Sunday, July 17, 2016

WTF 2016 Q&A

I know a fair number of people who just got involved with activism as a result of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and are feeling betrayed at the moment.  I also know a lot of people in Europe who are trying to understand what is happening in the United States, particularly in terms of the current election cycle, gun violence, and police killings.  I know many people as well who feel a lot of anxiety about where things are going, sensibly enough, on both sides of the Atlantic.

While I most certainly don't have all the answers, I do have some relevant perspective here, as a libertarian socialist, world traveler and history buff.  So here is a Q&A I've put together which echoes a lot of the stuff I get on Facebook and such.  It's musically annotated -- the links will take you to songs on the subjects at hand.

Why did Bernie Sanders just endorse Hillary Clinton?

After finding many eloquent ways of saying that Hillary is not a progressive, he has now said she will make a great president.  Many people are shocked by this, because they projected their ideals onto a man named Bernie Sanders, rather than examining his political record.  As the song I wrote last August makes clear, I and many others expected him to endorse Hillary if he didn't get the nomination.  He even said he would, over a year ago.

Bernie Sanders is certainly one of the most progressive people in Congress, and has been for decades.  I opened for him once in Vermont at a labor event.  He used the sound system that is sitting in my closet a few feet away from where I sit right now.

Many of my friends in Vermont have protested Bernie Sanders over the years, though, because, although he opposes TPP and other bad free trade bills over the decades, he also voted for emergency aid for Israel so it could keep bombing Gaza, he voted for the bombing of Libya, Bill Clinton's 1996 Crime Bill, and other really horrible things.

Bernie Sanders actively campaigned for John Kerry in 2004, and for Barack Obama in 2008.  He was once an independent and he still may indeed be a socialist, but he made his peace with the Democratic Party and the idea of dragging it further to the left a long time ago.

But maybe dragging the Democratic Party to the left is a good idea?

Maybe.  But it's kind of hard to say.  Because we have a very primitive and very corrupt system of pseudo-democracy, the option of a viable third party seems unrealistic.  Progressive third parties have held and do hold local office in various parts of the country -- there are some socialists and Greens in local offices in some places, and historically there have even been progressive third parties in state office such as the Rent Strike Party in New York and the Progressive Party in Wisconsin.

So given that third parties have never really succeeded in holding national office in the US, the two viable parties developed factions.  For a long time your basic choices were between the party of capitalism -- the Republican Party -- and the party of white supremacy -- the Democratic Party.  There was an abolitionist wing of the Republican Party which was actually in control of the Congress for two years, during the Civil War, when the ten southern states couldn't vote.  But otherwise the capitalist wing has been dominant.  The Democratic Party partially rejected white supremacy in the 1960's, and lost some of its white support as a result.  Democratic Party stalwarts generally don't know about this history or would rather imagine it doesn't exist, but it does.  Every major war in the twentieth century that the US was involved with began under Democratic presidents.

Still, since the 1930's the Communist Party has been trying to drag the Democrats to the left, and the Civil Rights movement largely took up this cause in the 1960's, joined soon thereafter by significant elements of the antiwar movement, in the failed presidential campaign of George McGovern in 1972.  The first protest march I ever participated in was during Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign in 1984.  That was another such failed effort.

But really, wouldn't Hillary be better than Trump?

If you grew up, like so many of us in the US did, in a family led by people who felt a deep attachment to the Democratic Party as the party that more closely represented their beliefs in egalitarianism, peace, and things like that, it can be hard to come to terms with the actual reality, that the Democratic Party is led by wolves who dress themselves as sheep in order to successfully move things further to the right in so many ways, while claiming to be doing the opposite.

The pattern becomes so clear over time that it is maddening to hear people defend the Democratic Party is a more progressive alternative to the Republican Party.  If you ignore the rhetoric and pay attention to the actual deeds involved with ruling a country -- or a world, as the case often seems to be -- it is the Democratic administrations that have been the more successful imperialists and pushers of free trade agreements.

To put it another way:  Hillary Clinton voted in favor of every war and free trade bill that ever came across her desk.  How much worse can someone's voting record be before you admit that you truly have no way of knowing if they are actually any worse than the opposition?

But now the Democratic Party has a more progressive platform, doesn't it?

Every four years, the Democratic Party puts on a show to convince us that it's progressive, but their politicians need people to get excited enough about voting that they actually bother to do it.  This year, Bernie Sanders is key to the show.  But talk is cheap.  Progressive platforms don't usually result in progressive reforms as far as I know.

What happened after Mr Hope and Change and his party had the majority of both houses of Congress for the first two years of his presidency?  More war, more military spending, more bank bailouts, no prosecution of war criminals or the bankers who had just destroyed the economy, more fracking, more free trade bills, more offshore oil drilling, more deportations, more jailing of whistleblowers and sabre-rattling over others, more drone strikes.

But now, with a new platform, and Obama's former Kissinger-loving Secretary of State at the helm, things will now improve?  Optimism is a good thing, but only if it is well-placed.  Having faith in Hillary Clinton is not optimism, it is a pipe dream.

But what about the Green Party?  In Europe third parties take power sometimes -- why not in the US?  And by the way, what's going on with England and the EU and all that?

The Green Party in the US has a very impressive platform and lots of wonderful people involving with it, including the presidential candidate, Jill Stein.  However, because of the way "democracy" works in the US, with the winner-take-all system, the corporate control of the press, corporate control of most popular internet platforms, and the amount of money involved with elections here, third parties never get control of much, if any, of the state or federal legislatures or other elected bodies.

In Europe, there are important differences and important similarities.  In countries with different forms of proportional representation it is actually possible for third parties to sweep aside what used to be the major parties in a given country.  This happened recently in Greece, for example.  In other countries, like in Germany, both right and left parties gained significantly in recent elections.

In fact, there is so much democracy in Europe that most EU countries spend less than the required 2% of their national budgets on the military in a given year -- thus violating the rules of the military alliance most EU countries belong to (NATO).  The reason military expenditures are so low is because any major party pushing for more military spending and less social spending will tend to get voted out of office.  In the US, by contrast, that can't really happen, since both major parties are completely committed to wasting half of our federal taxes on empire-building with every new spending bill (including those Sanders has voted for).

Those advocating the European Union over the past several decades have pushed it on the basis of peace within Europe, freedom of movement within Europe, solidarity between different European countries to develop a more united continent -- a big, happy, European family, basically.  But the reality of the EU has been very different in many ways.  There's been freedom of movement within the EU, and that's been very popular for every single European that I know.  Everybody likes that idea, and the concept of solidarity as well.

But as everybody in Europe knows these days, Brussels is full of lobbyists, much like Washington, DC is.  Big corporations are doing their best to run the show, and the rise of the EU has coincided with a rise in privatizations of all sorts of institutions, de-industrialization in many countries, and a brief period of debt-induced economic prosperity followed by years of devastating austerity measures -- for some EU countries, not for all.

For these and other reasons, many on the left in Europe are critical of the increasingly powerful pan-European institutions.  Throughout Europe, people are protesting the TPP, but most of their political leadership supports it, as do most of the lobbyists in Brussels.

Racism and xenophobia are also rife in Europe, increasingly in recent years.  These feelings were stoked during the Brexit debate by the right in England, and were certainly a big part of the 52% vote in favor of leaving the EU.  But only part.  I'm not sure it's really possible to know exactly how much.

And what about that?  Xenophobia and racism are terrible things, but what do we do about all this terrorism?  And what about the massive influx of refugees into Europe?  Can Muslims really happily coexist with other people in Europe?  And yeah, war sucks, but isn't it better to join the fight against Islamic State than to just stay out of it?

There's a widespread impression in the west that the Muslim world as a whole is intolerant of religious minorities, full of anti-Semites, misogynists and people with other undesirable attitudes.  The reality is that there is just as much variety of types of people within the Muslim world as there is in the Christian world or the Hindu world.  But historically, it is relevant to note that for about a millenia, while Europe was undergoing a constant process of crusades, inquisitions, and famines, the far more prosperous Ottoman world was welcoming European refugees and not persecuting religious minorities.  (Though both Christians and Muslims, Europeans and Arabs were very much involved with the African slave trade and I'm not saying everything was hunky dory in Constantinople by any means.)

So that's a little background.  Since the "Allies" in World War 1 destroyed and divided the Ottoman Empire, the region has often been in crises of one kind or another -- crises that often stemmed from divisive colonial and destructive neoliberal European and US policies.  This has all been stepped up immensely since the "War On Terror," which itself was a response to 9/11, which was a response to the US occupation of Iraq.

The US occupation of Iraq?  In 2001?

Yes, the US occupied Iraq back then, too, and throughout Bill Clinton's administration, during which time, according to UNICEF, over half a million Iraqi children died as a result of UN sanctions.

Anyway, Bush-Clinton occupation of Iraq and then the Bush-Obama wars in Afghanistan and Iraq destabilized the region, causing millions of deaths, millions of refugees who went to places like Syria, and almost inevitably causing a rise of militant groups chanting endearing things like "death to America."  Any sensible person would chant "death to America" when America was causing so much death.  Wouldn't you?

So then France and lots of other European countries got involved with bombing Muslim countries during the Bush-Obama presidencies, which then saw a rise of terrorist activity in Europe.  If you bomb somebody they may bomb you back.  If you appear to be indiscriminately killing civilians in someone else's country, they may decide it's appropriate to indiscriminately kill civilians in your country.

But so many of these terrorists are "home-grown jihadis."  They grew up in the US, France or Belgium and they're killing their own people now, right?

That may be how you see them, but how do they see themselves?  What comes first in your life -- your race, gender, country of origin, region, city, political persuasion, or something else?  Your allegiance to a football team perhaps?  Someone can see himself as a secular New Yorker, but suddenly one more person says "fuck off back home" and a US bomb kills people in his grandmother's home village and then he sees himself as an Afghan and a Muslim.

In short, the refugees and the terrorist attacks are coming for the same reason -- even if so many of the refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the very same terrorist organizations who are bombing Europe.  That is, they are fleeing wars from a part of the world that has been destabilized by US and European foreign policies.

Now, should the US and France try to help un-fuck the situation they've created?  The fact that sensible people ask this question boggles my mind.  Isn't it obvious that if you've created a problem by instilling fear and loathing in a population who you've been torturing and killing for decades, you are not necessary the right person to then go in and create peace and prosperity?  "You broke it, you fix it" is about appliances, not countries.  Countries are more complicated than toasters.

Is there a parallel between these wars and terrorist acts and police violence and massacres of police officers in the US?

It seems to me the parallels are very clear.  If you bomb someone they may bomb you back.  If you keep shooting people, they may shoot back.  Also, the institution of policing in the US is inextricably tied up with slavery and anti-union thuggery.  It arose as a result of slave revolts and labor organizing.  If it's reformable, I don't see how -- not without eliminating the poverty and racism from the society first.  Otherwise, how will the rich stay in power?

Force is required to maintain this kind of system.  Force at home and force overseas.  When the rich and powerful feel unable to maintain power entirely through force, they make concessions.  That's why they freed the white slaves and gave them land -- in order to have someone reliable to keep the black slaves down.  These concessions were forced, through slave rebellions and farmer rebellions, and they had very little to do with any ballot boxes.

The rise in xenophobia, terrorism, wars, etc., is worrying on both sides of the Atlantic.  Is anyone heading for some kind of fascist dictatorship?

Efforts by people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and their many supporters notwithstanding, the general vibe in all the countries I travel in is a pessimistic feeling that the right is inevitably on the rise, and things like corporate globalization, mass privatization, and austerity are unstoppable trends.  The age of prosperity is over is what I hear everywhere, even among those are spend all their waking hours defending the rights of their people.  To me, this pessimism and the lack of coherent leftwing leadership against austerity, privatization, free trade bills, etc., is the most worrying thing.

When it is left up to people like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen to oppose free trade bills that French "socialists" and President Obama are actively supporting, this is worrying.  There are towns in France where most of the people used to vote communist, and now they mostly vote Le Pen.  When the left leaves a vacuum, these things can happen.

Unless the far right gets a majority of the votes in a European election, it can't usually rule because even the conservatives won't form a coalition government with them (which is, incidentally, how Hitler got into power).  In the US it's different.  With the two-party system, the factions within each party battle it out during the primaries, and then usually the most mainstream faction wins.  That's what happened in the Democratic race once again, but not in the Republican race.

But now the party is supposed to get behind its candidate, thus potentially turning a fringe candidate into a mainstream one.  In a race between a Democrat with a history of supporting war and capitalism and a Republican with a history of being a racist, xenophobic demagogue, we are presented with a not-unfamiliar set of options.  Could Trump win?  Given the options, maybe.  Do we have any way of knowing that he would be worse than his Democratic rival?  I sure don't, and I'm sure you don't, either.