Bernie’s Thing

The chances of Bernie Sanders winning the Democratic nomination are slim, and were he to win that, it would be an autumn of Donald Trump calling Sanders a damned communist, because Sanders calls himself a Democratic Socialist – a proponent of a mixed economy where the government does much more for its people than we do now but private enterprise thrives, with a bit more regulation to stave off disaster, like in Denmark and Sweden and so on. Socialism, where the government owns all the means of production, has nothing to do with what Sanders is talking about, but the word socialism is in there, and that’s close enough to communism. Trump will scream that and Sanders will go down in flames, if it comes to that, but it won’t – Hillary Clinton seems to have a lock on the nomination. No one likes her very much, not even many Democrats, but at least no one will call her a communist – and after eight years in the Senate and those years as secretary of state, she does know a thing or two. Trump knows nothing, which some find refreshing, if not exciting, but the gamble is that enough Americans will shrug and say that Hillary will have to do – the probable outcome.

If so, what is Bernie Sanders up to? He seems to be running a what-the-hell campaign. End all the careful bullshit and let it rip. There are lots of things that are wrong these days – too many people losing out and the country actually falling apart and Trump and Cruz telling us which of our fellow citizens we should hate for that – so why not cut that crap and figure out how to fix that stuff? Step on some toes. There’s no need to be careful if you’re not going to win. Go for broke.

The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Meckler reports on what that means:

Sen. Bernie Sanders is taking some of the boldest and potentially riskiest steps of his campaign ahead of the crucial New York primary, hoping to raise his profile and undercut Hillary Clinton’s support among voters who are a key part of the Democratic electorate.

After his debate with the Democratic presidential front-runner on Thursday, Mr. Sanders will leave the U.S. to appear at an academic conference at the Vatican devoted to themes of economic and social justice. Both issues are at the core of Mr. Sanders’s message. But some Democrats are baffled as to why he would drop off the campaign trail for two days before the April 19 primary, where more delegates are at stake than in any other state save California.

“My advice to Bernie would be: ‘Don’t go to the other side of the Hudson River. Stay here where you belong,'” said Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist not aligned with either candidate.

Sanders won’t take that advice. He gets to talk about economic and social justice in Rome, on the world stage. No one else was invited. That should count with his kind of voters back here, and if it doesn’t, it’s still the right thing to do. He may not win the nomination, but he’ll do the right thing.

It’s almost as if he’s been liberated, which means he doesn’t have to be nice:

Leading up to the primary, Mr. Sanders has also escalated criticism of both Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who remains a popular figure in the party. Only 9% of Democrats said they viewed Mr. Clinton negatively in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll in February.

Appearing in New York’s Harlem neighborhood last week, Mr. Sanders said at a forum devoted to race relations that the welfare overhaul signed by Mr. Clinton in 1996 was a campaign ploy to win voters at the expense of the poorest Americans.

All the Clintons could do was say that this seemed the right thing to do at the time – more prisons, many more police everywhere, militarized, and draconian sentencing laws. They never imagined we’d end up with more of our population in prison than any other country on earth, and most of those prisoners were young black men who probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Oops. Bernie says “oops” won’t do, but there’s more:

In campaign stops in New York, Mr. Sanders has grown more caustic about the six-figure fees Mrs. Clinton earned in speeches to New York financial firms. “Not bad for a day’s work,” he said at a recent rally in Albany. He is taking aim at what polls show is one of Mrs. Clinton’s biggest points of vulnerability: perceptions that she is too close to Wall Street.

At a recent speech in Rochester, he faulted her for benefiting from super PACs that take money from financial interests. Wall Street has given more than $17 million to outside groups backing her, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

“Our job is to stand up to these powerful special interests, not to take their money,” Mr. Sanders said.

And that caused some whining:

Brian Fallon, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, said Mr. Sanders’s latest tactics undercut his vow to focus his campaign on issues. “In the last week, Sen. Sanders has questioned Hillary Clinton’s qualifications, her judgment and most recently her credibility,” he said. “If that doesn’t amount to a personal attack, I don’t know what does.”

Yeah, well, deal with it:

At rallies, he typically doesn’t step in and try to silence the crowd when they start to boo at the mention of her name. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News/Marist poll this month showed that 30% of Sanders supporters in New York said they wouldn’t back Mrs. Clinton in the general election.

And then he picked up endorsements from New York City’s transit union and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon – the first of his Senate colleagues to endorse him – not much, but something – but of course, if Hillary wins New York, as is likely, Bernie is toast. New York is a must-win for him, or not:

Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist who isn’t aligned with either candidate, said: “For Bernie to have any hope of ultimately prevailing, he’s got to start winning every big state by big margins. If he doesn’t win New York, he’s going to soon look like a spoiler and not an insurgent.”

People close to Mr. Sanders say he has no interest in playing that role – weakening Mrs. Clinton to the point that she might lose in November.

John Franco, a longtime friend of Mr. Sanders, said in an interview that he recalled an early discussion in which Mr. Sanders made clear he didn’t want to be a “spoiler.” “That conversation was settled in five minutes,” Mr. Franco said.

Another possibility is that Mr. Sanders, should he fail to close the gap, could become something of a spokesman for liberal goals and causes, having mobilized voters who aren’t moved by the more pragmatic vision outlined by Mrs. Clinton.

Tad Devine, a senior strategist for Mr. Sanders, struck a wistful note in describing the enthusiasm Mr. Sanders has kindled. Addressing a panel at the National Action Network in New York on Wednesday, Mr. Devine compared Mr. Sanders to another insurgent candidate: not Barack Obama, who won in 2008, but to Jesse Jackson, who lost the nomination twice in the 1980s.

“I think when it’s over, people will understand he’s made a very important contribution by bringing literally millions of people into the process the way Rev. Jackson did when he ran for president,” Mr. Devine said.

On the other hand, maybe he does want to win, but on his terms. He won’t hold back. He’ll be Eugene Debs:

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders joined nearly 40,000 Verizon workers who are on strike in New York City after the communications company and unions representing the workers failed to reach a labor agreement.

“Brothers and sisters, thank you for your courage in standing up for justice against corporate greed,” Sanders told workers outside a Verizon store in Brooklyn. “Today you are standing up not just for justice for Verizon workers; you are standing up for millions of Americans who don’t have a union.”

He added, “I know you thought a lot about it and I know your families are gonna pay a price for going out on strike, but you have chosen to stand up for dignity, for justice.”

Did you dream you saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you and me? That was Bernie, but this is a pretty standard labor dispute:

Most of the workers service Verizon’s landline phone business and FiOS broadband network, and have been without a contract since August. The unions say Verizon wants to freeze pensions, make layoffs easier and rely more on contract workers, as well as require employees to work out of state for long periods of time.

Libby Nelson at Vox says this is more than what it seems:

Bernie Sanders… has joined workers on the picket line and called out Verizon as exemplifying everything he hates about corporate America.

Then Verizon’s CEO, Lowell McAdam, fought back in a blog post on LinkedIn, calling the presidential candidate’s views “uninformed” and “contemptible”:

“Sen. Sanders speaks of a ‘moral economy’ for America – one that respects and maintains the dignity inherent in good, middle-class jobs… But nostalgia for the rotary phone era won’t save American jobs, any more than ignoring the global forces reshaping the auto industry saved the Detroit auto makers.”

So the Verizon strike isn’t just about a labor dispute. It’s about how a company is responding to the changing economy that’s gutted its core business. And that’s turned it into a proxy war in the 2016 presidential campaign.

This is a matter of choosing sides when the world is changing:

The wireline workers who went on strike represent the older part of Verizon’s business, and Verizon is focusing more on its mobile business and less on the broadband and phone lines that are the backbone of wireline workers’ jobs. It’s no longer aggressively expanding high-speed FiOS internet service, something that would create more demand for workers covered by the union contract. …

And so the unions and Verizon are fighting the same battles today that they did five years ago: What does the company owe to its employees in a shifting economy? Verizon argues that it needs to change with the times, and that requires workers making concessions – like being willing to work farther away from home for two months, or allowing the company to transfer jobs more than 35 miles away.

“Legacy constraints that may have made sense in the Ma Bell era of phone booths and Princess phones don’t make sense in today’s digital world with high-speed connectivity and dynamic customer demands,” Verizon’s chief administrative officer Marc Reed said in a press release.

The unions argue that Verizon is just being greedy, and that it’s engaging in business practices they hate, including avoiding taxes, sending jobs overseas, and creating jobs for part-time contractors rather than union work. …

In other words, both sides came to the strike ready for a fight. And the bigger issues at play means it’s turned into a proxy war in the presidential race.

This then is a big deal:

The tension between Verizon and its workers isn’t about specific health care contributions or pensions. It’s about how the company is responding to changes in the broader economy – which is both why it’s resonated with Bernie Sanders, and why the argument is unlikely to end any time soon.

And of course the same argument will continue at the Vatican conference in Rome. Bernie is not really leaving the campaign trail. He just likes to pour it on:

Sanders slammed Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt over their recent criticism of his populist economic agenda.

“I don’t want the support of McAdam, Immelt and their friends in the billionaire class. I welcome their contempt,” Sanders tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

There’s an echo there, of the Madison Square Garden speech given by FDR on October 31, 1936, three days before that year’s presidential election. Roosevelt pledged to continue the New Deal and slammed those who were putting personal gain and politics over any recovery from the Great Depression. That was his his last campaign speech before the election ended, a speech with this:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.

Okay, now Bernie is FDR, and Salon’s Ben Norton rants that Hillary Clinton isn’t:

Hillary Clinton, a Wall Street-backed multimillionaire, served for six years on the board of directors of Walmart, the world’s largest company based on sales. She remained silent at a time when the mega-corporation was viciously cracking down on workers’ attempts to unionize. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, has been unflinching in his support of the labor movement.

Bernie Sanders has spoken passionately in support of striking Verizon workers on multiple occasions. The Hillary Clinton campaign, meanwhile, has received tens of thousands of dollars from Verizon executives and lobbyists.

That’s not all. For a May 2013 speech, the corporation paid Clinton a whopping $225,000 honorarium, according to her tax records. Verizon has also given between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Clinton Foundation, which investigative journalist Ken Silverstein has referred to as a “so-called charitable enterprise that has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.”

Ben Norton goes on and on, outraged, but there is this:

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton joined rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in positioning herself with workers striking against Verizon on Wednesday.

“Verizon should come back to the bargaining table with a fair offer for their workers,” she said in a statement.

She echoed a union claim that “Verizon wants to outsource more and more jobs” and said that the company “should do the right thing and return to negotiations.”

This may be a jurisdictional thing:

Clinton’s statement came after she was endorsed by a New York chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which is one of the unions behind the strike. Sanders has been endorsed by the other union involved, the Communication Workers of America. He joined Verizon workers on a picket line on Wednesday morning, and also backed the [other] strike on Tuesday.

Does that help? Hillary was also on the picket lines, just chatting with the strikers and not giving a big speech, but outside a Verizon office on West 42nd Street in Manhattan – not Brooklyn – over by the new giant New York Times Building. Her priorities are different, and many sense that, which made this inevitable:

The forces of Occupy Wall Street, splintered and faded in the aftermath of their 2011 demonstrations, are getting the band back together to boost Bernie Sanders ahead of next week’s critical New York primary.

Nearly five years since Occupy was evicted from Zuccotti Park, blocks from the New York Stock Exchange in lower Manhattan, a coalition of organizers, labor leaders and progressive activists who lined up under the banner of “the 99 percent” are renewing their efforts in pursuit of a more traditional cause: Getting voters to the polls on April 19.

That begins with traditional canvassing, but will extend to what is expected to be a large pro-Sanders Occupy-inspired march on Saturday in Manhattan.

Hey, this time they’re actually organized:

The independent journalists and activists who helped write the free “Occupied Wall Street Journal” in fall 2011 are now poised to produce 500,000 bilingual broadsheet newspapers, as part of their crowdsourced “Battle of New York” project. The special edition, which they hope to begin printing on Wednesday, will feature essays, art and – in a clear pivot to the mainstream – a direct call to vote for Sanders next week.

The blitz will continue on Saturday, when a coalition led by the Millennials for Bernie group launches a “March for Bernie.” Their preliminary route is slated to take supporters north from Foley Square in Manhattan’s financial district to Union Square, a path familiar to those who joined the demonstrations five years ago.

Oh, and at that other square, where in the early sixties Peter, Paul and Mary were singing about what they would do if they had a hammer – they’d hammer out justice – and a year or two later Bob Dylan was singing about what was blowin’ in the wind – the answer, my friend – well, damn, there was Bernie:

Bernie Sanders descended upon Washington Square Park in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village Wednesday night for one of his campaign’s largest, outdoor rallies.

The Sanders campaign estimated that more than 27,000 people attended the rally, making the event the campaign’s third-largest rally, behind Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles. The NYPD would not verify the number of attendees.

The crowd – largely comprised of young people – filled the park and crowded the adjacent streets. Many people – visible from the windows – also viewed the rally from apartments and New York University buildings surrounding the park.

Speakers included actress Rosario Dawson and filmmaker Spike Lee, both of whom are native New Yorkers.

“We have an opportunity with our vote on Tuesday to recognize the invisible,” Dawson told the crowd of thousands, taking jabs at Sanders rival Hillary Clinton, as well. “Too many people have died for the right to vote, and too many people have died because of who is currently running.”

It was time to hammer out justice again, but that wasn’t all. Slate’s Michelle Goldberg notes this:

The hiring of Simone Zimmerman to be Bernie Sanders’ new Jewish outreach director demonstrates everything that is inspiring about Sanders as a primary candidate and everything that is frightening about Sanders as a potential Democratic nominee.

A zealous activist against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, Zimmerman represents many social justice–minded young Jews whose views have been largely excluded from mainstream politics. As the Times of Israel reports, during the 2014 Gaza War, she was part of a group of Jews who held regular vigils outside the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reading the names of people killed in the conflict.

Like many young Jews who deplore the occupation, Zimmerman hates Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole,” she wrote on her Facebook page last year, adding, “Fuck you, Bibi.” She has since edited the post, but the original is currently all over the right-wing media even though, at the moment, conservatives aren’t terribly interested in attacking Sanders, who is widely seen as a weaker general election candidate than Clinton. Were Sanders actually the nominee, Zimmerman’s hiring would spark a multiday festival of manufactured outrage.

Bernie doesn’t care. Netanyahu is an asshole, but this is risky:

If the Sanders campaign is about broadening the space for progressive ideas in American politics, hiring a leader like Zimmerman is a great idea. If it is about winning elections, it is risky, especially in a state like New York, where, running for Senate in 2000, Hillary Clinton had to answer, over and over and over again, for a pro-forma kiss on the cheek that she once gave to Suha Arafat, Yasir Arafat’s wife. Right now Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win a presidential primary, trails Clinton among Jewish Democrats in New York; several polls show him down by double digits. If he wants to win more Jewish support, he’s unlikely to do it by doubling down on criticism of Israel, however valid that criticism is.

I understand that part of what Sanders supporters love about him is his unvarnished leftism, his refusal to poll-test his convictions. No doubt Clinton goes too far in the other direction. But her caution is born of hard experience – like weathering the idiotic uproar over Arafat. Perhaps she overestimates the power of the right-wing noise machine. Or maybe Sanders underestimates it.

Or perhaps he doesn’t care. We can’t be the Likud Party’s lackeys forever. We are allowed to have our own foreign policy, and they’re not Israel anyway. Netanyahu isn’t forever.

So what is Bernie Sanders up to? John Judis suggests this:

Why, then, vote for him at all? For me, it’s entirely about the issues he is raising, which I believe are important for the country’s future. Hillary Clinton and her various boosters in the media have made the argument that it’s impractical and even irresponsible to raise a demand like “Medicare for all” and “free public college” that could not possibly get through the next Congress, even if Democrats eke out a majority in the Senate. They presumably want a candidate to offer programs that could be the result of protracted negotiations between a Democratic president and Speaker Paul Ryan – like a two percent increase in infrastructure spending in exchange for a two percent reduction in Medicaid block grants. I disagree with this approach to politics.

What Sanders is proposing are political guideposts – ideals, if you like – according to which we can judge whether incremental reforms make sense. He is describing, whether you like them or not, objectives toward which we Americans should be aspiring. That’s a central activity in politics. Should it be confined to issues of Democracy or National Affairs? Or is it the kind of activity that is entirely appropriate for a nominating contest? Ronald Reagan and the conservatives thought so during the 1970s. And I think Democrats should be thinking this way now.

Some things do need to be said:

Does the country really need turning around? Sanders has been derided for holding up Denmark and other Scandinavian countries as examples. They are far different from the US, and they are also beginning to experience problems sustaining their own social democracies. But I think in comparing life there with life in the United States, there is one useful point to be made. What people in these countries enjoy is not assured lifetime employment or control over their workplaces, but a degree of basic security about their lives that is missing in the United States. Americans endure needless anxiety about access to education and healthcare and about being left penniless or homeless. Our social safety net doesn’t just need mending, but replacement. It’s worn out. And Sanders provides a set of guidelines in his proposals that will move exactly in that direction. That’s why he gets my vote on April 26 – even if I hope Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

That doesn’t exactly make sense, but it sort of does. Someone has to cut through the crap to keep the party honest, to focus on what really matters. That’ll wake everyone up. What they do with their morning is another matter, and that’s the hard work.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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