Category Archives: Elections

Tulsi Gabbard Comes to San Francisco

I’m running for president to be able to bring about this sea change in our foreign policy that is so necessary for us and for the world.

— Tulsi Gabbard

Introduction by Rick Sterling

Tulsi Gabbard visited the San Francisco Bay Area last weekend. The 3 term Congresswoman from Hawaii is 37 years old and ethnically diverse. Remarkably, she has 15 years military experience in the US Army and National Guard as well as substantial political experience. She was elected to the Hawaii State Assembly at age 21.

Tulsi Gabbard supports progressive domestic policy issues including criminal justice reform, healthcare-for-all, national and international steps to protect the environment. She has a high approval rating on gay issues.

What makes Gabbard really distinctive is her emphasis and approach to US foreign policy. While other candidates largely avoid the subject, Tulsi Gabbard says the issue is “central” to all other issues. She says we need to change the policy of “regime change wars” and “new cold war” with Russia and China. She advocates cooperation instead of conflict.

Gabbard said “We are at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than ever before in history.” She described the scare of an incoming nuclear missile attack which occurred in Hawaii last year. Even though the alert turned out to be false, the threat is real. “It should alarm every one of us here that leaders in Washington are either not paying attention, they don’t know, or they don’t care. This should alarm every one of us because that means not only are we not addressing this threat, but the actions that leaders in Washington are taking are actually making it worse.”

Tulsi Gabbard says that as a soldier in a medical unit she has seen the “costs of war” first hand. Thousands of US soldiers never made it home alive. Many others suffer visible and invisible wounds of war. Where the US has intervened or invaded, the people are worse off not better. The “costs of war” are trillions of dollars which should be spent at home.

Gabbard says the bad policies are the result of ‘self-serving politicians, greedy corporations and special interests.” She calls out the military industrial complex and decries the “powerful forces that have ruled over both parties in Washington for far too long.”

No wonder there is so much misinformation and attacks on Gabbard. She is challenging the core policy of US exceptionalism and identifying who benefits and “who pays the price” for those policies.

Her 35 minute presentation at the University of San Francisco can be viewed here. Following is the text of her speech followed by her response to questions regarding Bernie Sanders, her religion and age.

Tulsi Gabbard Speaks, University of San Francisco / 16 March 2019

It’s tough sometimes when we see what is happening in our country. There are a lot of challenges that we’re facing and it’s heartbreaking to see in so many different ways how we are being torn apart as people, how our country is being divided, how that vision that our founders had for us as a country, as a united country with a government of, by and for the people has been lost. It’s heartbreaking to see how people are suffering.

Our family, our friends, our neighbors are dealing with things that we shouldn’t have to be dealing with in this country. We’re in a place where we have a government that is not of the people, by the people and for the people, but rather a government that is controlled and influenced by self serving politicians, greedy corporations and those special interests who can afford to buy their seat at the table as laws are being made.

Who pays the price? We do. Who suffers as a result? We do. Who is left behind? We are.

The place that we are in as a country right now is exactly counter to the vision that our founders had for this great country: where we have leaders elected by the people, who are of the people and for the people and whose sole interest and focus is on serving the interests of the people of this country, putting the well-being of our people, our planet, and our future at the forefront of those decisions that are being made. Instead, what we see is what’s happening in Washington where we have people who live in a bubble that is so disconnected from the reality that we are living in our lives across this country. And this corruption of spirit that’s casting a dark shadow over us is what we must defeat. There’s only one way to do that. And to me, this is why we’re gathered here today because we care. We care for each other. We care for our country, we care for our planet and our future. We want to do something about it, right?

YOU are why I am hopeful because gathering together in this spirit of  – what we in Hawaii call Aloha – is truly the answer of how we overcome the challenges that we face. Now, a lot of people know Aloha is a word that means hello or goodbye, right? Because this is how we greet each other in Hawaii. But there’s a reason why we start our conversations and our gatherings with this word Aloha because there is so much power in what it actually means. When we greet each other with Aloha and we gather in the spirit of Aloha, what we’re really saying is I love you, I care for you, I respect you, and I recognize that we are all brothers and sisters, we’re all children of God regardless of where we come from or the color of our skin, who we love, how much money we make or don’t make, what kind of education we have.

All of those things that are so often used to divide us, whether it’s by politicians or corporations or people in positions of power who pit one group of us against the other for their own gain, who tear us apart, raising fear and suspicions and fomenting bigotry between us for their own gain, without any care for the — the pain and the harm and the impact that it has on all of us. This Aloha spirit is what has the power to defeat that darkness with love and care for each other and that love for our country. It is this spirit of Aloha that unites us, that reminds us and inspires us about how we can build that path forward, that path that leads to a future that is bright, that is peaceful, that is prosperous, that provides that opportunity and justice and equality for every single one of us.

So we look throughout history, especially during those darkest moments and we see how we have found our way through. It has always been when we, the people, stand up and stand together, when we speak as one for what is right and what is just and for each other. And it is this time that we are in now that calls upon us to once again rise up and stand together knowing that when we do that, when we stand together, motivated by this care for each other, this love for our country, there is no obstacle that we cannot overcome.

The obstacles seem great and this is why sometimes it’s easy to feel disheartened and frustrated and to say how do we move forward? How can we ever overcome? Just a couple of weekends ago in the days leading up to the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, I had a chance to go and walk on a civil rights pilgrimage led by congressman John Lewis, who was one of the youngest leaders of the civil rights movement at that time. And it was an incredible experience to hear directly from him as we walked through those steps where he and Dr. King and so many others were beaten and bloodied. They were called every name in the book. They were threatened, their very lives on the line as they worked for justice. They worked for equality. They worked for the right to vote to make sure that their voices were heard and it was heart wrenching to hear from him about what they went through. It was inspiring because of how they responded to that hatred and that darkness, how they responded to that physical violence that they endured, they did not respond to that hate with hate. As Dr. King said, they knew that darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

Their example and those wise words are what inspires us today. They show how we can bring about the real change that we need to see. How we can pass legislation like Medicare For All to make sure every single person has health-care.

How we can bring about real criminal justice reform.

How we can pass legislation that I’ve introduced to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. That will have an incredible impact on this country. In the press conference that we held as we were introducing this legislation, which is the only bipartisan piece of legislation to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in Congress, we had a few people there who shared their stories. We had small business owners and people who were working on providing medical marijuana to those who need it. We had researchers who are gathering evidence and data to say this is important to help impact people’s lives. We had people who are helping those who are fighting opioid addiction. We’re seeing every day how in places where medical marijuana is legal, opioid addiction is dropping, opioid related deaths are decreasing, and people who are going through very difficult problems are finally finding help.

We also had a guy named Harry from Virginia who was there who shared his own story about how when he was in college about 10 years ago, studying computer science, furthering himself and seeking better opportunities. He was convicted of marijuana possession and thrown into prison for 10 years: two mandatory minimum sentences of five years each. This was for marijuana possession. He talked about how his cellmate was convicted of murder and he got out of prison before Harry did.

The injustice that exists within our country because of the failed war on drugs and our broken criminal justice system has to end. We cannot have another generation of people whose lives are ruined in this failed war on drugs.

You know, there are a lot of different issues that we need to address. I’ve mentioned a few of them. Dealing with the climate crisis that we’re facing in this country and in the world is an urgent one that we all must stand up to demand real change to address. We’ve been talking about this issue for a while. We’ve been talking about how our policies and the way that we live has a negative impact on our environment. But we have not yet seen that kind of bold action and recognition from our leaders. That has to change. We also have to recognize how important it is that even as we take aggressive action to address this climate crisis in this country, that alone will not be enough. This is a problem that is facing our planet. It is facing every country in this world and in order to tackle it, it will require us to build relationships based on cooperation, not conflict with other countries in the world and work together to address this crisis.

Things like re-entering the Paris accords is a necessary and important step, but that alone will not be enough. Retracting from the world and treating other countries in this zero sum mentality where you’re either with us or against us, with this approach of conflict rather than cooperation must end.

I want to close by talking about an issue that is central to all of these others that are pressing and urgent and impact our everyday lives and that is the issue of the cost of war.  I am a major in the army national guard, serving now for almost 15 years, deployed twice to the Middle East where I served in a medical unit on that first deployment to Iraq in 2005. I saw firsthand every day the high human cost of war and who pays the price. I saw it in friends of mine who were killed in combat, who never made that trip home with us. I see it in my brothers and sisters, our veterans who continue to pay the price after coming home, dealing with wounds both visible and invisible, the lack of quality care and benefits provided to them to help them when they come home. The price for these wars that people don’t often recognize is the one that every single one of us pays. The fact that we are spending trillions of dollars on wasteful regime change wars and this new cold war between the United States and nuclear armed countries like Russia and China. Tensions continue to increase and a nuclear arms race has been been kicked off by actions like the one President Trump took recently by withdrawing from this historic INF treaty negotiated between Reagan and Gorbachev.

These actions have put us as a country and the world in a position where we are at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than ever before in history. Now, what’s interesting is that, as I share this information and talk about these issues with leaders in Washington, they say “Really? Really? More than the Cuban missile crisis? More than the Cold War with the Soviet Union?” . Yes, the answer is yes. This is the reality of the existential threat we’re facing today. And it should alarm every one of us here that leaders in Washington are either not paying attention, they don’t know, or they don’t care. This should alarm every one of us because that means not only are we not addressing this threat, but the actions that leaders in Washington are taking are actually making it worse.

I want to get to why this issue is important to every one of us. We in Hawaii had a huge wake-up call about a year ago when there was a text alert that went out to over a million phones all across our state that said, “Missile incoming. Seek shelter immediately. This is not a drill.” I want to let that sink in for a second. We all have phones in our pockets. Imagine that on a Saturday morning like today, people in Hawaii, were just waking up, maybe thinking about going to the beach or going to hang out with friends, when this message came across their phones. Think about what you would do and how you would feel, who you would think about, where you would go if you got that message. As we’re sitting here today, think about knowing there are just minutes to live.

It was terrifying.

People thought “Where can I take my family? Where can I find shelter? Where can we be safe?” A father was trying to figure out which of his children he would spend the last minutes of his life with. Another father lowered his little girl down a manhole thinking that may be the only place where she could be safe.

That alert turned out to be false, but the reason why we reacted the way that we did is because this threat is real. And it’s important for us to recognize this. Not because we should sit here and be afraid and think we’re doomed, but because we have to recognize the power lies in our hands to make sure this is not our future.

Because it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power and we must take action to change direction, to bend this arc away from war and towards peace, to make sure that our foreign policy is one that actually serves the interests of our people, that secures our country and moves us closer to peace rather than nuclear catastrophe and war.

This is why I’m running for president. Because none of you should have to go through what we went through in Hawaii. No family in this country should have to go through what our families went through in Hawaii. Not a single person in this country should have to live at any point in the day thinking about what would I do if I got that message?

We must change our foreign policy, the way we are relating to different countries and build those relationships based on cooperation, not conflict and work towards this future where we are getting rid of nuclear weapons rather than building more of them.

To build this future we need to take those trillions of dollars being spent on wasteful regime change wars and a nuclear arms race.  We need to take those dollars and bring them to serve the needs of people here at home, to make sure that we have health-care for everyone, to make sure our kids have a great education and a great future, to invest in a green, renewable energy based economy that serves us today and for generations to come, to make sure that we are investing in the right kind of infrastructure and sustainable agriculture.

There are so many things that we need to do right now to invest in a bright future for every single American. In order to do that, we have to change the course we are on. We need to take those dollars wasted on regime change wars and a nuclear arms race in a new cold war. We need to place our priorities put those dollars where they need to be, which is right here on our people, on our families and on our future.

To do that requires strong leadership, leadership and all of us standing together, standing up against those in the military industrial complex and those who benefit and continue to push for these regime change wars and this nuclear arms race. The only thing that will overcome those powerful forces that have ruled over both parties in Washington for far too long are us.  We, the people are the only ones who have the power to make this change.  No one else is going to do it for us,

We cannot forget or underestimate the power that we have in our own hands and we cannot take lightly the threats that we face in the urgent need for us to stand up, speak out, and make sure that our voices are heard now. Not tomorrow, not next year, not in five years or 10 years. Now our future is in our hands. I ask for your support.

I ask you to stand with me so that together we can take on those challenge and shape a bright future for every single one of us.

In the Q & A following the speech, one person asked about Bernie Sanders and her religion. Her response was as follows:

Bernie remains a good friend and I think he brings such an important voice to this country and the conversations that we’re having.

My decision to run for president was really based on the recognition that the most important job that a president has is as commander in chief. So the experiences that I have in serving as a soldier for almost 15 years, of being deployed to the Middle East and seeing and experiencing firsthand the cost of war and the consequences of the failed policies of this country directly firsthand [are crucial]. I am not someone who is going to go into the White House and sit back and rely on the foreign policy establishment in Washington to tell me what to do. I don’t have to.

That is what differentiates me from every other candidate who’s running for president right now. Because I’m walking in on day one with that experience both as a soldier directly, but also as a member of Congress who served on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees for years, who has engaged with leaders of other countries who has held the feet to the fire of people like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m not intimidated by the stars that someone wears on their shoulders.

I am not intimidated by the military industrial complex and what they are fishing for. I’m not running for president to be president. I’m running for president to be able to bring about this sea change in our foreign policy that is so necessary for us and for the world.

Quickly regarding the last question, I’m a practicing Hindu. I practice Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga. I dedicate my life to do my best every day, to be of service to God and to be of service to others. That pretty much sums up my spiritual foundation and my motivation throughout my life.

Another person asked how her young age as potentially the youngest president in US history and how she would cater to the needs of young people.  She responded as follows:

What matters most to what I bring to the White House and the presidency is the experience and perspective. In 2020 millennials will be the largest demographic. Millennials will actually be that majority to determine what kind of future we want for ourselves.

To me this is not about catering, that I’m going to cater to quote unquote ‘oung people or this group or that group. The message that I shared with you today about why I’m running and the kind of change that I seek to bring about is the kind of change that serves every person in this country, not just one group or another, not one age or another, one race or another, one religion or another. This is about every single one of us.

The key to that, rather than pandering to one group or another, the kind of change we’re talking about is centered around putting people first, putting people ahead of profits, putting people ahead of politics, putting people ahead of the powerful, really working and centering our policies around how does this best serve the people of this country and our planet? That’s my goal. That’s my objective.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Position on Honduras reveals Hypocrisy about Venezuela

The hypocrisy is head spinning. As Justin Trudeau lectures audiences on the need to uphold Venezuela’s constitution the Liberals have recognized a completely illegitimate president in Honduras. What’s more, they’ve formally allied with that government in demanding Venezuela’s president follow their (incorrect) reading of that country’s constitution.

In November 2017 Ottawa’s anti-Venezuela “Lima Group” ally Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) defied the Honduran constitution to run for a second term. At Hernandez’ request the four Supreme Court members appointed by his National Party overruled an article in the constitution explicitly prohibiting re-election.

JOH then ‘won’ a highly questionable  poll. With 60 per cent of votes counted opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla lead by five-points. The electoral council then went silent for 36 hours and when reporting resumed JOH had a small lead.

In the three weeks between the election and JOH’s official proclamation as president, government forces killed at least 30 pro-democracy demonstrators in the Central American country of nine million. More than a thousand were detained under a post-election state of emergency. Many of those jailed for protesting the electoral fraud, including prominent activist Edwin Espinal, who is married to Canadian human rights campaigner Karen Spring, remain in jail.

Ottawa immediately endorsed the electoral farce in Honduras. Following Washington, Global Affairs tweeted that Canada “acknowledges confirmation of Juan Orlando Hernandez as President of Honduras.” Tyler Shipley, author of Ottawa and Empire: Canada and the Military Coup in Honduras, responded:

Wow, Canada sinks to new lows with this. The entire world knows that the Honduran dictatorship has stolen an election, even the OAS (an organization which skews right) has demanded that new elections be held because of the level of sketchiness here. And — as it has for over eight years — Canada is at the forefront of protecting and legitimizing this regime built on fraud and violence. Even after all my years of research on this, I’m stunned that [foreign minister Chrystia] Freeland would go this far; I expected Canada to stay quiet until JOH had fully consolidated his power. Instead Canada is doing the heavy lifting of that consolidation.

In 2009 Ottawa backed the Honduran military’s removal of elected president Manuel Zelaya, which was justified on the grounds he was seeking to defy the constitution by running for a second term. (In fact, Zelaya simply put forward a plan to hold a non-binding public poll on whether to hold consultations to reopen the constitution.) After the coup Ottawa failed to suspend aid to the military government or exclude the Honduran military from its Military Training Assistance Programme.

A number of major Canadian corporations, notably Gildan and Goldcorp, were unhappy with some modest social democratic reforms implemented by Zelaya. Additionally, a year before the coup Honduras joined the Hugo Chavez led Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our Americas (ALBA), which is a response to North American capitalist domination of the region.

JOH’s National Party won the presidency and he took charge of the national assembly in the post-coup elections, which were boycotted by the UN, Organization of American States and most Hondurans.

Since JOH stole an election that he shouldn’t have been able to participate in the Trudeau government has continued to work with his government. I found no indication that Canadian aid has been reduced and Canadian diplomats in central America have repeatedly met Honduran representatives. JOH’s Foreign Minister, Maria Dolores Aguero, attended a Women Foreign Ministers’ Meeting Canada organized in Montreal four months ago. Recently Canadian diplomats have lauded the “bonds of friendship between the governments of Canada and Honduras” and “excellent relations that exist between both countries.” Canada’s ambassador James K. Hill retweeted a US Embassy statement noting, “we congratulate  the President Juan Orlando Hernandez for taking the initiative to reaffirm the commitment of his administration to fight against corruption and impunity” through an OAS initiative.

While they praise JOH’s fight against impunity, Canadian officials have refused repeated requests by Canadian activists and relatives to help secure Edwin Espinal’s release from prison. In response to their indifference to Espinal’s plight, Rights Action director Grahame Russell recently wrote:

Have the Canadian and U.S. governments simply agreed not to criticize the Honduran regime’s appalling human rights record … in exchange for Honduras agreeing to be a ‘democratic ally’ in the U.S. and Canadian-led efforts at forced government change in Venezuela?

Honduras is a member of the “Lima Group” of countries pushing to oust Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela. Last month Trudeau was photographed with the Honduran foreign minister at the “Lima Group” meeting in Ottawa.

To justify recognizing the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, Juan Guaidó, as president the “Lima Group” and Trudeau personally have cited “the need to respect the Venezuelan Constitution.” The Prime Minister even responded to someone who yelled “hands off Venezuela” at a town hall by lecturing  the audience on article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, which he (incorrectly) claims grants Guaidó the presidency.

Why the great concern for Venezuela’s constitution and indifference to Honduras’? Why didn’t Trudeau recognize Salvador Nasralla as president of Honduras? Nasralla’s claim to his country’s presidency is far more legitimate than Guaidó’s.

The hypocrisy in Trudeau allying with the illegitimate president of Honduras to demand Venezuela succumb to their interpretation of that country’s constitution would be absurdly funny if it didn’t put so many lives at risk.

Desperate Netanyahu Openly Embraces Jewish Extremists

After a decade of coalition governments in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the language needed to describe them has necessarily grown more extreme.

At first, they were right-wing. Then ultra-nationalist. Recently, analysts have started to talk of Netanyahu leading a far-right coalition. Now it seems we may have to go further still.

Should he win Israel’s election in April, Netanyahu’s next government will be one that openly embraces the terrorist right.

Last week, the Central Elections Committee, a body overseeing the election process and dominated by the main political factions, gave the green light for Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) to run for the Israeli parliament.

That has shocked many observers, because the party is justifiably described as a Jewish version of the Ku Klux Klan.

But Otzma Yehudit won’t only be expecting to win seats in the Knesset. Thanks to Netanyahu, it now has a good chance of becoming a partner in the next government.

Jewish supremacists

The party, founded six years ago, is a political refuge for a group of disciples of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. He and his followers are usually termed anti-Arab racists, but nowadays that applies to a significant swath of political opinion in Israel. They are better described as violent Jewish supremacists.

They back a Greater Israel that includes the occupied territories, all of which they want free of Palestinians. The leaders openly defend and associate with extremists within the settler movement who use terror and violence as a way to secure that very goal.

Last year, Otzma Yehudit’s leader, Michael Ben-Ari, called for violence against Israel’s 1.7-million-strong Palestinian minority, who have second-class citizenship, calling them “a fifth column” that was “waging war against us”.

He warned them: “If you speak against a Jew, you’re not going to be alive … You’re not going to be deported or have your citizenship revoked. You’re not going to be alive! You’ll be put in front of a firing squad, taken down – this is what Arabs understand.”

Ben-Ari has done so little to conceal his support for violence that the US issued a travel ban against him in 2012.

In response to the election committee’s decision, Issawi Frej, an Israeli-Palestinian member of the Knesset, said: “Now our prime minister is laying out the red carpet before the man [Ben-Ari] who said a simple phrase: ‘Kahane was right.’”

Pact with the devil

Netanyahu’s pact with Otzma Yehudit last month was designed to get him out of an electoral hole.

Unsure of how his voters will respond to the indictments he now faces for bribery and fraud, and up against a group of military generals in a popular new party, Netanyahu needs to win over as many right-wing votes as possible – wherever they come from.

Although there are technical reasons why Netanyahu needs Otzma Yehudit, he clearly believes that the political climate he has helped to foster over the past decade has made it acceptable to include these Jewish supremacists in his prospective government.

That was underscored this week when Netanyahu reiterated on social media that Israel was “not a state of all its citizens” – that it did not belong to the fifth of its citizens who are Palestinian but exclusively to the Jewish people around the world.

Netanyahu’s reliance on Otzma Yehudit follows a recent split in another extreme party in his coalition, Jewish Home, that is close to the fanatical religious wing of the settlers. Jewish Home’s political “stars”, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, both government ministers, recently left to create yet another far-right party called the New Right.

Need for extra votes

What was left of the Jewish Home party risked falling just short of the electoral threshold, which needs to be surpassed before a party wins seats in the Knesset. That would result in all its votes being lost, and thereby provide a boost to Netanyahu’s chief opponent, Blue and White, a party led by Benny Gantz and other generals.

Gantz may then be in a position to create an alternative governing coalition made up of the right and centre, and supported informally by a bloc of Israeli-Palestinian parties.

So Netanyahu threw caution to the wind and arm-twisted Jewish Home into making an electoral pact with Otzma Yehudit. Together, they hope to hoover up enough votes to gain a clutch of seats and thereby prop up another government led by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

In fact, Otzma Yehudit is the successor to Kahane’s original party, Kach, which briefly entered the Israeli parliament in the 1980s.

Then, the electoral threshold was much lower, and Kahane was able to win a single seat for himself. But his explicit anti-Arab racism and calls for violence were so discomfiting to the other parties that they shunned him in the Knesset.

Given the added exposure, however, Kahane’s popularity grew. With the prospect of Kach winning several seats in the next election, the parliament amended the election laws to prevent the party from standing. Kahane was assassinated in the US shortly afterwards, in 1990.

When one of his followers, Baruch Goldstein, shot more than 150 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, killing 29, Kach was outlawed as a terrorist organisation.

Manipulating the legal system

But Kach never went away. It didn’t even go properly underground. It flourished in many of the settlements deep in the occupied Palestinian territories, and its former leaders became household names.

The settler youths it cultivated torched olive groves, then mosques, and more recently Palestinian families. The Israeli police and intelligence services made little effort to find the culprits.

But while its violence continued, its leaders grew more sophisticated in the ways they learned to manipulate Israel’s political and legal systems.

Ben-Ari’s deputy, Itamar Ben-Gvir, became a lawyer, finding that it was easy to exploit the reticence of the criminal justice system to prosecute Jews who harm Palestinians.

Related “charities” have promoted Kach’s brand of Jewish supremacism and terrorism, including Lehava, which uses intimidation and violence to stop Jews and Palestinians from dating or even mixing.

Threatened with a noose

Since Kach formally reinvented itself as Otzma Yehudit ahead of the 2013 election, it’s been looking for a way back into parliament. But to the evident delight of its leadership, its brand of anti-Arab racism has in the meantime become so mainstream that Netanyahu can afford to offer it a place in the bosom of the next government.

Netanyahu’s backing for these Jewish supremacists is a clear signal about where the Israeli right plans to push the country next. The evidence has been building for some time that the Netanyahu right has moved remarkably close to Kahane’s positions of three decades ago.

One of Kahane’s stated priorities then was to remove the representatives of Israel’s 1.7 million Palestinian citizens from the Israeli parliament. He regarded them as traitors, a Trojan horse for the larger Palestinian cause that could undermine Israel as a Jewish state from within.

On one occasion in 1988, Kahane publicly threatened an Israeli-Palestinian legislator with a noose.

‘Terrorists’ in the Knesset

Such views – and threats – are now entirely normalised inside Netanyahu’s government. Avigdor Lieberman, until recently Netanyahu’s defence minister and someone who himself spent his formative political years in Kach, has repeatedly sought to cast the Palestinian Knesset members as traitors deserving the death penalty.

Last year he called Ayman Odeh, the joint head of the Palestinian parties, a “terrorist”. He has condemned the legislators as “war criminals” working “to destroy us from within”. He had earlier argued that they should be “executed”.

Lieberman helped Netanyahu drive through legislation to raise the electoral threshold in 2014, in a barely concealed effort to bar Palestinian parties from gaining any seats in the parliament.

When that move backfired, after Palestinian parties combined to form the Joint List, the government responded by passing an Expulsion Law, which empowers a three-quarters majority – in effect, of Jewish legislators – to expel a representative for holding opinions they do not like.

That threat is intended to serve as a sword hanging over Palestinian lawmakers, to prevent them from speaking out on key issues, such as the structural violence of the occupation or the systemic discrimination faced by Israel’s non-Jewish population.

How Netanyahu himself views the representation of Palestinian citizens was illustrated starkly on the day of the 2015 election, when he warned that his government’s survival was “in danger”. He clarified: “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

‘Citizens, not lepers’

Under pressure from then-US President Barack Obama, he apologised for his remark, but he has already restated that sentiment in the early stages of this campaign.

Netanyahu suggested that a Gantz-led government could betray the country by relying on informal support from Palestinian legislators. The prime minister characterised this electoral alliance as “an obstructive bloc” that would be “working to eliminate the state of Israel”.

Netanyahu was thereby trying to create a false equivalence between his move to forge an alliance with the terror-supporting Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit and Gantz’s possible reliance on Israel’s main Palestinian parties.

This incitement barely attracted attention, apart from a former Israeli-Palestinian Supreme Court judge, Salim Joubran, who reminded Netanyahu: “These [Palestinian] citizens are legitimate, not invalid, contemptible, or lepers.”

Marches demanding expulsion

Efforts to cast the elected representatives of Israel’s large Palestinian minority as traitors are intended to send a message that the Palestinian public is equally disloyal.

That would have been welcomed by Kahane. Under the slogan “They Must Go”, he argued that there was no place for Palestinians either in Israel or in the occupied territories.

Shortly after he entered parliament in 1984, he staged a provocative march to Umm al-Fahm, a large Palestinian town in Israel that lies close to the West Bank, to demand that its inhabitants emigrate. Police blocked his way, and government leaders protested that his actions were “shameful” and “dangerous”.

In recent years, his disciples, led by Baruch Marzel, have held similar marches to Umm al-Fahm and other Palestinian communities in Israel. These marches, however, have been approved by the courts and are provided with a police escort.

Accusations of disloyalty

For more than a decade, Kahane’s message has been echoed from within the government. Lieberman has heavily promoted a “static transfer” programme, in which communities such as Umm al-Fahm – and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens – would find themselves cast outside Israel through the redrawing of borders. They would be stripped of their citizenship.

After Lieberman announced his plan, it was backed by the right-wing prime minister of the time, Ariel Sharon. More recently, the proposal has won support from Netanyahu.

Lieberman has also been at the forefront of a popular Israeli discourse that demands Palestinian citizens demonstrate their loyalty to a Jewish state – or more precisely, a state that abides by the far-right positions of Netanyahu’s government.

By those standards, Palestinian citizens are bound to fail and appear disloyal.

It is within that framework that the Central Elections Committee, while approving Otzma Yehudit, banned a major Palestinian party, Balad, from running in April’s election.

It did so on the grounds that Balad opposes Israel being a Jewish state and demands it become a state belonging to all its citizens, or a liberal democracy, which would give equal rights to Palestinian and Jewish citizens.

Incitement over forest fires

Constant incitement against Palestinians has come from the prime minister down.

Two years ago, for example, Netanyahu accused Palestinian citizens of being behind forest fires that raged across Israel, in what he claimed was an attempt to burn down the state. This smear dominated front pages, even though authorities never produced any evidence for it.

But it has contributed to an intensifying racism shared among much of the Israeli Jewish public, as consistently demonstrated in polls.

According to one in December, 88 percent would object to their son befriending a girl belonging to Israel’s Palestinian minority, and 90 percent would oppose their daughter being friends with an Arab boy. Nearly half do not want a Palestinian citizen as a neighbour.

Annexing the West Bank

Meanwhile, in the occupied territories, Kahane’s calls for Jewish sovereignty over the West Bank and at the hyper-sensitive holy site of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem are now a staple of the Netanyahu government’s discourse.

Ministers such as Bennett and Shaked, as well as senior members of Netanyahu’s own Likud party, openly speak about seeking to annex large swaths of the West Bank.

At the same time, Al-Aqsa Mosque – which Israeli Jews call Temple Mount – has become ever-more a flashpoint, as the right focuses its attention on asserting a stronger Jewish presence there and tightening Israel’s control over the site. Tensions there have again risen in recent days.

Were he alive today, Kahane would be delighted at how much influence he has exerted over the subsequent period – not only on popular discourse in Israel, but on the strategic aims of Israeli governments.

And now, his disciples in Otzma Yehudit have a chance – care of Netanyahu – to carry on Kahane’s work from inside the next government and to accelerate the pace of change.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Paul Manafort and the Crime of Not Provoking Russia

Paul Manafort has been convicted and sentenced to four years in prison for what the judge calls “white collar crimes” unrelated to “Russian collusion.” The mainstream press is in a state of shock. Surely, the morning cable anchors protest, he should have gotten 20 years!

He was friends with (“pro-Russian”) Ukrainian businessmen and politicians! He took fees for political consulting work with foreigners—that he never reported to the IRS! He committed bank fraud and tax fraud! And he may have had a role in the decision of the Republican National Committee at the Republican convention in July 2016, to modify a section of the program to remove reference to the provision of U.S. lethal military aid to Ukraine!

For two years that last accusation has been treated by the press as the truly damning one, the clear proof of a conspiracy to help Russia. There’s been a deliberate effort to generate outrage, where none really smolders in the masses’ breasts. How many people in this country feel strongly about the issue of Ukraine, could find the country on the map, have any knowledge in its history or any strong feelings about the matter of who should have sovereignty over Crimea?

The implicit argument is that not to give offensive weapons to the government in Ukraine at the time (then headed by Arseniy Yastenyuk, who had attained power through a U.S.-supported violent coup and the documented sponsorship of grotesque neocon beast Victoria Nuland) was anything other than the height of irresponsibility, if not treason. (“What more do we need than that?” demands the angry CNN “foreign policy analyst” or “national security analyst” while the hosts nod in agreement.), But this new regime in Kiev was riddled with fascists, was engaged in an effort to impose its armed authority over a rebellious ethnic Russian Donbas region, and might potentially be at war with Russia at any moment.

One could interpret the platform change as a rational retreat from an unnecessary provocation of Moscow. Why should that be so controversial or mysterious?

But to the talking heads of MSNBC and CNN, and maybe some on Fox, the minor move was sure, clear proof of Russian collusion. The party committee couldn’t have been applying mere common sense, and deference to a presidential nominee who’d expressed hope for normal relations with Russia. No, it had to have been hijacked by Russian agents.

In the real world, it’s just possible that Manafort (for whatever reasons) had educated Trump to some basic facts: Ukraine has long been ethnically divided between Ukrainians and (ethnic) Russians. The regime that seized power in February 2014 (toppling the democratically elected if highly corrupt one that Manafort had served) had completely alienated the Donbas region from the outset by its anti-Russian discriminatory measures, provoking the rebellion. As for the Crimean Peninsula, it had been Russian from 1785 to 1954, and the base of the Russian Black Sea Naval Fleet since the 1780s, so it wasn’t surprising that Moscow would want to re-assert sovereignty to prevent the very real prospect of losing its base to the relentlessly expanding NATO.

(It would have made sense for Bernie Sanders, had he won the Democratic nomination—that is, had we had a fair, not rigged, Democratic primary process—-to have stricken out any such language from a Democratic Party platform.)

I wrote a number of columns about Ukraine after the 2014 putsch opposing U.S. intervention in Ukraine and the U.S. effort, involving about $ 5 billion invested in what Victoria Nuland and Madeleine Albright both referred to publicly as “support for the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations.” (This was code for the drive of right-wing politicians in Ukraine to join EU after following the well-established pattern of former east bloc countries first joining NATO, then the European trade bloc.) Some of these were re-posted on Russian media. Am I thus guilty of collusion?

This matter of the non-support for military involvement in Ukraine, as a bad thing, is at the heart of the collusion case. The Manafort judge T.S. Ellis has been right to be skeptical, and to suspect that the prosecutors have been trying too hard to pin on Manafort a conspiracy charge implicating Trump and Russia. (Or a Trump staffer and a Russian businessman. Or a Trump aide and a Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-Ukrainian businessman, or Russian-American businessman.)

The fact of the matter is, as Graham Stack, a Fusion GPS researcher once hired to gather dirt on Manafort, pointed out last year: “Manafort was nothing like a pro-Kremlin influence on the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych… Instead, Manafort was one of the driving forces pushing Yanukovich towards signing the agreement with the EU. The Kremlin has every reason to hate him.”

That is, Manafort for his own business reasons wanted Ukraine to join the European Union, just like Victoria Nuland wanted to use the Ukrainian people’s (supposed) yearning to join the organization—that was then squeezing the life out of the Greeks and was subsequently rejected by the British—-as part and parcel of Ukraine’s planned entry into the anti-Russian military alliance. (This had been announced in 2008, the same year as NATO unveiled plans to welcome Georgia as well in the near term. That plan is on hold after the Russo-Georgia War of that year, just as plans to admit Ukraine are permanently on hold for fear—by the Germans, if not the U.S.—of provoking Russia.)

The motives of Nuland and Manafort were very different. She wanted a cause that would unite the opposition and facilitate regime change; he wanted a deal that would personally aggrandize him, given his investments in EU countries and in Ukraine. But  Russia was as of February 2014 opposed, for reasons Moscow stated clearly. (Basically, the cross-border economies are so deeply integrated, the cultures so similar and movement between the two countries so free that EU goods once in Ukraine would flow uncontrollably into Russia, damaging the Russian economy. Was the Russian stance unreasonable? Moscow offered Kiev a generous aid package, which Yanukovych accepted; meanwhile, Russia indicated it had no problem with Ukraine’s eventual EU membership once certain issues were resolved, and reiterated Putin’s aspiration for a Eurasia-wide free market to extend from Vladivostock to Lisbon. (Was this reasonable? Or does it “threaten our national interests” somehow?)

The Russians perhaps convinced Yanukovych that the austerity measures Ukraine would have to accept even for associate NATO membership would be destabilizing. So he withdrew from the provisional deal that had been pushed by Manafort.The  U.S.-backed  opposition declared Yanukovych a traitor loyal to Russia, and the government fell giving way to the current dysfunctional regime that lionizes fascists like Stephan Bandera.

One should definitely condemn Manafort for his past “consulting work”—with the likes of Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Gerald Ford, Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, and Jonas Savimbi. (This list of clients includes at least five mass murderers.) But why single him out for assisting the former, democratically elected Ukrainian president in his negotiations with the EU? (Oh, because he didn’t report the income…the tax fraud thing…  Terrible indeed.)

The fact is, Manafort would not have been on trial had there not been an effort to seize on any kind of link between anyone around Trump and any one or thing Russian to substantiate the charge of “Russian interference” in the U.S. election. The thinly researched and argued January 2017 “Assessing Russian Activities”intelligence report on that “interference” was followed by a drive to investigate Trump campaign collusion with Russia, with a clear political mission to explain Hillary’s loss by attributing it to Trump’s (treasonous, secret) relationship with Putin.

It hasn’t led to anything yet but a meeting in a Manhattan cigar bar Aug. 2, 2016 between Manafort, his deputy Mike Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian business partner of Manfort’s since 2005 (“thought to be linked to Russian intelligence”) that might have involved  the sharing of some polling data that by law should have been kept secret (or only shared with U.S. political operatives seeking to legitimately influence the outcome of the U.S. election).

Maybe some Russians used the information to influence targeted U.S. minds, using Facebook to throw the election result in Wisconsin. That would see horrible, would it not? An attack by other people on our democracy?! (While we never interfere, anywhere!)

The message is in any case clear. We should be outraged that “the Russians” “interfered” in “our election” tainting its result. We should view “our” elections as sacrosanct affairs, and be outraged that Trump staffers were willing to talk to Russian officials or private citizens, about the election or lots of other things, neglecting to report any contact with nationals of a country that (for some reason) we’re supposed to regard as an “adversary.”   Indeed, the overriding historical import of the movement to drive Trump from office is its re-enforcement of Russophobia in this country.

Trump is depicted as evil less due to his bigotry, misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, or corrupt business practices than due to his failure to do the right thing: take a hard line on Russia.

That means denouncing Putin, the way Hillary did. (Clinton as top U.S. diplomat called Putin a new Hitler, for re-annexing Crimea.) It means continuing to demand, as Obama did, that Russia withdraw from Crimea and cease whatever material support it provides to the separatists in the Donbas region or face continuing U.S. (and EU) sanctions. (These are hopeless demands, and are hurting Europe as well as Russia. Yet their maintenance is depicted as the only responsible route forward, and suggestions they be lifted portrayed as capitulation to evil.)

And it means howling in indignation when Paul Manafort, the closest thing to a “smoking gun” about collusion between Russia and Trump, only gets four years behind bars. It means disparaging Judge Ellis, noting his expressed concern about special prosecutors’ overreach and the possibility of the case becoming a “political weapon.”

News anchors visibly consternated by the sentence length seem troubled too by the likelihood that the Mueller probe will conclude with no real evidence. The dream of Trump being exposed as a Russian agent—promising sanctions relief after his victory in return for advance Russian notice about Wikileaks’ hacked emails publication schedule—-is fading.

In its place is the dream of replacing Trump in 2020 with an (appropriately) anti-Russian leader. This would mean one committed to NATO (which is still officially on track to include Georgia and Ukraine, to better encircle and provoke Russia); committed to the sanctions designed to hobble the Russian economy and prevent other countries from trading with it; committed to challenging Russia’s influence in the Middle East and depicting any such influence as “foreign interference” in a region that ought by rights be dominated by the U.S. as the world’s “exceptional” nation; and the insistence on the myth that the U.S. has “national interests” transcending class interests that need to be protected from Russia pursuing its own.

The appropriately anti-Russian leader the mainstream media seeks must of course be, preeminently, a proud capitalist. The restoration of normality must combine the new Russophobia (which has nothing to do immediately with anticommunism—since the Russian state is thoroughly capitalist and Putin’s party is both pro-market and pro-Orthodox religion—but draws on Cold War specifically anti-Russian tropes) with a clear repudiation of socialism.

*****

Saturday: Dave Gura on MSNBC expressing puzzlement that John Hinckenluper in a Joe Scarborough interview refused to call himself a capitalist (recognizing the negative connotations of that word among many young people).

Shame! the bipartisan panelists all agree; he should have proudly broadcast his capitalist status, and promoted the market as the key to creating jobs. If the Dems go with a “socialist” message, Trump will win! The very word socialism is Kryptonite!

These two phenomena—the mainstream ruling-class disappointment that the “Russian collusion” case is collapsing, and alarm at the soaring popularity of “socialism”—are related. To bring him down, one accuses the president of collusion with a country vilified throughout the Cold War; the USSR was targeted for its “socialism” but also attacked on the basis of ethnic stereotypes that remain useful to the anti-Russian propagandist. To make sure his successor is committed to the post-Cold War strategy of maintaining global hegemony and preventing the emergence of any rival, one must insure that someone who accepts capitalist imperialism takes office.

The morning TV news anchors, makers of public opinion, unite in agreement that it is unacceptable to question the motives of legislators who always vote in favor of Israel. (In this they in fact unite with Trump, who’s opportunistically charging the Democrats with antisemitism.) They also unite in agreeing it’s good the Hanoi summit between Kim and Trump failed, because it would be against U.S. interests to reduce sanctions until Pyongyang gets rid of it’s nukes (which it’s not going to do without sanctions relief, so the anti-Trump position is a virtual demand for war). These are some of the responsible positions of the anti-Trump mainstream.

My, what an awful, awful man! Such a Russian stooge! Jeopardizing our national security, serving Russian interests, by pulling out of Syria! (When did insistence on indefinite deployment of U.S. forced illegally in Syria become so mainstreamed?) And by talking about an Afghan pullout!

And his campaign chairman was meeting Russians! (Let us recall Manafort was chairman all of three months.) And Manafort was secretly meeting Russians, our adversaries!

Such outrage. Such unanimity. Such slavish devotion to capitalism, imperialism, “our heroes” in the U.S. military, sterile political correctness plus unquestioned devotion to Israel, and of course the systematic vilification of Russia. The trashing of both socialism and Russia, the latter having nothing to do with the former anymore, but what difference does it make?  We’re supposed to believe that both of them are Kryptonite, and that the choice before us is between the responsible capitalist and Russophobe (such as Joe Biden) and the capitalist and imagined Russophile traitor Donald Trump.

Why the Outrage? “Jewish Power” Party is the New Norm in Israeli Politics

Immediately after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forged an alliance with the fringe political group, Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), a widespread outrage ensued.

The anger did not emanate only from the Center, Left and Arab parties, but from some in the Right as well. Even the pro-Israel lobby in the US, known for its hawkish political views, spoke out against the sinister union.

“The views of Otzma Yehudit”, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tweeted, “are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel.”

But what if they do? And what if “Otzma Yehudit” is but a different political articulation of mainstream Israeli views, reflecting the very “core values” that even AIPAC has been blindly defending since its inception in 1953?

Prior to the alliance between Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, Rafi Peretz’s far-right Jewish Home, and Otzma Yehudit, which was struck on February 20, Israel was hardly a liberal democracy that shunned racism and embraced political pluralism. Indeed, it must be understood that the inclusion of Otzma Yehudit in Israel’s mainstream political scene is consistent with the moral corruption of Israeli politics as a whole.

To protest the alliance between Netanyahu and the fanatical leaders of Otzma Yehudit is to suggest that mainstream Israeli politicians don’t represent the very chauvinistic, racist and violent ideals that the extremist party has championed since its formation in 2012.

Otzma Yehudit was resurrected by the followers of Brooklyn-born Rabbi Meir Kahane, who has advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and has led his followers in many violent incursions against Palestinian Arab communities, in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

His Kach party, banned in Israel four years after its formation in 1984, was even then not rejected for its “racist policies” as many in the media are now suggesting. The party operated outside the confines of the Israeli government agenda, thus it was forced out, but its violent ideas persisted in the Knesset until this day. If racism against Palestinians was truly a Kach-championed political anomaly, how is one to explain the racist Nation-State law, which defines Israel as a “the nation-state of the Jewish people” – elevating everything Jewish and degrading everything Palestinian?

The law is hardly different from Otzma Yehudit’s own constitution, which defines Israel as a “Jewish state in its character, its national symbols and its legal values”, also defining Hebrew as Israel’s “only official language”.

In fact, a careful reading of the party’s constitution and the text of the Nation-State law reveals astounding similarities. This suggests that since the days of Meir Kahane, it is Israeli society that has drawn closer to the views of Jewish extremists, not the other way around.

Indeed, Kahane was assassinated in 1990, but his ideas lived on, expanding along with Jewish settlements to finally capture mainstream imagination. The outrage against the Netanyahu-Otzma Yehudit alliance is likely motivated by a slight degree of fear that the ugly face of Zionism has been fully exposed to the world.

As for AIPAC, it is clear that no amount of carefully-worded diplomatic language will suffice to explain why the Israeli government is to be populated by members of a party that has been listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department since 1994.

Netanyahu is desperate, and, as history has taught us, when the Israeli Prime Minister is in a political jam, he would stoop to any level to free himself. In the last general elections in 2015, Netanyahu made a final appeal to his supporters. “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves,” he said, resorting to his typical style of fear-mongering. Unsurprisingly, he won.

Netanyahu is more desperate now than ever. His opponents in the Center are merging their parties in a new list, Kahol Lavan or “Blue and White”, which has the potential to unseat him on April 9.

Worse, the Israeli attorney general has resolved on February 28 to indict Netanyahu for “bribery and fraud”. A poll published the following day found that two-thirds of Israelis think that Netanyahu should resign if indicted.

Netanyahu’s own opportunistic legacy is more than enough to explain his decision to reach out to Otzma Yehudit, but what is truly mind-boggling is the outrage at a political move that seems perfectly fit for Israel’s mainstream politics.

Even if Israel’s Central Election Committee resolves to bar Otzma Yehudit from participating in the upcoming elections, little will change in terms of the values and ideals the party stands for, principles that, in one way or another, also define Jewish Home, the New Right, the Likud and others.

Otzma Yehudit’s platform calls for a war against the “enemies of Israel” that must “be total, without negotiations, without concessions and without compromises”.

But isn’t this essentially the same view of Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice in Netanyahu’s coalition, and now one of the leaders of the newly formed “New Right” party?

In 2014, just before Israel unleashed its most destructive war on the besieged Gaza Strip, Shaked declared the need for a total war. “Not an operation, not a slow-moving one, not low-intensity, not controlled escalation … This is a war … This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people …”

More than 2,139 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the Israeli war that followed her declaration, and over 11,000 were wounded.

Why the outrage, then, when the fringe party’s mission to “restore the sovereignty and ownership over the Temple Mount” – meaning, Al-Aqsa Mosque – is consistent with the views of most Israelis, religious and secular alike? Knesset members have made that call repeatedly, often from Al-Aqsa itself, while surrounded by scores of soldiers and armed Jewish settlers.

As for the confiscation of Palestinian land and the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, as Otzma Yehudit advocates, that, too, is a common ideal that most Israeli political groups, spanning the Right and Left, brazenly champion.

AIPAC is not only being hypocritical to suggest that Otzma Yehudit violates the “core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel”, it is being purposely deceptive as well.

In fact, Otzma Yehudit’s platform only reinforces the existing “core values” of Israel, the same values that AIPAC itself champions without the slightest regard for human rights, international law and the principles of true democratic values.

War on Al-Aqsa: What Price Netanyahu’s Victory

On February 18, members of extremist Jewish groups raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Occupied Al-Quds (Jerusalem). They clashed with Palestinian worshippers, as the settlers attempted to shut down the gate of Al-Aqsa itself.

The clashes involved the Israeli army and police as well, who opened fire and brutally assaulted Palestinians, leading to scores of injuries.

On February 19, the Israeli army carried out the unusual step of shutting down Al-Rahma Gate, which leads to a section of the Al-Aqsa compound that has, itself, been shut down by the Israeli army since 2003.

The provocative decision to seal the gate was clearly made in advance, and the lock and key have the fingerprints of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

It is quite typical for Israeli politicians to carry out confrontational measures against Palestinians shortly before general elections are due. The nature of these measures is determined by the kind of political constituency that Israeli leaders aim to appease.

However, a war on Gaza, at least for now, is too risky an option for Netanyahu as it would take place too close to the April 9 elections date. Moreover, a botched Israeli attack on the Strip on November 11 caused Netanyahu a major embarrassment, forcing him to shelve the Gaza option for now.

That said, if the Israeli Prime Minister’s political standing grows too desperate in the coming weeks, a Gaza war may, once again, be placed on the table.

Indeed, the political union between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, which was declared on February 21, has certainly upped the ante for Netanyahu who has assumed that his election victory is a foretold conclusion.

Gantz and Lapid merged their two parties into one election list called Kahol Lavan (“Blue and White”), the single most serious electoral challenge for Netanyahu in years.

For the time being, Netanyahu has decided to appeal to the most messianic religious segments of Israeli society in order to keep his challengers at bay. This should come as no surprise as the religious, ultra-national far right has been backbone of the Israeli leader’s coalitions for a decade.

In fact, weeks before the Gantz and Lapid union, Netanyahu had taken several measures to show signs of goodwill towards his religious constituency.

One such overture was made on January 28, when Netanyahu ordered the UN unarmed international observers to leave the Occupied Palestinian city of Al-Khalil, where a few hundred armed Jewish settlers have been a constant source of violence. The Jewish settlers of Qiryat Arba’a live under the protection of a massive Israeli army contingent. Both groups have worked together to terrorize the Palestinian inhabitants of the city for many years.

A joint statement issued by several humanitarian organizations, including Oxfam, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Save the Children warned of the terrible fate awaiting the Palestinian community as a result of Netanyahu’s decision in Al-Khalil.

“Hundreds of civilians, including children, will see their safety put at risk by the withdrawal of international observers deployed in the city of Hebron,” the statement read.

True to form, attacks by Jewish settlers followed, as media and rights group reports point to a surge of violence against Palestinian civilians in the city.

By unleashing the wrath of Jewish settlers in Al-Khalil, Netanyahu wanted to communicate to his supporters that he remains committed to their settlement project, an unworthy cause that violates international law and comes at the price of protracted human suffering.

Similarly, the Israeli decision to shut down Al-Rahma Gate on February 19 was a pre-calculated move, aimed at uniting the entirety of the Israeli right, including the most extremist of all religious and settler groups behind Netanyahu’s leadership in the coming elections.

In fact, a trend began a few weeks earlier. On January 9, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowment documented a sharp increase of Israeli violations, involving the Israeli army and Jewish settlers at holy Palestinian sites throughout the month of December. According to the Organization, over 100 such violations were reported, including 30 different incursions into Al-Aqsa itself.

A raid on Al-Aqsa on January 7 involved more than the usual suspects, but was led by Israeli Agriculture Minister and a strong ally of Netanyahu, Uri Ariel.

This type of politically-motivated and highly militarized ‘visits’ to Al-Aqsa are reminiscent of the infamous ‘visit’ by late Israeli right-wing leader, Ariel Sharon in September 2000. At the time, Sharon wanted to increase his chances of becoming Israel’s next prime minister, and to ensure that his arch-rival (then, interestingly enough, the very Benjamin Netanyahu) did not win the Likud Party nomination. The gambit worked. Sharon sparked the Second Palestinian Uprising (2000-05), leading to the deaths of thousands and, of course, securing his seat at the helm of Israeli politics for years.

Netanyahu, ever studious and resourceful, has, indeed, mastered the art of political manipulation as his mentor and, once again, Al-Aqsa is the platform for this sinister Israeli politicking.

Netanyahu’s decision to strike an alliance with Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) – the rebranded party of the extremist late Meir Kahane – further demonstrates how the current surge of violence around the holy Palestinian sites is a pre-calculated political move by Netanyahu and his government.

The fact that Netanyahu would bring into his future coalition groups that are the ideological mutation of the Jewish Defense League – which is classified as ‘terrorist organization’’ by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – speaks volumes about the changing relationship between the US and Israel. Thanks to Washington’s blind support of Israel, Netanyahu feels politically triumphant and invincible, even above US’ own laws.

However, to achieve his pathetic dream of being Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, Netanyahu should be wary of the bloody consequences that his reckless action is sure to yield. Indeed, Netanyahu may be provoking the kind of violence that is much bigger than his own ability to contain.

Al-Aqsa Mosque has served not only as a religious symbol for Palestinians, but a national symbol as well, representing their coveted freedom and serving as a source of hope and unity over the course of generations.

While the blood of Palestinians is irrelevant in Netanyahu’s quest for political dominance, the international community should take immediate measures to prevent what could become an Israeli-induced bloodbath in the coming weeks.

The Movement And The 2020 Elections

The political system in the United States is a plutocracy, one that works for the benefit of the wealthy, not the people. Although we face growing crises on multiple fronts – economic insecurity, a violent and racist state, environmental devastation, never-ending wars and more – neither of the Wall Street-funded political parties will take action to respond. Instead, they are helping the rich get richer.

The wealth divide has gotten so severe that three people have more wealth than the bottom 50% of people in the country. Without the support of the rich, it is nearly impossible to compete in elections. In 2016, more than $6.5 billion was spent on the federal elections, a record that will surely be broken in 2020. More than half that money came from less than 400 people, from fewer than 150 families.

People are aware of this corruption and are leaving the two Wall Street parties. According to the census, 21.4% of people do not register to vote, and in 2018, less than a majority of registered voters voted. According to Pew Research, independents (40% of voters) outnumber Democrats (30%) and Republicans (24%). The largest category of registered voters is non-voters. Yet, the media primarily covers those who run within the two parties, or billionaire independent candidates who do not represent the views of most people.

This raises a question for social movements: What can be done to advance our agenda over the next two years when attention will be devoted mostly to two parties and the presidential race?

Progressives Failed to Make the Democratic Party a Left-Progressive Party

People in the United States are trapped in an electoral system of two parties. Some progressives have tried — once again — to remake the Democratic Party into a people’s party.

We interviewed Nick Brana, a former top political organizer for the Sanders presidential campaign, on the Popular Resistance podcast, which will be aired Monday, about his analysis of the Democratic Party. Brana describes the efforts of progressives to push the party to the left over the past three years and how they were stopped at every turn. They tried to:

  • Change the Democratic Party Platform: The platform is nonbinding and meaningless but even so, the Party scrapped the platform passed by the delegates the following year and replaced it with a more conservative one called the “Better Deal.”
  • Replace the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair. They discovered the chair is picked by the DNC, which is made up of corporate lobbyists, consultants, and superdelegates, who picked Hillary Clinton’s candidate Tom Perez, over Rep. Keith Ellison, former co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.
  • Replace the DNC membership with grassroots activists. Instead, at the DNC’s  2017 fall meeting, the Party purged progressives from the DNC, making it more corporate and elitist.
  • Fix the Presidential primary process after it was disclosed that the DNC weighted the scale in favor of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. The Democrats rigged the Rules Commission to accomplish the opposite; i.e., kept closed primaries to shut out progressive independent voters, kept joint fundraising agreements between the DNC and presidential campaigns, slashed the number of states that hold caucuses, which favor progressive candidates, and refused to eliminate superdelegates, moving them to the second ballot at the convention but reserving the right to force a second ballot if they choose.

Further cementing their power, Democrats added a “loyalty oath” which allows the DNC chair to unilaterally deny candidates access to the ballot if he deems the candidate has been insufficiently “faithful” to the Party during their life. And the DNC did nothing to remove corporate and billionaire money from the primary or the Party, ensuring Wall Street can continue purchasing its politicians.

The results of the 2018 election show the Blue Wave was really a Corporate Wave. Brana describes how only two progressives out of 435 members of Congress unseated House Democrats in all of 2018: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley. When Pelosi was challenged as leader of the House Democrats, she was challenged from a right-wing Blue Dog Democrat, not a progressive Democrat, with many “progressives” including AOC and Rep. Jayapal speaking up for Pelosi’s progressive credentials.

In contrast to the failure of progressives, the militarists had a banner 2018 election. The 11 former intelligence officials and veterans were the largest groups of victorious Democratic challengers in Republican districts. Throughout the 2018 election cycle, Democratic Party leaders worked against progressive candidates, for instance pushing them to oppose Medicare for all.

This is an old story that each generation learns for itself: the Democratic Party cannot be remade into a people’s party. It has been a big business party from its founding as a slaveholders party in the early 1800s, when slaves were the most valuable “property” in the country, to its Wall Street funding today. Lance Selfa, in “The Democrats: A Critical History,” shows how the Democratic Party has consistently betrayed the needs of ordinary people while pursuing an agenda favorable to Wall Street and US imperialism. He shows how political movements from the union and workers movements to the civil rights movement to the antiwar movement, among others, have been betrayed and undermined by the Democratic Party.

Social Movements Must Be Independent of the Corporate Parties

The lesson is mass movements need to build their own party. The movement should not be distracted by the media and bi-partisan politicos who urge us to vote against what is necessary for the people and planet. At this time of crisis, we cannot settle for false non-solutions.

Howie Hawkins, one of the founders of the Green Party and the first candidate to campaign on a Green New Deal, describes, in From The Bottom Up: The Case For An Independent Left Party, how Trumpism is weakening as its rhetoric of economic populism has turned into extreme reactionary Republicanism for the millionaires and billionaires. He explains that Democrats are not the answer either, as “they won’t replace austerity capitalism and militaristic imperialism to which the Democratic Party is committed.”

The result, writes Hawkins, is we must commit ourselves “to build an independent, membership-based working-class party.” Even the New Deal-type reforms of Bernie Sanders “do not end the oppression, alienation, and disempowerment of working people” and do not stop “capitalism’s competitive drive for mindless growth that is devouring the environment and roasting the planet.”

Hawkins urges an ecosocialist party that creates economic democracy; i.e., social ownership of the means of production for democratic planning and allocation of economic surpluses as well as confronting the climate crisis. He explains socialism is a “movement of the working class acting for itself, independently, for its own freedom.”

He urges membership-based parties building from the local level that are independent of the two corporate-funded parties.  Local branches would educate people on issues to support a mass movement for transformational change. Hawkins is a long-time anti-racism activist. He became politically active as a teenager when he saw the mistreatment of the Mississippi Freedom Democrats, who elected sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer as their co-chair. He believes a left party must confront racial and ethnic tensions that have divided the working class throughout its history.

Hawkins points out the reasons why the time is ripe for this. Two-thirds of people are from the working class compared to one-third in 1900. The middle class (e.g. teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, technicians) holds progressive positions on policy issues creating super-majority support for critical issues on our agenda. The working and middle classes are better educated than ever. Over the last forty years, their living standards have declined, especially the younger cohort that is starting life in debt like no other generation. Finally, the environmental crisis is upon us and can no longer be ignored creating a decisive need for radical remaking of the economy.

Critical Issues To Educate And Mobilize Around

Popular Resistance identified a 16 point People’s Agenda for economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace.  Three issues on which we should focus our organizing over the next few years include:

National Improved Medicare For All: The transformation of healthcare in the US from an insurance-based market system to a national public health system is an urgent need with over 100,000 deaths annually that would not occur if we had a system like the UK or France, two-thirds of bankruptcies (more than 500,000 per year) are due to medical illness even though most of those who were bankrupted had insurance, 29 million people do not have health insurance and 87 million people are underinsured.

While many Democrats are supporting expanded and improved Medicare for all, including presidential candidates, the movement needs to push them to truly mean it and not to support fake solutions that use our language; e.g., Medicare for some (public options, Medicare buy-ins and reducing the age of Medicare). Winning Medicare for all will not only improve the health of everyone, it will be a great economic equalizer for the poor, elderly and communities of color. This is an issue we can win if we continue to educate and organize around it.

Join our Health Over Profit for Everyone campaign.

Enacting a Green New Deal. The Green New deal has been advocated for since 2006, first by Global Greens, then by Green Party candidates at the state level and then by Jill Stein in her two presidential runs. The issue is now part of the political agenda thanks to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She and Senator Ed Markey led the introduction of a framework for a Green New Deal, which is supported by more than 50 Democrats including many presidential candidates.

Their resolution is a framework that the movement needs to educate and organize to make into real legislation to urgently confront the climate crisis, which has been mishandled by successive US presidents. The movement must unite for a real Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal has the potential to not only confront the climate crisis by shifting to a carbon-free/nuclear-free energy economy but to also shift to a new economy that is fairer and provides economic security. Remaking energy so it serves the people, including socializing energy systems; e.g., public utilities, could also provide living wage jobs and strengthen worker’s rights. It will require the remaking of housing, which could include social housing for millions of people, a shift from agribusiness to regenerative agriculture and remaking finance to include public banks to pay for a Green New Deal. The Democratic leadership is already seeking to kill the Green New Deal, so the movement has its work cut out for it.

Stopping Wars and Ending US Empire: US empire is in decline but is still causing great destruction and chaos around the world. US militarism is expensive. The empire economy does not serve people, causing destabilization, death and mass migration abroad as well as austerity measures at home. Over the next decade, the movement has an opportunity to define how we end empire in the least destructive way possible.

As US dominance wanes, the US is escalating conflicts with other great powers. The US needs to end 15 years of failed wars in the Middle East and 18 years in Afghanistan. In Latin America, US continues to be regime change against governments that seek to represent the interests of their people especially in Venezuela where the threat of militarism is escalating, but also in Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Cuba. The migrant issue being used by Trump to build a wall along the US-Mexican border is created by US policies in Central America. And, the US needs to stop the militarization of Africa and its neocolonial occupation by Africom.

Take action: Participate in the Feb. 23, 2019, international day of action against the US intervention in Venezuela and the “Hands-Off” national protest in Washington, DC on March 16, 2019.

There will also be actions around April 4, when NATO holds its 70th-anniversary meeting in Washington, DC, on the same day as the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death and his Beyond Vietnam speech.

Join the Spring Actions against NATO in Washington, DC.

While the US lives in a mirage democracy with manipulated elections, there is a lot of work we can do to build a mass movement that changes the direction of the country. This includes building independent political parties to represent that movement in elections.

Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide

American politicians from the two main parties have finally found something to agree upon: more intervention in Venezuela.

“Now, despite (President Nicolas) Maduro, there is hope (in Venezuela)”, wrote Democratic Senator, Dick Durbin, in USA Today. “These events (meaning the current political instability in the country) are a welcome development of Latin American nations defending democracy.”

“He’s picked a battle he can’t win,” Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, said, referring to Maduro in an interview, quoted in the New York Times. “It’s just a matter of time. The only thing we don’t know is how long it will take – and whether it will be peaceful or bloody.”

This unprecedented unity between Democrats and Republicans reflects an American legacy that precedes the current Donald Trump Administration by nearly two centuries. In fact, it goes much further and deeper than the US hegemonic approach to South America, to encompass the entire Western political hemisphere, with the exception of Italy, Norway and Greece.

The West’s love-affair with intervention has little to do with restoring democracy, either in Venezuela, or anywhere else. ‘Democracy’ has been used throughout the 20th century as a tool that provided legal and moral rationalization for US and Western meddling. It matters little to Western leaders that Maduro was elected in presidential elections deemed ‘transparent‘ by international observers in May 2018.

Notwithstanding Maduro’s own shortcomings in uniting his people in the face of a most pressing economic crisis, what gives Trump, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, France’s Emmanuel Macron the right to cast a deciding vote on who rules over Venezuela?

Sadly, Venezuela is neither the precedent, nor the exception. South America – as are the Middle East and Africa – has for long been perceived as if a Western protectorate going back many years. They are all rich with oil and other essential raw materials, but are also strategically significant in terms of global hegemony. Colonialism might have ended in its traditional form (with Palestine being the main exception) but it lives on in other ways.

While the US and its Western allies are strongly challenged by rising economic and military powers in Asia, the fate of South America, the Middle East and Africa is yet to be decided. The US, in particular, has always viewed South America as its own turf, and has either directly or indirectly contributed to coups, political and economic instability throughout the region.

US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has garnered a terrible reputation due to his role in the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent destabilization of the Middle East. Although discredited for his thoughtless and often militant approach to politics, he was resurrected by the Trump administration and is now travelling the world sowing the seeds of political and military discord.

While speaking about Washington’s need to “protect democracy” in Venezuela, Bolton admitted that a coup in Venezuela is an opportunity to exploit the country’s vast oil and natural resources.

Bolton explained the economic logic of US intervention in an interview with Fox News, soon after Venezuelan opposition leader and a main ally of the US, Juan Guaidó, declared himself an ‘interim president’ on January 23.

A regime change in Venezuela “will make a big difference to the United States economically, if we could have American oil companies invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela,” Bolton said.

But how is that to be achieved?

During a press conference at the White House a few days after the coup, Bolton “appeared to disclose confidential notes written on a yellow pad that included a plan to send US troops to Colombia,” in preparation for a military intervention in Venezuela.

Hasn’t Iraq quelled Bolton’s appetite for intervention, considering that the entire Middle East region now subsists in political uncertainty and unrelenting wars? And if Bolton is yet to get a hint that the world is rapidly changing, and that it behooves his country to reconsider its destructive interventionist foreign policy, why are Democrats joining in, along with the ‘liberal’ and ‘socialist’ European powers?

“Old habits die hard,” as the saying goes, and it seems that Western politicians refuse to abandon the old interventionist maxim and colonialist mentality through which they ruled the world for far too long.

This view is not meant to undermine the horrific economic conditions in Venezuela or overlook the endemic corruption in that country, which need to be understood and, if needed, criticized. But while the Venezuelan people have every right to protest their government, demanding greater accountability and economic solutions to the crushing poverty facing the country, no one has the right to meddle in the affairs of Venezuela or any other sovereign country, anywhere.

Moreover, it must be clear that neither the US nor its allies are interested in helping Venezuela to overcome its economic woes. In fact, they seem to be doing everything in their power to exacerbate the problem.

Hyperinflation and the crumbling of Venezuela’s oil industries led to a dramatic economic downturn in recent years, with about ten percent of the population fleeing the country. Poor policy choices also led to the significant weakening of local production and increasing devaluation of the country’s currency.

Venezuela has been a target on the American radar for many years. The deterioration of its economy, however, was the perfect opportunity for the US to trigger its Venezuelan allies into action, this leading to the current coup and political stalemate.

But those counting on the US to stabilize Venezuela in the long run are ignorant of history. The US government has hardly ever been a source of stability in South America, certainly not since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Since then, the US has done more than mere meddling, but engaged in outright political and military interventions.

The situation in Venezuela is dire, with children reportedly dying as a result of the lack of medicine and food. The country is also gearing up for a US military intervention and possible civil war.

Considering that all of these tragic predictions have already been witnessed in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere, South American leaders, and the few sensible voices around the world must move to block any further US meddling, and allow the people of Venezuela, through democracy, to determine their own future.

The Need for a Compelling Anti-Capitalist Narrative

There’s a scene in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia where he describes how the communists propagandized the fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Orwell was with a scruffy, makeshift band of fighters high in the Spanish Alps. Both the communists and fascists were dug into their trenches and a general stalemate had ensued. During the frigid mountain days, certain soldiers were tasked with communicating to the enemy. They would first position themselves in a safe place. Then using a megaphone would recite a prefabricated monologue about how the fascist soldiers were little more than pawns in the service of elite capital interests. They were the disposable implements of war, easily discarded once used. Orwell wrote that nearly everyone on the communist side assumed the efficacy of these communiques. The conscripted fascist, often a teenager and drafted against his will for a fight he had little knowledge of or interest in, would be sunk within a muddy trench, hungry, thirsty, tormented by the alpine freeze of high altitudes. How could the socialist message not appeal to him? Of particular value, Orwell noted, were the segments of the script that announced to the disgruntled fascists that the communist speaker was, at that very moment, consuming a delicious piece of warm, buttered toast. An absurd thing to say, and perhaps the brooding fascist understood how unlikely it was to be true, but the mere image of it, a slightly burnt half of toast slathered in golden melting butter, was enough to destabilize even the most stout-hearted soldier.

The Language of Transformation

The point being, to win “the fight for the minds of men,” as America’s great war propagandist George Creel put it, one must conjure charismatic images, weave imagistic tales, and produce a historical narrative that resonates with and unifies a vast disenfranchised public. Creel served under the Wilson administration and helped turn a pacifist citizenry into a bristling public angry at the fearsome “Hun” it had never actually encountered (not unlike the roving, rape-obsessed immigrants that hysterical Republicans have never encountered, even as they obsessively grease their rifles).

Despite the obvious need for compelling stories, how often do we read interviews or articles with committed leftists or socialists, even the venerable Noam Chomsky, for instance, reminding us in the driest of terms that voting is a mere five-second act that should be given no more attention than a quick, lesser-evil calculation before stepping into the voting booth. Rather, as various authors remind us, like humorless fathers admonishing a frivolous child, that only the hard, laborious, and thankless work of community organizing, conducted tirelessly between elections, will lead to real and lasting change. True as it may be, it is, as framed and presented, a cheerless and dispiriting prospect, a maxim that literally no one wants to hear or is wont to repeat.

What this deadpan delivery misses is how voting is the one event that truly captures the imagination of the public. It is the collective ritual that confirms for many Americans that we are privileged members of a rich and enlightened western democracy. That, despite our problems, we are yet at the forefront of history, participating in the march of human progress with a faith and purpose rivaled on by the Athenian demos and the arbiters of the Magna Carta. It forgets that for many it is a hallowed booth into which we step, where one’s choice is cloaked behind a dark curtain like some kind of secular confessional, and after making their confession, the cleansed citizenry wear bright stickers proclaiming to all and sundry that they did their civic duty.

Voting, perhaps, is the one communal political act which our atomized capitalist society permits us. It rests alongside holiday consumption sprees and sporting rituals as self-defining markers in the firmament of our national consciousness. It may be myth but it is an animating myth of our society. As such, it shouldn’t be discarded with such facile contempt. Rather, it ought to be mined for pointers on how to model a socialist myth that can be evangelized to a public in desperate need of new answers.

Story and Symbol

In Geoffrey Miller’s evolutionary psychology tour de force, The Mating Mind, in which he explores the idea that art and language evolved under sexual selection pressures (rather than by pressures of natural selection), he writes the following:

Imagine some young hominids huddling around a Pleistocene campfire, enjoying their newly evolved language ability. Two males get into an argument about the nature of the world, and start holding forth, displaying their ideologies.

The hominid named Carl proposes: “We are mortal, fallible primates who survive on this fickle savanna only because we cluster in these jealousy-ridden groups. Everywhere we have ever traveled is just a tiny, random corner of a vast continent on an unimaginably huge sphere spinning in a vacuum. There sphere has traveled billions and billions of times around a flaming ball of gas, which will eventually blow up to incinerate our empty, fossilized skulls. I have discovered several compelling lines of evidence in support of these hypotheses…”

The hominid named Candide interrupts: “No, I believe we are immortal spirits gifted with these beautiful bodies because the great god Wug chose us as his favorite creatures. Wug blessed us with this fertile paradise that provides just enough challenges to keep things interesting. Behind the moon, mystic nightingales sing our praises, some of us more than others. Above the azure dome of the sky the smiling sun warms our hearts. After we grow old and enjoy the babbling of our grandchildren, Wug will lift us from these bodies to join our friends to eat roasted gazelle and dance eternally. I think these things because Wug picked me to receive this special wisdom in a dream last night.”

Which ideology do you suppose would prove more sexually attractive? Will Carl’s truth-seeking genes–which may discover some rather ugly truths–out-compete Candide’s wonderful-story genes? The evidence of human history suggests that our ancestors were more like Candide than Carl. Most modern humans are naturally Candides. It usually takes years of watching BBC or PBS science documentaries to become as objective as Carl.

If this is so, is the left guilty of transforming itself into a brooding Carl, arms overflowing with manifestos and tomes, arguing apocalypse to a weary electorate that just wants some good news? Or, at the very least, a piece of escapism, an entertaining tale that removes them from their chronic worries for a couple of hours? Recently, teacher Bruce Lerro illustrated some of the themes he emphasizes in a class he teaches, “Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century”. The gist of his two-part series is that socialism has yet to grasp the theatrical side of human nature that is a requisite of movement building. He points to religion, nationalism, and sports as three fields which have successfully leveraged the tribal, ethnocentric, and ritualistic tendencies within human nature to promote their particular interests.

We know Hollywood and the defense industry often collaborate on films that reify the tropes of patriotic Americanism for each passing generation. We know from marketing that advertising that creates dramatic tension and that draws from the story arcs of conventional dramatic theory improve attention and likability. Metaphors are triggering devices for the senses, hence the durable appeal of the ‘shining city on a hill’ and the visual tropes of the American Dream.

The figure of the charismatic leader has lately done a number on the American imagination. If we are so addicted to facts, as the interminable and farcical Russiagate campaign has so many of us believing, then why is Barack Obama still revered as a peace candidate? A man who as Commander in Chief dropped 26,000 bombs in a single calendar year. Who bombed the Middle East for eight years with the implacable consistency of a religious rite. Who was at war in some fashion or another his entire presidency. Yet Obama was just last month handed the RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award. The organization tweeted an image of the former president in a popular pose: impeccably dressed in an expensive suit of muted azure thread, his face is a portrait of composure and gentle optimism, as his eyes gaze placidly at some unnamable dream far and high and away from where he–and we–are. The gap between the man and the myth is abyssal. Yet one can recall the masterfully rendered illustrations of the young Obama gazing determinedly into the near distance, above bolded letterings of “HOPE” and “CHANGE”, and the flowing waves of the campaign logo.

The Need for a New Myth

All this to say that without a more stirring socialist vision, imbued with the symbols and ritual that instantiate human myth, we will continue to find our attempts to inspire revolution co-opted by monopoly capital, which tend to better stories than the left does. As Henry Giroux points out, “…the lack of mass resistance to [neoliberal] oppression signals more than apathy or indifference, it also suggests that we don’t have an informed and energizing vision of the world for which we want to struggle.” Are we fighting for socialism or against neoliberalism? Are we battling neoliberalism or capitalism itself? Are we after a New Deal or a new society? Is the enemy neoconservatism or the white supremacist? Are we fighting racism, sexism, imperialism, neoliberalism, or all of the above?

This messaging mayhem is not an issue for the establishment. Rather than issuing harsh systemic critiques, the establishment paints pictures. For liberal audiences, Democrats fulminate about Donald Trump as the living manifestation of evil and traffic in the language of tyranny and resistance. For white supremacists, Republicans rouse racist enmities with images of impoverished refugees moving steadily toward our borders, which take on a monstrous character in the minds of MAGA minions. For uncompromising patriots, the armed forces air commercials of heroic young men jumping from helicopters and landing crafts and running across smoke-filled landscapes “toward the sound of chaos.” For bootstrap conservatives, there are Reagan’s welfare queens arriving at the unemployment office in waxed Cadillacs. For humanitarian interventionists, there is Colin Powell’s imagery of a team of mad scientists zigzagging Mesopotamia in mobile weapons labs, or Tony Blair brandishing a dossier warning that a nuclear-tipped WMD could hit central London in just 45 minutes.

In a mediascape littered with symbols, calls for the head of corporate capitalism on a gilded platter are thus swept aside by an interdependent duopoly that thrives on facilitating corporate exploitation with one hand and teasing the inexhaustible well of mass credulity with the other. Belief is the dodgy virtue that venal duopolists deploy the most. Each election cycle is an exercise in peddling hope and fear in alternating cycles, like a trafficker controlling his prisoners by a devious alternation of drug and deprivation. The left has done well illustrating the monstrosities of corporate capital, and the need to colorfully adumbrate the crimes of the ruling class will always be crucial. But so too is the need to craft more compelling stories of a world without war and a land where health and education and work are rites of passage rather than a lifelong ordeal. Can the traditional bearers of bad tidings shape an electrifying vision of a socialist society? A companion narrative that finally replaces the extant portrait of collectivism as a bloodbath of mayhem and menace? The left’s chances for mass appeal likely depend on it. Even the Bolsheviks, who were scathing critics of socialist opportunism, let alone capitalists, headlined their 1917 revolution with the triple promise of, “Peace! Land! Bread!” The workers and the peasants knew exactly what they were fighting for.

In 2020 Once Again, the Urgent Task: Making the Election a Struggle for Peace and Economic Security

If 2016 election taught us anything, it is that the U.S. working class is searching for alternatives to the two major parties, both of which they find unresponsive to their grievances and needs. By 2016, the working class, as well as young people, had become thoroughly dissatisfied by those representing the two establishment parties. This sentiment paved the way for Donald Trump to take over the GOP and for Bernie Sanders to come close to defeating the center-right, neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, symbolized by Hillary Clinton. What’s the road ahead?

In Desmond Greaves’ biography of Irish socialist leader James Connolly (1868-1916), Greaves quotes John Leslie, Connolly’s friend and comrade, as saying that “…the progress of Ireland depends on the independent organization of the working class.”

Such advice has gone unheeded by most of the U.S. Left, including trade union and progressive forces that remain tied to the program and candidates of the Democratic Party. I suggest a paraphrase of Leslie’s idea as a means to chart a course that could break the predictable pendulum swing from the GOP to the Democrats: “The political future of the United States depends on the independent organization of the working class.” The task then is to act to promote and organize such a political force.

To date, even though opportunities have been ripe for at least a decade, labor, progressive, civil rights and peace organizations have been unwilling, unable and/or uncertain as to how to act on such advice. Clearly the working class, in all its ethnic and national diversity, has been ready. Trump and Sanders, although through much different lenses, saw this and demonstrated the possibilities. The GOP establishment was forced to yield to those who gathered at his record-breaking rallies during the primary, while the Democratic Party’s rigged nominating system doomed Sanders.

Working class grievances…or deplorables?

This is the background analysis that sets the context for this article. Without a change in strategy it is reasonable to predict the future will be more of the same or worse. The mass of the American working class is fed up with politics as usual. For the time being a significant portion of the working class, mostly among white workers, finds Trump’s anti-establishment, working-class rhetoric appealing, even though many might reject to his xenophobic and racist rhetoric.

On the other hand, the Democratic Party has shown it is incapable, and I think unwilling, to make its case to the “deplorables,” as Hillary so casually named Trump supporters, thus contributing to her own defeat.

So, what do the “deplorables” want?  What are their grievances? Their needs?  Number one is economic security. Two is respect for working class work that produces the necessities of life and more. Neither major party, nor Trump, will deliver what the working class needs: a political vehicle that does not just represent them but is their own.

For many, this need is not well thought out but is a visceral reaction to political events. Election after election they have hired one or the other party with their votes but find both wanting. When both Sanders and Trump called the system “rigged,” it affirmed a conclusion drawn long ago by the working class.

The historical marker that began the working class break with the two parties is the betrayal by Bill Clinton, who promised labor unions during his 1992 campaign he would not support NAFTA. The GOP under H.W. Bush led the NAFTA negotiations, but Clinton and Al Gore backed by Big Business were hired to push it through Congress.

During the campaign, labor union leaders pressed their members to break from the GOP’s Reagan era and give the “progressive,” pro-labor nominee from Arkansas a chance. I recall having lunch with a local trade union leader in my home state of Minnesota just 100 days into the Clinton presidency, when he said it was already clear labor had been betrayed.

Labor and progressive organizations next challenge was to promote Barack Obama to their constituencies after he defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. It turned into a replay of 1992. Obama sidelined labor’s number one pitch to convince its members, his pledge to support the Employee Free Choice Act that would make union organizing easier. And Obama, like Bill Clinton, soon after being elected embraced free trade pacts that labor unions opposed.

NAFTA came back to haunt Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost key states she needed where NAFTA and other free-trade agreements had arguably done significant damage to living standards: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Trump hammered away at Clinton’s support for job-killing free trade agreements and her dismissal of the “deplorables,” taken to mean white workers who supported Trump. No doubt there is very real problem of racism among white Americans, working and middle class, but such a characterization further alienated white workers from the Democratic Party.

So, what can be done?

Prepare to endorse and run candidates, inside or outside the Democratic Party, on an independent working-class political program and a plan for peace. It is not difficult to mount a campaign for a House seat. More difficult is in identifying and recruiting a good candidate. Commit to running through the General Election, not just a primary bid. Such challenges could cause some centrist Democrats to lose to GOP candidates. Liberals who cling to the Democratic Party will criticize this as what they consider spoiler candidates; however, workers and youth will see the challengers as a breath of fresh political air. In the long run, Leslie’s message of working class independence from bourgeois parties is what history shows is a proven path to progressive and even revolutionary change. Every year this task is postponed or avoided means capitalists are more likely to employ more reactionary political and military solutions to the still unresolved capitalist economic crisis that began in 2008.

Left political analyses, like this article, often end without developing concrete steps to implement a program of action. As such, this next section poses practical steps that could be taken by individuals or by ad hoc groups, with or without a formal political organization to work through. Think of it as agitation and organizing to recruit masses of people to join the struggle.

First, a program is needed that fits the historical circumstances, that addresses the real problems people face and one that is possible to achieve with a shift in the balance of power.

In a Washington Post opinion piece in November 2018, Bernie Sanders outlined a 10-point domestic program similar to what he ran on in 2016 campaign. A program, we should recall, that inspired millions of working-class voters to join his campaign. His plan, if it were to be implemented, would greatly reduce the economic strain of working-class families. It includes single-payer health insurance, free post-secondary education, expanded social security benefits, immigration reform and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. In addition to enhancing economic security, such a program of shared benefits and reforms could also lead to a lessening of racism and xenophobia, as shared social benefits reduce the competition among workers that capitalism cultivates to divide and rule.

The missing ingredient

What is sorely lacking in Sanders’ program, however, is a plan for peace. Americans are tired of war. His program avoids the elephant in the room: the military budget and U.S. imperialist aggression. As we saw in 2014, 2016 and 2018, nearly all Democratic candidates avoided taking critical positions against U.S. foreign policies, even those few who may have been inclined. Such a critical perspective and program for peace will need to come from outside the two parties. There can be no meaningful struggle for a domestic economic program if the war budget is not addressed.

In late November, a group of over 100 U.S. activists, writers and scholars published an open letter to Sanders imploring him to speak out against U.S. militarism abroad and the growing Pentagon budget. In it they said, “A public policy that avoids mentioning its existence is not a public policy at all.”

Since then Sanders has made some overtures but he still appears reticent to more aggressively challenge the bi-partisan agreements on foreign policy. In this writer’s opinion such a challenge could have been his winning card in 2016.1 There are three possibilities for his reticence. He is either opposed to taking on the issue as he thinks it may detract from his chances to win; he acquiesces to the status quo out of fear of reprisal; or, as at least some of his voting record shows, he supports some of the aggressive economic and military policies.2 However, it is possible  he could be pushed to risk a break and embrace an eleventh point: a plan for peace. Even if he cannot be moved, his candidacy presents a public venue in which to agitate for placing war and peace on the 2020 agenda more broadly.

The degree to which this is possible will depend on whether or not peace organizations and social justice activists can bring to the surface the latent widespread opposition to the U.S. foreign policy among the working class and youth.3 Sanders and candidates at other state and federal levels can be moved by a mass show of support for a change in foreign policy and a plan for peace. There is no other way.

Action and organizing ideas

Consider how Sanders domestic program, plus a plan for peace, might be injected into the 2020 election, particularly in congressional districts and races. The object is to appeal directly to voters to create a groundswell of support so candidates for the House and Senate cannot avoid speaking to the question of war and peace. This is the means to both expose the often-unstated positions of those who support the status quo as well as to create the political conditions for those opposed to U.S. foreign polices to speak out. It’s also the first step to determine whether or not it is possible to run challengers on a peace program. It means agitating for Sanders’ 10 points and a peace program via independent organizing efforts, with priority given to organizing among the working class and youth. Some practical ideas follow.

  1. Even a simple individual action could become a spark. For example, mail a copy of Sanders’ domestic program along with a personal letter pointing out Sanders’ omission of a plan for peace. At the same time, send a copy to a few friends and to local political reporters. Ask others to do the same. To have an impact requires perhaps 1,000 letters. This figure is an intuitive guess of the minimum number required to break through the media and spark an open public debate. It is doable in many districts.
  2. Consider developing an ad hoc flier with Sanders 10-point program or some version of it, along with a message for a change in foreign policy. Distribute it at factories and workplaces, neighborhoods and campuses. Sign it, perhaps, “Ad hoc committee for peace and economic security.” Or, “Citizens for peace and social renewal” or just “Concerned Citizens.” Mass distribution of the message and the program is the key to organizing.
  3. Plan district forums in your neighborhood, city and district. Invite elected officials and candidates to speak to the peace and economic program.
  4. Ask your labor union, civic, or advocacy group to endorse Sanders’ program and a plan for peace.

We could go on, but what the points illustrate are grassroots organizing independent of the two-parties and their candidates. It is not about lobbying officials or candidates. It is not about holding small protests or occupying a congressional office. It is about creating the political consciousness on which candidates can challenge those unwilling to lead a fight for peace and economic security.

Is it possible? Will people respond?  It is overly optimistic? I would say the answers would be: Yes, maybe and perhaps. Still, we need to start someplace. We need to look at the process as one where we learn from trial and error. No trial, no error, no learning, no movement. The past will be repeated.  For a different outcome, we need a different approach that, as Leslie reminds us, is that which promotes “the independent organization of the working class.”

What labor and progressives often now find themselves doing is organizing the working class to support a candidate of two parties, typically Democrats. Typically, they support imperialist foreign policies, even though they may be better on some other issues. Most don’t even support health care for all. Uncritical support must end or there will be no opening for more robust public debate. An accommodating strategy can only lead to more discontent and cynicism among Americans. As such, unintentionally, it can lay the psychological ground on fascist thinking that grows during prolonged periods of crisis and instability.

If neither party’s program will resolve the crisis and address the grievances, then an independent program and organizing is the only means to channel the discontent and cynicism into productive struggles. To replace xenophobia with a sense of solidarity with workers across our borders. To forge solidarity for social and economic uplift within our borders across our diverse, multi-national working class and youth.

Without an independent program there will be no independent organization of the working class. There will be no opposition to the two parties of capitalism. There will be no basis for productive alliances with the most progressive elected officials in forging a struggle for peace and economic security. There will be no independent candidates to challenge the centrists. No independent political party of the working class will arise. These are the dead-end results of subsuming struggles within the orbit of the two-party system. If independent political action is taken now, in the first half of 2019, a breakthrough may be possible in the 2020 election.

  1. See my article, “Missing Ingredient in the Sanders Revolution,” January 2016, published in the Adonde Press pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and the Tasks Ahead, December 2017 at adondepress.org.

  2. See my article, “Evaluating the Candidacy of Bernie Sanders,” July 2015, published in the above-named pamphlet. NOTE: Readers may find Sanders, September 2017, foreign policy address at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri a helpful insight into his thinking. My first thought was to wonder why he chose Westminster to deliver his address, the site of Winston Churchill’s infamous 1946 speech that set the stage for the long and bloody Cold War. Setting this question aside, I wrote, shortly after his speech that “No other prominent American politician in decades has offered such a wide-ranging critique of U.S. foreign policy. However, the aspects of Bernie’s speech that create openings for peace education and organizing, will fall flat without challenging Sanders’ shortcomings and contradictions. At times, like when he addresses the conflict with Russia, he projects a misleading and dangerous narrative. In this respect, to call his address an anti-war speech, as some suggest, is to overlook its weaknesses. Foremost in this respect is his reluctance to offer Americans a plan for peace.”
  3. See my 2015 book, Which Way Forward? for data and evidence. As well as articles on the 2016 election in my 2017 pamphlet, The 2016 Election: Analysis, Lessons and Tasks Ahead.