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Bernie Sanders, the Media and 2020

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Assuming Bernie Sanders decides to announce another presidential run, he’ll be helped by the fact that he’ll now be the front-runner in the Democratic primaries: Joe Biden is the only potential foe with similar name recognition.  No other Democrat has the grassroots activist base that Bernie does through his organization, Our Revolution, plus numerous Bernie-related organizations like Organizing for Bernie, which has already started campaign organizing.  Nonetheless, he will need to make some campaign adjustments this time around.  Vermont’s prodigal son lost the Democratic nomination to a historically weak candidate (who subsequently was defeated by a senile game-show host).

Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party ruthlessly undermined Sanders’ chances, going so far as to consider smearing the Jewish Sanders as an atheist in religious states’ primaries, receiving leaked debate questions ahead of time, and smearing his supporters as sexist “Bernie Bros” (which Hillary recycled from her 2008 campaign against Obama and his “Obama Boys”).  There’s no evidence that the Democratic Party will be any more welcoming of Sanders this time around, what with the myopic centrism that party stalwarts Pelosi and Schumer continue to trot out in the face of an undeniable progressive swing within the party.

Bernie Sanders likewise faces a strong obstacle in the mainstream media (MSM).  At first, they largely ignored his 2016 campaign.  When he was propelled to the public consciousness thanks to online media and word-of-mouth, the MSM switched gears to smearing Bernie non-stop.  This was most infamously evidenced on March 6-7, when the Washington Post ran 16 consecutive hit pieces against Bernie in 16 hours. Reasonable policy proposals like universal healthcare -which is a reality in every other industrialized nation- were dismissed as being “unrealistic”.  Pundits inevitably conflated Bernie’s policy platform with Venezuela and failed Communist (i.e. not democratic-socialist) regimes.  Bernie will doubtlessly face similar dishonest framing in the 2020 Democratic primaries.  The talking heads will proclaim that only a “realistic” candidate like Joe Biden or Kamala Harris can appeal to centrists and independents.  If Bernie wins the Democratic nomination, then the MSM will ratchet up the Nordic socialism=gulags framing, arguing that Trump, for all his flaws, helped to “revitalize the economy” via stock market growth and lowered unemployment.

Thus, Bernie Sanders needs to be much more aggressive for 2020.  Hillary had many glaring vulnerabilities that he courteously chose to ignore, like her “damn emails”.  Civility didn’t win him the nomination and, as Hillary learned in Nov 2016, it won’t win you an election against Trump.  Republicans win the White House by embracing a schoolyard bully mentality.  Reagan beat Carter and Mondale by framing them as liberal pansies; George H.W. Bush had the dog-whistle Willie Horton ad; his son used a similarly racist claim to defeat John McCain in the 2000 primaries, then twisted John Kerry’s decorated war service into a story of treason in 2004; Trump was the meanest meanie of them all.

Bernie doesn’t need to be a bully so much as a street fighter.  He will have to run an endless gauntlet: mischaracterization by the MSM, attacks from more centrist candidates, libelous attack ads from billionaires terrified of his reformist vision, and then the final boss, Trump.  The key will be to hit back every time- but through constructive criticism.  Any time someone tries to use Venezuela as a scarecrow against his platform, he needs to point out facts, like how every other industrialized country has universal healthcare.  If a candidate bankrolled by abusive-towards-employees companies like Wal-Mart and Amazon tries to label a $15 minimum wage as economic suicide, the Bernie campaign needs to point out that the minimum wage is $13.61 in Luxembourg and $18.93 in Australia.  If a columnist writes that Bernie “has a problem” with people of color, Bernie needs to point out that he has the highest approval rating among people of color… a margin that’s at least double that of any candidate besides Biden.

Luckily, Bernie has a circle of highly media-savvy friends who can help represent him on TV, social media and through op-eds, such as Nina Turner and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  The Vermonter has had three years to analyze the arguments and smears used against each of his policy proposals and perceived electoral weaknesses.  The aforementioned Ocasio-Cortez has shown what kinds of arguments to expect against marginal tax rates, which are a necessity for any of Bernie’s major proposals.  In this particular case, you just have to do the hard work of explaining how marginal taxation works; since most Americans don’t understand such vagaries, they are susceptible to the pundits on Fox who imply that a billionaire’s entire income is taxed at the top marginal rate.

Such blatant dishonesty demonstrates the need to hit back at the media, in particular.  Trump beat the MSM smear machine through radical lies.  Sanders can do likewise, but through radical honesty.  The Sanders team not only needs to correct the record whenever someone in the media lies about or mischaracterizes one of Bernie’s positions, but explicitly point out the bad intentions of the pundit.  Trust in the US media has been declining for decades and spikes especially hard during election years.  In 2016, a record low 1 in 3 Americans expressed trust in the media.  Trump understood this reality and used it to frame himself as a hero fighting the corruption of the corporate media.

Bernie has the credibility, through his remarkable ideological consistency and refusal to accept corporate donations, to point out that six corporations control 90% of the US media and that they are incentivized to attack his reforms.  These six companies depend on ad money from Big Pharma, the military industrial complex, the oil companies and the health insurance companies to survive, and must therefore attack anyone who threatens these financial interests.  Bernie can point out that these six new corporations uncritically published the bogus intel that got us into the Iraq War, called torture “enhanced interrogation”, proclaimed that the economy was doing fine right before the recession hit, dropped the ball on covering the Standing Rock protests, etc.  Americans want to vote for someone who embodies the word “leader”: someone willing to stand up to the corrupt establishment that wrecked the economy and created endless wars in the Middle East, and someone willing to speak hard truths.  Trump did the former and convincingly pretended to do the latter and thus won the necessary credibility among voters.

The Bernie campaign must be similarly strict in regards to rival candidates.  As the frontrunner, everyone will be aiming at the target on his back.  Letting a dozen-plus make uncontested shots against you can easily lead to death-by-a-thousand-cuts.  In the poll position, one shouldn’t strike preemptively.  When attacked however, a counter-punch must be considered on the bases of the strength of the attacker and the attack.  For example, if Kamala Harris starts intimating that Bernie is disconnected from voters of color, he would be justified in responding, based on the potential harm of the smear and the prominence of the opponent.  Bernie could respond by pointing out that Harris (while CA Attorney General) fought against repealing the death penalty, marijuana legalization, police brutality accountability and overturning the convictions of 600 wrongfully accused.  If Biden tries to lecture Bernie about “electability”, he can respond by pointing out the former VP’s tone-deaf defense of oligarchs, school segregation and bashing of young people.  By establishing a good clap-back game early on, Bernie can scare candidates (especially weaker ones) into avoiding him.  Trump was able to develop this helpful aura during the GOP primaries; his rivals tended to focus either on attacking weaker candidates or toadying up to Trump in an attempt to win over his supporters.

Fortune favors the bold.  You don’t win the US Presidency by letting your opponents drag your name through the dirt.  Bernie is exceptional at explaining- and selling- his policy goals to sold-out arenas.  He’s still vulnerable with centrists and the politically disengaged.  Thus, he must be willing to not only articulate, but defend, his vision.  Bernie and his base have been smeared as racist, sexist, out of touch, delusional, weak on foreign policy, Communist and a thousand other things.  The anti-Bernie hit pieces are already appearing on TV and in the newspapers and he hasn’t even declared his campaign yet. Bernie must respond to criticism with constructive counter-criticism by pointing out the hypocrisy and laissez-faire fallacious arguments of his opponents.  Americans want to vote for a fighter… someone who will fight for them.

Russell Whitehouse is Executive Editor at IntPolicyDigest. He’s also a freelance social media manager/producer, 2016 Iowa Caucus volunteer and a policy essayist.

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U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie

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Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last time, it was a U.S. president, George W. Bush, who dishonestly took America into a conflict, but that at least was against a weak Third World nation. The consequences were still disastrous: thousands dead and tens of thousands of wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi civilians, trillions of dollars wasted, and a Middle East in flames.

But what Zelensky would do is much more serious, writes “The American Conservative”. He called the Poland strike “a really significant escalation” requiring a response, even though the issue would have nothing to do with Ukraine had the missile been launched by Russia.

In this case, entry into the war could trigger a major conventional conflict highlighted by use of tactical nuclear weapons, or even the use of strategic nuclear strikes around the globe, from Russia to Europe to the U.S. That would be a catastrophic result for all concerned, including Ukraine.

But the missile was not from Russia, and the U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie. Upbraiding Zelensky, as Biden apparently did, isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first unsettling surprise by Ukraine for Washington. While the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge was legitimate, it could escalate the conflict in dangerous ways for the U.S. So too could strikes in border Russian regions near Belgorod, and the assassination of Daria Dugina, a Russian propagandist, not combatant.

If Ukraine were operating entirely on its own, such actions would be its business. However, it has succeeded beyond any expectation only because of allied, and especially U.S., support for the Ukrainian military.

Washington also should further open diplomatic channels with Moscow, as appears to be happening, at least to some degree, given reports of CIA Director Bill Burns meeting with his Russian counterpart last week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have also engaged with Russia, but such conversations need to be broadened to discuss possible political accommodations.

The U.S. also needs to address the Europeans, especially its most fervent hawks, who tend to be among the most lightly armed.

For instance, the Baltic states — small nations with minimal armed forces and niggardly defense efforts for governments claiming to be under imminent threat of conquest — are regarded as the most likely to engage in “freelancing,” as when Lithuania sought to block traffic between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Everyone knew who would be ultimately stuck fighting the war that might result if Moscow’s forces had decided to shoot their way through, and it wasn’t Vilnius.

It is easy to sacrifice someone else’s lives and money, which is essentially what most U.S. “allies” believe is their role in both bilateral and multilateral security partnerships. Washington submissively agrees to defend them, as is its duty; they generously agree to be defended, as is their right. That relationship is no longer sustainable.

America’s foreign aid should be tailored to American interests, and Washington should rethink what has become an increasingly dangerous almost “all-in” proxy war against Russia.

The U.S. should scale back military aid to Kiev, and especially Europe.

Operating as Europe’s patsy is a serious problem, even in peace.

The time for the Europeans to take their defense seriously is long overdue. But that will happen only when Washington stops doing everything for them. America’s military remain busy around the world. The Europeans should secure their own continent, relieving the U.S. of at least one needless military responsibility.

Zelensky’s misleading missile gambit reinforces the necessity of a change in course for Washington.

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Thanksgiving, The World Cup and Sports Celebrities

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Forty-six million turkeys surrender their lives so Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is an occasion where traditionally families gather together for a scrumptious meal of turkey and trimmings, numerous side dishes and pumpkin pie, followed by … college football on TV — that is American football, a game somewhat similar to rugby. 

The holiday is meant to commemorate the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims who ventured to America gave thanks for a good harvest.  It was a time when a poor harvest could have meant famine in winter.  Never now in our sophisticated world where we import grapes from the southern hemisphere (Chile) for consumption in winter and many fruits are available year round.

This year there is the added entertainment of the soccer World Cup in Qatar, being played out in eight  purpose-built stadiums, seven new and one refurbished.  Most will be converted for other uses after the event, a change from the past.  

The US now has a team that held England, where the game was invented, to a draw.  The favorites remain  the Latin American powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but the Europeans can on occasion pull off a surprise.

Why certain games are popular in one country and not another is difficult to explain.  India and China, the world’s most populous countries, are absent at the World Cup.  On the other hand, India is a powerhouse in another British game: cricket.  And China remains a top performer at the Olympics.

The crowd turning out for cricket matches, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan remain unmatched by other sports played there, even field hockey where the two countries have also been fairly successful. 

Leveraging sports celebrity into a political career is also possible but success on the cricket pitch may not always be transferred to administrative competence.  Imran Khan’s innings as prime minister led to members of his own party defecting, and ended when he lost his parliamentary majority.

Still attracting large crowds of supporters who are entertained at his rallies before he himself appears, he is asking his supporters to march to the capital — echoes of another leader this time in the US, Donald Trump, who has just announced a bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has been secretly recorded planning illegal tactics and barred from holding political office by the courts in Pakistan.  Exactly how he plans to rule if his party or coalition were to win is not clear — by proxy perhaps.

If all this is not enough, he has become notorious for doing U-turns on policy leaving his party members and supporters scrambling in his wake — a reminder if ever there was of the old Chinese curse:  “May you live in interesting times.”

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Ron Paul: Biden Administration accept that it has a “Zelensky problem”

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Last week the world stood on the very edge of a nuclear war, as Ukraine’s US-funded president, Vladimir Zelensky, urged NATO military action over a missile that landed on Polish soil.”

This is a comment from the prominent American political leader Ronald Ernest Paul was for many years the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. Three times he sought the Presidency of the United States: once as the Libertarian Party nominee and twice as a candidate for the Republican Party. He continues in his comment:

“But there was a problem. The missile was fired from Ukraine – likely an accident in the fog of war. Was it actually a Russian missile, of course, that might mean World War III.

‘While Zelensky has been treated as a saint by the US media, the Biden Administration, and both parties in Congress, something unprecedented happened this time: the Biden Administration pushed back. According to press reports, several Zelensky calls to Biden or senior Biden Staff went unanswered.

‘The Biden Administration went on to publicly dispute Zelensky’s continued insistence that Russia shot missiles into NATO-Member Poland. After two days of Washington opposition to his claims, Zelensky finally, sort of, backed down.

‘We’ve heard rumors of President Biden’s frustration over Zelensky’s endless begging and ingratitude for the 60 or so billion dollars doled out to him by the US government, but this is the clearest public example of the Biden Administration’s acceptance that it has a “Zelensky problem.”

‘Zelensky must have understood that Washington and Brussels knew it was not a Russian missile.

‘Considering the vast intelligence capabilities of the US in that war zone, it is likely the US government knew in real time that the missiles were not Russian. For Zelensky to claim otherwise seemed almost unhinged. And for what seems like the first time, Washington noticed.

‘As a result, there has been a minor – but hopefully growing – revolt among conservatives in Washington over this dangerous episode. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene introduced legislation demanding an audit of the tens of billions of dollars shipped to Ukraine – with perhaps $50 billion more in the pipeline.

‘When the Ukraine war hysteria finally dies down – as the Covid hysteria died down before it – it will become obvious to vastly more Americans what an absolute fiasco this whole thing has been,” writes Ron Paul.

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