The Problem With a Single Issue Candidate

During this election cycle an idea has been thrown around that a certain presidential aspirant is a “single issue” candidate. While functionally silly the notion is rather enjoyable as a fine example of an artful smear. Obviously no serious presidential contender is running on a single issue platform, but the idea does point to an underlying theme within the American political system. If there is a single issue, then it is one of representation and control. Below are five topics which illuminate this terrifying reality.

 

Health Forum

Healthcare and Big Pharma

  • Polls (2015)
    • ‘Drug prices are unreasonable’ — 73% Agree
    • ‘More regulation on drug manufacturers is needed’ — 53% Agree
    • ‘View of the pharmaceutical industry’ — 35% Positive
    • ‘Single-payer healthcare’ — 51% Support
  • Industry Campaign Contributions 2008-16: $161,403,282
  • Industry Lobbying 2008-15: $1,929,077,759

For the richest country in the world the health care system of the United States is, quite simply, a debacle. On average Americans pay 250% more for their health care than those in other ‘developed’ nations, and between 2 and 6 times as much for prescription medication. One may be under the impression that higher costs translate into a higher caliber of service but unfortunately quite the opposite is true. A pertinent example — In a recent study of the quality, access, efficiency, and equity of health care among 11 nations the United States finished dead last (behind the UK, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, France, and Canada).

In reality the high costs come not from a high quality of service, but rather from legislative machinations. Unlike other ‘developed’ nations the United States does not have drug price controls in place to keep the cost of crucial medications affordable. Patent and trademark policies allow drug companies to monopolize the market for 20 years or more before generics can be introduced to drive prices down. Many states have mandatory vaccination policies, guaranteeing a market for certain “medications”.  And of course the labyrinth of red tape and administrative tomfoolery in the healthcare system as a whole results in a painfully inefficient and costly apparatus. Additionally, important governmental positions are often held by representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. For example the next Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Robert Califf, has for years drawn a salary from four separate pharmaceutical giants.

And to venture beyond the pure statistical inadequacy of the health care system is to wade into tragedy. Every day, seniors in the United States have to decide between food and medication. Each year millions of people go bankrupt due to medical bills, and, staggeringly, tens of thousands die due to a lack of access to health insurance. As the polls listed above illustrate, this fiasco does not operate in the shadows, but rather within the full light of conscious disapproval. Sadly this is but one of many examples in which the operation of the government exists in direct contradiction to the will of the electorate.

 

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Financial Industry

  • Polls
    • ‘Banks haven’t taken adequate measures to prevent another financial crisis — 62% Agree (2013)
    • ‘Stricter regulation on Wall Street’ — 67% Support (2014)
    • ‘Wall Street companies should be held accountable for practices that caused the financial crisis’ — 79% Agree (2015)
  • Industry Campaign Contributions 2008-16: $2,351,409,385
  • Industry Lobbying 2008-15: $3,842,825,478

 

…………..

Click here to read the rest of this article at the Progressive Army headquarters!

 

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@Nig_Clarke 

 

 

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The Kitchen Sink

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I have always had a bit of a soft spot for the ‘bad guy’. As a child watching professional wrestling the one getting booed the loudest, that was my guy. As an adult I often say that I enjoy watching a good scam in action. This is not to say that I savor the infliction of pain. At my core I believe in and promote the constructive goodness of human beings. But there is something subconsciously compelling about a delectably evil ruse in action….

In the fall of 2015, as the presidential campaign of progressive hero Bernie Sanders began to gain surprising popularity, excitement swept over me. The majority of the commotion in my progressive soul came from having a true champion of the cause at the highest level of the political discussion, and from witnessing the enthusiastic response of a purportedly ‘center-right’ population. But I admit there was a darker side to my enthusiasm. As Sanders preached a message of Wall Street greed, a rigged economy, and a corrupt campaign finance system I felt a ravenous anticipation towards the impending response from the establishment. Usually the power structure brushes away challengers as one might a pesky mosquito, but it quickly became evident that this was no regular challenge. While attendance at Sanders’ rallies grew rapidly from the hundreds into the thousands, the sound of the gears of the mighty oligarchy machine beginning to turn became deafening in my ears.

After winning the New Hampshire primary in a landslide Sanders said in his victory speech that he expected the establishment to “throw the kitchen sink” at him. No shit. Up to that point if they had not already thrown the kitchen sink, they had certainly thrown the dish rack and the cutting board.

In anticipation of what is to come, let us examine the majesty of that which has been thrown at Bernie Sanders thus far. As I said, I love a good ruse…

 

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The first and most overtly effective tool of establishment manipulation comes from the corporate media. While presented as a ‘free press’ the reality is that 90% of American media is controlled by only six companies who together put forward a very specific version of reality which fits their narrative  It is through this narrative that democratically elected foreign leaders are turned into tyrannical dictators, activists turned into thugs, and questions dismissed as conspiracies. As George Orwell might say — “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”.

At the onset of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign the corporate media response was to simply ignore him in hopes that he would go away, the strategy of a child who thinks the world disappears when they close their eyes. A telling example–Throughout their 2015 election coverage nightly news spent nearly 4 hours talking about Donald Trump, and nearly 2 hours talking about Hillary Clinton, compared to only 10 minutes talking about Bernie Sanders. But rather than disappear, support for Sanders only grew stronger thanks to enthusiastic proselytizing by his supporters on social media and in their communities.

 

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When ignoring Bernie Sanders failed the media turned to a more proactive approach.There is a reason that Reporters Without Borders ranks America as 46th in the world in ‘press freedom’. When their interests are challenged the media is happy to shamelessly abandon any semblance of journalistic integrity in order to further their agenda. In the case of Bernie Sanders, his message against corrupt campaign financing and corporate greed was a direct challenge to the modus operandi of the massive corporations which own and control the media. And thus journalistic neutrality was aggressively discarded in favor of a message which has been at best massaged, and at worst a plethora of audacious lies. The examples are too numerous to list in detail here, but I’d like to examine a few of the more egregious cases.

 

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I am not even going to bother talking about CNN. Their loaded debate questioning and transparently slanted coverage amounts to little more than cheerleading from the station affectionately known as the ‘Clinton News Network’. Rather let us first focus on MSNBC, ironically advertised as the station “progressives have been waiting for”, and their amusing host Chris Matthews. Apparently months of biased pro-Hillary ‘reporting’ was not enough to satiate this circus clown in a suit and tie. The day after the Iowa caucus turned out to be not quite the coronation Hillary Clinton and her corporate sponsors were expecting Matthews unleashed a tirade of belligerence in which he threw out such gems as;

“The only person standing between a confirmed socialist who is calling for political revolution in this country winning the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party is (Hillary Clinton).”

“A revolution of promises, really.”

“Look, the history of the Democratic party– (Hillary Clinton’s) party, not Bernie Sanders. He’s not a Democrat.”

“Can the Bernie people be taught—not him, he can’t be taught—can the kids behind him be told that this is how it works in our system? You can call for a revolution but it ain’t gonna happen. There isn’t going to be a revolution.  You don’t have to have logic any more. We’re going to have a revolution and pay for anything.”

It may be surprising to see this type of condescending, biased, and provocatively non-factual commentary presented as journalism, especially from a source which advertises itself as ‘progressive’. That is until you remember that Chris Matthews makes upwards of $5 million per year and is representing a multinational corporation with assets north of $160 billion. Add in that Matthews’ wife Kathleen has worked closely with the Clinton Foundation and is being backed in her run for Congress by the same donors which are backing Hillary Clinton’s run for President and it becomes clear that the opinions of Chris Matthews carry about the same level of integrity and legitimacy as the opinions of your drunk uncle on Thanksgiving.

 

bezos

But enough about MSNBC. What about the Washington Post? Surely the newspaper that broke the Watergate scandal and constantly receives criticism for supposed left-wing bias would take a more even handed approach to the Democratic primary.

Wrong.

Days before the Iowa caucus the paper published an editorial board op-ed (that is to say – a piece articulating the opinion of the newspaper) entitled “Bernie Sanders’s Fiction-Filled Campaign”. This piece of slanderous propaganda contained lines such as;

“Mr. Sanders is not a brave truth teller. He is selling his own brand of political fiction”

“Mr. Sanders’ success does not show the country is ready for a political revolution”

“Here is a reality check. Wall Street has already undergone a round of reform significantly reducing risks big banks pose to the financial system”

Interesting. In the opinion of the board of the Washington Post Bernie Sanders was a liar, his success did not indicate a hunger for a political change in the United States, and, contrary to the opinions of most economists, the risks posed by Wall Street had already been sufficiently reduced. You may be inclined to weigh these opinions as those of an authority on the subject, until you realize that they represent the board of a newspaper worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and and owner, Jeff Bezos (pictured above), worth $50 billion. While Mr. Bezos may rank just outside the top 15 richest people in the world he did manage to finish first in another metric. In 2014 he was named “world’s worst boss” by the International Trade Union Confederation. Personally I don’t usually get opinions on progressive politics from someone who according to the ITUC “represents the inhumanity of employers who are promoting the American corporate model”.

I could continue but I will stop there. When even the so-called “left wing” media ignores then attacks a progressive champion like Bernie Sanders they do so because he represents a threat to the existing power structure of which they are a part. In this context there is no right-wing and left-wing, there is only up-wing and down-wing. But the attempted media sabotage of Bernie Sanders reeks of fear. And it should.

 

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The ideal of American democracy is much like the ideal of human rights. Both are presented as fundamental and inalienable but in reality are bestowed by the establishment power structure in a tightly controlled manner. In running for President Bernie Sanders has faced not only media manipulation but the diabolical subversion of the democratic process, most specifically through the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and their very own Sheriff of Nottingham — Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

The first way that this manifested itself was through the debate schedule. While in the 2007/08 Democratic primary there were 26 debates, this time around there was to be only 6. Compounding the issue was that these debates were scheduled on weekends, a well understood wasteland for viewership. This of course was criticized loudly by not only the Sanders campaign, but by Martin O’Malley as well as other political organizations as an attempt to prevent the public exchange of ideas and stack the deck in favor of Hillary Clinton. It certainly did not help that Wasserman-Schultz, who as DNC Chair was setting the debate schedule, had herself run the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2008. As if to confirm this bias the DNC did eventually add 4 additional debates, but comically did so mere days after Bernie Sanders had caught or surpassed Hillary Clinton in the polls of multiple early primary states.

 

NGPVANclinton2

Much as the corporate media took a more proactive approach of attack when ignoring Bernie Sanders did not stem the tide of his popularity, so too did the DNC when their contrived debate schedule failed to discourage the dissemination of his ideas. The first major offensive came in the form of the bizarre firewall breach hoax. Mere days after Bernie Sanders surpassed 2 million individual campaign donations and received one of his most consequential endorsements, and the day before the final debate of 2015, his campaign was accused of improperly accessing voter information from the DNC database during a software glitch which removed the firewall between each campaign’s data. Rather than deal with the apparent problem internally and impartially Debbie Wasserman-Schultz appeared on multiple corporate news outlets to loudly condemn the Sanders campaign. It was announced that the punishment would be a suspension of the Sanders campaign from access to the DNC database, including to their own information, while the issue was examined. For an essentially totally grassroots campaign without the benefit of hundreds of millions of corporate dollars behind it an indefinite suspension of days or weeks from crucial information was a not so subtle attempt to stamp out Sanders. However in less than 24 hours almost 1 million petition signatures and emails had been sent to the DNC on Sanders’ behalf, a lawsuit had been filed by his campaign, and the DNC quickly scurried away from the light of public scrutiny and restored access to the information.

If this is where the story ended it would perhaps be remembered as a rather mundane piece of campaign tomfoolery. But it is the depth of the hoax that is the true meat on this bone.

First, a similar firewall glitch had happened months prior to this event and was pointed out to the DNC and the vendor which handled the software by the Sanders campaign. Tip to criminals — If you are planning on robbing a bank do not go into the bank a month before and explain to them the glitches in their security.

Secondly, in addition to the lawsuit against the DNC the Sanders campaign also demanded a full third-party inquiry into the situation. This demand for an inquiry was deferred and brushed aside by the DNC. It is a peculiar thing to have the accused demanding a full investigation and the accuser refusing, unless of course the accuser is actually the guilty party.

Third, and most mouthwatering, is the history of the vendor which provided the apparently glitchy software — NGP VAN. This is a company founded by Nathaniel Pearlman, who was the chief technology officer of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2007/08. Their current CEO, Stuart Trevelyan, a man who hilariously shares a surname with a James Bond villain, worked for the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992. The company has also worked closely with the Ready For Hillary Super PAC during this election cycle, even going so far as to take a company “fieldtrip” to the Ready For Hillary headquarters. If you proposed this as a James Bond storyline it would be rejected as too obvious of a hoax.

 

iowachair

“Something smells in the Democratic Party” -Des Moines Register, Feb. 5, 2016

By the time the first votes were finally ready to be cast Bernie Sanders had caught or passed Hillary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire polls and was closing fast nationally. As the results of the Iowa caucus came in it became clear that, much as the polls had predicted, the race would be very close. Hillary Clinton appeared before the votes had been fully counted and proclaimed victory, while Bernie Sanders called it a “virtual tie”. The corporate media presented a tie or narrow Clinton victory as a signal that the ‘political revolution’ which Sanders had been promoting was over. Forget that Clinton had once been leading by upwards of 60 points in Iowa. Everyone go home, nothing to see here.

But a then a pungent stench began to emanate from the Iowa “results”. In the hours and days after it became clear that the caucus had been, as the Des Moines Register put it, a “debacle”. Ignore Hillary Clinton’s miraculous 6/6 record in coin flips which earned her 6 extra delegates (or the lunacy of coin flips determining results in a democracy). Ignore the fact that the Clinton campaign brought in out of state precinct captains to oversee caucus groups, shamelessly disrespecting the idea of ‘local’ politics. Even ignore the fact that these captains were provided with a phone app to instruct them how to maneuver Clinton supporters around so as to make Martin O’Malley viable in caucuses where he otherwise wouldn’t have been, blocking his supporters from joining Bernie Sanders. While unapologetically unethical these shenanigans are all legal. Rather I would direct your attention to a few of the more nefarious situations on record;

In Woodbury County #43 the only caucus goer was a man named Keane Schwarz. He voted for Bernie Sanders. Final vote count; Bernie Sanders -1, Hillary Clinton -0, Martin O’Malley-0. However a check of the DNC results shows that Hillary Clinton was awarded the delegate.

In Knoxville County #3 the final vote count was Sanders-58, Clinton-52. Delegates were rightfully recorded as 5-4 for Sanders but in the DNC results appear as 5-4 for Clinton.

Additionally there were multiple instances in which the number of votes recorded did not equal the number of voters registered at the start of the caucus. In another situation a video surfaced of a Hillary Clinton precinct captain reporting a vote total which they had not counted, and then lying and saying they had counted when there was a discrepancy in results.

Perhaps worst of all was that the final results were missing counts from 90 precincts. In a vote which was “decided” by less than 0.05% to miss approximately 5% of the total votes is ludicrous.

Individually, these examples may each be seen as something between trivial and frustrating. But when combined together, and this certainly is not a comprehensive list, they appear to be part of a more coordinated plot. It does not help the situation to consider that the chair of the Iowa Democratic Committee has been driving around for years with a licence plate which read “HRC 2016”. At best, Iowa was a miscarriage of democracy. At worst, intentional and flagrant voter fraud.

 

comicspig

A campaign which attacks the existing political spoils system is bound to bring out of the woodwork in defense those politicians who have grown the most corpulent on spoils. Hillary Clinton constantly brags about the vast array of political endorsements she has received, seemingly tone-deaf to the growing rejection of establishment politics going on around her. And if early polls led to fear in these pigs at the trough, the results in Iowa led to outright terror. Endorsements for Hillary Clinton quickly turned to public attacks of Bernie Sanders.

Take Gerry Connolly, a Democratic Congressman from Virginia who said he believed the election of Bernie Sanders “could have real serious down ballot consequences”. This is the same Gerry Connolly who has been one of the leading fighters in favor of the TPP, and has supported military intervention in Syria. The same Gerry Connolly whose top five career campaign donors include two financial institutions and two defense contractors.

Or what about Scott Peters, a Democratic Congressman from California who said he was “not comfortable at all” with Bernie Sanders. Yes this is the same Scott Peters whose political career has been mainly funded by two financial institutions. In fact this is the same Scott Peters who is married to Lynn Gorguze, a woman worth over $100 million due to her position as CEO of Cameron Holdings, a financial institution.

Or finally, how about the sad case of Claire McCaskill, the Democratic Senator from Missouri and purveyor of some of the most vicious public attacks against Bernie Sanders. Early in her political career McCaskill was somewhat of a people’s champion, fighting for increases in minimum wage and against Wall Street power. But she soon grew fat within the political spoils system as many do, her transformation likely helped by her marriage to real estate tycoon Joseph Shepard, a man worth north of $30 million. Nowadays when you hear about Senator McCaskill it is likely due to her being accused of hiding assets, taking advantage of government subsidies for personal gain, conducting audits in which she has a conflict of interest, or, more comically, using taxpayer money to pay for her private jet then turning around not paying her taxes on said plane.

As in other sections the examples could essentially continue indefinitely. What should be clear is that when these individuals speak they do so not as representatives of the people trying to educate their constituents, but as the corrupt defending corruption.

 

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Even after the “virtual tie” in Iowa it would have been hard for Hillary Clinton to foresee the carnage that awaited her in New Hampshire, a state which she had dramatically won from Barack Obama in 2008, and in which Bill Clinton had proclaimed himself “the comeback kid” during the 1992 primary. But the 22 point drubbing which prompted the “kitchen sink” speech from Bernie Sanders was only the beginning of the problem for Clinton.

After enjoying an enormous fundraising advantage throughout 2015 thanks to her corporate donors, Clinton was actually out-raised in January 2016 due to the incredible procession of small donations to the Sanders campaign. And in the 24 hours following the New Hampshire primary Sanders raised an incredible $7 million. This prompted yet another backlash from the DNC and their want-to-be tyrant Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as they rolled back restrictions on campaign contributions from lobbyists and PACs. This maneuver to help Hillary Clinton’s floundering fundraising efforts seemed to totally disregard the political climate which got her into trouble in the first place. But the DNC could apparently not envision a world in which regular people had a similar monetary clout in the political system as corporations. It is the beauty of being an organizer in a rigged system; if the game isn’t working for you, simply change the rules.

 

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I am not a religious man. But there is something awe inspiring about watching a real life battle between David and Goliath. American democracy descended so gradually into oligarchy that it was hard to notice. And yet, here we are. The gravity of the message of Bernie Sanders is so monumental that it is almost incomprehensible.

I have often read about revolutionary periods in history and wondered; How did the oppressed people do it? How did the power structure fight back?

Will the movement around Bernie Sanders be able to ‘do it’, to succeed in fundamentally restructuring their existence? I do not know the answer. But I do know that watching the power structure fight back with every tool at their disposal is glorious.

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@Nig_Clarke 

 

 

 

 

Bernie Bros, Women, and the 2016 Election

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There is a myth floating around surrounding something called the “Bernie Bro”. The idea is that Bernie Sanders’ supporters are predominantly young white males, “Bernie Bros” if you will, who cannot bear the thought of a female President, and who thus aggressively support Sanders to the detriment of Hillary Clinton. In reality this myth is patently false. Bernie Sanders has built his campaign, and for that matter his entire 30+ year political career, speaking in a way other politicians refuse to on issues of poverty, race, and gender. This has resulted in extensive and passionate support for Sanders which crosses the lines of age, ethnicity, and, yes, gender. While purveyors of the “Bernie Bro” myth see themselves as defenders of women and anti-sexism crusaders the reality is quite the opposite. In distributing such a categorically untrue fiction they insult the millions of women and people of color who so enthusiastically support Bernie Sanders.

On the opposite end of the spectrum of generalization is the idea that women are somehow universally obliged to vote for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. The misogynistic undertone of this assertion is that women are not appropriately engaged in the process to make a decision based on the issues, that they are obligated to, as Susan Sarandon put it, “vote with (their) vagina”.

Of course there is absolutely an inherent value which would come from having the first female President. To see them shaking hands with other world leaders, or sitting behind the desk in the oval office would certainly be symbolically beneficial to all women, as well as to the ideal of American equality. But it is up to each woman to decide for herself how much weight to give to this symbolism against the weight of policy position when casting their vote.

In this context it is understandable that support for Hillary Clinton is much stronger among older women than younger. Those who have been in the trenches of the fight for gender equality for decades may understandably put a greater weight on the symbolism of a female President. For someone who is younger, a proportionately more equal society has simply been part of their existence. It is interesting to think that the next President of the United States will almost certainly be female, Jewish, or Hispanic (or Donald Trump), or that arguably the second most powerful leader in the world is a woman, Germany’s Angela Merkel. This is not to suggest that the battle for gender (or racial) equality is over, far from it. Rather the suggestion is that when considering the weight of symbolism consider also the environment in which equality is being discussed.

In presenting Hillary Clinton as the default candidate for women there is also an implication which goes beyond symbolism. This is the subconscious suggestion that a President Hillary Clinton would not only be symbolically beneficial for women but also more substantively beneficial through policy than Bernie Sanders. However this is not necessarily the case. The topic of ‘women’s issues’ is one where subconscious assumption does not necessarily meet truth, where perception does not automatically meet reality.

Consider the following issues:

Pay equity-

It seems ludicrous to think that more than 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed that women still only earn something like 78 cents to a man’s dollar. Seeking to rectify this embarrassment both Sanders and Clinton support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Seen as an extension of the Equal Pay Act this legislation puts the burden of justification on employers to explain why someone is paid less, and allows workers to sue for wage discrimination.

But an area regarding wage where the candidates disagree is minimum wage. Bernie Sanders supports raising the minimum wage to $15/hr, doing so through both words and physically participating in “Fight for 15” rallies, while Hillary Clinton supports raising the minimum wage to $12/hr. Why is minimum wage a women’s issue? Because in America approximately 2/3 of minimum wage earners are women. The extra $3/hr means almost $500 more per month, which would greatly improve the lives of millions of Americans, and especially women, across the country.

Social Security-

Before the enactment of Social Security, nearly 50% of senior citizens lived in poverty in the United States, a number which has dropped to only 10% today. This is a success which is especially poignant for women as more than twice as many elderly women live in poverty than men.

Hillary Clinton observes the success of Social Security and admirably states she will defend it from attacks by Republicans who seek to cut funding to the program, reduce cost of living adjustments, or raise the retirement age. Bernie Sanders on the other hand focuses more on the number 10, that is the 10% of senior citizens who still live in poverty today. More than defend, Sanders has pledged to expand Social Security benefits by $65/month and increase cost of living adjustments. Sanders proposes to make this possible, and he has introduced legislation on the issue, by lifting the cap on taxable income (a proposal supported by over 60% of Americans). Stated simply, currently a billionaire pays the same amount into Social Security as someone making $118,500 per year. Bernie Sanders proposes to change this so that everyone pays the same percentage of their income into Social Security, allowing him to have a platform of expansion rather than exclusively defense.

Family-

The United States is currently the only ‘developed’ nation on earth which does not guarantee paid leave to workers. This is something which Bernie Sanders has spoken out against aggressively and repeatedly throughout his career. He cosponsored the FAMILY Act while in the Senate and has made it an important part of his campaign platform. This piece of legislation would provide 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or a family medical emergency. Hillary Clinton supports the idea of paid leave more vaguely, while specifically opposing the FAMILY Act. Worth noting is that Bernie Sanders also supports the Healthy Families Act, which would provide workers with 7 days of paid sick leave per year, as well as an increase in funding to the WIC Program, which provides nutritional assistance to low income mothers (a program which he has fiercely championed and defended in the Senate). Hillary Clinton does not mention either of these points in her campaign platform.

Reproductive Rights

This is where things start to get a bit muddy. While both candidates have a career 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, not much is universally publicized about Sanders’ history with the issue, while Clinton is presented as a great champion of reproductive rights. In truth the candidates do differ both rhetorically and functionally, but perhaps not in the way you might imagine.

The area of reproductive rights is one where Bernie Sanders has in fact, through his words as well as actions, been a progressive among progressives. Over the years he has used his position in Congress and the Senate to co-sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act, to vote to allow interstate travel for abortions, vote to increase access and funding for family planning, vote against defining life as beginning at conception, among many other examples. Additionally, he has openly stated that as President he would only support new Supreme Court Justices that support Roe v. Wade.

On the other hand Hillary Clinton has taken a decidedly different approach. She has long been a purveyor of the position that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare”. As per her Methodist faith she believes the potential for life begins at conception which leads her to “respect those who believe there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be made available” and call to find “common ground” with pro-lifers. Contrasting with Sanders’ hard-line approach to women’s reproductive rights Clinton has endeavored to “create conditions where women have other choices”.

The conciliatory ‘other choices’ and ‘common ground’ approach by some pro-choice politicians has resulted in various states passing laws increasing bureaucratic and procedural hurdles to abortion. These include laws requiring women to wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion (including in cases of rape or incest), to endure mandatory counselling discouraging abortion, or laws requiring parental consent for minors (again, including in cases of rape/incest).  Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, this is a documented fact and is not up for debate here. Unfortunately over 40 years after Roe v. Wade the issue of abortion and women’s reproductive rights do, extraordinarily, appear to be up for debate in the United States. Clinton and Sanders are both pro-choice candidates. It is simply up to voters to decide how firm they would like their advocate for women’s reproductive rights to be.

Foreign Policy-

It is a well advertised point that Hillary Clinton proclaims to seek making the promotion of women’s rights around the globe a pillar of her foreign policy. This is certainly an admirable goal as women in the United States undoubtedly enjoy a level of equality greater than many women across the globe. Unfortunately, as in many advertisements, what is broadcast does not always meet actuality, position is not necessarily operation.

For Hillary Clinton this manifests itself quite blatantly in her record. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, have over the years donated tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation. Related or not, as Secretary of State Clinton oversaw the sale of billions of dollars of weapons to these countries, representing an incredible 143% increase from the (W.) Bush administration. These countries are some of the worst violators of women’s rights in the world. Providing them with weapons quite literally provides them with the tools to oppress. Additionally, both supporters and detractors portray Hillary Clinton as a war hawk and it is not difficult to understand why. She supported the Iraq war, military intervention in Libya and Syria, escalation of the war in Afghanistan, as well as increased drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere. War, tragically, has a disproportionate effect on women and children, who make up nearly 80% of the casualties in war, and 80% of the world’s refugees. Women in war zones also suffer other grotesqueries such as rape and abduction into slavery. To propose to promote women’s rights across the globe while selling weapons in enormous quantities to the most oppressive of regimes, and escalating military conflict at every opportunity is quite simply a direct contradiction.

Conversely, Bernie Sanders has presented a platform which is not ripe with rhetorical fervor, but rather is based on a career long history of opposition to the wanton use of military force. This is a history which includes being one of the only voices speaking (and voting) against the Iraq war, and opposition to many other military excursions. In contrast to every other presidential candidate from either political party Sanders advocates a course of action which focuses on diplomacy, the de-escalation of conflict, the increase of aid, and the promotion of education. In reality, this is the type of platform which promotes women’s rights around the world.

Equal Rights Amendment-

When the founding fathers stated that “all men are created equal” they of course meant that all white, land owning men in the United States were equal to white, land owning men in England. Eventually this became codified to include all white men, and finally all men regardless of skin color. Incredibly, despite all of the gains towards gender equality, in 2016 the United States Constitution still only recognizes men as those who were created equal, to the exclusion of women. This is what the Equal Rights Amendment has been trying to rectify for nearly a century.

Perhaps this is merely symbolic. But in an election in which the symbolism of potentially having the country’s first female leader is a large part of the conversation it is something which should not be ignored. Interestingly there is only one candidate who has made the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment a part of their campaign platform, and it is not Hillary Clinton. Rather it is Bernie Sanders who has pledged to fight to pass the “long overdue” amendment and finally codify women as human beings who are created equal.

 

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There is little doubt that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton differ greatly across a wide spectrum of issues. While Sanders has made campaign finance reform a fundamental cornerstone of his platform, Clinton leads all presidential candidates in Super PAC contributions. While Sanders has spoken aggressively about the need to break up and reign in the unchecked power of Wall Street, Clinton has received millions of dollars in speaking fees and campaign donations from financial institutions and has presented a much more delicate approach in her platform on Wall Street reform. While Sanders has fought openly for 25 years against a criminal justice system which incarcerates the most people of any country in the world and has inexcusably decimated African American communities, Clinton spoke strongly in the 1990’s in favor of her husband’s disastrous crime bill which led to many of these problems, and received private prison industry campaign donations until only a few months ago. While Sanders strongly promoted LGBT rights in the 1980’s as Mayor of Burlington, in the 1990’s in Congress, and in the 2000’s in the Senate, Clinton vocally opposed these same rights as First Lady and as a Senator before finally coming to support them in 2013.

This is not meant as a specific critique of Hillary Clinton. In reality Clinton merely represents mainstream establishment politics in the way they are rendered almost exclusively today. Conversely Bernie Sanders represents a uniquely progressive voice across a broad spectrum of issues. As seen above, even on the topic of women’s issues Sanders presents, symbolism aside, a far more comprehensive and progressive platform.

It is an absolute inevitability that there will be a female American President, and probably sooner rather than later. Elizabeth Warren is one of the most prominent Senators in the United States, Nancy Pelosi was recently the influential Speaker of the House, Senator Nina Turner is a rising star in the Democratic party, and of course Hillary Clinton herself was recently Secretary of State. The point is that the idea of women in positions of power is no longer opposed by any moderately intelligent individual. What is not as inevitable however is the prospect of having a truly progressive President. As the political process continues to be increasingly manipulated and controlled by big money interests the possibility of genuinely inclusive and progressive policies diminishes. This is likely why women like Senator Warren and Senator Turner support Bernie Sanders.

There is an opportunity in this election for the symbolic achievement of electing a woman as President. But understand that the battle for gender equality does not end with the election of Hillary Clinton any more than the struggle for racial equality ended with the election of Barack Obama. However in Bernie Sanders there is an opportunity to fundamentally alter the political discussion in the United States and, most crucially, who is included in this discussion. And that is historic.

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@Nig_Clarke 

Bernie & Trump Debate The Issues

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I had a dream last night that Bernie Sanders was debating Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Now usually when Donald Trump appears in a dream, or in real life for that matter, it is more of a nightmare, but in this case it was more sketch comedy than anything.

Below is a transcript of the exchange.

Donald Trump:

“I’m going to ban all Muslims from entering the country! Then I’ll build a wall on the border with Mexico to keep the Mexicans out! These immigrants are terrorists and rapists and criminals!!”

Bernie Sanders:

“It is interesting to me that you appear to be so anti-immigrant considering that your mother, much like my father, was an immigrant to this country. It also appears that you are confused as to the statistics surrounding Mexicans coming to the United States. Research shows that from 2009-2014 over 140,000 more Mexicans left the United States to go back to Mexico than came into the country. Finally, while xenophobia is effective at whipping up some supporters, your fear-mongering misses the point. The majority of terrorist attacks in America are carried out by white right-wing radicals rather than Muslim immigrants.”

“Perhaps rather than spouting bigotry against refugees, America should stop creating the war zones that these refugees come from.”

Trump:

“You’re weak! You’re against the military! I will destroy ISIS! I love veterans and veterans love Donald Trump!”

Bernie:

“You appear not to realize how many service men and women you insulted with your comments on John McCain, denying that he was a war hero and saying ‘I like people that weren’t captured’.  Speaking of Senator McCain, I worked closely with him on the Veterans Affairs Committee for years, a committee which I chaired by the way, fighting for veterans through legislation such as the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act. And our great veterans have shown their appreciation for this work by presenting me with various awards such as the VFW Congressional Award in 2015 and the American Legion Patriot Award in 2014.”

Trump:

“Yea, but you’re a communist!” *smug face*

Bernie:

“You seem to be having problems with definitions Donald. To educate yourself I suggest you read this piece by my good friend Nigel Clarke. I am in fact a democratic socialist, which of course is not a communist. The main difference between the two is that democratic socialism lacks the autocratic and centralized nature of Soviet style communism.”

“But what I suspect you are really getting at Donald is a suggestion that my economic policies will be harmful. Aside from the fact that democratic socialism is working beautifully in multiple European countries I find it curious that a man with four bankruptcies on his record presupposes himself to have some sort of divine fiscal ability.”

Trump:

“Well at least I don’t fund my campaign with corporate donations. I pay for this myself so I don’t have to listen to anyone!!”

Bernie:

“It makes me very happy that you do not finance your campaign with those types of donations. I myself have received $0 from Super PAC’s and strongly support campaign finance reform, which I have noticed that you do not. However the reason you are not taking corporate money, also the reason you do not support campaign finance reform, is because you are corporate money.”

Trump:

At this point Trump launches into some sort of adolescent diatribe mocking women, disabled people, or anyone else he should happen to think of.

Bernie:

Bernie responds similarly to the way he did in 1995 when one of his colleagues attacked “homos in the military”.

 

Trump:

“Whatever Bernie you are OLD and you have messy hair!”

Bernie:

“Did 70 year old Donald Trump just say I was old? Either one of us is going to be older than Reagan was when he was inaugurated at 69 as the oldest ever to do it. And my hair? Is Donald Trump insulting somebody’s hair?

At this point Donald Trump has a Megyn Kelly flashback and runs off the stage crying.

 

It has been somewhat amusing to watch Donald Trump bully his way though the Republican primary process, much in the same way that it would be somewhat amusing to watch a sumo wrestler take a shit on a burning tire. But progressives such as myself have been (literally) dreaming of the day when Trump leaves the kids table and enters into the forum of the legitimate exchange of ideas. I don’t usually relish in the humiliation of others, but I think in Donald Trump’s case I can make an exception.

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@Nig_Clarke 

 

 

Then You Win

Bernie Sanders

To those who feel the Bern,

This week I have been thinking a lot about Bernie Sanders, Theodore Roosevelt, Venezuela, and craft beer. Strange bedfellows I realize….

Let us first remember Theodore Roosevelt.

The man was a progressive in his time. In addition to believing in gender and racial equality the preeminent passion of his political career was the dramatic reform of the economic and political structure operating around him. As a New York Assemblyman, to the Governorship, to the Presidency, ‘Teddy’ fought tirelessly against the political ‘spoils system’ (read: legalized bribery) as well as the enormous power wielded by corporations. As you may imagine this made him decidedly unpopular with the establishment machine. Politicians growing fat on spoils, corporations tilting the dissemination of profits disproportionately in their favor, and of course the media, all tried to paint Roosevelt as an eccentric, a radical, and an agent of the fringe.

This may sound familiar…

Over a century later we face our own political spoils system, and our own corporate nightmare. In the face of a system which is at best breaking, at worst broken, the disenfranchised have finally found a voice, a champion, in one Bernie Sanders. But much like Roosevelt before him Bernie stands against the full weight an oligarchy none too interested in releasing their vice grip of control.

It is difficult for Bernie supporters to themselves not feel this weight daily. Corporate leaders, concerned for their monopoly on inequality, paint Bernie Sanders as dangerous. Political leaders, gazing upon bank accounts stuffed full of corporate donations, portray him as radical and unrealistic. And of course the corporate media, the oligarchy’s official department of propaganda, relentlessly present a depiction of Bernie as a destructive eccentric.

To withstand the onslaught of this coordinated barrage can be intimidating and exhausting. Even as support for Bernie among the people continues to grow there is always a subconscious questioning of the possible. How can we possibly hope to oppose an establishment which is so fantastically rich, so entrenched in the mechanisms of power, so ruthlessly uncompromising, and so unapologetically dishonest?

In pondering this quagmire I could not help but recall a story. It is an illustration of the voraciousness of the human spirit, and the smoldering potential of the multitude.

 

chavez

An elderly woman stands inside a small community grocery store in a barrio on the outskirts of Caracas, Venezuela. In her hand is a small bag of rice, there are tears in her eyes. On the back of the bag, as is the case with many household goods, is an excerpt from the new Venezuelan Constitution articulating the universal rights and freedoms which are to be shared by all members of the country. The woman, pressed on the significance of such a seemingly small gesture, illuminates its importance. “Before, I didn’t know we had rights like everyone else. We did not feel part of this society. This makes us feel included”. 

This is not a story about the geopolitical in and outs of Venezuela in the 21st century. A reliance on oil as the country’s primary export combined with a colonial history and the aggressive economic antagonism of the United States has led to a complicated scenario well beyond the scope this piece. But what is not complicated is this — The election of Hugo Chavez as President in the late 1990’s led to the enfranchisement of an enormous portion of the population which had previously been ignored and discarded. Aside from a new Constitution which guaranteed universal rights and freedoms, Chavez enacted a large number of social reforms aimed at the nearly 50% of the country that lived in poverty. As a result, quality of life rose measurably, at nearly the fastest rate in the world, the poverty rate was cut in half, and Venezuela came to enjoy the lowest income inequality in Latin America. Because of this Chavez was beloved among a huge portion of the population, eventually winning 10 elections in 8 years. However there was an opposition to Chavez which came, predictably, from the ultra-rich Venezuelan elite and, more importantly, the United States. Of course I am not suggesting that the ‘average’ American sat at home on the couch stewing about what was to be done with the Venezuelan President. Rather I am referring to the huge multinational corporations and their representatives in the American government who were making billions of dollars on the oppression of millions of Venezuelan people. When in 2001 Chavez introduced legislation to reduce the control of American oil companies over the Venezuelan oil sector this conglomeration of American corporations and Venezuelan elite decided they’d had enough. They must remove Chavez.

Deep in the bowels of Venezuelan governmental headquarters a woman, a cabinet minister no longer, stares into a handheld camera. Her jaw is set firm but tears roll down her cheeks. Around her is a small group of men and women, some openly crying, others simply holding each other close. “This is a coup” she implores, her eyes filled with a pleading desperation. “This is a coup! Let the world know!”

On April 9, 2002 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was removed from power by an American backed, funded, and organized coup d’etat. This is unfortunately not a conspiracy theory but rather a well documented and, tragically, well repeated piece of American foreign policy. The strategy of this coup was to have Chavez sign his resignation at gunpoint, but when he refused he was simply kidnapped and whisked out of the country. As in previous cases, the overthrow of a democratically elected leader was done to protect corporate profits while the event was presented in the American media as a glorious uprising of the Venezuelan people. The following morning Venezuela’s new military dictator gave a speech announcing the obliteration of the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, and the Constitution. As he spoke, the room full of light-skinned Venezuelan elite stood and cheered “Democracy! Democracy! Democracy!”

But then, a funny thing happened. As word began to spread that Chavez had not in fact resigned, that their champion had not abandoned them, ‘regular’ Venezuelans began to pour into the streets. Out of the hillside barrios and neighborhood shops came a flood of humanity like ants out of an ant hill. Buses began to arrive from the countryside carrying even more people. Soon the streets surrounding the Venezuelan governmental headquarters were filled in every direction with people as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of thousands singing, banging pots, waving flags, and locking arms. Their intention was simple yet clear. They would not accept this corporate decree being imposed upon them. They would stand in the streets until their man Chavez was returned.

In the middle of the night the sound of a helicopter echoed overhead through the darkness. Immediately the people intuitively knew what their eyes would soon confirm. A great cheer went through the crowd as the helicopter descended. This mass of peasants, farmers, and laborers had opposed the mighty corporations and their American governmental puppets using nothing more than their hearts, their voices, and their existence. And they had won. Chavez had been returned. 

 

Berniewearebernie

It is undeniable that the gradual creep of corporate oligarchy over the United States has become somewhat of a sprint. From Flint, Michigan to Ferguson, Missouri the power structure and their ambitions are the same. And almost universally we cannot count on our corporate funded political system to protect us, or the corporate media to inform us. We do not call CNN the ‘Clinton News Network’ because we are masochistic but simply because it is an apt analogy. And like the allegory of the frog in the water the heat has been increased so consistently that we now face a system in which the mechanisms of power are so thoroughly controlled and manipulated as to seem overwhelming.

But then I start to think of the thousands of Americans who took to the streets on a weekend in support of Bernie Sanders, the first ever nation-wide march for a presidential candidate. I think of the well over 3 million individual campaign donations Bernie has received thus far, often for only a few dollars. And, curiously, I think of the craft beer boom in the United States.

I picture a scene where someone sits drinking a Budweiser, or some other ‘brand name’ beer, quietly displeased with the taste but drinking none the less because it is there. One day, as I imagine it, they mutter out loud their distaste for the beer, at which point the person next to them, expressing their surprise at finding a kindred spirit, agrees. Soon a whole group of people gather around, shocked to find so many who had been privately harboring the same thoughts within their own minds. An idea comes over the group; Why don’t we make our own beer?

 

bernhugo

When I first heard Bernie Sanders say “the system is rigged”, my eyes nearly fell out of my head. Here was a legitimate presidential candidate saying out loud what had been in my mind for so long. I imagine that many people had this same epiphany. And now, despite the desperate and transparent attempts at sabotage by the establishment power structure, millions are joining Bernie Sanders. It is no longer a dirty secret to hold inside, that the system is mutilated and broken, no longer by the people for the people. Finally many are feeling like it can be fixed , like there is an avenue to reconstruction. Bernie Sanders is not a demigod, but he is the representation of the fermented frustration of millions of the exploited.

The path is clear. When the establishment power structure tries viciously to sabotage Bernie Sanders do not look upon their attempts with intimidation or even anger. Rather see these attempts for what they are — the last pitiful kicks of an oligarchy whose power is being wrestled away. In response to each establishment subterfuge replace anger with action. Donate a couple of dollars to the Sanders campaign. Phone bank for Bernie. Most importantly educate yourself and spread this education to friends and family. Talk to them about Bernie Sanders and about the crucial point in history at which we have arrived.

Remember — They have billions of dollars, but we have millions of people.

Feel the Bern.

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@Nig_Clarke 

Bernie Sanders: Democratic Socialist

bernie

 

Bernie Sanders is a democratic socialist.

Should I give you a minute?

When many Americans hear ‘democratic socialist’, all they hear is ‘socialist’, and when they hear ‘socialist’, they hear ‘communist’ (*cue ominous sounding music*).

It is understandable that the word communist should cause some Americans trepidation. For the better part of a century communism represented the nefarious ‘other’ in the lexicon of American propaganda, a mantle now taken up by ‘terrorism’.  But in truth democratic socialism is no more communism than flying an airplane is flying a kite. At its most elemental, democratic socialism is, precisely as the name would suggest, a combination of democratic and socialist mechanisms. In this way it is fundamentally inconsistent with the single party, and totally centralized system of Lenin/Stalin communism. A helpful quote comes from the political theorist Bernard Crick, who said that democratic socialism “struggles against the evils that flow from private property, yet realizes that all forms of private property are not necessarily evil”. But within democratic socialism, as any political philosophy, there exists ideological differences in focus and process. So it is most important to understand exactly what Bernie Sanders means when he calls himself a democratic socialist.

For Bernie, democratic socialism is about building a system that guarantees economic rights for everyone, not just the very wealthy, a system which protects the needs of working families, the elderly, children, the sick, and the poor. Many years ago a young ‘Bernard Sanders’ stated that people would look back on this era and ask “how could people allow other people to be hungry, starve to death, they have nothing while others have tremendous wealth”. Putting aside ivory tower political posturing, this is a question which should, in a time of incredible wealth creation and technology, gnaw at the soul of any decent human being. Bernie Sanders has spent his life in politics working to reform the economic system so that it offers better protection to the disenfranchised, and to reform a corrupt political system which through big money influences concentrates power in the hands of a wealthy elite. For Bernie, democratic socialism is not about government control over every aspect of life, but rather about government ensuring the conditions in which everybody has a foundational level of prosperity. As he said himself;

“I don’t believe government should take over the grocery store down the street, or own the means of production. But middle class and working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.”

I think it is clear in the details that Bernie Sanders is not some sort of ‘commie’ pushing America towards an autocratic, centralized reincarnation of the Soviet Union. But the subconscious is a powerful thing, and propaganda is used because it works.  I can understand that, definitions or not, when some people hear democratic socialism they will not be able to stop images of Stalin and Lenin, the hammer and the sickle, from entering into their mind. So let me give you a few other faces to call upon.

Martin Luther King Jr. Nelson Mandela. Helen Keller. George Orwell. David Ben-Gurion. Cornel West. Noam Chomsky. Albert Einstein.

These are some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th (and 21st) century and, yes, they are all democratic socialists. So for those who would paint Bernie Sanders and his beliefs as crazy, I assure you that you do so of a philosophy close to the hearts of those far more intelligent than you or I.

But maybe you are the type of person who looks with disdain upon the ideological. It is easy to think about ideas, you may say, and much more difficult to translate ideas into reality. Where has democratic socialism ever successfully existed in the real world?

I’m glad you asked.

Currently the best examples of a democratic socialist model are found in four Nordic countries; Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Denmark. These countries share a similar socioeconomic approach which they have implemented to great success. This success can be best illustrated through the use of global studies and indices.

Perhaps the best measure of accomplishment is the Quality of Life Index, which takes into account health, safety, and economic factors to measure an overall quality of life. In the most recent recording of this indicator all four countries did very well. Denmark ranked 2nd, Norway 8th, Sweden 10th, and Finland 11th. The United States also did relatively well, but finished behind all four countries in 12th place.

But wait, perhaps you are thinking that what makes the United States great is its mighty economy. Surely these democratic socialist states have pitifully weak economic prowess. Perhaps a better indicator then is the Global Competitiveness Report, which measures drivers of prosperity and productivity, and is composed by the World Economic Forum. It is true that using this indicator the United States did finish ahead of all four Nordic countries in a solid 3rd place, but all four finished very competitively with Finland 8th, Sweden 9th, Norway 11th, and Denmark 12th in the world. Not exactly the economic struggles a skeptic might expect. Furthermore I think that it is important to include an aspect of income equality when measuring economic productivity. If an economy produces $1 trillion of wealth but one person takes it home and everybody else starves to death then it is not overall very successful. In a measurement of income equality among 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Denmark finished 1st, Finland 4th, Norway 8th, and Sweden 9th. The United States finished way down in 32nd.

But maybe your fears surrounding a democratic socialist system don’t surround quality of life or economics. Maybe the real worry stems from the old Soviet Union stories of tyranny; Dictators and corruption, the suppression of free speech, labor camps. America is the land of the free you may be thinking, and no measure of economic success or quality of life can supersede that.

In the Corruptions Perceptions Index examining corruption in government through the ‘misuse of public power for private benefit’ Denmark finished 1st, Finland 3rd, Sweden 4th, and Norway 5th. The United States finished in a tie for 17th.

In the Democracy Index examining pluralism, civil liberties, and political culture to get a measure of the ‘state of democracy’ Norway finished 1st, Sweden 2nd, Denmark 5th, and Finland 8th. The United States finished 19th.

(You may see where this is going….)

In the Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Finland finished 1st, Norway 3rd, Denmark 7th, and Sweden 10th. The United States finished 46th, narrowly beating out Haiti and Niger for the spot.

In measuring proportional prison population the United States had by far the highest number of its citizens incarcerated. Norway was way down the list with 177th most people incarcerated of any country in the world, Denmark 186th, Sweden 190th, and Finland 192nd (again, proportionally).

I could but I will not continue. What should be clear is that by any standard of measurement these four democratic socialist countries have been wildly successful, arguably even more so than the United States in recent history.

Here is where you will likely draw upon American exceptionalism. The United States, you will say, cannot be compared to four (relatively) small and obscure countries. America is a unique and beautiful flower (from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans….) and should be treated as such. On this point I will agree. America is unlike any country which has ever existed. But here is the thing — Many of the fundamental characteristics which have made and do make America extraordinary are strongly rooted in democratic socialism. The most indispensable example is of course FDR’s “New Deal”. Publicly FDR had to fight off charges that he was a socialist, due to the same fear mongering propaganda that Bernie Sanders faces today. But in reality his “New Deal” was an ideal example of socialism operating within a democratic system. It brought in socialist style programs like Social Security, minimum wage, and unemployment insurance, and greatly increased economic regulation by the government. But examples of democratic socialism run throughout the very fabric of America. From Medicare and Medicaid, to collective bargaining, to the 40 hour work week. Things like public schools, publicly funded roads and highways, and even the military are spectacular examples of state ownership of industry. These are the programs which define America. These are democratic socialism at work.

It should be clear by this point that democratic socialism as a concept is neither foreign nor frightening. But what about the specific platform put forward by Bernie Sanders. If you have been listening to opponents of Bernie across the political spectrum and in the corporate media you may say his proposals will be too costly and too harmful to the economy to be realistic. In essence, that his democratic socialism goes too far. Unfortunately this argument is usually articulated by shouting `commie!` or `socialist!`and then inserting ones fingers into ones ears. What I am more concerned with is a coherent discussion on relevant issues, preferably done with the assistance of experts.

When Bernie Sanders says that he will reform Wall Street and most specifically break up the biggest banks by reinstituting Glass-Steagall he is called crazy by opponents in the corporate media and political structure who benefit enormously from the status quo. However, recently a group of 170 of America`s top economists, academics, and financial experts endorsed this plan saying in their report “(Bernie) is correct, the biggest banks must be broken up” and that this was “critical to avoiding another ‘too-big-to-fail’ financial crisis”.  They contrasted Bernie’s plan with the more delicate proposals of his opponents, most specifically Hillary Clinton, saying, “Secretary Clinton’s more modest proposals do not go far enough” and that they would “only invite more dilution and finagle”.

The second place where Bernie’s platform has received much attention and attack, though not much scrutiny, is his plan for a single-payer, universal health care system. We are told that a proposal of this nature would be ludicrously expensive, but again this is advocated by those in politics and media who most benefit from big pharmaceutical favor under the current system. I suggest we mine the experts for information. Noted economist Robert Reich advocates that a single-payer health care system would be far cheaper than the current system due to enormous savings in executive pay, marketing, and billing. A study in 2013 by Gerald Friedman, another prominent economist, concluded that a single-payer system would “save an estimated $592 billion annually” due to a reduction in administrative waste and pharmaceutical prices.

But perhaps these well known and well respected economists represent a fringe opinion. Conveniently for us this is an issue that has been well studied. In 1991 a study by the Congressional Budget Office concluded that a single-payer system could be introduced at “current levels of spending or somewhat less”. In 1994 the CBO studied the idea again and concluded the net costs would be negative (meaning savings). In 1998 the Economic Policy Institute examined single-payer and found that national healthcare expenditures would be unchanged or that there would be savings. In 2005 the National Coalition On Health Care estimated that a single-payer model would reduce costs by $1.1 trillion over ‘the next decade’. Again I could go on, but I think the point is clear. Those who attack the health care proposal of Bernie Sanders as being extravagantly costly and unrealistic quite simply have not spent the time that it takes to read the last two paragraphs doing their homework.

Finally, and perhaps most crucially, is the issue of taxes. This is where detractors of Bernie Sanders are at their most Freudian. There is an inherent fear in Americans that a government headed by a communist, or a socialist, or in this case a democratic socialist, will introduce programs which are so monumentally expensive that in order to pay for them they will have to dramatically increase taxes. If you are one of the many who subscribe to this type of thinking I strongly encourage you to take a quick look at the breakdown of the tax plan proposed by Bernie Sanders.

bernietaxes

As you can see, for those making less than $250,000 taxes will not go up at all. And raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 is really not such a dramatic idea at all. In fact the newly elected (non-socialist) government of Canada is in the process of doing just that. But perhaps you are skeptical. Perhaps you think that this is a “read my lips, no new taxes” moment. How, you may wonder, can Bernie Sanders pay for all of his proposals with such a modest tax restructuring? The answer lies in corporate taxes. Simply put, the current tax system in which corporations operate is a total debacle. This cannot really come as a surprise in a system in which politicians are funded by large corporate entities and the media is owned and controlled by these same entities. The secret to Bernie Sanders’ plan, the fundamental piece to his entire platform and really the entire ideology of Bernie Sanders, is corporate tax reform. I will spare you the dry details of dissection but here is the bottom line. Corporations have used their monetary influence over government to create a system in which through practices such as inverting, foreign tax havens, and other loopholes, they avoid paying their share of taxes, often paying no taxes at all. So how will Bernie Sanders pay for his proposed programs? He will do so by vigorously reforming the corporate tax system to close ridiculous loopholes and ensure corporations pay their share of taxes. This is a blueprint put forward not only by Bernie Sanders, but enunciated and endorsed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of America’s preeminent experts in commercial law. As Bernie Sanders has said to corporations in his typically eloquent manner;

“You can’t get huge tax breaks while children in this country go hungry. You can’t continue sending our jobs to China while millions are looking for work. You can’t hide your profits in the Cayman Islands and other tax havens, while there are massive unmet needs on every corner of this nation. Your greed has got to end. You cannot take advantage of all the benefits of America, if you refuse to accept your responsibilities as Americans.

By now you may be starting to warm to old Bernie. You may be starting to realize that behind the piercing eyes and the unkempt hair is a man of particular substance and conviction, a man with a method which might not be so absurd after all. But as he has gained in popularity his detractors have started to paint him as an idealist, that is to say someone whose ideas are so radical that they cannot possibly hope to gain conception in reality. Hillary Clinton spoke to this point in a thinly veiled attack when she said “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done”.  However, the truth of the matter lies simply in the realm of actuality. As the only Independent in Congress it was thought that Bernie Sanders and his provocative ideas would be an afterthought. But from 1994-2006, in an aggressively right-wing Republican controlled Congress, nobody — Republican or otherwise — passed more amendments than Bernie Sanders. He was able to further the progressive agenda with legislation on education, health care, poverty, and crime. After moving to the Senate in 2006 he continued to get amendments passed on issues such as the environment, government corruption, and labor rights. When Hillary Clinton says she likes to “get things done”, she means that she likes to back down for political expediency. When Bernie Sanders says he likes to get things done, he means he likes to get things done.

The truth is that no President can go it alone. Any true radical progressive reform will need the cooperation of Congress and the Senate, and thus it is crucial that supporters of Bernie Sanders vote not only for President, but also in congressional and Senate races, a point which Bernie himself stresses adamantly. But the history of Bernie Sanders shows that he is vigorous in his convictions and talented in the political maneuvering required to have said convictions realized.

There is one final issue which I will touch on here. This is the idea propagated by the Democratic party establishment that voters need to vote for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary because she is the only one who can defeat the eventual Republican nominee in the general election. Of course a brief examination of recent polls shows this idea to be patently false. Not only is Bernie Sanders matching or exceeding Clinton when pitted against Republican front-runners in many of the individual states which have been polled, but he is exceeding her nationally against Republican candidates and most specifically Donald Trump (54%-39% vs. 51%-41%). Much as in the late 1800’s when the political establishment opposed Teddy Roosevelt in his crusade to end the political ‘spoils system’, it is easy to understand why the establishment would now oppose Bernie Sanders, who similarly seeks to destroy the modern spoils system which has been so financially beneficial to them.

But more vitally and more inspirationally I would like to say this;

There is an incredible cynicism towards the political system existent in many Americans today. The feeling that the system is rigged, that politicians are bought, and that the voices of the many are stamped out by the power of the few, has led enormous sections of the population to feel discouraged, demoralized, and disheartened. From 1840-1968 voter turnout was over 60% in presidential elections 80% of the time, including over 70% every year from 1840-1900. Since 1968 voter turnout has not been over 60% even once. But there is something happening in America today. The message of Bernie Sanders, unheard and unspoken at this level of politics for so long, is resonating in an incredible way. Young voters are participating in the process for the first time, and older voters who had derisively given up on politics are feeling optimism and re-engaging. Just recently thousands of Americans in dozens of cities spontaneously took to the streets to support Bernie Sanders under the banner of #WeAreBernie in one of the most inspirational displays of American political participation in recent memory.

The point I am trying to make is this. The reason Bernie Sanders can become the next President of the United States is not fundamentally because of support among Democrats, or even support among Independents. The reason is because of support from countless Americans who previously felt excluded, voiceless, and trampled on under a corrupt political forgery.

The reason Bernie Sanders can be the next President of the United States is because we are Bernie.

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@Nig_Clarke 

Hillary Clinton`s Flip Flops (part 2)

hillary_flipflops2

(if you missed part 1 – please click here)

There is a level of comedic irony in the fact that as Washington, D.C. was being hammered by a blizzard, Hillary Clinton suddenly found herself trailing Bernie Sanders in the polls of both of the first two Democratic primary states. As discussed in part 1, Hillary has made a political career out of playing the part of ‘weatherman’ and revealing which way the wind blows. And things are certainly getting stormy for the Clinton campaign.

Unfortunately there appear to be more clouds on the horizon. A cynical and discontented electorate is only becoming increasingly familiar with Hillary’s lack of sincerity and conviction on the issues. Below we once again dive into the meteorological snafu that is Hillary Clinton.

Her Accent

We may as well start in the theater of the absurd.

For most of Hillary’s career her ever-changing accent has been a source of something between modest amusement and temperate scorn. During Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign she was introduced to the nation on a broad stage during her “I’m not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette” oration on 60 minutes. Her thick southern drawl was folksy and endearing, though it may have seemed curious for someone from Illinois.  As First Lady she dropped the drawl and began speaking like a midwesterner from Chicago (which she is). When she ran for Senate in 2000 as a representative of New York she delicately adopted certain linguistic mannerisms of a New Yorker (talk became ‘tawwk’). As she became more comfortable with her position in Washington she spoke neither as a southerner or a New Yorker, and she even managed to soften her midwestern edges until she sounded like a stereotypically bland establishment politician. After settling on this accent the only time she would deviate from it would be when she was running for President.

Whether in 2007/08 or during the current 2015/16 campaign Hillary tends to use different accents depending on whom she is addressing. When she stumps in the midwest she sharpens her r’s and hardens her vowels until she sounds like the Illinois native she used to be. When speaking in the south the drawl returns in an almost comical and sometimes borderline racist way. And of course when participating in nationally televised debates and interviews she sticks to the establishment accent she has learned through years in Washington.

Compared to much of her administrative and ideological turnabout Hillary’s ever changing accent belongs more to the realm of humor than serious controversy. But it does display a fundamental insight into her nature. Hillary will be whoever she thinks she needs to be on any given day, no matter how inconsistent or condescending.

Criminal Justice

1994– As First Lady, she supports Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act saying;

“We need more and tougher prison sentences”

and

“We need more prisons”

2007/08– While running for President she repeatedly attacks Barack Obama as “soft on crime” for his position on abolishing mandatory minimum sentences

2015: January-October– Accepts campaign contributions from private prison industry lobbyists

2015– Supports reform of the criminal justice system, reform of mandatory minimum sentencing, and a reduction in private prisons in order to end the “era of mass incarceration”

The (Bill) Clinton administration’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was one of the primary pieces of legislation that led to the catastrophe which is the American criminal justice system today. Many are aware that the United States now incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, a hideously disproportionate amount of whom are African-American, and that this is due in large part to mandatory minimum sentences and private prison lobbying.

When Hillary Clinton says “I will never stop working on issues of equality and opportunity, race and justice. I’ve done it my entire adult life.” it is really a simple matter of semantics. Yes, she has ‘worked on these issues’ her entire life, but unfortunately she was working strenuously against the positions she has now advocated for the past few months.

Colombia Free Trade Agreement (CFTA)

2008– While running for President she opposes the agreement saying, “As I have said for months, I opposed the deal, I have spoken out against the deal, I will vote against the deal, and I will do everything in my power to urge congress to reject” the deal.

2009-2012– The Clinton Foundation receives upwards of $130 million from Pacific Rubiales, a Canadian-Colombian oil company, and their founder Frank Giustra

2010– As Secretary of State, advocates that the CFTA is “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States”

2013– Frank Giustra is named to the Clinton Foundation Board of Directors

While not as high-profile as NAFTA or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Hillary’s maneuvering on the CFTA strongly illuminates two issues.

First, while she loves to tout her experience, especially with foreign policy, there is a question as to how much this experience really means when it is in the practice of inconsistency. How can labor unions entrust their support to Hillary when she has repeatedly amended her stance on issues so vitally important to them? Major international trade deals cost millions of dollars just to draw up and it stands to reason that countries would be extremely wary of investing the time, capital, and effort with a President Hillary Clinton when she has shown her propensity to bestow and revoke her support liberally.

Secondly, in this as in other issues there is at least a subconscious interpretation that Hillary’s position can be altered for monetary gain. Whether true or not this is extremely damaging to the public perception of the political process.

Women’s Rights as a Cornerstone of Foreign Policy

2001-2015– The Clinton Foundation receives tens of millions of dollars in ‘donations’ from Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia (estimated $25 million), Qatar ($5 million), and the United Arab Emirates ($5 million)

2009-2013– As Secretary of State for the Obama administration Hillary oversees $165 billion in weapons sales to 20 countries who had donated to the Clinton Foundation, a 143% increase from the (W.) Bush administration. This included a $29 billion deal with Saudi Arabia which the Assistant Secretary of State said was a “top priority for Clinton personally”

2015– States that as President she would make the promotion of women’s rights around the globe a cornerstone of her foreign policy

Aside from being another situation where there exists an understandable perception that Clinton Foundation donations impacted Hillary’s position, this exemplifies a dilemma with continuity. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates are some of the worst violators of women’s rights in the world. Whether coerced by donations or not, the sale of billions of dollars of weapons to these countries serves to strengthen the regimes which perpetrate the oppression. As a woman, Hillary likes to see herself as the default choice for female voters, and grandiose statements such as that she would ‘make promoting global women’s rights a pillar of foreign policy’ are only supposed to solidify this position. However it is undeniable that in reality Hillary’s actions have been in direct contradiction to the promotion of women’s rights around the world.

Gun Control

2000– While campaigning for the Senate is for tougher federal gun regulations

2007/08– While campaigning for President is against federal gun regulations stating “Having any kind of blanket rules doesn’t make sense. I don’t want the federal government preempting states and cities like New York that have very specific problems”

2015/16– While campaigning for President a second time is for federal gun regulations

When Hillary says “We’ve got to do something about gun violence in America. For too long we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation” it is hard to disagree. And making things like comprehensive background check legislation and a ban on assault weapons components of your presidential platform is something the majority of Americans now support. However, the problem is with expediency. Hillary’s positions on gun control have changed throughout her career based on who she was trying to solicit votes from. This is an issue because in any fight for increased gun control the opponent will be the NRA, as uncompromising and unflinching an organization as there is. Hillary has already show that gun control is not a fundamental piece of her personal ideology. Faced with a divisive and vicious political struggle for gun control it is not hard to imagine Hillary once again changing her view for political expediency.

Rapid Fire Round

Torture– In 2006 she affirmed the use of torture in exceptional circumstances stating, “In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the President”. By the 2007/08 presidential campaign she was saying torture “cannot be American policy, period.”.

Disagreement among Democrats on Health Care– During the 2007/08 Democratic primary she chastised Barack Obama for attacking her health care plan saying “Since when do Democrats attack one another on health care?” and, famously, “Shame on you”.  In the 2015/16 Democratic primary, she has attacked opponent Bernie Sanders’ health care plan.

Racial Justice– As mentioned, Hillary is fond of saying that she has worked on issues of equality and race for her “entire adult life”. She is likely forgetting her voracious support of her husband’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act which had devastating effects on the African-American community, or, more comically, her time in the 1960’s as a “Goldwater Girl” working for Senator Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act.

Experience and the Establishment– For the first year of her 2015/16 presidential campaign Hillary contrasted herself with opponent Bernie Sanders by painting herself as more experienced, more of a pragmatist, and more capable of operating within the establishment. After a groundswell of anti-establishment grassroots support for Sanders pushed him past her in the polls, Hillary changed her approach stating, “he’s been in office a lot longer than I have” and suggesting this made him the establishment candidate. Considering his history as the only independent member of Congress, and then the Senate, and his self-definition as a democratic socialist, the assertion of Sanders as the establishment candidate seemed ludicrous even for Hillary.

The Bottom Line

The political process in the United States is changing. The days of half-truths, manipulative language, and uncontested conversions of expediency are under attack by the proliferation of alternative media, and social media. There is no denying that the political career of Hillary Clinton has had an inherent value to women everywhere. As an outspoken First Lady, prominent Senator, Secretary of State, and presidential front-runner she has elevated the conversation of women in leadership roles. But Hillary Clinton is now a relic of a period many ‘regular’ Americans are trying so hard to break free from. She built a political career flip-flopping on everything from policy, to self-definition, to how she spoke. She has received enormous sums of money, through campaign donations, speaking fees, and donations to the Clinton Foundation, from oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, private prisons, financial institutions, and brutally oppressive regimes.

These are characteristics of a type of politician which cannot be permitted to exist any longer. There must be a focus on constancy and conviction, on integrity and accountability — not to large financial donors but to the people themselves.

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@Nig_Clarke 

 

Black Lives Must Matter: Bernie Sanders and the 2016 Presidential Election

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All across the country ‘Black Lives Matter’ and similar activists are making their voices heard. The crisis of racial injustice no longer lurks on the periphery of the political discussion but rather it is, and should be, an essential issue for any legitimate Presidential candidate in 2016. Equality for all should be inalienable in the minds of every decent human being, but make no mistake — what is being talked about is not a ‘ white lives matter’ or an ‘all lives matter’ issue, it is a targeted and specific response to the multi-faceted disaster faced by African-Americans in the United States today. And in the 2016 Presidential election the candidate with the most progressive and comprehensive platform to attack this catastrophe is Bernie Sanders. Additionally, perhaps as important in our age of political doublespeak and pandering for votes,  no candidate can come close to his 50+ year history as a civil rights champion.

Police Violence, A Racial Disaster

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The statistics surrounding police violence in the United States are staggering, particularly relating to the African-American community. In 2015 alone over 1000 people were killed by police, and, despite making up only 13% of the population as a whole, over 30% of those killed were African-American. Even more appalling is that, in total, over 20% of those killed were unarmed, and again disproportionately, 33% of African-Americans killed by police were unarmed. Most shockingly, almost 40% of all unarmed people killed by police were African-American.

The truly infuriating aspect of all of this are the responses given by ‘leadership’, both politicians and law enforcement authorities, the majority of the time these types of things happen. When a police officer kills a civilian they are indicted in less than 1% of cases. Time and time again police leadership points to the ‘one bad apple’ theory, despite a poll showing that 84% of police officers say they have “witnessed fellow officers using more force than necessary”. Even more enraging is the textbook response usually given by political leaders preaching calm, urging patience, and promising some vague and far-off idea of change. How many people have to be murdered in the streets before anger is justified? How many times do African-Americans have to see their children, brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents executed before exasperation legitimately turns to rage?

Fortunately Bernie Sanders is not a textbook politician.

“People are angry and they have a right to be angry. This violence fills us with outrage, disgust, and a deep, deep sadness”. 

In 1963, one year after a 20 year old Bernie Sanders, as a Congress on Racial Equality officer, was arrested for leading a sit-in to oppose housing segregation at the University of Chicago where he was a student, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was here he witnessed Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Reminiscing as an older man as to why a 21 year old white kid from the northern part of America would do this he said “We saw our friends getting the shit kicked out of them and getting beaten to hell”. 50 years later when events in Ferguson, Missouri caused national fervor Bernie Sanders broke from the conciliatory and tranquilizing attitude of most of the political establishment. He advocated to his colleagues in the Senate for a thorough federal investigation. He wrote letters to the editor in the New York Times proposing legislative change. He appeared on MSNBC and said the police, due to their use of humvees and heavy weaponry, appeared to be an “occupying army”. He spoke on CNN saying “Black suspects have been murdered and that is unacceptable. Police officers have got to be held accountable for their actions”. At a time when Republicans and the ‘right wing’ media were using derogatory language to victim-blame and so-called liberals were softly counseling calm, Bernie Sanders used his position in the Senate as a megaphone to shout from the rooftops things which crucially needed to be said.

 In running for President in 2015/16 the megaphone only got louder, and the rooftop taller. No candidate has presented a more aggressive or extensive platform dealing with the issue of police reform than Bernie Sanders. He has called for police forces to better represent the diversity of the community in which they serve, including in leadership and training positions. In response to statistics like a poll where 61% of police officers said they “do not always report serious abuse by fellow officers” Bernie has proposed a system which would better allow ‘good’ officers to report actions of the ‘bad’ without fear of retaliation. On the issue of cases where a civilian is killed by a police officer resulting in an indictment less than 1% of the time, he has demanded the requirement of an investigation by the Attorney General whenever anyone is killed while in police custody, while also calling for increased civilian oversight of police departments. Most dramatically, and perhaps most importantly, Bernie has demanded that we “reinvent how we police America”. Quite simply, police officers in the United States are fundamentally trained differently than in other places in the ‘developed’ world. The result of this training is an atmosphere where guns are drawn prematurely, where officers fluctuate between great fear and hyper-aggressiveness, and where far, far too many people end up killed by police. Bernie has spoken strongly in favor of a new training model, designed with input from activists and civil rights organizations, constructed to teach officers to de-escalate the situation, as well as how to interact with those with mental illness. Anybody who has followed some of the heartbreaking stories of the past few years knows that these two elements would undeniably save lives. The United States cannot continue to be a place where African-Americans, including children, the elderly, and the innocent, are disproportionately executed by agents designed to protect them. There must be a vocal population supported by an ambitious police reform, and Bernie Sanders has proposed exactly that.

The Inequality of a Hyperactive Justice System

prisonblack

“If you want to get tough on crime let’s deal with the causes of crime. Let’s not keep disproportionately punishing blacks” -Bernie Sanders in Congress, 1991

The justice system in America is broken. It is absurd that a country with just over 4% of the world’s population, one advertised as the richest and most free, has almost 25% of the world’s prison population. The United States has more people in prison than China or Russia, not only proportionately but in total. Predictably African-Americans are ludicrously over-represented within this number. While making up only 13% of the population of the United States (as mentioned above), African-Americans make up 40% of the prison population. Despite what you might hear on Fox News this is not due to some sort of inherent “thug” character flaw in black men, or a fundamental defect in African-American communities. Rather the problem is a justice system steeped in structural racism and disparity of reporting, enforcement, and punishment. A simple yet illuminating example; Statistics show that approximately 12% of Americas drug users are African-American, yet 34% of people arrested for drug offenses are, you guessed it, African-American.

Speaking of drugs, is there any doubt as to the monumental failure that the ‘war on drugs’ has been? Reports suggest that Americans are paying upwards of $40 billion per year jailing inmates and within the prison population nearly 50% of inmates are serving time for drug related crime. Conversely under 3% of inmates are imprisoned for violent crimes such as homicide, aggravated assault, or kidnapping. Combined with the numbers listed above on the disproportionate numbers of African-Americans arrested for drug offenses it is clear that this so called ‘war on drugs’ has acted functionally as a war on black communities.

There are two facets which need to be immediately addressed to stop this war, both of which have been spoken on passionately and fought for repeatedly by Bernie Sanders.

The first is the need to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, notably for those related to the ‘war on drugs’, and specifically for marijuana based offenses. Bernie articulated a powerful message when he said;

“It is an obscenity that we stigmatize so many young Americans with a criminal record for smoking marijuana, but not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy. This must change”

Additionally he has and continues to express his position through policy. For example, his Smarter Sentencing Act in 2014 was designed to adjust mandatory sentencing guidelines, specifically with relation to drug offenses, before it was defeated in the Senate. Also, Bernie has said that as President he will support the decriminalization of marijuana, the use of medicinal marijuana, and the rights of states to legalize if they so choose.

The second glaring issue with regards to the obscene overpopulation of prisons in the United States is that of private/for-profit corporate prisons. Incredible as it may seem, the prison industry spends millions of dollars lobbying the government for things like harsher sentencing laws in order to increase their earnings at the expense of the American people. It is grotesque that any American should have their rehabilitation process decided by those who seek to profit from it, and even more twisted that African-American communities should disproportionately feel the brunt of this corporate agenda. Bernie Sanders has been outspoken on the need to ban for-profit corporate prisons and his Justice Is Not For Sale Act would do just that. Stated simply, Bernie believes “incarceration should be about rehabilitation and public safety, not profit”.

The final piece of the puzzle with regards to reforming the justice system is, for Bernie Sanders, perhaps the biggest piece. This is the piece dealing not with crime and punishment, but with rehabilitation and root cause.

From 1991 –

“If you want to get tough on crime let’s deal with the causes of crime. Lets not keep disproportionately punishing blacks”

to 2015 –

“African-American youth unemployment is 51%. It seems to me that instead of building more jails and providing more incarceration maybe — just maybe — we should be putting money into education and jobs for our kids”

And in the time in between Bernie has continuously and relentlessly been an advocate on this issue. In the 1990’s he was one of the only white members of Congress to vote against ending a federal education funding program for prison inmates. In 2000 he voted for a bill supporting alternative sentencing and rehabilitation. In 2007 he co-sponsored the Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act designed to expand re-entry projects and services for offenders and their families. And in addition to the forceful reorganization of the justice system as discussed above, Bernie Sanders has stated a strong desire to, as President, tackle the root causes of crime through initiatives such as free public college, and a $5.5 billion investment in job training and creation for disadvantaged young Americans.

It is no longer possible to look away from the embarrassing truth of the American justice system, and even less so to ignore what Bernie has called the “unspeakable tragedy” of the over-representation of African-Americans within. Reform must take place in the definition of who is a criminal,  how criminals are rehabilitated, and in the idea of crime prevention itself. These are topics which have been the focus of Bernie Sanders for decades during his career as a politician.

Voter Suppression and the Subversion of Democracy

voting

“Anybody who is suppressing the vote, anybody who is intentionally trying to keep people from voting because the candidate knows that those people would vote against him or her, that person is a political coward. If you don’t have the guts to run for office on your ideas, then you shouldn’t run for office at all.” – Bernie Sanders

It is hard to believe that the policies and rhetoric of racism which seem to fundamentally inhabit the platform of many Republican politicians can still exist in the United States. A large contributing factor to the existence of these types of ideas in mainstream American politics today can be directly attributed to voter suppression. If politicians who advocated these ideas received a properly representative portion of voter support it would become clear that in most cases they represented a fringe and dying ideology. But, much as in the days of segregation and the civil rights movement when voter suppression was crucial in propping up a decaying dogma, today voter suppression allows racist and xenophobic politicians to seem legitimate.

In 2013 the Supreme Court said “Voting discrimination still exists, no one doubts that”.  Unfortunately they said this as they were in the midst of gutting the Voting Rights Act. In the time of segregation and the civil rights movement voting was suppressed by intentionally racist literacy laws and poll taxes, as well as racial gerrymandering. In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was introduced to prevent this type of racial discrimination in the voting system and resulted in mass enfranchisement of African-Americans. But in 2013 the Supreme court ruled that, contrary to the Voting Rights Act, states would be allowed to change electoral laws without approval of the federal government. The results were as predictable as they were destructive, a whole new generation of voter suppression was effectively condoned. As Bernie Sanders said at the time, “The Supreme Court turned back the clock on equality”.

Today votes are no longer suppressed by literacy laws and poll taxes, but through other means which are, sadly, just as overtly racist. In many states individuals are not allowed to vote without a photo ID. This is harmful to the 11% of voters without the required identification, but dramatically more so to the estimated 25% of African-American voters who do not have photo ID. In some states felons are unable to vote, even after they have paid their debt to society. The disproportionate representation of African-Americans in the criminal justice system, as discussed in the section above, shows this as another tool to suppress the vote along racial lines. Gerrymandering is as brutal now as it ever was, and can regularly be shown to be targeted along racial boundaries. And all of this does not even begin to discuss the lack of polling locations, or the lack of staff and hours of operation of said polling locations, in communities which are predominantly African-American, further dissuading people in those communities from voting.

As seen in the quote which started this section, voter suppression appears to be something which personally offends Bernie Sanders, as it does many Americans, both as a racist debacle and an affront to democracy as a whole. In response to the Supreme Court gutting of the Voting Rights Act Bernie co-sponsored the Voting Rights Amendment Act in the Senate. In response to certain states banning or restricting felons from voting he co-sponsored the Democracy Restoration Act. In addition, no presidential candidate has presented such a comprehensive platform to restore and strengthen the voting rights of all Americans. Bernie has expressed his desire to prohibit states from banning those without photo identification from voting. To ensure all Americans have an opportunity to vote he has proposed making election day a federal holiday, making early voting an option for those who work and study, and increasing both the number of polling locations and employees specifically in under-serviced communities. He has also asserted his belief that it should be the responsibility of the government and not the individual to register to vote all those who turn 18 or move to a new state.

To exclude individuals from voting is an embarrassment to democracy, and to do so based on race is a travesty. With the full enfranchisement articulated by Bernie Sanders, it is inevitable that the antiquated views of those who would suppress the vote be swept thankfully into the dustbin of history.

The Next President of the United States……

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Through much of American history the position of most high-level politicians towards the African-American community has fallen somewhere between open racism and cautious lip service. But in 2016 there is a candidate with a legitimate opportunity to become the next President of the United States who has spent 50 years fighting for civil rights in both words and deeds. This is a man who regularly quotes Martin Luther King when he speaks. This is a man who in 1988 supported Jesse Jackson’s bid to become President, helping him win the almost entirely white state of Vermont. This is a man who has repeatedly spoken forcefully, often at times when it was unpopular to do so, on civil rights issues, and has consistently acted by tabling progressive legislation. It should be personally repulsive for all Americans to live in a country where the systemic oppression and destruction of a group of people exists. It absolutely has to be the policy of any presidential candidate to address these issues, and for Bernie Sanders it definitively is.

I will leave you with the words of rapper and activist Michael “Killer Mike” Render, himself a powerful speaker and dynamic voice on civil rights.

“Look at that picture of Dr. King that’s been on your Gramma’s wall for your whole life and say to yourself ‘who’s policies best identify with that?’, and vote for that person. In my case, that’s Senator Sanders”

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@nig_clarke 

Hillary Clinton’s Flip Flops

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(check out part 2 here)

You Don’t Need A Weatherman To Tell Which Way The Wind Blows

Hillary Clinton is a politician’s politician. One can imagine her sitting down to breakfast at a small cafe and consulting the appropriate polls before deciding on white, multigrain, or rye toast. While hilarious for the late-night crowd this type of leadership by expediency is looked upon with a sort of frightened amusement by the discerning voter. Is Hillary disingenuous, an opportunist, or just confused? Perhaps all of the above. Below we examine 7 times in which Hillary has played the role of weatherman and shown us which way the wind blows.

 

#1: Progressive vs. Moderate

During the current election campaign Hillary has appeared perplexed as to her own political ideology. On one hand she does not want to be outdone by her Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders, a progressive among progressives, while on the other she must come to terms with her neoconservative military record and longstanding position as a great political friend to Wall Street. Days apart she provided us with two deliciously contradictory self definitions.

“I take a back seat to no one, when you look at my record, in standing up and fighting for progressive values”

vs.

“I get accused of being kind of a moderate and center…. I plead guilty”

So she is a progressive and a moderate? Unfortunately for the coherence of Hillary Clinton, those are two different things.

 

#2: Gay Marriage and LGBT Rights

1990’s– Was First Lady during the Bill Clinton administration, which passed such anti-gay legislation as ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ in the military, and the Defense of Marriage Act

2000– While running for Senate says she would have supported Defense of Marriage Act

2000-Bill on Hillary- she “experienced discomfort around gay people who were kind of acting out”

2001– Poll on public support for gay marriage — 57% against, 35% for

2004– Gives a speech in the Senate saying “I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman.”

2004– Poll on public support for gay marriage — 60% against, 31% for

2008– Runs for President the first time while opposing gay marriage

2009– Poll on public support for gay marriage — 54% against, 37% for

2010– Is reportedly furious about changing the “mother, father” designations on passport application forms to “parent 1, parent 2”. States she “could live with letting people in non-traditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father”

2011– Poll on public support for gay marriage — 46% against, 46% for

2013– Poll on public support for gay marriage — 43% against, 50% for

2013– Comes out in support of marriage equality

Clinton supporters are fond of saying that Hillary did not flip-flop on this issue but rather she ‘evolved’. Perhaps this is true, perhaps she did leave behind her distaste for “gay people who were acting out” and her fury over the changing of the codification of the ‘traditional’ family. It is then an incredible piece of coincidence that her ‘evolution’ happened to take place in the exact year when public opinion finally shifted in favor of gay marriage for the first time. When challenged on why this evolution took so long she responded-

“I’m proud of people who have been on the front lines of advocacy but in 1993 that was not the case. Not that many people supported gay marriage in the 90’s”

Interesting she should put it that way. Her opponent Bernie Sanders, as Mayor of Burlington, supported the city’s first pride parade in 1983, then later signed legislation banning housing discrimination against the LGBT community. As a Congressman in the 1990’s he fought against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and, most specifically, the Defense of Marriage Act. So while Hillary comes late to the party and wants to act like she threw it, at least some people were on the “front lines of advocacy”.

#3: Iraq War

2002– During a speech in the Senate after voting for the Iraq war says “It is with conviction that I support this resolution. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war”

2002– Poll on public support for Iraq war — 52% for, 42% against

2007– While running for President says on Iraq “our President rushed us into war”

2007– Poll on public support for Iraq war — 34% for, 65% against

Obviously many people, both politicians and ‘regular’ Americans, made a mistake they would later concede in supporting the Iraq war. But there is a level of tragic comedy in seeing both of Hillary’s quotes back to back, her use of the same language to say two completely contradictory things. Interestingly one of the few Senators who did vote against the Iraq war before it became popularly viewed as a catastrophe was one Bernie Sanders.

#4: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

1996– As First Lady says “I think everybody is in favor of free and fair trade. I think NAFTA is proving its worth”

2002– Poll on public opinion of NAFTA — 48% saw America as “winner”, 37% “loser”

2004– As a Senator states “NAFTA has been good for New York and Americans”

2005– Poll on public opinion of NAFTA — 43% saw America as “winner”, 47% “loser”

2007– While running for President states “NAFTA was a mistake”

In what appears as a recurring theme for Hillary across multiple issues, she repeatedly spoke publicly in favor of NAFTA while it enjoyed relative popularity before speaking against it shortly after it became unpopular.

#5: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

From 2010-2013 as Secretary of State Hillary advocated no less than 45 times in favor of the TPP all around the world. She called it “the gold standard in trade agreements”. However late in 2015 she changed her opinion and began opposing it, a curious reversal for someone who had essentially been the American face of the TPP on the international stage. Likely she realized that in her quest for the Democratic presidential nomination  she could use the support of labor unions who, like her opponent Bernie Sanders had from the very beginning, opposed the TPP, seeing it as a potential killer of American jobs.

#6: Keystone Pipeline

As Secretary of State Hillary professed that she was “inclined” to approve the Keystone pipeline, reasoning “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the gulf, or dirty oil from Canada”. For the first half of 2015, as the clear-cut front runner in the Democratic primary, she refused to respond to cries from liberal Democrats asking her to articulate her position on the project. However as her opponent Bernie Sanders, himself an opponent of Keystone from the very beginning, chased and eventually caught her in the polls she was forced to enunciate her position. At that point she revealed her position had changed, and she now opposed Keystone. Much like in the case of the TPP Hillary saw no reason to oppose the project until she started bleeding votes from liberal Democrats to a much more progressive opponent.

#7: Immigration

2003– As a Senator says “I am adamantly against illegal immigrants”

2006– Votes for the Secure Fence Act, devised to allow for the construction of a 700 mile fence along the US-Mexico border

2007– Expresses she is against providing drivers licences for undocumented people

2014-During a town hall meeting is asked about what she would do with children from Central America who are coming across the US-Mexico border. In her response, after saying she would send them home, she states  – “Just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay”

2015– States that she supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Also expresses support for state policies which would allow drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants

For over a decade Hillary was “against illegal immigrants”, favoring building walls and sending people back where they came from (sounding conspicuously similar to a current Republican candidate). Then in 2015, as she embarked on another attempt to become President, she engaged in a dramatic reversal. So what changed? Likely Hillary recognized that Hispanics are the fastest growing ‘minority’ in the United States, already making up approximately 17% of the population, and that their disproportionate numbers in swing states such as Florida, Arizona, and Colorado (among others) make their votes crucial. She also likely looked at her potential competition in her quest for the White House. People like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are Hispanic themselves, or Jeb Bush, who speaks fluent Spanish and is married to a Mexican woman. Not to mention Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, who has long championed an extremely progressive immigration policy. One wonders if one year of opportunistic progressive lip service can really undo a decade of aggressive rhetoric.

 

The Bottom Line

Ideological evolution is an important part of a political career,  not to mention the progression of society as a whole. But the problem that Hillary Clinton has is that she has changed positions on seemingly every major issue which has arisen in her career, often in an embarrassingly transparent pursuit of votes. If Hillary becomes the Democratic nominee will she, no longer required to satisfy liberal Democrats, change her position on the TPP or Keystone back to support? Would a ‘President Hillary Clinton’, if confronted with growing conflict with Iran, “rush us into war”? Faced with the hateful xenophobia of some Republicans towards immigrants and refugees will Hillary follow the progressive position she has embraced over the last year, or return to her hardline approach of the previous decade?

A large part of leadership is to hold, express, and fight for your convictions and beliefs. Simply put, Hillary has only one guiding principle, that is to get elected, and in that she represents the very heart of what is wrong with politics.

 

(continue to part 2…)

 

-Nigel Clarke 

 

orwell1

twitter@nig_clarke 

 

Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton

hillaryandbernie

With the first chance to vote in the 2016 Democratic primary mere weeks away, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are polling essentially neck and neck. As such, it is crucial for the conscious voter to obtain a deeper level of insight beyond mainstream corporate media sources, which often present a narrow and nuanced message designed to deceive the voter rather than inform.

Below is an analysis of the position and history of the candidates on 4 significant issues. As will be seen, the candidates often differ substantially both from each other, and from the way in which they may be generally perceived. Information is taken directly from the campaign websites of each candidate (www.berniesanders.com, www.hillaryclinton.com), as well as legislation documents, speeches, articles, and other online sources.

 

Issue #1 – Wall Street 

An overwhelming majority of Americans have a negative view of Wall Street and the power of financial institutions, specifically after the Wall Street crash and subsequent bailout. The price tag on said bailout is usually put at $700 billion although many analysts declare the amount to be, in reality, well above $10 trillion. The truly staggering numbers however are those which show the dramatic increase of wealth inequality in the United States since the crash, bailout, and ensuing legislation purportedly designed to regulate Wall Street. In 2007 the top 1% of Americans had 34% of the wealth. By 2014 that number was 40%. Conversely in 2007 the bottom 80% of Americans had 15% of the wealth, but by 2014 they had only %7. Legislation such as the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, designed to increase regulation and consumer protection, particularly with regards to risky proprietary trading and speculative investments, was delayed and revised in the following years to the benefit of the financial institutions. In perhaps the most flagrant example bank lobbyists ‘helped’ draft legislation in 2013 gutting regulations, literally providing entire word-for-word paragraphs of the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act. Unsurprisingly many economists agree that today we stand on the precipice of another economic collapse. An increasingly deregulated Wall Street has been an accelerating catastrophe since the (Bill) Clinton administration repealed Glass-Steagall in 1999. What will the Democratic candidates of today do about it?

“Too big to fail”

bernie1_2

Introduced the ‘Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist’ Act designed to break up big banks

 

hillary_2

Seeks to;

• give regulators more authority over complex or risky firms

• make large financial firms demonstrate to regulators they can be managed effectively

• institute a fee based on the size of the financial institution and the risk of contributing to another financial crisis

Taxing the 0.1%

bernie1_2

Proposes a financial transaction tax as well as a tax on Wall Street speculation

 

hillary_2

Proposes a tax on high frequency trading

Also

bernie1_2

• Proposed a cap on credit card interest at 15%

• Cosponsored a bill to end bonuses to bank executives who leave to take government jobs

 

hillary_2

• Proposes to make senior managers lose their bonuses when banks suffer losses that threaten financial health

• Proposes to extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting major financial fraud

History

bernie1_2

• 1999-Fought against the repeal of Glass-Steagall (repeal is generally understood to be the major contributing factor to the financial collapse in 2008)

• 2009-Voted against the Wall Street bailout

• 2009-Introduced the Federal Reserve Transparency Act in the Senate

 

hillary_2

• Against re-institution of Glass-Steagall

• Voted for the Wall Street bailout

• 2008-Received over $21 million from the finance industry towards her Presidential campaign

• 2013-15 – Gave speeches to such financial institutions as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, etc. for fees ranging from $250,00-$500,000 per speech

• 1999-2015 – 6 of 10 top campaign contributors were financial institutions

• Son-in-Law Marc Mezvinsky is a Goldman Sachs alum and current hedge fund manager at Eaglevate Partners LP

 

Overview:

Hillary Clinton is, correctly or incorrectly, known as a great friend to Wall Street. With her history of receiving enormous sums of money from financial institutions, family ties, and previous policy positions it is hard not to see why. Conversely, through words and actions, Bernie Sanders has long been known as a thorn in the side of major financial institutions. His presidential platform is dramatic in scope and aggressive in language. Repeatedly he speaks of the economy being ‘rigged’ and banks that are ‘too big to fail’ being ‘too big to exist’, while articulating provocative policy solutions. Clinton, on the other hand, has rarely ventured into the realm of compelling rhetoric, except for the interestingly vague statement that she would tell Wall Street to “cut it out”. She has proposed a more delicate platform focused on increasing the type and strength of regulatory legislation which financial institutions have already been altering and avoiding following the crash. Despite her stated desire to make the financial system “fairer and more accountable” there seems to be a level of resignation to the idea that financial institutions will be inherently risky and powerful.

Before leaving the subject– an interesting quote comes from William D. Cohan, former banker and current bestselling author and business insider.

“The big bankers love Clinton, and by and large they badly want her to be president. Many of the rich and powerful in the financial industry—among them, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, Tom Nides, a powerful vice chairman at Morgan Stanley, and the heads of JPMorganChase and Bank of America—consider Clinton a pragmatic problem-solver not prone to populist rhetoric. To them, she’s someone who gets the idea that we all benefit if Wall Street and American business thrive. What about her forays into fiery rhetoric? They dismiss it quickly as political maneuvers. None of them think she really means her populism.”

 

Issue #2- National Defense

In the wake of 9/11 few could have imagined the magnitude of consequence for the United States. From the $3 trillion (or more) spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to the Patriot Act and NSA spying, to seemingly the endless extension of military involvement in places like Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan, all under the umbrella of the ambiguously defined ‘war on terror’. The culmination seems now to be the frighteningly belligerent Republican position of neoconservative militarism, the expanding removal of Constitutional rights, and anti-Muslim xenophobia. As such, it is extremely important to know where the Democratic candidates stand on various topics surrounding the issue of national security.

Military Spending

bernie1_2

• Has stated the desire to take a “hard look” at the Pentagon budget, priorities, and accountability

• Rejects increased defense spending at the cost of cutting domestic social spending

 

hillary_2

Promises to maintain the “best trained, best equipped, strongest military the world has ever known”

Terrorism and ISIS

bernie1_2

Strong advocate that wealthy middle eastern nations such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar should be leading the fight on terrorism in that area. He is quoted as saying – “It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event—$200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS”. Also believes in addressing the root causes of radicalization and providing humanitarian relief in the area.

 

hillary_2

Believes America should be “empowering partners to defeat terrorism” including supporting the buildup of the Iraqi military, as well as supporting security in places such as Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen.

War

bernie1_2

Seeks a move away from unilateral military action and believes going to war should be the last resort not the first

 

hillary_2

Supported Iraq war, Libyan intervention, Syrian intervention, and escalation of Afghanistan war. Also supports increased drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Israel

bernie1_2

Supports the 2-State solution in Israel/Palestine. Also strongly condemns Hamas rocket attacks as well as the “disproportionate and completely unacceptable” Israeli attacks

 

hillary_2

Seeks to protect and further arm Israel. Has stated that “If anyone challenges Israel’s security they challenge America’s security”

Diplomacy

bernie1_2

Promotes a policy of focusing on diplomatic solutions. “The test of a great and powerful nation is not how many wars it can engage in but how it can resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner”

 

hillary_2

Has at different times spoken of “holding China accountable”, “going toe to toe with Putin”, and has advocated for “crippling sanctions against Iran”. Also supports drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere as well as an increased military presence around Iran.

Torture

bernie1_2

Seeks to abolish torture

 

hillary_2

As of 2015 seeks to abolish torture. In 2007 was quoted as saying she sought to abolish torture with the caveat that “In the event we were ever confronted with having to interrogate a detainee with knowledge of an imminent threat to millions of Americans, then the decision to depart from standard international practices must be made by the president”

History

bernie1_2

• Former Chairman and current member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee

• Voted against the first Gulf War

• Supported use of force to stop the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans

• Supported use of force in Afghanistan (after clear evidence the Taliban regime supported Al-Qaeda who attacked on 9/11)

• Voted against the Iraq war

• Called on both President Bush and President Obama to withdraw troops from Iraq

• Voted against the Patriot Act

• Voted against the renewal of the Patriot Act

• Voted against the USA Freedom Act (a reform of the Patriot Act) saying it didn’t go far enough in reform

• Supports ending the bulk data collection of phone records and internet history saying “we must not trade away our Constitutional rights and civil liberties for the illusion of security”

 

hillary_2

• Voted for the Iraq war

• Supported intervention in Libya

• Supported intervention in Syria

• Supported expansion of drone strikes

• Supported escalation of Afghanistan war (2009)

• Advocated in favor of leaving a residual troop force in Iraq after withdrawal

• Voted for the Patriot Act

• Voted for the renewal of the Patriot Act

• Supports the USA Freedom Act

 

Overview

It is hard to imagine a bigger discrepancy between the two candidates on this topic. While Bernie Sanders did show willingness to support military action in exceptional circumstances he has consistently been anti-war and pro-diplomacy in both words and policy actions. Conversely, Hillary Clinton has persistently lived up to her reputation among both detractors and supporters as a ‘hawk’, steadily supporting war and the escalation of force in the neoconservative Bush/Cheney model. With impending opportunities for conflict or diplomacy in places like Iran and North Korea, not to mention Russia and China, it is important to decide just how antagonistic America should be.

Also relevant to note is that long before the comprehensive intrusiveness of the Patriot Act was exposed by Edward Snowden Bernie Sanders stood openly against it. Hillary Clinton supported it then and she supports it in its current incarnation. At a time when most, if not all, Republican presidential candidates are expressing a desire to accelerate the discussion on internet censorship it is also crucial to decide what type of a defender of free speech and privacy the President should be.

 

Issue #3- Women’s Issues

When Barack Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States it was rightly seen as an historic moment for equality in America. Similarly, the election of the first female President would be a comparatively consequential moment. However it is important for the politically conscious individual to be able to separate history from policy and ability. A Vice President Sarah Palin would have been significant, but perhaps principally because of her historic ineptness and monumental lack of qualification (an extreme example to be sure, as Hillary Clinton is certainly no Sarah Palin). So while it is absolutely understandable that “President Hillary Clinton” would be in and of itself a positive occurrence for women, it is also crucial to understand her positions on relevant women’s issues, and the contrast to those of her opponent. There is a reasoning that as a woman these are issues which Clinton “wins” by default. A closer examination shows not only that Bernie Sanders has a long and recognized history as a champion of gender equality, but that Clinton and Sanders do differ on the issues in ways that are both substantive and rhetorical.

Equal Pay

bernie1_2

• Advocates for pay equality for women. Supports and has voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act

• Proposes increasing minimum wage to $15/hr (Women make up 2/3 of all minimum wage workers)

 

hillary_2

• Also advocates for pay equality for women. Co-sponsored and supports the Paycheck Fairness Act

• Proposes increasing minimum wage to $12/hr

Reproductive Rights

bernie1_2

• Supports the expansion of funding for Planned Parenthood as well as other initiatives which support women’s health, access to contraception, and availability of abortions.

• Will only nominate Supreme Court judges that support Roe v. Wade (3 Supreme Court justices are currently over 80 years old, and another is 78). This is hugely important to pro-choice advocates especially considering Whole Women’s Heath v. Cole, which is currently being contested in the Supreme Court.

• Against allowing employers who provide health care from denying coverage of birth control

 

hillary_2

• Is against defunding Planned Parenthood

• Supports and respects Roe v. Wade

• Against allowing employers who provide health care from denying coverage of birth control

• Believes abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare”

Family

bernie1_2

• Cosponsored and supports the FAMILY Act which would provide 12 weeks of paid leave each year to workers for the birth/adoption of a child, or a family or personal medical emergency

• Cosponsored and supports the Healthy Families Act which would guarantee 7 days of paid sick leave per year for employees

• Introduced the Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, which would require employers to provide 10 days of paid vacation per year

• Will “substantially” increase funding to the WIC program that provides nutrition assistance to low-income pregnant women and mothers, as well as infants

• Intends to make high quality childcare and pre-k available to all regardless of income

 

hillary_2

• Says she will ‘fight for paid family leave’ but is against the plan laid out in the FAMILY Act and has not specified an alternative beyond stating “I don’t think, politically, we could get it now.”

• Intends to make investing in child care a ‘national priority’

Domestic Violence

bernie1_2

Believes “much more has to be done” to stop domestic violence through the expansion of services provided through the Violence Against Women Act and the Family Violence Prevention And Services Act

 

hillary_2

• States she will put forward “bold plans” to prevent violence against women

• Believes in making women’s rights a cornerstone of foreign policy

Social Security (There are 2x more elderly women in poverty than men)

bernie1_2

• Will fight to expand Social Security benefits by an average of $65 per month

• Will increase cost of living adjustments to reflect rising medical and prescription drug costs

 

hillary_2

Committed to defending Social Security from Republican attacks and “enhancing it to meet new realities”

Overview

It is clear that both Sanders and Clinton are infinitely stronger on the topic of women’s issues than any of their Republican counterparts, whose opinions range from respectfully misogynistic to overtly hostile. But there are two major differences between Sanders and Clinton which jump out.

First, where Sanders has repeatedly expressed concrete policy ideas, places of expansion and innovation, and points to increase funding, Clinton has routinely been vague, almost as though the fact that she is a woman is supposed to encourage voters to subconsciously read in positivity to the obscure. A few examples; Where Sanders has cosponsored the FAMILY Act which lays out a plan to provide workers with 12 weeks of paid family leave, Clinton has said she will fight for paid family leave while opposing the FAMILY Act and saying “I don’t think, politically, we could get it now.”. Where Sanders has stated he will expand the funding for Planned Parenthood, Clinton has stated she will fight Republicans in their attempt to defund it. Where Sanders has expressed a desire to expand Social Security benefits by $65/month while increasing cost of living adjustments, Clinton has said she will defend it against Republicans and “enhance” it to “meet new realities” (which almost sounds like a position designed to leave the door open to decreased or reallocated funding). It is hard to deny that on many of the issues Sanders has been much more coherent and straight forward.

The second issue is the place where position meets operation, or, if you prefer, where perception meets reality.

Take the topic of women’s reproductive rights. In this area Bernie Sanders has, through his words as well as actions, been a progressive among progressives. Over the years he has used his position in Congress and the Senate to co-sponsor the Women’s Health Protection Act, to vote to allow interstate travel for abortions, vote to increase access and funding for family planning, vote against defining life as beginning at conception, among many other examples. In stating that, as President, he would only support new Supreme Court Justices that support Roe v. Wade he has openly articulated a level of strength on the issue of abortion which is above and beyond most progressives. On the other hand Hillary Clinton, who, it should be noted, like Bernie Sanders has a lifetime perfect score of ‘100’ from NARAL Pro-Choice America, has taken a decidedly different approach. She has long been a purveyor of the position that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare”. As per her Methodist faith she believes the potential for life begins at conception which leads her to “respect those who believe there are no circumstances under which any abortion should ever be made available” and call to find “common ground” with pro-lifers. Contrasting with Sanders’ hard-line approach to women’s reproductive rights Clinton has endeavored to “create conditions where women have other choices”. The conciliatory ‘other choices’ and ‘common ground’ approach by Clinton and others has led to various states passing laws such as those requiring women to wait 72 hours before receiving an abortion (including in cases of rape or incest), to endure mandatory counselling discouraging abortion, or laws requiring parental consent for minors (again, including in cases of rape/incest), among other procedural and bureaucratic hurdles.  Hillary Clinton is pro-choice, this is a documented fact and is not up for debate here. Unfortunately over 40 years after Roe v. Wade the issue of abortion and women’s reproductive rights do, extraordinarily, appear to be up for debate in the United States. Clinton and Sanders are both pro-choice candidates. It is simply up for voters to decide how firm they would like their advocate for women’s reproductive rights to be.

A second and less complex topic where perception and reality do not necessarily agree is that of violence against women, which both candidates are seen as strong advocates against. Bernie Sanders has expressed this through concrete policy platforms while Hillary Clinton has promised to bring ‘bold plans’ to prevent violence against women. More intriguing however is that Clinton has also expressed the desire to make women’s rights a pillar of her international policy. This second point seems strange and slightly contradictory when you consider that her charitable foundation (the Clinton Foundation) has received tens of millions of dollars from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, countries with some of the worst records of violence against women and women’s rights abuses on earth. It seems as though the ability to influence or compel change in places like these would be greatly hindered by having received such enormous sums of money from them. And of course as Secretary of State Clinton facilitated billions of dollars of arms sales to these countries, supporting and strengthening the regimes who perpetrate, endorse, and condone this violence against women and suppression of women’s rights. As in other issues, a contradiction between Hillary Clinton’s words on the campaign trail and actions in her actual life is a recurring theme.

 

Issue #4 – Campaign Funding and Money In Politics

Why is it that policy enacted by politicians seems to so often go against both the consensus and the interests of the majority of voters? Many believe that the root cause is the enormous amount of money poured into the political process by a relatively small number of groups and individuals. People, and especially young people, are increasingly feeling disheartened and disengaged with the political process. The belief is that politicians, regardless of political affiliation, are ‘bought’ and therefore voting doesn’t really matter.

The examples are numerous and often obvious. The Republican administration of George W. Bush, which spent trillions of dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, was rightly known as an exemplification of the pro-war, military-industrial complex. However, far from de-escalating the situation, the Democratic Obama administration expanded American military involvement into Libya, Syria, Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen, among other places, while increasing military spending to historic levels. The reasoning of course is that George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and the members of Congress and Senate operating at the time of their presidencies were all being lobbied by the same lobbyists, and funded by the same military contractors. Similarly when looking at the stock market crash of 2008 it is easy to direct attention to the (W.) Bush presidency, known as a time of financial deregulation, with less supervision of Wall Street and specifically the derivatives market. But it was the administration of Democrat Bill Clinton which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act in order to remove market barriers for banks, and exempted credit default swaps from regulation through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. The lobbyists and financial industry funders were not concerned whether an individual was Democrat or Republican, only that they got their deregulation.

This problem reached a critical mass in 2010 with the Citizens United Supreme Court case. The outcome of the case was effectively that corporations and the wealthiest individuals in America would be permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money on the political process through Super PACs. A Washington Post poll showed that 80% of Americans disagreed with the Supreme Court in this case. And it isn’t hard to see why. Just for example, during the 2016 election cycle the Koch brothers have acknowledged that they will use their network to spend nearly $1 billion dollars on the political process.

It seems as though the issue of money in politics has to be, at this point in time, the starting point of any political discussion. While corporate interests may occasionally align with an individual’s viewpoint on certain topics, the issue is simply a difference of being dictated to versus being involved in the discussion. It is really no longer hyperbole to ask whether or not America is still a democracy (“of the people, for the people, by the people”?). So where do Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton stand?

bernie1_2

• Would overturn Citizens United by fighting to pass a Constitutional amendment (which he has sponsored and championed in the Senate)

• Would only appoint Supreme Court judges who will make it a priority to overturn Citizens United

• Would insist on complete transparency surrounding campaign funding through new legislation, and increased action by pre-existing oversight bodies.

• Pledges to fight for a public system of campaign financing that amplifies small donations. Cosponsored the Fair Elections Now Act which addresses this

 

hillary_2

• Will push for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United

• Will increase transparency surrounding campaign financing by pushing new legislation requiring outside groups to disclose ‘significant political spending’

• Will establish a small-donor matching system of campaign financing to incentivize small donors. It is unclear if she supports the Fair Elections Now Act

Overview

On the surface both candidates appear committed to addressing the issue of money in the political process, though the platform of Bernie Sanders does appear to have more depth of policy such as the Fair Elections Now Act, and the desired use of both a Constitutional amendment and/or the appointment of Supreme Court judges to overturn Citizens United. Where Clinton and Sanders dramatically differ however is once again the place where position meets operation, a conflict in perception and reality. Both candidates express a desire to overturn Citizens United and thus eliminate the Super PACs they have spawned, and both candidates advocate for a reform of campaign financing which would incentivize small donations. However the reality of the fundamental difference between the candidates can be seen through these recent statistics on campaign financing during this Democratic primary election cycle.

  • Super PAC Contributions
    • Hillary Clinton- $97 million
    • Bernie Sanders- $0
  • Donations Under $200
    • Hillary Clinton- 17%
    • Bernie Sanders- 77%

Where Bernie Sanders has refused to accept any Super PAC money, and has built a grass roots campaign of an enormous number of small donations (over 2 million people thus far), the Hillary Clinton campaign machine continues to hum along fueled by large individual donations and an enormous amount of Super PAC money.

 

Conclusion

With the current belligerence, often crossing the border into hatred (pun intended), of the Republican presidential candidates it is easy to self-identify as a Democrat. More and more people are becoming increasingly aware of the depth of the problems in issues such as America’s expensive interventionist military approach, the power of Wall Street, and the acutely un-democratic way in which the political process is funded. Unfortunately simply voting Democrat does not in any way guarantee that these types of problems will be addressed. As previously noted, the Obama administration’s tendency to be overtly militaristic, both in spending and action, and the (Bill) Clinton administration’s removal of Wall Street regulation and oversight stand as brief examples.

Over the past few years Hillary Clinton has shown some confusion in defining her political ideology, at times characterizing herself as a progressive while at others calling herself a moderate. A brief overview of her positions and actions show that at best Clinton can be defined as a moderate among Republicans,  but that she is certainly no progressive. On women’s issues she is conciliatory, on military issues neoconservative, and among politicians there has been perhaps no greater friend to Wall Street or greater beneficiary of the current system of campaign contributions. Conversely it is no exaggeration to say that for decade after decade Bernie Sanders has built a political career on being a progressive among progressives. Whether talking about the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, Glass-Steagall, abortion accessibility, Citizens United, or a myriad of other issues, Sanders has continuously taken positions, often unpopular at the time, which have shown him to be categorically and conclusively progressive.

When Barack Obama ran for President in 2008 on the message of ‘change’ his was the type of change operating within the ingrained order of the system. Hillary Clinton, firmly entrenched as the establishment candidate, is happy to take up this mantle. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is saying things which are essentially unheard of at this level of politics. His change is a dramatic and fundamental change to the structure of the political system, and most vitally, who it is designed to benefit.

Despite the near unassailable might of the political system in its current incarnation there is definitively a choice to make in this election. For the disheartened, the cynical, and the disenfranchised, the chance for an authentic change is finally here.

 

-Nigel Clarke 

orwell1

twitter@nig_clarke