On paper, it must have looked like a really bad political move: an invitation any seasoned political strategist would know to politely decline. Sending your candidate to another continent just days before a crucial and tight primary is ludicrous.
The only Rome a by-the-book strategist would have sent Bernie Sanders to last Friday is Rome, New York. Fortunately, it looks like either the team behind Sanders is as unconventional and risk-taking as their candidate or Sanders was really calling the shots on this one.
Bernie’s trip to the Vatican was a political success and it was even before rumblings about a papal meeting started to surface.
One of the key accusations Hillary Clinton’s supporters have thrown at Sanders over the course of the primaries is that the Senator has no international diplomatic experience whereas Clinton, a former Secretary of State, has tons of it. While she clearly still has more, they can no longer say that Sanders has none.
Sanders was invited to the Vatican to speak at a conference on income inequality, a topic that is a regular part of his stump speech. When he was there, he was photographed chatting with Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia. So now, Bernie Sanders has chatted with world leaders and spoken at a global conference in the Vatican.
It’s what happened outside of the conference, though, that is really telling. Sanders was mobbed by the media to the point that it was hard for him to move through the crowd: the kind of treatment usually reserved for a visiting celebrity or an American President; the kind of reception President Obama got quite frequently when visiting foreign countries early on in his first term.
The imagery is palpable. Sanders is already meeting with world leaders and receiving the rockstar treatment abroad. While he wasn’t in New York campaigning, you had better believe voters in New York got to see those images.
Meanwhile in California
Clinton also took time off from campaigning in New York this weekend to have dinner in California with George Clooney and guests paying $33,400 a plate for the privilege of being in the same room as them. A photo with the pair cost $100,000.
So when Sanders was speaking out against income inequality, Clinton did her best to give the unequally wealthy special treatment in a rather over-the-top way. That irony wasn’t lost on Sanders supporters, people who make internet memes, several of which were either part of the media or the protesters themselves outside the event.
That juxtaposition, coupled with the fact that Sanders was now an international phenomenon, was enough to declare Bernie’s trip to the Vatican a huge (or rather Yuuugge) political success. But then another international celebrity entered the picture: the Pope.
Yes, Bernie Sanders Met With Pope Francis
On Friday night, the story in the mainstream media had shifted from Bernie wowing them in Rome to people making the point that he didn’t meet with the Pope. Even current Vice President Joe Biden weighed in, saying that while he thought Sanders speaking at the Vatican conference was a good thing, the Pope would not necessarily endorse him.
None of it mattered. Sanders had his international story and the fact that people, including the sitting Vice President were mentioning the Vermont Senator and papal endorsement (even to say there wasn’t one) in the same breath was an amazing victory for the Sanders camp. It went from “Hillary’s only primary threat is Martin O’Malley” a year ago to “Bernie’s almost done and should step back gracefully” a month ago to “no, he didn’t meet with the Pope and the Pope wouldn’t endorse him” on Friday.
That is momentum. That is changing the story. That is a campaign that is far from done and may go all the way to the White House. And that is all I thought I would write until I opened social media Saturday morning.
But then something I wasn’t expecting showed up in my newsfeed. Bernie Sanders had, in fact, met with the Pope. It was brief, five minutes approximately. It was at 6 a.m. in the foyer of the guest house where Sanders was staying and Pope Francis kept his residence. But it was arranged in advance.
Bernie Sanders was given an audience with the Pope. Even though Francis made it clear later to reporters on his plane that it was not an endorsement, something a head of state (the Vatican is a state) cannot do in another country’s election without causing a diplomatic incident, it was still a meeting.
This was the icing on the cake for a trip that any political operative thinking in “realistic” terms would have tuned down in a heartbeat. It turned out to be a yuuuuge success and well worth the risk.
On Friday night, protesters successfully disrupted a rally for Republican presidential frontrunnner Donald Trump. When the race-baiting businessman realized that anti-Trump activists made up roughly half the crowd, he cancelled the event. Then he went on the offensive. Predictably Twitter moaning about freedom of speech:
The organized group of people, many of them thugs, who shut down our First Amendment rights in Chicago, have totally energized America!
First, Trump clearly doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand, that the right to free speech enshrined in the US Constitution (the states doesn’t have hate speech laws like we do in Canada, where Trump could probably be charged) doesn’t work that way. As this civil rights and constitutional lawyer pointed out:
/1 The First Amendment protects citizens from the government, not from unfriendly audiences. @realDonaldTrump
What is really ironic, though, and what would really be tragic if Trump ever ended up in the White House, is that his recent rally rhetoric promotes an attack on the very constitutional right he claims he was denied on Friday.
Trump’s “Good Old Days” Were All About Suppressing Free Speech
Over the past few weeks, Trump has been encouraging his supporters to attack protesters more and more. As Rachel Maddow and others pointed out, this was most likely a deliberate attempt to provoke violence so he could claim he was the victim.
What is the most troubling about his rhetoric are his constant references to the “good old days” where there were “consequences” for protesting and protesters would most likely be “carried out on a stretcher.” To be clear, Trump misses the use of state violence to stifle dissent, to stifle free speech.
While his hypocrisy is palpable, so is the (perhaps willful) ignorance of his supporters. That they can claim to support a right while championing someone who seeks to repress it, most likely in a brutal manner, when in power, is stunning.
It’s About the People Rising Up, Not Politics
By Saturday, Trump had already named a culprit: Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. This was based, at least on the surface, on the fact that some of the protestors inside the event were vocally supportive of the Vermont Senator and completely ignored all the other protestors inside and the thousands in the student-led demo outside.
For his part, Sanders responded the best way he possibly could:
“As is the case virtually every day, Donald Trump is showing the American people that he is a pathological liar. Obviously, while I appreciate that we had supporters at Trump’s rally in Chicago, our campaign did not organize the protests. What caused the protests at Trump’s rally is a candidate that has promoted hatred and division against Latinos, Muslims, women, and people with disabilities, and his birther attacks against the legitimacy of President Obama.”
In response, Trump threatened to send his followers into a Sanders rally and now the story has basically turned into Trump versus Bernie, at least in the mainstream press. While this will help Sanders in the upcoming primaries, especially given Hillary Clinton’s lack of support for the protesters, it distracts from what is really at play here: that a group of protester, mostly people of colour, were able to stop a Donald Trump bigot love-in.
Maybe Trump can’t fathom or admit the truth, so blaming a well-organized political machine is the only way out. I think, though, that admitting it wasn’t a power play but rather a play against power makes it impossible to deny that it is the protesters who are on the side of freedom of speech.
Donald Trump’s rights were not violated Friday night, he was in the power position while seeking a greater power position. But if he becomes President, you can believe he will do his best to eliminate the right of free speech through protest for everyone.
Where do the Republican front-running prez brigade stand on food policy? What do the Democratic presidential candidates say when it comes to important food issues?
More than most other issues, food remains foundational to the wider platforms of the GOP & Democratic 2016 primary candidates. It’s reach relates to the deeper economic, environmental, foreign policy, health and labour platforms on offer.
For all the debates, media hype and fact checking, there’s been little to no discussion of food issues, let alone wider food policy. Here in Canada, it took outside advocacy groups to push for food policy in the run-up to the election.
The Eat, Think Vote campaign urged citizens to eat with their MPs to get them to pledge to tabling national food policy. Luckily, it seems the tactic worked, as the eventual majority party made good on their promise to follow through on the national food policy mandate, not to mention what we see now in mainstream press running renewed calls for this policy.
For small businesses, when it comes to food, Senator Ted Cruz promises to:
End EPA regulations like the Waters of the U.S. rule and the Clean Power Plan that “burden small businesses and farmers.”
Pass the REINS Act, “holding Congress accountable to vote on any major cost-inducing regulation.”
His platform promises to rein in the Fed, which he promises will help farmers and ranchers:
“When the dollar is high as it is today,” says Cruz, “prices tend to fall, which is good for consumers, but farmers, ranchers, and the energy industry get hurt, as do American exporters. America needs a more stable dollar.”
For income of farmers and food workers, Cruz’ flat tax policy would promise to free up income to get the economy flowing so to speak
Rubio dedicates one entire policy platform to farms. His main premise is to “get government out of the way of farmers” via curbing overregulation, cutting taxes and opening up new markets.
This includes platform to:
Repeal regulations on farmers and ranchers. This includes undoing the EPA ‘Waters of the U.S. Rule’ which Senator Rubio pledges will “dramatically expand federal control over ponds, ditches and streams.” Other regulatory repealing includes cutting carbon mandates, to open up what he calls “swathes of productive land off-limits for agriculture or other beneficial development.”
Cut the punitive “death tax” on farmers. This is part of his larger tax plan. This will free up cashflow for farmers and ranchers, e.g. “to immediately write off the cost of new machinery and equipment.”
Oppose new taxes on energy. Senator Rubio promises to fight cap-and-trade in order to decrease costs for farmers. This falls under his wider energy plan.
Open new markets for farmers and ranchers. This would be supporting pushing for “timely completion of trade agreements to boost exports for US farmers and ranchers”
Democratic Presidential Candidates Policy on Food Issues
Democratic 2016 presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) has the most lengthy public platform relating to food. In several sections of his platform, he touches food issues. In particular, food policy is explicitly mentioned in the platform he calls “fighting for the rural economy.”
Broadly speaking, Bernie Sanders supports:
Farm policies that foster the new generations of owner-operators.
Upholding land stewardship standards that include the commonwealth of clean water for all.
Sanders promises the following outcomes from the platform of his farming and food policies:
Make sure that family farmers and rural economies thrive;
Expand support for young and beginning farmers; 3
Produce an abundant and nutritious food supply;
Establish an on-going regeneration of our soils;
Enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship to keep our air and water clean and to combat climate change.
Specific food issues and food policy fit into Senator Bernie Sanders’ rural communities, farm agriculture, & renewable energy platforms. Here are the top lines:
Supports to agriculture
Senator Bernie Sanders promises to “fight for America’s small and mid-sized farms.” In particular, he pledges platform policy to:
Expand services of the D for new and underserved farmers. Says Sanders, this department should “live up to the name” it was given by Lincoln, who called it the “People’s Department”
Encourage growth of regional food systems. Senator Sanders pledges to invest into local farmers who sell “directly to local consumers, institutions, and restaurants.”
Reverse trade policies, e.g. NAFTA that he says “have flooded the American market with agricultural goods produced in countries with less stringent environmental, labor, and safety regulations.”
Enforce US antitrust laws against large agribusiness and food corporations. Senator Sanders pledges to “stand up to corporations” to make the prices that farmers receive more fair. He wants to prevent “few large companies” that “dominate many agricultural industries, allowing them to force unfair prices on farmers.”
Renewable energy investment
Several energy policies impact farmers, ranchers and small food businesses, not to mention food to plate distribution. Senator Sanders is particularly firm on this matter. His platform says it will:
Increase investments in wind energy to “substantial” degree
Make the Wind Production Tax Credit permanent.
Invest into biofuels, e.g. ethanol. Sanders calls these an “economic lifeline to rural and farm communities in Iowa and throughout the Midwest, supporting over 850 000 workers, all while keeping our energy dollars here at home instead of going into the pockets of oil barons.”
Support the Renewable Fuels Standard
Though not directly related, Sanders speaks fully on rural US improvements, which has huge impact on farmers, ranchers and the future of food quality & distribution. Senator Sanders pledges to:
Improve the electric grid. “We desperately need to improve our aging rural electrical grid, which consists of a patchwork system of interconnected power generation, transmission, and distribution facilities, some of which date back to the early 1900s,” says Bernie Sanders.
Invest in high-speed Internet services for rural folk to improve infrastructure, e.g. for farmers.
Improve dams, most of which facilities exist in rural areas. His Rebuild America Act will invest $12 billion per year to repair “high-hazard dams that provide flood control, drinking water, irrigation, hydropower, and recreation across rural America; and the flood levees that protect our farms and our towns and cities.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her US presidential candidacy for the Democratic party, does not specifically offer food policy improvements. Certain issues for food production, distribution, farmers & ranchers crop up in her other platforms.
She does have a platform on renewable energies, some of which touches directly farmers and food production. Secretary Clinton promises to:
Reform leasing on public lands. This includes to “reform fossil fuel leasing and significantly expand clean energy production on public lands, from wind in Wyoming to solar in Nevada.”
Promote clean energy leadership and collaborative stewardship.
Fully fund programs to provide help to “producers who conserve and improve natural resources on their farms, strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard, and double loan guarantees that support the bio-based economy’s dynamic growth.”
Her labour and minimum wage policy touches food workers, in particular. These fast food workers started the minimum wage campaigns which Secretary Clinton pushes:
Raise the minimum wage and strengthen overtime rules.
Support raising the federal minimum wage to $12
Support to raise further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts
Support workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, “such as the Fight for 15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.”
Support the Obama expansion of overtime rules “to millions more workers.”
Clinton promises broadly in her rural policy to raise agricultural “production and profitability for family farms.” Vaguely, she mentions that:
Farmers and ranchers supply food for America’s dinner tables, invest in farm machinery and supplies, and provide domestic energy resources that fuel small businesses. The agriculture economy also drives America’s larger economic success—accounting for about $800 billion in economic activity each year.
Yet her policies do not go into specifics, except to:
Increase funding to support farm succession. This support would supposedly include “the next generation of farmers and ranchers, invest in expanding local food markets and regional food systems, and provide a focused safety net to assist family operations that truly need support during challenging times.”
Panelists Ethan Cox, Josh Davidson and Jerry Gabriel discuss student tribunals at Concordia, the US Primary Season and Justin Trudeau’s statement that pipelines will pay for green energy. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha
During the first Democratic Debate a few months ago, all the candidates were asked a rather simple question: “Black Lives Matter or All Lives Matter?” The moderator called on Bernie Sanders first and the Senator answered simply “Black Lives Matter” before addressing the issue of racial injustice in America.
While Hillary Clinton spoke of racism as well, she dodged the actual question, perhaps afraid to attach herself to a protest movement that mainstream white America wasn’t sure about. Sanders had no problem throwing his support behind Black Lives Matter that night and he still doesn’t.
On Thursday, his campaign released their latest ad, though you wouldn’t know it was a Sanders ad (aside from the logo in the bottom-right of the screen) for the first two minutes and 37 seconds of the 3 minute and 56 second spot. For most of the ad, Erica Garner talks about her daughter, fighting racism, her father Eric Garner who was murdered by police and her work with Black Lives Matter.
This is a very powerful and moving ad and one which flips the script on standard campaign advertising, making it more about the story of the person supporting the candidate than the politician. It is also rather slick and clearly professionally produced. This ad wasn’t made on the cheap.
It has now become clear that the hefty amount of small donations pouring into the Sanders campaign are being put to good use. Even if Bernie doesn’t become president or even win the Democratic nomination (though I really hope he does both), he is helping to spread the Black Lives Matter message in a way that only a well-funded presidential campaign can.
Bernie is putting the issues and the message first. Maybe that’s why Garner says in the video “I think Bernie is a protester.”
Panelists James Douglas and Niall Ricardo discuss the success of Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic Primaries, the state of the Montreal theatre scene and Roosh V, the so-called “pickup artist” who recently got doxxed and pretended to cancel a series of meet-ups. Plus an interview with Montreal feminist Katie Nelson who was part of a group who thwarted Roosh’s Montreal meetup, the Community Calendar and Predictions!
* Please note that this was recorded prior to the New Hampshire Primary
Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha
James Douglas: Montreal theatre scene veteran, FTB contributor, member of the People’s Gospel Choir of Montreal
As the news set in over Iowa yesterday, flashbacks of Monday night’s Democratic and Republican primaries were playing on loop on every TV screen in the state. The most amazing development, that made its way to every morning talk-show throughout the nation, is that Socialism and Social-Democratic ideals have taken center stage in a Democratic Primary for the first time since probably Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal agenda.
As Noam Chomsky said last week, Bernie Sanders is far from being a Marxist-Leninst in any way, unfortunately for the red-baiting Clintonites and Republicans who would love to mark him as such, but his showing in Iowa is nothing short of revolutionary and it says a lot about the current shift within American society. This is manifest in the exhilarating progression of Sanders’ claim on the Democratic nomination and the way he went about opening up an avenue to victory.
From the day Bernie Sanders launched his presidential bid, it seemed by current standards he was doomed to run within an unequal playing field without any of the perks of the American political system such as private financing and Super PACs. But Bernie’s unorthodox take on politics went well beyond just political financing when faced with and compared to the “Trump insurgency” in the Republican camp.
Bernie took a completely divergent path. For every outlandish xenophobic comment Donald Trump made, the Sanders camp refocused their message on the profound class divisions that divide America and it seemed to hit a nerve.
Despite what some of Clinton’s most vocal supporters have stated in the past few weeks, Bernie is in fact the anti-Trump movement. Anti because he succeeds where Trump fails in giving a voice to the preoccupations of the American working-class, precarious youth, impoverished racialized communities throughout the United States and large swathes of marginalized Americans.
This is evident when you compare Trump and Sanders’ speeches last night. Trump’s was all form, no content. Sanders’ was a vision to channel frustration, to build on the anger, to convert it into hope. Where Trump’s populism is merely an orgy of self-fulling masturbatory rage, Bernie converts the righteous indignation of his supporters over a rigged system and a broken economy into the energy that has fueled his rise. Where Trump’s support evaporates, Bernie’s support solidifies.
The foundation of the Bernie Sanders phenomenon resides in the fact that he has quite skillfully crafted a new gravitational center within the Democratic Party with new political reference points and mobilized a different political rhetoric using the symbols that had resonated with American during the Occupy Movement.
Bernie Sanders, like his Spanish counterparts in Podemos, understands that with left-wing populism rooted in concepts and mottos like the 99% versus the 1% and the have-alls versus have-nots, properly framing a new paradigm is essential to hatching a viable anti-establishment movement.
Marx, in the 19th century, spoke of the revolutionary subject, a concept that would influence Marxist and critical theory for decades. For Marx, writing from the deepest bowels of the European Industrial Revolution, the revolutionary subject of his age, on which all of his theory revolves, was the nascent European working-class. One of the most amazing developments yesterday, beyond the fact that a self proclaimed democratic socialist got 49.6% of the vote in an Iowan democratic primary, is the proof that the conceptualization of a new revolutionary subject in North American advanced capitalism isn’t a far-fetched idea.
The coalitions that led SYRIZA to victory last year in Greece and Podemos to victory in Spain, the political coalition that brought Evo Morales to power and the Venezuelan social movement at the backbone of the Bolivarian revolution, although existing within very distinctive sociopolitical environments, have striking parallels. Youth, urban poor and precarious minimum wage workers were at the forefront of these diverse movements.
What pushed the SYRIZA, Podemos and Latin American movements to seize power was that they broadened their horizons and political constellations. That will be the Bernie Sanders phenomenon’s ultimate test. Can this movement pick-up stream in South Carolina among African-American voters? Among Latino voters in Nevada?
Bernie needs to break the Clinton hegemony in these groups and truly integrate questions of racial justice and speak to the issues that affect women and women of colour in particular. He must tackle the hypocritical idea that a candidate financed by America’s biggest financial institutions, those which maintain a corporate patriarchal system with obscene levels of pay inequality and back up the prison-industrial complex, is somehow more apt to speak on issues of gender and race inequality.
While the shockwaves Bernie sent right through the spine of the Democratic National Committee are marvelous for us left of center spectators, the real landmark accomplishment is that a whole generation of Iowa caucus goers identified a self-proclaimed socialist as their champion. For the political left in Canada, Bernie’s showing in Iowa and his campaign in general is a call for us to re-think our strategy.
A while back, after SYRIZA’s victory in Greece, the Tyee featured an article that begged the question: “Is a Canadian SYRIZA possible?” I don’t know if it is, or even if that’s what we should want, knowing what happened to them. A Bernie Sanders-type movement, however is possible in Canada.
The success of Bernie’s brand of nominal Socialism is reason for some on the Canadian left to reconsider their so-called third-way-ism, but beyond that Bernie’s tackling of Clinton can give us ideas on how to tackle the fluffy progressiveness of the Liberals. Also, his polarization of the political debate can teach us how redefine the political debate here in Canada, allowing the emergence of a true left-wing, right-wing divide.
We have a lot learn from Bernie’s emergence within the saturated American political spectrum.