The Intercept series on Biden is marred by omissions and even State Department disinformation. Known for his exposés of Blackwater and the U.S. dirty wars in the Middle East, The Intercept reporter Jeremy Scahill’s latest blockbuster is a series on Joe Biden’s history as an “empire politician.” The series is impressive and informative, however, it […]
Archive for category: Electoral
In his Wednesday night address to a joint session of Congress, President Joe Biden made a quiet but sustained case for a different sort of American economy. He called on lawmakers to pass major pro-union legislation and recast the fight against climate change as a matter of more jobs for Americans. Going by his prepared remarks, Biden said the word “jobs” 43 times in all.
“Wall Street didn’t build the country,” Biden said. “The middle class built the country, and unions built the middle class.”
As with all things Biden, the speech seemed intended to evoke a nostalgia for the New Deal; and as with all things Biden, it did so tamely—even, yep, sleepily. The middle section of the speech was a recitation of familiar policy proposals that, taken together, amounted to a radical rethinking of the role of the government in people’s lives. It was revolutionary stuff, presented as dully as possible—the New Deal on Ambien.
Biden advocated for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would make it more difficult for employers to discourage unionizing. He called for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help ensure gender equality in wages. He called for climate change solutions that amounted to, as he said, “jobs, jobs, jobs.” He also called for increasing the minimum wage to $15, Democrats having failed in their efforts to do so via the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package passed last month.
The American Jobs Plan, his proposed economic recovery act, would seek to employ Americans building green infrastructure to fight climate change. “There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing,” Biden said.
The era of big government is far from over, he seemed to be saying between the lines. Pushing his potentially groundbreaking progressive agenda in a style so dry and uninflected that it seemed to put Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to sleep, Biden was proposing a new common sense, and he made a point of taking a shot at the old one.
“Trickle-down economics has never worked,” he said, jabbing at Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump’s tax cuts, “and it is time to grow the economy from the bottom and the middle out.”
By 2020 it had become obvious that traditional social democracy had been comprehensively defeated throughout Europe. Will it survive in some form or other, after the pandemic? Perhaps in Sweden, where it is still in power, but it is in deep trouble even there.
If, as Gramsci said, ‘the old is dying and the new cannot be born’, what is the ‘old’ that is on the way out? And is there something new on the horizon? Identifying the defunct ‘old’ is relatively easy. The ‘old’ that has gone is the kind of social democratic and liberal consensus that prevailed in the West in the thirty years after 1945, the so-called Soziale Marktwirtschaft, the social market.
The social market was supposed to create a national community which, though its members were still unequal in income, wealth and educational level, was sufficiently cohesive to make living under advanced capitalism better than living under any other kind of social system. The cost was not huge at a time of full employment, in what were the golden years of capitalism, the Trente Glorieuses as the French economist Jean Fourastié labelled them in 1979.
This almost generalised unity began to break up in the 1980s and 90s, but only in the last twenty years or so has it begun to affect the post-war party system by weakening the traditional centre-left and centre-right. In 1997, social democratic and labour parties had been in power in eleven out of the fifteen states that were then EU members. Just over twenty years later, these parties were barely in power in only a handful of countries. The social crisis has turned into a political crisis: morbid symptoms galore.
Setbacks in Scandinavia
If the once celebrated Swedish model now makes a sad spectacle for social democrats, the rest of Scandinavia can only be described as an iceberg of tears. Under the Social Democrat prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, an exponent of the so-called ‘Third Way’, Denmark participated in NATO bombing missions in Libya, cut taxes for the rich as well as welfare payments, and in 2014 sold shares in DONG Energy (a state company) to Goldman Sachs and others (who made a 150 per cent profit when they sold up three and a half years later).
The sale wrecked the government and, a year later, Thorning-Schmidt was out of power, paving the way for a weak centre-right coalition supported by the far-right Danish People’s Party. Soon there was a new shift to the left and in 2019 the Social Democrats were back in power in a coalition government which includes various left and centre-left parties, but this party has been unable to obtain much more than a quarter of the vote in the past twenty years. Its presence or absence from government depends on the performance of other parties.
In Norway, the Labour Party was for a long time regarded as the natural party of government. Becoming more and more enamoured of the market economy, it privatised public assets, cut the health service and helped the rich to get richer. In the 2001 election it obtained its worst result ever (24.3 per cent). It has been in opposition since 2013.
In Iceland, one of the countries hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis, the Social Democrats, who had over 30 per cent of the vote as recently as 2003, were reduced to 5.7 per cent at the 2016 elections, their worst result ever, gaining only a miserable three parliamentary seats. They regrouped a year later, but were now the third party. Complicated negotiations followed, leading to a government under the Left-Green Movement leader, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, in coalition with the Independence Party and the centre-right Progressive Party. It is a heterogeneous and precarious alliance.
In Finland too, in 2015, the Social Democrats obtained their worst results with 16.5 per cent, becoming the fourth party, and muddling through in opposition. At the April 2019 elections they slightly recouped, becoming, by a whisker, the first party. The Social Democrat leader Sanna Marin formed a five-party coalition leaving as the only opposition the Finns Party.
Ups and downs in Portugal
When we move away from what used to be regarded as the stronghold of European social democracy, matters are even worse for the traditional left. Sometimes it loses to the far right, sometimes to the far left. In Portugal in the late 1990s, the Socialist Party was in power, continuing with alacrity the privatisation policies of its predecessors. It was eventually able to meet the criteria for membership of the eurozone with the kind of creative accounting that prevailed in Greece and Italy.
At first, under António Guterres (now UN secretary-general), there was substantial economic growth, but this had abated by 2002. Then the Socialists were out of office and the conservatives (the Partido Social Democrata) under José Manuel Barroso (once a Maoist, later president of the European Commission, and now non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs), formed a coalition. This achieved almost nothing and made way for the Socialists’ landslide victory in 2005.
The Portuguese economy slumped even further, wages barely increased (and remained well below those of the rest of Western Europe), while unemployment shot up. The global downturn of 2007–08 made matters even worse. The Socialists almost lost the 2009 election. At the 2011 elections they were comprehensively trounced.
In 2015, on 32.3 per cent of the vote, the Socialists were able to form a government only because the Eurosceptic ‘Left Bloc’ and the equally Eurosceptic Unitary Democratic Coalition of Communists and Greens agreed to support them. In spite of widespread scepticism about the stability of this ‘left’ coalition Portugal has done relatively well, with a reasonably high pre-pandemic growth rate. The government engineered an economic recovery, halved unemployment (though it was still high) and eliminated the budget deficit in 2018 for the first time in over forty years.
The Socialists consolidated their position in the 2019 election, while the conservatives had the worst result in their history. The situation remains extremely unstable, not only because Portugal is poor and its economy in difficulty but because voter turnout has shrunk spectacularly: from over 90 per cent when democracy was established in 1975 to only 48.6 per cent in 2019.
Implosion in Spain
In Spain disaster struck the PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español – Socialist Workers’ Party) in 2011, when it suffered its worst defeat since the return of democracy. In April 2019 it celebrated as a ‘victory’ the 28.7 per cent it obtained. Yet in 1982 the party had 48 per cent of the vote, one of the highest percentages ever gained by a social democratic party in post-war Europe.
Popular discontent with the socialists as well as the conservative Christian-democratic Partido Popular (People’s Party, PP) manifested itself with the surge of two new parties, the leftist Podemos and the liberal Ciudadanos (Citizens). This led to the collapse of the two-party system. In 2019, after four elections in four years, the result was a weak coalition between the PSOE and Podemos.
The economy played a major part in the crisis of the established political parties in Spain. In the twenty years prior to the global financial crisis, Spain grew more rapidly than the EU average. The opposite happened after 2007: growth plummeted, unemployment massively increased, there were more poor people, and the distribution of income was even more unequal, while private debt skyrocketed. Austerity policies simply made things worse.
Manoeuvrings in Italy
In Italy the Partito Democratico (PD) was part of the social democratic ‘family’, and heir to the Communist Pary. But it was soon completely ‘de-communised’. The unrepentant communists survived in formations such as Rifondazione Comunista, but to secure parliamentary representation Rifondazione has had to forge alliances with other even smaller entities.
The PD itself is hardly a ‘real’ social democratic party, whatever that may mean, since it is a melange of ex-communists and various groups, parties and remnants of parties, including progressive liberals and Catholics who have no roots in anything resembling a socialist tradition.
The 2018 Italian elections were dominated by the immigration issue, even though the main problem was unemployment, especially youth unemployment. The results were a victory in percentage terms for the Eurosceptic and anti-immigrant Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement), but the centre-right coalition won the largest number of seats, though not a working majority. The leading party within this coalition was now the far-right Lega, which outdistanced Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and this party, in alliance with Movimento Cinque Stelle, formed a government.
Not for long, however, since Matteo Salvini, leader of the Lega, assuming he could force a new election and outdistance the Movimento, was ousted by the Movimento itself, which simply switched sides and forged a shaky alliance with the centre-left Partito Democratico. So shaky it was that it collapsed in 2021 – another victim of the debacle over Covid – and the former head of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi, became the prime minister of an even more unlikely coalition which includes almost everyone except the far left and the far right.
Disaster in France
At the French presidential election of April 2017, the official Socialist candidate, Benoît Hamon, only managed to obtain 6.3 per cent of the vote and was out in the first round, coming fifth, after the ‘neither left nor right’ candidate Emmanuel Macron, the far-right Marine Le Pen, the moderate-right François Fillon and even the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon.
Two months later, in the first round of the legislative election, the Socialist Party along with its allies achieved 9.5 per cent, less than the Front National and Mélenchon’s ‘La France Insoumise’. This was the most disastrous result for the Socialist Party in the entire history of the Fifth Republic, with the exception of Gaston Defferre who got only 5 per cent in the presidential elections of 1969.
In Germany it was no better. The SPD spent twenty years either as a junior partner in a Christian Democrat-led coalition under Angela Merkel or in opposition. At the general election of 2017 it mustered a miserable 20.5 per cent of the vote – its worst result ever, half what it had in 1979. The true winners were the far-right AfD, who became the third party. The anti-establishment vote was particularly pronounced in the former East Germany, where the far-left party Die Linke did better than the SPD, while the AfD did better than the CDU.
Merkel’s Christian Democrats too had their worst results since 1949 and found it difficult to form a government with liberals and Greens once the SPD decided it would not be part of a new coalition. Then the SPD changed its mind. After over five months of painful negotiations, a new CDU-SPD ‘grand coalition’, or GroKo, finally emerged. Today Germany is gearing up for a general election. With ‘mutter’ Merkel gone, instability will be exacerbated. Opinion polls suggest a poor result for the CDU while the Greens might emerge ahead of the SPD.
The situation is even more dismal for the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA). At the 2021 elections it obtained 5.7%, the same as in 2017. It is now the sixth party in the Netherlands, well after four parties of the centre, centre-right and far right and even just below the leftist Socialist Party.
A wrong turn
It is always risky for a political party of the left to accept so much of the agenda of the right. Most social democratic parties sooner or later embraced a policy of austerity, allowed wages to stagnate and inequalities to increase, and privatised public services to an extent unimaginable thirty years ago. They allowed inequalities to increase and did not dare to tax the prosperous beneficiaries.
In the UK relatively few households receive an income well above the average GDP per person. The top 0.1 per cent number only 50,000 people in a population of 65.5 million. Since no one can win an election by favouring the top 0.1 per cent, let alone the top 10 per cent, even conservatives are worried. In fact, the UK is much more unequal (in terms of the ratio of the top 1 per cent to median income) than Germany, France, Italy or Spain.
The struggle against inequality could have been an obvious social democratic card to play. Instead, these parties opted for what they thought was caution: pandering to the dominant pro-market ideology. And so, they lost the game. Politics has become a circus in which everyone turns to whoever is available, following Bismarck’s cynical dictum (in a letter to his wife): ‘One clings to principles only for as long as they are not put to the test; when that happens, one throws them away as the peasant does his slippers.’
This is an edited excerpt from Morbid Symptoms: Anatomy of a World in Crisis, out now. Donald Sassoon is Emeritus Professor of Comparative European History at Queen Mary, University of London, and the acclaimed author of The Anxious Triumph, The Culture of the Europeans, One Hundred Years of Socialism and Mona Lisa, all widely translated.
Imagine this news flash: the campaign manager of Joe Biden’s presidential bid throughout the 2020 race was in continuous and covert contact with a Chinese intelligence officer whom had once been her business associate. During these clandestine communications—which included secret meetings—she passed internal Biden campaign polling data to the Chinese operative, and the operative encouraged her to help advance a Chinese proposal that would allow Beijing to succeed in its territorial disputes in the South China Sea and further extend its influence there. And throughout this all, China was running an undercover operation to help Biden win.
Ka-boom! There would be headlines galore. The right-wing media would go bananas. Fox News would explode. Sean Hannity might lose the power of speech. And congressional Republicans would demand investigation upon investigation. There would be talk of impeachment.
Well, this did happen. Just not with Biden and China, but with Donald Trump and Russia during the 2016 election. Yet this key piece of the Trump-Russia story never became a major scandal for the former president, who has not stopped claiming (falsely) that all talk about Vladimir Putin’s attack on the 2016 election and the ties between his campaign and Russia is a “hoax.” Nevertheless, on Thursday, another critical and eye-popping element of this part of the Trump-Russia scandal was revealed by the US Treasury Department.
The Treasury announced it was slapping sanctions on “16 entities and 16 individuals who attempted to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election at the direction of the leadership of the Russian Government.” One of the targets on this list was Konstantin Kilimnik, who it identified as a “Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf.” The announcement stated that during the 2016 election, Kilimnik provided Russian intelligence with “sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy.” It also declared that Kilimnik “sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The Treasury Department pointed out that in 2018 Kilimnik was indicted on obstruction of justice charges regarding his unregistered lobbying work related to Ukraine and that he has been assisting Viktor Yanukovych, the ousted corrupt president of Ukraine, who is now hiding in exile in Russia. Kilimnik, according to the department, has been conniving to return Yanukovych to power in Ukraine.
The Treasury announcement explained that Kilimnik was being sanctioned for “having engaged in foreign interference in the U.S. 2020 presidential election” and for “acting for or on behalf” of Yanukovych. It noted that the FBI has offered a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to his arrest. What precisely Kilimnik did to try to influence the 2020 race was not detailed. In March, the Office of Director of National Intelligence released an unclassified report that concluded that Putin in 2020 launched a covert assault on American democracy to help Trump retain the White House, and the Treasury statement refers to that document.
What Treasury also did not spell out was that Kilimnik had been in league with Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for part of 2016. Kilimnik was a former business associate of Manafort; the pair had worked together in Ukraine, when Manafort was making millions of dollars as a consultant for the Putin-friendly Yanukovych. During the 2016 campaign, Manafort secretly interacted with Kilimnik and handed him internal polling information from the Trump campaign, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report and the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Trump-Russia scandal, which was released last year (and was endorsed by the Republicans on the committee).
The Senate report included damning revelations about the Manafort-Kilimnik relationship. While Mueller characterized Kilimnik as an “associate” of Russian intelligence, this report called Kilimnik a “Russian intelligence officer.” It noted that it had “obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the [Russian military intelligence] hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election” to aid Trump. The intelligence committee pointed out that Manafort had repeatedly shared “internal Campaign information with Kilimnik,” but that its investigators were “unable to reliably determine why Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy with Kilimnik or with whom Kilimnik further shared that information.”
The Treasury Department announcement provided a partial answer to the mystery of what Kilimnik did with the information Manafort slipped him, noting he transferred it to Russian intelligence.
So here’s the bottom-line: Manafort passed inside info from the Trump campaign to Kilimnik, and Kilimnik gave it to Russian intelligence, which at the time was mounting a covert attack on the 2016 election to thwart Hillary Clinton and boost Trump. No collusion? Manafort was scheming with a Russian operative, as the Kremlin was trying to sabotage American politics to assist Trump.
The Senate report noted that this was not just a one-way street. During the 2016 campaign and even after, Manafort discussed with Kilimnik a proposal for resolving the conflict in Eastern Ukraine—which Russia had invaded—that benefited Moscow. Kilimnik was trying to use Manafort, and through him Trump, to advance Putin’s interests related to Ukraine. After Trump won in 2016, Kilimnik said in an email to Manafort that the Ukraine plan only needed a “wink” from Trump to succeed. The Senate report also stated, “Manafort worked with Kilimnik starting in 2016 on narratives that sought to undermine evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S.” Trump’s top campaign man was part of an effort to cover up—or distract from—the Kremlin’s attack on the United States.
The committee stated it wasn’t certain it had fully uncovered all that was going on between Manafort and Kilimnik because the pair used encrypted communications. But the GOP-led panel did present a shocking conclusion: Manafort was a “grave counterintelligence threat.”
The top adviser to a successful presidential candidate “a grave intelligence threat.” How is that not a big deal? It deserved to be a scandal of its own, apart from the other portions of the Trump-Russia mess. Manafort was indeed prosecuted, convicted, and sent to prison for various corruptions related to his consulting work for Yanukovych. But in the end, Trump pardoned him. The president of the United States set free a “grave intelligence threat.” That, too, was a scandal that barely registered.
The news out of Treasury about the sanctions on Kilimnik is a sharp reminder that the Trump campaign did hobnob with Russia as it assaulted an American election—and that Trump, Manafort, and others essentially got away with it.
“No matter how many PR statements Big Business puts out, its complicity with the antidemocratic forces that want to
On Thursday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio shared a video of himself insulting Delta Airlines officials as “woke corporate hypocrites” because the company had issued a statement opposing a new law that will make it harder for many Georgians to vote. In a strange line of logic, the Florida senator seemed to argue that the law, which among other restrictions bans non-poll-workers from distributing water to waiting voters, was not as bad as genocide against Uighur Muslims in China, where Delta also does business, and therefore should not be subject to the company’s reproach. “They make billions of dollars in a country that doesn’t even have elections…and they don’t say a word about it,” Rubio argued, “but in America they’re prepared to boycott a state and condemn them publicly…They’re hypocrites.”
The sparring between the GOP and corporations comes after pressure from Black activists.
Other right-wingers soon piled on. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi argued that Coca-Cola, which, like Delta, is based in Atlanta, was “caving to the ‘woke’ left” by condemning the Georgia law. “Unelected, multinational corporations are now openly attacking sovereign U.S. states & the right of their citizens to secure their own elections,” Stephen Miller, a White House adviser to Donald Trump, added on Twitter. “This is a corporate ambush on Democracy.”
Georgia looks to just be the opening salvo in a confrontation between top Republican officials and big corporations over voter suppression measures this year: Lawmakers in dozens of states are now considering similar bills, and Black activists, worried about the potential impact on their communities’ votes, are pushing corporate executives to take a stand. Next up after Georgia could be Texas, where the state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would, among other steps, impose statewide limits on polling-place hours and ban widely used ballot drop boxes. Later that day, American Airlines and Dell, both based in Texas, put out statements opposing the state’s new bill. “Instead of seeking to limit access, governments should provide innovative pathways for citizens to have their voices heard,” Dell said in a statement. “We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it,” American Airlines added. Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who supports these voter restrictions after Trump baselessly claimed voter fraud led to President Biden’s victory, promptly returned fire. “Texans are fed up with corporations that don’t share our values trying to dictate public policy,” he said in a statement.
The sparring between Republicans and corporations, to be clear, is not a result of top executives’ altruism. As the New York Times reports, Black activists pressured companies to protest the Georgia law after it passed last month, arguing that corporate America had remained far too quiet. “We are all frustrated with these companies that claim that they are standing with the Black community around racial justice and racial equality” but don’t take action, LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told the Times. She joined protesters on March 25 at the Atlanta airport to call for a boycott of Delta, and to urge the airline’s chief executive to use his power in the voting rights debate. “They are complicit in their silence,” she said. Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, speaking at a rally outside Georgia’s capitol that week, also threatened to boycott companies that did not take a stand. “[O]ur position is, if you can’t stand with us now, you don’t need our money, you don’t need our support,” he said.
If the Texas bill passes the House and is signed into law, it’s unclear if Dell or other companies that oppose it are prepared to take additional steps. It’s also unclear exactly where else the battle will go—though with 361 measures that would restrict voting access being pushed in 47 states, the possibilities are considerable.
As these feuds continue, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, a Black pastor who was elected in January after Georgia’s progressives came out to the polls in big numbers, hopes companies don’t back down. “I’ve seen these corporations falling over themselves every year around the time of the King holiday, celebrating Dr. King,” Warnock said last weekend. “The way to celebrate Dr. King is to stand up for what he represented: voting rights.”
Democracy Corps found that Trump loyalists were “angered most of all by Black Lives Matter and Antifa”