Norman Solomon

The liberal contempt for Martin Luther King's final year

The anniversary of his assassination always brings a flood of tributes to Martin Luther King Jr., and this Sunday will surely be no exception. But those tributes—including from countless organizations calling themselves progressive—are routinely evasive about the anti-militarist ideals that King passionately expressed during the final year of his life.

You could call it evasion by omission.

The standard liberal canon waxes fondly nostalgic about King's "I have a dream" speech in 1963 and his efforts against racial segregation. But in memory lane, the Dr. King who lived his last year is persona non grata.

The pattern is positively Orwellian. King explicitly condemned what he called "the madness of militarism." And by any reasonable standard, that madness can be diagnosed as pervading U.S. foreign policy in 2021. But today, almost all politicians and mainstream media commentators act as though King never said such things, or if he did then those observations have little to do with today.

But they have everything to do with the USA now in its twentieth year of continuous warfare. The Pentagon's constant bombing in the Middle East and elsewhere is the scarcely noticed wallpaper in the U.S. media's echo chamber.

What compounds the madness of militarism in the present day is the silence that stretches eerily and lethally across almost the entire U.S. political spectrum, including the bulk of progressive organizations doing excellent work to challenge economic injustice and institutionalized racism here at home.

But as for the institutionalized militarism that terrorizes, wounds and kills people overseas—overwhelmingly people of color—a sad truth is that most progressive U.S. organizations have little to say about it. At the same time, they eagerly and selectively laud King as a visionary and role model.

King didn't simply oppose the Vietnam War. In an April 4, 1967 speech at New York's Riverside Church delivered exactly a year before he was assassinated—titled "Beyond Vietnam"—he referred to the U.S. government as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" and broadly denounced the racist and imperial underpinnings of U.S. foreign policy. From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, our country was on the "wrong side of a world revolution"—suppressing revolutions "of the shirtless and barefoot people" in the Global South, instead of supporting them.

King critiqued the economics of U.S. foreign policy, complaining about "capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries." And he castigated U.S. federal budgets prioritizing militarism: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Mainstream media today pretend that King's anti-militarism pronouncements were never uttered, but that was not the case in 1967. Condemnation was swift, emphatic and widespread. Life magazine denounced the "Beyond Vietnam" speech as "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi." The New York Times and Washington Post both published harsh and patronizing editorials.

Today, it's not just a problem of elite media—but also a vast spectrum of organizations that are taking a dive in the fight against the warfare state. This problem undermines the political resonance and social mission of countless organizations that do wonderful work but are betraying a crucial part of the living legacy of Dr. King, whom they never tire of claiming to be emulating and venerating.

This crisis is now heightened under the Biden administration. In an ominous echo of the mid-1960s, when King began speaking out against the warfare state, the kind of split between somewhat progressive domestic policies and militaristic foreign policies that occurred under the Lyndon Johnson presidency now appears to be occurring under the presidency of Joe Biden.

In the persistent "guns vs. butter" reckoning, it's clear that federal funds needed to uplift poor and working-class people as well as our planet keep getting diverted to militarism and war.

Dr. King pointed out that, in effect, what goes around comes around. As he put it, "the bombs in Vietnam explode at home." But there is a dire shortage of large progressive organizations willing to say that the bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere have been exploding at home for two decades.

Twenty-first century bombs that have been exploding overseas, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, also explode at home in terms of the further militarization of the economy, police, culture and consciousness—as well as the misdirection of vital resources to the Pentagon rather than human needs.

"It challenges the imagination to contemplate what lives we could transform if we were to cease killing," Dr. King said as the Vietnam War raged. The massive U.S. military budget still functions the way King described it—"some demonic, destructive suction tube." Yet the silences across so much of the U.S. political spectrum, including the liberal establishment and a great many progressive groups, persist in contempt of what Martin Luther King stood for during the final year of his life.

Jeff Cohen is an activist and author. Cohen was an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, founder of the media watch group FAIR, and former board member of Progressive Democrats of America. In 2002, he was a producer and pundit at MSNBC (overseen by NBC News). He is the author of "Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media" - and a co-founder of the online action group, www.RootsAction.org. His website is here: http://jeffcohen.org

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" (2006) and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State" (2007).

Cuomo, Newsom and corporate Democrats: How the nation's two most powerful governors proved the need for progressive populism

The governors of New York and California — the most populous states led by Democrats — now symbolize the fact that slick liberal images are no substitute for genuinely progressive priorities.

After 10 years as New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo is facing an uproar over revelations that his administration intentionally and drastically undercounted the deaths from COVID in nursing homes. Meanwhile, in California, the once-bright political glow of Gavin Newsom has dimmed, in large part because of personally hypocritical elitism and a zig-zag "middle ground" approach to public-health safeguards during the pandemic, unduly deferring to business interests.

The political circumstances differ: Cuomo has been in conflict with New York progressives for many years over key policy matters, whereas Newsom was somewhat of a golden boy for Golden State progressives — if they didn't look too closely at his corporate-friendly policies. But some underlying patterns are similar.

Both Cuomo and Newsom know how to talk progressive, but they're corporate Democrats to the core. On many issues in the state legislature, Cuomo has ended up aligning himself with Republican lawmakers to thwart progressive initiatives. In California, where a right-wing petition drive is likely to force Newsom into a recall election, the governor's moderate record is hardly cause for the state's huge number of left-leaning voters to be enthusiastic about him.

Anyone who thinks that the current Cuomo scandal about nursing-home deaths is a recent one-off problem, rather than reflecting a deep-seated corporate orientation, should take a look at investigative reporting by David Sirota that appeared nine months ago under the headline "Cuomo Gave Immunity to Nursing Home Execs After Big Donations — Now People Are Dying." Sirota wrote:

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a spirited challenge in his bid to win New York's 2018 Democratic primary, his political apparatus got a last-minute boost: a powerful health care industry group suddenly poured more than $1 million into a Democratic committee backing his campaign. Less than two years after that flood of cash from the Greater New York Hospital Association, Cuomo signed legislation last month quietly shielding hospital and nursing-home executives from the threat of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. The provision, inserted into an annual budget bill by Cuomo's aides, created one of the nation's most explicit immunity protections for health care industry officials, according to legal experts.

On the other side of the continent, Newsom is second to none in sounding the alarm about climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels. But Newsweek reports that during his first two years as governor, Newsom's administration "approved more than 8,000 oil and gas permits on state lands." He continues to issue many fracking permits. (As the Wall Street Journal noted days ago, fracking is now "the source of most oil and gas produced in the U.S.")

Newsom's immediate predecessor in Sacramento, Jerry Brown, became fond of crowing that he governed the way a person would steer a canoe, paddling sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right. The metaphor did not answer the question of where the boat was headed.

It may be relevant that Cuomo and Newsom grew up in the nurturing shadow of extraordinary privilege, making them ill-positioned to see much beyond the comfortable bubbles surrounding them.

Andrew Cuomo's father Mario was New York's governor for three terms. At age 35, the younger Cuomo was appointed to be assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development by President Bill Clinton, who promoted him to HUD secretary four years later. Such powerful backers propelled him toward the governor's mansion in Albany.

From the outset, Newsom has been enmeshed with power. As longtime California journalist Dan Walters recently pointed out, "Gov. Gavin Newsom wasn't born to wealth and privilege but as a youngster he was enveloped in it as the surrogate son of billionaire Gordon Getty. Later, Getty's personal trust fund — managed by Newsom's father — provided initial financing for business ventures that made Newsom wealthy enough to segue into a political career as a protégé of San Francisco's fabled political mastermind, Willie Brown."

It's possible to transcend such pampered upbringings — Franklin Delano Roosevelt certainly did — but failures to show credible concern for the working class and serve their interests have put both Cuomo and Newsom in today's political pickles.

Like all politicians, Cuomo and Newsom are expendable as far as the corporate system is concerned. If their individual brands lose appeal, plenty of other corporate-power servants are eagerly available.

When elected officials like those two fade, the solution is not to find like-minded replacements with unsullied images. The problem isn't the brand, it's the quality of the political product.

But it doesn't have to be this way. And some trends are encouraging.

Genuine progressive populism — insisting that government should strive to meet widespread social needs rather than serve the special interests of the wealthy and corporate elites — is threatening to disrupt the complacency of mainline Democratic leaders who have long coasted on merely being better than Republicans.

More than ever, many entrenched Democrats are worried about primary challenges from the left. Such fears are all to the good. Progressive activism and shifts in public opinion have strengthened movements that are recruiting, supporting and sometimes electing candidates who offer far better alternatives.

The rot of corporate Democrats: Cuomo and Newsom show the need for real progressives

The governors of New York and California—the most populous states led by Democrats—now symbolize how slick liberal images are no substitute for genuinely progressive priorities.

After 10 years as New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo is facing an uproar over revelations that his administration intentionally and drastically undercounted the deaths from COVID in nursing homes. Meanwhile, in California, the once-bright political glow of Gavin Newsom has dimmed, in large part because of personally hypocritical elitism and a zig-zag "middle ground" approach to public-health safeguards during the pandemic, unduly deferring to business interests.

The political circumstances differ: Cuomo has been in conflict with New York progressives for many years over key policy matters, whereas Newsom was somewhat of a golden boy for Golden State progressives—if they didn't look too closely at his corporate-friendly policies. But some underlying patterns are similar.

Both Cuomo and Newsom know how to talk progressive, but they're corporate Democrats to the core. On many issues in the state legislature, Cuomo has ended up aligning himself with Republican lawmakers to thwart progressive initiatives. In California, where a right-wing petition drive is likely to force Newsom into a recall election, the governor's moderate record is hardly cause for the state's huge number of left-leaning voters to be enthusiastic about him.

Anyone who thinks that the current Cuomo scandal about nursing-home deaths is a recent one-off problem, rather than reflecting a deep-seated corporate orientation, should take a look at investigative reporting by David Sirota that appeared nine months ago under the headline "Cuomo Gave Immunity to Nursing Home Execs After Big Donations—Now People Are Dying." Sirota wrote:

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a spirited challenge in his bid to win New York's 2018 Democratic primary, his political apparatus got a last-minute boost: a powerful health care industry group suddenly poured more than $1 million into a Democratic committee backing his campaign. Less than two years after that flood of cash from the Greater New York Hospital Association, Cuomo signed legislation last month quietly shielding hospital and nursing-home executives from the threat of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. The provision, inserted into an annual budget bill by Cuomo's aides, created one of the nation's most explicit immunity protections for health care industry officials, according to legal experts.

On the other side of the continent, Newsom is second to none in sounding the alarm about climate change and the need to move away from fossil fuels. But Newsweek reports that during his first two years as governor, Newsom's administration "approved more than 8,000 oil and gas permits on state lands." He continues to issue many fracking permits. (As the Wall Street Journal noted days ago, fracking is now "the source of most oil and gas produced in the U.S.")

Gov. Newsom's immediate predecessor, Jerry Brown, became fond of crowing that he governed the way a person would steer a canoe, paddling sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right. The metaphor did not answer the question of where the boat was headed.

It may be relevant that Cuomo and Newsom grew up in the nurturing shadow of extraordinary privilege, making them ill-positioned to see much beyond the comfortable bubbles surrounding them.

Andrew Cuomo's father Mario was New York's governor for three terms. At age 35, the younger Cuomo was appointed to be assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development by President Clinton, who promoted him to HUD secretary four years later. Such powerful backers propelled him toward the governor's mansion in Albany.

From the outset, Newsom has been enmeshed with power. As longtime California journalist Dan Walters recently pointed out, "Gov. Gavin Newsom wasn't born to wealth and privilege but as a youngster he was enveloped in it as the surrogate son of billionaire Gordon Getty. Later, Getty's personal trust fund—managed by Newsom's father—provided initial financing for business ventures that made Newsom wealthy enough to segue into a political career as a protégé of San Francisco's fabled political mastermind, Willie Brown."

It's possible to transcend such pampered upbringings—Franklin Delano Roosevelt certainly did—but failures to show credible concern for the working class and serve their interests have put both Cuomo and Newsom in today's political pickles.

Like all politicians, Andrew Cuomo and Gavin Newsom are expendable as far as the corporate system is concerned. If their individual brands lose appeal, plenty of other corporate-power servants are eagerly available.

When elected officials like Cuomo and Newsom fade, the solution is not to find like-minded replacements with unsullied images. The problem isn't the brand, it's the quality of the political product.

But it doesn't have to be this way. And some trends are encouraging.

Genuine progressive populism—insisting that government should strive to meet widespread social needs rather than serve the special interests of the wealthy and corporate elites—is threatening to disrupt the complacency of mainline Democratic leaders who have long coasted on merely being better than Republicans.

More than ever, many entrenched Democrats are worried about primary challenges from the left. Such fears are all to the good. Progressive activism and shifts in public opinion have strengthened movements that are recruiting, supporting and sometimes electing candidates who offer far better alternatives.

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" (2006) and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State" (2007).

How fighting neoliberal can fight neofascist Republicans

The threat of fascism will hardly disappear when Donald Trump moves out of the White House in two weeks. On Capitol Hill, the Republicans who've made clear their utter contempt for democracy will retain powerful leverage over the U.S. government. And they're securely entrenched because Trumpism continues to thrive in much of the country.

Yet, in 2021, progressives should mostly concentrate on challenging the neoliberalism of Democratic Party leaders. Why? Because the neoliberal governing model runs directly counter to the overarching responsibilities of the left—to defeat right-wing forces and to effectively fight for a decent, life-affirming society.

Neoliberalism can be defined as a political approach that "seeks to transfer the control of economic factors from the public sector to the private sector"—and strives to "place limits on government spending, government regulation, and public ownership." Neoliberalism can be described more candidly as vast, systemic, nonstop plunder.

The plunder is enmeshed in politics. In the real world, economic power is political power. And privatizing political power amounts to undermining democracy.

After four decades of neoliberal momentum, we can see the wreckage all around us: the cumulative effects, destroying uncounted human lives deprived of adequate healthcare, education, housing, economic security and existence free of predatory monetizing. While Republican politicians usually led the wrecking crews, their Democratic counterparts often served as enablers or initiated their own razing projects.

As its policies gradually degrade the standard of living and quality of life for most people, neoliberalism provides a poisonous fuel for right-wing propaganda and demagoguery. Although corporate media outlets routinely assert that "moderate" Democrats are best positioned to block the right's advances, the corporate-oriented policies of those Democrats—including trade deals, deregulation, and privatization—have aided rather than impeded far-right faux populism.

In the long run, the realities of rampant income inequalities cannot be papered over—and neither can the despair and rage they engender. Phony and unhinged as it is, Trumpist extremism offers such rage a populist avenue, paved with a range of vile bigotries and cruelties. When Democrats fail to offer a competing populist avenue, their party is seen as aligned with the status quo. And in this era, the status quo is a political loser.

A myth of U.S. mainstream politics and corporate media is that the most effective way to counteract the political right is to compromise by ideologically moving rightward. When progressives internalize this myth, they defer to the kind of Democratic Party leadership that frequently ends up assisting instead of undermining the Republican Party.

That's what happened when, as incoming presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama filled their administrations' top-tier positions with Wall Street movers and shakers, elite big-business consultants and the like. Those appointments foreshadowed major pro-corporate policies—such as Clinton's NAFTA trade pact, and Obama's lavish bailout for huge banks while millions of homeowners saw their houses sink under foreclosure water—policies that were economically unjust. And politically disastrous. Two years after Clinton and Obama entered the White House, Democrats lost control of Congress in the 1994 and 2010 midterm elections.

Now, there's scant evidence Joe Biden is looking toward significant structural changes that would disrupt the ongoing trends of soaring wealth for the very few and deepening financial distress or outright desperation for the many. Without massive pressure from progressives, it's foreseeable that Biden—like Clinton and Obama—will run his presidency as a corporate-friendly enterprise without seriously challenging the extreme disparities of economic injustice.

"The stock market is ending 2020 at record highs, even as the virus surges and millions go hungry," the Washington Post reported. Wall Street succeeded at "enriching the wealthy . . . despite a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 340,000 Americans."

The reporting came from a newspaper owned by the richest person on earth, Jeff Bezos (who currently has an estimated wealth of $190 billion that he can't take with him). In a world of so much suffering, the accumulation of such wealth is beyond pathology.

What's imperative for progressives is not to "speak truth to power" but to speak truth about power—and to drastically change an economic system that provides humongous wealth to a very few and worsening misery to the countless many.

The 'moderate' rot at the top of the Democratic Party

Sometimes a couple of nominations convey an incoming president's basic mindset and worldview. That's how it seems with Joe Biden's choices to run the Office of Management and Budget and the State Department.

For OMB director, Biden selected corporate centrist Neera Tanden, whose Center for American Progress thrives on the largesse of wealthy donors representing powerful corporate interests. Tanden has been a notably scornful foe of the Democratic Party's progressive wing; former Sanders speechwriter David Sirota calls her "the single biggest, most aggressive Bernie Sanders critic in the United States." Who better to oversee the budget of the U.S. government?

For Secretary of State, Biden chose his longtime top foreign-policy adviser, whose frequent support for U.S. warfare included pushing for the disastrous 2011 military intervention in Libya. Antony Blinken is a revolving-door pro who has combined his record of war boosterism with entrepreneurial zeal to personally profit from influence-peddling for weapons sales to the Pentagon. Who better to oversee diplomacy for the U.S. government?

"With few exceptions, Biden's current policy positions are destructively corporate, deferential to obscene concentrations of wealth, woefully inadequate for meeting human needs, and zealously militaristic."Standard news coverage tells us that Tanden and Blinken are "moderates." But what's so moderate about being on the take from rich beneficiaries of corporate America while opposing proposals that would curb their profits in order to reduce income inequality and advance social justice? What's so moderate about serving the military-industrial complex while advocating for massive "defense" spending and what amounts to endless war?

Unless they fail to get Senate confirmation, Tanden and Blinken will shape future history in major ways.

As OMB director, Tanden would head what the Washington Post describes as "the nerve center of the federal government, executing the annual spending plan, setting fiscal and personnel policy for agencies, and overseeing the regulatory process across the executive branch."

Blinken is ready to be the administration's most influential figure on foreign policy, bolstered by his longstanding close ties with Biden. As staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden chaired the panel's mid-2002 crucial sham hearings on scenarios for invading Iraq, Blinken helped grease the skids for the catastrophic invasion.

Overall, purported "moderates" Tanden and Blinken have benefited from favorable mass-media coverage since their nominations were announced several weeks ago. Most of the well-documented critical accounts have appeared in progressive outlets such as Common Dreams, Democracy Now, The Daily Poster, In These Times and The American Prospect. But some unappealing aspects of their records have been reported by the mainstream press.

"In her nine years helming Washington's leading liberal think tank, Neera Tanden mingled with deep-pocketed donors who made their fortunes on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in other powerful sectors of corporate America," the Washington Post reported in early December. "At formal pitches and swanky fundraisers, Tanden personally cultivated the bevy of benefactors fueling the $45 million to $50 million annual budget of the Center for American Progress."

The Post added: "As OMB director, Tanden would have a hand in policies that touch every part of the economy after years spent courting corporate and foreign donors. These regulatory decisions will have profound implications for a range of U.S. companies, dictating how much they pay in taxes, the barriers they face and whether they benefit from new stimulus programs."

Blinken's eagerness to cash in on the warfare state -- when not a formal part of the government's war-making apparatus -- is well-documented and chilling. In a healthier political culture, Blinken's shameless insistence on profiteering from military weapons sales, as spelled out in a Nov. 28 New York Times news story, would have sunk his nomination for Secretary of State.

As for Tanden, in recent years her Center for American Progress received between $1.5 million and $3 million from the United Arab Emirates, which is allied with Saudi Arabia in waging a long and murderous war on Yemen. CAP refused to back a Senate resolution calling for the U.S. government to end its military support for that war. On a range of foreign-policy issues, Tanden has shown dedication to militarism again and again and again.

By many accounts, progressive organizing was a key factor in preventing the widely expected nomination of hawkish Michèle Flournoy to be Secretary of Defense. (RootsAction.org, where I'm national director, was part of that organizing effort.) Last week, the withdrawal of torture defender Mike Morell from consideration for CIA director was a victory for activism led by CodePink, Progressive Democrats of America, Witness Against Torture and other groups.

During the first weeks of 2021, such organizing could be effective in helping to derail other nominations. High on the deserving list are Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom "Mr. Monsanto" Vilsack, a loyal ally of corporate Big Ag, and Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines -- whose record as former deputy director of the CIA included working to prevent accountability for agency personnel who engaged in torture, as well as crafting legal rationales for drone strikes that often killed civilians.

Such deplorable nominees don't tell the whole story of Biden's incoming team, which includes some decent economic and environmental appointees. "There's no question that progressive focus on personnel has led to far better outcomes than when Obama put a corporate- and bank-friendly Cabinet together with little resistance," The American Prospect's executive editor, David Dayen, correctly pointed out last week. At the same time, none of Biden's high-level nominees were supporters of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign or are fully in sync with the progressive wing of the party.

The brighter spots among Joe Biden's nominations reflect the political wattage that progressives have generated in recent years on a wide array of intertwined matters, from climate to healthcare to economic justice to structural racism. Yet, with few exceptions, Biden's current policy positions are destructively corporate, deferential to obscene concentrations of wealth, woefully inadequate for meeting human needs, and zealously militaristic. It's hardly incidental that the list of key White House staff is overwhelmingly dominated by corporate-aligned operatives and PR specialists.

Wishful thinking aside, on vital issue after vital issue, it's foreseeable that Biden -- and the people in line for the most powerful roles in his administration -- will not do the right thing unless movements can organize effectively enough to make them do it.

Norman Solomon is co-founder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. His books include "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" (2006) and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State" (2007).

The pernicious aspects of military madness are personified in Biden favorite to be Defense Secretary

By all accounts, the frontrunner to be Joe Biden's pick for Secretary of Defense is Michèle Flournoy. It's a prospect that should do more than set off alarm bells—it should be understood as a scenario for the president-elect to stick his middle fingers in the eyes of Americans who are fed up with endless war and ongoing militarism.

Warning and petitioning Biden to dissuade him from a Flournoy nomination probably have scant chances of success. But if Biden puts her name forward, activists should quickly launch an all-out effort to block Senate confirmation.

As the Biden administration takes office, progressives have an opportunity to affirm and amplify the position that Martin Luther King Jr. boldly articulated when he insisted that "I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism." In the present day, the pernicious and lucrative aspects of that madness are personified in the favorite to be Biden's Defense Secretary.

Days ago, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) published a detained analysis under the headline "Should Michèle Flournoy Be Secretary of Defense?" The well-documented answer: No.

Citing "extensive defense industry ties," POGO provided an overview of Flournoy's revolving-door career. When she wasn't oiling the war machine in the Clinton and Obama administrations, Flournoy was profiteering from servicing that machine:

  • "In 2002 she went from positions in the Pentagon and the National Defense University to the mainstream but hawkish Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is largely funded by industry and Pentagon contributions."
  • "Five years later, she co-founded the second-most heavily contractor-funded think tank in Washington, the highly influential Center for a New American Security. That became a stepping stone to her role as under secretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration."
  • "From there she rotated­­ to the Boston Consulting Group, after which the firm's military contracts expanded from $1.6 million to $32 million in three years. She also joined the board of Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm laden with defense contracts. In 2017 she co-founded WestExec Advisors, helping defense corporations market their products to the Pentagon and other agencies."

Running parallel to Flournoy's financial conflicts of interest was her long record of advocacy for military conflicts.

"Flournoy was widely considered to have been one of Obama's more hawkish advisers and helped mastermind the escalation of the disastrous war in Afghanistan," Arwa Mahdawi pointed out in a Nov. 21 Guardian piece. "She has called for increased defense spending, arguing in a 2017 Washington Post op-ed that Trump was 'right to raise the need for more defense dollars.' She has complained that Obama didn't use military force enough, particularly in Syria. She supported the wars in Iraq and Libya. . ."

The president-elect is hardly in a position to hold such a record against prospective appointees. He has never fully acknowledged, much less renounced, his own roles in advocating for disastrous U.S. wars -- most notably and tragically, the war in Iraq.

Biden hasn't gotten his story straight or come clean about supporting the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. His specious claims that he didn't really support the invasion have been gross misrepresentations of the historical record. Actually, Biden was the Democrat in the Senate who exerted the most leverage in support of the Iraq invasion, and he did so with public enthusiasm.

The foreseeable dangers of picking Flournoy to run the Pentagon are compounded by Biden's selection of Antony Blinken to be Secretary of State. It was Blinken who, 18 years ago, served as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while its chairman, Joe Biden, oversaw the pivotal and badly skewed two-day hearing in summer 2002 that greased the congressional skids for approving an invasion of Iraq.

Blinken, along with Flournoy, co-founded WestExec Advisors, which the Washington Post's breaking-news coverage of the Blinken nomination gingerly described as "a political strategy firm." It was a nice euphemism, in contrast to how POGO describes the WestExec Advisors mission -- "helping defense corporations market their products to the Pentagon and other agencies." The term "war profiteering" would be even more apt.

If past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, there are ample reasons for apprehension about the top of the military and foreign-policy team that Biden has begun to install for his presidency. But realism should not lead to fatalism or passivity.

Extricating the United States from the grip of the military-industrial complex will require massive and sustained organizing. With that goal in mind, a grassroots campaign to prevent Michèle Flournoy from becoming Secretary of Defense would be wise.

Corporate Democrats provoked congressional losses — so naturally they’re blaming progressives

Corporate Democrats got the presidential nominee they wanted, along with control over huge campaign ad budgets and nationwide messaging to implement "moderate" strategies. But, as the Washington Post noted, Joe Biden's victory "came with no coattails down ballot." Democratic losses left just a razor-thin cushion in the House, and the party failed to win a Senate majority. Now, corporate Democrats are scapegoating progressives.

The best members of Congress are pushing back—none more forcefully or eloquently than Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan who just won her second term in one of the nation's poorest districts. She was the most outspoken against an anti-progressive pile-on during a Nov. 5 conference call of House Democrats. And she continues to hold high a shining lantern of progressive principles.

Tlaib has pointed out that "Democratic candidates in swing districts who openly supported progressive policies, like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, won their races." And she refuses to retreat.

"We're not going to be successful if we're silencing districts like mine," she told Politico last week. "Me not being able to speak on behalf of many of my neighbors right now, many of which are black neighbors, means me being silenced. I can't be silent."

Politico reported that Tlaib was "choking up as she expressed frustration" near the end of an interview as she said: "If [voters] can walk past blighted homes and school closures and pollution to vote for Biden-Harris, when they feel like they don't have anything else, they deserve to be heard. I can't believe that people are asking them to be quiet."

In an email to supporters, Tlaib was clear: "We've got to focus on working class people. We are done waiting to be heard or prioritized by the federal government. I won't let leaders of either party silence my residents' voices any longer."

Tlaib offers the kind of clarity that should guide progressive forces no matter how much "party unity" smoke is blown in their direction: "We are not interested in unity that asks people to sacrifice their freedom and their rights any longer. And if we truly want to unify our country, we have to really respect every single voice. We say that so willingly when we talk about Trump supporters, but we don't say that willingly for my black and brown neighbors and from LGBTQ neighbors or marginalized people."

When Tlaib talks about "pushing the Democratic Party to represent the communities that elected them," she actually means what she says. That's quite a contrast with the usual discourse coming from dominant Democrats and outfits like the Democratic National Committee.

Let's face it: Most of the nearly 100 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are not reliable when corporate push comes to shove, assisted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. What has been startling and sometimes disturbing to entrenched Democrats is that Tlaib—along with House colleagues Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ro Khanna and some others—repeatedly make it clear that they're part of progressive movements. And those movements are serious about fundamental social change, even if it means polarizing with Democratic Party leaders.

Anyone with a shred of humane values should be aware that Republican lawmakers are anathema to those values. But that reality shouldn't blind us to the necessity of challenging—and, when feasible, organizing to unseat—elected Democrats who are more interested in maintaining the status quo that benefits moneyed interests than fighting for social justice.

While satisfying their impulses to blame the left for centrist failures, corporate Democrats and their mildly "progressive" enablers—inside and outside of Congress—are striving to paper over basic fault lines. The absence of a functional public-health system, the feeble government response to the climate emergency, the widening and deadly realities of income inequality, the systemic racism, the runaway militarism and so many other ongoing catastrophes are results of social structures that constrict democracy and serve oligarchy. Those who denounce the fight for a progressive agenda are telling us that, in essence, they don't want much to change.

Progressives to Joe Biden: Don't you dare 'cooperate' with Mitch McConnell

Near the end of his well-crafted victory speech Saturday night, Joe Biden decried "the refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another." He went on to say that "we can decide to cooperate. And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate. That's the choice I'll make. And I call on the Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—to make that choice with me."

If Biden chooses to "cooperate" with Mitch McConnell, that choice is likely to set off a political war between the new administration and the Democratic Party's progressive base.

After the election, citing "people familiar with the matter," Axios reported that "Republicans' likely hold on the Senate is forcing Joe Biden's transition team to consider limiting its prospective Cabinet nominees to those who Mitch McConnell can live with." Yet this spin flies in the face of usual procedures for Senate confirmation of Cabinet nominees.

"Traditionally, an incoming president is given wide berth to pick his desired team," Axios noted. But "a source close to McConnell tells Axios a Republican Senate would work with Biden on centrist nominees but no 'radical progressives' or ones who are controversial with conservatives. . . . This political reality could result in Biden having a more centrist Cabinet. It also gives Biden a ready excuse to reject left-of-center candidates, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who have the enthusiastic backing of progressives."

Let's be clear: The extent to which Biden goes along with such a scenario of craven capitulation will be the extent to which he has shafted progressives before his presidency has even begun.

And let's be clear about something else: Biden doesn't have to defer to Mitch McConnell on Cabinet appointees. Biden has powerful leverage—if he wants to use it. As outlined in a memo released days ago by Demand Progress and the Revolving Door Project, "President Biden will be under no obligation to hand Mitch McConnell the keys to his Cabinet."

The memo explains that Biden could fill his Cabinet by using the Vacancies Act—which "provides an indisputably legal channel to fill Senate-confirmed positions on a temporary basis when confirmations are delayed."

In addition, "Biden can adjourn Congress and make recess appointments"—since Article II Section 3 of the Constitution "gives the President the power to adjourn Congress 'to such time as he shall think proper' whenever the House and Senate disagree on adjournment"—and after 10 days of recess, Biden could appoint Cabinet members.

In other words, if there's a political will, there would be ways to overcome the anti-democratic obstructionism of Mitch McConnell. But does Biden really have the political will?

McConnell is the foremost practitioner of ruthless right-wing hardball on Capitol Hill. During the last two administrations, the Senate's majority leader has done enormous damage to democracy and the lives of many millions of people. Why in the hell should Biden be vowing to cooperate with the likes of McConnell?

Eighteen months ago, campaigning in New Hampshire, Biden proclaimed: "The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends."

It was an absurd statement back then. Now, it's an ominous one.

Anyone who's expecting an epiphany from McConnell after Trump leaves the White House is ignoring how the Senate majority leader behaved before Trump was in the White House—doing things like refusing to allow any Senate consideration of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland during the last 10 months of the Obama administration.

McConnell has made it crystal clear that he's a no-holds-barred ideologue who'll stoop as low as he can to thwart democracy and social progress. Cooperating with him would be either a fool's errand or an exercise in capitulation. And, when it comes to congressional workings, Biden is no fool.

Yes, Republicans are likely to have a Senate majority for at least the next two years. But President Biden will have a profound choice: to either fight them or "cooperate" with them. If Biden's idea of the art of the deal is to shaft progressives, he and Kamala Harris are going to have a colossal party insurrection on their hands.

The young voters and African-American voters who were largely responsible for Biden's win did not turn out in such big numbers so he could turn around and cave in to the same extremist Republican Party that propelled much of their enthusiasm for voting Biden in the first place. Overall, as polling has made clear, it was abhorrence of Trump—more than enthusiasm for Biden—that captivated Biden voters.

A CNBC poll, released last week, found that 54 percent of swing-state Biden voters "said they are primarily voting against Trump" rather than in favor of Biden. For Biden to embark on his presidency by collaborating with the party of Trump would be more than tone-deaf. It would be a refusal to put up a fight against the very forces that so many Biden voters were highly motivated to defeat.

Progressives are disgusted when Democratic leaders set out to ask Republicans for part of a loaf and end up getting crumbs. If Joe Biden is willing to toss aside the progressive base of his own party in order to cooperate with the likes of Mitch McConnell, the new president will be starting a fierce civil war inside his own party.

Here's why Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg are so adamant about defeating Trump

"There is a kind of an official view about democracy—it says that you, the public, are spectators not participants," activist and scholar Noam Chomsky points out in a new video. "You have a function. The function is to show up every couple of years, push a lever, go home, don't bother the important people who run the world, you've done your job. We can't accept that."

At the same time, Chomsky is vehement about the urgent necessity of defeating Donald Trump. "Sometimes it's worthwhile to take a little time away from real politics, an interlude, and make sure you get somebody out. This time it is critically important," Chomsky says in the video (produced by my colleagues with the Vote Trump Out campaign). "There's a real malignant cancer that has to be excised."

Excising Trump from the top of the executive branch is essential. "Take the trouble to remove him from the political world," Chomsky says. "Then go on with the real work of politics. Creating. Understanding. Consciousness. Organizing. Activism and engagement. Everything from your local school board, your local community, on to the international world. All the time. That includes pressing whoever is in office to keep their word and go beyond."


Defeating Trump is a crucial—and certainly insufficient—precondition for making possible the kind of changes in government policies that are desperately required for social decency. "Under a Biden presidency, progressives would need to be persistent from the very beginning in challenging and opposing many of the things that he may propose," Daniel Ellsberg wrote this month in the Detroit Metro Times. "Yet, for now, the imperative need is to free the nation from Trump's unhinged and destructive grip."

Ellsberg, who has been an activist for peace and social justice ever since releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, has no illusions about the Democratic nominee. "Joe Biden's record is not at all progressive," he tweeted last week. "So how can I ask progressives to vote for Biden and urge others to do so? Three words: Trump. Climate. Democracy."

And Ellsberg added: "If you're not urging others to vote for Biden, you're not helping remove a would-be Mussolini from the White House balcony. Especially in swing states, by encouraging others to vote for someone else or not to vote at all, you're risking that Trump stays, and the Paris climate goals stay decisively out of reach." Ellsberg urged people to "do all you can" to "remove a climate-denier and would-be dictator from the White House."

President Trump is a dream come true for those who despise democracy. The year he moved into the Oval Office, a book by historian Nancy MacLean—Democracy in Chains—documented what she called "the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today: the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance."

The forces aligned with Donald Trump have achieved enormous breakthroughs during the last four years in their quest to "undo democratic governance." The potential for democracy in the United States will largely hinge on whether Trump gains re-election.

Mike Pence is a reminder that destructive leaders are symptoms of an anti-democratic status quo

If President Trump dies from the coronavirus that has killed more than 200,000 Americans largely due to his deliberate negligence, the man replacing him will be no less dangerous. While Mike Pence has eluded tough media scrutiny -- in part because he exhibits such a low-key style in contrast to Trump -- the pair has been a good fit for an administration that exemplifies the partnership of religious fundamentalism and corporate power.

The vice president, a former Indiana talk-show host who went on to become a six-term congressman and then governor, has described himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order." But he remains at cross-purposes with the biblical admonition (Matthew 6:24) that "you cannot serve both God and money." Whether Pence has truly served God is a subjective matter, but his massive service to money—big money—is incontrovertible.

Pence ranks high as a Christian soldier marching in lockstep with Trump on all major policy issues, a process that routinely puts business interests ahead of human lives. Whatever his personal piety might be, the results of Pence's fidelity to right-wing agendas have further consolidated a de facto coalition of those seeking ever-lower taxes on wealth and corporations; denial of LGBTQ rights; a ban on abortion and severe restrictions on other reproductive rights; voter suppression and barriers to voting by people of color; obstruction of healthcare for low-income people; and on and on.

Pence embodies the political alliance of very conservative evangelical forces with anti-regulatory forces of corporatism. In the arenas of elections and governance, that coalition is the present-day Republican Party, dedicated to imposing the edicts of religious dogma, rolling back democratic reforms and serving the rich at the expense of everyone else.

"As vice president, Mike Pence is doing everything in his power to control people's bodies," the Planned Parenthood Action Fund declares. Meanwhile, those who are inclined toward racism or outright believers in white supremacy are bolstered. And Wall Street has never had a better friend in Washington.

Pence's most consequential role during 44 months as vice president has been as chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Since late February, he has functioned—in effect—as Trump's willing executioner, standing by and blowing smoke while Trump obfuscated and lied as the death toll kept mounting.

"The truth is that we've made great progress over the past four months," Pence proclaimed in a mid-June statement, "and it's a testament to the leadership of President Trump." Pence charged that "the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a 'second wave' of coronavirus infections"—but "such panic is overblown."

To underscore his full devotion to Lord Trump's downplaying of the virus, the vice president concluded with a blame-the-messenger flourish: "The truth is, whatever the media says, our whole-of-America approach has been a success. We've slowed the spread, we've cared for the most vulnerable, we've saved lives, and we've created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future. That's a cause for celebration, not the media's fear mongering."

Pence's June 16 statement made its way into the Wall Street Journal as a prominent op-ed piece whistling past Covid graveyards. "It was so clearly wrong back then and has turned out to be so clearly wrong since that I hope there's some part of him that's embarrassed," Ashish Jha, the head of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said in late summer. "I had already been seeing data for a good week that things were really heading in the wrong direction." The Washington Post editorial board immediately responded with a denunciation under the headline "Mike Pence Is a Case Study in Irresponsibility."

No one with any discernment would associate Trump with religiosity because he held up a Bible at a photo op. But the other half of the ticket is a very different matter. Days after the November 2016 election, Jeremy Scahill wrote that Trump is "a Trojan horse for a cabal of vicious zealots who have long craved an extremist Christian theocracy, and Pence is one of its most prized warriors."

Scahill quoted an author of books on far-right fundamentalism, Jeff Sharlet, who said that "when they speak of business, they're speaking not of something separate from God, but they're speaking of what, in Mike Pence's circles, would be called biblical capitalism, the idea that this economic system is God-ordained."

What does all this mean for progressives? The case of Mike Pence should be an ongoing urgent reminder that—as toxic and truly evil as Donald Trump is—the current president is a product and poisonous symptom of an inherently unjust and anti-democratic status quo.

Instead of focusing our rage on the persona of one destructive leader, we should remember that corporate domination provides an endless supply of destructive leaders. While they come and go, the system of corporate power remains—and we must replace that system with genuine democracy.

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