Norman Solomon

Abortion bounty hunters in Texas aren’t 'whistleblowers' — they’re misogynistic vigilantes

One of the many preposterous claims coming from supporters of the vicious new Texas law against abortion is that bounty hunters — who stand to gain a $10,000 reward from the state — will somehow be "whistleblowers." The largest anti-abortion group in Texas is trying to attach the virtuous "whistleblower" label to predators who'll file lawsuits against abortion providers and anyone who "aids or abets" a woman getting an abortion.

As a journalist and activist, I've worked with a range of genuine whistleblowers during the last several decades. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they ended up tangling with institutions ranging from the Pentagon and CIA to the National Security Agency and the Veterans Administration. Their personalities and outlooks varied greatly, but none of them were bullies. None of them wanted to threaten or harm powerless people in distress. On the contrary, the point of the whistleblowing was to hold powerful institutions accountable for violations of human rights.

What the Texas vigilantes will be seeking to do is quite the opposite. The targets will be women who want abortions as well as their allies — people under duress — with pursuers seeing a bullseye on their backs.

The whistleblowers I've known have all taken huge risks. Most lost their jobs. Many endured all-out prosecutions on bogus charges, like violating the Espionage Act for the "crime" of informing the public with vital information. Some went to prison. Almost all suffered large — often massive — losses that wrecked their personal finances.

In sharp contrast, the Texans trying to cash in on the new law will risk nothing. While collaborating with the state to spy on the lives of others, they will be striving to enrich themselves.

"The state law created a so-called 'private right of action' to enforce the restriction," in the words of a CNN report. "Essentially, the legislature deputized private citizens to bring civil litigation — with the threat of $10,000 or more in damages — against providers or even anyone who helped a woman access an abortion after six weeks."

Calling those who exploit this law "whistleblowers" is a way to turn the true meaning of whistleblowing on its head. We might as well have history books referring to enforcers of the Fugitive Slave Act as "good Samaritans," or monitors of Jim Crow compliance as "civic activists."

It's fitting — and revealing — that the professed "whistleblowing" website thrown up by the big Texas Right to Life organization was welcomed by an internet provider that specializes in hosting services for extreme far-right groups. Thanks to a provider called Epik, the Daily Beast reported, the site "found a new home alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacists." The digital relocation came after the site was booted by GoDaddy on Friday. But before the end of the weekend, even Epik backed away.

One of the enormous dangers of the Texas abortion law is that a Stasi-like culture of betrayal and fear will evolve in the Lone Star State and copycat states, with long-lasting destructive effects. If a friend, neighbor or co-worker can turn someone in and gain a reward for doing so, the ripple effects are going to be corrosive, intensifying over time.

Aided by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state of Texas has now codified misogyny. The results will surely include ongoing deaths, making the coat hanger the state's unofficial symbol. Real whistleblowing will expose those who profit from victimizing women under cover of this horrible new law.

Joe Biden's relapse into hallucinations about GOP leaders

For a while, President Biden seemed to be recovering from chronic fantasies about Republicans in Congress. But last week he had a relapse—harming prospects for key progressive legislation and reducing the already slim hopes that the GOP can be prevented from winning control of the House and Senate in midterm elections 15 months from now.

Biden's reflex has been to gladhand his way across the aisle. On the campaign trail in May 2019, he 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." A year and a half later, the president-elect threw some bipartisan bromides into his victory speech—lamenting "the refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another," contending that the American people "want us to cooperate," and pledging "that's the choice I'll make."

But the notion of cooperating with Republican leaders like Sen. Mitch McConnell and Rep. Kevin McCarthy was always a fool's errand. That reality might as well have been blinking in big neon letters across the Capitol Dome since January, as Republicans continually doubled down on complete intransigence. By early March, when the landmark American Rescue Plan squeaked through Congress, Biden had new reasons to wise up.

Passage of the $1.9 trillion measure, Biden said, "proves we can do big things, important things in this country." But passage also proved that every Republican in the House and Senate is dedicated to stopping this country from doing "big, important things." The American Rescue Plan got through Congress without a single Republican vote.

As the American Prospect's executive editor, David Dayen, pointed out at the time, many of the major gains in the rescue package were fundamental yet fragile. While purported "free-market solutions" had been set aside, crucial provisions were put on a timer to sunset: "We have the outline of a child allowance but it expires in a year. The [Affordable Care Act] subsidies expire in two years. The massive expansion of unemployment eligibility for a much wider group of workers is now done on Labor Day weekend. There's a modicum of ongoing public investment, but mostly this returns us to a steady state, with decisions to make from there."

Whether progress can be sustained and accelerated during the next several years will largely depend on ending Republican leverage over the Senate via the filibuster and preventing a GOP congressional majority from taking hold in January 2023. The new temporary measures, Dayen notes, could all be made permanent, "with automatic stabilizers that kick in during downturns, and Federal Reserve bank accounts for every American to fill when needed. We could ensure that federal support sustaining critical features of public life remains in place. We could choose to not build a pop-up safety net but an ongoing one."

The obstacles to enacting long-term structural changes will be heightened to the extent that Biden relapses into a futile quest for "bipartisanship." This year, the GOP's methodical assaults on voting rights—well underway in numerous states controlled by Republican legislatures and governors—could be somewhat counteracted by strong, democracy-oriented federal legislation. And that won't happen if the Senate filibuster remains in place.

Yet Biden, even while denouncing attacks on voting rights, now seems quite willing to help Republicans retain the filibuster as a pivotal tool for protecting and enabling those attacks. During a CNN town hall last week, Biden said he favors tweaking the Senate rules to require that some senator keeps talking on the floor to continue a filibuster—but he's against getting rid of the filibuster. Eliminating it, Biden said, would "throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done." On voting rights, the president said, he wants to "bring along Republicans who I know know better."

Many activists quickly demolished those claims. "This answer from Biden on the filibuster just doesn't make sense," tweeted Sawyer Hackett, executive director of People First Future. "Republicans aren't going to wake up and 'know better' than suppressing the vote. The filibuster encourages them to obstruct and our reluctance to end it emboldens them to do worse."

The response from the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill, was aptly caustic: "What are their names? Name the Republicans who know better. This is not a strategy. The time for magical thinking is over."

As Biden slid into illogical ramblings on CNN to support retaining the filibuster, the implications were ominous and far-reaching. In the words of the Our Revolution organization, Biden "refused to support doing what must be done to secure voting rights. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he continues to entertain the possibility of getting 10 Republican votes for voting rights. Back here, in reality, precisely zero Republicans voted in support of the For the People Act, and there is no reason to expect that to change."

When Biden became president, the Washington Post reported that he had chosen to place a portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the most prominent spot inside the Oval Office, as "a clear nod to a president who helped the country through significant crises, a challenge Biden now also faces." But Biden's recurrent yearning not to polarize with Republican leaders is in stark contrast to FDR's approach.

Near the end of his first term, in a Madison Square Garden speech condemning "the economic royalists," Roosevelt said: "They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred." But now, in his recurrent search for cooperation, Biden seems eager for his Republican foes to like him. It's a ridiculous and dangerous quest.

Here's why corporate Democrats are scrambling to keep Nina Turner out of Congress

When Hillary Clinton endorsed Nina Turner's main opponent recently, it was much more than just an attempt to boost a corporate Democrat. Clinton's praise for candidate Shontel Brown was almost beside the point. Like other power brokers and the big-money PACs now trying to sway the special election for a vacant congressional seat in northeast Ohio, Clinton is doing what she can to keep the deeply progressive Turner out of Congress. (Rep. Marcia Fudge, who previously held the seat, resigned to become President Biden's HUD secretary.)

Time is short. Polling shows Turner with a big lead, early voting begins in less than two weeks and Election Day is Aug. 3. What scares the political establishment is what energizes her supporters: Turner won't back down when social justice is at stake.

That reality was clearly audible last Tuesday night during the first debate of the campaign, sponsored by the City Club of Cleveland. "I am running to be a voice for change, to uplift the downtrodden, including the poor, the working poor and the barely middle class," Turner began. "You send me to Congress, I'm going to make sure that we tax the wealthy, make them pay their fair share, and to center the people who need it the most in this district."

The contrast was sharp with Brown, who chairs the Democratic Party in Cuyahoga County, a major population center that includes the city of Cleveland. The discussion of health care was typical: Brown voiced a preference for a "public option," while Turner strongly advocated Medicare for All while calling the current health care situation "absurd" and "asinine." Brown sounded content to tinker with the status quo. Turner flatly declared: "The employer-based system, the commodification of health care, does not work in the United States of America. Almost 100 million people are either underinsured or uninsured right now."

After Brown emphasized that "we have to be able to compromise so we can get some things done," Turner closed with a jab at those eager to block the momentum of her campaign for Congress: "You need to have somebody that will lead this community, who does have a vision and understands being a partner does not mean being a puppet, that working with does not mean acquiescing to. … You will always know whose side I am on."

That's exactly the problem for the party establishment. Its backers know full well whose side Turner is on.

So the attacks are escalating from Brown's campaign. It sent out a mailer — complete with an out-of-focus photo of Turner, made to look lurid — under the headline "Nina Turner Opposed President Biden and Worked Against Democrats." A more accurate headline would have been: "Nina Turner Supported Sen. Sanders and Worked Against Neoliberal Democrats." The Brown campaign's first TV ad, which began airing last month, features her saying that she will "work with Joe Biden … that's different than Nina Turner."

A former editorial page editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Brent Larkin, wrote: "Brown will be a well-financed candidate with deep-pocketed supporters who aren't afraid to play rough. That's because Turner can't be beaten unless opponents plant seeds of doubt about her fitness, convincing voters her harsh criticisms of President Joe Biden would make it impossible for her to get things done for her community. The notion that Biden might punish a constituency important to him because Turner represents that constituency in Congress is far-fetched. During the 2020 campaign, Sen. Kamala Harris was bitterly critical of Biden's civil rights record. Nevertheless, Biden chose her as his running mate, effectively rewarding her with the vice presidency."

Brown's backers are eager to "play rough" because corporate power is at issue. It's not only that Turner crisscrossed the nation, speaking eloquently in support of both of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaigns, serving as a national co-chair during the last one. Powerful backers of the Democratic Party's top leadership — cozy and enmeshed with corporate America and the military-industrial complex — realize that "Rep. Nina Turner, D-Ohio" would significantly increase the leverage of genuinely progressive members of the House. For the Clinton wing of the party, that would be a frigging nightmare.

As the marquee anti-Turner candidate, Brown is leaving the more blatant smears to outfits like the "Protecting Our Vote PAC" (which spent $41,998 in the last cycle in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat now-Rep. Cori Bush in Missouri). That PAC has released a scurrilous attack ad through Facebook, not merely telling viewers to vote for Brown but claiming, among other things, that "Nina Turner is not a real Democrat, you can't trust her," and she "has no respect for anyone, not even our president," and "Nina Turner is all about Nina, she doesn't care about Ohio, she doesn't care about getting things done, all she cares about is making noise."

Though some see may see Turner only as a firebrand speaker at political rallies, I was in dozens of meetings with her last year when her patient hard work was equally inspiring as she put in long hours with humility, compassion and dedication. I saw her as the real deal when we were colleagues for several months while she worked with RootsAction.org as a strategic delegate adviser for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Recalling how she works behind the scenes, I can understand even more why the party establishment is so anxious to block her entry to Congress. While Turner is a seasoned legislator — she served on the Cleveland City Council and in the Ohio State Senate for a total of nine years — she's committed to the meticulous and sometimes tedious work of organizing and coalition-building that, in the long run, can make all the difference for progressive change.

The day that Clinton made her endorsement of Brown, a tweet from Turner offered an apt retort. Saying that she was "proud to be running a campaign focused on the issues that matter most to working people," Turner added: "My district knows all too well that the politics of yesterday are incapable of delivering the change we desperately need."

The next day, underscoring wide awareness that the corporate "politics of yesterday" must not be the politics of tomorrow, the Turner campaign announced that it raised six figures in donations in less than 24 hours; Clinton's intervention had been a blessing. Overall, at last report, the Turner campaign has received donations from 54,000 different individuals, with contributions averaging $27.

Dollars pouring into Shontel Brown's campaign are coming from a very different political and social universe. As the Daily Poster has reported, "business-friendly Democrats" and Washington lobbyists for huge corporations — including "Big Oil, Big Pharma, Fox News and Wall Street" — are providing big bucks to stop Nina Turner from becoming Congresswoman Turner.

Bernie Sanders described the situation clearly in a recent mass email: "The political establishment and their super PACs are lining up behind Nina's opponent during the critical final weeks of this primary. And you can bet they will do and spend whatever it takes to try and defeat her."

Biden is eloquent about George Floyd's murder — but he could undermine it all with one nomination

If Joe Biden fully meant what he said after meeting with George Floyd's family in the Oval Office on Tuesday, he won't nominate Rahm Emanuel to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan. But recent news reports tell us that's exactly what the president intends to do.

After the meeting, Biden declared that the murder of Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer "launched a summer of protest we hadn't seen since the Civil Rights era in the '60s—protests that peacefully unified people of every race and generation to collectively say enough of the senseless killings." The words were valuable, and so was the symbolism of the president hosting loved ones of Floyd on the first anniversary of his death.

But the value of the White House event will be weakened if Biden names Emanuel to one of this country's top diplomatic posts—despite his well-earned notoriety for the cover-up of a video showing the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.

When McDonald was shot dead by Chicago police one night in October 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was facing a tough re-election fight. Fortunately, a dash camera on a police car captured the murder on video. Unfortunately, Emanuel's administration suppressed the video for 13 months, until after Emanuel won re-election.

Imagine if—when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed Floyd by kneeling on him for 9 minutes and 29 seconds—there had been no civilian with a cell phone able to record the murder, and the only visual record of what happened was a police video. And imagine if the city of Minneapolis had suppressed that video for 13 months, until a judge's order finally forced its release.

That would be Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Chicago.

When reports surfaced last November that Biden was considering Emanuel for a cabinet position, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pointed out: "Rahm Emanuel helped cover up the murder of Laquan McDonald. Covering up a murder is disqualifying for public leadership." Then-Congressman-elect Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) tweeted: "That he's being considered for a cabinet position is completely outrageous and, honestly, very hurtful."

Two weeks ago, responding to news that Biden had decided to nominate Emanuel as ambassador to Japan, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) sent out a cogent tweet: "Black Lives Matter can't just be a slogan. It has to be reflected in our actions as a government, and as a people. Rewarding Rahm Emanuel's cover up of Laquan McDonald's murder with an ambassadorship is not an act that reflects a value of or respect for Black lives."

The post of ambassador to Japan would put Emanuel in the thick of economic and military policies. Japan has the world's third-largest economy. The U.S. currently has two dozen military bases in Japan. A recklessly confrontational military approach in East Asia would get a boost if the next U.S. ambassador to Japan is Emanuel, a longtime hawk who supported the Iraq war even after many Democratic leaders turned against it.

For decades, Emanuel's career has been the opposite of diplomatic as he bombastically denounced progressives and served corporate interests while enriching himself. And his record of running interference for racist police violence while mayor of Chicago underscores what a terrible mistake it would be for the Senate to confirm him as ambassador.

Impunity for American men in uniform who commit violent crimes is a deeply emotional subject in Japan. Outrage has long festered especially on Okinawa, where women and children have been subjected to sexual assaults by U.S. military personnel stationed at bases there.

Blocking the nomination of Rahm Emanuel to be the USA's top envoy to Japan won't bring back Laquan McDonald or any of the other African Americans murdered by police. But it would send a strong signal to mayors and other public officials that covering up brutal police violence is bad for career advancement.

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 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.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.