Street art in Montreal, Canada,
by French artist Julien Malland aka Seth GlobePainter.
Photo by Seth GlobePainter.
America’s parasitical oligarchs are masters of public relations. One of their favorite tactics is to masquerade as defenders of the common folk while neatly arranging things behind the scenes so that they can continue to plunder unimpeded. Perhaps nowhere is this sleight of hand displayed so artfully as it is at a particular high-profile charity with the nerve to bill itself as itself as “New York’s largest poverty-fighting organization.”
British novelist Anthony Trollope once wrote, “I have sometimes thought that there is no being so venomous, so bloodthirsty as a professed philanthropist.”
Meet the benevolent patrons of the Robin Hood Foundation.
Robin Hood in Reverse
The Robin Hood Foundation, named for that green-jerkined hero of redistribution who stole from the rich to give to the poor, is run, ironically, by some of the most rapacious capitalists the country has ever produced — men who make robber barons of previous generations look like small-time crooks. Founded by hedge fund mogul Paul Tudor Jones, the foundation boasts 19 billionaires on its leadership boards and committees, the likes of which include this sample of American plutocracy:
-Hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen, who, when he is not being probed for insider trading (his company, SAC Capital Advisors, pled guilty to securities and wire fraud) is busy throwing parties for himself worthy of a Roman emperor at his Hamptons palace and bragging about his $700 million art collection. He suspends a 13-foot shark in formaldehyde from the ceiling his office, perhaps as an avatar of his business practices.
-Billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone, who threatened to turn off the charity donations if Pope Francis dared to continue criticizing capitalism and inequality, and also likened the plight of the wealthy in America to Nazi Germany. The GOP megadonor doesn’t care for bank regulation and it’s no surprise that he is the main booster for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s presidential bid, as his plan to shred Social Security is a fond wish of the tycoon’s.
– Hedge fund billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller, funder of right-wing causes who dedicates himself to spreading deficit hysteria and ginning up generational warfare on college campuses by trying to convince young people that they are being robbed by seniors using Social Security and Medicare. A long-time anti-tax crusader and supporter of such anti-labor enthusiasts as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, Druckenmiller warned President Obama that any attempt to tax the rich to pay for social services for the poor would be futile.
By occupation (the more useless and parasitical the better), it comes as no surprise that 12 of the 19 men in leadership positions at the Robin Hood Foundation happen to be hedge fund managers. A group called Hedge Clippers, supported by a coalition of labor unions and community groups and devoted to exposing how billionaires scheme to inflate their wealth and influence, has pointed out in a scathing report that the Robin Hood Foundation has close ties to an organization called the Managed Funds Association (MFA) that — shocker! —lobbies tirelessly for unjustified tax breaks for hedgies. Paul Tudor Jones’s top deputy, John Torell, chairs the MFA, and 31 members of Robin Hood’s governing board and leadership committees are executives at firms that belong to the highest membership levels of the organization.
The MFA was relatively small until 2007, when Congress started eyeing the “carried interest” tax loophole. Then it brought out the heavy artillery to protect elites from paying their fair share. The carried interest loophole is the MFA’s top priority.
The King of Scams
The carried interest loophole, as economist Dean Baker put it, is likely the worst of all the “sneaky and squirrelly ways that the rich use to escape their tax liability.” It goes down like this: Hedge fund managers brazenly claim they deserve to pay a special low tax rate on the money they earn overseeing the funds they manage because, um, it’s not guaranteed. So they pay 20 percent instead of the 39.6 percent they would pay if the money were taxed as ordinary income. They get very rich from this windfall, just ask Mitt Romney. But you know what? Lots of workers have no guarantee about the money they’ll earn, from people selling cars to the guy who just served you a burger. Do they get a special tax rate? No, they don’t. They pay full freight. In fact, almost nobody’s income is guaranteed. You could get a pay cut tomorrow. Or a pink slip. Do you still pay regular income tax? Yep, you do.
This unfair tax break basically allows hedge fund managers to screw their fellow Americans out of money that could do things the illustrious patrons of the Robin Hood Foundation claim are so dear to their hearts, like building schools and feeding the poor. According to a Congressional Research Service cited in the Hedge Clippers report, closing the carried interest loophole would generate $17 billion a year. How many hungry children in New York City could that feed? All of them?
The loophole makes absolutely no economic or social sense, it’s just a way for the rich to say, hey, we’re powerful enough to lobby for this insanity, so you little people just go ahead and pay for that airport where our private jets are about to land and that road where our Porsches and limos cruise. It’s a middle finger held up to every hard-working person in America. Dirt kicked in the face of the poor.
It’s a driver of inequality and encourages risky speculation on Wall Street. Hillary Clinton, perhaps hoping to ward off the threat of Bernie Sanders, has been making noise about closing the carried interest loophole, which many a politician has made before. Given the cultural focus on inequality and the egregiousness of the policy, it may just be vulnerable. Let’s hope so.
Den of Thieves
The mission statement of the Robin Hood Foundation brays about all the funding it provides for school programs, generating “meaningful results for families in New York’s poorest neighborhoods.” Soup kitchens! Homeless shelters! Job training! The tuxedoed tycoons throw money at all these causes “to give New York’s neediest citizens the tools they need to build better lives.”
How far does this largesse actually go toward ameliorating New York’s poverty problem? Unsurprisingly, not very far at all. In fact, as Hedge Clippers points out, the poverty rate in the city has grown over the course of the Robin Hood Foundation’s history, from 20 percent in 1990 to 21.2 percent in 2012.
Guess what’s also grown? The bank accounts of 19 billionaires on the Robin Hood Foundation’s boards, which have ballooned 93 percent since 2008.
Hedge Clippers applied a delicious tactic to expose the hypocrisy at the heart of the Robin Hood Foundation with stark mathematical precision— they used the organizations own metrics as an analytical tool. The foundation is famed for using grantee evaluations, cost-benefit analyses, and performance measures, including a metrics system freakishly named “relentless monetization.” So the Clippers applied these methods to the foundation’s hedge fund backers themselves, systematically exposing the degree to which they increase inequality and poverty.
How bad it is? A chilling ratio summarizes just how bad— 44:1. That is to say, for every dollar the Robin Hood Foundation hedge fund managers studied give to the organization’s antipoverty efforts, they soak up $44 from the public in the form of tax avoidance and anti-tax advocacy. The authors of the report believe that to be a conservative estimate.
Take the case of Steve Cohen, he of the shark in formaldehyde, and board member emeritus of the Robin Hood Foundation.
The tally of his recent donations to the foundation: $4,850,000.
The estimated amount he ripped off the public in 2014 by paying special low tax rates: $1,300,000,000.
Quite a difference.
When they aren’t advocating tax swindles, members of the Robin Hood Foundation put in plenty of time fighting fair wages, trying to shred the social safety net, and killing worker protections through their associations with organizations like the Manhattan Institute, the Partnership for New York City (the voice of big business in NYC and a big foe of paid sick leave), and Fix the Debt (a notorious group devoted to crushing Social Security and Medicare).
When you think about it, it looks as if the Robin Hood Foundation members are actively trying to strip the public and strangle working people to such a degree that poverty and nickels thrown by billionaires will be all that’s left of America. The rest of us will all be living in Sherwood Forest.
The Robin Hood Foundation’s new motto: Increasing poverty is our business.
Amnesty International has uncovered overwhelming evidence of Israeli war crimes committed in a relentless and massive bombardment of residential areas in the city of Rafah.
Amnesty’s report “Black Friday—Carnage in Rafah”, published last week, shows that Israel attacked Rafah with disregard for the suffering it inflicted on the civilian population. Furthermore, this was official policy designed to ensure that no Israeli soldiers were captured alive, even if it meant some of them were killed.
The human rights organisation said the horrific events constitute grounds for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute Israel.
The massacre that became known as Black Friday was one of the deadliest episodes of the 50-day war on Gaza last year.
The Israel Defence Force (IDF) carried out a massive aerial bombardment over a four-day period using F-16 fighter jets, drones, helicopters and artillery. It killed anywhere between 135 to 200 Palestinian civilians, including 75 children.
It followed the capture on August 1, 2014, of an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, by Hamas fighters in one of the tunnels in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip. A ceasefire had been due to come into effect that morning, as his capture was announced, and many civilians were returning to their homes in the belief that it was safe to do so.
The massive bombardment took place without warning when many people were walking or driving along the streets, leading to one of the worst incidents of the 50-day war on Gaza.
The war followed two previous wars in 2006 and 2012, as well as several prolonged assaults on Gaza since Hamas, the Islamist party, was elected to power in 2006.
The assault was distinguished by immense Israeli firepower directed at an essentially defenceless civilian population, who live like prisoners in an open-air jail surrounded by razor wire and fortifications on three sides and the sea on the fourth side.
According to UN figures, 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians of whom 551 were children. More than 11,200 Palestinians were injured; of this, more than 3,400 were children. In contrast, just 67 Israeli soldiers lost their lives in the fighting while six civilians were killed by Palestinian rockets and mortars fired from Gaza.
Almost 500,000 Palestinians were displaced. Some 100,000 are still without a permanent home, one year after the war. Twenty schools, kindergartens and colleges were completely destroyed and hundreds of others damaged. One hundred and seventeen hospitals, clinics and pharmacies were damaged or destroyed.
Amnesty’s evidence, based upon eyewitness accounts, videos, photos, satellite images and multimedia documentation of the carnage, was analysed by researchers at Forensic Architecture, a research centre at Goldsmiths, University of London. Using cutting-edge techniques, they established that Israel carried out the bombardment on locations that might be harbouring Goldin.
From this, Amnesty deduced that the IDF was trying to kill Goldin without any regard for the consequences for the neighbouring civilian population. Even ambulances, health facilities and medical professionals that may have been giving Goldin medical treatment were fair game, in an obscene defiance of the laws of war.
Israel sought to kill Goldin to prevent Palestinian militants using him as a bargaining chip. In 2011, after the capture and 5-year detention of Gilad Shalit in 2006, Israel was forced to agree to release some 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in order to secure Shalit’s release.
Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said, “The ferocity of the attack on Rafah shows the extreme measures Israeli forces were prepared to take to prevent the capture alive of one soldier—scores of Palestinian civilian lives were sacrificed for this single aim.” He said that entire districts of the city, included heavily populated areas, were bombarded without distinction between military and civilian targets.
The attacks continued even after the IDF had determined that Goldin had not been captured but had been killed in a gunfight in the tunnel. Based on this, as well as statements made by Israeli officials and soldiers, Amnesty concluded that at least some of the attacks were motivated by the desire to punish the population as revenge for his capture. Such collective punishment is a crime under international law.
One Israeli officer told Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli soldiers who have served in the West Bank and Gaza that “The motto guiding lots of people was, ‘let’s show them.’” According to Amnesty, other soldiers told the media that they had wanted “to settle accounts” or to “extract a price.”
Givati Brigade commander Ofer Winter, an ultra-nationalist religious Zionist who had led the tunnel incursion and ensuing shootout that led to Goldin’s death, bragged to the press, “We shredded them,” adding, “Anyone who abducts should know that he will pay a price.” He boasted, “They simply messed with the wrong brigade.”
But this was not simply an accident or the actions of some fascistic elements, but the outcome of official policy known as the Hannibal Directive, drawn up in the 1980s. This directive authorises the use of intense firepower should a soldier be captured, regardless of the risks to his life or to civilians in the vicinity, so as to ensure that Israel’s political leaders were not confronted with demands for concessions to ensure his or her release.
“Major D.”, a commander of the Givati anti-tank company, said, “When you enter such an incident, you prefer a body and not a kidnapped soldier.” He added, “We made it clear many times to the troops about the threat of abduction, and the goal is to disrupt it if it happens—while hitting the enemy even at the price of harming your friend.”
“I told myself, even if I bring [back] a body, the main thing is to bring back the missing [soldier]. In such an incident, you do everything in order not to put the entire country into the whirlwind of Gilad Shalit.”
Amnesty’s report shows that implementing the Directive to prevent the taking of one live hostage led to the ordering of unlawful attacks on hundreds of civilians. From the IDF’s perspective, it had a further advantage. As Amnesty concluded, under the veil of the Hannibal Directive, the Israeli army enacted a “gloves off” policy, “whereby it struck general targets from its ‘target banks’—a continuously updated list of targets prepared by the military intelligence—that were not previously authorized because they were determined to involve too high levels of collateral damage.”
The Israeli government dismissed the report as “fundamentally flawed” and “one-sided,” saying that the testimonies in the report were uncorroborated and potentially biased, bringing “into serious question Amnesty’s professional standards.”
The IDF predictably ruled that the overwhelming firepower unleashed on Black Friday was “proportionate.” But a year later, the military authorities have yet to complete their investigation into Black Friday.
Amnesty’s report follows countless similar reports about Israel’s war crimes that have been supported by Washington. A culture of impunity reigns, officially sanctioned at the highest political and military levels. So far, only three Israeli soldiers will face prosecution by the military authorities—for alleged looting during the ground invasion.
Within Gaza itself, one year on, the situation is truly devastating. There is only intermittent electricity and water, and sanitation networks have been damaged. The only repairs to homes damaged in the war have been to those partially damaged. Some 83,977 homes still await repairs, meaning that people are living in partially bombed out homes. A further 18,000 homes were totally destroyed, but work has only just begun on the first house to be rebuilt since the war.
Reports filed earlier this month with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) confirm that the US political system is completely dominated by the super-rich. The figures are so staggering, and so at odds with the conventional claims that the United States is a democracy, that even the corporate-controlled media has been compelled to take notice.
Below are some representative headlines that appeared over the weekend:
Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving—New York Times
Million-dollar donors pump huge sums into 2016 White House race—Washington Post
Data: Nearly 5 dozen give a third of all ’16 campaign cash—Associated Press
67 donors and gusher of cash change 2016 race—Politico.com
Each of these reports relies on the figures from the FEC to document the role of a tiny group of extraordinarily wealthy contributors in shaping the course of the 2016 presidential campaign in both the Democratic and Republican parties. The bulk of this money has been channeled through so-called super PACs, the nominally independent political action committees called into existence by the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case, which legalized unlimited political contributions by millionaires and billionaires.
A few of the most important figures are worth citing:
* Fewer than 400 families account for nearly half of the $388 million raised by June 30 for the 2016 campaign.
* Just 130 families provide more than half of the super PAC money raised for Republican candidates.
* Some 67 donors have kicked in more than $1 million apiece, nearly half of them in the camp of Jeb Bush, who leads the fundraising race with $119 million.
* Super PAC fundraising has shot up ten-fold since the last presidential campaign, from $26 million at this point in 2011 to $258 million this year, nearly two-thirds of the total campaign cash that has been raised.
Perhaps the most naked expression of the dominant role of big money is the weekend event held by the billionaire brothers Charles and Edward Koch. They invited five of the Republican hopefuls to audition before an audience of 450 like-minded reactionary money men. The Koch brothers alone have pledged to pump $900 million into electing a Republican president and Congress. Republican strategist Mark McKinnon told the New York Times, “For that kind of money you could buy a president. Oh right. That’s the point.”
The fundraising figures help explain the proliferation of Republican candidates, as 13 of the 17 depend on a handful of wealthy supporters to fund their campaigns. Four donors account for two-thirds of the super PAC money for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; four donors account for three quarters of the funding for Senator Marco Rubio; three donors account for nearly all the funding for Senator Ted Cruz; two investors fund Senator Rand Paul’s campaign; one poultry magnate is keeping former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s campaign afloat. In the case of Donald Trump, one donor, the billionaire himself, accounts for 100 percent of his funding.
The Democratic campaign, in terms of the number of candidates, offers the inverse of the Republican. Hillary Clinton became the prohibitive favorite because she was the only candidate with significant backing from the financial oligarchy. Already, eight individuals have given $1 million or more to one of Clinton’s super PACs, with Wall Street and Hollywood the main contributors.
Clinton released eight years of tax returns on Friday, documents that certify the Clintons’ entrance into the financial elite—at least its lower rungs. They made $139 million in adjusted gross income from 2007 to 2014, mainly from speaking fees and books. The former secretary of state gave three speeches to Goldman Sachs, one of the main financial criminals of the 2008 Wall Street crash, for a total of $675,000.
In a little-noticed commentary on a national radio program Tuesday, former President Jimmy Carter said that money had completely corrupted the political system of the United States. “Now it’s just an oligarchy,” he said, “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 US senators and Congress members.”
Carter has become something of a Cassandra in recent years, cautioning the US ruling elite that it has become so corrupt, reactionary and anti-democratic, so reckless in its militarism, that it risks losing all political legitimacy. His latest warning will be ignored like all the others.
The pleas from Carter, or the editors of the New York Times, to somewhat insulate the political system from the influence of big money are both pathetic and futile. What is emerging in the corruption and filth of the 2016 US presidential election is the essence of capitalist politics—the dictatorship of the financial overlords who dominate every aspect of American society.
There is no quarantining money from politics. The only way to purge the oligarchs from politics is to purge the oligarchs.
The fortunes of the billionaires, amassed through financial fraud, market manipulation and brutal exploitation, must be confiscated and made available to serve the needs of working people. This will be an essential component of the socialist reorganization of economic life as a whole, including the nationalization of the banks and basic industry, and the establishment of a rationally planned economy under democratic control.
British economist Tony Atkinson has been studying inequality — the gap in income and wealth between the top and the bottom — for nearly half a century. Now that the dogma of trickle-down has been exposed as myth, he sees economists, policy-makers and the public finally waking up to the seriousness of the problem. But how to fix it? In his new book, Inequality: What Can Be Done?Atkinson focuses on ambitious proposals that could shift the distribution of income in developed countries. This post was originally published on the blog of theInstitute for New Economic Thinking.
Lynn Parramore: When did you become interested in the topic of economic inequality? What sparked your work?
Tony Atkinson: My interest in the topic actually led me to become an economics student. There was a famous book in England called The Poor and the Poorest, which was the rediscovery of poverty in Britain, published in 1965. I then decided to write a book about poverty when I graduated, and it was published in 1969: Poverty in Britain and the Reform of Social Security.
LP: In terms of finding solutions to inequality, Thomas Piketty, in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, talks about a wealth tax, but many are skeptical that it could work. What is distinct about your prescriptions?
TA: It’s fair to say that Piketty’s book was not about solutions. He does refer to a global capital tax, but he was much more concerned with an analysis rather than a set of prescriptions. In a way, my book was really continuing the lines of recent discussions, that is to say, we’ve identified the problem and we’ve seen some of the reasons for it, and we’ve seen our political leaders and our religious leaders all saying this is a serious problem — a “defining challenge of our time” to quote your president. So the next question, of course, is, what are we going to do about it?
What I tried to do was to set out a range of measures, which were to some extent very familiar in terms of taxes and transfers. But I also tried to stress that this is only, at best, part of the solution. One has to think much more carefully about what determines incomes people get before the government intervenes in taxing and transferring.
LP: Some of the possible prescriptions you discuss, such as a basic income for all citizens, may sound radical, but you point out that they are actually already implemented as policy in many countries in various ways. Are ideas like basic income getting more attention and traction now?
TA: Definitely. A lot of people I’ve talked to about the book, in different places, say, Oh! I never knew we could do that kind of thing. It’s a tragedy, in a way, that our political system has become very narrowly focused and not willing to at least debate these ideas.
The basic income is very close to the idea Thomas Paine put forward in the 1790s. (Paine’s proposal, by the way, is on the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration.) That proposal is something that I and many others think is really interesting, which is that everyone, on reaching the age of 18 or so, should receive a capital payment. It would be like a negative capital tax. That idea was also proposed years ago in America by Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law at Yale.
A capital payment, or capital grant, would contribute to solving the problem of the intergenerational distribution of income, which is something I stress in the book. That is a serious problem, which I found, for example, in discussions with Korean journalists and economists. They are very worried about generational divide — concerned that the older people have benefitted from growth and the younger people are struggling to find jobs and so on. Some of the measures I propose are designed to take money away from my generation and give it to younger generations. The capital grant certainly would do that.
LP: You’ve been a strong critic of claims that we can’t afford to do much about inequality. How do you react to such claims?
TA: I think that the question about whether we can afford it has two dimensions. One is the extent to which addressing inequality involves redistribution —whether it involves some people, like myself, paying higher taxes to finance a more effective system of social protection, for example. On the other hand, it’s a question about how far these measures and other measures would tend to reduce the size of the cake, to put it in a rather hackneyed metaphor.
The second argument is the one I spend more time discussing, which is to say that in the kinds of economies in which we live, there are a number of directions in which we can both make the distribution fairer and contribute to making our economies more efficient and more productive for everyone. That’s very much within the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s way of looking at the world because I’m really saying that the economic model we’ve had to think about is one in which intervention tends to reduce the size of the cake. Yet if you think about a different economic model, you have to allow for the fact that there are corporations with monopoly power. You have to allow for the fact that we have workers who have very little countervailing power, and so on. There are, in fact, ways in which the current situation is inefficient.
LP: So reducing inequality may increase efficiency rather than the opposite, as neoclassical economists might argue?
TA: Yes, I think that as a starting point we need to look at the world as it really is. We have unemployment and other evidence that the world isn’t working in a kind of textbook competitive fashion.
LP: Let’s talk about debates concerning Britain and whether or not inequality is growing. Pikettty, for example, says that British society is becoming more economically unequal. Others refute this view. How do you read the data?
TA: I think it’s very important to distinguish here between distribution of incomes and distribution of wealth. On incomes, there’s very little dispute. There is no doubt that income inequality in Britain today is very significantly higher than it was a generation ago. The Gini coefficient, which is used to measure it, is some ten percentage points higher than it was in the 1970s. And that’s a very big increase. It took us from being a country like the Netherlands or France to being a country like the United States in terms of inequality. I don’t think anyone disputes that, nor do they dispute the fact that poverty is higher than when I started out as an economist nearly 50 years ago.
Where there is much less certainty is about the wealth data, that is, how rich people are. There, our current statistics about changes in wealthy inequality are not so good — not as good as the American statistics. I think there is room for confusion there. The OECD says that wealth concentration in Britain is rising. Maybe. I’m not myself quite sure. It’s much harder to measure wealth concentration now because people are so geographically mobile. People on the “rich list” — it’s not quite clear whether they live in England or not. They might live somewhere else. It’s not clear whether the wealth is owned by them, or by a foundation, or a trust, or whether it’s spread out amongst a family. So it’s a much more complicated set of statistics to assemble today than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
LP: You’ve written in your book that you feel optimistic about solving the problem of inequality. What gives you hope?
TA: People often say that there’s a sense of inevitability, that there’s nothing much you can do. But what I was trying to argue in the book is that there are things you can do. The problem has been that we’ve not had on the agenda issues that would make a difference. Interestingly, even since I wrote the book the Conservative government in Britain has actually adopted the living wage as policy. Last week in the budget the chancellor announced he was in favor of paying higher wages. So there’s hope.
Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders held the largest online event of the 2016 presidential campaign Wednesday night, giving a brief address via live streaming video to more than 3,500 house parties held in all 50 states. Campaign organizers said more than 100,000 people sent RSVPs for the event and an even larger number attended.
The “house parties,” some held in public venues such as halls and restaurants, but most in private homes, are a campaign tactic, first used by Democrat Howard Dean in 2004, for collecting large numbers of email addresses and small donations from supporters.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign held an estimated 650 parties on the day she formally announced her candidacy. The scale of the events for Sanders was five times as large, an indication of the growing discontent among Democratic voters with the pro-corporate policies advanced by Clinton in her campaign.
The Vermont senator has focused his campaign on warnings about the growth of economic inequality and the power of the “billionaire class,” while offering little in the way of substance to differentiate himself from Clinton.
He occasionally refers to himself as a “socialist,” by which he means an American version of the reformist policies once pursued but repudiated over the past two decades by the social democratic parties in Europe. All of these parties—in Britain, Germany, France, Greece, Scandinavia, etc.—are systematically cutting social spending and imposing austerity on the working class, working hand-in-glove with the traditional conservative parties.
According to an analysis by the New York Times, based on data supplied by the Sanders campaign, there were house parties in 423 of the 435 US congressional districts. By far the largest turnouts were in liberal college towns like Boulder, Colorado, as well as in the Northeast and the Pacific Coast, particularly San Francisco, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, where more than 1,000 attended in each city. The Times reported much lower turnouts in the more impoverished inner-city areas.
“Tonight really is an historic night,” Sanders told his audience, speaking from the home of Manisha Sharma, a bank attorney, in an upscale neighborhood of Southwest Washington DC. “To the best of our knowledge, there has never been a political online organizing event this early in the campaign which involved 100,000 people in 3,500 locations in every state in the United States of America. And that’s pretty impressive.”
However, when he moved from the broader audience to address more conservative and business-oriented groups Thursday and Friday, Sanders toned down his populist rhetoric considerably and reiterated a chauvinist and reactionary position on immigration.
Speaking Thursday before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington, Sanders went out of his way to reject calls by immigration activists for open borders. He repeated comments first made in an interview Tuesday with the Vox web site, in which he denounced unrestricted immigration as the perspective of the Koch brothers, the ultra-right billionaires who have pledged to spend nearly a billion dollars to elect Republican candidates in 2016.
Asked about criticism from immigrants’ rights groups, Sanders said, “What they are talking about is completely opening up the border. That was the question. Should we have a completely open border so that anyone can come in the United States of America? If that were to happen, which I strongly disagree with, there is no question in my mind that that would substantially lower wages in this country.”
Sanders went on to depict immigrants as a threat to Hispanic-American and African-American workers, saying, “When you have 36 percent of Hispanic kids in this country who can’t find jobs and you bring a lot of unskilled workers in the country, what do you think happens to that 36 percent of kids of today who are unemployed? Or 51 percent of African-American kids? I frankly do not believe we should be bringing in significant numbers of unskilled workers to compete with those kids.”
Pitting immigrants against native-born workers, particularly the lowest-paid and most exploited, is one of the oldest and most noxious traditions of American capitalist politics. That Sanders embraces this Know-Nothing legacy tells more about the real nature of his campaign than all his talk of defeating the political influence of the billionaires.
In what was perhaps his most revealing remark, he cited the consensus of all his Democratic and Republican rivals, asking, “But to simply open the borders of America. Do you think there is any candidate for president who thinks that that makes sense? I don’t think so.”
No one asked whether he would be bound by the opinions of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Scott Walker in other areas of policy—foreign and military policy, workers’ rights, or tax breaks for Wall Street, for example.
Sanders also told his audience, representing Hispanic businessmen and corporate executives, that he ruled out running as a third party candidate. “The answer is no,” he said, in response to a question. “The reason for that is I do not want to be responsible for electing some right-wing Republican to be president of the United States.”
Evidently, he is not troubled by helping to elect a right-wing Democrat.
Again, no one asked the obvious question: what does his allegiance to the eventual Democratic candidate say about his claimed “independence” from the Democratic Party over the past 24 years in Congress? In truth, his claim to oppose the corporate-controlled two-party system is a sham. Sanders has supported every Democratic presidential candidate since he was first elected mayor of Burlington, Vermont in 1984.
On Friday, Sanders spoke to the Urban League, the most conservative of the African-American lobbying groups and the one most closely associated with efforts to promote “black capitalism.”
As in his remarks to the Hispanic businessmen, Sanders dropped any reference to “political revolution” and gave barely a nod to anti-Wall Street sentiment. He devoted much of his remarks to police violence, which he portrayed entirely in racial terms, intoning the phrase “Black Lives Matter” while promising unspecified actions to reduce the high rate of unemployment among black youth.
Sanders said several times, with an air of apology, that his emphasis on economic inequality and the power of the billionaires might make some people in the audience “uncomfortable.” He did not elaborate, but there are more than a few black multi-millionaires in the Urban League and the group is heavily dependent on contributions from corporations and what Sanders has called the “billionaire class.”