Thursday, 8 August 2019

Nancy Pelosi’s Bad Attitude Toward Progressives, by Norman Solomon

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that a letter from the billionaire real-estate broker George M. Marcus was hand-delivered to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking to meet with her. What are the chances that Pelosi would find time on her calendar? Hint: Marcus gave $4.5 million to Pelosi’s House Majority PAC during the 2018 election cycle.

Or, if the letter had come from the hedge-fund billionaire James H. Simons -- who gave $10 million to that PAC during the last election cycle -- would his request for a meeting with Speaker Pelosi be granted?

In contrast, we don’t need to speculate about what would happen if Pelosi received a letter from seven progressive organizations “urgently” requesting a meeting to discuss her recent dismissive comments about four progressive congresswomen -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. That’s what happened on July 17, when a letter was hand-delivered to Pelosi’s office in Washington.

It was signed by progressive groups with millions of active supporters -- Demand Progress, Democracy for America, Just Foreign Policy, Our Revolution, Progressive Democrats of America, and RootsAction (where I’m national coordinator). It was also signed by the largest caucus of the biggest state party, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party.

After a delay of more than two weeks, Pelosi’s office replied on August 2: “Unfortunately, Speaker Pelosi is unable to meet at this time. We will be sure to let you know if anything changes in her schedule.”

Pelosi has earned a reputation as a highly skilled legislative manager and a prodigious fundraiser. But her solicitous skills at cultivating wealthy patrons (the top 15 donors gave a total of $37 million to her House Majority PAC during the 2018 cycle) are matched with her rather contemptuous attitude toward progressives who don’t fit into the equations that compute for her on Capitol Hill.

Our letter pointed out that “the ultimate fate of legislative and electoral efforts will depend on active support from millions of people at the grassroots.” But inside the Capitol bubble, Democratic leadership seems to see progressive grassroots energy as more of a threat than an asset.

A month ago, Pelosi went out of her way to disparage Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley and Tlaib for voting against a bill that lacked adequate refugee protections at the U.S.-Mexico border. Pelosi told the New York Times: “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.” Pelosi later met with Ocasio-Cortez, but that did little to repair the damage.

Lost in the media hubbub was the reality that Pelosi didn’t only express thinly veiled contempt toward four deeply progressive congresswomen; she was also conveying a similar attitude toward millions of Americans who share their political outlooks, while many have been drawn into political engagement due to their achievements.

As our letter put it, “Dismissive comments about new progressive members of Congress have given the impression of a disdainful attitude toward like-minded progressives and Democratic activists across the country.” 

Nor have Trump’s racist tweets about the four congresswomen changed the realities of how destructive it is for Speaker Pelosi to disparage those emerging leaders and their truly national grassroots constituencies. If Pelosi is supposed to strive for evenly piloting the Democratic aircraft as House speaker, why is she periodically throwing smoke bombs at its left wing? The party should be called to account when its leaders let their ostensible principles slide.

Pelosi’s ire at the four dissenting Democratic congresswomen was triggered by their strong opposition to inadequate protection for refugees. As our letter to Pelosi said: “At a time when flagrant institutionalized cruelty, racism, xenophobia, misogyny and other forms of bigotry have reached new depths from Republican leaders, we can ill afford the slightest wavering from unequivocal opposition to such extremism. Efforts to strengthen our resolve should be welcomed.” 

At the same time, a key underlying reality is Pelosi’s alignment with corporate Democrats who worry about being primaried in 2020. Two of the four congresswomen in “The Squad” -- Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley -- won their seats by defeating incumbents in Democratic primaries last year. They’ve set a good example for progressives while making many House Democrats nervous. 

This week, several thousand constituents have used a RootsAction webpage to send individual emails to House Democrats, telling their representative: “I realize that the Speaker is powerful on Capitol Hill, but I ask you to summon the courage to speak up and push her to permanently stop taking sides against progressive lawmakers.” 

As I wrote nine months ago, “progressives should recognize the longstanding House Democratic leader as a symptom of a calcified party hierarchy that has worn out its grassroots welcome and is beginning to lose its grip. Increasingly at odds with the Democratic Party’s mobilized base, that grip has held on with gobs of money from centralized, deep-pocket sources -- endlessly reinforcing continual deference to corporate power and an ongoing embrace of massively profitable militarism.” 

At a time when the virulent racism of the Trump regime is becoming more flagrant, it might seem a divergence to challenge the Democratic Party’s leadership. On the contrary. The imperative of preventing Trump’s re-election will require massive engagement and huge turnout of the Democratic base -- exactly what doesn’t happen when party leaders are aloof, elitist, enthralled with Wall Street and dismissive of genuinely progressive principles.


Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of 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, 1 August 2019

There’s Nothing Moderate About “Moderates.” A Primary Example Is Joe Biden, by Norman Solomon

The comedian George Carlin liked to marvel at oxymorons like “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence.” Now, as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination intensifies, reporters and pundits at corporate media outlets are escalating their use of a one-word political oxymoron -- “moderate.” 

As a practical matter, in the routine lexicon of U.S. mass media, “moderate” actually means pro-corporate and reliably unwilling to disrupt the dominant power structures. “Moderate” is a term of endearment in elite circles, a label conferred on politicians who won’t rock establishment boats. “Moderate” sounds so much nicer than, say, “enmeshed with Wall Street” or “supportive of the military-industrial complex.” 

In the corporate media environment, we’re accustomed to pretty euphemisms that fog up unpretty realities -- and the haze of familiarity brings the opposite of clarity. As George Orwell wrote, language “becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” 

If Joe Biden is a “moderate,” the soothing adjective obscures grim realities. The framing was routine hours after the debate Wednesday night when the front page of the New York Times began its lead story by reporting that Biden “delivered a steadfast defense of his moderate policies in the Democratic primary debate.” 

But, how are policies really “moderate” when they perpetuate and increase extreme suffering due to vast income inequality? Or when they support U.S. wars causing so much death and incalculable anguish? Or when they refuse to challenge the fossil-fuel industry and only sign onto woefully inadequate measures in response to catastrophic climate change? 

Biden’s record of words and deeds is “moderate” only if we ignore the extreme harm that he has done on matters ranging from civil rights and mass incarceration to student debt and the credit card industry to militarism and war. 

Although Biden again tangled with Kamala Harris during the latest debate, she is ill-positioned to provide a clear critique of his so-called “moderate” policies. Harris has scarcely done more than he has to challenge the systemic injustice of corporate domination. So, she can’t get far in trying to provide a sharp contrast to Biden’s corporate happy talk on the crucial issue of healthcare. 

Harris began this week by releasing what she called “My Plan for Medicare for All.” It was promptly eviscerated by single-payer activist Tim Higginbotham, who wrote for Jacobin that her proposal would “further privatize Medicare. . . keep the waste and inefficiency of our current multi-payer system. . . cost families more than Medicare for All. . . continue to deny patients necessary care” and “fall apart before it’s implemented.”

In keeping with timeworn rhetoric from corporate Democrats, Harris repeatedly said during the debate that she wants to guarantee “access” to healthcare -- using a standard corporate-friendly buzzword that detours around truly guaranteeing healthcare as a human right. No matter whether journalists call Harris “moderate” or “progressive” (a term elastic enough to be the name of a huge insurance company), her unwillingness to confront the dominance of huge corporations over the economic and political life of the USA is a giveaway.

Whatever their discreet virtues, 18 of the 20 candidates who debated this week have offered no consistent, thoroughgoing challenge to corporate power. Among the contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, only Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are providing a coherent analysis and actual challenge to the realities of corporate power and oligarchy that are crushing democracy in the United States.

Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of 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.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Being Honest About Jews, Jewish Identity and Zionism in an Age of Identity Politics, by Tony Greenstein

You cannot understand the obsession with 'anti-Semitism' today without understanding how Jewish identity has changed.

The idea for this article, which has been printed in Electronic Intifada, came from someone who wrote to me, anonymously.
They asked which of the following applies to British Jews?  Black people experience 
  1. Deaths in custody
  2. Worse health inequalities
  3. Their children are disproportionately in pupil referral units
  4. They are disproportionately underemployed
  5. They are not given same opportunity to access community asset development scheme when organisations given funding to ensure this happen
  6. Why are they overrepresented in prisons?
  7. Why did the EU not investigate the EHRC on all these counts as they are a national body for the member state equality?
  8. A disproportionate number subject to stop and search
  9. Overmedication in the treatment processes for mental health
  10. Disproportionate homelessness
Cries of “anti-Semitism” are the charges every supporter of the Palestinians has to face. I doubt that there is a single Palestine solidarity activist who hasn’t been accused of anti-Semitism.

The rationale for these accusations include the suggestion that we are operating “double standards” in singling out Israel for criticism. We are alleged to criticize Israel because it is a “Jewish” state. Israel is the “targeted collective Jew among the nations,” Irwin Cotler, a former government minister in Canada, has written.

Today, a different, more subtle argument is developing: Israel and Zionism are an integral part of Jewish identity. That is why opposition to Zionism and Israel is automatically anti-Semitic.
This argument was tested earlier this decade in an employment tribunal which assessed allegations that Britain’s University and College Union was anti-Semitic because it supports BDS – the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Ronnie Fraser, the pro-Israel campaigner who had taken legal action against the union, argued that Zionism was an integral part of Jewish identity.
That argument was rejected by the tribunal’s judges in 2013. The tribunal concluded that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel” was “not intrinsically a part of Jewishness.”
Another variant of this argument is to suggest that as Israel is the only Jewish state in the world, opposition to it must be anti-Semitic. Since there are Islamic and Christian states, opposition to Israel cannot be other than anti-Semitic. However this is to obscure the fact that Israel is unique because it is the only ethno-religious state in the world.
Inherently racist

Defining ethnicity and nationality in terms of religion means a state will be inherently racist.
Being Jewish in Israel is not a religious but a racial identity. Jews have privileges that are not accorded to non-Jews.
As a Jew in Israel, you have access to 93 percent of “national” land controlled or owned by the Jewish National Fund. Imagine that in Britain, which is nominally a Christian state, I was unable to rent a flat because it was Christian national land.
How would that not be anti-Semitic?
The Islamic states of the Middle East are certainly backward and regressive political formations. However they do not systematically grant Muslims special privileges.
On the contrary, the Islamic nature of the Iranian or Saudi states operates to legitimize the oppression and persecution of Muslims. Arguably Jews in Iran are better off than Muslims.
The French Revolution, which ushered in the emancipation of the Jews, also introduced the separation of religion from the state. This is why Zionism was based on a rejection of emancipation which it saw as leading to the “assimilation” of Jews to non-Jews.
When France’s Constituent Assembly convened in September 1789 to discuss the Jewish question, the civil liberties advocate Stanislas de Clermont-Tonnerre declared that “Jews should be denied everything as a nation, but granted everything as individuals.”
Anti-Semitism was widespread in the ethno-religious and nationalist Christian states of Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. These states proved receptive to the Nazis.
The savagery of the Holocaust in Romania was too much even for Hans Frank, a leading Nazi lawyer. He contended that some of the massacres committed in Romania were much worse than Nazi violence in Germany, where “we use the art of surgery, not of butchery.”
In Romania, the fascist Iron Guard was also known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael. Christianity was an essential part of Hungary’s fascist Iron Cross. And Slovakia’s Hlinka Guard – which deported Jews to Auschwitz – was led by a Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso.
Moral panic

The British political establishment, including much of the leadership of the Labour Party, has been in the grip of a form of mass hysteria, a moral panic about anti-Semitism. The mere denial of the existence of anti-Semitism is proof that you are an anti-Semite.
The situation resembles that other example of mass hysteria, the Salem witch trials. The historian Elizabeth Reis writes about the dilemmas that faced the women in these trials: “During examinations, accused women were damned if they did and damned if they did not. If they confessed to witchcraft charges, their admissions would prove the cases against them; if they denied the charges, their very intractability, construed as the refusal to admit to sin more generally, might mark them as sinners and hence allies of the devil.”
What is this “anti-Semitism” that is so all-pervasive? In many respects, it resembles the allegations of being sympathetic toward communism made in the West during the Cold War.
Among the theoreticians of this “new anti-communism” is Jonathan Freedland, a columnist with The Guardian. In 2016, he argued that “93 percent [of British Jews] who told a 2015 survey that Israel forms some part of their identity as Jews can take criticism of Israeli governments and of Israeli policy” but not anti-Zionism.
It should be noted that Freedland was concealing the full picture. The same survey asked British Jews whether they identified as Zionists – 59 percent said “yes” and 31 percent said “no.” The proportion identifying themselves as Zionist dropped by 13 percent since a previous survey was conducted in 2010.

A similar claim was made earlier this year by Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement – a pro-Israel lobby group. Katz was referring to a comment by the Labour lawmaker Richard Burgon who described Zionism as “the enemy of peace.”
The comment had been made at a 2014 meeting but a video of Burgon’s speech was only published this April. When the video was circulated online, Katz stated that Zionism is “a core part of their [British Jews’] identity.”
In other words, criticism of Zionism, the ideology and the movement, as opposed to the government of Israel, is intrinsically anti-Semitic because you are attacking the identity of most Jews. This argument is unsustainable on a number of levels.
First, the identity of Jews has changed repeatedly.
Before World War II, most Jews were anti-Zionist. To say that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism is to say that Polish Jews, 90 percent of whom died in the war, were anti-Semitic on the basis that – in Warsaw – they voted overwhelmingly during 1938 elections for the anti-Zionist Jewish Bund.
Secondly, the reasons for the change in Jewish attitudes to Zionism is primarily a product of socio-economic changes which has driven them to the right.
And thirdly, the argument that it is racist to criticize or oppose a group’s identity is flawed and illogical. It has extremely reactionary implications.
When I was a child I used to visit relatives in London’s East End. We would go to eat in Bloom’s, the Jewish restaurant in Whitechapel. We would have to queue to get a place at lunchtime.
In 1996 Bloom’s closed, the reason being that the Jews had moved out of the East End to be replaced by Bengalis and other immigrant communities.
The Jews of the East End have migrated to the London suburb of Golders Green and elsewhere.
During the first half of the 20th century, Britain’s Jews were predominantly working class and prominent in the trade unions. When Phil Piratin, England’s only Communist Party member of parliament, won the constituency of Mile End in East London during a 1945 election, it is estimated that half of his vote came from Jews.
Jews formed an identifiable part of Britain’s working class and its most politically conscious part. Jews led the anti-fascist movement. At one time there were more than 30 Jewish trade unions.
Moving rightwards

Today, there is no Jewish working class. Jews have climbed the socio-economic ladder and – in many cases – moved rightwards politically. When it is argued that “anti-Semitism” under current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has led to the loss of Jewish support for the party, that is simply untrue.
According to a poll in April 2015, 69 percent of Jews were planning to vote Conservative in the following month’s general election and only 22 percent for Labour. That was despite the fact that Labour was then led by Ed Miliband, its first Jewish leader.
William Rubinstein, a historian, wrote in the 1980s about “the rise of Western Jewry to unparalleled affluence and high status.” That rise “has led to the near-disappearance of a Jewish proletariat of any size; indeed, the Jews may become the first ethnic group in history without a working class of any size.”
As the Jews changed, so too did anti-Semitism. State-sponsored anti-Semitism disappeared in Britain to be replaced by racism against Black and Asian people.
Rubinstein’s conclusion was that the change in Jews’ socio-economic position “has rendered obsolete (and rarely heard) the type of anti-Semitism which has its basis in fears of the swamping of the native population.” It has made “Marxism, and other radical doctrines, irrelevant to the socio-economic bases of Western Jewry, and increasingly unattractive to most Jews.”
Geoffrey Alderman, a Jewish Chronicle columnist and right-wing Zionist, wrote in a 1983 book that by 1961, “over 40 percent of Anglo-Jewry was located in the upper two social classes, whereas these categories accounted for less than 20 percent of the general population.”
Alderman shows that British Jews frequently became much more conservative than the rest of the British population.
That is illustrated by the March 1978 by-election which took place in the Ilford North area of Greater London. Labour had previously held this seat by just 778 votes. By-elections are held in Britain when a parliamentary seat becomes vacant, usually due to a death or resignation.
During the 1978 by-election Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher’s svengali, came to the constituency to make a blatantly racist anti-immigration speech.
One might expect that Jewish voters of all people would react against this. Not a bit of it. The Conservatives gained the seat on a swing of 6.9 percent but among Jewish voters there was a swing of 11.2 percent.
As Jews move to the right, they become more sympathetic to Zionism, British foreign policy and US imperialism. That has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

The argument that opposition to a group’s identity is racist is part of the poisonous legacy of identity politics which eliminates the distinction between oppressed and oppressor. That legacy would have one believe that even the powerful and privileged have an identity and their claims have equal validity to those they exploit.
In the absence of class and race, identity politics become a justification for the status quo.
Of course, it is true that racists will disguise an attack on a particular ethnic or racial group by attacking its religion.
When right-wing firebrand Robert Spencer attacks Islam as “warfare against unbelievers” or his colleague Pamela Geller writes that “the Quran is war propaganda,” then that is racism, not a critique of religion. But when someone defends Salman Rushdie because he published The Satanic Verses, that is a defense of reason against religious bigotry.
The same applies to Zionism. If someone attacks Israel because it is a Jewish state, then that is anti-Semitic. But 99 percent of cases criticism of Israel have nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
On the contrary, it is anti-Semites – from Hungary’s Viktor Orban to Steve Bannon in the US – who use support for Israel to disguise their anti-Semitism.
Opposition to a particular identity is not racist.
In Afghanistan many, if not most, people consider the burka an integral part of Islam. Is it seriously suggested that it is intrinsically racist and anti-Muslim to oppose the burka, even when such opposition comes from Muslim women?
In many countries in Africa female genital mutilation is part of the identity of those living there. Is opposition to FGM racist?
There are many religious practices that are reactionary, medieval and barbaric. Opposition to them is not racist.
The same is true with the Jewish community. Although there is no doubt that most Jews in Britain are more liberal than the Jewish leaders and the Board of Deputies, there is no doubt that the majority are supporters of Zionism. It is also arguable that a majority of Jews do not realize the extent of Israeli racism and how Zionism mandates a form of apartheid.
However it is a fact that a Jewish ethno-nationalist state in Israel cannot be other than a racist apartheid state. The argument that it is anti-Semitic to oppose an identity that is itself based on support for racism is untenable.
If indeed the majority of Jews do support a Zionism that mandates the demolition of Palestinian villages such as Umm al-Hiran in order to build Jewish towns in their place, then that is clearly a racist identity. If the majority of British Jews support a state where the chief rabbi of Safed issues an edict that non-Jews cannot rent property from Jews, then how is that not racist?
The idea that opposition to religious identity is, in itself, a form of racism is a type of blackmail.
Both apartheid in South Africa and slavery in the US were justified by particular interpretations of the Bible. Was opposition to the identity of white planters or West Indian slave owners racist?

Tony Greenstein is a founding member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the author of The Fight Against Fascism in Brighton and the South Coast.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Corporate Team of Rivals: Biden and Harris, by Norman Solomon

The odds are now very strong that Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders will be the Democratic presidential nominee. New polling averages say they account for almost 70 percent of support nationwide, while no other candidate is anywhere near.

For progressives who want to affect the news instead of just consume it, active engagement will be essential. Biden is the most regressive Democrat with a real chance to head the ticket. After amassing a five-decade record littered with odious actions and statements, he now insists that the 2020 campaign “shouldn’t be about the past” -- an evasive and ridiculous plea, coming from someone who proclaims himself to be “an Obama-Biden Democrat” and goes to absurd lengths to fasten himself onto Obama’s coattails, while also boasting of his past ability to get legislation through Congress. 

As he campaigns, Biden persists with disingenuous denials. During the June 27 debate, he flatly -- and falsely -- declared: “I did not oppose busing in America.” On July 6, speaking to a mostly black audience in South Carolina, he said: “I didn’t support more money to build state prisons. I was against it.” But under the headline “Fact Check: Joe Biden Falsely Claims He Opposed Spending More Money to Build State Prisons,” CNN reported that “he was misrepresenting his own record.” 

Biden used the Fourth of July weekend to dig himself deeper into a centrist, status quo trench for his war on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. During a repeatedly cringeworthy interview, Biden told CNN that what can’t be done includes Medicare for All, tuition-free public college and student debt cancelation. Bernie Sanders quickly responded with a tweet calling Medicare for All, debt-free college and a Green New Deal “the agenda American needs -- and that will energize voters to defeat Donald Trump.” 

No one has summed up Biden’s political stance better than Elizabeth Warren, who told the California Democratic Party convention five weeks ago: “Some Democrats in Washington believe the only changes we can get are tweaks and nudges. If they dream, they dream small. Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses.” She added: “When a candidate tells you about all the things that aren't possible, about how political calculations come first . . . they’re telling you something very important -- they are telling you that they will not fight for you.” 

Being preferable to Joe Biden is a low bar, and Kamala Harris clears it. But, like Biden, she stands to lose potential support from many self-described liberals and progressives to the extent they learn more about her actual record. Overall, Harris’s work as San Francisco’s DA and the California attorney general was not progressive. Lara Bazelon, former director of the LA-based Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent, wrote in a New York Times column early this year:

“Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent. Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.” 

Last week, Bazelon said: “Kamala Harris claims to be a champion of criminal justice reform. But as a prosecutor . . . she was anything but. She needs to make the case to the voters that her change of heart is genuine. Crucial to that case is reckoning with her past.” That past needs scrutiny, especially since Harris has refused to acknowledge there was anything wrong with it. “As the top law enforcement official” of San Francisco and then California, the New York Times reported in a February news article, “she developed a reputation for caution, protecting the status quo and shrinking from decisions on contentious issues.”

Reporter Kate Zernike wrote:“Years before ending mass incarceration became a bipartisan cause, she started programs to steer low-level drug offenders away from prison and into school and jobs. At the same time, she touted her success in increasing conviction rates, and as attorney general remained largely on the sidelines as California scrambled to meet a federal court order to reduce its swollen prison populations. She also repeatedly sided with prosecutors accused of misconduct, challenging judges who ruled against them.”

When Harris first ran statewide, for California attorney general in 2010, “she had campaigned to the right of her Republican opponent on the question of easing the state’s tough three-strikes law. Once in office, she declined to take positions on ultimately successful ballot initiatives intended to reduce prison populations -- one expanding opportunities for parole, the other reducing many nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.”

“After the Supreme Court upheld the judges’ overcrowding order, the state promised to ‘promptly’ release a significant number of nonviolent prisoners, giving credit for time served. A delay in meeting that promise drew a judicial scolding in 2014. The state’s response proved embarrassing, and unsuccessful: Reducing the prison population, Ms. Harris’s office maintained, would hurt California’s ability to fight wildfires by shrinking the pool of forced labor.”

“Ms. Harris won praise for releasing statewide data in a way that informed rather than inflamed the brutality debate: It included numbers on the use of police force but also on use of force against officers. She instituted body cameras for police agents who worked in her office, and offered implicit-bias training for police statewide. But she declined to support statewide regulations for the use of body cameras, agreeing with local departments that they should set their own standards. And she did not support a bill that would have required the attorney general to investigate police shootings.”

Early in this decade, responding to the house foreclosure crisis, “the banks agreed to $18 billion in debt reduction that Ms. Harris said would allow California homeowners to stay in their homes, and the national agreement included $2.5 billion for a fund to provide educational counseling and other services for those in danger of foreclosure. But critics, especially on the left, have long said that the settlement was no grand bargain. It did not require banks to pay much out of pocket; $4.7 billion of the $18 billion in relief came from forgiving second mortgages, many of which the banks would have written off anyway because they were so severely underwater, and $9 billion came from homeowners selling their homes for less than the value of their mortgages, meaning that homeowners did not stay in their homes.”

The New Republic recently summed up: “From her role in a California prison labor debate to her prosecutions of sex workers,” Kamala Harris “has a past of her own to defend.” It's sometimes difficult to gauge what Harris really believes in, especially in light of her tactical backsliding and flip-flops. Longtime observers had no reason to be surprised last week when she walked back her forceful debate position that the federal government shouldn’t leave it to localities to assist school desegregation with busing. “Harris muddied the waters,” the Associated Press reported, when “she told reporters she too did not support federally mandated busing and supported it only as an option for local governments.”

On foreign policy, the little that Harris has to say is often hazy while conforming with mainstream Democratic Party militarism. In the Senate, she has voted for six of eight major military spending bills. Harris -- who cosponsored a bill to withhold U.S. dues to the United Nations because of a UN Security Council resolution that condemned illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank -- pandered to AIPAC while delivering 2017 and 2018 speeches to the Israel-can-do-no-wrong organization.

While acquiescing to requests from MoveOn and other groups that presidential candidates not speak to AIPAC’s 2019 conference in late March, she pulled off a smooth maneuver, as Mondoweiss pointed out: “Harris is a very pragmatic politician, and the conference came to her yesterday! She met leading AIPAC officials at her office and then tweeted her devoted support to Israel.” Harris’s tweet shared the news: “Great to meet today in my office with California AIPAC leaders to discuss the need for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance, the right of Israel to defend itself, and my commitment to combat anti-Semitism in our country and around the world.”

But progressive journalist Ben Norton did not share in the upbeat mood as he tweeted: “Far-right Israeli PM Netanyahu just formed an alliance with a literal fascist party, and is bombing people trapped in the Gaza concentration camp right now, but fake ‘progressive’ Kamala Harris is meeting with AIPAC and praising the apartheid regime.” 

Yet Harris does not adhere completely to AIPAC positions. She cosponsored the Yemen war powers bill introduced by Bernie Sanders. And she has expressed support for the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama that was canceled by President Trump. The military-industrial complex might prefer Biden to Harris. But from all indications, that complex would be quite comfortable with a President Harris, and vice versa. 

The same goes for Wall Street and other big corporate sectors. No wonder they’re pouring many millions of dollars into the Biden and Harris campaign coffers. However tense and testy the current relations between Biden and Harris might be, their falling out is likely to be temporary. “I adore Joe Biden,” she proclaimed in mid-spring when he was on the verge of announcing his campaign. 

Anyone who doubts the prospect of a rapprochement -- and even a shared ticket -- is forgetting how easily campaign-trail conflicts can be jettisoned a little bit down the road. In 1980, George H.W. Bush fought Ronald Reagan for the GOP presidential nomination all the way to the convention, even after losing the vast majority of primaries, and tensions were raw; then came the Reagan-Bush ticket. 

Among the Democratic presidential candidates, the viable alternatives to the Biden and Harris corporatist duo are the progressive candidate Elizabeth Warren and the more progressive candidate Bernie Sanders. While Warren is impressive in many ways, I continue to actively support Sanders. As an eloquent essay by Shaun King recently underscored, Sanders -- like no other member of the Senate or candidate for president -- has boldly participated in progressive movements for his entire adult life. 

That orientation toward social movements is crucial in a time of profound needs for fundamental change, in an era of multiple and concentric crises -- from record-breaking economic inequality to extreme corporate greed to racist xenophobia to the climate emergency to rampant militarism and so much more. No matter how distasteful or repugnant, the electoral process is an opening for progressive forces to be influential and potentially decisive.


Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of 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, 1 July 2019

After Biden’s Sharp Decline, Investors Are Reassessing Other Blue Chips, by Norman Solomon

Investors are pondering where to put their money this week after the sudden decline in the assessed value of presidential candidate Joe Biden.

On Wall Street and in other corporate quarters where financiers were heavily invested in Biden, hopes have eroded in recent days amid reduced investor confidence.

Some prominent donors began to openly question the wisdom of devoting more capital to the national marketing campaign for the former vice president.

After the leading blue chip closed sharply lower at the end of last week, even declaring “my time is up,” many top investors felt overexposed and looked for shelter.

Gathering new topline data and considering several prospectuses that had been previously submitted, investors are now reassessing assets and liabilities as well as potential growth in market share during the next quarter and beyond.

Venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, powerful CEOs and other wealthy individuals -- sensing a political emergency that may require swift and decisive action -- are moving to widen financing spigots for Kamala Harris.

With contingency planning, there is elevated interest in Pete Buttigieg. One previously hot startup, Beto O’Rourke, is now considered to be too underperforming to warrant reinvestment.

The overarching goals are to quickly shore up capitalization of aligned political products and to implement sustained brand enhancement.

While great appreciation remains for Biden’s nearly five decades of massive financial benefits to investors, some have concluded that he is now unreliable in view of current political turbulence.

Yet Biden is hardly in penny-stock territory. Many rich investors remain bullish on the former vice president. 

Politico reported Sunday that “sources say Biden walked away with a $1 million haul after two fund-raisers in San Francisco alone this weekend.” 

One of those gatherings drew about 200 wealthy guests to the backyard of a former Twitter vice president for global media, Katie Jacobs Stanton. 

But an erstwhile Biden fundraiser, Tom McInerney, didn’t show up at the Stanton poolside event, even though he was listed on the invitation. 

McInerney, who was a member of Biden’s national finance committee, said he notified the Biden campaign on June 20 that he would no longer fundraise for it, citing the candidate’s recent fond comments about segregationist senators. 

Actually, Biden had been on the record for many years with such warm reminiscences. And in a report first published on April 11, CNN had exposed Biden’s letters to racist senators in 1977 and 1978, seeking support for his legislation against school busing for desegregation. 

Quoting McInerney as saying that “I would imagine I’m not alone,” CNBC reported on the day after Biden’s debate pratfall:

“While McInerney is the first financier to publicly withdraw his support after Biden’s controversial round of comments, the loss is significant because it could be a harbinger of further defections.” 

Overall, market conditions have abruptly changed, in the midst of fierce competition for big-investor dollars. The New York Times did some candid reporting in mid-June under the headline “Wall Street Donors Are Swooning for Mayor Pete. (And They Like Biden and Harris, Too.)” 

The story explained that “the behind-the-scenes competition for Wall Street money in the 2020 presidential race is reaching a fevered peak . . . as no less than nine Democrats are holding New York fund-raisers in a span of nine day.” 

And, “with millions of dollars on the line, top New York donors are already beginning to pick favorites, and three candidates are generating most of the buzz” -- Biden, Harris and Buttigieg. The Times reported: 

“Interviews with two dozen top contributors, fund-raisers and political advisers on Wall Street and beyond revealed that while many are still hedging their bets, those who care most about picking a winner are gravitating toward Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, while donors are swooning over Mr. Buttigieg enough to open their wallets and bundling networks for him.” 

At the same time, the newspaper noted, “Not everyone is chasing Wall Street cash: Two candidates in the top tier of polls, [Bernie] Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have railed against the financial industry and opted against the kind of fancy fund-raisers with catering and $2,800 admission prices that lubricate the donor industry.” 

The antipathy is mutual: Wall Streeters understand that Sanders and Warren would be bad investments anyway. In sharp contrast, the Times summarized a bit of the investment frenzy: 

“Hamilton E. James, the executive vice chairman of Blackstone and a top fund-raiser, hosted Mr. Buttigieg at his home on Thursday. The short-selling hedge fund manager James Chanos will hold an event for Mr. Biden on Monday. And on Tuesday, Marc Lasry, the hedge fund manager and co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, is gathering checks for Ms. Harris. Co-hosts of that event include Blair W. Effron, an investment bank co-founder and an influential Democratic financier, and Ray McGuire, vice chairman of Citigroup.” 

Deep-pocket investors are lined up from coast to coast. The night before she gave a speech at the California Democratic Party convention a month ago, Kamala Harris held a campaign fund-raiser at the San Francisco home of oil billionaires Ann and Gordon Getty, with the price of admission reportedly up to $28,000.

While Harris was attending that fund-raiser, the San Francisco Chronicle observed, “Sanders was stopping by the Latino and labor caucuses at the convention.” 

For his part, Biden skipped the California state party convention entirely. 

But the same weekend, he sent top aides to the same city to meet with “more than two dozen bundlers -- people who raise money from high-dollar donors -- at the San Francisco home of Sandy Robertson, co-founder of private equity firm Francisco Partners,” CNBC reported. 

“Other financiers at the private huddle included Richard Blum, an investment banker and husband of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein; veteran trial lawyer Joseph Cotchett; Steve Westly, founder of tech investment firm the Westly Group; Denise Bauer, former U.S. ambassador to Belgium; and Wade Randlett, the president of Dashboard Technology.” 

Eager for lucrative stability in the electoral marketplace, corporate Democratic investors are keen to block threats to their dominance from the Sanders and Warren campaigns. 

Now that Joe Biden is looking shaky -- with a damaged brand and a faltering business plan -- prudence requires a new set of calculations. 

Biden may have outlived his usefulness. If “politics ain’t beanbag,” neither is political investment.


Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of 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, 20 June 2019

Clueless and Shameless: Joe Biden, Staggering Frontrunner, by Norman Solomom

Joe Biden just put a spotlight on his mindset when he explicitly refused to apologize for fondly recalling how the Senate “got things done” with “civility” as he worked alongside some of the leading racist lawmakers of the 20th century.

For Biden, the personal is the political; he knows that he’s virtuous, and that should be more than good enough for African Americans, for women, for anyone. “There’s not a racist bone in my body,” Biden exclaimed Wednesday night, moments after demanding: “Apologize for what?” His deep paternalism surfaced during the angry outburst as he declared: “I’ve been involved in civil rights my whole career, period, period, period.” 

 Biden has been “involved” in civil rights his “whole career” alright. But at some crucial junctures, he was on the wrong side. He teamed up with segregationist senators to oppose busing for school desegregation in the 1970s. And he played a leading role -- while pandering to racism with a shameful Senate floor speech -- for passage of the infamous 1994 crime bill that fueled mass incarceration. 

Such aspects of Biden’s record provide context for his comments this week -- praising an era of productive “civility” with the virulent segregationist Dixiecrat Senators Herman Talmadge of Georgia and James Eastland of Mississippi (known as the “Voice of the White South”), who often called black people “an inferior race.” Said Biden at a New York fundraiser Tuesday night: “Well guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished.” 

To Biden, any assessment of his past conduct that clashes with his high self-regard is unfair; after all, he really means well. On the campaign trail now, his cloying paternalism is as evident as his affinity for wealthy donors. Biden shuttles between the billionaire class and the working class -- funded by the rich while justifying the rich to everyone else. 

His aspirations are bound up in notions of himself as comforter-in-chief. “I get it, I get it,” Biden said during his brief and self-adulatory non-apology video in early April to quiet the uproar over his invasive touching of women and girls. He was actually saying: I get it that I need to seem to get it. “I want to talk about gestures of support and encouragement that I’ve made to women and some men that have made them uncomfortable,” Biden said in the video.

“In my career I’ve always tried to make a human connection -- that’s my responsibility, I think. I shake hands, I hug people, I grab men and women by the shoulders and say, ‘You can do this’. . . It’s the way I’ve always been. It’s the way I’ve tried to show I care about them and I’m listening.” Weeks later, appearing on ABC’s The View, he declared: “I have never in my life, never, done anything in approaching a woman that has been other than trying to bring solace.”

It was not a credible claim; consider Lucy Flores, or the countless other women and girls he has intrusively touched over the years. For several decades, Biden has made his way through the political terrain as a reflexive glad-hander. But times have changed a lot more than he has. “What the American people do not know yet is whether Biden has actually internalized any of the blowback he’s earned over the years for his treatment of women,” journalist Joe Berkowitz wrote last week. “So far, it’s not looking good.” 

What’s also looking grim is Biden’s brazen adoration of wealthy elites who feed on corporate power. His approach is to split the rhetorical difference between the wealthy and the workers. And so, days ago, at a fundraiser filled with almost 180 donors giving his campaign the legal limit of $2,800 each -- an event where he tried and failed to get funding from a pro-Trump billionaire -- Biden declared: “You know, you guys are great but Wall Street didn’t build America. You guys are incredibly important but you didn’t build America. Ordinary, hard-working, middle-class people given half the chance is what built America.”

The formula boils down to throwing the “hard-working middle class” some rhetorical bones while continuing to service “you guys” on Wall Street. Given his desire to merely revert the country to pre-Trump days, no wonder Biden keeps saying that a good future can stem from finding common ground with Republicans. But for people who understand the present-day GOP and really want a decent society, Biden’s claims are delusional. 

Biden sees his public roles of winking patriarch, civility toward racists and collaborator with oligarchs as a winning political combination. But if he becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, Biden will suppress turnout from the party’s base while providing Republicans with plenty of effective (albeit hypocritical) fodder. Already the conservative press is salivating over the transparently fraudulent pretenses of Lunch Bucket Joe, as in this headline Tuesday in the right-wing Washington Examiner: “Biden Rubs Elbows With Billionaires in $34M Penthouse.” 

When Bernie Sanders (who I continue to actively support) denounces the political power of billionaires and repeats his 2020 campaign motto -- “Not Me. Us.” -- it rings true, consistent with his decades-long record. But Biden can’t outrun his own record, which is enmeshed in his ongoing mentality. And so, the former vice president is in a race between his pleasant image and unpleasant reality. 

As the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Joe Biden is the biggest threat to Joe Biden’s political future. He continues to be who he has been, and that’s the toxic problem.