Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Joe Biden Likes Republicans So Much Because He’s So Much Like Them, by Norman Solomon

Recent criticism of Joe Biden for praising Dick Cheney as “a decent man” and Mike Pence as “a decent guy” merely scratches the surface of what’s wrong with the current frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

His compulsion to vouch for the decency of Republican leaders -- while calling Donald Trump an “aberration” -- is consistent with Biden’s political record. It sheds light on why he’s probably the worst Democrat running for president. 

After several decades of cutting corporate-friendly deals with GOP legislators -- often betraying the interests of core Democratic constituencies in the process -- Biden has a big psychological and political stake in denying that the entire GOP agenda is repugnant. 

At the outset of his Senate career, Biden lost no time appealing to racism and running interference for huge corporate interests. He went on to play a historic role in helping to move the Supreme Court rightward and serving such predatory businesses as credit card companies, big banks and hedge funds. 

Biden’s role as vice president included a near-miss at cutting a deal with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill to slash Medicare and Social Security. While his record on labor and trade has been mediocre, Biden has enjoyed tight mutual alliances with moneyed elites. 

The nickname that corporate media have bestowed on him, “Lunch Bucket Joe,” is wide of the mark. A bull’s-eye is “Wall Street Joe.” 

With avuncular style, Biden has reflexively used pleasant rhetoric to grease the shaft given to millions of vulnerable people, suffering the consequences of his conciliatory approach to right-wing forces. 

Campaigning in Iowa a few days ago, Biden declared that “the other side is not my enemy, it’s my opposition.” But his notable kinship with Republican politicians has made him more of an enabler than an opponent. Results have often been disastrous. 

“In more than four decades of public service, Biden has enthusiastically championed policies favored by financial elites, forging alliances with Wall Street and the political right to notch legislative victories that ran counter to the populist ideas that now animate his party,” HuffPost senior reporter Zach Carter recounts. 

Biden often teamed up with Senate Republicans to pass bills at the top of corporate wish lists and to block measures for economic fairness. In the mid-1970s, during his first Senate term, Biden repeatedly clashed with Sen. Edward Kennedy, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, who wanted to rein in runaway corporate power.

“Biden became an advocate for corporate interests that had previously been associated with the Republican Party,” Carter reports. As he gained seniority, Biden kept lining up with GOP senators against antitrust legislation and for bills to give corporations more leverage over consumers and workers. 

“By 1978, Americans for Democratic Action, the preeminent liberal watchdog group of the time, gave Biden a score of just 50, lower than its ratings for some Republicans.” Opposing measures for racial equity and economic justice, Biden’s operational bonds with GOP leaders continued. 

Carter reports that “on domestic policy -- from school integration to tax policy -- he was functionally allied with the Reagan administration. He voted for a landmark Reagan tax bill that slashed the top income tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and exempted many wealthy families from the estate tax on unearned inheritances, a measure that cost the federal government an estimated $83 billion in annual revenue. He then called for a spending freeze on Social Security in order to reduce the deficits that tax law helped to create.” 

Biden came through for corporate power again in November 1993 when he joined with 26 other Democrats and 34 Republicans to win Senate passage of NAFTA, the trade agreement strongly opposed by labor unions and environmental groups. 

In mid-1996, when Congress approved President Clinton’s “welfare reform” bill, Biden helped to vote the draconian measure into law. It predictably had devastating effects on women and children. 

Throughout the 1990s -- from tax-rate changes that enriched the already-rich to deregulating banks with repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to loosening government curbs on credit default swaps -- Biden stood with the Senate’s Republicans and the most corporate-aligned Democrats. 

Carter sums up: “Biden was a steadfast supporter of an economic agenda that caused economic inequality to skyrocket during the Clinton years. . . . Biden voted for all of it.” Biden led the successful push to pass the milestone 1994 crime bill, engaging in racist tropes on the Senate floor along the way. 

By then, he had become a powerful lawmaker on criminal-justice issues. In 1991, midway through his eight years as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden ran the hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas that excluded witnesses who were prepared to corroborate Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment.

“Much of what Democrats blame Republicans for was enabled, quite literally, by Biden: Justices whose confirmation to the Supreme Court he rubber-stamped worked to disembowel affirmative action, collective bargaining rights, reproductive rights, voting rights,” feminist author Rebecca Traister writes. 

Early in the new century, Biden wielded another weighty gavel, with momentous results, as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 2002, congressional Democrats were closely divided on whether to greenlight the invasion of Iraq, while Republicans overwhelmingly backed President George W. Bush’s mendacious case for invading. 

Biden didn’t only vote for the Iraq invasion on the Senate floor in October 2002. Months earlier, he methodically excluded dissenting voices about the looming invasion at key hearings of the Foreign Relations Committee. 

While his impact on foreign policy grew larger, Biden’s avid service to financial giants never flagged. One of his top priorities was a crusade for legislation to undermine bankruptcy protections. Biden was a mover and shaker behind the landmark 2005 bankruptcy bill. Before President Bush signed it into law, Biden was one of just 14 out of 45 Democratic senators to vote for the legislation. 

The bankruptcy law was a monumental victory for credit-card firms -- and a huge blow to consumers, including students saddled with debt. As happened so often during Biden’s 36 years in the Senate, he eagerly aligned himself with Republicans and a minority of Democrats to get the job done. 

Now, running for president, Biden has no use for candor about his actual record. Instead, he keeps pretending that he has always been a champion of people he actually used his power to grievously harm. 

In ideology and record on corporate power, the farthest from Biden among his competitors is Bernie Sanders. No wonder Biden has gone out of his way to distance himself from Sanders while voicing high regard for the wealthy. (I was a Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and continue to actively support him.) 

Biden’s ongoing zeal to defend and accommodate Republicans in Congress is undiminished, as though they should not be held accountable for President Trump even while they aid and abet him. Days ago on the campaign trail -- while referring to Trump -- Biden asserted: “This is not the Republican Party.” And he spoke warmly of “my Republican friends in the House and Senate.” 

All in all, it’s preposterous yet fitting for Joe Biden to claim that Republicans like Dick Cheney and Mike Pence are “decent.” He’s not only defending them. He’s also defending himself.
________________________________
Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Putting Social Class into the History of Classics, by Edith Hall

Classics, the study of the languages and civilisation of ancient Greece and Rome, is usually assumed to have functioned historically as the curriculum of the British elite. 

A People’s History of Classics: Class and Greco-Roman Antiquity in Britain, which I have just finished preparing with my co-author Henry Stead, is the first substantial enquiry into the presence of ancient Greek and Roman culture in British working-class communities ever to have been conducted.

It alters our understanding of the history of Classics irrevocably by examining evidence for the diverse working-class experience of the classical world between the Act of Union in 1689 and the outbreak of WWII. 

The evidence includes autobiographies, poetry, fiction, visual and material culture in museums, galleries and the civic environment, theatrical ephemera, records of Trade Union activities, self-education publications, mass-market inexpensive ‘classic’ series, archives relating to Poor, Free, Workers’, Adult and Dissenting educational establishments, and to political parties which supported the working class. 

The book asks how workers gained access to classical texts, ideas and materials, and how the contact affected their lives and attitudes. Although there was a significant amount of working-class engagement with the ancient Greeks and Romans, most of which has hitherto been overlooked, it was often hard won. 

The time-consuming study of the Greek and Latin languages was adopted as the core of ‘Classics’, the education of the newly redefined British ‘gentleman’, at the dawn of the 18th century, whether his fees were paid by landed estates or commerce. It symbolised his fitness for a profession, a marriage into the gentry, a career in prestigious educational institutions or government, or advancement in the civil or colonial services. 

By the end of the second decade of the 18th century, the battle-lines which still shape debates over Classics had been drawn up. Britons who were unable or unwilling to bankroll their sons’ classical educations fought back.

The Greeks and Romans could be approached by other routes which did not require years glued to grammars and dictionaries. They could increasingly be read in mother-tongue translations, by great poets like Dryden and Pope, even though this was obviously derided as a vulgar mode of access to the Classics by those who had purchased the linguistic training. The material covered in ancient authors could be enjoyed even by the completely illiterate in accessible entertainments such as fairground shows. 

We ask what Classics-related cultural media and literary genres were accessed, and in turn used as vehicles, by working-class subjects. In the 18th century, some autodidacts in lowly occupations succeeded in learning classical languages against the odds, while others accessed classical authors via increasingly abundant translations. 

In the 19th century, widening literacy and inexpensive literature, especially the many educational publications of John Cassell, expanded access to Classics exponentially.

Although Homer, Virgil and Caesar were universally popular, the authors prioritised by working-class readers differed from those read in expensive schools and elite colleges: the Greek New Testament, Aesop, Plutarch, Epictetus, Josephus, Plato and Livy, and a particular canon of historians of antiquity (e.g. Rollin, Gibbon, Osborne Ward) recurs on working-class reading-lists. 

Labouring-class poets, both male and female, such as Stephen Duck and Mary Collier, published collections which display knowledge of classical forebears; some use it to flatter their rich patrons and others to challenge social injustice. 

Life-writing by workers reveals a similar gulf between those who embraced what they perceived as their escape from their natal class and those who never ceased to work in its cause; what unites many working-class autobiographies is a youthful encounter with Classics which transforms the subject’s life trajectory, whether by inspiring a programme of self-education or by proving to him (and almost all the 19th-century worker-autobiographers are male) the extent of his educational deprivation. 

Until the later 19th century, a large proportion of the British working class, especially women, remained illiterate. The book explores their engagement with visual media which informed them about classical culture—the windows of print shops, aristocratic and civic architecture and internal decoration, museums, spectacles and illustrated educational periodicals. 

Since drawing, painted decoration and modelling often attracted apprentices from impoverished backgrounds, the visual understanding of sites such as Pompeii and the Athenian Acropolis was often provided by originally working-class men. 

Theatrical performances provided another route to the classical world, although the censorship of stage plays limited the use of rousing ancient stories in plays exploring the iniquities of the class system. The case of a censored tragedy about the Gracchi produced just before and after Peterloo provides a vivid example. 

Contact with Classics varied between different communities, so we also explore religious identity, adult educational groups, and the national experiences in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Dissenters of all denominations were crucial in making classical authors available to Britons across the lower end of the class spectrum. 

Dissenters also often led major educational initiatives offering opportunities to the working classes to study subjects including Classics: Mutual Improvement Societies, Adult Schools, Mechanics Institutes, University Extension schemes, the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) and the Labour Colleges. 

The relationship between the Irish and the Greco-Roman world was intense, as their literature in both Gaelic and English reveals. Competence in Latin was fostered across even some of the lowest classes by Roman Catholicism and informal education at ‘hedge schools’.

But political allegiances were complicated; along with classically skilled Irish working-class Catholics, who supported Irish rebellion, some ardently opposed it. Two radical Irish classicists campaigning in the interests of the Irish working classes were Protestants; Robert Tressell, author of the Plato-influenced working-class novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1914), was of mixed religious parentage. 

In Scotland, the proud tradition of the ‘lad o’ pairts’ boasts a longstanding reputation for good working-class education. There were indeed remarkable resources for studying and teaching the Classics in the counties around Aberdeen, which furnished hundreds of educated men to work in the furthest outposts of the British Empire; cheap and popular publishing ventures were founded by Scotsmen, especially the Chambers brothers; two of the most important books in British Labour History were Thomas Carlyle’s classically informed Past and Present and Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s Spartacus

Wales had a distinct Nonconformist tradition of classical education, but it also had Caractacus, the ancient British leader who, according to Tacitus, had fought against the ancient Romans in Wales and was paired in the public imagination with David Lloyd-George. There was an Edwardian craze in Wales for amateur theatrical performances by school children starring Caractacus, and once WWI broke out, they became transparently connected with recruitment, morale and fund-raising for the war effort. 

Individual working-class subjects teetering on or below the edge of respectability are put at the centre of the radar.. Between the French revolution and the collapse of the Chartist movement, diverse British radicals—republican revolutionaries of the 1790s, men incarcerated for sedition in the aftermath of Peterloo, Chartists, workplace organisers and freethinkers, some working-class and some from more prosperous backgrounds—were motivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They used Classics to enliven their journalism, inform arguments at the trials, and explore religious questions that took them far beyond the limits of Anglican theology. 

A few outstanding autodidacts harnessed Classics to assist a meteoric rise to university chairs, where most of them relinquished class anger to become quietist professionals. The attempts of other extraordinary working-class boys to escape poverty by self-education never quite got off the ground; some ended their days as itinerants, alcoholics, or suffering from acute mental disorders. 

The aura surrounding the ancient cultures did not signify gentlemanliness and financial security everywhere. Alongside the gentry enjoying their Palladian mansions and expensive school curriculums, there always existed more commercial, demotic, subterranean and secretive groups in British society who used imagery from the Greek and Roman worlds to communicate and self-identify: salesmen, imposters, criminals, prostitutes, circus and fairground performers, showgirls, libertines, madmen, and participants in recreational activities ranging from the merely vulgar to the illegal. 

Ancient Greek appeared in a variety of recherch√© contexts such as accusations of witchcraft, caricatures of Jesuits, the slang dialects of the criminal underclass, the display of prodigiously intellectual dogs and pigs, fairground freaks including satyrs and centaurs, the lives of notoriously uncouth Scotsmen, Welsh dream divination and down-market pharmaceuticals and sex manuals. A few classicists unambiguously joined the underclass in being convicted of violent crimes and/or confined in asylums. 

Most beauty and strength performers in the long nineteenth century—dancers, actresses, strongmen, contortionists, strongwomen, wrestlers, boxers, novelty performers, artists’ models and posers of all kinds—used draped fabric, leather straps and bared flesh to identify their acts with Greco-Roman antiquity. They almost always came from working-class families. 

Finally, we also examine the presence of classical material in other working lives. The figures from antiquity with whom the working classes identified, or were identified with by others, were male martyrs, rebels, slaves and labourers, largely distinct from the heroes and gods instrumentalised by those higher up the social scale, such as Alexander, Aeneas, Augustus, Jove and Juno, Leto, Apollo, Diana, Venus and Mars. 

Sources including workers’ newspapers and Trade Union art show that workers identified with Aesop, both Brutuses, the Gracchi, Solon, Caractacus, Boadicea, Spartacus, Prometheus, Vulcan, Hercules’ labours, Atlas, the Cyclopes, and Neptune. Hercules and Atlas were violently contested, being used to symbolise both ruling-class/imperial dominion and the physical power of the proletariat. 

Shoemakers, often radical Nonconformists, although sometimes espousing conservative views, were well-read and conversant with classical authors, inspired by the examples of learned cobblers they found in ancient sources. Pottery workers were familiar with ancient artefacts and with books visually reproducing and discussing them. Miners, especially in Scotland and Wales, enjoyed some of the best workers’ libraries, well stocked with Classics, in the nation. 

As working-class activism increased with the rise of Labour Movement, classically self-educated professional politicians rose from the working classes, and their cause was espoused by newly university-trained socialist women, the academic Classicists who joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, and classically trained fulltime activists and intellectuals such as Christopher Caudwell and Jack Lindsay. 

Accessing the experience of working-class soldiers is exceptionally difficult, but one War Poet, David Jones, was not of officer rank. His neglected epic prose poem In Parenthesis (1937) forged a radically new Classicism, Modernist form and demotic language for the representation of the common soldier’s subjective experience of the trenches, which are prefigured by the frontier walls of the Roman empire. 

A People’s History of Classics closes with the class-conscious and sophisticated classical theatre pioneered by Theatre Workshop, founded by the working-class communist theatre-makers Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl, who used Greek drama to fight the cultural wars of the 1930s for the rights of the working classes. 

The British working classes were almost universally excluded from institutionalized Classics, and from study of ancient languages, but a few overcame the obstacles; many more engaged with the ancient Greeks and Romans in myriad creative ways. 

The classical world aided their careers, expanded their horizons, improved their rhetoric, informed their politics, alleviated their boredom, inspired them to read, write, paint, draw, sculpt, act, perform, teach, publish, organize Trade Unions, join debating societies, read the Gospels in the original or question the existence of God altogether. 

They used Classics to prove their intellectual calibre, to express their plight and signal their consciousness of the class system; they also used it to subvert and undermine the authority of the classes that ruled them and to entertain themselves during leisure hours. 

The heroes of People’s Classics were gardeners, stonemasons, circus acrobats, factory operatives, engravers, cutlers, domestic servants, brewers, weavers, tramps, beggars, prisoners, thieves, inmates of mental hospitals, plasterers, painter-decorators, cabin-boys, milkmaids, washerwomen, wool-sorters, drummers, butchers, grocers, mechanics, carpenters, errand-boys, tailors, pill-sellers, janitors, porters, dockers, hatters, fishermen, sailors, comb-makers, bakers, bricklayers, navvies, shepherds, threshers and grave-diggers. 

They deserve honoured places in the gallery of People’s Classics simply because they struggled so hard to get access to the ancient world. But they also offer us a new ancestral backstory for a discipline sorely in need of a democratic makeover.

Edith Hall is Professor in the Department of Classics and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s College, London. A People’s History of Classics will be published both in print, and as an e-book entirely free, on the Routledge Taylor Francis platform in November 2019. The cover image is the banner of the Lanchester miners.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Why So Many Journalists Are Clueless About The Bernie 2020 Campaign, by Norman Solomon

They don’t get it. 

Mainstream journalists routinely ignore the essential core of the Bernie 2020 campaign. As far as they’re concerned, when Bernie Sanders talks about the crucial importance of grassroots organizing, he might as well be speaking in tongues. 

Frequently using the word “unprecedented” -- in phrases like “our unprecedented grassroots effort to take on the powerful special interests and billionaire class” -- Sanders emphasizes the vast extent of organizing necessary for him to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency next year. For an extraordinary campaign, that could be attainable. For mainline media, it’s virtually inconceivable. 

The conformist political reporters are akin to inept topside oceanographers who stay away from the depths while scrutinizing the surface and speculating on future waves. Time and again, the sea changes that come from below take them by surprise.

Four years ago, the media wisdom was that the 2016 Sanders campaign would scarcely get out of single digits. Media savants dismissed him -- and the political program that he championed -- as fringe. In timeworn fashion, when reporters and pundits made reference to any policy issues, the context was usually horseracing, which is what most campaign coverage boils down to.

Yet policy issues -- and the passions they tap into -- are central to what propels the Sanders 2020 campaign, along with the powerful fuel of wide recognition that Bernie Sanders has not bent to the winds of expediency. That goes a long way toward explaining the strength of his current campaign. 

Sanders has retained the enthusiastic support of a big majority of his delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Last winter, when more than 400 of those delegates participated in a vote on whether to revive the independent Bernie Delegates Network, 95 percent said yes. (I’m a coordinator of the relaunched network.) 

Unlike his “evolving” rivals who have blown hither and yon with political gusts, Sanders is not a wind sock. During 38 years as an elected official, he has remained part of progressive social movements to change the direction of prevailing winds. That orientation continues to inform his approach to elections.

“At the end of the day,” Sanders told a New York Times reporter in late April, “I believe now -- and I’ve always believed -- that grassroots activism is more important and more effective than 30-second television ads.” Such an outlook has been a perplexing concept for many political reporters, who routinely see the bottom-up activism of social movements as distinctly minor compared to the top-down mechanisms and poll-driven strategies that can boost a campaign to victory.

Right now, the conventional media wisdom is gaga over Joe Biden’s big lift in national polls since he announced for president a week ago. The former vice president was barely ahead of Sanders in polling before he formally threw his hat in the ring on April 25. The normal upward spike after a major candidate’s formal announcement rollout was made spikier by the lavish and largely reverential coverage from the many journalists who seem quite fond of him.

Retrospective looks at his treatment of Anita Hill during the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas that he chaired in 1991 caused Biden some bad media moments during the last week. But -- surprise! -- he got little corporate media flak for his high-dollar campaign kickoff fundraiser hosted by top executives at Comcast and Blue Cross, which epitomized his flagrant embrace of corporate power throughout a long political career.

“It is not remarkable in the least for Joe Biden to come right out of the gate by filling his coffers with money from telecom and health insurance executives,” Hamilton Nolan wrote for the Guardian. “Who is going to tell him that he shouldn’t? The lobbyists advising his campaign? The zillionaire media executives feting him in a Hollywood mansion? The superstructure of Obama administration functionaries who see him as the most established of the establishment brand names? For the people who matter, Joe Biden is doing just what he is expected to do.”

As he tries to gain support from liberal voters, Biden is benefiting from the ties that bind him to corporate power. So, he can be grateful that -- as the media watch group FAIR has reported -- the Comcast-owned MSNBC quickly showed itself to be “in the tank for Joe Biden’s presidential run.” 

It’s likely that the Biden balloon will lose altitude as the burst of hot-air publicity fades -- and as more information about his actual record comes to wider light. Biden vs. Bernie offers a huge contrast between a corporatist whose biggest constituencies can be found on Wall Street and in corporate media vs. a progressive populist whose biggest constituencies can be found among those being ripped off by Wall Street and discounted by corporate media.

While there’s a journalistic spirit of tolerance toward Biden on such matters as his vile Senate record of pandering to racism and his more recent indications of openness toward cutting Social Security and Medicare, corporate media are overall far more negative toward what Bernie Sanders has done and continues to advocate.

For instance, this sentence from the speech that Sanders gave for the launch of his campaign a few weeks ago at Brooklyn College conveys a bit of what is antithetical to the assumptions of many in mainstream media: “Today, we say to the military-industrial-complex that we will not continue to spend $700 billion a year on the military -- more than the next 10 nations combined. We’re going to invest in affordable housing, we’re going to invest in public education, we’re going to invest in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure -- not more nuclear weapons and never-ending wars.” 

And Sanders’ next words also went against the grain of mainstream political assumptions. “Brothers and sisters: We’re going to win this election not because we have a super PAC funded by billionaires. We’re going to win this election because we will put together the strongest grassroots coalition in the history of American politics.”

A notable step toward the “unprecedented” goal came last Saturday, when about 5,000 house parties and other gatherings watched a video that featured talks from Sanders and campaign leaders who were both inspirational and practical, encouraging supporters to do methodical outreach in local communities. The process is now being aided by the campaign’s just-unveiled organizing app called Bern.

The elite-oriented atmosphere of media aversion to Sanders is in sync with media disregard for the power of community-based activism that could result in a Sanders presidency. For the establishment press corps, the idea of grassroots progressive populism as a pathway to the White House is very strange. But for people who want genuine progressive change, it’s the only path.
________________________________
Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Joe Biden: Puffery vs. Reality, by Norman Solomon

Let’s be blunt: As a supposed friend of American workers, Joe Biden is a phony. And now that he’s running for president, Biden’s huge task is to hide his phoniness. 

From the outset, with dim prospects from small donors, the Biden campaign is depending on big checks from the rich and corporate elites who greatly appreciate his services rendered. 

“He must rely heavily, at least at first, upon an old-fashioned network of money bundlers -- political insiders, former ambassadors and business executives,” the New York Times reported on Tuesday. 

Biden has a media image that exudes down-to-earth caring and advocacy for regular folks. But his actual record is a very different story. 

During the 1970s, in his first Senate term, Biden spouted white backlash rhetoric, used tropes pandering to racism and teamed up with arch segregationists against measures like busing for school integration. 

He went on to be a fount of racially charged appeals and “predators on our streets” oratory on the Senate floor as he led the successful effort to pass the now-notorious 1994 crime bill. 

A gavel in Biden’s hand repeatedly proved to be dangerous. 

In 1991, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, Biden prevented key witnesses from testifying to corroborate Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court.

In 2002, as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden was the Senate’s most crucial supporter of the Iraq invasion.

Meanwhile, for well over four decades -- while corporate media preened his image as “Lunch Bucket Joe” fighting for the middle class -- Biden continued his assist for strengthening oligarchy as a powerful champion of legalizing corporate plunder on a mind-boggling scale. 

Now, Joe Biden has arrived as a presidential candidate to rescue the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders. Urgency is in the media air. 

Last week, the New York Times told readers that “Stop Sanders” Democrats were “agonizing over his momentum.” The story was front-page news. 

At the Washington Post, a two-sentence headline appeared just above a nice photo of Biden: “Far-Left Policies Will Drive a 2020 Defeat, Centrist Democrats Fear. So They’re Floating Alternatives.” 

Biden is the most reliable alternative for corporate America. He has what Sanders completely lacks -- vast experience as an elected official serving the interests of credit-card companies, big banks, insurance firms and other parts of the financial services industry. 

His alignment with corporate interests has been comprehensive. It was a fulcrum of his entire political career when, in 1993, Sen. Biden voted yes while most Democrats in Congress voted against NAFTA. 

In recent months, from his pro-corporate vantage point, Biden has been taking potshots at the progressive populism of Bernie Sanders. 

At a gathering in Alabama last fall, Biden said: “Guys, the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor. I know Bernie doesn’t like me saying that, but they are.” 

Later, Biden elaborated on the theme when he told an audience at the Brookings Institution, “I don’t think five hundred billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.” 

Overall, in sharp contrast to the longstanding and continuing negative coverage of Sanders, mainstream media treatment of Biden often borders on reverential. 

The affection from so many high-profile political journalists toward Biden emerged yet again a few weeks ago during the uproar about his persistent pattern of intrusively touching women and girls. 

During one cable news show after another, reporters and pundits were at pains to emphasize his essential decency and fine qualities. 

 But lately, some independent-minded journalists have been exhuming what “Lunch Bucket Joe” is eager to keep buried. For instance:

** Libby Watson, Splinter News: “Joe Biden is telling striking workers he’s their friend while taking money from, and therefore being beholden to, the class of people oppressing them. According to Axios, Biden’s first fundraiser will be with David Cohen, the executive vice president of and principal lobbyist for Comcast. Comcast is one of America’s most hated companies, and for good reason. It represents everything that sucks for the modern consumer-citizen, for whom things like internet or TV access are extremely basic necessities, but who are usually given the option of purchasing it from just one or two companies.” What’s more, Comcast supports such policies as “ending net neutrality and repealing broadband privacy protections. . . . And Joe Biden is going to kick off his presidential campaign by begging for their money.” 

** Ryan Cooper, The Week: “As a loyal toady of the large corporations (especially finance, insurance, and credit cards) that put their headquarters in Delaware because its suborned government allows them to evade regulations in other states, Biden voted for repeated rounds of deregulation in multiple areas and helped roll back anti-trust policy -- often siding with Republicans in the process. He was a key architect of the infamous 2005 bankruptcy reform bill which made means tests much more strict and near-impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy.”

** Paul Waldman, The American Prospect: “Joe Biden, we are told over and over, is the one who can speak to the disaffected white men angry at the loss of their primacy. He's the one who doesn’t like abortion, but is willing to let the ladies have them. He’s the one who tells white people to be nice to immigrants, even as he mirrors their xenophobia (‘You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,’ he said in 2006). He’s the one who validates their racism and sexism while gently trying to assure them that they're still welcome in the Democratic Party. . . . It’s not yet clear what policy agenda Biden will propose, though it’s likely to be pretty standard Democratic fare that rejects some of the more ambitious goals other candidates have embraced. But Biden represents something more fundamental: a link to the politics and political style of the past.” 

** Rebecca Traister, The Cut: “Much of what Democrats blame Republicans for was enabled, quite literally, by Biden: Justices whose confirmation to the Supreme Court he rubber-stamped worked to disembowel affirmative action, collective bargaining rights, reproductive rights, voting rights. . . . In his years in power, Biden and his party (elected thanks to a nonwhite base enfranchised in the 1960s) built the carceral state that disproportionately imprisons and disenfranchises people of color, as part of what Michelle Alexander has described as the New Jim Crow. With his failure to treat seriously claims of sexual harassment made against powerful men on their way to accruing more power (claims rooted in prohibitions that emerged from the feminist and civil-rights movements of the 1970s), Biden created a precedent that surely made it easier for accused harassers, including Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh, to nonetheless ascend. Economic chasms and racial wealth gaps have yawned open, in part thanks to Joe Biden’s defenses of credit card companies, his support of that odious welfare-reform bill, his eagerness to support the repeal of Glass-Steagall.” 

One of Biden’s illuminating actions came last year in Michigan when he gave a speech -- for a fee of $200,000 including “travel allowance” -- that praised the local Republican congressman, Fred Upton, just three weeks before the mid-term election. 

From the podium, the former vice president lauded Upton as “one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with.” For good measure, Biden refused to endorse Upton’s Democratic opponent, who went on to lose by less than 5 percent. 

Biden likes to present himself as a protector of the elderly. Campaigning for Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida last autumn, Biden denounced Republicans for aiming to “cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” 

Yet five months earlier, speaking to the Brookings Institution on May 8, Biden spoke favorably of means testing that would go a long way toward damaging political support for Social Security and Medicare and smoothing the way for such cuts. 

Indications of being a “moderate” and a “centrist” play well with the Washington press corps and corporate media, but amount to a surefire way to undermine enthusiasm and voter turnout from the base of the Democratic Party. 

The consequences have been catastrophic, and the danger of the party’s deference to corporate power looms ahead. 

Much touted by the same kind of insular punditry that insisted Hillary Clinton was an ideal candidate to defeat Donald Trump, the ostensible “electability” of Joe Biden has been refuted by careful analysis of data. 

As a former Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and a current coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network for 2019, I remain convinced that the media meme about choosing between strong progressive commitments and capacity to defeat Trump is a false choice. 

On the contrary, Biden exemplifies a disastrous approach of jettisoning progressive principles and failing to provide a progressive populist alternative to right-wing populism.

That’s the history of 2016. It should not be repeated.
________________________________

Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Monday, 15 April 2019

The Toxic Lure of “Guns and Butter”, by Norman Solomon

The current political brawl over next year’s budget is highly significant. 

With Democrats in a House majority for the first time in eight years, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and most other party leaders continue to support even more largesse for the Pentagon. 

But many progressive congressmembers are challenging the wisdom of deference to the military-industrial complex -- and, so far, they’ve been able to stall the leadership’s bill that includes a $17 billion hike in military spending for 2020. 

An ostensible solution is on the horizon. More funds for domestic programs could be a quid pro quo for the military increases. In other words: more guns and more butter.

“Guns and butter” is a phrase that gained wide currency during escalation of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s. 

Then, as now, many Democrats made political peace with vast increases in military spending on the theory that social programs at home could also gain strength. 

 It was a contention that Martin Luther King Jr. emphatically rejected. “When a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war, social programs must inevitably suffer,” he pointed out. 

“We can talk about guns and butter all we want to, but when the guns are there with all of its emphasis you don't even get good oleo [margarine]. These are facts of life.” 

But today many Democrats in Congress evade such facts of life. 

They want to proceed as though continuing to bestow humongous budgets on the Pentagon is compatible with fortifying the kind of domestic spending that they claim to fervently desire. 

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have reflexively promoted militarism that is out of step with the party’s base. 

In early 2018, after President Trump called for a huge 11 percent increase over two years for the already-bloated military budget, Pelosi declared in an email to House Democrats: “In our negotiations, Congressional Democrats have been fighting for increases in funding for defense.” 

Meanwhile, the office of Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer proudly announced: “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request.” 

What set the stage for the latest funding battle in the House was a Budget Committee vote that approved the new measure with the $17 billion military boost. 

It squeaked through the committee on April 3 with a surprising pivotal “yes” vote from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is now among the lawmakers pushing to amend the bill on the House floor to add $33 billion in domestic spending for each of the next two years. 

As Common Dreams reported last week, progressives in the House “are demanding boosts in domestic social spending in line with the Pentagon's budget increase.” 

But raising domestic spending in tandem with military spending is no solution, any more than spewing vastly more carcinogenic poisons into the environment would be offset by building more hospitals. 

Rep. Ro Khanna and Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal, who both voted against the budget bill in committee, have said they won’t vote for it on the House floor.

In Khanna’s words, “You can't oppose endless wars and then vote to fund them.” Jayapal said: “We need to prioritize our communities, not our military spending. Progressives aren’t backing down from this fight.” 

The New York Times described the intra-party disagreement as “an ideological gap between upstart progressives flexing their muscles and more moderate members clinging to their Republican-leaning seats.” 

But that description bypassed how the most powerful commitment to escalation of military spending comes from Democratic leaders representing deep blue districts -- in Pelosi’s case, San Francisco. 

Merely backing a budget that’s not as bad as Trump’s offering is a craven and immoral approach. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ staff director, Warren Gunnels, responded cogently days ago when he tweeted: 

“How can we keep giving more money to the Pentagon than it needs when 40 million live in poverty, 34 million have no health insurance, half of older Americans have no retirement savings, and 140 million can't afford basic needs without going into debt? This is insanity.” 

Yet most top Democrats keep promoting the guns-and-butter fantasy while aiding and abetting what Dr. King called “the madness of militarism.”
 ___________________________________ 

Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Making The Case For A People’s Brexit, by George Galloway

I am running in the European Elections in the North West England constituency on a platform of helping secure the full implementation of the British people’s decision to leave the EU. I seek the votes of ALL who support that democratic demand.

There will be others standing on that platform. Voters will have to calculate which candidate will make the greatest impact on the plutocrats in Brussels, on British public opinion, on the cause of Brexit. Me or them? 

I stand in the Labour tradition of Mr Benn, Mrs Castle, Mr Foot and Mr Shore. I will be a militant fighter for the working people in the North West for as long as we take to leave the EU. I will use the platform of the European Parliament for all the causes with which I am associated.

The people of Palestine, Kashmir, Africa and Latin America will have a voice in me in the European Parliament for as long as I am there. I will seek better relations with Russia, and China, and all the rising economies of the world. I will work for the isolation of Saudi Arabia.

Today I am in Manchester, and tomorrow in Liverpool. Over the next weeks, I will be in as many cities, towns and villages as I can afford, making the case for a People’s Brexit: Rochdale, Bolton, Wigan, Chester, Birkenhead, Oldham, Lancaster, Nelson, Burnley, Blackburn, and Blackpool.

If you want to know what impact I would make in the European Parliament, take a look at what I did to the US Senate in 2005.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Democracy Depends On It, by Alan Sked

The Brexit process is apparently entering its final phase although it is still possible that the prime minister will accept a very long extension or even revoke Article 50 itself. Nothing can be taken for granted. My own wish is that we leave with no deal since as Theresa May once said—though she almost certainly never believed it— no deal is better than a bad deal. 

And her own deal is extremely bad. It would hand over £39 billion, which legally we do not owe, to Brussels in return for a promise somewhere down the line of some sort of free trade deal. Meanwhile we would remain inside the EU economically for all intents and purposes but without any democratic representation. 

The Political Declaration, which accompanies the Withdrawal Agreement but which is not legally binding meanwhile commits us to surrendering our national defences to future EU control, as the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove, and several of our most distinguished past service chiefs have pointed out. 

Some Remainers complain that the process has taken too long and that we need a second referendum. This is chicanery. The Lisbon Treaty lays down a negotiating period of two years and during that process the deplorable Mrs. May saw fit to lead a disastrous election campaign which lost her her parliamentary majority. 

As a result, she has had great difficulty in controlling the House of Commons. Meanwhile, the Remain majority in all the parliamentary parties and in the cabinet has gradually abandoned the promises it made to respect the referendum result. 

Even the blatantly pro-Remain Speaker, John Bercow, has joined in aiding and abetting Grieve, Cooper, Letwin, Boles and others in tearing up constitutional precedent and parliamentary procedure and allowing the Commons to take control of government. 

The last time this happened, in 1642, the result was civil war. More seriously, the prime minister herself has sidelined and double-crossed her Brexiteer ministers, leading to regular resignations, while allowing rabidly federalist civil servants (Olly Robbins was President of the European Federalist Society at university) to compose key policy documents and lead negotiations. 

Key cabinet allies in all this are Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, David Gauke, and Greg Clark, who are fierce Remainers and clearly want any deal other than May’s own to take us even closer to BRINO (Brexit in name only) and DINO (Democracy in name only). 

The result is that the Brexit process has been long and twisted with only 29 true Brexiteers holding out for a settlement that would actually give us back control of our laws, trade, borders and money, sustained by a very self-interested DUP. 

Yet these good folk—heroes in many eyes— will be blamed if May’s dreadful act of surrender is not passed and Brexit is postponed or lost. Meanwhile the very biased media (BBC and Sky programmes are dominated by Remain politicians and commentators) ignore events in Europe, where France is suffering civil unrest; where Germany, Austria, Spain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Scandinavian member states, have all witnessed the rise of the Far Right; and where the prospect of a much-predicted world recession could destroy the Eurozone economy. 

Most people are unaware that since the start of this century the U.K. has experienced better growth than Germany and France (Italy has had none at all) and that despite Brexit the IMF predicts Britain will grow faster than Germany this year. Germany is about to follow Italy into recession.

We also have a rate of unemployment which is less than half that of the Eurozone. A few weeks ago The Times reported that more job opportunities would be available for British graduates this summer than ever before. We now have record employment. Whereas on the same day, Le Figaro in Paris had a headline lamenting how 3 million young French people lived without any hope of finding a job. 

Remainers do not seem to understand the true significance of immigration figures. For the last five years, between 100,00 and 400,000 young Europeans have been coming here annually to find work. There would only be a case for remaining in the EU if, on the contrary, 100,00-400,00 young Brits had to emigrate to the EU every year to find work. Is this not obvious?

The truth is that given all the contingency plans now in place, leaving the EU without a deal—as a plurality of voters now confirm in opinion polls— would be our best option. We could save £39 billion, would no longer pay a £10 billion plus annual contribution to Brussels, we could abolish EU tariffs and have cheaper food, clothes and footwear, and we could get rid of tons of EU red tape.

We could certainly subsidise any industries—including farming—affected by EU tariffs and we could sign trade deals with the USA, China and many other interested countries. But the Remain majority, which for reasons of sheer ignorance still sees EU membership as a boon—it is not only economically in decline but politically divided and in terms of defence and foreign affairs a bad joke—will do anything and everything to overturn the will of the people.

The inevitable result will be the undermining of democracy in this country and a fundamental alteration of the party system. The main parties will suffer most, the Tories most of all. Many people will give up voting. Others will never trust established parties again and give their support to new ‘populist’ ones—those without a record of lying to the people or betraying democracy.

I have just set up a new party—Prosper UK—which is democratic, moderate, centre-right and committed to regenerating the national economy, particularly outside London. Its website can be found at www.prosperuk.party and I hope you will visit it and support it. 

Our future can only be secured if we ourselves decide to change it. Apathy will lead to servility to Brussels. The likely betrayal of Brexit—the desire of the largest majority in British history— can only be revenged if the same democratic majority that created Brexit repudiates the present parliamentary parties and votes for parties that will redeem the result of the referendum. Democracy depends on it.

Alan Sked, Leader, Prosper UK; Professor Emeritus of International History, LSE.
Twitter: @profsked