatants, including a number that have been covered up. The criterion used by the White House is that any military aged male within the target range is fair game. If this is not the policy of a war criminal, then I do not know what is.

17. Many of Obama’s policies are shrouded in secrecy. When the White House leaked word about its kill list—intended to burnish its reputation as tough on terror—nothing happened. But when people like Bradley Manning reveal the machinations that lead to war, he is put in solitary confinement and faced with a lengthy prison term.

18. Despite the hostility of Netanyahu, Israel continues to get carte blanche from the administration. When Americans consider the possibility of joining a flotilla to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza, they have to worry about the threats of fines and imprisonment brandished by Hillary Clinton. Despite toothless remonstrations to Israel about West Bank settlements, the U.S. voted against a U.N. resolution that described them as illegal. Finally, despite American nervousness about an armed attack on Iran, the U.S. continues to back crippling sanctions all in the name of reducing the threat to Israel, a country that flouts international treaties against its own stockpile of nuclear weapons.

19. Against all evidence that its occupation of Afghanistan has been a disaster to the Afghan people and to the soldiers serving there, Obama pledges to “finish the job” in Nixonian terms. Sticking to a 2014 deadline for withdrawal, he will likely step up the use of drones as he begins to wind down troop deployments. 42 states and the District of Columbia are facing serious budget shortfalls this year. Spending for the Afghanistan war would more than make up for the shortfalls.  As is always the case, it is guns trump butter.

20. Despite all the hype about the breakthrough of having the first African-American president, there are signs that Obama has largely ignored the suffering of Black America. In a very important article that appeared in the October 28th New York Times, Columbia University’s director of Black studies wrote: “Whether it ends in 2013 or 2017, the Obama presidency has already marked the decline, rather than the pinnacle, of a political vision centered on challenging racial inequality.” Among the findings in this article: 28 percent of African-Americans, and 37 percent of black children, are poor (compared with 10 percent of whites and 13 percent of white children); 13 percent of blacks are unemployed (compared with 7 percent of whites); more than 900,000 black men are in prison; blacks experienced a sharper drop in income since 2007 than any other racial group; black household wealth, which had been disproportionately concentrated in housing, has hit its lowest level in decades; blacks accounted, in 2009, for 44 percent of new H.I.V. infections.

21. Obama has deported twice the number of undocumented workers per annum than Bush. 59 percent of Latinos disapprove of his policies but face the quandary of voting for Romney, who complains that Obama is not deporting enough.

22. Obamacare has effectively preempted the only health care option that made sense, namely a single-payer plan that would effectively extended Medicare (but a much improved on) to all. As Obama has said on countless occasions, this is the same plan that Romney pushed through when he was governor of Massachusetts. It is also the same plan that American Enterprise Institute scholar J.D. Kleinke defended in a September 29, 2012 NYT op-ed piece titled “The Conservative Case for Obamacare”: The rationalization and extension of the current market is financed by the other linchpin of the law: the mandate that we all carry health insurance, an idea forged not by liberal social engineers at the Brookings Institution but by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. The individual mandate recognizes that millions of Americans who could buy health insurance choose not to, because it requires trading away today’s wants for tomorrow’s needs. The mandate is about personal responsibility — a hallmark of conservative thought.”

23. Obama set up something called National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that was co-chaired by a couple of fiscal hawks, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. There are fears that the policies favored by these two reactionaries will be implemented as cuts in Social Security in Obama’s second term. In his debate with Romney, Obama said, “I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker — Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But it is — the basic structure is sound.” With the likely continuation of Bush tax cuts, there will be pressure to cut the deficit. Between Social Security and tax breaks for billionaires, guess which will be sacrificed.

24. The White House has been a pillar of support for charter schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is one of the country’s leading advocates for what amounts to the privatization of public schools and the liquidation of the teacher’s union, one of the few in the country that still has some backbone. The irrepressible Diane Ravitch described Duncan this way: “Duncan cheered when the superintendent of the Central Falls, Rhode Island, school district threatened to fire every teacher in the town’s only high school; the Education Secretary memorably said that Hurricane Katrina—which wiped out public schools and broke the teachers’ union in New Orleans—was the best thing that ever happened to the school system in that city. Teachers are demoralized by such statements.”

25. Finally, in the one bright spot in recent American history of people challenging the status quo—namely the Occupy movement—there is strong evidence that the White House conspired with local authorities to crush it. David Lindorff reported for Counterpunch: “A new trove of heavily redacted documents provided by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) on behalf of filmmaker Michael Moore and the National Lawyers Guild makes it increasingly evident that there was and is a nationally coordinated campaign to disrupt and crush the Occupy Movement.”

None of this should be interpreted, of course, as a preference for Romney, which would be like recommending cyanide instead of arsenic.

On Tuesday I will be happily pulling the lever for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for president.

November 2, 2012

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