Thursday, 19 March 2020

What the Coronavirus Emergency Has to Do with Biden vs. Sanders, by Norman Solomon

On the surface, the coronavirus emergency has nothing in particular to do with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

What’s obvious is that Donald Trump’s unhinged bluster and inaction let the pandemic get a lethal jump on the United States, people are dying while huge numbers of lives are in jeopardy, and quick drastic steps are imperative.

Yet at the same time, the differences between what Biden and Sanders are advocating have enormous implications for what could be done to curb the deadly virus in this country.

The absence of a public health system is consistent with a timeworn pattern of massive holes in the public sector. Biden merely wants to patch up some of the holes, while Sanders wants to build strong structures on truly democratic foundations. 

“It is time to ask how we got to where we are, not only our lack of preparation for the virus, but how we end up with an economy where so many people are hurting at a time of massive income and wealth inequality,” Sanders said at the close of his recent debate with Biden.

“It is time to ask the question of where the power is in America. Who owns the media? Who owns the economy? Who owns the legislative process? Why do we give tax breaks to billionaires and not raise the minimum wage?” 

While so-called “moderate” Democrats like Biden don’t want to answer -- or even hear -- such questions, Sanders insists on continuing to ask them. Such perseverance has never been more needed than at this pivotal moment, with so many lives in the balance.

“Where the power is in America” has everything to do with why the U.S. government’s response to the unfolding coronavirus catastrophe has continued to be so anemic, foreshadowing so many more deaths and so much more grief. It’s urgent to implement all-out measures to contain the coronavirus spread (seriously aiming for containment rather than merely “flattening the curve”).

Meanwhile, policies are needed to make sure that insurance-industry profiteers and other sectors of corporate America don’t get away with rapaciously benefiting from catastrophe in ways that would cause untold misery for vast numbers of people. 

A pair of campaign documents released this week -- the Biden “Plan to Combat Coronavirus (Covid-19) and Prepare for Future Global Health Threats” and the Sanders “Emergency Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic” -- convey big differences in approach to the current unprecedented crisis.

Biden proposes to tweak the health care system and aid only some who suffer economic distress. In sharp contrast, Sanders is proposing far-reaching measures that include free health care for all (“Medicare will ensure that everyone in America, regardless of existing coverage, can receive the health care they need during this crisis”) and major financial assistance to all (“emergency $2,000 cash payments to every person in America every month for the duration of the crisis”).

Calling for programs that would spend at least $2 trillion in response to the coronavirus emergency, Sanders laid out commensurate programs -- to “mobilize on a scale not seen since the New Deal and World War II to prevent deaths, job losses, and economic ruin.” 

Joe Biden vs. Bernie Sanders is not only an electoral contest between presidential candidates. It’s also a contrast of patchwork fixes vs. profound structural changes. Refusal to upset the apple carts of corporate power vs. willingness to fight that power. Tepid adjustments vs. truly transformational agendas.

Sanders was correct when he said last week that “poll after poll, including exit polls, show that a strong majority of the American people support our progressive agenda.” Days ago, the Bernie 2020 campaign sent out a mass email declaring that “our campaign has won the battle of ideas.”

Whether the ideas that Sanders is championing can appreciably shape the government’s response to the coronavirus will have a lot to do with how successful the United States can be in limiting its terrible effects.

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Give Labour Its Pearl Harbor Moment, by David Lindsay

As Keir Starmer prepares to begin his Leadership of the Labour Party with enormous local election losses, so much for him. The Left’s answer to “You’re unelectable” will be, “Well, so are you.”

If Boris Johnson wanted to give Labour a proper Pearl Harbor moment, then he would announce that at the Conservative Party’s top 100 target seats, plus wherever a Conservative MP was standing down, the candidate would meet all of four criteria: he or she would have lived in the constituency for at least 15 years, would be living in rented accommodation, would hold no university degree or equivalent qualification, and would have an annual income not higher than £12,500. Before anyone starts, that last is two in five adults.

The Prime Minister should make it clear that while this was a complete one-off, there would be no exception to any of those four requirements this time, in order to change Parliament for a generation by ensuring an intake of at least 50 such MPs in 2024. As much as anything else, that income requirement would ensure that there were no shortage of women, ethnic minorities, and the disabled; I am both mixed-race and disabled, and I know. Anyone would think that it were really all about class. Some people might whinge that he had not gone through this committee, that committee and the other committee, but once he had made the announcement, then it would be too late. Tony Blair used to pull that trick all the time, because it works.

Where there were two or more such applicants, then the local association’s shortlist of two would go out to a binding, independently administered ballot of all registered parliamentary electors in that constituency. Johnson should then challenge Labour to match all of this for its own top 100 target seats, plus wherever a Labour MP was standing down. Labour could not begin to meet that challenge. Its reaction would be hysterical in both senses of the word.

At the same time, Johnson should announce that, unless they had said no within six hours of the announcement, then certain people would now be Visiting Fellows of the Downing Street Policy Unit, to publish through it with the approval both of its Director and of Dominic Cummings, not as an expression of government policy, but because what they were saying made a useful contribution to the debate. Each would receive an annual honorarium of £12,000, while remaining perfectly free to publish elsewhere in other capacities.

That would give a voice to the rural working class, and to the industrial and former industrial communities that were either outside the metropolitan areas or peripheral to them. A voice to those who were committed to upholding family and community values by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty. A voice to those who cherished free speech and other civil liberties, including due process of law. A voice to those who sought a fully independent British foreign policy, with a critical and sceptical approach to intelligence and security agencies.

A voice to those who found that the definition of anti-Semitism in the Oxford English Dictionary was perfectly sufficient: “Hostility to or prejudice against Jews.” A voice to those who did not feel represented by the usual Jewish, Afro-Caribbean or South Asian “community leaders” embedded in the right-wing Labour Establishment. A voice to those of mixed heritage, and to those whose migrant backgrounds lay beyond the Caribbean and South Asia.

A voice to those who acknowledged the scientific fact of binary and immutable biological sex. And a voice to those who celebrated the full compatibility between the highest view of human demographic, economic, intellectual and cultural expansion and development, and the most active concern for the conservation of the natural world and of the treasures bequeathed by such expansion and development in the past.

I have 30 names in front of me as I write. All are reasonably well-known to those who pay attention. Again, this would challenge the Labour Party to name each of them to a comparable position as well. And again, Labour would fail that test.

Friday, 6 March 2020

Elizabeth Warren: Which Side Are You On?, by Norman Solomon

The night before Super Tuesday, Elizabeth Warren spoke to several thousand people in a quadrangle at East Los Angeles College.

Much of her talk recounted the heroic actions of oppressed Latina workers who led the Justice for Janitors organization.

Standing in the crowd, I was impressed with Warren’s eloquence as she praised solidarity and labor unions as essential for improving the lives of working people.

Now, days later, with corporate Democrat Joe Biden enjoying sudden momentum and mega-billionaire Mike Bloomberg joining forces with him, an urgent question hovers over Warren. It’s a time-honored union inquiry: “Which side are you on?” 

How Warren answers that question might determine the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In the process, she will profoundly etch into history the reality of her political character. 

Facing the fact that her campaign reached a dead end, Warren basically has two choices: While Bernie Sanders and Biden go toe to toe, she can maintain neutrality and avoid the ire of the Democratic Party’s corporate establishment. 

Or she can form a united front with Sanders, taking a principled stand on behalf of progressive ideals. For much of the past year, in many hundreds of speeches and interviews, Warren has denounced the huge leverage of big money in politics.

And she has challenged some key aspects of corporate power. But now we’re going to find out more about how deep such commitments go for her.

“After Warren's bleak performance in the Super Tuesday primaries, her associates, as well as those of Sanders and former vice president Joe Biden, say she is now looking for the best way to step aside,” the Washington Post reported on Wednesday -- and “there is no certainty she will endorse Sanders or anyone else.” 

A laudable path now awaits Warren. After winning just a few dozen delegates, she should join forces with Sanders -- who has won more than 500 delegates and is the only candidate in a position to defeat Biden for the nomination.

The urgency of Warren’s decision can hardly be overstated. Sanders and Biden are fiercely competing for votes in a half-dozen states with March 10 primaries including Michigan (with 125 delegates), Washington (89 delegates) and Missouri (68 delegates).

A week later, primaries in four states -- Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio -- will determine the allocation of 577 delegates.

In the midst of these pivotal election battles, Warren should provide a vehement endorsement of Sanders and swiftly begin to campaign for him. Choosing, instead, to stand on the sidelines would be a tragic betrayal of progressive principles. 

“Here’s the thing,” Warren said in a speech to a convention of the California Democratic Party nine months ago. “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.”

We’ll soon find out whether Elizabeth Warren will fight for us.


Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.

Monday, 2 March 2020

At the Epicenter of Super Tuesday, the Sanders Coalition Is Set to Shake the Political World, by Norman Solomon

For many years, corporate media outlets said it couldn’t be done. Now, they say it must not be. To the nation’s punditocracy -- tacitly or overtly aligned with the nation’s oligarchy -- nominating Bernie Sanders as the Democratic presidential candidate would be catastrophic.

But the 17,000 people who jammed into the Los Angeles Convention Center to hear Sanders speak on Sunday night are part of a progressive populist upsurge that shows no sign of abating. What I saw at the rally was a multiracial, multigenerational coalition with dimensions that no other candidate can come near matching.

With scant support from people of color, the media-pumped campaign of Pete Buttigieg has ended and Amy Klobuchar’s candidacy is about to collapse. Tom Steyer’s self-financed escapade has folded. Despite his win in South Carolina, Joe Biden’s campaign is hollow with “back to the future” rhetoric. 

Mike Bloomberg -- the quintessential “Not Us. Me.” candidate -- might soon discover that he can’t buy elections no matter how much money he plows into advertisements, endorsements and consultants. 

As for Elizabeth Warren: after impressive seasons of articulating a challenge to corporate power last year, she has recently diluted her appeal with murky messages of “unity” while gratuitously sniping at Sanders.

Looking ahead, it’s unclear whether Warren will renew her focus on denouncing the political leverage of wealth. Top Democratic Party power brokers don’t want her to. Before the end of spring, we’ll know whether “nevertheless, she persisted.” 

Meanwhile, media coverage remains saturated by the Sanders-can’t-beat-Trump mantra, but that claim is eroding. 

The New York Times -- which, like other major outlets, has racked up a long record of thinly veiled hostility toward Sanders and has been amplifying the panicked alarms from top Democrats -- recently published two cogent opinion pieces, “The Case for Bernie Sanders” and “Bernie Sanders Can Beat Trump. Here’s the Math.” 

Even the Times news department, a bastion of hidebound corporate centrism, acknowledged days ago that Sanders “appeared to be making headway in persuading Democratic voters that he can win the general election.

A Fox News poll released on Thursday showed about two-thirds of Democrats believe that Mr. Sanders could beat President Trump, the highest share of any candidate in the field.” 

But make no mistake about it: The bulk of powerful corporate media and entrenched corporate Democrats will do all they can to prevent the nominee from being Sanders. (I actively support him, while not affiliated with the official campaign.) 

More than ever, the current historic moment calls for a commensurate response: All left hands on deck.

A chant that filled the big hall in Los Angeles where Sanders spoke on Sunday night -- “Sí, se puede” -- came from a crowd that was perhaps half Latino. 

A coalition has emerged on the ground to topple longstanding political barriers of race, ethnicity, language and culture, with shared enthusiasm for the Bernie 2020 campaign that is stunning, deep and transcendent. 

“Look around,” said Marisa Franco, co-founder of the Latinx and Chicanx activist hub Mijente, during her powerful speech that introduced Sanders at the LA rally. 

“We are perched at the edge of history. There is so much at stake in the 2020 election. The world around us is bursting with problems and bursting with possibilities. And that’s making some people very very nervous. You know why? Because we’re winning.” 

Franco added: “Bernie Sanders presents the clearest alternative to Trump. He is willing to name the problems, what’s causing them, and proposes the bold solutions that we need to solve them. . . . We want -- and we demand -- elected officials who are going to fight like hell for us.”


Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Solomon is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.