What I like about Bernie — and my recommendation

A movement is building. People are questioning the fairness of capitalism and looking at socialism with fresh eyes. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been a major spokesperson for bringing the term “socialism” back into our national dialogue. I like that about Bernie.

PHOTO Bernie Sanders speakingI should say right up front, I have blogged on what I question about Bernie:  his “communist dictator” remark about Hugo Chavez, who did lead a “political revolution” and moved Venezuela toward socialism, HERE; and Bernie’s possibly becoming a “sheepdog” for a corporate candidate like Hillary Clinton, HERE.

The second thing I really like is that Bernie is backing up his rhetoric about casino capitalism and the Billionaire Class by taking no corporate money. The “contribution rules” on his website include:

  • This contribution is made from my own funds, and funds are not being provided to me by another person or entity for the purpose of making this contribution.
  • I am making this contribution with my own personal credit card and not with a corporate or business credit card or a card issued to another person.

Bernie is following the example of Richmond, California. The Richmond Progressive Alliance candidates, whatever their political parties, refuse corporate and developer money in their campaigns. When they win elections — and they have won, even against millions of dollars that Chevron throws against them — they follow through on their campaign rhetoric and stand up to giant corporations, not just Chevron but also developers and Wall Street banks. Good for Bernie for following the Richmond example.

The third thing I like about Bernie Sanders is that he includes on his website a list of all the states with the rules for how to vote for Bernie in each of the states. The California link is HERE. That leads me to …


Friends who are “feeling the Bern,” and yet who are disenchanted with the two big political parties, have asked me for my recommendation for them. Here it is for California; much of it applies to other states as well.

(1) If you want to vote for Bernie, wait as late as possible before the primary. The last day to change voter registration in California, for example, is May 23, 2016. To be safe, mark your calendar for MAY DAY. On the 1st of May, change your voter registration, if and only if there’s a solid chance the Democratic Party would nominate Bernie!

(2) Use the power of your voter registration to the max. By May the Democratic Party will have decided if independents can vote in the Democratic primary. If they allow it, which they usually do, click the “No Party Preference” box. Don’t give the parties of the 1% your seal of approval via your voter registration. California online voter registration happens at http://registertovote.ca.gov/.

(3) After the primary, come back! Mark your calendar for June 8, or maybe INDEPENDENCE DAY. Say “No!” to the 1% and their corporations, and help build that strong third party so many Americans want. It’s no surprise to my friends and colleagues that I recommend changing your voter registration to the Green Party. The practical and idealistic reason is this: the Green Party is the strongest third party that we have for working families in this whole country. You can bet they don’t make it easy for third parties to become strong — that’s where people power comes in: votes and voter registrations.

Good luck to us all!

Bernie: Give people good examples of a “political revolution”

Here’s a huge opportunity Bernie’s campaign can either take or lose. Bernie Sanders states that he wants to create a political revolution in order to fight the Billionaire Class and decrease inequality. Hugo Chávez did that in Venezuela. (Do a little research and you will be able to verify that fact using credible sources.) Wouldn’t we expect Bernie to grab this opportunity to counter the lies of the 1% about Chávez, and tell the truth? Tell the truth that such a political/electoral revolution is possible, and here is an example. Political revolutions are happening in Venezuela and much of Latin America. The good news people would love to hear is that we have good examples to learn from, and emulate.

Are they perfect? No. Are they moving in a much better direction than the U.S. government? Yes.

P.S. This serves as another P.S. to my prior “whose side are you on?” blogs about Bernie Sanders’ calling Hugo Chávez of Venezuela a “dead communist dictator” and not retracting the statement.

Whose side are you on, Bernie? P.S. He did mean Chávez

I am adding a P.S. to my prior blog because a number of people have questioned whether Bernie Sanders really meant Hugo Chávez when he said “dead communist dictator.” An excerpt and a link, HERE.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs said that the super PAC was “distorting the record.”

“It is disappointing that Secretary Clinton’s super PAC is spreading disinformation about Bernie,” Briggs said of the Correct the Record memo. “This is exactly the kind of politics that Bernie is trying to change. To equate bringing home heating oil to low-income Vermonters with support for the Chavez government is dishonest.”

To me, the problem with Sanders’ characterization of Chávez is the following. What does it means for Bernie’s stated platform if he falls in line with demonizing Chávez? In fact, Venezuela and other countries in Latin America very likely give us  the best current examples in the world of empowered people and elected officials (however “not perfect”) who are creating new constitutions — with significant changes in the system — and improving most people’s wealth and power dramatically.

Whose side are you on, Bernie?

I just got an email from independent journalist and activist Jonathan Nack, and I was shocked when I read the first paragraph: Bernie Sanders just referred to Hugo Chávez as a “dead communist dictator.”  Jonathan’s entire open letter is below. All I would add, for those who would like to see what Jonathan refers to as a “detailed defense of Pres. Chavez.” is a reference to my blog “Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez” which was recently revised and re-published, this time on the Tikkun Daily Blog, HERE.hugo chavez legacy VA com Roger Harris A Guardian article details the context of Bernie Sander’s statement in the first few  paragraphs, HERE.

All I can think is, “Whose side are you on, Bernie, whose side are you on?” Here’s the letter. Thanks for learning more about hope in Latin America and beyond. — Laura

Dear Senator Bernie Sanders,

I am shocked and I denounce your description of the late President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, as a “dead communist dictator.” I expect better from you, but perhaps I need to re-evaluate such expectations.

I’m a longtime supporter going back to the days when you were running for re-election as Mayor of Burlington, even though I live in Oakland, California. I’ve made a modest financial contribution to your current campaign and expressed support for your call to build a grassroots movement to take on the power of the Billionaires and their corporations – what you’ve referred to as a “political revolution”. You’ve said that this is what your campaign is about. It was precisely such a stance that got Hugo Chavez elected and re-elected President of Venezuela.

Pres. Chavez was neither a communist nor a dictator. If you don’t know that, you should.

Your use of the term “communist dictator” is code designed to pander to those who favor and justify U.S. intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean, and around the world. U.S. intervention in the politics of other countries, including bloody military interventions, is an absolute disgrace. It has resulted in the needless suffering and death of millions. It resulted in the imposition and maintenance of real military dictatorships throughout Latin Americas and much of the world. Most of these military dictatorships have only been overcome by democratic movements in the last twenty-five years.

It is the shameful history of U.S. intervention and how it is driven by the interests of Billionaires and their corporations that you need to address, not denunciations of those whom rise to leadership in their countries because of their opposition to it.

I’m not going to get into a detailed defense of Pres. Chavez. It is sufficient to say that it is a fact that Hugo Chavez was elected and re-elected President of Venezuela in what international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, have described as basically free and fair elections. No dictator holds such elections. It is sufficient to say that Pres. Chavez identified himself as a socialist and specifically said that he was not a communist.

I do not rise to defend Pres. Chavez against all criticism. All politicians and political leaders deserve to be criticized for the bad things they say and do, as well as praise for the good, including you.

I am a socialist and a supporter of the Green Party. I stand for social justice, the protection of our environment, and for real democracy. My donation to your campaign and the good things I’ve said and written about you are expressions of my support. This open letter is an expression of my criticisms.

I have defended you against charges that you are not really a socialist, pointing out the fact that there are many types of socialists. Even though I am a more radical socialist than you, I think you have a right to label your politics and that right should be respected, as long as it is within reason. The legacy of Pres. Chavez also deserves that respect.

In general, I think you have failed to articulate foreign policy positions that distinguish you from those of Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, or the leadership of the Democratic Party, all of whom are true advocates and instruments of the foreign policies driven by the interests of the Billionaires and their corporations, in other words, U.S. imperialism.

How is it that you attack the Billionaire’s control of domestic policies, but not the interventionist and militarist foreign policies which they also control? How is it that you oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but not other imperialist policies?

My parents taught me to be a critical thinker. Specifically, they taught me to pay attention to what politicians say, but also be aware that they often make promises that they have no intention nor ability to keep. They also taught me to never expect that politicians will do better than what they say they’ll do. With those lessons in mind, I will continue to praise and respond to your call to build a grassroots political movement to take power away from the Billionaires and their corporations, but I have to denounce your support of U.S. imperialism, its wars, both overt and covert, the military industrial complex, the so called “Homeland Security” apparatus, and all interventions in the political affairs of other countries. These foreign policies are driven by the interests of the Billionaires and their corporations, not the interests of our people, nor the people of the world.

Sincerely yours,
Jonathan Nack
Oakland, CA

The text of Bernie Sanders’ fund raising email is below:

I don’t have a Super PAC, Jonathan. I am not going to travel around the country begging millionaires and billionaires for money. That’s just not going to happen.

But the success of our campaign certainly has the billionaires’ attention.

Yesterday, one of Hillary Clinton’s most prominent Super PACs attacked our campaign pretty viciously. They suggested I’d be friendly with Middle East terrorist organizations, and even tried to link me to a dead communist dictator.

It was the kind of onslaught I expected to see from the Koch Brothers or Sheldon Adelson, and it’s the second time a billionaire Super PAC has tried to stop the momentum of the political revolution we’re building together.

They’ll keep trying … unless we make them pay a price for their attacks.

Make the Super PACs pay for attacking us by making a $100 contribution to our campaign today. Let’s send a powerful message that we have had ENOUGH of the billionaire class buying elections.

If we stand together to fight back against these ugly attacks, we can ensure this election is about who has the best ideas, and not who has the biggest donors.

They should not underestimate us.

Bernie Sanders

Venezuela, Equality, and Oil

Recently I was invited to post blogs focusing on Latin America on the Tikkun Daily Blog. My first post is HERE, a slightly revised version of my “Ten Things I Learned from Hugo Chávez.” (NOTE: If you do a quick read of the ten headings, you may be able to spot one “tone-it-down” revision in the Tikkun version as compared to my original, here.)

I was happy to see interest in the post; there were a number of comments last week. Just now I added a comment there that I want to share on this blog too. Here is the comment:

I am adding this comment to my Tikkun Daily blog in order to provide information that gets very little attention, despite the fact that it could be a source of hope for us, given that economic inequality is growing in the United States. I looked for a source that is not likely to be biased toward Venezuela, and found this link and excerpt from the World Bank, 

Among the most important programs that oil resources have helped to finance are the broad-based social programs called Misiones. Economic growth and the redistribution of resources associated with these missions have led to an important decline in moderate poverty, from 50% in 1998 to approximately 30% in 2012. Likewise, inequality has decreased, reducing the Gini Index from 0.49 in 1998 to 0.39 in 2012, which is among the lowest in the region.

Nevertheless, Venezuela’s development continues to face important challenges, especially at a time when a contraction was recorded in international oil prices. Its economy is highly vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices since it represents over 96% of the country’s exports and generates nearly half of fiscal income.

Yes, Venezuela should not be so dependent on oil exports, and they are trying to diversify. Still, it’s a good question to ask, “Why have oil prices plummeted?” It’s primarily because of “fracking” in the U.S. Fracking uses a lot of a truly precious resource, water. It might make sense as a last resort, after we’ve done everything we can to decrease our use of non-renewable energy such as oil, and to increase our use of renewable energy. Meanwhile fracking has adversely affected not only Venezuela but many other aspects of the world economy.

McCarthyism and Anti-Naderism: There Are Alternatives to TINA

There actually are people who want to have all the power and wealth in their own hands, and so it is in their interest to make the rest of us believe we have no power, no choice. Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister in the 1980s, had the perfect phrase for it, “TINA — There Is No Alternative.” That is what they would love us to believe.

In fact, we have a lot more power than we think, and if we used the power we have — individually and collectively — we would be better off than we are now, and so would our kids and neighbors, communities and world.

Two huge alternative-smashing movements have pushed us along the path toward believing TINA. Each one intimidated millions of people into backing away from alternatives, and supporting the powers-that-be, but millions of people have started to recognize that, yes, Margaret, there are alternatives.

One of the movements was McCarthyism in the 1950s. McCarthyism made great headway toward killing off powerful organized groups — socialists, communists, and unions — that pressured FDR (President Franklin Roosevelt) to implement the far-reaching programs of the New Deal. As a result of McCarthyism, people backed away from identifying with those groups and started to believe that there is no alternative to the capitalist system they saw around them. They backed away to preserve doing the things they loved to do whether it was writing, making films, earning a living, doing civic work, helping their fellow beings on the earth.

Another huge alternative-smashing movement has been happening more recently, during the lifetimes of anyone over 20. That movement can be called Anti-Naderism, the idea that voters should not vote for candidates that “can’t win” or else they will help the candidate they don’t like. After the 2000 presidential election, the Democratic Party leadership rationalized that Green Party candidate Ralph Nader caused Bush to take the presidency rather than Gore (note that I did not say “win” the presidency). This movement pushed the idea that there is no alternative to the two huge (Titanic) political parties. These parties are corporate-funded, and therefore easily controlled by corporations and the 1% that own them.

As a result of Anti-Naderism, people feel they have no choice but to align with the Democratic Party, if that’s the rhetoric they like, or the Republican Party, if that’s the rhetoric they like. Meanwhile, those who want all the power and wealth in their own hands can easily make sure the Titanic Parties are on their side, not ours. There is evidence that instead of backing away from alternatives, people are moving forward.

We can break from the constraints of McCarthyism and Anti-Naderism. We have power to step out, learn the truth, tell the truth, not go along with the program that helps the 1%. We can gather together in cooperatives, communities, unions, and independent political parties. We have the power to vote for candidates, like Nader in 2000 and candidates in Richmond, California in 2014, who do not take corporate or developer money, and whose values and positions we want.


Green Party Should Start Local — Really?

“The Green Party should not run for President and other state and national offices. It should run candidates for local office first, and then build up to higher level offices.” How often have I heard that? Many, many times, including recently after I posted the blog “Bernie Sanders and the Sheepdog Approach.”

I know the advice is well-intentioned, and it sounds reasonable and rational. The only problem is, it doesn’t work. Our political system is not reasonable and rational.

I’ll say this up front: blaming third parties for their weakness is like blaming poor people for their poverty. Sure, we make mistakes, some of them huge. But the system doesn’t cut us any slack — quite the reverse — unlike the slack it cuts the so-called winners of politics and society. Just a few examples of “slack” (in alphabetical order): air-time for your point-of-view, bail-outs, beneficial rulings, corporate welfare, favorable treatment, payback contracts, payback legislation, prejudice in your favor, subsidies both visible and behind-the-scenes. The list goes on.


NOTE: When I say Democrats and Republicans I am talking about the PARTIES not the INDIVIDUALS, recognizing that the values and behaviors of the parties and the individuals are different. As a form of short-hand I’ll call the Democratic and Republican Parties the Titanics, and the other parties the Alternatives.

1. Electoral rules necessitate runs for higher office. Currently electoral laws keep Alternatives off the ballot in about half the states. State laws vary, and one typical way to maintain a ballot line and be a legitimate political party is to achieve a certain percentage of votes in a statewide race. In general, if an Alternative presidential campaign obtains one-time ballot access and then receives about 2% of total votes in the state, a new ballot line is created. Then Alternative candidates can run for offices from school board to sheriff to US congress. (For more details, see the end parts of Bruce Dixon’s sheepdogging articles, HERE and especially HERE.)

2. Local winners switch from Alternative to Titanic. The greatest and saddest example I know is San Francisco. In the 2000s the Green Party had the wonderful success of having six local office holders. However, five of them switched before taking the next step in their political careers. Matt Gonzalez switched to independent, while Jane Kim, John Rizzo, Christina Olague, and Ross Mirkarimi switched to the Titanics. Could the Green Party have done better in its support of the elected officials and candidates? Yes. Did the Titanics make them offers they couldn’t refuse? Yes.

As a matter of fact, after winning many lower level elections, Bernie Sanders switched from Alternative to Titanic to run for higher office. By the way, if you have it in you to run for local office as an Alternative, do not let any of this stop you. We need you.

3. They fight you just as hard at the local level. Speaking of Matt Gonzalez, as a Green Party candidate for mayor of San Francisco in 2003, he came within 5 percentage points of beating Gavin Newsom. Not only did Newsom outspend Gonzalez 6 to 1, but he brought in a powerhouse of Democratic notables to fight off the terrible threat of a major city having a Green mayor. I don’t think any city facing the terrible threat of a Republican takeover had these folks come to town: Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jesse Jackson.

4. They refuse to initiate important national and state policies. Probably by now everyone can come up with a pretty good list of national policies that Alternatives were the first to promote (abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, eight-hour workday, public schools, child labor laws, and programs like Social Security and Medicare). Only later did the Titanics get behind them. In my personal experience, I know for sure many people first heard about State Banks because of my 2010 Green Party run for Governor. Maybe that’s why they arrested me outside a gubernatorial debate. Or was it because I brought up Prop 13?

5. Major problems of the cities and counties can only be solved at the state and national level. Constrained by state and national laws, localities don’t even have the power they need to balance the budget. In California, cities are stuck with raising revenue by increasing parking fees and traffic tickets, and asking the voters to pass parcel taxes. Whether you own a mansion or a hut, you pay the same exact same dollar amount each year on the “parcel.” Prop 13 is the problem, and in 2010, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman were not talking about keeping only the good parts of Prop 13 and reforming the bad parts that devastated California’s public schools and universities and other public goods.

6. Why not run as a Titanic to get elected and then implement needed solutions? As a Titanic, you have to toe the line, or you will be treated like an Alternative. And as a Titanic, you either take money from corporations and developers, or you benefit from corporate money flowing through the party (unless you’re in the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which runs slates of Greens and Democrats who pledge to take no corporate money, and who have beaten Chevron-backed candidates). You take money from corporations and you essentially work for them. You cannot turn your back on the boss and stay in office.

7. Voters and media focus on President, maybe Governor and Mayor. Many people’s relationship to politics begins and ends with President. There is some focus on Governor, on the Mayor’s office, as well as on Congress. There’s very little attention paid to the rest. By the way, I never want to discourage anybody from voting. My attitude is to use every bit of power we have toward creating a better world. Our voting is an important power, or else why would they keep trying to take it away? My advice to make voting quick and easy is to only vote for candidates who take no money from corporations and developers. That’s how you identify the candidates who are on your side, not the side of the 1%.

8. Alternative parties get attention and motivation through runs for higher office. Nader’s presidential runs starting in 1996 put the Green Party on the map, although there was a huge backlash. (I am working on a piece comparing Anti-Naderism and McCarthyism as to their effects of eliminating Alternatives and keeping us where the powers-that-be want us.) Jill Stein’s presidential campaigns have been a huge boost for Greens across the country. When the Green Party of California ran its first full statewide slate in 2002, Greens were questioning the wisdom of running statewide. At the same time, the local parties wanted us — I ran for State Controller — to come to town to help their locals gain some traction. The state party had seven hard-working volunteers. That’s not a bad thing.

9. People want to vote for values and policies they want. Sometimes when I was wavering about the wisdom — or personal comfort — of running for state office, people would implore me to run so they would have someone to vote for.

10. Bottom line: follow your heart. Take the path life leads you to. If your energy points you in a certain way, go there and hopefully you and your compadres won’t hold you back. There are lots of problems and lots of solutions, plenty of ways to use our own unique combination of gifts and wounds (let’s face it, our wounds help make us who we are) so that we can make a worthwhile contribution to a better world.

* * * *
What do you think? Did I miss some ways the system fights the idea of Alternatives running local and building up?



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