Against Greenwald Resigning to Public "Suffering" of Trump and Clinton

Speaking of likely nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the writer Glenn Greenwald ended his appearance on the program "Democracy Now" this morning thus: "These are the two most unpopular presidential candidates ever to run, I think, in 30 years. They have the highest unfavorable ratings of any nominees in decades. The only thing they’re able to do to one another is try and be as toxic and nasty and destructive as possible, because everybody has already decided, more or less, that they’re so unlikable. And so, it’s going to be the opposite of an inspiring election. It’s just going to be two extremely unpopular people trying to destroy the other on both a personal level, backed by huge amounts of money and serving more or less the same interests."

Now, I could quibble with parts of that (I think there's a limit to how nasty they can or will be towards each other in some ways given that they represent, as Greenwald rightly states, more or less the same interests), but on balance, I think that's a fair summary of the situation.

Unfortunately, Greenwald then in a subtle but critical way goes off track: "I think the two parties and the establishment leaders in Washington, and the people who support and run that whole system, have gotten exactly the election that they deserve. Unfortunately, Americans are going to have to suffer along with them."

I think Greenwald is wrong on both these points and I think it's central to how one views politics. Perhaps upon reflection Greenwald -- who speaks in a rapid, engaging style -- will agree. 

First off, the people who support and run the whole system are not getting the election they "deserve". They're getting the election they largely wanted. One "choice" -- despite some anti-establishment rhetoric -- is a billionaire who indicates that he's a xenophobic misogynist who at times doesn't want a minimum wage at all. The other, by all serious indications, is the leading pro-war corporate elitist. That seems to be a no lose proposition to the establishment. The public would seem to be trapped in this system because so many people find each of them so repulsive. 

But that's exactly the more critical problem with Greenwald's statement. The general public does not "have to suffer along with them." The general public can and should organize themselves in response to these choices given. If people feel equally repelled by both, then there has never been a better time to boldly vote for a third party candidate: Green, Libertarian, etc.  

If a voter finds either Trump or Clinton to be a "lesser evil" -- then the voter can team up with their political "mirror image" and both, as a pair, vote for the third party candidates of their choice. That's what I suggest at VotePact.org. This way, a "disenchanted Democrat" and "disenchanted Republican" who know and trust each other can break out of their partisan boxes and siphon off votes in pairs. They wouldn't change the balance between Clinton and Trump, but they would build up other emerging parties and candidates. 

Much of the discussion on the program Greenwald was on was about the pacifist priest Daniel Berrigan, who recently died. Despite his religious orientation, which might lead to some acceptance of suffering (Berrigan once commented if you want to follow Jesus, you should "look good on wood"), I would hope Berrigan would not be one to embrace "suffering" two bad choices needlessly. I'd think that Berrigan would want to find a way to bridge the two party divide -- which is supported by little more than fear and hate -- and have people who may disagree come together against such bondage with understanding. 

Could Voters Opposed to Both Clinton and Trump Team up Using VotePact?

There's a solution to the predicament most of the U.S. will be facing between now and November: Liberals, progressives and others disenchanted with the likely Democratic nominee and conservatives disenchanted with the likely Republican nominee can to pair up and each vote for the candidates they genuinely want.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have incredibly high negatives. Most people don't agree with, like or trust either. In a political system responsive to the public, an alternative with broad support would emerge if they become the nominees, as seems increasingly likely.
 
Unfortunately, in our system -- which enshrines the dominance of the two establishment parties -- the negatives of each end up perversely being the basis of support for the other. Voters end up being trapped by the very unpopularity of the candidates. The main things holding the system together are fear and hate -- even as the candidates claim to be bringing people together.
 
That is, most people supporting Clinton are not doing so because they view her as upstanding, wise or just. They support her because they fear and despise Trump and his misogyny, racism and temperament.
 
And the same largely goes for Trump. His supporters back him because they detest the establishment of the Republican Party as well as Clinton, who shares so much with that very Republican establishment even as she postures as a newly born progressive.
 
So, voters could end up just cancelling each other out -- one voting for Clinton and one voting for Trump, with neither being happy. But if voters who know and trust each other -- relatives, coworkers, neighbors, debating partners -- team up and vote for their preferred candidates (be they Green, Libertarian, Socialist, Independent, etc.), then they can begin to break out of the prison of the two party system. And if they do this in pairs (forming a VotePact), they can do it without the risk of helping the candidate they want the least.
 
Politicians make such alliances all the time -- witness the recent alliance between Ted Cruz and John Kasich against Trump. But voters need to do this with a level of integrity and honest dialogue that's alien to the political class. It's well past time that the public vote strategically instead of continuing to be the perpetual play thing of the duopoly.
 
Certainly there are schisms in each establishment party. Bernie Sanders has made some of those evident on the Democratic Party side, especially in his forthright critique of the healthcare system, Wall Street domination and increasing economic inequality.
 
And Trump has made some indications on foreign policy which break from perpetual war orthodoxy and embraces some populist rhetoric. How genuine that is however, is questionable. It's possible that it's no more sincere than Clinton's new-found stated opposition to undemocratic corporate-backed deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Husseini is founder of VotePact.org. [This piece is based on a news release from the Institute for Public Accuracy.]

After Sanders -- a Path to Electoral Revolution: How VotePact Cuts the Gordian Knot of the Two Party System

Supporters of Bernie Sanders and others need to be looking for a path to meaningful social and political change in the likely event that he does not win the Democratic Party nomination. 

I believe that my proposal -- VotePact.org -- whereby "disenchanted Democrats" and "disenchanted Republicans" pair up and both vote for the third party or independent candidates of their choice is the best strategy for them. 

Here's why:

Simply backing Hillary Clinton -- no matter how hard you hold your nose -- will not do: Voting for Clinton solidifies the notion that no matter how regressive a figure the Democratic Party nominates, progressives and others will vote for them. This mindset turns voters into serfs. While Clinton stresses what she allegedly has in common with Sanders supporters, her current rhetoric to the contrary, she is entrenched with the establishment in her ties to Wall Street, corporate power and hawkish U.S. foreign policy. There is every indication that a Clinton presidency would be a major boost to corporate and Wall Street control over the U.S. and the world -- as well as a major boost to perpetual U.S. wars into the coming decades with quite certain devastating results. Voters need to have "somewhere to go" or they will continue to be a plaything of the elites. 

Simply voting third party can backfire: Third party candidates have not forthrightly dealt with the real threat that their candidacies, given the way our election system is structured, may in effect help the establishment candidate a voter least likes. That is, if a present day Sanders supporters votes for Green candidate Jill Stein in the general election while they prefer Clinton to the Republican nominee, they could in effect be helping that Republican nominee, the dreaded "spoiler" problem. 

This is a real problem and VotePact solves this problem because it does not change the balance between the establishment Democratic and Republican candidates -- it in effect siphons off votes in pairs. This way, two friends don't cancel out each others votes -- one voting Republican and one voting Democrat. Instead, they build up independent candidates and send a real signal to the establishment by both voting for candidates that more closely reflect their beliefs -- if done enough, it upends the political order. This requires work, the present day Sanders supporters will have to work with a would-be Republican voter they know and trust. But now is the time to do that. They can use their critique of Clinton to do that, instead of going down a path that may lead them to becoming a defacto Clinton apologist. 

Not using VotePact could lead to further schisms, polarization and marginalization: That is, if progressives don't adopt VotePact, there will be greater animosity between them and Clinton supporters, potentially further marginalizing them. If more progressives do adopt VotePact, it could be a path toward millions of people who had never considered voting for third party candidates to do so. That is, as VotePact pair ups happen, they become more likely to spread. If Green and other third party candidates on the other hand continue to follow their past models, they will likely remain in low single digits (though given the nature of this election, a third party candidate could take off). This despite the fact that many people who are not considering voting for them actually agree with them on the issues. In fact, many people who agree with them strongly on some issues end up becoming their greatest opponents, because they view them as a threat to a Republican becoming president. 

There is a great imperative to use elections creatively: Whoever the Republican nominee is, there will likely be mass discontent on the Republican side. Would-be Republican voters will be searching for an alternative to being surfs themselves. The political establishment is banking on keeping voters locked into the two parties. They do this by feeding off of fear and hate. Progressives are endlessly told to hate the Republicans and conservatives and constantly told to hate Democrats. The negatives of Clinton and any likely Republican nominee show that people are going to be trapped into voting against candidates, not for them. 

In this context, it is critical for Sanders supporters and other progressives and leftists to reach out to would be Republican voters they know -- in their family, workplace, school, etc. VotePact is not just a voting strategy, it's a method of political outreach -- to the people you might disagree with most. Such political outreach, if the U.S. is going to genuinely become a better country, can be revolutionary in the most personal sense and is desperately needed. This leads to the would-be Democratic voter and would-be Republican voter together actually voting for third party or independent candidates they can meaningfully identify with. 

VotePact helps movements: Many say there's too much emphasis on elections. Fine. The objective condition is that the presidential election is happening and the mass of the public is engaged in that at some level. This is obviously not to say other forms of activism stop, but rather: Instead of cursing how the election is a distraction, how do we use it to reach people with a serious critique of establishment politics? How to we build towards a politics that can seriously challenge elites and their oligarchical instruments of economic repression and continuous wars? How do we get past an establishment with Clinton posing as progressive and then colluding with establishment Republicans against the interests of the majority? Part of the answer is we talk to would-be Republican voters in our lives -- including the possibility of both dealing a blow to establishment politics by using VotePact.org.  

The Invisibility of U.S. Oligarchs: The Case of Penny Pritzker

Other countries, not the U.S., have oligarchs apparently. 

Billionaire and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker came and went to the National Press Club with hardly a tough question on Monday -- see video and PDF

I'd submitted several questions, but first a word on the choreography of the event: Virtually every "news maker" event I recall seeing at the Press Club had the speaker at the head table which is on a stage a few feet up, speaking at a podium. This event, it was just her and the moderator, Press Club President Thomas Burr on two cushy chairs on the stage, with the "head table" below them. Whether this was to elevate the two of them, save her the trouble of having prepared remarks, a new thing, an attempt to cast the billionaire in a more casual light -- inspired by Davos type events -- I don't know. But it was weird. 

Speaking of choreography, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue around the same time, several hundred people were arrested at the Capitol Building as part of the "Democracy Spring" and "Democracy Awakening" actions. It seemed odd to me, protests happening, with "arrests" as part of a very planned action, aimed in part against money in politics, while the very personification of big business advocacy in government received virtually no scrutiny. 

It's not just her job, or that she and her family is incredibly rich. It's that Pritzker enriched herself by crashing a bank with sub-prime loans, causing 1,400 people to lose their savings. In addition, a relation of hers was mentioned in the Panama Papers. So while so many were breathlessly reporting on associates of official bad guys like Putin being mentioned in the Panama Papers, hardly a soul noted the Pritzker connection. Finally, and perhaps most incredibly, Forbes several years ago did an investigation in to the Pritzker family and found that they set up shell companies decades ago in ways that would be illegal now. It's in a sense not just oligarchy, it's aristocracy. A newly rich person can't do what they've done, according to Forbes. [See a summery off each of these issues, based on investigations by Tim Anderson, Dennis Bernstein, Stephane Fitch and McClatchy.]

And off shore shell companies were in the news of late. Oxfam just released a report claiming: "Tax dodging by multinational corporations costs the U.S. approximately $111 billion each year and saps an estimated $100 billion every year from poor countries" [PDF]. A prior report from the Tax Justice Network would seem to indicate that this was a severe under estimate. That found that as of 2010, the super-rich are hiding at least $21 trillion in accounts outside their home countries [PDF]. 

I'd at least expected a mild question about off shore activity -- and figured she'd talk about how the Obama administration is allegedly now making moves to stop tax inversions
 
But there was nothing about any of this. At the news maker event, I wrote a question on a card on the nub of the issues at play, was something like this: "A relation of yours -- Liesel Pritzker Simmons -- is mentioned in the recently released Panama Papers. Do you have comment on the extent of off shore shell companies -- especially given your family uses them through grandfather clauses in ways that would not be legal for anyone new now?"

That didn't get asked, nor did several I'd submitted in an email prior to the to the Press Club president by email:  

The Pope -- and Bernie Sanders -- talk about a "moral economy" -- that it's inherently unjust if a very few individuals and families have enormous wealth while billions on the planet have virtually nothing. Your family of course is enormously wealthy -- What do you think of that? (for overview, "Panama Papers: Pritzkers, American Oligarchs".) 

You have been charged with crashing Superior Bank in Chicago with a subprime mortgage scheme, resulting in 1,400 people losing their savings. How do you respond to these charges? ("Obama's Subprime Conflit" and Bloomberg "Pritzker’s Superior Bank Subprime Losses Blemish Resume") 

Do you argue that your massive fundraising efforts for Obama in 2008 and 2012 had nothing to do with him appointing you as Sec of Commerce? (See from Public Campaign "Penny Pritzker, Not Just an Obama Donor.") 

The name of Liesel Pritzker Simmons appears in the recently released Panama Papers, a relative who sued much of the rest of the family for allegedly trying to cheat her. But what's perhaps notable about your family, as Forbes has written, is that you set up shell companies decades ago and thus can do things because of grandfather clauses that are not legal any more. Is that moral?

Forbes -- which estimates your net worth at 2.3 billion -- had specific questions for you for --

* 'Tell us from the very, very beginning: What led to your being paid $53.6 million in “consultant” income by your family’s offshore trusts in 2012?

* 'Did your family’s carve-up finally produce significant tax payments?

* 'Why are you your own biggest debtor?

* 'Why is even your house in an LLC?

* 'How do you rack up $250,000 on an American Express card?'

--

On trade issues and the TPP -- how do you respond to --

Zahara Heckscher, a breast cancer patient and writer: “If ratified, the TPP would lock in monopolies for certain new medicines, biological medicines that help people like me stay alive. Monopolies allow drug companies to increase prices dramatically, and high prices decrease access."

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen: "The aggregate U.S. goods trade deficit with Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners is more than five times as high as before the deals went into effect, while the aggregate trade deficit with non-FTA countries has actually fallen." 

Manuel Pérez-Rocha of the Institute for Policy Studies -- who has argued that NAFTA has pushed many Mexicans to migrate to the US since it has become an "engine of poverty in Mexico" since it has gutted family farming in Mexico, as wells as mom and pop stores, and indigenous industry. 

The questions that did get asked were fairly pedestrian and quite friendly: "Can you give us your perspective on the trade and trade agreements, in particular, and any fears about possible trade wars that have been talked about? ... What is the Commerce Department doing with the U.S. and international partners to combat the cyber threat to the United States businesses? ... Intellectual property of U.S. businesses in many forms; music, movies, have been stolen and stolen frequently. How much does this cost American businesses? [Prizker: 'I don’t have the exact number in front of me.'] ... Do you believe that China is manipulating its currency to gain a trade advantage, and do you see any other countries doing that?" The toughest question was probably "We've added nearly $10 trillion to the U.S. debt in the last seven, eight years. Is this a ticking time bomb for the U.S. and the global economy?" See video and PDF

The last question was: "I understand you are a marathon runner. I would like to know, and our audience, I think, would like to know, what is the secret for training for a marathon?" 

It turned out Pritzker didn't have to run from much in her appearance at the Press Club. 

How Libertarians and Socialists Can Work Together

Andrew Stewart interviewed me about the election and how to people can make a much more meaningful impact by using VotePact. He writes about how he -- from the left -- can join with someone from the right to unite against the establishment that seeks to divide them: 

Take as example myself and Pat Ford over at The Coalition Radio Show. We are basically on the same page with every imaginable social issue (LGBTQQI rights, abortion, sex workers, drug decriminalization) but have a respectful disagreement on economic issues, Pat is a Libertarian and I am a Socialist/Communist of the unaffiliated variety. Even if we disagree on those issues, which have a great level of difference, we both loathe the Democrats and the Republicans in this state and the wider nation. So we both have said we want to form a Vote Pact. I am going to vote for my Green Party candidate and Pat will vote for his Libertarian Party candidate. This is not to say that either of our votes are going to push our third party candidates to victory this year. But the loss of votes for the duopoly is far more threatening in the long run than trying to reform the Democrats and Republicans from within, a strategy that has failed again and again for literally decades.

Please read his writing and listen to our discussion here.

Two Trump Quotes May Show What Did and Will Happen

In Donald Trump's remarks following his win of a plurality of votes in Florida, North Carolina and Illinois on Tuesday, he made two particularly critical statements that may help us understand what did happen and what will happen in this election. 

Properly understanding these remarks I think highlights the need to address perpetual war -- and foreshadows the compulsion of the establishment to merely use populist rhetoric, highlighting the need to form genuine populist alternatives. 

What did happen: Trump addressed foreign policy as well as other issues -- while Bernie Sanders didn't meaningfully address foreign policy and largely limited himself to a one issue campaign.
 
First Trump quote: “And Paris was a disaster. There have been many disasters, but it was Paris. This whole run took on a whole new meaning -- not just borders, not just good trade deals. ... And the meaning was very simple: we need protection in our country, and that’s going to happen. And all of a sudden the poll numbers shot up.”

Trump has a point here -- Paris and San Bernardino attacks gave his campaign a different dynamic. Meanwhile, Sanders didn't meaningfully respond after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, even thought he had tremendous opportunity to do so. Most notably, there was a Democratic debate on CBS the day after the Paris attack. As I wrote at the time

So, at the CBS debate the day after the Paris attacks, Sanders didn't even want to talk about foreign policy. It was tragic really. He could have laid into U.S. foreign policy, he could have said that by arming the Saudis we've fostered problems, it would have jolted the campaign and the public could have been engaged in foreign policy in a meaningful way.

But he didn't.

The most he could do is criticize the invasion of Iraq, which is valid -- no one who voted for the Iraq war is qualified for any title other than inmate -- but 13 years later, totally inadequate. Whatever you have to say about economy (and even here I think Sanders could be better) will ultimately be trumped by the fact that you can't articulate a path out of perpetual war. If you don't show you've got a path out of perpetual war, the people will pick someone who they figure knows how to do perpetual war.

The conventional wisdom is that foreign policy doesn't matter. That may be true in terms of specific policies, but not in terms of a deep understanding of the U.S.'s place in the world. A president must help define that. Sanders failed. People are right to complain about the disparities in media coverage, but part of this has been self inflected by Sanders. 

Trump has been contradictory, but has generally outlined a tough but non-interventionist, "America First" foreign policy. In fact, Trump has even discussed the trillions of dollars spent on wars that should go to infrastructure -- another thing Sanders failed to do. Of course, we don't know what Trump would actually do were he to become president, I'm merely noting what he appeals to -- which brings us to the second point. 

What may well happen: Economic Inequality may well fade as an issue in a meaningful way. This ironically could erode Trump's base. 

Second Trump quote: "We don't win at trade, we're going to win at trade. We're going to make our country rich again, we're going to make our country great again. We need the rich in order to make the great, I'm sorry to tell you."

Marcy Wheeler tweeted in response the night of Trump's victory speech: "3/15/16: When inequality ended being campaign issue." 

Both Trump and Hillary Clinton will feel drawn to increasingly focus on each other and could jettison their populist rhetoric. It's clearly phony in her case, and clearly could be in his. 

This ironically creates an opening. While establishment candidate Michael Bloomberg has ruled out running, there is space now for an anti establishment campaign that can authentically be called populist. Trump has benefited from the populist orientation of the country, but he didn't create it and he doesn't define it. He does not own the votes of poor working class whites. He has benefited from them, but -- positioning himself to take his base for granted could be vulnerable. 

Indeed, as seems likely, if Clinton and Trump start ripping into each others hypocrisies, an opening may develop for a campaign from the radical center to draw in Sanders supporters and others from the left -- and Trump supporters and others from the right. The later would be people who are draw to populism, but don't want to be tainted by xenophobia, racism and misogyny. The Libertarian and Green parties may be the vehicle for such and effort, or they may continue to approach the electoral process from the margins, continuing to relegate themselves to low single digits. 

Central to this is the spoiler argument. As I outline at VotePact.org/about -- the imperative is to develop a campaign that draws support from both the anti-establishment left and right. Doing so in effect siphons off votes in pairs from the establishment Democrat and psudo-anti-establishment Trump campaigns. At the very minimum, such an effort gives voters leverage. Absent such efforts, Wheeler's comment about inequality ceasing to be a campaign issue will likely prove tragically prescient. 

News Release and Video of USAID Action on Slain Honduran Activist Cáceres

Here's video I took and news release I got over the transom after going to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center where I saw the action. 


Contact: Jake Dacks
Email: dcforberta@gmail.com

March 14, 2016

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ACTIVISTS DEMAND USAID BREAK TIES WITH HONDURAN DAM PROJECT

DENOUNCE POLITICAL ASSASSINATION OF HONDURAN INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST BERTA CACERES

Washington, DC – Concerned DC residents unfurled banners inside the Ronald Reagan International Trade Building today, in front of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) information office, calling for USAID to break ties to the controversial Agua Zarca dam project being built in Honduras.

On Thursday, March 3, world-renowned Honduran indigenous environmentalist Berta Cáceres, who led her Lenca peoples against the construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, was assassinated in her home. Berta had received the Goldman award in 2015 – the highest award for environmental activism – in the very same Ronald Reagan building in April of last year.

The two DC residents, Jake Dacks and Nico Udu-gama, scaled an art installation in the atrium of the building and unfurled two banners which read: “USAID stop funding murder in Honduras” and “Berta Cáceres, Presente!”. They read demands of Berta’s indigenous organization, COPINH (the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras), which included an end to USAID’s collaboration with the DESA-Agua Zarca Hydroelectric company, which has been denounced for years by Honduran social movements for their use of paramilitary violence to kill, threaten and displace the Lenca people in order to build dams along the river.

“We stand in solidarity with our dear comrade Berta and the Lenca people and all Hondurans who are valiantly resisting displacement in their territory,” said activist Jake Dacks. “If USAID is serious about involving communities in development, they will listen to the Lenca people and stop working the DESA-Agua Zarca hydroelectric project immediately.”

After the 2009 coup in Honduras, the US State Department continued to fund projects through its development arm, USAID, despite the bloody repression of Honduran social movements who denounced the land and mining concessions given to Honduran and transnational companies without consulting the communities. The United States continues to train Honduran police and military through institutions like the School of the Americas, despite their proven track record of silencing dissent.

COPINH continues to demand that the material and intellectual authors of Berta Cáceres murder be brought to justice.

The two activists were detained by Federal Protective Services and then turned over to Metropolitan Polce. For more information, visit www.bertacaceres.org

###

Russia expert Stephen Cohen on Trump

Stephen Cohen was on the John Batchelor Show on Feb. 16. At around 38:00 -- audio at TheNation.

Cohen is professor emeritus at New York University and Princeton University. His books include Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War.

Cohen: 'In my lifetime, in such moments of dire international crisis, I do not ever remember a presidential campaign or season where the candidates, on their own or because they were forced to by moderators or by the public or the media, won’t tell us what they think other than a bumper sticker like “I hate Putin and I won’t talk to him,” things like that, tell us what they would do if they were president today or tomorrow. Of the Republicans, since Rand Paul left the race, all of them simply say “we’ll punch Putin in the nose and that will solve the problem.” Only Donald Trump, also in bumper stickers, has said something different. He said:

1) 'He doesn’t accept all of these criminal allegations against Putin because there’s no proof, they’re just allegations, and in America we have due process.

2) 'He keeps saying that he’s a man who knows how to make a deal with Putin. So I interpret this for Donald Trump, who never uses the word, to mean “diplomacy.” That he would do diplomacy.

'Now what there’s been since the beginning of the New Cold War is a complete collapse of American diplomacy, or the militarization of American diplomacy towards Russia. Kerry is struggling, as we have already spoken, to demilitarize American diplomacy and to restore real negotiations. Trump in his odd way — “I’m the greatest deal maker in the world, I can make a deal with anybody, Putin doesn’t bother me, I’ll sit down and make him an offer he can’t refuse, and will make a deal and things will be okay.”

'Alright, he probably doesn’t know exactly what he means. But I would prefer a president who tells me not that “I’m going to send more troops to Russia’s borders in order to provoke them into a war,” but a president who tell me “I’m going to sit down and discuss this with you and see if we can work it out.”'