Thursday, 28 March 2019

Pelosi and McConnell: Cranking Up Bipartisan Madness for NATO, by Norman Solomon

When Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell teamed up to invite NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to address a joint session of Congress, they had every reason to expect the April 3 speech to be a big hit with U.S. media and political elites.

The establishment is eager to affirm the sanctity of support for the transatlantic military alliance. Huge reverence for NATO is matched by how dangerous NATO has become. 

NATO’s continual expansion -- all the way to Russia’s borders -- has significantly increased the chances that the world’s two nuclear superpowers will get into direct military conflict. 

But in the United States, when anyone challenges the continued expansion of NATO, innuendos or outright smears are likely. 

Two years ago, when the Senate debated whether to approve bringing Montenegro into NATO, the mud flew at Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky after he showed up to object. 

An infuriated Sen. John McCain declared on the Senate floor: “I have no idea why anyone would object to this, except that I will say -- if they object, they are now carrying out the desires and ambitions of Vladimir Putin, and I do not say that lightly.” 

Moments later, when Paul said “I object,” McCain proclaimed: “The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” 

With those words, McCain conveyed the common madness of reverence for NATO -- and the common intolerance for anything that might approach a rational debate on whether it’s a good idea to keep expanding an American-led military alliance to, in effect, push Russia into a corner. 

Doing so is understandably viewed from Russia as a dire threat. Imagine a Russian-led military alliance expanding to Canada and Mexico, complete with some of the latest missile systems on the planet.

Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall -- and the quickly broken promises by the U.S. government in 1990 that NATO would move “not one inch eastward” -- NATO has been closing in on Russia’s borders while bringing one nation after another into full military membership.

During the last three decades, NATO has added 13 countries -- and it’s not done yet. 

NATO members “have clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO,” Stoltenberg asserted days ago while visiting the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. He added: “We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia’s NATO membership.”

For good measure, Stoltenberg tweeted on March 25 that he was “delighted to observe the joint NATO-Georgia exercise” and “honored to meet veterans & serving soldiers,” adding that “Georgia is a unique partner for #NATO & we are stepping up our cooperation.” 

Very few members of Congress can be heard raising any concerns about such reckless expansion. The Senate is key, because adding a country to full NATO membership requires Senate approval. 

My colleagues at have just launched a constituent email campaign on this issue. In every state, people are contacting their senators with individual emails urging them to oppose NATO expansion. Such constituent pressure needs to escalate. 

But lobbying is only part of what’s needed. As NATO marks its 70th anniversary next week with a range of activities -- including a White House welcome for Stoltenberg on Tuesday, his speech to Congress the next day and an official “celebration” on April 4 -- counter-actions including forums and protests as part of a “No to NATO” week will be happening in Washington. 

A statement from the campaign says that “NATO and a just, peaceful and sustainable world are incompatible…. It is an unjust, undemocratic, violent and aggressive alliance trying to shape the world for the benefit of a few.” 

Such evaluations of NATO in the real world are a far cry from the adulation that will be coming from mass media next week. 

Trump’s decision to roll out the White House red carpet for NATO’s secretary general is consistent with the administration’s actions during the last two years.

Media narratives that fixate on occasional warm rhetoric from Trump about Russian President Vladimir Putin have fueled illusions that Trump isn’t pursuing aggressive anti-Russian policies. 

While many Democratic politicians and U.S. media outlets have portrayed Trump as soft on Russia and uncommitted to Western militarism, such claims don’t hold up to facts. 

Trump and his top deputies have repeatedly affirmed a commitment to NATO, while his overall policies (if not always his rhetoric) have been dangerously bellicose toward Russia. 

In an email message to the D.C. area encouraging participation in “No to NATO” events next week, RootsAction pointed out: 

Trump has evicted Russian diplomats, sanctioned Russian officials, put missiles practically on Russia’s border, sent weapons into Ukraine, lobbied European nations to drop Russian energy deals, left the Iran agreement, torn up the INF Treaty, rejected Russia’s offers on banning weapons in space and banning cyberwar, expanded NATO eastward, added a NATO partner in Colombia, proposed adding Brazil, demanded and successfully moved most NATO members to buy significantly more weapons, splurged on more nukes, bombed Russians in Syria, overseen the largest war rehearsals in Europe in half a century, condemned all proposals for a European military and insisted that Europe stick with NATO.” 

When NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg gives his speech to the assembled members of Congress next Wednesday, you can count on the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader to be right behind him. 

The bipartisan enthusiasm will be obvious -- in tribute to a militarized political culture that is vastly profitable for a few, while vastly destructive in countless ways. 

Only public education, activism, protests and a wide range of political organizing have the potential to disrupt and end the reflexive support for NATO in Washington.


Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of 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.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Bernie Is Not A Wind Sock, by Norman Solomon

Bernie Sanders wrapped up a weekend campaign swing through California with a Sunday afternoon speech to 16,000 of us a few miles from the Golden Gate Bridge. News coverage seemed unlikely to convey much about the event. 

The multiracial crowd reflected the latest polling that shows great diversity of support for Bernie, contrary to corporate media spin. High energy for basic social change was in the air. Speaking from the podium, Bernie 2020 co-chair Nina Turner asked and answered a question about the campaign: “What’s love got to do with it? Everything.” 

Those words made me think of a little-known statement by Martin Luther King Jr., as vitally true in 2019 as in 1967. “Now, we got to get this thing right,” he said. “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” 

And so, Dr. King was saying, love and power need each other. Just one or the other just won’t do. Combining the two is essential. That’s a way to understand what Turner said at the rally in San Francisco: “This is a moment of transcendence.” 

The Sanders campaign is a nationwide struggle for the kind of power that Dr. King extolled as “love implementing the demands of justice.” In his words, “Power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose.” 

The Sanders campaign is a political opportunity unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetimes. With profound purpose, it raises the stakes to fit the magnitude of what is at stake; it challenges in national electoral terms the kind of destructive domination that has ruled with dispiriting and deadly results. 

“We’re going to have to fight Wall Street, neoliberals, those who don’t want the change to come,” Turner said. Alone among the candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders has always been part of progressive movements. 

The only way that the campaign can overcome corporate media, Wall Street and other power centers of the establishment will be with massive bottom-up mobilization in communities across the country. As Bernie said on Sunday, “We are going to put together an unprecedented grassroots campaign.”

A current media meme -- ignoring the importance of Bernie’s longstanding record -- assumes that he is likely to lose many votes to other candidates who’ve recently endorsed his 2016 campaign proposals. 

But it matters greatly that Bernie has unique credibility as someone who has been part of progressive social movements during the last several decades -- and who hasn’t waited for opinions to become fashionable before expressing them. 

“It’s hard not to be a bit wary of people who know how the wind is blowing and now are blowing with it,” I told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter who quoted me in an article that appeared hours before the rally. “Bernie is part of movements that create the wind. Bernie is not a wind sock.” 

For decades, Bernie has been tirelessly advocating for Medicare for All single-payer healthcare. In the last few years or months, some of his opponents have come around to voice often-equivocal support. The credibility of commitment is vastly different. When Sanders declared for the umpteenth time at the San Francisco rally that “healthcare is a human right,” no one could doubt that he really meant it. 

Similarly, Bernie has long been calling for drastic new policies to push back against climate change. He voiced concerns about a warming planet as early as the 1980s. Overall, a vast number of issues fall under a clear approach that Bernie has long stated, as he did on Sunday: “We say no to oligarchy, yes to democracy.” 

Bernie’s speech in San Francisco included clarity on some issues that has become sharper than ever, as in his denunciations of the prison-industrial complex, the cruel injustice of cash bail and systemic racism. And at last, as a presidential candidate, he is calling out by name “the military-industrial complex.” 

Declaring that he aims for a presidency to challenge the bloated military budget, Bernie said: “We are not going to invest in never-ending wars.” It was a statement that caused some of the loudest cheering of the afternoon, along with chants of “No more wars!” As those chants subsided, he said: “I know it’s not easy, but our job is to lead the world away from war and invest in human needs.” 

Bernie called for breaking up the big banks. And he addressed the power of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries: “When we talk about lowering prescription drug costs and moving to Medicare for All, we have got to recognize, we have a battle in front of us. These guys will spend endless amounts of money. Will you stand with me and take on the drug companies and the insurance companies?” 

And he went on: “If we’re going to protect family-based agriculture from Vermont to California, we have got to stand up to agribusiness. We have got to stand up to the prison-industrial complex. We’ve got to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. In other words, it’s easy enough for somebody to give you a speech about all the things he or she wants to do. But those changes do not take place unless people stand up and fight back. And that is what this campaign is about.” 

When Bernie finished his speech, a woman stepped to the microphone with a guitar and began to play some familiar chords. Bernie returned to the mic to quickly say: “This is Sarah Guthrie, granddaughter of Woody Guthrie.” And she began to sing: 

As I was walking that ribbon of highway
I saw above me that endless skyway
I saw below me the golden valley
This land was made for you and me 

Moments later, Sarah Guthrie sang a version of a verse that has been rarely heard: 

There was a great high wall 
That tried to stop me
And on the wall said “No Trespassing”
But on the other side
It didn’t say nothing
That side was made for you and me


Oh nobody living could ever stop us 
As we go walking on freedom highway
Nobody living can make us turn back
This land was made for you and me 


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 Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Friday, 22 March 2019

Not Party Politics, But Principles, by Godfrey Bloom

The European Union is one of the least understood organisations in the United Kingdom. The reason for this primarily is neither mainstream media nor the political class have moved on from the concept of the Common Market.

The long term goal has always been a federal Europe. A Europe more tightly disciplined than the United States, more micromanaged, more centralised than most historical federations. The EU’s founding fathers believed this idea would put an end to the continent’s interminable wars.

History shows a major conflict somewhere in Europe every eighteen months for the last one thousand years. The last world war was so horrific it triggered the federal concept.

The founding fathers also knew sovereign state loyalty runs very deep. Just visit any World Cup sporting event. Humankind is addicted for better or worse to their tribe.

The concept of a federal union had to be done by stealth. The founding fathers were quite open about this. Edward Heath admitted quite openly in retirement that if the true concept were known to the electorate it would not have been supported, as indeed it wouldn’t have.

The 1975 referendum was a confirmatory vote. The UK was already in, the vote was for the status quo. The ballot paper and the campaign were about a common market.

The country was at an all time low, not seen since the mid 1930s, many saw the common market as a saviour for a failing state. I did myself. Continental Europe seemed to have drawn ahead us, they seemed to be doing something right.


Remain seemed the simple option, the least bother. The debate was almost totally about trade. Some leading politicians raised the constitutional implications but the nation wasn’t ready for that kind of debate.

Looking back on the constitutionalist arguments on You Tube some of the most brilliant arguments came from the left. Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Michael Foot made devastating contributions, as did Enoch Powell from the right.

Back in the sixties Clement Attlee exposed the true nature of the beast but Harold Macmillan won the argument only to be thwarted by de Gaulle, who understood eventually the British would never be part of a federal mainland Europe.

But the 1975 debate has locked British debate in a time warp. What would be the tariff scenario on automobiles? Will the NHS collapse ? Can our hill farmers cope? Etc. Etc. It has all been about trade, even the usually astute William Rees-Mogg got mired by Andrew Neil on the cost of trainers and shoes! As if that had anything to do with the real debate.

There is also fake assessment of who voted what and why. Old voted leave, young voted remain is an appalling over simplification. The divide was more complex. Public sector workers mainly voted remain. Bankers, thespians, bureaucrats, students, academics and clergy all voted remain.

Provincial middle England voted leave. The butcher, baker, mechanic, hairdresser, cabbie voted leave. A huge ‘old’ Labour support base. There were class and regional differences, too, but they were more nuanced.


Here is the dilemma and danger. Let’s recap as the referendum was two and a half years ago. The then Prime Minister, David Cameron, wrote to every house in the land at an estimated cost of £9 million. The letter set out in some detail the basic facts and a recommendation to remain.

It also famously mandated the electorate to make the final decision. That decision, it was promised, would solemnly be abided by. No ifs or buts. The turnout astonished everyone and the electorate voted leave.

Then followed a general election in which both main political parties committed in their manifesto to leave. This took party politics completely out of the picture. Labour and Conservative voters (four million) abandoned UKIP, now it seemed redundant. The general election was not based on remain or leave because that was a done deal. Tribal politics reasserted itself. Good old red or blue.

Parliament then overwhelmingly triggered Article 50 and the countdown began. But things started to go wrong. The new Prime Minister had campaigned for remain, as had her Chancellor AND Home Secretary. Deeply dedicated federalists by their own admission.

Then the most astonishing development, a dedicated remain civil servant took the negotiating helm. David Davis AND Dominic Raab were usurped. Olly Robbins was Chairman of the Oxford University European Society in his youth. The entire team consisted of people who didn’t want to leave.

Unsurprisingly the eventual ‘deal’ is remain in all but name. The ‘deal’ is so rotten it is unsupportable and has suffered two huge defeats in Parliament.


Changes in tabloid editorial policy together with unashamed bias on BBC, Sky and Channel 4 have started a propaganda campaign based on fear of leave, and an extraordinary vilification of 17.4 million leave voters who are either stupid or racist.

It is implied that moving from 55% trade under WTO rules to 100%  would somehow be ‘crashing out’ or a ‘leap in the dark’. There is a TV blackout of European protest demonstrations, and a veil is drawn over the EU Security Agreement (remember the EU army that was never going to be?).

Parliamentarians committed to their party manifestos are ‘hard’ Brexiteers. But the referendum ballot paper just said remain or leave. There was no ‘turn to page two for further questions’. No hard, soft, poached, fried, scrambled or coddled.

There is a desperation to overturn the referendum result so hysterical it shows clearly the EU is not about trade but something much deeper. The perpetrators of remain are not from the world of trade, indeed they made very conscious decisions at university to have nothing to do with trade. They chose, law, politics, civil service, church, theatre and academe. They know nothing of trade and have a distaste for it that goes back two hundred years.

Faith in politicians is at an all time low, but it will get even lower if the referendum result is not honoured, many Remainers understand this. There is a mood swing for the first time in mainland Europe, the federal dream (incidentally much better understood over there) is crumbling.

Eurosceptic parties will be returned in significant numbers to the European Parliament in May. The dream itself will die with the collapse of the European Central Bank, probably in 2021. The tragedy is that the federalist subterfuge was bound to be exposed sooner or later. Excluding Germany, youth unemployment in the eurozone is 29%, unsustainable in any society.

A more honest approach could have spawned a confederation of European states, by no means an ignoble dream, something supported by the electorate and not just a sinister conspiracy by the political class, big business, banks bureaucrats and wealthy celebrities.

The British have enjoyed a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government maturing over one thousand years. It is not perfect, it has had many ups and downs but it was based the principle of common and statute law, democratic accountability, a universal franchise and the ability of an electorate to turn out a government they no longer support. Search again if you will those speeches by Tony Benn and Peter Shore on You Tube. This has nothing to do with party politics, but principles.

Godfrey Bloom was a Member of the European Parliament for Yorkshire and the Humber from 2004 to 2014.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Reinventing Beto: How a GOP Accessory Became a Top Democratic Contender for President, by Norman Solomon

To understand Beto O’Rourke as a candidate, it’s vital to go beneath the surface of his political backstory. 

News watchers are already well aware of the former Texas congressman’s good looks, charisma, youthful energy and fundraising prowess. 

But most remain unaware of an inconvenient truth that could undermine the O’Rourke campaign among the people who matter most -- the ones who’ll be voting to choose the Democratic presidential nominee next year. 

O’Rourke is hardly eager for those upcoming voters to realize that the growth of his political career is rooted in an alliance with powerful Republicans that began 15 years ago. 

Or that he supported raising the minimum age for Social Security in 2012. 

Or that -- during six years in Congress, through the end of 2018 -- he often aligned himself with Republican positions. 

If facts matter, such weighty facts could sink the “Beto for America” presidential campaign. Since his announcement, information gaining traction nationwide runs directly counter to the Beto brand. 

“Before becoming a rising star in the Democratic Party,” the Wall Street Journal reported a week ago, “Beto O’Rourke relied on a core group of business-minded Republicans in his Texas hometown to launch and sustain his political career. 

“To win their backing, Mr. O’Rourke opposed Obamacare, voted against Nancy Pelosi as the House Democratic leader and called for a raise in the Social Security eligibility age.” 

Meanwhile, a Washington Post news article -- under the headline “Beto O’Rourke’s Political Career Drew on Donations From the Pro-Republican Business Establishment” -- also foreshadowed a bumpy ride on the campaign trail. 

In the eyes of most people who don’t like the GOP, key points in the Post’s reporting are apt to be concerning. For instance: 

** “Several of El Paso’s richest business moguls donated to and raised money for O’Rourke’s city council campaigns, drawn to his support for a plan to redevelop El Paso’s poorer neighborhoods. Some later backed a super PAC that would play a key role in helping him defeat an incumbent Democratic congressman.” 

** “O’Rourke worked on issues that had the potential to make money for some of his benefactors. His support as a council member for the redevelopment plan, which sparked controversy at the time because it involved relocating low-income residents, many of them Hispanic, coincided with property investments by some of his benefactors.” 

** “As a congressman, he supported a $2 billion military funding increase that benefited a company controlled by another major donor. That donor, real estate developer Woody Hunt, was friends with O’Rourke’s late father. Hunt also co-founded and funds an El Paso nonprofit organization that has employed O’Rourke’s wife since 2016.” 

Central features of Trumpism are budgets that add billions to already-bloated Pentagon spending while cutting essential programs. In Beto’s last year in Congress, when nearly one-third of House Democrats opposed the record-breaking 2019 National Defense Authorization Act of $717 billion, Beto voted with Trump. 

Four senators who are running against O’Rourke voted no: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Overall, the Post reports, “in contrast to the aspirational image he has fostered in recent years,” O’Rourke’s political career has gone along a path of “winning support from a typically pro-GOP business establishment interested in swaying public policy. Born into one politically potent family and married into another, he benefited repeatedly from his relationships with El Paso’s most powerful residents, including several nationally known Republican moneymen.” 

To put his more conservative actions in context, O’Rourke cannot plausibly claim that he was striving to be in sync with the voters who elected him. 

El Paso and the House district that O’Rourke represented are heavily Democratic. The Wall Street Journal summed up this way: “In a one-party town -- the Democrats have held El Paso’s congressional seat for all but one term since 1902 -- local Republicans viewed Mr. O’Rourke as one of their own.” 

Naturally, O’Rourke would much rather talk in upbeat generalities than answer pointed questions about why anti-Republican voters should cast ballots for him -- when he has a long record of going along with many GOP positions they find abhorrent. 

It may be better for him if unflattering coverage fixates instead on matters like youthful stints as a punk rocker and early computer hacker. 

It was just seven years ago when -- during his first run for Congress -- O’Rourke did a campaign video to tell people in the blue West Texas district that “we’ll have to look at future generations . . . retiring at a later age, paying a greater percentage of their income into Social Security and making other necessary adjustments.” 

And, the Wall Street Journal reports, “in a candidate questionnaire published two days before the May 2012 primary, Mr. O’Rourke called for raising the Social Security eligibility age and means-testing federal entitlements.” 

According to exit polling, O’Rourke won that election with major help from Republicans who opted to vote in the Democratic primary and cast their ballots for him by a ratio of more than 7 to 1. 

After becoming a congressman, O’Rourke backtracked and, as Politico reports, “co-sponsored legislation that would increase Social Security benefits -- without raising the retirement age.” 

Yet his wobbly stance on Social Security in this decade is a warning flag.

O’Rourke affinity with Republican sensibilities related to corporate power has continued. So has largesse from interests that are the antithesis of progressive values. 

Notably, for his final term, Beto retired from the House as the member of Congress who was the second-highest recipient of campaign cash from the oil and gas industry.

In June 2015, O’Rourke was one of only 28 Democrats -- out of 188 members of the party in the House -- who voted to give President Obama the power to negotiate the corporate-oriented Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

The measure squeaked through the House, propelled by support from 190 Republicans. 

A year later, the TPP was a highly visible and contentious issue at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where hundreds of Bernie Sanders delegates held anti-TPP signs. (I was one of those delegates and still support Sanders.) 

These days, O’Rourke is typically aiming to have it both ways, as Vanity Fair reported in a campaign kickoff cover story last week: “O’Rourke now says he would have voted ‘no’ on the ultimate agreement. But in 2015, he traveled with Obama on a trip to Asia to help build support for the deal.” 

 At the end of last year, the Guardian published an exhaustively researched article under the headline “Beto O’Rourke Frequently Voted for Republican Legislation, Analysis Reveals.” 

The piece reported that “even as O’Rourke represented one of the most solidly Democratic congressional districts in the United States, he has frequently voted against the majority of House Democrats in support of Republican bills and Trump administration priorities.” 

Written by investigative journalist David Sirota (who days ago joined the Sanders presidential campaign as a speechwriter), the Dec. 20 article reviewed “the 167 votes O’Rourke has cast in the House in opposition to the majority of his own party during his six-year tenure in Congress. Many of those votes were not progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers, but instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation.” 

A cautionary tale comes from David Romo, an activist and historian in El Paso who describes Beto O’Rourke as a “masterful politician. . . It’s all fluff, it’s all style, it’s all looks.” 

Romo clashed with City Councilman O’Rourke when he went all-out for redevelopment that would enrich some of his wealthy backers. Romo said recently: 

“O’Rourke, because of his charisma, can kind of pull off some of this behind-the-scenes power peddling. He was the pretty face in the really ugly gentrification plan that negatively affected the most vulnerable people in El Paso.” 

To the casual listener, however, O’Rourke might sound lovely. Consider this verbiage from the presidential campaign trail: 

“We want to be for everybody, work with everybody. Could care less about your party affiliation or any other difference that might otherwise divide us at this moment of truth, where I really feel we will either make or break this great country and our democracy.” 

From O’Rourke, that kind of talk has sometimes overlapped with disinterest in defeating Republicans. 

Last year, while running for the Senate, O’Rourke helped a friend in need -- Texas GOP Congressman Will Hurd -- by notably refusing to endorse his Democratic opponent. Gina Ortiz Jones, a gay Filipina-American, had momentum in a district with a majority of Hispanics. 

But O’Rourke’s solidarity with his Republican colleague may well have saved Hurd’s seat. Hurd won re-election by under one-half of a percentage point, while O’Rourke won in the district by a five-point margin. 

As the New York Times reported, O’Rourke “had elevated” his Republican colleague Hurd “with frequent praise and, most memorably, a live-streamed bipartisan road trip that helped jump-start their midterm campaigns.” 

During the campaign, O’Rourke tried to justify his refusal to endorse Hurd’s Democratic opponent by declaring: “This is a place where my politics and my job and my commitment to this country come into conflict. I’m going to put country over party.” 

When Politico asked O’Rourke late last year whether he considered himself to be a progressive Democrat, O’Rourke replied: 

“I don’t know. I’m just, as you may have seen and heard over the course of the campaign, I’m not big on labels. I don’t get all fired up about party or classifying or defining people based on a label or a group. I’m for everyone.” 

Everyone? After O’Rourke campaigned in the Detroit area a few days ago, the Detroit Metro Times published information that would concern anyone with minimally progressive leanings: 

“He supported Republican efforts to limit the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was established by Obama and Democrats to protect Americans from Wall Street following the recession. 

“O’Rourke also broke with the party to support Trump and GOP attempts to loosen requirements in hiring border patrol agents; chip away at the Affordable Care Act; kill a ban on oil drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico; and lift the 40-year-old oil export ban. He also supported Republican legislation that protected utility companies that start wildfires.” 

It’s understandable that many progressives came out of 2018 with a favorable view of O’Rourke. He ran a strong campaign that got remarkably close to unseating the odious Sen. Ted Cruz. Along the way, O’Rourke showed himself to be eloquent and tireless. Some of his stances are both enlightened and longstanding, as with his advocacy for legalizing marijuana.

And O’Rourke provided some stunning moments of oratory, as in a viral video that showed his response to a question about NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem; his support for dissent in the context of civil rights history was exemplary. 

Yet, overall, there’s a good reason why O’Rourke declines to call himself “progressive.” He isn’t. His alliances and sensibilities, when you strip away some cultural affinities and limited social-justice positions, are bedrock corporate. 

In his quest for a Democratic nomination that will require support from a primary electorate that leans progressive, Beto O’Rourke will be running to elude his actual record. If it catches up with him, he’s going to lose.


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 Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Joe Biden On The Relaunch Pad: He’s Worse Than You Thought, by Norman Solomon

When the New York Times front-paged its latest anti-left polemic masquerading as a news article, the March 9 piece declared: “Should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. enter the race, as his top advisers vow he soon will, he would have the best immediate shot at the moderate mantle.” 

On the verge of relaunching, Joe Biden is poised to come to the rescue of the corporate political establishment -- at a time when, in the words of the Times, “the sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats.” 

After 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Biden is by far the most seasoned servant of corporate power with a prayer of becoming the next president. When Biden read this paragraph in a recent Politico article, his ears must have been burning:

“Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.” 

The direct prey of Biden’s five-decade “association with bankers” include millions of current and former college students now struggling under avalanches of debt; they can thank Biden for his prodigious services to the lending industry. 

Andrew Cockburn identifies an array of victims in his devastating profile of Biden in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. For instance: 

** “Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools.”

** “Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.”

** Biden worked diligently to strengthen the hand of credit-card firms against consumers. At the same time, “the credit card giant MBNA was Biden’s largest contributor for much of his Senate career, while also employing his son Hunter as an executive and, later, as a well-remunerated consultant.” 

Media mythology about “Lunch Bucket Joe” cannot stand up to scrutiny. His bona fides as a pal of working people are about as solid and believable as those of the last Democratic nominee for president. 

But Biden’s fealty to corporate power has been only one aspect of his many-faceted record that progressives will widely find repugnant to the extent they learn about it. 

Since the #MeToo movement began, some retrospective media coverage has assessed Biden’s highly problematic role in chairing the Clarence Thomas - Anita Hill hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

And in recent days, Washington Post reporting has brought into focus his backstory of pandering to white racism against African-Americans during much of his Senate career. As a 32-year-old senator, in 1975, Biden commented: 

“I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that.”

More attention is also needed to Biden’s role as Judiciary Committee chair pushing through the now-notorious landmark 1994 crime bill. In the process of championing the bill, Biden warned of “predators on our streets” during a 1993 speech on the Senate floor. 

“It doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth,” Biden proclaimed. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society. The end result is they're about to knock my mother on the head with a lead pipe, shoot my sister, beat up my wife, take on my sons.” 

Now, a new Iowa poll shows Biden and Bernie Sanders neck and neck in the first-in-the-nation contest for the nomination, with the rest of the candidates far behind in the state. 

For quite a while, Biden has been sharpening his hatchet to swing at progressive populism in general -- and Bernie in particular. In typical Biden style, the former vice president is eager to stake out the middle of the road, between ultra-predatory capitalism and solidarity with working-class people. 

At an October 2017 gathering in Alabama, he 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.” 

As Branko Marcetic pointed out in Jacobin last summer, “at a time when left-wing populism is increasingly accepted as the antidote to Trump and the GOP’s nativist and corporate-friendly pitch, Biden stands as a remnant of precisely the sort of left-averse, triangulating Democratic politics that Hillary Clinton was relentlessly criticized for personifying.”

Biden makes clear his distaste for the current progressive populist wave. “I know some want to single out big corporations for all the blame,” he wrote in a blog post. 

“It is true that the balance has shifted too much in favor of corporations and against workers. But consumers, workers, and leaders have the power to hold every corporation to a higher standard, not simply cast business as the enemy or let industry off the hook.” 

One of the many industries that Biden has a long record of letting “off the hook” is the war business. In that mode, Biden did more than any other Democratic senator to greenlight the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. It wasn’t just that Biden voted for the Iraq war on the Senate floor five months before it began. 

During the lead-up to that vote, in August 2002, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he presided over sham hearings -- refusing to allow experts who opposed an invasion to get any words in edgewise -- while a cavalcade of war hawks testified in the national spotlight. 

“It is difficult to over-estimate the critical role Biden played in making the tragedy of the Iraq war possible,” Middle East studies professor Stephen Zunes wrote. 

“More than two months prior to the 2002 war resolution even being introduced, in what was widely interpreted as the first sign that Congress would endorse a U.S. invasion of Iraq, Biden declared on August 4 that the United States was probably going to war.

“In his powerful position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he orchestrated a propaganda show designed to sell the war to skeptical colleagues and the America public by ensuring that dissenting voices would not get a fair hearing.” 

Joe Biden’s friendly TV persona appeals to many. He smiles well and has a gift of gab. Most political journalists in the mass media like him. He’s an apt frontrunner for the military-industry complex and the corporate power structure that it serves. 

Whether Biden can win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination will largely depend on how many voters don’t know much about his actual record.

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 Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.