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Friday, April 29, 2016


Fortunately, young activists have failed to learn the lessons accepted by many who have preceded them. For example, they fail to respect Hillary Clinton as the wife of “the first Black president.” Young African Americans have held her to the same standards applicable to white politicians who display racist code words. They do not accept that when Hillary or Bill lecture youth on Black “social predators” or defend Bill’s policies leading to the mass incarceration of Blacks that the Clintons are speaking as members of the family-- Uncle Bill and Aunt Hillary. Consequently, the power couple has been roughed up on the campaign trail when faced with reminders of earlier racial transgressions.

Therefore, it was necessary last week for the first real Black President to intercede with a lesson on the proper etiquette when addressing the wielders of power. While in London, Obama attended a town hall meeting of young people, and explained:
Too often what I see is wonderful activism that highlights a problem but then people feel so passionately and are so invested in the purity of their position that they never take that next step and say, ‘How do I sit down and try to actually get something done?’

Curiously, “getting something done…” would seem to be the task for legislators, for elected officials and not the activists “highlighting” problems. But Obama elaborates, drawing on his own experience as a “community organizer”:
You can’t just keep on yelling at them and you can’t refuse to meet because that might compromise the purity of your position… The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room and then start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved.You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable, that can institutionalize the changes you seek, and to engage the other side, and occasionally to take half a loaf that will advance the gains that you seek, understanding that there’s going to be more work to do, but this is what is achievable at this moment.

Embedded in this lecture for young activists are the modern liberal values of deference to power, compromise, and incrementalism. These values are not the values that have inspired the more profound changes that have markedly advanced life in the US. These are not the values that inspired Thomas Paine, John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Eugene Debs, or Martin Luther King. These are not the values that demanded a Bill of Rights, ended slavery, built a labor movement, and ended institutional segregation. Demands, and not polite requests, inspired these fundamental improvements in the lives of the many. In fact, it was the opponents of change, in every case, who preached quietly sitting at the “table,” preparing an “agenda” and accepting “half a loaf.”

Activists need only reflect on the last seven years of the Obama administration to see the fruits of civil discourse, trusting power, and gaining polite access: endless wars, declining living standards, growing debt, housing crises, escalating racism, and eroded civil liberties-- in short, more of the same.

The liberal activist playbook has succeeded in accomplishing one thing for Obama and those who will follow him: it has successfully corralled many idealistic, energetic advocates for change, tamed them, and kept them firmly in the grip of the Democratic Party.

And Obama knows that holding serve, guaranteeing that his party and its corporate, pro-business candidate (Hillary Clinton) will gain the presidency, will require that another generation of young activists is similarly co-opted. The post-Sanders campaign to assimilate Sanders’ youthful followers is already underway, with party loyalists ginning up the “Stop Trump” hysteria.

While liberal angst over Trump will sway many, it’s important to remind the left that though Trump is a clownish Mussolini/Berlusconi-like reprobate, he is, in essence, an opportunist with no core ideology beyond power and attention. For that reason, he has alarmed the corporate elites who rule the Republican establishment. They fear his unpredictability and maverick views. He is shattering the unity of the party. The left should welcome that development.

Of course there should be no doubt as to which class Clinton wholeheartedly and reliably represents. If there was any doubt, the recent comments by ultra-conservative billionaire Charles Koch should have dispelled that notion. His carefully worded statements legitimized Clinton as an option in a field of unreliable conservative candidates whose unimpeachable corporate fealty is in question-- Clinton is the more corporate candidate. While liberal apologists scramble to prove that Koch did not endorse Clinton, they miss the point: she could be more acceptable than her rivals (because she is a proven corporate politician).

The big question remaining is what becomes of the admirable fire and brimstone conjured by the aging pied piper of social democracy, Bernie Sanders. As with earlier insurgencies fought within the Democratic Party and contained by the Democratic Party, this youthful movement may well be absorbed into the party. History and the left’s inability to cut the cord with the Democrats suggest that it will. After all, to effectively break the bondage imposed by the corporate Democrats only two options are available: shake loose the iron grip that corporate power maintains over the Democratic Party or reject two-party politics and build an independent movement. The former is popular, but a pipe dream; the latter is difficult, but the only viable option.

However, hope resides in a younger generation that both suffers greater burdens than any generation since the Great Depression and is largely oblivious to the scare-tactics of anti-Communism. The latest of several polls shows a significant and growing interest in socialism and an even greater rejection of capitalism. The Harvard University study of young adults between 18 and 29 found that 51% do not support capitalism. With the same group of respondents, 33% supported socialism. Of older respondents, a majority of support for capitalism could only be found among those fifty years old or older.

In a 2011 Pew Research Center poll, 49% of 18 to 29 year-olds had a positive view of socialism, a higher percentage than those with a positive view of capitalism.

Reporting the Harvard Survey in the Washington Post, author Amy Cavenaile is rankled by these results. She searches far and wide for an authority or a poll result that can diminish these findings. Accordingly, she finds Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of Gallup, who opines: “Young people could be saying that there are problems with capitalism, contradictions… I certainly don’t know what’s going through their heads.”

Further disturbing to the author and other pundits, young people do not identify socialism with government regulation or government spending-- the establishment’s vulgar characterization of socialism-- but with “Basic necessities, such as food and shelter [and healthcare], are a right that the government should provide to those unable to afford them.”

Clearly, the seemingly unassailable truth of a few decades ago-- “there is no alternative”-- fails to resonate with recent generations. Shaping and sharpening a realizable vision of socialism for the latest generations is the most critical task before us.
Zoltan Zigedy

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Election Follies

Intercept reports via Extra! that CBS CEO Les Moonves is ecstatic over the revenues flowing into entertainment coffers from the primary campaigns (I've never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us.”). Moonves, the entertainment mogul, understands better than most the triumph of entertainment over substance, posture over issues; CBS and the other mega-corporations peddle reality television and tabloid news. So it's not surprising to see him hail the current electoral season's antics as special (“Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? ...Who would have thought that this circus would have come to town?”). For Moonves and his ilk the more inanity and sensationalism, the more money flows into corporate coffers (“You know, we love having all 16 Republican candidates throwing crap at each other. It's great. The more they spend, the better it is for us...”).
But lost to many in the explosion of vulgarity and outrageousness is the strong and strengthening connection between the dominance of money-- big money-- and the increasing irrelevance of bourgeois democracy. Every election cycle ups the ante-- from millions to billions-- in competitions contested around increasingly marginal issues and massive doses of insincerity. Bourgeois democracy is to genuine people's democracy as “reality” television shows Survivor and Duck Dynasty are to the reality of working peoples' lives. The campaigns are driven not by political import, but by competitive entertainment value.
Of course the losers in this charade are working people, the poor, and minorities. Their representatives and institutions are dominated by liberals largely content with a slightly more humane, less nasty capitalism, though, sadly, elected liberals seldom deliver even that for them.
The capitulation to this bankrupt ideology of the traditional support system for working class and poor people-- unions, religious institutions, the Democratic Party, ethnic organizations, etc.-- explains, in no small part, the desperate turn to Trump. Tepid, aloof liberalism breeds desperate options like the outlandish Trump when conditions deteriorate sharply and no radical options appear available.
The always sharp Doug Henwood offers the “...proof that Democrats, especially liberal Democrats, are the cheapest dates around-- throw them a few rhetorical bones, regardless of your record, and they'll be yours to take home and bed.” (from his new book, My Turn, as quoted in the NYRB, 4-7-16)
No candidates promote this cynical behavior more consistently than the Clintons and their “New” Democrat acolytes.
That the Democratic Party selection process has been fixed against party insurgency since the overturn of the McGovern party reforms and the McGovern defeat of 1972 should be obvious to everyone. Nonetheless, the party's operatives and loyalist zombies will answer that the system forgoes undesirable electoral landslides like the one occurring in 1972. What they don't say is that McGovern lost overwhelmingly because these same party stalwarts failed to campaign for McGovern and mounted a stealth campaign to give away the election rather than support a leftward swing. In fact, the system is designed to stifle any inner-party rising like the one currently mounted by Bernie Sanders.
The fact that the other party felt no similar need to stack the deck accounts for the current anti-Trump hysteria in the Republican Party.
Consider the deck-stacking that makes a Sanders' victory just short of impossible: 719 super delegates loom over the process, a group made up largely of reliably centrist party hacks ready and willing to block insurgencies. Should the hacks stand as a bloc, they make it possible for a preferred candidate to win roughly 40% of the contested delegates and still gain the nomination.
The Democratic Party establishment strengthens the super delegate bloc by favoring proportional apportionment in the primaries over winner-take-all. Without the possibility of taking all of the votes in a large state, an insurgent candidate loses the opportunity to counter the super delegate bloc with a boost from delegate-rich states. While proportional representation formally appears more democratic, it actually and paradoxically denies fair representation in the face of a loaded, undemocratic bloc of delegates. The road becomes much steeper.
The party fixers organize the primaries so that the generally more conservative states speak early and often in the primary season, favoring the perception of a more conservative electorate and forestalling any momentum gained by a left insurgent. Demonstrating this advantage, the party elite's favorite Hillary Clinton enjoyed early victories in Southern states that the Democratic Party has no chance of winning in a general election, but leaving the mistaken impression that she was more “electable.”
Amazingly, Democratic Party zealots and apologists deny that their party's primaries are structurally fixed, that they are effectively undemocratic.
But the voters seem to sense this fact: Pew Research Center telephone polls show that the election has drawn the highest political interest of the last five Presidential campaigns (85%). But the same respondents show the second lowest confidence (36%) in the primary system of elections dating back to 1996.
Sanders supporters, recognizing the stacked deck presented by the super delegate system, have been contacting the super delegates to sway their votes or, at least, convince them to stay neutral until the convention. The party hacks (largely staffers and elected officials) have reacted with indignation, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. How dare rank-and-file Democrats reach out directly to their party's leadership!
But counting on the gullibility of voters is not limited to Democratic Party operatives. Nobel laureate economist and darling of liberals and the soft left, Paul Krugman, added his magisterial voice to the stop-Bernie crowd. In a recent NYT column (4-8-16), he addresses a key tenet of Sanders' campaign: “Let's consider bank reform. The easy slogan is 'Break up the Banks'... But were big banks at the heart of the financial crisis and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?”
For most people, the answer would be a decided “yes.” But astonishingly, Krugman disagrees.
Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions are no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on ‘shadow banks’ like Lehman Brothers that weren't necessarily that big. And the financial reform that Barack Obama signed in 2010 addressed these problems.”
Seldom will a reader encounter four sentences with more hair-splitting, nit-picking spin and deflection than in Krugman's disputation. Furthermore, it would be difficult to find a more misleading and flimsy apology for the big banks.
Rather than address the Krugman claims in detail, it is enough to attend to the AP news story (4-11-16) following only days after the NYT column. Writer Eric Tucker records the $5 billion settlement by Goldman Sachs against charges made by the Federal government. The settlement “holds Goldman Sachs accountable for its serious misconduct in falsely assuring investors that securities it sold were backed by sound mortgages, when it knew that they were full of mortgages that were likely to fail.” Tucker notes that JP Morgan Chase settled similar charges for $13 billion, Bank of America $16.6 billion, Citibank $7 billion, and Morgan Stanley $3.2 billion. Tucker wisely attributes these negotiated settlements to big bank activity “kicking off the recession in late 2007...” Krugman preferred to blame the dead-- two banks that were “executed” for their bad behavior.
But that's where you are taken when you shill for Hillary Clinton.
As the electoral season winds down and moves inexorably towards a stage managed, more elite-satisfying finale, it might be a good moment to reflect upon the future. How do we turn these regular exercises into real contests? How do we escape the two-party trap with its relentless rightward drift? How do we inject class and race into the superficialities of the bourgeois political process? How do we create a political force that can contest on behalf of working people and their allies without surrendering independence to a ruling class party? How do we break the two-party monopoly?
If we continue to ignore these questions, we will find the left even further marginalized watching an unfolding “drama” with a predictable outcome.
Zoltan Zigedy