6 Ways We Can Begin to Rein in Facebook’s Immense Power Over Media and Our Society

How can we protect ourselves from Zuckerberg’s algorithms?

Photo Credit: Frederic Legrand – COMEO / Shutterstock.com

Mark Zuckerberg is really, really sorry.

Last year he dismissed as “crazy” the critics who said “fake news” delivered by Facebook might have given the election to Donald Trump. Last week he said he regretted it.

On Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, he apologized for what Facebook has wrought.

On Monday, a senior Facebook executive repented some more, reporting that $100,000 from Russian-sponsored troll farms bought 4.4 million page viewsbefore the 2016 election. “We understand more about how our service was abused and we will continue to investigate to learn all we can,” said vice president Elliot Schrage.

The Facebook leadership, like the U.S. government and the rest of us, is belatedly facing up to what Zuckerberg once denied: the social harms that can be inflicted by digital platform monopolies. The contrition and the voluntary remedies, notes Quartz, are “designed to head off looming regulations.”

What Is To Be Done

Facebook came to dominate social media with an ingenious interface that enables users to escape the Wild West of the open internet and join a sentimental community of family and friends, knitted together by likes, links, timelines, photos and videos.

Along the way, the company employed a scalable and amoral business model: use alogorithms of people’ personal data to mix messges of “promoted posts” with family messages and friendly momentos. Its an automated system that is profitable because it requires relatively little human intervention and can be used by anyone who wants to influence the behavior of Facebook users.

When the Russia government wanted to use the platform to confused and demoralize Democratic voters and promote favorite son Donald Trump, Facebook was ready, willing and able to monetize the opportunity. As sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has explained, “Facebook’s Ad Scandal Isn’t a ‘Fail,’ It’s a Feature.”

The question is, what can government and civil society do to protect the public interest from a $300 billion monopoly with 2 billion users? “Facebook is so gargantuan,” says Siva Vaidhyanathan, director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia, “it’s exceeded our capability to manage it.”

One tool is traditional antitrust laws, created in the late 19th century and early 20th century to control railroads, the oil industry and electrical utilities. The reformers, in the Progressive era and the New Deal, passed legislation like the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Glass-Steagall Act to prevent and break up concentrations of economic power.

The problem is that since the 1970s, antitrust law has been interpreted through the lens of University of Chicago “free-market” economics. In this view, the test of a monopoly is the short-term harm it does to consumers; i.e., does it raise prices?

If a monopoly doesn’t raise prices, the Chicago School claims, it’s not doing any harm. As a result, most of the legal precedents in antitrust law, developed over the last 40 years, are ideologically hostile to the notion of a “public interest.”

To deal with 21st-century platform monopolies, antitrust law needs to be revitalized or reinvented. A host of new monopoly critics, including economist Barry Lynn, journalist Matt Stoller, law professors Jonathan Zittrain and Frank Pasquale, and elected officials such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), propose to do just that.

As Pasquale, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said, “We need to have institutions that guarantee algorithmic accountability.”

Six Remedies

1. FCC regulation

Jeff John Roberts of Fortune compares Facebook to the highly regulated TV broadcast networks, “at a time when Facebook has become the equivalent of a single TV channel showing a slew of violence and propaganda, the time may have come to treat Facebook as the broadcaster it is.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, a Facebook search yielded a page created by a chronic hoaxer who calls himself an investigative journalist for Alex Jones’ Infowars. “To Facebook’s algorithms, it’s just a fast-growing group with an engaged community,” notes Alex Madrigal of the Atlantic.

Roberts:

“Just imagine if CBS inadvertently sold secret political ads to the Chinese or broadcast a gang rape—the FCC, which punished the network over a Super Bowl nipple incident, would come down like a ton of bricks.”

This would require rewriting the Federal Communications Act to include platform monopolies. Not impossible, but not likely, and probably not the right regulator regime to diminish Facebook’s monopoly power over information.

2. Mandatory FEC Disclosure

One solution is to use existing institutions to force full disclosure of buyers of political ads, a requirement Facebook successfully resisted in 2011.

Last week, Democrats in the House and Senate sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission urging it to “develop new guidance” on how to prevent illicit foreign spending in U.S. elections.” The letter was signed by all of the possible 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants in the Senate, including Warren, Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Kamala Harris (Calif.).

Another Democratic proposal floated in Congress would require digital platforms with more than 1 million users to publicly log any “electioneering communications” purchased by anyone who spends more than $10,000 in political ads online. The FEC defines electioneering communications as ads “that refer to a federal candidate, are targeted to voters and appear within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election.”

But such measures probably would not have prevented—or called attention to—the Russian intervention in 2016, because the Russian-sponsored ads usually played on social divisions without referencing a federal candidate, and buyers could have evaded the reporting requirement with smaller payments.

Such measures address the symptoms of Facebook’s dominance, not the causes.

3. Empower Users

Luigi Zingales and Guy Rolnik, professors at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, have a market solution: empower Facebook users to take their friends and their “likes” elsewhere. They propose giving Facebook users something they do not now possess: “ownership of all the digital connections” that they create, or a “social graph.”

Right now Facebook owns your social graph, but that is not inevitable.

“If we owned our own social graph, we could sign into a Facebook competitor — call it MyBook — and, through that network, instantly reroute all our Facebook friends’ messages to MyBook, as we reroute a phone call.”

The idea is to foster the emergence of new social networks and diminish the power of Facebook’s monopoly.

Such a reform alone isn’t going to undermine Facebook. In conjunction with other measures to create competition, it could be helpful.

4. Make Data Ephemeral                        

Facebook’s data collection is a form of surveillance that endangers dissent, says internet entrepreneuer Maciej Ceglowski.

Last January, opponents of President Trump organized the Women’s March on Facebook, and several million people participated.

“The list of those who RSVP’d is now stored on Facebook servers and will be until the end of time, or until Facebook goes bankrupt, or gets hacked, or bought by a hedge fund, or some rogue sysadmin decides that list needs to be made public.”

To ensure privacy and protect dissent, Ceglowski says, “There should be a user-configurable time horizon after which messages and membership lists in these places evaporate.”

Again, this is a small but worthwhile step. If Facebook won’t implement it voluntarily, it could be compelled to do so.

5. Break up Facebook

But Ceglowski has a more audacious idea: break up Facebook into different companies for social interaction and news consumption.

The problem, he said in an April 2017 talk, is the algorithms Facebook deploys to maximize engagement and thus ad revenue.

“The algorithms have learned that users interested in politics respond more if they’re provoked more, so they provoke. Nobody programmed the behavior into the algorithm; it made a correct observation about human nature and acted on it.”

When a monopoly controls the algorithms of engagement, commercial power is converted into political power.

“Decisions like what is promoted to the top of a news feed can swing elections. Small changes in UI can drive big changes in user behavior. There are no democratic checks or controls on this power, and the people who exercise it are trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.”

So government has to step in, he says.

“Just like banks have a regulatory ‘Chinese wall’ between investment and brokerage, and newspapers have a wall between news and editorial, there must be a separation between social network features and news delivery.”

Just as the government broke up the Standard Oil monopoly in the early 20th century and the Bell telephone monopoly in the 1970s and 1980s, splitting up a monopoly firm to reduce its power is a time-tested remedy.

6. Think Big

Most important is political imagination. The ascendancy of free-market thinking since the heyday of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher has transformed citizens into consumers and failed civil society in the process. The rise of income inequality is one result. The emergence of unaccountable platform monopolies is another.

Facebook, the website, is the creation of Zuckerberg and clever programmers. But their enormous power is the result of a selfish and short-sighted ideology that privatizes public space at the expense of most people.

With the Democrats incorporating anti-monopoly ideas into their “Better Deal” platform and right-wing nationalists such as Steve Bannon talking about regulating internet giants “like utilities,” the free-market ideology has lost credibility and there is a growing demand for action. As the Roosevelt Institute puts it, “Let’s Reimagine the Rules.”

The urgency of reining in Facebook is that if the public does not control its surveillance and engagement technologies, those techniques will be used to secretly manipulate, if not control, the public sphere, as they were in the 2016 election.

“Either we work with government to regulate algorithmic systems,” says Pasquale of the University of Maryland, “or we will see partnerships with governments and those running algorithmic systems to regulate and control us.”

Controlling Facebook, in other words, is a matter of self-protection.

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Why identity politics and class politics can’t be separated

Some liberals are eager to detach identity politics from economic populism. But economic justice is social justice

09.23.20173:00 AM
During last year’s Democratic primary race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, the disagreements between the two candidates were most apparent when it came to the economy. While Sanders built his campaign around economic issues like income and wealth inequality, campaign finance and free trade, Clinton often downplayed the importance of economic issues and even tried to characterize Sanders’ focus on things like inequality and Wall Street corruption as an unhealthy obsession.

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” said Clinton at one point during a speech to her supporters. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

“No!” replied the triumphant crowd, as if their candidate had just delivered a devastating coup de grâce to her opponent.

Of course, no one — not least Sanders — had ever made the absurd claim that breaking up big banks or addressing any other economic problem would magically end racism or sexism or any other kind of bigotry. This was a deliberate attempt by Clinton to smear her opponent — who had much more credibility on economic justice than she did — as being out of touch with the concerns of women, people of color and the LGBTQ community. More importantly, though, it was an attempt to separate the economic realm from the social and cultural realms, which made it easier for Clinton to prove her progressive bona fides.

As an economic centrist who had long taken big donations (or speaking fees) from Wall Street and corporate America, Clinton lacked credibility with progressives when it came to economic issues. Thus she tried to discredit Sanders as an “angry white male” who couldn’t grasp the real concerns of women and people of color (even though Sanders is a Jew who grew up in 1940s America and has an equal if not better record than Clinton on social issues like LGBTQ equality).

Ultimately, Clinton and other corporate Democrats were trying to muddy the waters with these disingenuous arguments in order to create a false tension between economic populism and social liberalism. Only a straight white male like Sanders, the logic went, could become so fixated on economic issues like income and wealth inequality, because he did not experience racism, sexism or homophobia on a daily basis. This argument was based not only on a cynical version of identity politics that gave greater importance to a candidate’s race or gender than his or her politics, but on a false dilemma between class politics and identity politics. Furthermore, it implied that the social democratic policies advocated by Sanders — e.g., Medicare for All, raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening Social Security, defending labor unions, etc. — would disproportionately benefit white males.

This implication is, as many progressives pointed out at the time, utterly untrue. In fact, women and people of color would almost certainly benefit more from Sanders’ populist economic agenda, as they are disproportionately affected by the economic injustices it was designed to counteract. Sanders made this point during his campaign last year when he observed that African-Americans were hit the hardest during the financial crisis, losing half their collective wealth after being unfairly targeted by the big banks (along with other minority groups) with subprime mortgages during the buildup of the housing bubble.

That economic justice and racial justice are deeply intertwined was given further credence last week when a new study was released by the Institute for Policy Studies revealing that median black household wealth in the United States will fall to zero by 2053 if current trends continue, while the median white household wealth is on path to climb to $137,000.

“By 2020 median Black and Latino households stand to lose nearly 18% and 12% of the wealth they held in 2013, respectively, while median White household wealth increases 3%,” write the authors. “At that point — just three years from now — White households are projected to own 85 times more wealth than Black households and 68 times more wealth than Latino households.”

These stunning numbers display how much the economic problems that Sanders highlighted during his campaign impact the very people he was unfairly accused of ignoring. They also demonstrate how class politics and identity politics are closely linked, and that the dichotomy or binary opposition between them, as created or perceived by certain liberals, is spurious.

After Clinton lost to Donald Trump last November, Sanders argued that the Democratic Party must adopt a populist economic agenda in order to come back strong from 2016. This predictably set off a backlash from neoliberals, who accused Sanders of being a “white male brogressive” who wanted to put women, minorities and LGBTQ people “on the backburner for economic populism.” One critic even opined that Sanders wanted to “defend white male supremacy.”

The fact that Sanders’ economic populism would help the very people he is accused of putting on the “backburner” demonstrates the sheer lunacy of these attacks. If Sanders were advocating completely jettisoning identity politics for economic populism, of course, it would be another story. But only confused liberals see class politics and identity politics as incompatible and invariably at odds with each other. The senator was actually making the opposite point: “To think of diversity purely in racial and gender terms is not sufficient,” wrote Sanders. “Our rights and economic lives are intertwined.” Rather than calling for the Democratic Party to drop identity politics, he was making the point that race, gender and class are interconnected, and that economic justice is social justice.

Sanders was, however, rejecting the cynical form of identity politics that — as Briahna Joy Gray puts it in her excellent Current Affairs essay “How Identity Became a Weapon Against the Left” — wields identity to “neutralize political pushback.” The kind of identity politics, in other words, that Clinton frequently deployed during her campaign to counter legitimate criticisms — exemplified by the time she suggested that she couldn’t be a part of the “establishment” because she is a woman.

Over the past few decades, as economic inequality has skyrocketed to pre-Great Depression levels and communities of color have seen their wealth decline, the economic and corporate elite have co-opted the language of diversity and weaponized identity to defend the economic status quo. But the same people neoliberals claim to represent are the ones who suffer most under the status quo. As the authors of the aforementioned study write, “without a serious change in course, the country is heading towards a racial and economic apartheid state.” Economic populism offers an alternative, and a politics of class solidarity is the way to achieve this alternative.

CONOR LYNCH
Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Capitalism: The Nightmare

TD ORIGINALS
A worker in a costume representing world capitalism during a 2017 May Day rally in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Dita Alangkara / AP)

The neoliberal, arch-capitalist era we inhabit is chock-full of statistics and stories that ought to send chills down the spines of any caring, morally sentient human. Nearly three-fourths (71 percent) of the world’s population is poor, living on $10 a day or less, and 11 percent (767 million people, including 385 million children) live in what the World Bank calls “extreme poverty” (less than a $1.90 a day). Meanwhile, Oxfam reliably reports that, surreal as it sounds, the world’s eight richest people possess among themselves as much wealth as the poorest half of the entire human race.

The United States, self-described homeland and headquarters of freedom and democracy, is no exception to the harshly unequal global reality. Six of the world’s eight most absurdly rich people are U.S. citizens: Bill Gates (whose net worth of $426 billion equals the wealth of 3.6 billion people), Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Ellison (Oracle) and Michael Bloomberg (former mayor of New York City). As Bernie Sanders said repeatedly on the campaign trail in 2016, the top 10th of the upper 1 percent in the U.S. has nearly as much wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent. Seven heirs of the Walton family’s Walmart fortune have among them a net worth equal to that of the nation’s poorest 40 percent. Half the U.S. population is poor or near-poor, and half lacks any savings.

Just over a fifth of the nation’s children, including more than a third of black and Native American children, live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level, while parasitic financiers and other capitalist overlords enjoy unimaginable hyper-opulence. One in seven U.S. citizens relies on food banks in “the world’s richest country.” Many of them are in families with full-time wage-earners—a reflection of the fact that wages have stagnated even as U.S. labor productivity consistently has risen for more than four decades.

Failure by Design

These savage inequalities reflect government policy on behalf of “the 1 percent” (better, perhaps, to say “the 0.1 percent”). U.S. economic growth since the late 1970s has been unequally distributed, thanks to regressive policy choices that have served the rich and powerful at the expense of ordinary working people. As Joshua Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute showed in his important 2011 study, “Failure by Design,” the following interrelated, bipartisan and not-so-public policies across the long neoliberal era have brought us to a level of inequality that rivals the Gilded Age of the late 19th-century robber barons era. These policies include:

● Letting the value of the minimum wage be eroded by inflation.
● Slashing labor standards for overtime, safety and health.
● Tilting the laws governing union organizing and collective bargaining strongly in favor of employers.
● Weakening the social safety net.
● Privatizing public services.
● Accelerating the integration of the U.S. economy with the world economy without adequately protecting workers from global competition.
● Shredding government oversight of international trade, currency, investment and lending.
● Deregulating the financial sector and financial markets.
● Valuing low inflation over full employment and abandoning the latter as a worthy goal of fiscal and economic policy.

These policies increased poverty and suppressed wages at the bottom and concentrated wealth at the top. They culminated in the 2007-09 Great Recession, sparked by the bursting of a housing bubble that resulted from the deregulation of the financial sector and the reliance of millions of Americans on artificially inflated real estate values and soaring household debt to compensate for poor earnings.

After the crash, the government under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama bailed out the very financial predators who pushed the economy over the cliff. The Obama administration, populated by Goldman Sachs and Citigroup operatives, left the rest of us to wonder “Where’s our bailout?” as 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during his first term.

Ordinary Citizens Have No Influence Over Their Government

All of this and much more is contrary to technically irrelevant American public opinion. But so what? You don’t have to be a leftist to know that the United States’ political order is a corporate and financial plutocracy. Three years ago, liberal political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University determined that the U.S. political system has functioned as an oligarchy over the past three-plus decades, in which wealthy elites and their corporations rule. As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo, “Ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”

Shock Profits

Most of this results from the normal, business-rule-as-usual operation of the American political process. Sometimes—as during “natural disasters” such as Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma—crisis moments allow wealthy interests to rack up huge profits almost overnight while much of the population is too shocked and distracted to respond. As Susan Zakin notes in the Los Angeles Review of Books, “Handing out billions for hurricane reconstruction will shore up [Donald] Trump’s faltering support on Wall Street and among major corporations profiting from a bonanza expected to top $100 billion.” Katrina provided precisely such a business opportunity to corporate America. So did the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

‘Isn’t It Beautiful?’

At the same time, Houston, for instance, is a much bigger scene of devastation than it would be but for business-rule-as-usual. The city was recklessly built up by and for elite financial and real estate interests and their governmental tools without the slightest concern for environmental sustainability and resilience. As Zakin notes:

[W]ithout a zoning code, [Houston is] a case study in urban sprawl. Houston was built on a dry (read: low-lying) lakebed that’s laced with bayous. The bayous are lined with concrete, steel and sheet metal, which is functional when it rains a little, but a contender for the luge event when it rains a lot, even in posh neighborhoods like River Oaks. Doing what it takes to prevent flooding, widening bayou channels, managing growth, putting in green space, might impede the only truly important flow: money. Houston’s city fathers have resisted any effort to plan for climate change, because, well, it doesn’t exist. As if that weren’t enough, parts of Houston are sinking, some as much as 2.2 inches a year.

It’s an epitome of the deadly “free market” chaos favored by arch-capitalist political actors such as the right-wing billionaire Charles Koch and his friend, the “libertarian” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. In his recent, widely read book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” Flake writes with fondness about the time he met the eminent neoliberal University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman:

We picked him up at the airport, and while we were driving to a suburb of Phoenix we went through what could only be described as suburban sprawl. Someone in the car with us, remarking on this landscape, said, ‘Man, it looks like there was no planning at all.’ Friedman just nodded his head and said, ‘Yes, isn’t it beautiful?’ … [I]t wasn’t government coercion that had brought it into being. It was the invisible hand of the free market. Planning requires control, control empowers government, and empowered government = disempowered individuals.

Houston is the “petro-metro,” a major capital of the petrochemical industry and home to numerous toxic waste sites. As a result, the city’s floodwaters are loaded with hazardous materials.

How beautiful.

The “free market” madness rolls on. Like the melting polar ice, which opens up new business opportunities for oil drilling and ship travel even as it reduces earth’s ability to reflect sunlight back into space, the devastation resulting from extreme weather is both a consequence of the rule of big corporations (the real masters of the “free market” since the early 20th century in the U.S.) and a perverse opportunity for quick corporate profits.

On Aug. 15, 10 days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Donald Trump, himself a global real estate baron, wiped out an Obama-era executive ordermandating that federal reconstruction grants take account of sea-level rise and related aspects of climate change.

Capitalist Climate-astrophe

Meanwhile, speaking of climate change, anthropogenic—really, capitalogenic—global warming threatens to turn the venerable popular struggle for a more equal distribution of wealth into a fight over the slicing up of a poisoned pie. The signs of climate catastrophe are unmistakable. Record-setting wildfires raged on the nation’s West Coast, and a devastating drought plagued much of the nation’s northern Great Plains as Houston was sunk in epic, chemically polluted flooding and Irma bore down on Florida. Like Hurricane Sandy (which filled New York City subway tunnels with storm surge on the eve of the 2012 elections), the Indian and Pakistani heat waves of 2015, Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Alberta, Canada, wildfires of 2016 and numerous other recent, lethal, meteorological episodes, this extreme weather is intensified by the spiking balminess of the planet.

The warming is fueled by capital-captive humanity’s excessive release of carbon dioxide resulting from the profit system’s rapacious extraction and burning of fossil fuels and its reliance on animal agriculture. Carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, trapping heat and melting the world’s glaciers and permafrost, which holds vast reserves of carbon-rich methane. As the ice caps retreat, less sunlight gets reflected back into space and more of it heats the planet toward a point where it becomes uninhabitable.

Extreme weather is just the tip of the melting iceberg. If not reversed, global warming will destroy the human species through famine, dehydration, overheating, disease and resource wars. It has us on the path to hell.

‘A Death Knell for the Species’

Trump has taken advantage of the nation’s plutocratic political dysfunction to become a kind of one-man ecological apocalypse. The fossil-fueled hurricanes, drought and wildfires of 2017 have hit the U.S. at a time when the White House is occupied by an openly ecocidal billionaire whose election rang what Noam Chomsky called an environmental “death knell for the species.” Trump has pulled the United States out of the moderate Paris climate accord. He has removed all references to climate change from federal websites and chose a fellow petro-capitalist climate change denier dedicated to crippling the Environmental Protection Agency to lead that department. Trump’s secretary of state is the former longtime CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., history’s most powerful fossil fuel corporation—a company that buried and then organized propaganda against its own scientists’ warnings on carbon’s impact on the climate. Trump’s proposed budget calls for a 16 percent cut to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors all things climate- and weather-related.

This is ecocidal petro-capitalist madness on steroids.

After Harvey nailed Houston and before Irma hit Florida, Trump held a chilling ecocidal rally in front of an oil refinery in North Dakota. He boasted of how he had exited the “job-killing” Paris agreement (“It was so bad”) and approved the planet-cooking and supposedly job-creating Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

“I also did Keystone,” Trump said. “You know about Keystone. Another other one, big one—big. First couple of days in office, those two—48,000 jobs.”

Trump said the White House was going to make North Dakota’s current terrible drought vanish because “we’re working hard on it and it’ll disappear. It will all go away.”

The president also asserted that the thousands of Americans who protested the Dakota Access pipeline within and beyond the Standing Rock Indian Reservation last year had no idea why they were against it.

It may have been his most absurd speech yet.

The System Is Working

Like so much else in U.S. government policy, Trump’s anti-environmental actions are contrary to majority-progressive public opinion. Who cares? It’s one more in a long line of examples showing that “We the People” are not sovereign in the failed, arch-plutocratic and militantly capitalist state that is the 21st century United States.

Many Americans find this difficult to process because they have been taught to foolishly conflate popular self-governance with capitalism—what the George W. Bush White House called “a single sustainable model for national success.”

This is a great lie. My old copy of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary defines capitalism as “the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution … are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward concentration of wealth and, [in] its latter phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government controls, etc.”

This definition does not mention any of the things routinely and inaccurately identified with capitalism in the dominant U.S. political and intellectual discourse: democracy, freedom, trade, job creation, growth and/or a “free market” that is characterized by widespread competition and/or little or no government interference. Capitalism is about profit for the owners of capital—period. They attain this through any number of means. The most damaging include:

● Seizing others’ land and materials.
● Slavery (the leading source of capital accumulation in the United States before it was outlawed in 1863–65).
● Firing workers or replacing them with technology.
● Undermining the value and power of labor by “de-skilling” workers by reducing the amount of knowledge and experience they need to do their jobs.
● Abject authoritarian tyranny in the workplace, where Marxist economist Richard Wolff reminds us that most working-age adults spend the majority of their waking hours.
● Outsourcing work to sections of the world economy with the lowest wages and the worst working conditions.
● Hiring and exploiting unprotected migrant workers.
● Slashing wages and benefits, or cheating workers out of them.
● Purely speculative investment.
● Forming monopolies and using them to raise prices.
● Dismantling competing firms, sectors and industries.
● Deadly pollution and perversion of the natural environment.
● Appropriating public assets.
● Military contracting and war production.
● Working to shape political and intellectual culture and policy in capital’s favor by funding political campaigns, hiring lobbyists, buying and controlling the media, manipulating public relations and propaganda, investing in the educational system, offering lucrative employment and other economic opportunities to policymakers and their families, holding key policymaking positions, and threatening to withdraw investment from places that don’t submit to capital’s rules while promising to invest in places that do.

When capitalism is understood for what it is really and only about—investor profit—there is nothing paradoxical about its failure to serve working people and the common good, much less the cause of democracy. If corporate and financial sector profits are high, the system is working for its architects and intended beneficiaries: capitalists. Its great corporations (now granted the legal protection of artificial personhood) are working precisely as they are supposed to under U.S. common law, which holds that (as Michigan’s Supreme Court ruled in Dodge v. Ford Motor Company in 1919), corporate “managers have a legal duty to put shareholders’ interests above all others and no legal authority to serve any other interests.”

The Growth Ideology

Environmental ruin lies at the heart of the system, intimately related back to class rule. As Le Monde’s former ecological editor Herve Kempf noted in his aptly titled 2007 book, “How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth,” the oligarchy sees the pursuit of material growth as “the solution to the social crisis,” the “sole means of fighting poverty and unemployment” and the “only means of getting societies to accept extreme inequalities without questioning them.”

“Growth,” Kempf explained, is meant to “allow the overall level of wealth to arise and consequently improve the lot of the poor without—and this part is never spelled out—any need to modify the distribution of wealth.”

Trump was channeling this deadly “growth ideology” in North Dakota. Sadly, growth on the current carbon-fueled capitalist model has put humanity—not to mention thousands of other sentient beings on earth—on the path to near-term (historically speaking) extinction. We are currently at 410 carbon parts per million in the atmosphere—60 ppm beyond what scientists identified as a hazardous point years ago. We are on pace for 500 ppm—a level that will destroy life on earth—by 2050, if not sooner.

‘Inclusive Capitalism’

“Capitalist democracy” is an oxymoron and a mirage. So is the curious notion of “inclusive capitalism”—a term taken up by the corporate right wing of the Democratic Party, including Hillary Clinton’s closest economic advisers, in 2015. This is the Orwellian name of a global “coalition” set up in 2014 by Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild for super-wealthy elites to advance a “caring capitalism” that “works better for the broad base of society.” Lady Rothschild’s Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism started with what former Rep. Cynthia McKinney described as “a Working Group comprised of such luminaries of social justice as Sir Evelyn de Rothschild of E.L. Rothschild [a financial firm owned by a family worth an estimated $2 trillion], Dominic Barton from McKinsey and Company [$1.3 billion], Ann Cairns [annual salary of $5 million] of MasterCard, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles of HSBC, Paul Polman [paid 10 million euros in 2014] of Unilever, along with CEOs of various pension plans and philanthropic foundations, like the eponymous Ford and Rockefeller foundations.”

According to one British media report, the Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism’s opening conference boasted a “guest-list … estimated to hold one-third of the world’s investable assets, around £18tr [nearly $25 trillion].”

One of the coalition’s leading speakers and champions is the great arch-neoliberal, former U.S. President Bill Clinton (with a net worth of $80 million)—a right-wing Democrat who did every bit as much to advance the Wall Street “free market” and globalist agenda as Ronald Reagan.

‘We Must Make Our Choice’

One does not have to be a Marxist or other variety of radical to acknowledge basic differences and conflicts between capitalism and democracy. D and capitalism have very different beliefs about the proper distribution of power,” liberal economist Lester Thurow noted in the mid-1990s. “One [democracy] believes in a completely equal distribution of political power, ‘one man, one vote,’ while the other [capitalism] believes that it is the duty of the economically fit to drive the unfit out of business and into extinction. … To put it in its starkest form, capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery. Democracy is not.”

More than being compatible with slavery and incompatible with democracy, U.S. capitalism arose largely on the basis of black slavery in the cotton-growing states (as historian Edward Baptist has shown in his prize-winning study, “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism”) and is, in fact, quite militantly opposed to democracy.

“We must make our choice,” the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis is reputed to have said or written: “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” This statement was unintentionally but fundamentally anti-capitalist. Consistent with the dictionary definition presented above, the brilliant, liberal, French economist Thomas Piketty has shown that capitalism has always been inexorably pulled like gravity toward the concentration of wealth into ever-fewer hands. In the U.S., as across the Western world, the tendency was briefly and partially reversed by the Great Depression and World War II, producing the long “middle class” Golden Age of 1945-1973. But that was an anomalous era, a consequence of epic economic collapse and two global wars. Capitalism has returned to its longue durée inegalitarian norm over the last four-plus decades.

And even before the onset of the neoliberal period, capitalism at its comparatively egalitarian and high-growth, post-WWII Keynesian best had already pushed livable ecology into crisis. It tipped the world into what leading earth scientists have designated a new geological era: The Anthropocene—a period when “human activities have become so pervasive and profound that they rival the great forces of Nature and are pushing the earth into planetary terra incognita … a less biologically diverse, less forested, much warmer, and probably wetter and stormier era.” The not-so-Golden Agebrought what sociology professor John Bellamy Foster called “a qualitative transformation in the level of human destructiveness.” If this ecological destructiveness isn’t tamed very soon, nothing that progressives and the left care about is going to matter much: Who wants to turn a poisoned world upside down?

Can environmental catastrophe be averted under capitalism? Not likely. Shifting from fossil fuel reliance and other unsound environmental societal habits and practices—built-in obsolescence, mass consumerism and the endless pursuit of quantitative economic growth, accumulation and “cheap nature” resource appropriation—requires a level of coordinated social and public intervention so extreme that it is incompatible with continued capitalist control of the means of production, investment and distribution. It requires an empowerment of ordinary people and a radical rehabilitation of the concept of the natural and social commons—things that very likely cannot be attained under the continued rule of capital. Stark as American activist Joel Kovel’s formulation may sound, I suspect he is right: “The future will be eco-socialist, because without eco-socialism there will be no future.”

Paul Street
Contributor
Paul Street holds a doctorate in U.S. history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books,…

U.S. Political System Requires a Fundamental Transformation

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a rally of health care advocates, grass-roots activists and others outside the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Leaders of both major parties are wrong to think of the 2016 election as some kind of fluke. I believe a political realignment is underway, and those who fail to discern its outlines could end up powerless and irrelevant.

With all respect to Hillary Clinton, her newly published memoir, “What Happened,” doesn’t really tell what happened. It is perhaps inevitable that she would focus on the daily twists and turns of the campaign. It is understandable that she would blame James Comey, Vladimir Putin and the media for damaging her prospects—and that she would downplay her own strategic and tactical missteps.

But take a step back and look at the election through a wider lens. Clinton, with all her vast experience and proven ability, was defeated by Donald Trump, a reality television star who had never before run for office, displayed near-total ignorance of the issues, broke every rule of political rhetoric and was caught on videotape bragging of how he sexually assaulted random women by grabbing their crotches.

That’s not just unlikely, it’s impossible. At least it should have been, according to everything we knew—or thought we knew—about politics. Yes, Comey’s last-minute revival of Clinton’s email scandal robbed her of momentum. Yes, her neglect of the Rust Belt was a terrible mistake. Yes, the Russians were working hard to defeat her, with the blessing—and at least the attempted collusion—of the Trump campaign.

But the election never should have been close enough for relatively minor voting shifts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to elect the likes of Trump. The election never should have been close enough for Clinton to lose Florida and barely eke out a win in Virginia.

In retrospect, the alarming possibility of an election-night surprise should have been apparent. Trump never should have won the Republican nomination over a field that included so many talented politicians. And Clinton never should have had to work so hard to win the Democratic nomination over Bernie Sanders, an aging socialist from Vermont who wasn’t even a Democrat until he entered the race.

None of what happened should have happened. And it is a mistake to blame Clinton’s character flaws, Trump’s mastery of Twitter or the media’s compulsion to chase every bright, shiny object. Something much bigger and deeper was going on.

My view is that the traditional left-to-right, progressive-to-conservative, Democratic-to-Republican political axis that we’re all so familiar with is no longer a valid schematic of American political opinion. And I believe neither party has the foggiest idea what the new diagram looks like.

I don’t think Trump can see the new spectrum either, as evidenced by the way his approval ratings have plunged since his inauguration. But both he and Sanders deserve credit for seeing that the old model has outlived its usefulness.

Look at the issues on which Trump and Sanders were in basic agreement. Both doubted the bipartisan consensus favoring free trade agreements, arguing they had disadvantaged U.S. workers. Both spoke of health care as a right that should be enjoyed by all citizens. Both pledged to strengthen, not weaken, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Both were deeply skeptical of U.S. involvement in foreign wars, vowing to do their nation-building here at home. Both advocated mammoth, job-creating investments in infrastructure. Both contended “the system” was rigged to favor the rich and powerful at the expense of everyone else.

Leave aside for the moment the fact that Trump has not fulfilled his promises. The overlap in what he and Sanders said they would do is striking—as is the contrast between what both Clinton and Trump’s GOP rivals were saying.

Trump was uniquely transgressive on one issue—immigration. He addressed the anxieties of white working-class voters by presenting immigrants as all-purpose scapegoats.

The Trump and Sanders campaigns revealed that there are large numbers of voters whose views are not being reflected by Democratic or Republican orthodox positions. Are the parties adapting? Democrats seem to be inching toward support of truly universal health care, while Republicans have thus far thought better of taking health insurance away from millions of people. Perhaps this is a start.

But I see no evidence yet that either party is engaged in the kind of fundamental rethinking I believe is called for. So it is a mistake to assume that Trump is necessarily a one-term president or that Sanders is done politically. You know the saying: In the land of the blind, a one-eyed man is king.

Contributor
EUGENE ROBINSON uses his twice-weekly column in The Washington Post to pick American society apart and then put it back together again in unexpected, and revelatory, new ways. …

A tale of two leaders of the left: New books by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

Bernie’s new book is a forward-thinking guide for the young; Hillary’s looks back at who she can blame for 2016

Well before folks could get their hands on Hillary Clinton’s new memoir of the 2016 presidential election, “What Happened,” word was out that VIP tickets for her book tour were running upwards of $2,000. In contrast, Bernie Sanders launched “Bernie Sanders’ Guide to Political Revolution” with a few media interviews and a slate of agenda items for the new Senate session to consider. Folks wanting a copy of the book could find it in the teen non-fiction section of their local bookstore.

The contrast between high priced VIP tickets to an event for a memoir about losing the election and a down-to-earth how-to guide for progressive politics aimed at young readers offers us clear evidence of the vastly different ways that Clinton and Sanders see their roles as national leaders.

Sanders is looking forward and Clinton is looking back. Sanders is engaging the young and working to build momentum for his progressive agenda. Clinton is naming names, bristling at her unfair loss and cashing in.

While Clinton’s book hits stores on September 12, enough of it has been leaked to show that at least one goal of the memoir is to blame Sanders for inflicting “lasting damage” on her campaign during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Even more, she argues that the Sanders campaign helped Trump win.

She also has some blame for President Obama, whom she faults for telling her to hold back in her attacks on Sanders. According to Clinton’s version of events, if she had gone after Sanders more aggressively, she might have won. She felt, she writes, like Obama put her in a “straightjacket.”

Before I move on to comparing the tenor of these two books and the fact that they confirm the vast difference between Clinton and Sanders, not just on policy but on leadership itself, let’s start by saying something obvious. If anyone should be writing a “what happened” memoir, it is Sanders, not Clinton.

While the lawsuit that alleged fraud over the Democratic National Committee’s handling of the 2016 presidential primary came to an end a couple of weeks ago, the legal proceedings, along with the hacked DNC emails, showed that the DNC leadership exhibited a clear case of bias against the Sanders campaign. DNC lawyers argued that they did not have a legal obligation to be neutral. And so the case was dropped.

The lawsuit is really only the tip of a much larger iceberg that surrounded the #DemExit movement. From the debate schedule to superdelegates to the disputes over the DNC platform itself, Sanders and his supporters had plenty to gripe about.

But rather than write a book about all of the ways that he got screwed by the DNC, Sanders took the high road and helped campaign for Clinton, then, after she lost, he focused on advancing his agenda. Meanwhile basically every public statement Clinton has issued since the election has focused on how the presidency was stolen from her.

After he lost his presidential run, Sanders launched the “Our Revolution” website to help continue his campaign’s momentum well after he was running. Its goal was to support and empower a new generation of progressive political leaders. In contrast, Clinton supporter Peter Daou just launched Verrit, a site endorsed by Clinton which offers users verified pro-Clinton quotes they can share online. Many of these sharable quotes are meant to show how awesome she is.

The leaked sections of “What Happened” portray Clinton as a victim of Sanders, of Obama, of Putin, of Comey and so on, but also as someone still indignant about the reality of her loss. Despite the fact that the book is meant to offer an intimate side of her, it reads like the petty account of a sore loser.

In contrast, Sanders offers his book as a gesture of solidarity towards future political activists. When he discusses his campaign in the opening of the book, he does so with pride, mentioning the fact that he won more of the millennial vote than Clinton and Trump combined.

He also dedicates the book to the younger generation, which he praises as the most tolerant and intelligent in U.S. history. “The current generation of young people is the smartest, most idealistic, and least prejudiced generation in the modern history of the United States,” Sanders writes. “This is a generation that is prepared to think big and move this country in a very different direction than we have been traveling for years.” The goal of his book, he explains, is to help the young turn their idealism into action.

Where Clinton’s attacks on Sanders get really low is in her resuscitation of the Bernie Bros myth. In the passage where she complains about the Sanders campaign, she goes on to write, “Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros, took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist.”

Now, here’s the problem: Clinton was, in fact, the target of a whole lot of misogyny, but the sources of those attacks were not the so-called Bernie Bros. In fact, the “Bernie Bro” narrative, as Glenn Greenwald explained for the Intercept back in January 2016, was a potent political tactic  and a journalistic disgrace:

It’s intended to imply two equally false claims: (1) a refusal to march enthusiastically behind the Wall Street-enriched, multiple-war-advocating, despot-embracing Hillary Clinton is explainable not by ideology or political conviction, but largely if not exclusively by sexism: demonstrated by the fact that men, not women, support Sanders (his supporters are ‘bros’); and (2) Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive and misogynistic in their online behavior.

Back when Greenwald wrote the piece, an Iowa poll showed Sanders with a 15-point lead over Clinton among women under 45, while one-third of Iowa women over 45 supported him. Even more recently, Sanders had a 58 percent favorability rating among all women voters and an 80 percent one among Democrats. That poll, conducted in April of this year, concluded that Sanders was the most popular active politician in the nation.

But, still, for Clinton, she lost because Sanders impugned her character and allowed his supporters to hurl sexist epithets her way.

Another stark difference between the new books by Sanders and Clinton is the way that they treat the idea of party loyalty.  Sanders’ volume really doesn’t talk about political parties per se, although it does clearly divide what he describes as left and right political agendas. Instead it focuses on policy, platforms and effective means of political action. Nowhere does he speak of loyalty to a party or even a cause. Instead the key word he uses to link his readers to his vision is “solidarity.”

Meanwhile, Clinton goes on a tirade about Sanders as a disrupter of the Democratic Party. She points out, rightly, that Sanders was not a DNC insider and professed no “loyalty” to the party. But when she ends her adulatory jag about the Democrats, she writes, “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”

She wishes he were proud to be a Democrat too? Seriously?

It’s not just a weird passage that exposes how Clinton favors party loyalty over listening to the needs of the people; it’s also completely tone-deaf politically. In the latest Gallup poll numbers, only 28 percent of American identify as Democrats and 41 percent are Independents. It’s Clinton’s attachment to party loyalty that is the problem. It favors a cronyist DNC oligarchy over paying attention to what voters want.

Sanders is a leader who advocates solidarity. Clinton wants party loyalty. It’s a clear breakdown in political leadership. One vision is of a leader working with and for the people. The other is a vision of how the people serve the leader and the system. Clinton’s assumption that Sanders voters should have been hers is another clear sign of how she thinks of voters as belonging to her, rather than having their own right to vote the way they want.

But perhaps the best sign of how these two books teach us about the radically different leadership styles of Clinton and Sanders takes place as Clinton dismisses Sanders on policy. Clinton mocks Sanders for what she saw as copying her ideas and then “super-sizing” them to make himself more appealing to voters. She describes him as a “serial over-promiser.”

She goes on to recount how Jake Sullivan, her top policy aide, told her that Sanders’ campaign strategy reminded him of a scene from the movie “There’s Something About Mary,” where a hitchhiker says he has a plan to roll out seven-minute abs to top the famous eight-minute abs.

“Why, why not six-minutes abs?” Ben Stiller’s character asks.

Clinton mocks: “That’s what it was like in policy debates with Bernie. We would promise a bold infrastructure investment plan or an ambitious new apprenticeship program for young people, and then Bernie would announce basically the same thing, but bigger. On issue after issue, it was like he kept promising four-minute abs, or even no-minutes abs. Magic abs!”

But here’s the thing. The Sanders vision is not equivalent to “magic abs.” In fact, as his book clearly shows, his policy ideas are progressive, practical and possible. And even more, they are what the nation wants.

“The Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Action” is actually filled with clear and helpful information designed to help young activists better understand the challenges facing this nation. It contains infographics, illustrations and resources that help break down issues like income inequality, climate change, healthcare, law enforcement reform, prison system reform and student loan debt. Each chapter includes ways to learn more about an issue and ways to get involved. It is straightforward, concise and inspiring.

While Clinton is going on about “magic abs,” Sanders is writing a book that helps his readers understand how current government structure works and what they can do to make it better. The contrast couldn’t be starker.

In one excellent example, Sanders walks readers through the effects of a low minimum wage, revealing how a “starvation wage” that has workers earning less than the cost of living but putting in 40 hours a week actually serves to subsidize companies like Walmart. He shows how it is middle class taxpayers who help subsidize the cheap labor used by Walmart since their employees need federal and local assistance to survive.

And, while Clinton mocks Sanders for his idealistic desire to think big, Sanders starts his book reminding readers that his views are those of the bulk of Americans: “On major issue after major issue, the vast majority of Americans support a progressive agenda.” For Clinton, though, the progressive agenda wanted by the majority is nothing more than the hocus pocus of magic abs or the dreams of those who want a pony.

This tweet from David Sirota says it all:

There are so many things a leader could do at this moment of crisis. Clinton chose to slam Bernie Bros & hawk Verrit. I wonder why she lost?

That’s the real tragedy to Clinton’s discourse. She literally sees political vision as nothing but a fantasy. She has so thoroughly imbibed the corporatist, pro-status quo version of the Democratic party that she can’t even notice how pathetically uninspiring her positions are for those young voters she referred to as basement dwellers on the campaign trail.

Against the snarky, negative tone of Clinton’s book, Sanders offers his readers a combination of political passion and practical advice. When it refers to him personally, it does so by quoting a Sanders tweet that links to the issue being covered. The tweets are used to show how Sanders has been standing up for these issues for years. It is a technique that privileges the cause, not the ego. The effect is a subtle form of leadership that is grounded in the idea that a progressive leader is only as strong as the people being inspired and mentored.

“Young people are the future of our country,” Sanders explained to Teen Vogue. “As citizens of the United States, they have a responsibility to participate in our democracy and to help create a government which works for all, rather than just the few. This book will expose them to an unusual political campaign, the excitement of politics and what being a progressive is all about.”

Some will likely say that it is not fair to compare two books that have such radically different goals. Clinton’s is a look back at what happened with her campaign; Sanders’s is a book designed to help energize and guide future progressive political action. Hers is a memoir; his is a political guide to action. One is personal. The other is about political vision and action.

Or maybe comparing these books is exactly what we should be doing because they portray vastly different ideas for the future of left politics in this nation.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that media coverage of the two books has been vastly uneven. Article after article has covered Clinton’s attacks on Sanders. Not one piece I have seen thus far on Clinton’s Bernie-bashing has considered the fact that he has a book out now, too.

Those stories that have covered it often missed the point. Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day” interviewed Sanders about his new book and suggested that some have been reading it as a sign of a potential future run for the presidency. Cuomo asked Sanders whether he planned to run again or back a younger candidate with a progressive message.

Demonstrating why Sanders is a completely different type of leader than Clinton, he quipped back, “Well there is a third school of thought, Chris, and that is that the media never, ever gives up,” said Sanders. “And instead of focusing on real issues, they keep talking about never-ending campaigns.”

Perfectly demonstrating that for Sanders, as it is for many of us, the goal is political progress, not ego-building, he went on: “We never stop elections, people are sick and tired of it. They want me to go back to Washington to deal with climate change, to deal with healthcare, to deal with education, to deal with issues that impact their lives,” he continued. “They do not want to see never ending elections.”

And they really don’t want to spend all their time thinking back on a lost election.

These two books offer different visions of political leadership, different narratives about political possibility and different views about our future. One is constructed to build collective support; the other is a story about a leader betrayed and unfairly thwarted. One offers a practical guide to political action; the other is filled with stories of magic abs and ponies. One hopes to make a real difference in our nation; the other mocks the idea of even trying.

Sophia A. McClennen is Professor of International Affairs and Comparative Literature at the Pennsylvania State University. She writes on the intersections between culture, politics, and society. Her latest book, co-authored with Remy M. Maisel, is, Is Satire Saving Our Nation? Mockery and American Politics.

Bernie Sanders Answers Hillary’s Criticisms in Her New Memoir

NEWS & POLITICS
“I think the response is we have got to think going forward.”

YouTube Screengrab

America’s most popular politician, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., appeared on Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” Thursday night where he was asked to respond to leaked excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s new book in which she blamed the senator for causing “lasting damage making it harder to unify progressives,” as well as accused him of joining the presidential race to “to disrupt the Democratic Party.”

Instead of firing back at Clinton, the longest reigning Independent senator in U.S. history, explained that he didn’t divide progressives at all. “Actually, the case is that the progressive movement today, and grassroots activism, is stronger than it has been in many, many years,” Sanders told Colbert.

“As a result of our campaign, millions of young people began to vote for the first time, became engaged in the political process . . . we have got to stand together against [President Donald] Trump’s efforts to divide us up, take on the billionaire class and make that political revolution so that we have a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent,” Sanders explained.

Colbert sarcastically pointed out that those were the exact attacks Clinton was talking about.

“But I understand,” Sanders continued. “Look, Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country and she lost and was upset about that and I understand that,” he said. “But our job now is really not to go backwards. It is to go forward. It is to create the kind of nation we know we can become. We have enormous problems facing us and I think it’s a little bit silly to keep talking about 2016.”

Colbert pointed out another common criticism from Clinton which was that Sanders had made “pony” promises, and wouldn’t be able to deliver on them when people expected him to.

“I said that in America, we should join every other industrialized country and guarantee health care to all people as a right, and there is now growing sentiment for that effort,” Sanders explained. “So that’s not a pipe dream.”

Sanders then pointed out his plan to raise the minimum wag to $15 an hour, because it’s currently a “starvation wage.” He added that he now has 31 co-sponsors in the Senate to enact that legislation.

Clinton will be a guest on the “Late Show” on Tuesday, September 19 to promote her new book. The late-night comedian asked Sanders what he thought he should ask her when she comes on.

“I think the response is we have got to think going forward,” Sanders replied. “And I would like her to join us in a fight for 15 [dollar minimum wage], in a Medicare-for-all single payer system, in taking on the fossil fuel industry so that we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and move to energy efficient and sustainable energy.”

Hillary Hates Again


When “mainstream” (corporate) media talks about the terrible role that hate is playing in American political life the discussion is usually about partisan contempt between Democrats and Republicans or heated conflicts between “radical extremes” like the alt-right and the so-called alt-left (Antifa). You don’t hear much about the longstanding and dripping contempt the Democratic Party’s neoliberal corporate and professional class “elite” has for progressive and social-democratic forces within that party – this even though most of those “progressive Democrats” generally line up dutifully behind the party’s ruling class masters at the end of the day.

This hate, too, deserves attention.

Smearing “Doofus Bernie”

Take the case of Bernie Sanders, currently the most popular politician in the United States.  Bernie, it should be recalled, sheep-dogged for Mrs. Clinton (whose approval rating stands below even that of Donald Trump today) during the last quadrennial election cycle.  He promised support for the party’s locked-in top-down nominee (Hillary) from day one. He gave that support to Hillary against the wishes of many of his backers in the summer and fall of 2016.  He did this even after the spiteful Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee collaborated with other highly placed Democrats and their corporate media allies to rig the primary race against him.

He was treated in very shabby fashion the by those forces during the primaries. Bill Clinton in New Hampshire called Sanders and his team “hermetically sealed” purists, hypocrites, and thieves and mocked Sanders as “the champion of all things small and the enemy of all things big.”

Hillary sent her daughter Chelsea out to absurdly charge that Sanders’ single-payer health care plan would “strip millions and millions and millions of people of their health insurance.”

Former top John Kerry and Obama communications strategist David Wade used his perch at  Politico to call Sanders “the zombie candidate” – a “doomed” challenger at risk of “becom[ing] Trump’s best ghost-writer for the general election” and a “Nader” who would destroy the Democratic Party’s nominee with “friendly fire attacks.”

In April of 2016, for example, Hillary told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that a dreadful hit-job interview and smear campaign conducted by the New York Daily News against Sanders “raise[d] a lot of questions”about Sanders’ qualification for the presidency.

Hillary’s prizefighter Paul Krugman preposterously likened Sanders’ common-sense and majority-backed health insurance proposal (Medicare for All) to “a standard Republican tax-cut plan and  smeared Sanders as a practitioner of “deep voodoo economics” and “unicorn politics.”  (Krugman enjoyed calling Sanders’ supporters “dead-enders.”)

Hillary’s good friend the blood-soaked mass-murderer Madeline Albright told female voters there was a “special place in Hell” for them if they backed Bernie.

The liberal feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s curiously claimed that young women were voting for Sanders because “when you’re [a] young [woman], you’re thinking ‘where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”

The silly, power-worshipping Rolling Stone publisher Jan S. Wenner (the man who took childish fake-progressive ObamaLust to frightening new heights in 2008) insultingly and inaccurately described Sanders as just “a candidate of anger.” (“But it is not enough to be a candidate of anger. Anger is not a plan…”)

An endless stream of establishment “liberal” media talking heads and pundits (with Krugman as leader of the pack) treated Sanders’ moderately leftish neo-New Deal agenda as a radically outlandish pipedream beyond the pale of serious discussion. They constantly repeated claims that Sanders’ lacked Hillary’s supposed ability to defeat Trump despite one match up poll after another showing Bernie doing substantially better than Mrs. Clinton against The Donald.

This was all consistent with a February 2016 document Wiki-leaked in October of last year.  It showed top Clinton campaign operative Mandy Grunwald suggesting that Hillary essentially red-bait and otherwise smear Sanders.  Grunwald suggested calling Sanders a false promiser of “socialist…free stuff” that “middle class” Americans would only pay for with higher taxes – and to denounce Sanders for supposedly advocating giant slashes to the military budget (Sanders made no such demand., sadly). The main idea – standard centrist neoliberal Clinton-Tony Blair-Barack Obama-Bob Rubin-Lawrence Summer “pragmatism” – was to portray Sanders as an impractical leftist dreamer and then to present Hillary by favorable contrast as the “progressive” realist who knew how to “get things done” (Obama’s recurrent boast) in the real world.

A different Clinton campaign e-mail released in October showed Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta referring to Sanders as “doofus Bernie” because the Vermont Senator had the basic decency to note that the Paris Climate Agreement fell short of what was required to stem global warming.

Clinton operatives and media allies repeated over and over the false charge that Sanders’ supporters at the Nevada state Democratic Party convention became a raging mob of “chair-throwing” thugs on par with the worst hooligans at Donald Trump’s rallies.

The Clintonistas invented the ugly, identity-politicized smear-term “Bernie Bros” to falsely paint out Sanders supporter as a bunch of bitter old sexist white men (there were plenty of women and people of color among Sanders’ disproportionately young base).

Rigged

Beyond the insults, put-downs, and smears, there was of course the rigging of the primary nomination process. There are abundant reasons to believe that Hillary benefitted from electoral and administrative shenanigans across the (seemingly endless) primary season. The fixing process was evident in Las Vegas, when the Nevada Democratic Party chair “shut down debate behind a screen of uniformed police” after the party excluded 58 Sanders delegates with sudden “rules changes” clearly made to block Sanders’ rightful claim to have won Nevada.

In July of 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was forced to resign from her position after thousands of Wiki-leaked emails showed the DNC exhibiting a clear bias for Hillary over Sanders and other Democratic Party presidential candidates.

Wasserman-Schultz’s successor was interim DNC Chair Donna Brazille, who was later shown by WikiLeaks to have used her position as a CNN commentator to have relayed questions ahead of primary campaign debates to the Clinton campaign.

Then there was the open mockery of democracy behind the fact that much of Hillary’s convention delegate lead over Sanders – enough to give her the nomination without a contest on the convention floor – derived from the 525 explicitly unelected and so-called superdelegates pledged to her before Sanders even declared his candidacy.

Sanders Stumps for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger

Despite all this and more, Sanders did his best, as originally promised, to try to drag Hillary Clinton’s horrifically bad and noxious neoliberal campaign across the finish line in November.  As the Democratic National Convention approached, Sanders endorsed Mrs. Clinton and dropped his totally reasonable criticism of her as captive to Wall Street billionaires and the moneyed elite. Re -directing his “populist fire” against Trump, the Senator travelled to Wisconsin, Michigan, and other battleground states (some of which he’d won during the primary campaign) on Hillary’s behalf. (Queen Hillary never deigned to set foot again in Wisconsin after she got nominated.

I saw Sanders speak in Iowa City the Friday before the general election. With former liberal Iowa Senator Tom Harken at his side, Bernie bellowed, pleaded, and begged for folks to vote for the “lying neoliberal warmonger” (Adolph Reed Jr’s all-too accurate words, not Bernie’s). His brief primary tussle with the reigning corporate Democrats was forgotten as he warned an at-best mildly enthusiastic crowd about the all-too real evils of Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton was always a tough sell.  The strain of trying to bring her across was evident on the Senator’s face.  The contrast was remarkable between the relatively small and polite gathering he attracted barnstorming for dismal Hillary and the giant and raucous crowds he’d attracted here when running on his own.

Still, Sanders hit the trail, beseeching voters on her behalf, with full knowledge that she was running a terrible operation. The Friday before the election he told some of his friends in Iowa City confidentially that he wasn’t sure he could bring her across: her campaign was just so awful, so clueless, dull, and conservative. She didn’t really have a serious policy agenda, Sanders noted.

Yet still he came out, ever the good Democratic Party company man(beneath the “Independent” veneer), swallowing his pride and fearing the Republican candidate enough to say over and again that  “we must defeat Donald Trump, you must vote for Hillary Clinton.”

Ingratitude: “The Worst Kind of Asshole”

How does Hillary pay Bernie back for his dedicated and energetic efforts on her behalf? In her soon-to-be-released political memoir What Happened? she accuses Sanders of causing “lasting damage” that opened the door to Herr Donald. She claims that Sanders “had to resort to innuendo and impugning my character” because the two Democrats “agreed on so much.”

“Some of his supporters, the so-called Bernie Bros,” Hillary writes. “took to harassing my supporters online. It got ugly and more than a little sexist.” The “Bernie-Bro” smear repeated.

“When I finally challenged Bernie during a debate to name a single time I changed a position or a vote because of a financial contribution, he couldn’t come up with anything,” Clinton wrote. “Nonetheless, his attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign.”

So primary challengers aren’t supposed to challenge at all.  They are supposed to be thoroughly cowed patsies for the front-runners.  No, they are supposed to act out the same role The Washington Generalsplayed vis-a-vis The Harlem Globetrotters: perpetually failed props. As one correspondent wrote me last Tuesday, reflecting on Mrs. Clinton’s cold ingratitude: “How dare [Bernie] have acted like a primary was meant to be anything other than a foregone conclusion? Really, Hillary Clinton is giving the strongest support for the concept of ‘sheepdog candidate’ that I’ve ever seen, and she’s offering it willingly.”

In What HappenedClinton says that Sanders “isn’t a Democrat,” claiming that “He didn’t get into the race to make sure a Democrat won the White House, he got in to disrupt the Democratic Party.” Never mind Sanders’ repeated promise from the day he enlisted in the presidential race as a loyal Democrat that, in his words in January of 2015: “No matter what I do, I will not be a spoiler. I will not play that role in helping to elect some right-wing Republican as president of the United States.”

After discussing how she disagrees with Sanders’ view of the Democratic Party, Clinton writes that “I am proud to be a Democrat and I wish Bernie were, too.”

Wow. This is the thanks that the Hillary Clinton has for Sanders’ energetic and self-effacing efforts to save her sorry, vapid, sold-out, and uninspiring political career.  After everything Bernie did for her, after all the exhausting campaign stops he made for her, she still has the sneering sociopathic audacity to lay her abject failure partly at Sanders’ feet. As a different correspondent wrote me last Tuesday:

“Reprehensible. The worst kind of asshole kicks their own sheep dog when he/she left the pen door open. Madame Deplorable simply cannot face the fact that she alone is responsible for achieving the seemingly impossible i.e., allowing the crass, bloviating, two-legged toxic waste dump Trump from defeating himself. Her closest aides have confessed that she could not even name the reason that she desired to become president, other than, ‘It’s my turn. Gimme. Gimme.’”

One thing Trump got right: Hillary is “nasty.”

Conservative, corporate-imperial Hillary continues to look for others to blame for her longstanding pre-existing condition of severe unpopularity.  It’s Russia’s fault.  It’s Comey’s fault.  It’s Bernie’s fault: the sheepdog just wasn’t sheepish enough.  He wasn’t supposed to do what politicians do during primary and other election campaigns, which is find and exploit their opponent’s main weaknesses.

“An Asset to Her Campaign”

The Clintons had had such different hopes for the Bernie run. It wasn’t for nothing that, as the New York Times reported in the spring of 2015, “Mrs. Clinton cheerily welcomed Mr. Sanders into the race.”  The Clintons figured at that time that the only real threat to de-rail Hillary (as Obama did in 2007 and 2008) on the road to her inevitable. God-ordained Democratic presidential nomination this time was Elizabeth Warren. But with Warren appearing to have meant it when she said she wasn’t up for a presidential run (not ready for fighting Hillary’s daunting money machine, perhaps) and with little else to contest Hillary’s ascendancy on “the left” (Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb…seriously?), Hillary now faced a rather different political and public relations problem.  She was in danger of enjoying an all-too obviously Wall Street-funded dynastic coronation as the Democratic nominee.  She saw it as useful to face a challenge from a progressive candidate like Sanders, who could never (she calculated) receive the funding or media approval required to make a serious bid. That way, her pre-selected nomination could look less transparently plutocratic and more like a passably “democratic” outcome of “a real debate.” Ashley Smith puts things very well in a trenchant analysis on SocialistWorker.org:

“Hillary Clinton certainly doesn’t regard Sanders as a threat. She knows that the election business follows the golden rule: Whoever has more gold, wins. Clinton is expected to amass a war chest of more than $1 billion, mostly from Wall Street and Corporate America, to pay for advertising, an army of paid staff and Astroturf support. This will overwhelm Sanders’ fundraising goal of $50 million and his underdeveloped volunteer infrastructure…In fact, Clinton regards Sanders as an asset to her campaign. He will bring enthusiasm and attention to Democratic primaries that promised to be lackluster at best. He will also help her frame the election in populist terms that have widespread support. That benefits the Democrats and undermines the Republicans, who have little to say about inequality, except that they like it…No wonder Clinton celebrated Sander’s entry into the race” (emphasis added).

But then Bernie, probably even to his own surprise, got more support than he was supposed to! (Why that surprised anyone has always been a bit of a mystery to me, given the neoliberal-capitalist hollowing-out of America and the related desperation of masses of U.S. citizens for the slightest glimmer of substantively social-democratic decency on the part of anyone in the political class.) Bad sheepdog! Bad Bernie! For getting that popular support and at least briefly running with it in a major party campaign that came “surprisingly” close to unseating Hillary, Bernie simply cannot be forgiven. How pathetic.

A Goldwater Democrat

“I’m proud,” Hillary says, “to be a Democrat.”  But what kind of Democrat? The kind who has spent the great bulk of adult life helping push the Democratic Party ever further towards the corporate and imperial right – well to the right of the post-World War II Republican Party, in fact. In 1964, when Hillary was 18, she worked for the arch-conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign. Asked about that high school episode on National Public Radio (NPR) in 1996, then First Lady Hillary said “That’s right. And I feel like my political beliefs are rooted in the conservatism that I was raised with. I don’t recognize this new brand of Republicanism that is afoot now, which I consider to be very reactionary, not conservative in many respects. I am very proud that I was a Goldwater girl.”

It was a revealing reflection.  The right-wing Democrat Hillary acknowledged that her ideological world view was still rooted in the anti-progressive conservatism of her family of origin.  Her problem with the reactionary Republicanism afoot in the U.S. during the middle 1990s was that it was “not conservative in many respects.”  Her problem with Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay was that they were betraying true conservatism – “the conservatism [Hillary] was raised with.” This was worse even than the language of the Democratic Leadership Conference (DLC) – the right-wing Eisenhower Republican (at leftmost) tendency that worked to push the Democratic Party further to the Big Business-friendly right and away from its working-class and progressive base.  Bill and Hillary helped trail-blaze that plutocratic “New Democrat” turn in Arkansas during the late 1970s and 1980.

The rest, as they say, is history – an ugly corporate-neoliberal, imperial, and racist history that I and others have written about at great length.  (I cannot reprise here the voluminous details of Mrs. Clinton’s longstanding alignment with the corporate, financial, and imperial agendas of the rich and powerful. Two short and highly readable volumes are Doug Henwood, My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency [OR Books, 2015]; Diana Johnstone, Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton [CounterPunch Books, 2015].  On the stealth and virulent racism of the Clintons in power, I highly recommend Elaine Brown’s brilliant volume The Condemnation of Little B: New Age Racism in America [2003].)

And yet strident “liberals” I know here in Iowa City are seriously and enthusiastically talking about Madame Deplorable running yet one more time in 2020.

Stop Hillary before she hates again!

Postscript

Meanwhile, the rapacious fury of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suggest that Sanders (of whom I was no great fan thanks above all to his failure to break from the American imperial project) was on to something when he had the basic environmental decency to say in one of the primary debates that climate change – and not Russia or Iran or North Korea – is the single greatest threat to Americans’ “national security.”

Which reminds me: Has Rachel Maddow lost her mind? Irma’s on a lethal rampage in the Caribbean, Jose in her wake. Houston is just starting to dig out of Harvey and the massive chemical pollution that ensued. Nuclear war beckons on the Korean peninsula. And when I had MSNBC on at the gym last night, Rachel was going on and on about. – what else? – Russia and Trump, Russia and Trump (specifically how they supposedly collaborated to hijack Facebook last year). The night before that I saw Rachel say that for all the “non-ideological madness” of Trump there have been two and just two consistent themes in the Trump presidency: 1. Love of Putin/Russia and 2. Hatred of immigrants. Now, #1 is absurd given the conflict with Russia that Trump has participated in (look at the recent diplomatic staff war just for one example). But even more significantly, Russophobic Maddow deletes probably the most consistent and deadly theme in Orange Beast’s presidency: eco-cidal climate change-denial and environmental arch-de-regulation of energy…certainly themes of utmost relevance in relation to recent and current extreme weather events. Insane. Anthro-/capitalo-genic climate change is the biggest issue of our or any time (Please see my latest essay on Truthdig: “The Silence of the Good People”). The Earth is our witness to that. And she prattles on about Russia, Russia, Russia, as if whatever it might have done to U.S. politics comes remotely close to the power of just the nation’s leading oil corporations in “undermining our great democracy.”

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