Announcing CN Live! A Weekly Current Events Webcast Beginning Friday on Consortium News

Consortium News announces the launch on Friday of a weekly webcast news show as a successor to the Vigils for Assange that will also delve into other pressing issues of the day.

CN Live! will air every Friday from 2 pm to 4 pm U.S. Eastern time and can be seen here streaming live on Consortium News as well as on our YouTube Channel, our Facebook page and on Periscope. It will also be archived on those platforms.

Besides the latest news on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, our panel will discuss the coming U.S. presidential election, the Middle East, East-West relations, U.S. foreign policy, climate change, media, domestic and international politics and more.

On our premiere edition, Francis Boyle, international law professor, will pick apart the intelligence and political machinations behind the arrest of financier Jeffery Epstein on sex trafficking charges; Marjorie Cohn, professor emeritus of law, and former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, will discuss the Democratic Party primary battle; As’ad AbuKhalil, political science professor, will analyze the latest developments in Syria, Iran and other parts of the Middle East region; and George Szamuely will join hosts Joe Lauria and Elizabeth Vos to dissect the latest news on Assange and WikiLeaks.

Join us Friday at 2 pm EDT for CN Live!

 

 




What to Expect in the Democratic Debates

Sam Husseini takes a look at some some of the candidates who will be getting national TV attention.  

By Sam Husseini
Special to Consortium News

Following the rigging of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary process in favor of Hillary Clinton and various reforms that have been implemented since, the current mix of candidates heading into the back-to-back TV debates,  Wednesday and Thursday nights, is perhaps the best the DNC establishment could realistically have hoped for.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has been diluted by a massive field and former Sen. Mike Gravel, who has been articulating the broadest and most radical critique of U.S. foreign policy of any candidate, is off the stage, at least for now.

Gravel’s exclusion is especially important because of his temperament and age: he is not bound to respect the traditional pieties, particularly toward the allegedly gravitas-laden, former vice president, Joe Biden. Gravel is presumably not among the older senators the young Biden cozied up to upon entering the revered body in 1973.

It’s unclear how the large stage will play out, but it might mitigate the clear head-to-head contrast on Thursday between Biden and Sanders. It might be seen as a relative diversion. It’s also possible some other candidates might take on the role of undercutting Sanders on behalf of the DNC establishment. Alternatively, the critiques of Biden might be rather watered down and therefore possible for Biden and his proxies to rebut. The wide field also provides a good number of establishment candidates as “backups” in the event that Biden does collapse.

An added layer to this are the “refs”: Russiagate conspiracy peddler Rachel Maddow and friends from the Comcast/NBC corporate family. The debate has of course been deemed “legitimate” by the DNC, which has said it will penalize candidates who participate in debates it doesn’t sanction.

Gabbard: Lone Voice on WikiLeaks

The establishment media have a history of taking gratuitous shots at Sanders and so any stumble from him will be magnified. The same is likely true of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has articulated some legitimate points on foreign policy. She continues to be idiosyncratic by defending Biden on his gaffe about having worked with pro-segregation senators, but she’s been virtually the lone loud voice on issues like the Trump administration targeting WikiLeaks with the Espionage Act — a first against a publisher for unauthorized possession and dissemination of classified information in U.S. history.

Biden’s Vulnerabilities

Biden’s recent remarks on working with segregationists have drawn attention, but not the underlying fact that he was the leading northern Democratic opponent of desegregation, as the noted author and education specialist Jonathan Kozol has noted. Biden is vulnerable on that, though he’ll viciously attack any candidate that would raise that history.

Biden has largely succeeded in spinning his cooperation with segregationists as one of “civility” but his version of bipartisanship obviously doesn’t translate into working with anti-war Republicans such as Ron Paul, the late Walter Jones, Rep. Thomas Massie or Sen. Rand Paul.

Biden clearly benefits enormously from having been Obama’s vice president, though few seem to recall the dynamics that lead to him having that position. During the 2016 campaign, Biden contrasted Obama with prior African American candidates for president as  “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” By picking Biden as vice president, Obama was sending a signal to white Democrats who might be leery of a darker skinned man as president: We’re in safe hands.

In the absence of any clear view of the major negatives of the Obama years, Biden could well be vulnerable by being cast as a substantial part of the reason the Barack Obama presidency didn’t live up to expectations. That kind of case could deflate Biden — the idea that his endless establishment and corporate ties (as detailed in Andrew Cockburn’s piece in Harper’s earlier this year) were a major reason that the Obama administration didn’t go after Wall Street crooks or really bring about the change many hoped for in 2008.

For the record, I didn’t support Obama, arguing instead for a VotePact.org strategy — with conscientious conservatives joining with principled progressives — but many did. A case could be made that if Obama had picked a different running mate, such as Jim Webb, his presidency could have unfolded differently. [See accuracy.org news release from 2008: “Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?”]

Not only did Biden vote for the Iraq invasion, he prevented people from testifying to the Senate against it, for example the former weapons inspector, Scott Ritter. Biden would later defend his false claims about Iraqi WMDs by insisting that “everyone in the world thought he had them. The weapons inspectors said he had them.”

Other candidates should press Biden on this history of engaging in and facilitating Bush war lies, as well as his record of subservience to corporate interests, but with such a crowded stage, full of so many candidates and moderators who share many of those underlying prejudices, Biden might come through remarkably under-scrutinized.

Sanders Weak on Foreign Policy

Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, January 2016.(Gage Skidmore via Flickr)Sanders’ stance on economic inequality found great resonance in the public in 2016 and his recent speech on democratic socialism — especially contrasting it with corporate socialism — was quite effective. If he can articulate that clearly, he could stem the name recognition Biden has. Sanders has the greatest potential to generate populist excitement — and in a much more authentic way than how Trump manipulated it in 2016. But last time around, Sanders was vulnerable on his foreign policy positions. He actually called for more Saudi intervention in the Mideast at the time. [see “Sanders’s Screwy Mideast Strategy.”]

He has since become a vocal critic of the horrific Saudi war on Yemen. While he has improved substantially, a case can be made that Sanders has not taken on the U.S. foreign policy establishment sufficiently to articulate a meaningful path out of the perpetual war orthodoxy. He has attempted to invoke war powers to hinder Trump’s backing of the Saudi war, and has raised similar objections with respect to a possible U.S. attack on Iran, but somehow such concerns don’t come up when the U.S. outright bombs Syria.

All the contenders will want to contrast themselves to Trump, but in different ways. Some will do so in ways that come close to being xenophobic in terms of “Russian influence.” Some will reach for important but “low hanging fruit” issues such as  immigration. It will be interesting to see if any candidates besides Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren highlight Trump’s regressive economic policies.

Warren Strong on Economic Issues 

Warren can benefit by putting forward her strong policy proposals on economic issues, which are often more moderate versions of Sanders’ proposals, and cast herself as something of a compromise candidate. Unfortunately, she seems very weak on foreign policy, see my piece of last year: “The Limits of Elizabeth Warren.”

Andrew Yang & National Income

Andrew Yang could make a strong showing. His embrace of a guaranteed national income could have wide resonance. It’s a strong policy proposal because it’s both universal and has a history of support on both the left and right.

 

Kamala Harris, Law & Order

Sen. Kamala Harris could try to make her law and order background an asset by targeting Trump and other elites in terms of their lack of adherence to legal fidelity. Unfortunately, her record suggests she is quite likely to use legal processes to “punch down.”

Trump’s Anti-Interventionist Façade

By stepping back from bombing Iran last week, Trump is likely skillfully attempting to regain his non-interventionist facade that helped him win in 2016. His administration, however, is packed with hawks and is escalating the continuing but virtually invisible wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. His policies in those countries — as well as on Israel, Venezuela and elsewhere — should be attacked, but might get far less scrutiny than they should. That would be in part, again, to Gravel not being on the stage.

Sam Husseini is an independent journalist, senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini.

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Why a Bernie 2020 Campaign is Drawing Fire

Sanders is in step with most Americans, says Norman Solomon, and that bothers the defenders of oligarchy.

By Norman Solomon
NormanSolomon.com

With a launch of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign on the near horizon, efforts to block his trajectory to the Democratic presidential nomination are intensifying. The lines of attack are already aggressive — and often contradictory.

One media meme says that the senator from Vermont made so much headway in moving the Democratic Party leftward with his 2016 presidential bid that he’s no longer anything special. We’re supposed to believe that candidates who’ve adjusted their sails to the latest political wind are just as good as the candidate who generated the wind in the first place.

Bloomberg News supplied the typical spin in a Feb. 8 article headlined Sanders Risks Getting Crowded Out in 2020 Field of Progressives.” The piece laid out the narrative: “Sanders may find himself a victim of his own success in driving the party to the left with his 2016 run. The field of Democratic presidential hopefuls includes at least a half-dozen candidates who’ve adopted in whole or in part the platform that helped Sanders build a loyal following . . .”

Yet Bernie is also being targeted as too marginal. The same Bloomberg article quoted Howard Dean, a long-ago liberal favorite who has become a hawkish lobbyist and corporate mouthpiece: “There will be hardcore, hard left progressives who will have nobody but Bernie, but there won’t be many.”

So, is Bernie now too much like other Democratic presidential candidates, or is he too much of an outlier? In the mass media, both seem to be true. In the real world, neither are true.

Last week, Business Insider reported on new polling about Sanders’ proposal “to increase the estate tax, the tax paid by heirs on assets passed down by the deceased. Sanders’ idea would lower the threshold to qualify for the tax to $3.5 million in assets, down from the current $11 million. The plan would also introduce a graduating scale of tax rates for the estates of wealthier Americans, eventually reaching a 77 percent marginal rate for assets over $1 billion.”

Here are the poll results: “When presented with the details of the proposal, 37 percent of respondents supported Sanders’ policy while 26 percent opposed, according to Insider’s survey.” (The rest had no opinion.)

Giving Voice to Majority Views

That kind of response from the public is a far cry from claims that Sanders is somehow fringe. In fact, the ferocity of media attacks on him often indicates that corporate power brokers are afraid his strong progressive populism is giving effective voice to majority views of the public.

A vast range of grassroots organizing — outside and inside of electoral arenas — has created the current leftward momentum. “As a progressive, it is heartening to see so many other candidates voice support for Senator Sanders’ policies,” said Alan Minsky, executive director at Progressive Democrats of America. “However, I’ve been around the block enough times to know that politicians who adopt positions in tune with the fashion of the moment are not as trustworthy as those rare few, like Bernie Sanders, who have held firm to a powerful social justice vision through his entire long career.”

I also asked for a comment from Pia Gallegos, former chair of the Adeline Progressive Caucus of the New Mexico Democratic Party. “Bernie’s competitors lack his track record on economic security for all American workers, Medicare for All, free public college education, taxing the rich and opposing bloated military budgets,” she said. “Those are long-standing positions that — more than ever — resonate with grassroots activists and voters. Other Democratic presidential candidates will try to imitate this populist agenda, but only Bernie can speak with the vision, clarity and moral authority that the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate needs to defeat the incumbent.”

The overarching fear that defenders of oligarchy have about Bernie Sanders is not that he’s out of step with most Americans — it’s that he’s in step with them. For corporate elites determined to retain undemocratic power, a successful Bernie 2020 campaign would be the worst possible outcome of the election.

Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched Bernie Delegates Network. Solomon is the author of a dozen books, including “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

 




Elizabeth Warren Nails Economy, Muddles Foreign Policy

It’s imperative to criticize presumable progressive politicians and parse their words carefully. It might open the door to actual improvements in policy, writes Sam Husseini.  

By Sam Husseini
Post Haven

In her New Year’s Eve announcement about forming an exploratory committee for the presidency, Sen. Elizabeth Warren made a great point: “Right now, Washington works great for the wealthy and the well-connected. It’s just not working for anyone else.”

In case you missed that, she did not say “the economy isn’t working well” or such, as we’ve all heard numerous politicos say countless times.

She rather said the opposite of that; repeatedly: “The way I see it right now, Washington works great for giant drug companies, but just not for people who are trying to get a prescription filled. Washington works great for for-profit colleges and student loan outfits, but not for young people who are getting crushed by student loan debt. And you could keep going through the list. The problem we have got right now in Washington is that it works great for those who’ve got money to buy influence.”

And in case anyone missed the point, she said it yet again: “We want a government that works not just for the rich and the powerful. We want a government that works for everyone.”

It’s laudatory that Warren is using her perch and analytical skills to avoid a common rhetorical trap and is articulating the truism that the political establishment largely does the bidding of the wealthy and connected when it comes to the economy.

Silent on War Profiteers

The problem is that she doesn’t articulate that in the same manner when it comes to bloody wars. Quite the contrary. Her list of problems—drug companies, for-profit colleges and student loan outfits—omits those who have an interest in continuing horrific wars.

When asked on Wednesday night by Rachel Maddow about Trump’s recent announcement on pulling troops from Syria, Warren said the U.S.’s wars are “not working.”

She didn’t say: “The wars are working great for military contractors, just not for regular people in the U.S. or Syria or anywhere else.”

Warren—who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee—did not say: “The wars are great for the wealthy profiting off of them, they’re just terrible for the people getting killed in them.”

Instead, Warren actually swallowed some of the rhetoric about U.S. wars having as their alleged goals stability or humanitarianism or security. The profits of military contractors or geopolitical elites went unexamined.

She said it was “right” to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan, an arguably positive position, but added: “It is not working and pretending that somehow, in the future, it is going to work…it’s a form of fantasy that we simply can’t afford to continue to engage in.”

Ignoring War Mongering 

But part of the fantasy is ignoring that the wars are indeed working great for some. Indeed, if Warren heard someone else say that “it is not working” about the economy, she’d likely correct them.

Warren did at least raise the question of what “success” in the perpetual wars might be, which is certainly better than most of official Washington. Advocates of perpetual war “need to explain what they think winning in those wars look like and where the metrics are,” she said.

But, like most of the U.S. political establishment, Warren doesn’t actually scrutinize the underlying motives: “When you withdraw, you got to withdraw as part of a plan, you got to know what you’re trying to accomplish throughout the Middle East and the pieces need to be coordinated,” Warren said, adding, “this is why we need allies.”

What allies? France, Britain and Turkey—the traditional colonial power in the region? Or the ever-aggressive, oppressive Israel? Or the tyrannical Saudi Arabia?

And that’s rather the point. U.S. foreign policy appears as a muddle—without any clear statement of what is supposed to be accomplished—because its stated goals obscure actual goals. 

The idea that the U.S. establishment gets the country into wars for ulterior financial or geopolitical reasons should be regarded as banal. Instead, it’s barely articulated at all.

Most obviously, the military contractors benefit from wars.

Weapons Versus Drugs

Indeed, the power of the euphemistically called “defense sector” would seem to be substantially larger than the drug companies Warren focuses on. According to OpenSecrets.org, the top five military contractors — Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon—more than doubled the top five companies in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector ($14.4 million vs. $7.7 million) in their outlays to politicos. For more, see the writings of William Hartung, such as “Corporate Patriots or War Profiteers?

Even more critically, the U.S. establishment’s geopolitical aims frequently thrive on war. Dahlia Wasfi argued in 2015 in “Battling ISIS: Iran-Iraq war redux” that “Obama’s unofficial strategy to fight ISIS may be that of former President Ronald Reagan’s for Iran and Iraq in the 1980s: a long, drawn-out war to strengthen U.S.-Israeli hegemony in the region.” Also, see Robert Naiman’s “WikiLeaks Reveals How the U.S. Aggressively Pursued Regime Change in Syria, Igniting a Bloodbath” and my own “Is U.S. Policy to Prolong the Syrian War?” 

In 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders was actually calling for more Saudi intervention in the Mideast. Said Sanders: The Saudis have “got to get their hands dirty.” He was criticized for this by Margaret KimberleyDavid Swanson and myself

Now, Sanders has taken the lead in Congress in criticizing the Saudi war in Yemen, opening the door to some alleviation of massive suffering. I wish he would be much better still on foreign policy, but this may be serious progress, though the ACLU has criticized the congressional resolution

It’s imperative to criticize presumable progressive politicians and parse their words carefully. It might open the door to actual improvements in policy, as in the case of Sanders. And in the case of Elizabeth Warren, it’s simply asking her to cease obscuring war as she clarifies economic issues.

Sam Husseini is an independent journalist, senior analyst at the Institute for Public Accuracy, and founder of VotePact.org, which encourages disenchanted Democrats and Republicans to pair up. Follow him on Twitter @samhusseini.

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