Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Monday, April 29, 2019

The Real Race for the Democratic Nomination

The need to replace the Fascist-in-Chief is so desperate that the race for the Democratic nomination carries a sense of urgency that I cannot recall in any of the presidential campaigns to which I’ve paid heed, basically back to 1960.  There are presently 20 contestants running for the nomination with the possibility of a few more who could still enter. There are polls and pundits and prognostications, and a lot of it this far out is utter nonsense. But what is not nonsense are the unforced errors everyone is already making: DSA endorsing Bernie Sanders long before it was necessary precisely to handicap the organization’s potential support for Elizabeth Warren; Joe Biden announcing on one day and then (a) refusing to apologize to Anita Hill for enabling a perjurer and abuser onto the Supreme Court, (b) coming down for the prosecution of marijuana possession and (c) allowing his first fundraiser to be hosted by a Comcast exec – a 24-hour trifecta of serious blunders; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) refusing to work with any consultants who challenge incumbent Neanderthals, attempting to prevent any more Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez type candidates from unseating the Joe Crowleys of this world, making the Democratic party safe for Wall Street and the fossil fuel industry. All of this bodes ill for a race that is always the incumbent’s to lose, and an incumbent in this instance only too willing to let foreign powers put their Hulk-weight thumb down on the scales of opinion and the electoral college.
It would be useful here to remember what history teaches.
No Democratic centrist has won the electoral college since 1996 – 23 years and counting. It’s true that both Al Gore and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but that and $5 will get you a vente Americano at Starbucks with an extra shot of espresso. Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in 2008 by running to her left as the anti-war candidate: one of several tragedies that we can grieve over about his actual administration was that while he ran as a progressive, he governed as a centrist. A few cases in point: (1) he ran as the anti-war candidate to Clinton’s hawkish foreign policy, but then put her in charge of that policy; (2) he “rescued” the economy from the Bush Recession, but did so (a) without punishing a single banker beyond Bernie Madoff for the abuses – crimes – of the previous decade and (b) perpetuating Goldman Sachs’ hold over US government policy; (3) he had no plan, indeed no evident interest, in building a progressive movement in  the US, leaving state and local Democratic candidates to fend on their own with almost no support from his office or the national Democratic Party, resulting in a red wave of state legislatures ready to use voter suppression, gerrymandering and other “business friendly” legislation to set social policy as far back toward the 1920s as possible.
The lesson of the past 23 years is inescapable: centrism will always lose to its alternative, if there is one. The reason is that Democratic centrism, neoliberalism if you will, is built around the central presumption that a progressive administration can do anything so long as it does not threaten capital (Goldman Sachs in ’08, Google-Facebook-Amazon today). Unfortunately, the world’s problems, from climate change to military conflict to social inequality, all can be traced directly back to the fact that an economic system predicated on the notion that “greed is good,” and that the perpetual need for growth will always take precedence over absolute fixed limits of natural resources (land and its mineral contents; water; sunlight), presents an impossible conundrum that is only addressable by confronting capital head-on.
From this I conclude that the one thing the Democrats must not do is to put up a centrist against Trump. The inside-the-beltway notion that Trump is so far to the right that everything to his left is up for grabs fails to translate into how voters actually cast ballots. The idea that the most conservative or centrist candidate will occupy the largest portion of the political spectrum and deny Trump victory has already been tested with Hillary Clinton and we can see what that got  us. But it’s the same logic that got us two terms with George W Bush as well. Voters have been telling us for 20 years that they get it that neoliberalism doesn’t work. More of the same will enable Trump’s demented absence of any real policy to be perceived as an assault on capital elites – it’s not (really) – and that is a prescription for four more  years and at least two more Supreme Court justices to perpetuate the stranglehold over policy of white male privilege.
When I look at the Democratic field with this in mind, I see some clear enough divisions: four plausible progressives: Sanders, Warren, Andrew Yang, and conceivably John Delaney; a lot of Obama-esque faux progressives (run left, govern from the center) of whom Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have the greatest name recognition at the moment; some candidates who are trying to put themselves forward with no policy objectives at all (e.g., Beto and Buttigieg, but check out Mary Williamson); and one unrepentant centrist in Joe Biden.
From this, I come away with two conclusions: of the 20 declared candidates, there are just a couple who (a) could win and (b) could govern with enough success to give us a fighting chance to survive the coming cataclysm that climate change plus the resulting massive global displacement are sending our way. There are, however, quite a few others who might be able to beat Trump and his Apocalypse Now administration. The only candidate who cannot beat Trump, under any circumstances, is Biden. For the rest, I think the question for the not-quite-progressives comes down to who could be persuaded to pursue an administration that would challenge capitalism’s catastrophic endgame with the encouragement of a lot of outside agitation. Right  now that is deep weeds speculation and I’m not ready to wade into it here. But make no mistake, the bill on failing to rid ourselves of capitalism is coming due very rapidly. It is not only the next administration’s job one, but in many respects its only real job. Anything less is just Trump Lite.
After Super Tuesday on March 3 of next year, this race will telescope down to no more than three real candidates: one progressive, one “anybody but the socialist” candidate (Biden has the edge, but 10 months is a very long time for him to not self-destruct), and probably Kamala Harris, who will win California and may well have the faux progressive lane to herself by then. There will still be other candidates, just as there were in 2008 when the Iowa Caucus turned the race into a Hillary versus Obama contest, but they will be dropping like flies as their funds dry up. This means that the first four contests, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, matter terribly for anyone without immediate national name recognition. If Harris carries either South Carolina or Nevada, her position becomes far stronger.
One lesson of 2008 was that Hillary Clinton was prepared for any of the white male candidates (Edwards, Dodd, Biden) who might emerge as the “anybody but Hillary” candidate following the Iowa caucus, but she was caught off-guard by Obama. She could not pose her project of neoliberalism’s third term as change or new against a candidate who better represented the base of the party and was running to her left. My gut feel in late April is that how it plays out in 2020 will depend on who is the third major candidate against Sanders-or-Warren and Harris. If it’s any of the faux progressives, then I think that the advantage goes to Bernie or Liz, while Harris would be stronger if the third lane is occupied by Biden – it’s the one lineup in which her own policy history might not be a weakness.
Bernie, like Biden, has a capacity for a tin ear on positions that make his campaign a little like watching Charlie Chaplin on a tightrope over a very deep ravine. Ten months is a very long time, especially when getting there means you still have seven-plus months before the general election. Getting the DSA endorsement early was more important than people thus far have acknowledged in that it shuts out Warren from a major source for volunteers right when volunteers are most needed. She has her own blind spots to worry about, but she is much better positioned than Yang or Delaney if Bernie makes a misstep.
For the baby Obamas, the faux progressives, from former Goldman Sachs exec Cory Booker to Mayor Pete and Beto, Tulsi, Amy and Kirsten, I seriously think their best shot comes not from competing with Kamala Harris over a lane that she already has locked  up, but rather moving right to a more purely centrist position and becoming the heir apparent the minute Biden stumbles. Inside the beltway where most elected officials and pundits live, the idea of a Democratic Party that challenges capitalism sounds like a prescription for self-destruction – never mind two-plus decades of evidence to the contrary – and I do think Harris is their primary opponent at least until Super Tuesday.
And on March 4th? That is when the real race for 2020 will begin.

Monday, March 18, 2019

I was a no vote, even though I enthusiastically support Bernie in his campaign for the presidency in 2020. But I also support Elizabeth Warren (and would have supported Sherrod Brown, had he run). And & and I would have supported Barbara Lee over any of them had my former Congressperson decided to run. But I felt that the either/or choice posed by the DSA election – Bernie  yes or no – was way too simplistic, an effort really on the part of the Bernie campaign to contain Warren’s support early in the contest. And I think socialists have a responsibility to do things better.

There several important realities at play here. One is that Bernie and Warren both represent the left and represent the left well. A second one is that representation matters. One reason that the Democrats lost in 2016 was the ticket-so-white team of Clinton & Kaine told many voters of color that their interests were not being taken seriously. Clinton got support roughly comparable to that of Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in terms of percentages, but the urban turnout declined and was more than offset by a resurgent rural rightwing vote. Cisgender white males may play well with the pundit class – which itself leans in that direction[i] – but frankly should have higher barriers to endorsement from the left. This is true for Sanders, Biden and O’Rourke, as well as for several of the vanity candidates for the 2020 nomination. A power play aimed primarily at precluding DSA support for Elizabeth Warren is itself a pretty traditional male privilege strategy, and it is depressing to think that DSA has responded without more critical depth.

Another reality is that no centrist campaign has captured the presidency since 1996. Obama beat Clinton in 2008 by running to her left and his tragedy will always be his failure to govern accordingly. Now, to be honest, both Gore and Clinton did win the popular vote, but as the Vlad the vote-counter could tell you, the electoral college was the first gerrymander. Sadly, I think the run-left, govern center strategy is exactly what we can anticipate from the Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gilliland and Corey Booker campaigns, and outright centrist candidates (Biden, O’Rourke, and most of the vanity challengers) may well adopt the same strategy once they realize that the center-right has not held in the old Wall Street-Democratic Leadership Conference coalition. No question, the voters who wanted a left alternative to Clinton in 2008 are impatient – they  are insisting on a progressive candidate this time who actually is progressive. There were tells, as poker players would say, with Obama early on, Bob Casey signing up as one of his first and most ardent supporters, but that kind of red flag will get noticed this time around. Harris, for example, is already having to run away from her record as DA and Attorney General.

To be honest, I would vote for any Democrat  as an alternative to Trump, and if I thought that a centrist candidate would expand the Democratic Party vote, I would be more open to the Beltway/Wall Street whinging about how the base will push the party too far to the left. But that is a patently false argument – Trump and Pence offered the most unhinged reactionary extremism a major party has ever put up for election, got 48 percent of the vote, and still has 88 percent GOP support even after having been exposed to be an incompetent small-potatoes crime family with Russian Mafia support, if not outright direction.

This doesn’t mean that it’s a done deal that the Democrats are going to win in 2020. I still  think this race is Trump’s to lose but I see no sign that it will be well run, even though well-funded. If Trump does something smart, like dumps Pence for someone like Nikki Haley, who could mute the Dem’s POC support, then it will be almost impossible to defeat him. Fortunately, betting on Trump to do anything smart is a longshot at best. But articles that his campaign is as well organized as his clown car administration is not frankly scare me.

The pro-Bernie DSA argument is pretty straightforward. Sanders has been willing to use the S word going back to at least his days as the mayor of Burlington. Warren still talks around the question. AOC she is not. And Warren  has not always been as far to the progressive side as she has evolved into over the past 15 years. But Bernie has never played well with others and is still technically an independent, and up until the past few weeks he has been tone deaf on issues impacting people of color. Cultural politics has never been his thing, to the degree that it has become part of the brand, the charm of the Grumpy Grandpa persona.

But but but – we are over 18 months from election day and you & I both  know that whoever is the front runner in this campaign is going to be hammered long and hard, with the full electoral arsenal of corporate capital and the Kremlin. In ought 8, Clinton, Obama & everyone else knew that coming out of Iowa the race was going to telescope down into Hillary and the Anyone-but-Hillary candidate. Clinton was ready to shine against any white male she might find herself up against. There was only one problem with that strategy – against Obama she no longer looked like change, like the promise of new politics. Indeed, she looked like round 3 of a very problematic center-right Democratic administration.

This time around, I think we’re in for a long bruising series of elimination bouts. I think that Kamala Harris has some serious advantages in the faux-progressive lane, an intelligent, well-spoken woman who is both Asian and black and a former prosecutor. California will give her a big victory on Super Tuesday in March. And if the race should telescope down to just two candidates, she’s a more reliable bet to be one of them than is Sanders.

Which is why I want Elizabeth Warren still in the race all the way. And having the largest socialist organization in the past half-century double down on Bernie doesn’t advance his own campaign very much except insofar as it hurts hers. And that hurts us all.

We do need to keep the S word up front and center in 2020. There is no better or quicker method for spelling out the dramatic changes this country must have if it is going to turn this Titanic state away from several potential disasters before it becomes too late. It’s not that socialism is going to happen overnight, or even in under half a century, but its unrelenting critique of capital is the one widely available diagnosis not only as to what is wrong with the world, but as to which principles need to be put forward to change the rapidly worsening status quo. EVERY – repeat EVERY – major social problem of our time can in one way or another be tracked back to its roots in an economic model that privileges power and competition, demands ever expanding markets in the face of fixed natural resources and fundamentally divides one group of humans from others in order to accomplish its goals. That all has to change, and to change now.

The entire purpose of walls is to prevent any distribution of resources from becoming equal. The invention of race – a sociohistorical reality rather than a biological one – has everything to do keeping the conditions between groups different. As with white privilege, so too with male privilege, straight t privilege, Christian privilege, etc, etc. A pseudo-liberal Democratic party that “plays nice” with Wall Street and the tech billionaires – Clinton’s neoliberal sellout – does so at the expense of the lives of the vast majority of citizens. Even when a billionaire gives away the bulk of his wealth – Bill Gates is a case in point – doing so through philanthropy removes that altruism from the clear light of review and prioritization. Obama may well have reduced the number of troops engaged in Bush’s wars abroad, but he failed to initiate the national discussion we need to have about how to walk away from global imperialism before the rest of the world pulls us under out of its own self-defense. Every empire fails – it is what they do, and usually they impoverish the very nations that to enrich themselves by casting their nets of power to the far corners of the globe. It’s a lesson China will be learning down the road, but we have to act far sooner.

Thus we have to talk about capitalism, what it has done to this world, what it is still doing. And the best, surest, quickest way to connect ALL the dots from Putin’s kleptocracy to that of Wells Fargo and Mark Zuckerberg, from the suppression of Islamic tribes in western China to the sale of slots at Ivy League academies, from the cost of healthcare to the immiseration of the Palestinian people, is to throw the S word in everyone’s face. Further, as I think Representative Ocasio-Cortez has demonstrated repeatedly, I think we are ready for it. A centrist will lose to Trump. A socialist will ultimately have a far better chance. Therefore I want Bernie AND Elizabeth Warren to lead the debate toward 2020, not to have the race collapse in a simple Biden vs. Bernie vs. Kamala Harris three-way King of the Mountain. Because that I think sets Bernie up to be roped off and contained. And I don’t think we can wait until 2024 or 2028 to have the serious discussion we need. Otherwise we won’t be discussing who lost Afghanistan or Iraq in those later races, but rather who lost Manhattan and Miami Beach.

[i] Consider that MSNBC floods the final seven hours of its news day with six white men and Rachel Maddow. And while Chris Hays and Lawrence O’Donnell are among the finest commentators on television, Ari Melber’s faux hipness, Chuck Todd’s fawning incorporation of rightwing commentators posed as “balance,” Chris Matthews’ interruption of every single answer to any question he ever poses, and Brian Williams’ servile superlatives toward any guest willing to stay up long enough to still be wearing clothes during his time spot, is not precisely a ringing endorsement of available talent. And that’s just MSNBC.

Friday, January 04, 2019

China has to know by now that it can seize Taiwan any time it wants and that Trump has so ravaged the US’ ability to mount a coalition in opposition to anything it would be a done deal. The Taiwanese have to know this also. Remember the second Kennedy-Nixon debate when Nixon accused JFK of being unwilling to use nuclear weapons to defend Quemoy & Matsu? Do you think Trump has even heard of these islands?

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Ryan Costello, the GOP congressman from our district in Chester County, PA, looks like one of those farm implement or panty-hose execs used to comic effect in so many episodes of Mad Men. But when he’s not channeling the late 1950s-early ‘60s fashion sense of mainstreet Midwest, he’s an active puppet for the NRA, having received $9,900 thus far from the folks who brought you Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Virginia Tech and literally hundreds of other nightly news horror shows.

Some pols got a lot more – by US electoral standards, Costello’s a cheap example of the world’s oldest profession – and quite a few have gotten less. But he’s what you get when Dems don’t turn out in off-year elections. And he’s precisely the kind of pol who convinces people that government is hopeless, useless and corrupt.

But the biggest con of all here is not all the little congressmen who do the bidding of the gun lobby, but the NRA itself. The idea that the NRA represents gun owners is a total fabrication. It represents gun and ammunition manufacturers. Plenty of polls have shown that NRA members support rational constraints on gun sales and ownership. They don’t benefit from mass murders and the 30,000+ Americans who die by gun violence every year. The only folks who do are the manufacturers. They are the problem. Time to focus on them.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I have been using this blog somewhat differently this year, and suspect that I will continue to do so going forward. Rather than constructing unwieldy link lists, for example, I’ve been sharing those same sorts of links (along with some others, especially related to my sense of self as a citizen) on my Facebook page. There are limits to that approach, as there are to doing it here, but it has the advantage of being both more timely and – from my perspective, at least – far less labor intensive. One limitation is that I can have “only” 5,000 Facebook “friends,” an arbitrary (and ridiculously low) number that I manage to keep open, to the extent that I do, by culling those who have quit Facebook.¹ Twitter has no such limitations, but as a platform is far more limited & limiting even than Facebook. The reality is that every attempt at an online commons is deeply compromised, both technologically and as a free public square, piazza or zocalo. It is easy enough to hold up an ideal, such as the book as a technological platform, but frankly the difference between the limitations of the book and the limitations of online mostly has to do with the transparent failings of the latter, and the more easily hidden or obscured failings of the former, failings that don’t seem “obvious” mostly because we grew up with the form.

There has been – is – a lot of bile online of late, which is to be expected in any situation of scarcity. When you have 40,000 publishing poets in the English language in North America alone, roughly 4,000 books per year, job lists that remain well below 100 per year, and ever fewer outlets for the distribution for physical wares, people are going to resent anyone who seems to receive undue attention, especially if they come by that mostly by making a comic spectacle of themselves and the process to which the other 39,999 folks feel some commitment. Historically, satire has had an angle of intent, puncturing those who have an advantage on behalf of a larger portion of humanity that does not. As the ratios between those two categories has gotten ever further out of whack, anyone tone deaf enough to appear to have his or her jousting steed turned in the wrong direction is making themselves one big target.

Beyond this, however, I think there is a malaise that underlies much of the bad blood that is going around. At the heart of it is a sense of depression that the world is coming to a very bad tipping point quite soon – may in fact already be on the wrong side of it – and that there are no effective mechanisms for braking the out-of-control vehicle that is the Anthropocene before we all hit the wall. It is not just that there now appears to be some absolute deadline – fifty years at the most – for the workers of this world to unite in order to simply halt the accelerating damage of capitalism, and that the notion that we might get there by occupying a handful of pocket parks, or even rolling out an “Arab Spring” one region at a time, suggests the scale of the problem.

Underneath this conundrum is a further layer of ill-feeling, literal dis-ease, that the traditional politics of power are simply too corrupt to be rescued. The failure of the Obama administration has a lot to do with this sense. Obama ran in 2008 to the left of Hilary Clinton, but he has governed entirely as though he were her, giving Wall Street largely what it wanted (the ability to continue to plunder at will) while eviscerating the most basic rights to privacy and governmental accountability, continuing the ongoing disaster that is the US military interventionism throughout the world. Every single problem with the Affordable Care Act, his one positive achievement, has been the result of a compromise with the anarcho-capitalists who run the Republican party. In choosing to crack down on whistle blowers who call for accountability in government while failing to prosecute the gang of thugs who lied to Congress and the American people in order to start an “unnecessary war” – unpack that term! – has not only meant that the GOP was free for the first six years of his term to play offense when they should have been playing defense, but has set up an electoral confrontation in 2016 between Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse a Little Later. Only the likes of Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush could render a Wall Street foreign policy hawk like Hillary Clinton the “progressive alternative.”

One might imagine all of this worldwide discontent as some kind of rerun of the 1950s – just wait until the next John Lennon or Martin Luther King shows up – but on a planet where there are only enough natural resources to deliver a first-world lifestyle to 2.5 billion people, it matters that we passed that population threshold circa 1950. And the effects of “things getting worse” are visible for all to see. The very same ensemble of technological disruptions that have created this commons on-line enable us today to photograph police doing what they really do in communities of color as well as to use drones to blow desert weddings to smithereens if somebody has “bad intelligence,” or to put Oklahoma into its techno-earthquake zone as we suck the last dregs of old fuels out of the planet’s soil. And now the very same contractors who ensure that 57% of the federal budget goes to military defense are clamoring for the right to sell drones to pretty much just anybody. What could go wrong?

All of which makes me want to say, lighten up a little, folks. Take a deep breath. Some tone deaf poet is not your enemy any more than Charlie Hebdo was anybody’s enemy. The English Department is not your enemy. The police are not your enemy – tho it would sure help if they were demilitarized, properly trained and representative of the communities they “serve.” Now the CEO of Nestlé who argues that the idea of drinkable water as a human right is nonsense, he just might be worth looking at as a significant opponent. And as somebody who controls disproportionate amount of resources on this planet, it matters that he says that. But if you think your problem is that somebody put the contradictions of discourse into high contrast in a way that made you cringe, might I suggest that you have not noticed that your house is on fire.

¹ There is an interesting study to be done of people who have tried and abandoned Facebook, a group that I suspect is quite a bit different from those who have never tried it at all. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

being force fed
under standard
Guantanamo Bay operating procures

(warning: extremely disturbing)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The ammo may differ but it’s the thought that counts
(with thanks to Steve Vincent)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Whole World is Watching!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Charles Bernstein
live from Wall Street

Monday, October 03, 2011

Photo © by Pavement Pieces

To Brooklyn Bridge

by Hart Crane

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Live at the White House, it’s
Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Common,
Rita Dove, Kenneth Goldsmith, Alison Knowles,
Aimee Mann & Jill Scott

Kenny’s not the controversial one

Linh Dinh has a different take

Al Filreis responds to Linh Dinh

Should Common be censored?

Obama welcomes
Common to the White House

Are Common’s lyrics
really so bad, Sarah Palin?

Common Sense eludes Sarah Palin

Palin: I’m not anti-rap

Fox News
provides its perspective
(with some helpful context from The Young Turks)

Is this overblown?

Gerri Willis
is just against poetry

(and can prove it)

Backing Common @ the White House

Jon Stewart’s commentary

What Common actually read

One attempt to
trash Common while
staying “above the fray”

For Smerconish,
it all comes down
to Mumia

Is Common controversy
raising the profile of poetry
at the White House?
(with videos of readings by
Elizabeth Alexander & Kenny G)

The dangers of metaphor

The Politics of Distraction

Barack Obama on the power of poetry