Monday, January 15, 2018

Bernie Draws The Battle Lines


Yesterday, Bernie penned an OpEd for The Guardian, Let’s Wrench Power Back From The Billionaires. I wonder if he offered it to the NY Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today first. His point: "If we stand together against powerful special interests we can eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and tackle climate change." OK, scratch the Wall Street Journal. "Here," he began, "we are as a planet in 2018: after all of the wars, revolutions and international summits of the past 100 years, we live in a world where a tiny handful of incredibly wealthy individuals exercise disproportionate levels of control over the economic and political life of the global community."

Presumably, we'll be hearing a lot more of that from the Sanders-Warren ticket as we head towards the very consequential 2020 face-off. Even before that will be the very consequential midterms in November. When one of the Democratic Party's rising young superstars, Iowan Austin Frerick, read Bernie's OpEd he emailed me this: "This is why we need to start using the word 'monopoly' again. I believe that corporate concentration is the issue of our time. We’re living in a 2nd Gilded Age where the middle class is disappearing while the rich get richer. And it’s all caused by this monopoly power and the robber barons it has created." Yep... and back to Bernie for a few moments:

At the same time, all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

In the United States, Jeff Bezos-- founder of Amazon, and currently the world’s wealthiest person-- has a net worth of more than $100bn. He owns at least four mansions, together worth many tens of millions of dollars. As if that weren’t enough, he is spending $42m on the construction of a clock inside a mountain in Texas that will supposedly run for 10,000 years. But, in Amazon warehouses across the country, his employees often work long, gruelling hours and earn wages so low they rely on Medicaid, food stamps and public housing paid for by US taxpayers.

Not only that, but at a time of massive wealth and income inequality, people all over the world are losing their faith in democracy-- government by the people, for the people and of the people. They increasingly recognise that the global economy has been rigged to reward those at the top at the expense of everyone else, and they are angry.

Millions of people are working longer hours for lower wages than they did 40 years ago, in both the United States and many other countries. They look on, feeling helpless in the face of a powerful few who buy elections, and a political and economic elite that grows wealthier, even as their own children’s future grows dimmer.

In the midst of all of this economic disparity, the world is witnessing an alarming rise in authoritarianism and rightwing extremism-- which feeds off, exploits and amplifies the resentments of those left behind, and fans the flames of ethnic and racial hatred.

Now, more than ever, those of us who believe in democracy and progressive government must bring low-income and working people all over the world together behind an agenda that reflects their needs. Instead of hate and divisiveness, we must offer a message of hope and solidarity. We must develop an international movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to a world of economic, social and environmental justice. Will this be an easy struggle? Certainly not. But it is a fight that we cannot avoid. The stakes are just too high.

As Pope Francis correctly noted in a speech at the Vatican in 2013: “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.” He continued: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalised: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

A new and international progressive movement must commit itself to tackling structural inequality both between and within nations. Such a movement must overcome “the cult of money” and “survival of the fittest” mentalities that the pope warned against. It must support national and international policies aimed at raising standards of living for poor and working-class people-- from full employment and a living wage to universal higher education, healthcare and fair trade agreements. In addition, we must rein in corporate power and prevent the environmental destruction of our planet as a result of climate change.

Here is just one example of what we have to do. Just a few years ago, the Tax Justice Network estimated that the wealthiest people and largest corporations throughout the world have been stashing at least $21tn-$32tn in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. If we work together to eliminate offshore tax abuse, the new revenue that would be generated could put an end to global hunger, create hundreds of millions of new jobs, and substantially reduce extreme income and wealth inequality. It could be used to move us aggressively toward sustainable agriculture and to accelerate the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of power.

Taking on the greed of Wall Street, the power of gigantic multinational corporations and the influence of the global billionaire class is not only the moral thing to do-- it is a strategic geopolitical imperative. Research by the United Nations development programme has shown that citizens’ perceptions of inequality, corruption and exclusion are among the most consistent predictors of whether communities will support rightwing extremism and violent groups. When people feel that the cards are stacked against them and see no way forward for legitimate recourse, they are more likely to turn to damaging solutions that only exacerbate the problem.

Damaging solutions? Like fascism? And like the solution implied in Kourtney Roy's incredibly powerful photograph (above)-- pure self defense. Also on Sunday, E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote a column, for The Post, We Could Be A Much Better Country. Trump Makes it Impossible. "There are more important and interesting issues than the psyche of a deeply damaged man," he tweeted to alert people to his column. "We can be a far better nation. But we need leaders who call us to our obligations to each other-- not a president who knows only how to sow division and hatred... His stunts dominate the conversation and diminish our capacity to self-govern... Political leaders in democracies have a few core obligations. They are charged with solving today’s problems and preparing their nations for the future. They are responsible for creating some sense of shared purpose and mutual respect among their citizens-- above all a common commitment to preserving the very freedoms on which democracy depends." This is exactly what Bernie is worried about.
Our current debate is frustrating, and not only because Trump doesn’t understand what “mutual toleration” and “forbearance” even mean. By persistently making himself, his personality, his needs, his prejudices and his stability the central topics of our political conversation, Trump is blocking the public conversation we ought to be having about how to move forward.

And while Trump’s enablers in the Republican Party will do all they can to avoid the issue, there should now be no doubt (even if this was clear long ago) that we have a blatant racist as our president. His reference to immigrants from “sh--hole countries” and his expressed preference for Norwegians over Haitians, Salvadorans and new arrivals from Africa make this abundantly clear. Racist leaders do not help us reach mutual toleration. His semi-denial 15 hours after his comment was first reported lacked credibility, especially because he called around first to see how his original words would play with his base.

But notice also what Trump’s outburst did to our capacity to govern ourselves and make progress. Democrats and Republicans sympathetic to the plight of the “dreamers” worked out an immigration compromise designed carefully to give Trump what he had said he needed.
Stephanie Kelton is one of the most cutting edge economists in the world. She served as the chief Democratic staffer on the Senate Budget Committee and now teaches Public Policy and Economics at Stony Brook. Earlier today she told that "As usual, Sen. Sanders is right on the money in terms of identifying the many social, economic and environmental problems plaguing nations across the globe. But how can we afford an agenda that addresses the myriad of challenges he describes? It will take trillions of dollars to deal with climate change, guarantee health care to all Americans, make public colleges and universities tuition-free, get big money out of politics with publicly-funded elections, etc., etc., etc. Where will the money come from? Britain’s Prime Minister, Teresa May, is trying to beat back calls for a similarly progressive agenda by asserting, 'there isn’t a magic money tree that we can shake that suddenly provides for everything that people want.' This is a clear attempt to revive Margaret Thatcher’s dictum-- 'the state has no source money other than the money people earn themselves'-- in order to prevent the use of public money to serve the public good.

"Bernie essentially accepts this framing. For him, money doesn’t grow on trees, it grows on rich people and large, profitable corporations. And while there are plenty of good reasons to clamp down on tax havens and to fight for a more progressive tax code, it would be far better to decouple these fights from any spending proposals and argue each on its own merits. Our government already has the capacity to deploy public money in the public interest. There is no point holding the moral agenda hostage while we wait for success on the tax front. Jeff Spross had this right."

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At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernie: "If we stand together against powerful special interests..."

I presume he means the democraps because they serve those same special interests and billionaires... so... what to make of this... I'm going with the same conclusion that I drew when he repudiated his entire rhetoric to endorse and stump for the ANTI-Bernie... he's a hypocrite. I'm about 80% sure I couldn't vote for even a Bernie-Elizabeth democrap ticket because of their clear history of hypocrisy.

Liked the rest of the article. But if you're banking on Bernie/Elizabeth to make the pipe dream happen... you're going to be crushed when they refuse... even if they win (they won't).

There are 220 democraps currently in congress and a thousand in state party apparati who need to quit, die or go poof before that party can have a chance to be relevant to non-billionaires again. Sad to say Bernie and Elizabeth are on that list.

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Avram Rips said...

Warren supports war and sketchy environmental issues. She only is a pro bank reform candidate.

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Skeptical Partisan said...

"Bernie essentially accepts this framing. For him, money doesn’t grow on trees, it grows on rich people and large, profitable corporations..."

Money is literally printed/created by the government. Capital is created by workers in corporations and other commercial enterprises. Capitalism allows owners to reap/steal a large portion of the monies earned by the sale of capital created by workers. Money does *not* grow on rich people; money is appropriated by rich people.

At 6:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Avram, you are correct. However MY overriding problem with her is her hypocrisy even on bank reform. I can abide someone who holds imperfect positions on all issues. I cannot abide someone who is a hypocrite on any of them. If your principles on any are pliable or can evolve... they can all be pliable or evolve.

SP, Bernie is correct that his money falls from the rich. The government prints it and/or borrows it and gives it to the rich (by not taxing their income or wealth and supporting their accumulation of it as capital from the labor of others). The rich then pays Pelosi, scummer, the Clintons et al, including Bernie by association, for laying on their backs.

At 7:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is no chance that the DINO-Whigs will allow Bernie to get a new campaign off the ground. I also don't see Liz Warren deciding to run (a decision I'd support as I think she would be far more effective in the Senate).

There are too many posers lined up to be the Next Great DINO-Whig Hope. After Trump's tax scam begins to show its real effects, there will be a lot of blather about what the DINO-Whigs will do, but the GOP will always pull enough of them off to support the GOP Platform to prevent any meaningful reversal of the corporatist coup.

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, considering the democraps turned 60 into a minority in the senate in 2009, I don't see how Warren can ever be "effective" except as a grand distractor as the democraps turn whatever number they have into a hapless, inept, impotent minority... again... still.

IMO, if someone runs for prez as a democrap, they are, by definition, a poser.

The only good people that will ever heretofore run for prez will not run as democraps.

At 5:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Bernie proved in '16, he's no battler. He's simply spouting his same opportunistic and hopeful rhetoric, which happens to be pretty spot on. But when it comes time to stand tall and do battle, he'll go fetal again. So 'battle lines' is a lie.


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