Roger’s note: this article exposes a series of myths. US as promoter of democracy; Obama as peacemaker; Democratic presidents as progressive, and so on. See if you can identify others. It is truly frightening that we live in an upsidedown world where illusion poses as truth and the nation that considers itself as the leader of the free world and the beacon of democracy poses the greatest threat ever to humankind.
The United States is focussed on a racist Republican presidential candidate, while those in power – and those seeking it – prepare for war, writes John Pilger.
Returning to the United States in an election year, I am struck by the silence. I have covered four presidential campaigns, starting with 1968; I was with Robert Kennedy when he was shot and I saw his assassin, preparing to kill him. It was a baptism in the American way, along with the salivating violence of the Chicago police at the Democratic Party’s rigged convention.
The great counter revolution had begun.
The first to be assassinated that year, Martin Luther King, had dared link the suffering of African-Americans and the people of Vietnam. When Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, she spoke perhaps unconsciously for millions of America’s victims in faraway places.
“We lost 58,000 young soldiers in Vietnam, and they died defending your freedom. Now don’t you forget it.”
So said a National Parks Service guide as I filmed last week at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. He was addressing a school party of young teenagers in bright orange T-shirts. As if by rote, he inverted the truth about Vietnam into an unchallenged lie.
The millions of Vietnamese who died and were maimed and poisoned and dispossessed by the American invasion have no historical place in young minds, not to mention the estimated 60,000 veterans who took their own lives. A friend of mine, a marine who became a paraplegic in Vietnam, was often asked, “Which side did you fight on?”
A few years ago, I attended a popular exhibition called “The Price of Freedom” at the venerable Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The lines of ordinary people, mostly children shuffling through a Santa’s grotto of revisionism, were dispensed a variety of lies: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved “a million lives”; Iraq was “liberated [by]air strikes of unprecedented precision”.
The theme was unerringly heroic: only Americans pay the price of freedom.
The 2016 election campaign is remarkable not only for the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, but also for the resilience of an enduring silence about a murderous self-bestowed divinity. A third of the members of the United Nations have felt Washington’s boot, overturning governments, subverting democracy, imposing blockades and boycotts. Most of the presidents responsible have been liberal – Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.
The breathtaking record of perfidy is so mutated in the public mind, wrote the late Harold Pinter, that it “never happened… nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest. It didn’t matter….”
Pinter expressed a mock admiration for what he called “a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
Take Obama. As he prepares to leave office, the fawning has begun all over again. He is “cool”. One of the more violent presidents, Obama gave full reign to the Pentagon war-making apparatus of his discredited predecessor. He prosecuted more whistleblowers – truth-tellers – than any president. He pronounced Chelsea Manning guilty before she was tried.
Today, Obama runs an unprecedented worldwide campaign of terrorism and murder by drone.
In 2009, Obama promised to help “rid the world of nuclear weapons” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. No American president has built more nuclear warheads than Obama. He is “modernising” America’s doomsday arsenal, including a new “mini” nuclear weapon, whose size and “smart” technology, says a leading general, ensure its use is “no longer unthinkable”.
James Bradley, the best-selling author ofFlags of Our Fathersand son of one of the US marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima, said, “[One] great myth we’re seeing play out is that of Obama as some kind of peaceful guy who’s trying to get rid of nuclear weapons. He’s the biggest nuclear warrior there is. He’s committed us to a ruinous course of spending a trillion dollars on more nuclear weapons. Somehow, people live in this fantasy that because he gives vague news conferences and speeches and feel-good photo-ops that somehow that’s attached to actual policy. It isn’t.”
On Obama’s watch, a second cold war is under way. The Russian president is a pantomime villain; the Chinese are not yet back to their sinister pig-tailed caricature – when all Chinese were banned from the United States – but the media warriors are working on it.
Neither Hillary Clinton nor Bernie Sanders has mentioned any of this. There is no risk and no danger for the United States and all of us. For them, the greatest military build-up on the borders of Russia since World War Two has not happened. On May 11, Romania went “live” with a Nato “missile defence” base that aims its first-strike American missiles at the heart of Russia, the world’s second nuclear power.
In Asia, the Pentagon is sending ships, planes and Special Forces to the Philippines to threaten China. The US already encircles China with hundreds of military bases that curve in an arc up from Australia, to Asia and across to Afghanistan. Obama calls this a “pivot”.
As a direct consequence, China reportedly has changed its nuclear weapons policy from no-first-use to high alert, and put to sea submarines with nuclear weapons. The escalator is quickening.
It was Hillary Clinton who, as Secretary of State in 2010, elevated the competing territorial claims for rocks and reef in the South China Sea to an international issue; CNN and BBC hysteria followed; China was building airstrips on the disputed islands.
In its mammoth war game with Australia in 2015, Operation Talisman Sabre, the US practiced “choking” the Straits of Malacca through which pass most of China’s oil and trade. This was not news.
Clinton declared that America had a “national interest” in these Asian waters. The Philippines and Vietnam were encouraged and bribed to pursue their claims and old enmities against China. In America, people are being primed to see any Chinese defensive position as offensive, and so the ground is laid for rapid escalation.
A similar strategy of provocation and propaganda is applied to Russia.
Clinton, the “women’s candidate”, leaves a trail of bloody coups: in Honduras, in Libya (plus the murder of the Libyan president) and Ukraine. The latter is now a CIA theme park swarming with Nazis and the frontline of a beckoning war with Russia.
It was through Ukraine – literally, borderland – that Hitler’s Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million people. This epic catastrophe remains a presence in Russia. Clinton’s presidential campaign has received money from all but one of the world’s 10 biggest arms companies. No other candidate comes close.
Sanders, the hope of many young Americans, is not very different from Clinton in his proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States. He backed Bill Clinton’s illegal bombing of Serbia. He supports Obama’s terrorism by drone, the provocation of Russia and the return of special forces (death squads) to Iraq.
He has nothing to say on the drumbeat of threats to China and the accelerating risk of nuclear war. He agrees that Edward Snowden should stand trial and he calls Hugo Chavez – like him, a social democrat – “a dead communist dictator”. He promises to support Clinton if she is nominated.
The election of Trump or Clinton is the old illusion of choice that is no choice: two sides of the same coin. In scapegoating minorities and promising to “make America great again”, Trump is a far right-wing domestic populist; yet the danger of Clinton may be more lethal for the world.
“Only Donald Trump has said anything meaningful and critical of US foreign policy,” wrote Stephen Cohen, emeritus professor of Russian History at Princeton and NYU, one of the few Russia experts in the United States to speak out about the risk of war.
In a radio broadcast, Cohen referred to critical questions Trump alone had raised. Among them: why is the United States “everywhere on the globe”? What is NATO’s true mission? Why does the US always pursue regime change in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine? Why does Washington treat Russia and Vladimir Putin as an enemy?
The hysteria in the liberal media over Trump serves an illusion of “free and open debate” and “democracy at work”. His views on immigrants and Muslims are grotesque, yet the deporter-in-chief of vulnerable people from America is not Trump but Obama, whose betrayal of people of colour is his legacy: such as the warehousing of a mostly black prison population, now more numerous than Stalin’s gulag.
This presidential campaign may not be about populism but American liberalism, an ideology that sees itself as modern and therefore superior and the one true way. Those on its right wing bear a likeness to 19thcentury Christian imperialists, with a God-given duty to convert or co-opt or conquer.
In Britain, this is Blairism. The Christian war criminal Tony Blair got away with his secret preparation for the invasion of Iraq largely because the liberal political class and media fell for his “cool Britannia”.
In theGuardian, the applause was deafening; he was called “mystical”. A distraction known as identity politics, imported from the United States, rested easily in his care.
History was declared over, class was abolished and gender promoted as feminism; lots of women became New Labour MPs. They voted on the first day of Parliament to cut the benefits of single parents, mostly women, as instructed. A majority voted for an invasion that produced 700,000 Iraqi widows.
The equivalent in the US are the politically correct warmongers on theNew York Times,theWashington Postand network TV who dominate political debate.
I watched a furious debate on CNN about Trump’s infidelities. It was clear, they said, a man like that could not be trusted in the White House.
No issues were raised. Nothing on the 80 per cent of Americans whose income has collapsed to 1970s levels. Nothing on the drift to war. The received wisdom seems to be “hold your nose” and vote for Clinton: anyone but Trump.
That way, you stop the monster and preserve a system gagging for another war.
Roger’s note: this may be the year that Americans found out, but of course, in the sense of capital in the form of corporations and military limiting and controlling candidacies and choices, US elections have always been rigged. The Trump and Sanders phenomena are somewhat unique challenges to the two-party oligarchy (Republicrats), with the difference being that the Republicans did not have the degree of entrenchment that the Democrats have in Hillary Clinton (although I admit that at first I was almost sure that Jeb Bush would in the nomination), thereby allowing the tide of populist support for Trump to sweep away the Republican establishment. Probably only the indictment of Clinton for her blatant email security breaches would give Sanders a fighting chance to win the Democratic nomination in spite of his overwhelming grass roots popularity, the negatives about Clinton, garden variety misogyny, and polls hat show him dong better against Trump (I surf Instagram and find literally dozens of pro Bernie sites, a handful of right wingers, and absolutely not one Hillary Clinton supporter).
And by all means don’t miss George Carlin’s video at the end of this piece. It is brilliant.
“Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators and congress members.” – Former President Jimmy Carter
The 2016 election has been a wild ride, with two insurgent grassroots campaigns literally giving the political establishment a run for its money. But as the events of this presidential primary season play out, it’s becoming clear the U.S. election — and even more so, the presidential race — is a big scam being perpetrated on the American people.
Events from the last week have exposed the system as an illusion of choice and a farce. They have reinforced at least one study showing the U.S. is an oligarchy rather than a democratic republic.
The Wyoming democratic caucus took place on Saturday, purportedly to allow voters to have their voices heard in the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Sanders lost the Wyoming caucus by winning it with a 12 percent margin.
How does one lose by winning 56 percent of the votes? This happens when the political process is, according to the New York Post, “rigged” by superdelegates. The Postsummed up this “strange” phenomenon:
“[U]nder the Democratic Party’s oddball delegate system, Sanders’ winning streak — he has won seven out of the past eight contests — counts for little.
“In fact, despite his win, he splits Wyoming’s 14 pledged delegates 7 to 7 under the caucus calculus.
“Clinton, meanwhile, also gets the state’s four superdelegates — who had already pledged their allegiance to her in January. So despite ‘losing,’ she triumphs 11-7 in the delegate tally.”
Even media pundits on MSNBC openly called the process rigged:
The superdelegate process is complicated, as we’ve noted before, but they have one essential function: to prevent candidates like Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz explaining superdelegates:
Adding insult to injury, even when Sanders does win states (despite Hillary’s advantage in superdelegates), the media can be reliably counted on to discount Sanders’s wins asnothing more than prolonging the electoral process, which will inevitably elect the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. This pervasive commentary continues despite the fact Sanders only trails her by several hundred pledged delegates.
Meanwhile, according to the same media, the non-establishment Trump campaign is threatened every time Ted Cruz beats him — even though Trump leads by a larger percentage of pledged delegates than Clinton does. When Clinton loses, it doesn’t matter because she already has the nomination locked up. When Trump loses, his campaign is in big trouble. Starting to see the problem with the media coverage?
When you examine these media narratives, a troubling pattern emerges that goes beyond the political establishment’s self-interest. You begin to see that American corporate media also functions as an arm of the political machine, protecting establishment candidates while attacking — or dismissing — candidates who seem non-establishment.
This brings us to the events that transpired during the Republican nomination process in Colorado on Saturday. The Republican Party of Colorado didn’t even bother letting people vote before using arcane rules to strip the democratic process of its democracy. According to the Denver Post:
“Colorado GOP leaders canceled the party’s presidential straw poll in August to avoid binding its delegates to a candidate who may not survive until the Republican National Convention in July.
“Instead, Republicans selected national delegates through the caucus process, a move that put the election of national delegates in the hands of party insiders and activists — leaving roughly 90 percent of the more than 1 million Republican voters on the sidelines.”
Unsurprisingly, Trump’s non-establishment campaign walked away with zero delegates. They were all “awarded” to Ted Cruz.
“How is it possible that the people of the great State of Colorado never got to vote in the Republican Primary? Great anger — totally unfair!”Trump said on Twitter. “The people of Colorado had their vote taken away from them by the phony politicians. Biggest story in politics. This will not be allowed!”
In an interview on Monday, Trump was even more frank. “The system is rigged, it’s crooked,” he said.
The Colorado GOP didn’t even bother hiding its intentions, tweeting — then quickly removing — what was possibly the most honest insight into the back-door dealing so far this election season:
The Republican party chooses the nominee, not the voting public. Still in disbelief? Watch a Republican National Committee member explain it better than I can:
What we are witnessing — for the first time on a large scale — is the political establishment’s true role in selecting the president of the United States. The illusion of choice has become apparent. The establishment anoints their two picks for president, and the country proceeds to argue vehemently over the two candidates they are spoon-fed. This dynamic is reminiscent of a prophetic 1998 quote from philosopher Noam Chomsky:
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
Ahh, the illusion of choice. Sure, in reality there are third party candidates who should be given a fair shake, but in our mainstream media-augmented reality, third parties do not exist. They aren’t mentioned. They aren’t even included in presidential debates. This is another way the media stifles healthy debate, stamps out dissenting opinions, and preserves the status-quo.
“We The People” don’t choose our presidents; they are hand-picked by a powerful group of political party insiders — parties that have long since sold out to the highest bidders. What we have on our hands in America is a riggedoligarchy, and that’s not a conspiracy theory — it’s fact. Now, however, millions of Americans are becoming aware of it thanks to the populist campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. America’s elections are controlled by a big club, but unfortunately, “you ain’t in it!”
Roger’s note: this article refers to Bernie Sanders as an “imperialist pig.” That’s a pretty strong dose of medicine. The Internet is saturated with Bernie supporters accolades balanced by Clinton trashing (this does warm the heart, however). They would not take kindly to the denigration of their Saviour any more than an evangelical Christian to hers. Yet the record is the record. From Israel to Afghanistan to Syria to drone missiles whose victims indeed feel the bern, Sanders has been on the side of American imperialism. Ironically, it is Trump who has challenged the Empire, although as this article states, if he doesn’t change that tune he will pay for it.
As for reforming the Democratic Party, I gave up on that after I worked my butt of to elect Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1964 election campaign peace candidate and subsequent Vietnam War Criminal.
I got a real good laugh when I read this today on an Instagram site:
“You don’t like Isis? Join it and change the system from the inside.”
I recommend this wisdom to all those kindly and idealistic souls who have their heart, if not their mind, in the right place and hope to turn the Democratic Party into the party of peace and freedom. Faith based politics.
From Black Agenda Report, April 27, 2016
Bernie Sanders has endorsed President Obama’s troop escalation in Syria, once again showing that “he is no more ‘progressive’ than Obama on foreign policy, and just as dishonest – a true Democrat. Sanders will ultimately bow to Hillary Clinton, while still claiming that the Democratic Party can be transformed from the inside. However, millions will have witnessed that the campaign proves exactly the opposite – and will seek alternatives.
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“His underlings are telling the troops that this whole electoral exercise will be worthwhile if they succeed in pushing through a progressive party platform, in Philadelphia.”
The 2016 presidential season will only be of historical significance if it leads to a fracturing of the duopoly electoral system in the United States, a “trap within a trap” in which the rich control both parties – one of which is always the overt party of white supremacy. Donald Trump has already succeeded in creating a “market” for a second right-wing party by stripping the GOP’s’ appeal to its raw, racist, white nationalist essentials – a political nightmare for every corporate public relations department in the nation. Corporate logos will be hidden in brown paper bags at the Republican convention, in Cleveland.
It is difficult to imagine how the Trump rank and file and the party’s corporate “establishment” will paper over their irreconcilable differences, rooted in the party’s failure to preserve skin privilege and good jobs in a White Man’s Country. Just as brazenly, Trump, the rabble rousing billionaire, has violated the most sacred ruling class taboos by rejecting the national security rationale for the hyper-aggressive, ever-expanding, global U.S. military presence. If Trump fails to convincingly recant such heresies, the rulers will deal with him with extreme prejudice.
“Trump has violated the most sacred ruling class taboos by rejecting the national security rationale for the hyper-aggressive, ever-expanding, global U.S. military presence.”
Bernie Sanders presents no such threat to Empire. He supports President Obama’s illegal drone wars and the 15-year occupation of Afghanistan. Should he somehow be elected president, Sanders would follow Obama’s practice of reserving Tuesday’s for choosing targets from his “Kill List.” To circumvent U.S. and international prohibitions against assassination, Sanders offers the same “self-defense” justification as the Israelis do, when they slaughter Palestinians by the thousands. “There are people out there who want to kill Americans, who want to attack this country, and I think we have a right to defend ourselves,” Sanders told Chris Hayes, of MSNBC.
The nominally socialist senator from Vermont claims that he differs from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy because she “is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.” During the New Hampshire debate, Sanders said the ouster of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein “destabilized the entire region” and the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi “created a vacuum for ISIS” in Libya. “Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow,” Sanders told the crowd, back in February, “but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS.”
“It doesn’t bother Sanders a bit that the U.S. presence on sovereign Syrian soil is illegal, an act of war.”
His leftish boosters clung to these utterances as proof that Sanders was, deep down, a peaceable kind of guy, in sharp contrast to “Queen of Chaos” Clinton. Tuesday, however, as he was losing four of five primaries, Sanders showed that he is no less a warlord than Barack Obama – who, like Sanders, based his “peace candidate” appeal on his 2002 opposition to the Iraq invasion. Obama announced he was sending 250 more U.S. Special Forces troops into Syria, supposedly to fight ISIS and to arm and train more of those elusive, damn-near-extinct “moderate” rebels. It doesn’t bother Sanders a bit that the U.S. presence on sovereign Syrian soil is illegal, an act of war, as is U.S. funding and training of fighters attempting “regime change.”
“Here’s the bottom line,” said Sanders. “ISIS has got to be destroyed, and the way that ISIS must be destroyed is not through American troops fighting on the ground.” U.S. Special Forces have already been engaged in combat operations in Syria, as Sanders should know. Nevertheless, he plowed on:
“I think what the president is talking about is having American troops training Muslim troops, helping to supply the military equipment they need, and I do support that effort. We need a broad coalition of Muslim troops on the ground. We have had some success in the last year or so putting ISIS on the defensive, we’ve got to continue that effort.”
What Sanders is saying is that he would continue Obama’s policy of regime change, despite the “unintended consequences” and its clear illegality. He is no more “progressive” than Obama on foreign policy, and just as dishonest – a true Democrat.
“Sanders opposes ‘regime change’ except when it is perpetrated by a Democratic administration.”
The same day, Sanders sidestepped Joe Scarborough’s attempts to get him to agree that Hillary Clinton is a “hawk” on foreign policy. “I don’t want to characterize her, but I think our views on foreign policy are different,” Sanders told the MSNBC host. “I think my views are a lot closer to President Obama’s than they are to Hillary Clinton’s…. I believe it must be Muslim troops on the ground who do the fighting with the support of the United States. I will do everything that I can to prevent our troops from getting involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.”
A distinction without a difference, as they say. Sanders opposes “regime change” except when it is perpetrated by a Democratic administration. He really doesn’t mind U.S. “boots on the ground” in other people’s countries, as long as they are arming and training people of native religions and races to kill others of their kind, and U.S. casualties are kept to a minimum.
Sanders is an imperialist pig. Although his self-image is that of a Scandinavian social democrat, Sanders is more like a French “socialist” who supports the maintenance of a safety net for his own people, but reserves the right to routinely commit mass murder in the former colonies in order to preserve the French “way of life” and “values.”
With the mathematics of the presidential primary race now undeniable, Sanders is preparing his supporters to scale back their dreams of social transformation – which, for some of them, includes a genuine retreat from Empire as well as a new domestic deal. His underlings are telling the troops that this whole electoral exercise will be worthwhile if they succeed in pushing through a progressive party platform, in Philadelphia. Then it will be time to unite with Hillary, the plutocrats’ candidate, in the battle against the dreaded Trumpster.
“Sanders is preparing his supporters to scale back their dreams of social transformation.”
Bernie Sanders is peddling the sucker’s line, that the Democratic Party can be transformed from the inside. However, the actual experience of the campaign, as witnessed by millions of young, newly energized citizens, is proving exactly the opposite; that this corporate-crafted Democratic mechanism and its interlocking Republican counterpart are tools of the oligarchy, designed to manufacture consent to corporate rule and corral and crush dissent.
When Sanders consummates his “sheep dog” assignment, he will deflate to his original state: a small-town Democratic Party operative. Most of his supporters will acquiesce to Hillary’s nomination – just as most people everywhere acquiesce to everything most of the time. But, a significant proportion, numbering in the millions, and including the half of young African Americans that have rejected the Black Misleadership Class’s slavish allegiance to the Democratic Party hierarchy, will not. And, although Hillary Clinton will surely win victory in November with her “big tent” Democratic Party – flush with white suburbanites who, only yesterday, were Republicans – it will be a Party that is even more hostile to Blacks and progressives than before Donald Trump plunged the duopoly into crisis.
Millions of people, especially young folks, will be looking for an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans – or to electoral politics, entirely. It’s up to the Left to give it to them.
Roger’s note: This article is helpful in that it puts the Trump and Sanders campaigns in a broader context than the totally corrupt two party system and the Hobson’s choice of picking the lesser of evils (which will probably end up being Hillary Clinton, who is Margaret Thatcher in sheep’s clothing). That context being the virtually iron clad rule of capital (military industrial complex) over the political sphere in the United States. What the article doesn’t do, despite use of the word “revolutionary,” is pose a concrete alternative, which is the sixty four dollar question, abut which Karl Marx spent a lifetime of philosophical/political thought and action. This is something that is necessary today for those who want genuine, not illusionary, change.
Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders represent no danger to U.S. imperialism, but “the two-party establishment has not been kind to the Trump and Sanders development because it reflects the general crisis in the system.” This election cycle has “opened up room for debate that didn’t previously exist in the Obama era. It is what principled forces of revolutionary struggle do with this room that matters.”
The 2016 Elections Reflect General Crisis of Imperialism
“The forces of US capital neither want an unpredictable Commander in Chief nor one that will inspire masses of people to push for concrete demands.”
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are products of US imperialism’s post-Obama stupor. After eight years of bipartisan consensus on nearly every venture of imperialism, from privatization to endless war, Washington’s corporate duopoly finds itself in a delicate moment. Trump has split the Republican Party with his unorthodox combination of white supremacist vitriol and populist appeal. The Bernie Sanders campaign, on the other hand, has galvanized a large section of the Democratic Party base to support a New Deal politician. The two-party establishment has not been kind to the Trump and Sanders development because it reflects the general crisis in the system.
However, there should be no illusions about whether Trump or Sanders would alter the course of US imperialism. The answer is no. Both are running on establishment party tickets, which are fully indebted to US imperialism. War, privatization, and racist terrorism will exist and persist as long as the US is ruled by capital. However, the significance of Trump and Sanders cannot be ignored. Both present a potential nightmare for imperialism as discontent with the rule of capital reaches a high point.
The forces of US capital neither want an unpredictable Commander in Chief nor one that will inspire masses of people to push for concrete demands. Trump is the former and Sanders is the latter. Although the corporate media has given Trump the most attention of any candidate, the Republican Party establishment has revolted against him. Sanders has survived multiple attacks from the Democratic Party establishment, including the media. Trump and Sanders are not threats to the two-party duopoly in and of themselves. However, what their campaigns represent certainty is and the ruling class knows it.
“Masses of people are frustrated and are looking for an alternative.”
The Sanders and Trump phenomenon emerged from the internal revolt occurring in the respective bases of the Democratic and Republican Party. Young people across racial and gender lines favor Sanders while older Democrats favor Clinton. Donald Trump has become the most popular Republican Party candidate by attaching allegiance to white supremacy to real economic grievances. Since the Reagan era, the Republican Party has relied solely on appealing to racism for popular support. Over this same period, large sections of Republican Party supporters have lost significant economic ground to the forces of Wall Street.
Trump and Sanders have promised to reverse this trend in their own way. US capitalist society is crumbling and the 2016 elections reflect the growing cracks. Persistent joblessness, poverty, and debt have left workers disillusioned with the enormous profits raked in by lords of capital. US imperialism’s endless path of destruction all around the world no longer provides material benefit to any section of workers in the US. Mass surveillance, police brutality, and mass Black Incarceration have plummeted trust in the US state. Masses of people are frustrated and are looking for an alternative.
But workers and oppressed people remain stuck in the two-party corporate duopoly because the revolt of the 2016 elections has taken place within the establishment parties. However, in the coming months, the capitalist class will be forced to choose which candidate is best suited to run the Empire. This President will be tasked with managing the affairs of capital in a much more hostile political terrain. Trump and Sanders have energized a large section of the population around legitimate concerns about the various ills that stem from capitalist rule. However, the atmosphere of enthusiasm around this election should not replace a concrete analysis of where the left should go from here.
“US capitalist society is crumbling and the 2016 elections reflect the growing cracks.”
The left is visibly torn about this election cycle. Some have focused energy primarily on preventing a Trump victory while others have become enamored with Bernie Sanders. Some believe that Hilary Clinton is the most dangerous candidate in the race while others think that Trump represents the rise of fascism in the US. The contradictions of this election cycle have opened up room for debate that didn’t previously exist in the Obama era. It is what principled forces of revolutionary struggle do with this room that matters.
The two-party corporate duopoly will always be a duopoly regardless of which candidates happen to speak to the issues afflicting the oppressed. The oppressed and working class inside the Empire has yet to grasp onto a political language and direction necessary to spur a mass movement. Even so, the US ruling class is genuinely concerned that this election cycle will inspire people to rebel against its two-party dictatorship of capital. The sooner this concern becomes a reality, the closer imperialism’s crisis comes to a revolutionary conclusion. The post-Obama hangover has the potential to be a violent one.
Roger’s note: Sort of like Woody Allen not wanting to join a club that would have someone like him, my take on the US presidency: if a person could actually get elected you wouldn’t want her, and if there were a person you would want to be president, she couldn’t possibly get elected. If by some impossible miracle someone truly committed to justice and peace and the dismantling of the imperialist ‘s military industrial complex actually got elected, what could that person actually achieve between election day and assassination?
To one degree or another, all heads of capitalist governments, including so-called socialists, “are Tsipiras.”
Those investing emotional and physical energy in the Bernie Sanders campaign are engaged in a huge waste of time. This would be true even if Sanders wasn’t at bottom just another opportunistic pseudo left politician. The essential question of just what is the United States presidency is nicely approached in the following article. I found it worthwhile trudging through the not so clear to me historical analysis to get through to the meat at the end.
Ongoing left debates regarding Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign are frequently characterized by a shared premise. Whether arguing, for instance, that Sanders is dismissive of race or countering that his emphasis on economics necessarily entails anti-racism, both sides tend to assume that Sanders would be able to meaningfully advance his politics if he were to become president. That is, both sides generally presuppose the liberal notion of pluralism, which conceives of a neutral and malleable state that can be shaped and reshaped by those who govern it.
The history of the presidency illustrates a very different story, one in which the political party and personal inclinations of presidents (let alone candidates) are generally irrelevant to how they wield power. Presidents – whether Constitutional Law professor/community organizers or religious zealots with MBAs – historically have advanced the objective interests of the nation-state, prioritizing its international power and the profitability of its economy above all other considerations. Notwithstanding cogent left criticisms of Sanders, the key question is not whether Sanders is a phony but what, if elected president, he will in fact be sworn to do. In other words, what are presidents?
The Constitution was of course designed to replace the Articles of Confederation, whose preservation of revolutionary anti-monarchism (“The Spirit of 1776”) resulted in what the framers came to fear as a dangerously weak state. The decentralized Articles did not have an executive and instead placed power in the legislature (the “People’s Branch”) and the states. Not only did such decentralization preclude national coherence but it also prevented the national government from raising taxes and thereby armies, leaving it, among other things, unequipped to suppress mass debtor insurrections.
Encouraging state legislatures to eliminate debts through inflating state currencies and issuing “stay laws,” debtor insurrections horrified leaders who argued that revolutionary liberty had gone “too far.” Indeed, debtors’ repudiation of property rights (sometimes destroying debt records directly) reflected the growing power of Hamilton and Madison’s dreaded (if not oxymoronic) “majority faction,” which according to Madison threatened not merely the small creditor class but the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community” as well.
Significantly, the Framers discussed the threat of foreign invasion and the threat of domestic insurrection in the same vein. But while the former would clearly challenge the national character of the state, the latter – conducted by citizens after all – would not. That is, Madison and Hamilton’s nation-state is not a clean slate of pluralistically competing factions but has instead always been intrinsically defined by the general interests and demands – if not the personal economic interests of the founders – of the propertied class. Aggregating concrete competing interests into an imagined national community, the framers established antagonistic property relations as the cornerstone of the nation-state and, more specifically, guaranteed that the propertied few would be protected from the property-less many. Accordingly, the Framers designed a government that “multiplied” and “diffused” factions while “filtering” the “violent passions” of the masses through “insulated” and “responsible” “elites” in order to obstruct the majority’s inevitable “rage for paper money, for abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project….”
Steward of the State
The Constitution not only centralized power but also eliminated the legislature’s dominance by establishing a bicameral Congress and a “separation of powers” that enabled the executive to become supreme. Article II granted the president a powerful veto, and its provision for unity and relative vagueness provided the executive with the tools for the “energy,” “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch” deemed necessary for “strong government.” Aghast at the power of the Constitution in general and the new executive in particular, Patrick Henry warned that the “tyranny of Philadelphia” would come to resemble the tyranny of King George.
Predictably, George Washington exploited Article II’s vagueness, invoking the “take care” clause to crush the Whiskey Rebellion and capitalizing on the omission of Article I’s qualifier “herein granted shall be vested in” to issue the Neutrality Proclamation. But it was not until Thomas Jefferson’s presidency that the objective character of the presidency became manifestly clear. It is indeed an emblematic irony of U.S. history that while the Jeffersonians won most of the early presidential elections, continental and international imperial pressure to expand led them to frequently implement Hamiltonian policies once in office. While Washington and Adams (one also thinks of the Alien and Sedition Acts) expressed Hamiltonian political orientations, Jefferson personified a diametrically opposed U.S. political tradition. Whereas Hamilton was a loose constructionist who advocated for a large national government and a strong executive that would pursue manufacturing following the British model of development, Jefferson was a strict constructionist who advocated for a small national government and weak executive that would pursue agrarianism following the French model of development. Yet, in spite of his lifelong principles, Jefferson in significant respects presided like a Hamiltonian, violating his strict constructionism via the Louisiana Purchase and the Fourth Amendment via his aggressive, albeit unsuccessful, Embargo Act.
Andrew Jackson continued this pattern, expanding the power of the executive as well as the national government notwithstanding his previous advocacy of small government and states’ rights. Beyond his unprecedentedly aggressive use of the veto (Jackson was the first president to use the veto on policies he merely disliked instead of those deemed unconstitutional), Jackson threatened to use military force against South Carolina if it did not yield to the national government during the Nullification Crisis. And it is notable that when Jackson did support states’ rights after Georgia violated the Supreme Court’s ruling in Worcester v. Georgia, it was in the name of expelling the Southeast’s Native-Americans in order to clear the land for profitable exploitation by African American slaves. That is, Jackson supported the states as long as they were pursuing nation-building rather than their own parochial interests.
And though the growth of the executive was neither even nor always linear, its long-term evolution has been characterized more than anything else by massive and bipartisan aggrandizement. Even periodic setbacks, such as the Congressional backlash against Nixon’s “imperial presidency,” proved to be ephemeral. Reagan merely danced around the War Powers Resolution in his illegal funding of the Contras, while Obama circumvented the WPR by declaring that his war on Libya wasn’t in fact a war. By the time of the George W. Bush Administration, the executive – usurping the Congress via signing statements and the courts via military tribunals, among countless other encroachments – had unprecedentedly expanded its power. Contrary to liberal mythology, Bush was hardly an anomaly, as his response to 9/11 built upon Clinton’s attack on civil liberties following the Oklahoma City bombing, just as Obama’s “kill lists,” surveillance, and drone warfare have expanded Bush’s apparently permanent state of exception.
Manager of Capitalism
It is important to note that this expansion of executive power did not occur in a vacuum. On the contrary, executive aggrandizement has more often than not correlated to emergencies in general and capitalist crises in particular. As “steward” of the system, to use Theodore Roosevelt’s appellation, the modern president is devoted not only to expanding the power of the state vis-à-vis international competitors but also to maintaining the conditions for the capitalist economy with which it, in large measure, competes. Jackson aimed to open new arenas for capitalist accumulation not only through the primitive accumulation of Indian removal and chattel slavery but also through eliminating corrupt, monopolistic, and ossified economic institutions such as the Charles River Bridge Company and Biddle’s Bank.
Jackson’s incipient capitalism had become a mature and complex system producing enormous social and political problems by the turn of the century. In turn, Theodore Roosevelt radically expanded presidential power by inverting Jefferson’s interpretation of the Constitution: while Jefferson claimed that the president can only do what the Constitution explicitly permitted, Roosevelt claimed that the president could do anything that the Constitution did not explicitly forbid. As such, Roosevelt intervened in the Coal Strike of 1902 and threatened to seize and run the mines after failing to initiate arbitration meetings, while the Hepburn Act saw the U.S. issuing price controls for the first time.
Although progressives applauded the executive’s reinvention as a “trust-busting” “referee” after decades of pro-business policies, the presidency had in fact remained consistent in its relationship to capitalism. When nascent capitalism required primitive accumulation and (selective) laissez-faire, Jackson gave the system what it needed; when rampaging capitalism threatened to destroy its own social and economic bases during the Gilded Age, Theodore Roosevelt did the same.
Before (if at all) considering the interests of the people that he nominally represents, the president must insure that they constitute a ready and exploitable workforce in the case of economic expansion or that they do not threaten the state’s social and political stability in the case of depression. Indeed, the president (though typically not more myopic business leaders) has frequently recognized the danger of killing the golden goose during capitalist crises, a point made explicitly by that giant of the liberal imagination, FDR. As recounted by Neil Smith in The Endgame of Globalization, FDR explained his rationale for the New Deal to business leaders: “‘I was convinced we’d have a revolution’ in the US ‘and I decided to be its leader and prevent it. I’m a rich man too,’ he continued, ‘and have run with your kind of people. I decided a half loaf was better than none – a half for me and a half for you and no revolution.’” Such cynical calculations allow us to reconcile the “good FDR” of the New Deal with the “bad FDR” who interned Japanese-Americans and firebombed Tokyo, Dresden, and other urban centers.
Notwithstanding the limitations of the New Deal (which among other things emphasized selective social redistribution at the expense of preserving mass exploitation), the Keynesian rescue package had run out of gas by 1973. Amid renewed global competition and the increase in oil prices, profit contracted, but for the first time since the postwar “Golden Age of Capitalism” had begun, spending no longer mitigated the effects of the glut. According to Tony Judt, Labor Prime Minister James Callaghan had “glumly explained to his colleagues, ‘We used to think that you could just spend your way out of a recession…I tell you, in all candour, that that option no longer exists.’”
It was within this context that laissez-faire, now refashioned as neoliberalism, rose from the dead, as it provided the apparent solutions (e.g., privatization, tax cuts, and deregulation) that Keynesianism could not. Put differently, capitalism generated a second wind not only by moving investment from industry to finance but also by cannibalizing the apparatus that had helped rescue it from its previous crisis. The growing chasm separating postwar liberal politics from the post-1970s new economics gave rise to “new” liberals including Clinton, Blair, Schroeder, Obama, and Hollande, who, operating within an increasingly limited range of action, attempted to manage liberalism’s strategic retreat. In so doing, liberal politicians have frequently compensated for their exhausted economic programs by embracing cultural issues, a strategy that has been termed, “Let them eat marriage.” While liberals accurately note that the monstrous right would be “even worse,” their warning is nevertheless dishonest insofar as it ignores that liberals are wedded to the political-economic system whose noxious effects produce such reactionaries in the first place.
Lest we conclude that this is a case of the domestic political cart leading the economic horse, it is crucial to reiterate that the collapse of economic liberalism has been a global phenomenon, whether expressed through Bill Clinton’s declaration that “the era of big government is over,” Francois Mitterand’s assertion that “‘The French are starting to understand that it is business that creates wealth, determines our standard of living and establishes our place in the global rankings,”’ or anti-austerity Syriza’s ongoing implementation of austerity.
That is, assuming that it would be desirable, the New Deal is unlikely to return (although a new world war or some other catastrophe can indeed press the “restart” button on capitalist development assuming there’s anyone left to exploit). Given the enormous global economic and structural constraints delimiting the presidency, it is possible to argue that Barack Obama, demonstrating prodigious “activity,” has done a remarkable job in advancing his domestic and international agendas. Rather than being “weak” or a “sell-out,” Obama very well might be, as liberals stress, the best we can hope for – a possibility that more than anything else radically indicts the system itself.
Obama’s political victories on Iran, Cuba, healthcare, and gay marriage should not be compared to his failures. They should instead be compared to his other, far more reactionary, achievements including Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, the Tran-Pacific Partnership Trade Treaty, mass surveillance, and the prosecution of whistleblowers, policies regularly conducted with Hamiltonian “energy,” “decision,” “secrecy,” and “dispatch.” These latter policies neither contradict nor are inconsistent with Obama’s liberal successes. Their common denominator is the presidential articulation of the primacy of the nation-state – and thereby capital accumulation – above all other concerns. The voters’ concerns are considered only when they are serviceable to these paramount interests.
Given the enormous powerlessness of the voter, it is unsurprising that the injunction “hope” so often accompanies political campaigns. Bill Clinton was “The Man from Hope,” Obama campaigned on “Hope,” and, overseas, Syriza promised that “Hope is Coming.” Selecting who will rule without any ability to control the content of that rule, the voter casts the ballot as an act of faith. Investing political and emotional energy into nothing more than the good name of the system (election nights are always exercises in flag-waving celebration of a system that lets us choose our rulers), voters incorrectly argue that voting is better than doing nothing and condemn those who abstain. Yet, the disillusioned are not to blame for forces that they have no control over. And if the disillusioned do become interested in challenging the abuses of everyday life, it will not be through voting but through criticizing the system that voting acclaims. The opposite of hope is not despair. It is power.
Roger’s note: this posting gives you two articles on health care, including Ralph Nader’s on the Canadian system. Having lived most of my life in Canada, and with the early detection of my daughter’s meningitis that saved her life at age two, I know first hand the benefits of no one excluded single payer. Like the system in Great Britain (which is more like socialized medicine than Canada’s universal insurance), Canada’s health care is deteriorating, not because of flaws in the system, but rather neoliberal under funding. It is not quite the Utopia that Nader pictures, but it is a thousand percent better than what Americans have.
Costly complexity is baked into Obamacare. No health insurance system is without problems but Canadian style single-payer full Medicare for all is simple, affordable, comprehensive and universal.
In the early 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson enrolled 20 million elderly Americans into Medicare in six months. There were no websites. They did it with index cards!
Below please find 21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare.
Repeal Obamacare and replace it with the much more efficient single-payer, everybody in, nobody out, free choice of doctor and hospital.
In Canada, everyone is covered automatically at birth – everybody in, nobody out.
In the United States, under Obamacare, 31 million Americans will still be uninsured by 2023 and millions more will remain underinsured.
In Canada, the health system is designed to put people, not profits, first.
In the United States, Obamacare will do little to curb insurance industry profits and will actually enhance insurance industry profits.
In Canada, coverage is not tied to a job or dependent on your income – rich and poor are in the same system, the best guaranty of quality.
In the United States, under Obamacare, much still depends on your job or income. Lose your job or lose your income, and you might lose your existing health insurance or have to settle for lesser coverage.
In Canada, health care coverage stays with you for your entire life.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for tens of millions of Americans, health care coverage stays with you for as long as you can afford your share.
In Canada, you can freely choose your doctors and hospitals and keep them. There are no lists of “in-network” vendors and no extra hidden charges for going “out of network.”
In the United States, under Obamacare, the in-network list of places where you can get treated is shrinking – thus restricting freedom of choice – and if you want to go out of network, you pay for it.
In Canada, the health care system is funded by income, sales and corporate taxes that, combined, are much lower than what Americans pay in premiums.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for thousands of Americans, it’s pay or die – if you can’t pay, you die. That’s why many thousands will still die every year under Obamacare from lack of health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.
In Canada, there are no complex hospital or doctor bills. In fact, usually you don’t even see a bill.
In the United States, under Obamacare, hospital and doctor bills will still be terribly complex, making it impossible to discover the many costly overcharges.
In Canada, costs are controlled. Canada pays 10 percent of its GDP for its health care system, covering everyone.
In the United States, under Obamacare, costs continue to skyrocket. The U.S. currently pays 18 percent of its GDP and still doesn’t cover tens of millions of people.
In Canada, it is unheard of for anyone to go bankrupt due to health care costs.
In the United States, under Obamacare, health care driven bankruptcy will continue to plague Americans.
In Canada, simplicity leads to major savings in administrative costs and overhead.
In the United States, under Obamacare, complexity will lead to ratcheting up administrative costs and overhead.
In Canada, when you go to a doctor or hospital the first thing they ask you is: “What’s wrong?”
In the United States, the first thing they ask you is: “What kind of insurance do you have?”
In Canada, the government negotiates drug prices so they are more affordable.
In the United States, under Obamacare, Congress made it specifically illegal for the government to negotiate drug prices for volume purchases, so they remain unaffordable.
In Canada, the government health care funds are not profitably diverted to the top one percent.
In the United States, under Obamacare, health care funds will continue to flow to the top. In 2012, CEOs at six of the largest insurance companies in the U.S. received a total of $83.3 million in pay, plus benefits.
In Canada, there are no necessary co-pays or deductibles.
In the United States, under Obamacare, the deductibles and co-pays will continue to be unaffordable for many millions of Americans.
In Canada, the health care system contributes to social solidarity and national pride.
In the United States, Obamacare is divisive, with rich and poor in different systems and tens of millions left out or with sorely limited benefits.
In Canada, delays in health care are not due to the cost of insurance.
In the United States, under Obamacare, patients without health insurance or who are underinsured will continue to delay or forgo care and put their lives at risk.
In Canada, nobody dies due to lack of health insurance.
In the United States, under Obamacare, many thousands will continue to die every year due to lack of health insurance.
In Canada, an increasing majority supports their health care system, which costs half as much, per person, as in the United States. And in Canada, everyone is covered.
In the United States, a majority – many for different reasons – oppose Obamacare.
In Canada, the tax payments to fund the health care system are progressive – the lowest 20 percent pays 6 percent of income into the system while the highest 20 percent pays 8 percent.
In the United States, under Obamacare, the poor pay a larger share of their income for health care than the affluent.
In Canada, the administration of the system is simple. You get a health care card when you are born. And you swipe it when you go to a doctor or hospital. End of story.
In the United States, Obamacare’s 2,500 pages plus regulations (the Canadian Medicare Bill was 13 pages) is so complex that then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said before passage “we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”
In Canada, the majority of citizens love their health care system.
In the United States, the majority of citizens, physicians, and nurses prefer the Canadian type system – single-payer, free choice of doctor and hospital , everybody in, nobody out.
The Affordable Care Act continues to plow ahead, despite Republican attempts to fight it at every turn. What is unfolding in front of us is nothing short of spectacular. The problems with healthcare.gov are slowly being resolved which is helping more and more people sign up for affordable healthcare, many for the first time in their life. The law provides so much more than that, including standards for even the lowest level plans, protections for young adults 26 and younger, and the elimination of pre-existing plans. Of course, you will not hear the success stories on the news, because those stories are not nearly as sexy as the “Obama Lied” slogan they are so fond of.
The biggest downside of the ACA is the reliance on the private insurance industry. It does not have to be this way, however. There is yet another provision in the Affordable Care Act that can open the door for states to institute their own single-payer healthcare system. Other states have a public option, especially for those below a certain income level, but no state had instituted a true single-payer system. All of this has changed thanks to President Obama and the Affordable Care Act.
Vermont—Home of Ben and Jerry’s, Maple Syrup, Bernie Sanders and the first state to pass marriage equality. Now, Vermont will be known for something that will impact every resident in the state.
The ACA provided states with federal funds to institute a Medicaid expansion. The states chose to expand the program also were able to set up their own state exchanges, which were relatively free from the problems the federal site had. Vermont decided to take it a step further by setting up their very own single payer system.
The slogan of the program: Everybody in, nobody out.
The program will be fully operational by 2017, and will be funded through Medicare, Medicaid, federal money for the ACA given to Vermont, and a slight increase in taxes. In exchange, there will be no more premiums, deductibles, copay’s, hospital bills or anything else aimed at making insurance companies a profit. Further, all hospitals and healthcare providers will now be nonprofit.
This system will provide an instant boost the state economy. On the one side, you have workers that no longer have to worry about paying medical costs or a monthly premium and are able to use that money for other things. On the other side, you have the burden of paying insurance taken off of the employers side, who will be able to use the saved money to provide a better wage and/or reinvest in their company through updated infrastructure and added jobs. It is a win-win solution.
To make sure that it is done right the first time, Vermont brought in a specialist who knows a thing or two about setting up a single-payer system.
Dr. William Hsaio, the Harvard health care economist who helped craft health systems in seven countries, was Vermont’s adviser. He estimates that Vermont will save 25 percent per capita over the current system in administrative costs and other savings.
Many like to say that the United States has the best healthcare system in the world. The problem is we don’t. Not even close. In fact, the only way you can get the best healthcare in the world, is if you are willing and able to pay for it. The United States can and must do better for its people.
Costs have to be held down — there is no reason why the U.S. has to pay twice the amount per capita as the next most costly system in the world (Norway’s), and still not cover millions of its citizens. A Harvard Medical School study states that 45,000 Americans die each year from treatable diseases because they cannot afford to get treatment.
45,000 Americans die every single year because they cannot afford treatment, are you ready for that? That is 15 times the amount of people that died during the September 11, 2001, attacks, or perhaps for you Righty’s out there you would rather see it put this way, 11,250 times the amount of people that died in the Benghazi attack. That equals 5 Americans that die every hour, of every day, of every year because of a preventable illness that was not taken care of due to lack of access and means.
Even once the Affordable Care Act wrinkles are ironed out, which they will be, and every America is covered, which will happen, that will not change the fact that all of this is being driven by a for-profit system by companies that only care about their bottom line. Despite rules in the ACA which prevent insurance companies from absolutely gouging their customers, insurance companies are not exactly know for their ethical behavior.
A single-payer system would all but eliminate anybody dying unnecessarily due to lack of access to healthcare. Our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How can somebody have life and happiness, without their health? Despite the glaring hypocrisy of rich, white males who owned slaves stating all men are created equal, we have come a long way from 1776. Yet when it comes to the very basic need, we are left to the whim of a business. Single-payer is inevitable, and the ACA is a giant step in that direction. We need must hold our officials to a higher standard which will get us there faster. 40,000 people a year is absolutely unacceptable. Vermont saw the writings on the wall. Will the rest of us?
Bernie Sanders on MSNBC discussing his state’s new single-payer system.
Accused Sept. 11 co-conspirator Ramzi Binalshibh is shown while attending his military hearing at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. (AP/Janet Hamlin)
Most of the 168 detainees at Guantanamo have been imprisoned by the U.S. Government for close to a decade without charges and with no end in sight to their captivity. Some now die at Guantanamo, thousands of miles away from their homes and families, without ever having had the chance to contest accusations of guilt. During the Bush years, the plight of these detainees was a major source of political controversy, but under Obama, it is now almost entirely forgotten. On those rare occasions when it is raised, Obama defenders invoke a blatant myth to shield the President from blame: he wanted and tried so very hard to end all of this, but Congress would not let him. Especially now that we’re in an Election Year, and in light of very recent developments, it’s long overdue to document clearly how misleading that excuse is.
Last week, the Obama administration imposed new arbitrary rules for Guantanamo detainees who have lost their first habeas corpus challenge. Those new rules eliminate the right of lawyers to visit their clients at the detention facility; the old rules establishing that right were in place since 2004, and were bolstered by the Supreme Court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling that detainees were entitled to a “meaningful” opportunity to contest the legality of their detention. The DOJ recently informed a lawyer for a Yemeni detainee, Yasein Khasem Mohammad Esmail, that he would be barred from visiting his client unless he agreed to a new regime of restrictive rules, including acknowledging that such visits are within the sole discretion of the camp’s military commander. Moreover, as SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston explains:
Besides putting control over legal contacts entirely under a military commander’s control, the “memorandum of understanding” does not allow attorneys to share with other detainee lawyers what they learn, and does not appear to allow them to use any such information to help prepare their own client for a system of periodic review at Guantanamo of whether continued detention is justified, and may even forbid the use of such information to help prepare a defense to formal terrorism criminal charges against their client.
The New York Times Editorial Page today denounced these new rules as “spiteful,” cited it as “the Obama administration’s latest overuse of executive authority,” and said “the administration looks as if it is imperiously punishing detainees for their temerity in bringing legal challenges to their detention and losing.” Detainee lawyers are refusing to submit to these new rules and are asking a federal court to rule that they violate the detainees’ right to legal counsel.
But every time the issue of ongoing injustices at Guantanamo is raised, one hears the same apologia from the President’s defenders: the President wanted and tried to end all of this, but Congress — including even liberals such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — overwhelming voted to deny him the funds to close Guantanamo. While those claims, standing alone, are true, they omit crucial facts and thus paint a wildly misleading picture about what Obama actually did and did not seek to do.
What made Guantanamo controversial was not its physical location: that it was located in the Caribbean Sea rather than on American soil (that’s especially true since the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that U.S. courts have jurisdiction over the camp). What made Guantanamo such a travesty — and what still makes it such — is that it is a system of indefinite detention whereby human beings are put in cages for years and years without ever being charged with a crime. President Obama’s so-called “plan to close Guantanamo” — even if it had been approved in full by Congress — did not seek to end that core injustice. It sought to do the opposite: Obama’s plan would have continued the system of indefinite detention, but simply re-located it from Guantanamo Bay onto American soil.
Long before, and fully independent of, anything Congress did, President Obama made clear that he was going to preserve the indefinite detention system at Guantanamo even once he closed the camp. President Obama fully embraced indefinite detention — the defining injustice of Guantanamo — as his own policy.
In February, 2009, the Obama DOJ told an appellate court it was embracing the Bush DOJ’s theory that Bagram detainees have no legal rights whatsoever, an announcement that shocked the judges on the panel hearing the case. In May, 2009, President Obama delivered a speech at the National Archives — in front of the U.S. Constitution — and, as his plan for closing Guantanamo, proposed a system of preventative “prolonged detention” without trial inside the U.S.; The New York Times – in an article headlined “President’s Detention Plan Tests American Legal Tradition” – said Obama’s plan “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself, as a place where people in the grip of the government either face criminal charges or walk free.” In January, 2010, the Obama administration announced it would continue to imprison several dozen Guantanamo detainees without any charges or trials of any kind, including even a military commission, on the ground that they were “too difficult to prosecute but too dangerous to release.” That was all Obama’s doing, completely independent of anything Congress did.
When the President finally unveiled his plan for “closing Guantanamo,” it became clear that it wasn’t a plan to “close” the camp as much as it was a plan simply to re-locate it — import it — onto American soil, at a newly purchased federal prison in Thompson, Illinois. William Lynn, Obama’s Deputy Defense Secretary, sent a letter to inquiring Senators that expressly stated that the Obama administration intended to continue indefinitely to imprison some of the detainees with no charges of any kind. The plan was classic Obama: a pretty, feel-good, empty symbolic gesture (get rid of the symbolic face of Bush War on Terror excesses) while preserving the core abuses (the powers of indefinite detention ), even strengthening and expanding those abuses by bringing them into the U.S.
Recall that the ACLU immediately condemned what it called the President’s plan to create “GITMO North.” About the President’s so-called “plan to close Guantanamo,” Executive Director Anthony Romero said:
The creation of a “Gitmo North” in Illinois is hardly a meaningful step forward. Shutting down Guantánamo will be nothing more than a symbolic gesture if we continue its lawless policies onshore.
Alarmingly, all indications are that the administration plans to continue its predecessor’s policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial for some detainees, with only a change of location. Such a policy is completely at odds with our democratic commitment to due process and human rights whether it’s occurring in Cuba or in Illinois.
In fact, while the Obama administration inherited the Guantánamo debacle, this current move is its own affirmative adoption of those policies. It is unimaginable that the Obama administration is using the same justification as the Bush administration used to undercut centuries of legal jurisprudence and the principle of innocent until proven guilty and the right to confront one’s accusers. . . . .The Obama administration’s announcement today contradicts everything the president has said about the need for America to return to leading with its values.
In fact, Obama’s “close GITMO” plan — if it had been adopted by Congress — would have done something worse than merely continue the camp’s defining injustice of indefinite detention. It would likely have expanded those powers by importing them into the U.S. The day after President Obama’s speech proposing a system of “prolonged detention” on U.S. soil, the ACLU’s Ben Wizner told me in an interview:
It may to serve to enshrine into law the very departures from the law that the Bush administration led us on, and that we all criticized so much. And I’ll elaborate on that. But that’s really my initial reaction to it; that what President Obama was talking about yesterday is making permanent some of the worst features of the Guantanamo regime. He may be shutting down the prison on that camp, but what’s worse is he may be importing some of those legal principles into our own legal system, where they’ll do great harm for a long time.
So even if Congress had fully supported and funded Obama’s plan to “close Guantanamo,” the core injustices that made the camp such a travesty would remain. In fact, they’d not only remain, but would be in full force within the U.S. That’s what makes the prime excuse offered for Obama — he tried to end all of this but couldn’t – so misleading. He only wanted to change the locale of these injustices, but sought fully to preserve them.
Indeed, as part of that excuse, one frequentlyhears that even liberal civil liberties stalwarts in the Senate — such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — voted to deny funding for the closing of Guantanamo: as though it is they who are to blame for these enduring travesties, rather than Obama. But this, too, is misleading in the extreme.
The reason these Democratic Senators voted to deny funds for closing Guantanamo is not because they lacked the courage to close Guantanamo. It’s because they did not want to fund a plan to close the camp without knowing exactly what Obama planned to do with the detainees there — because people like Feingold and Sanders did not want to fund the importation of a system of indefinite detention onto U.S. soil. Here’s what actually happened when the Senate, including most Democrats, refused to fund the closing of Guantanamo:
[White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs] added Obama has not yet decided where some of the detainees will be sent. A presidential commission is studying the issue. . . .
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, favors closing Guantanamo, and the legislation his panel originally sent to the floor provided money for that purpose once the administration submitted a plan for the shutdown.
In changing course and seeking to delete the funds, he said, “The fact that the administration has not offered a workable plan at this point made that decision rather easy.”
Can that be any clearer? They would have voted to fund the closing of Guantanamo, but only once they knew what Obama’s plan was for the detainees there. Feingold — whose vote against funding the closing of Guantanamo is invariably cited by Obama defenders — wrote a letter to the President specifically to object to any plan to import the system of indefinite detention onto U.S. soil:
My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.
While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.
Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security.
Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.
Feingold was not going to vote for a plan to close Guantanamo if it meant that its core injustice — indefinite detention — was going simply to be re-located onto American soil, where it would be entrenched rather than dismantled. That, as all of this evidence makes clear, is why so many Democratic Senators voted to deny funding for the closing of Guantanamo: not because they favored the continuation of indefinite detention, but precisely because they did not want to fund its continuation on American soil, as Obama clearly intended.
Now, here we are, almost four years after the vow to close Guantanamo was enshrined in an Executive Order, and the rights of detainees — including the basic right to legal counsel — are being constricted further, in plainly vindictive ways. Conditions at Guantanamo are undoubtedly better than they were in 2003, and some of the deficiencies in military commissions (for the few who appear before them) have been redressed. But the real stain of Guantanamo — keeping people locked up in cages for years with no charges — endures. And contrary to the blatant myth propagated by Obama defenders, that has happened not because Obama tried but failed to eliminate it, but precisely because he embraced it as his own policy from the start.
Dear roger,The $2.5 trillion deficit reduction deal that was agreed
to by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, and
President Obama is grotesquely unfair. It is also bad economic policy that, in
the midst of a terrible recession, will lead to the loss of hundreds of
thousands of jobs.
At a time when the wealthiest people in this country
are doing extremely well, and when their effective tax rate is the lowest in
decades, the rich will not be asked to contribute one penny more for deficit
reduction. When corporate profits are soaring and a number of giant
corporations are able to completely avoid federal income taxes because of
obscene loop-holes in the tax code, corporate America will not be asked to
contribute one penny more for deficit reduction. On the other hand, working
families, children, the sick and the elderly, many of whom are already suffering
because of the recession, are being asked to shoulder 100 percent of the human
cost of lowering our deficit.
The corporate media which, by and
large, has covered this debate as if it were a baseball game with political
“winners and losers,” has neglected to tell the American people what the
implications of this deficit reduction agreement are. Let me take this
opportunity to do that.
The first round of $917 billion in discretionary
cuts over the next 10 years will begin in the 2012 budget. Although nobody can
predict exactly what programs will be cut and by how much because those
decisions will be made over the coming months and years by the appropriation
committees, here’s what working families can look forward to:
· At a time when there are long waiting lists for affordable childcare
and Head Start, it is likely that these programs will be significantly
· At a time when the United States is falling
further and further behind other countries in the terms of the quality of our
education, it is likely that tens of thousands of teachers and school personnel
will be laid off.
· At a time when working class
families are finding it harder and harder to send their kids to college, it is
likely that there will be cutbacks in federal student aid programs.
· At a time when hunger among seniors and children is rising,
it is likely that there will be cutbacks in various nutrition programs.
· At a time when 50 million Americans have no health insurance
and many of them are utilizing community health centers as their medical homes,
it is likely that there will be cuts in primary healthcare.
· At a time when states, cities and towns have already laid off over
500,000 public service employees, it is likely that there will be even more
lay-offs in police and fire protection, and large reductions in federal support
for roads, bridges, water quality, sewage and public transportation.
Further, there will likely be cuts in home heating assistance,
affordable housing, support for family based agriculture, and research in
finding cures for cancer and other diseases.
In addition, there will
likely be major staffing reductions in agencies which are trying to protect the
physical health and economic well-being of our people. It is quite likely that
the EPA, which enforces the rules regarding clean water and clean air, will be
cut. The SEC, which regulates against the greed and recklessness of Wall
Street, will be undermined. It is also very possible that the Social Security
Administration, which assures that seniors and the disabled receive the benefits
to which they are entitled in a timely manner, will also be cut.
is just some of what will likely happen as a result of the first $900 billion in
cuts in this $2.5 trillion deficit reduction package.
The second phase
of this legislation calls for the establishment of a Super Committee composed of
3 Democrats and 3 Republicans from the House and 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans
from the Senate. Let’s be clear. The mandate for this 12 member Super
Committee is to look at EVERY program of the federal government and come up with
$1.5 trillion more in savings. This means that, at a time when the
Republicans and an increased number of Democrats are calling for major cuts in
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, all of these programs will be on the
If the committee is unable to reach an
agreement with a majority vote, there will then be a “sequestration” process
which would require $500 billion in cuts to defense spending and $500 billion
more in across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending. In that
scenario, Social Security, Medicare benefits and Medicaid would be spared, but
even more draconian cuts would occur in programs that sustain working families.
Here is the great irony with regard to the deficit reduction
process that we have just gone through:
In poll after poll, the
American people have made it clear that they believe in shared sacrifice.
Instead of putting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education and
environmental protection on the chopping block, the American people have said
that they believe the best way to reduce the deficit is to end tax breaks for
the wealthy, big oil, and Wall Street and take a hard look at military
spending. Yet, the budget deal just approved does the exact opposite of what
the American people want. The wealthy and large corporations contribute nothing
while there will be a major reduction in services for working families and the
most vulnerable people in our country.
Enough is enough! The American
people must fight back. We need a government which represents all the people,
not just the wealthy, campaign contributors and lobbyists. In these tough and
discouraging times, despair is not an option. This fight is not just for us, it
is for our children and grandchildren and for the environmental survival of the
(Roger’s note: this article is not only about health reform, but it is a graduate seminar on how government works. I can tell you, as a former city councillor in Canada’s major metropolis, that Greenwald has captured the dynamic to a T. Elected officials have two constituencies: the people who elect them and the powers, special interests, lobbyists who own them. The represent the latter 364 days a year, and the former only on Election Day. I can assure you, for example, had John McCain won the presidency, there would be no greater opponents to the escalation of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan than Obama and Clinton. Their passionate pacifism would make Ghandi look like a hawk. Democracy under capitalism is little more than a sham and electoral politics little more than a farce. It is all about money and power, not human values.)
Published on Friday, March 12, 2010 by Salonby Glenn Greenwald
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about what seemed to be a glaring (and quite typical) scam perpetrated by Congressional Democrats: all year long, they insisted that the White House and a majority of Democratic Senators vigorously supported a public option, but the only thing oh-so-unfortunately preventing its enactment was the filibuster: sadly, we have 50 but not 60 votes for it, they insisted. Democratic pundits used that claim to push for “filibuster reform,” arguing that if only majority rule were required in the Senate, then the noble Democrats would be able to deliver all sorts of wonderful progressive reforms that they were truly eager to enact but which the evil filibuster now prevents. In response, advocates of the public option kept arguing that the public option could be accomplished by reconciliation — where only 50 votes, not 60, would be required — but Obama loyalists scorned that reconciliation proposal, insisting (at least before the Senate passed a bill with 60 votes) that using reconciliation was Unserious, naive, procedurally impossible, and politically disastrous.
But all those claims were put to the test — all those bluffs were called — once the White House decided that it had to use reconciliation to pass a final health care reform bill. That meant that any changes to the Senate bill (which had passed with 60 votes) — including the addition of the public option — would only require 50 votes, which Democrats assured progressives all year long that they had. Great news for the public option, right? Wrong. As soon as it actually became possible to pass it, the 50 votes magically vanished. Senate Democrats (and the White House) were willing to pretend they supported a public option only as long as it was impossible to pass it. Once reconciliation gave them the opportunity they claimed all year long they needed — a “majority rule” system — they began concocting ways to ensure that it lacked 50 votes.
All of that was bad enough, but now the scam is getting even more extreme, more transparent. Faced with the dilemma of how they could possibly justify their year-long claimed support for the public option only now to fail to enact it, more and more Democratic Senators were pressured into signing a letter supporting the enactment of the public option through reconciliation; that number is now above 40, and is rapidly approaching 50. In other words, there is a serious possibility that the Senate might enact a public option if there is a vote on it, because it’s very difficult for these Senators to vote “No” after pretending all year long — on the record — that they supported it. In fact, The Huffington Post‘s Ryan Grim yesterday wrote: “the votes appear to exist to include a public option. It’s only a matter of will.”
The one last hope for Senate Democratic leaders was to avoid a vote altogether on the public option, thereby relieving Senators of having to take a position and being exposed. But that trick would require the cooperation of all Senators — any one Senator can introduce a public option amendment during the reconciliation and force a vote — and it now seems that Bernie Sanders, to his great credit, is refusing to go along with the Democrats’ sham and will do exactly that: ignore the wishes of the Senate leadership and force a roll call vote on the public option.
So now what is to be done? They only need 50 votes, so they can’t use the filibuster excuse. They don’t seem able to prevent a vote, as they tried to do, because Sanders will force one. And it seems there aren’t enough Senate Democrats willing to vote against the public option after publicly saying all year long they supported it, which means it might get 50 votes if a roll call vote is held. So what is the Senate Democratic leadership now doing? They’re whipping against the public option, which they pretended all year along to so vigorously support:
Senate Democratic leaders are concerned about the amount of mischief their own Members could create if or when a health care reconciliation bill comes up for debate. And sources said some supporters of creating a public insurance option are privately worried that they will be asked to vote against the idea during debate on the bill, which could occur before March 26.
Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) acknowledged Wednesday that liberals may be asked to oppose any amendment, including one creating a public option, to ensure a smooth ride for the bill. “We have to tell people, ‘You just have to swallow hard’ and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can’t let it happen,” Durbin, who supports a public option, told reporters.
If — as they claimed all year long — a majority of Congressional Democrats and the White House all support a public option, why would they possibly whip against it, and ensure its rejection, at exactly the moment when it finally became possible to pass it? If majorities of the House and Senate support it, as does the White House, how could the inclusion of a public option possibly jeopardize passage of the bill?
I’ve argued since August that the evidence was clear that the White House had privately negotiated away the public option and didn’t want it, even as the President claimed publicly (and repeatedly) that he did. And while I support the concept of “filibuster reform” in theory, it’s long seemed clear that it would actually accomplish little, because the 60-vote rule does not actually impede anything. Rather, it is the excuse Democrats fraudulently invoke, using what I called the Rotating Villain tactic (it’s now Durbin’s turn), to refuse to pass what they claim they support but are politically afraid to pass, or which they actually oppose (sorry, we’d so love to do this, but gosh darn it, we just can’t get 60 votes). If only 50 votes were required, they’d just find ways to ensure they lacked 50. Both of those are merely theories insusceptible to conclusive proof, but if I had the power to create the most compelling evidence for those theories that I could dream up, it would be hard to surpass what Democrats are doing now with regard to the public option. They’re actually whipping against the public option. Could this sham be any more transparent?
UPDATE: One related point: when I was on Morning Joe several weeks ago, I argued this point — why aren’t Democrats including the public option in the reconciliation package given that they have the 50 votes in favor of the public option — and, in response, Chuck Todd recited White House spin and DC conventional wisdom (needless to say) by insisting that they do not have the votes to pass the public option. If that’s true — if they lack the votes to pass the public option through reconciliation? — why is Dick Durbin now whipping against it, telling Senators — in his own words — “You just have to swallow hard’ and say that putting an amendment on this is either going to stop it or slow it down, and we just can’t let it happen”?
No discussion of the public option is complete without noting how much the private health insurance industry despises it; the last thing they want, of course, is the beginning of real competition and choice.