Berning Down Wall Street

I don’t know where this will end but every time I write about a book on Bernie Sanders, somebody sends me a larger one. At least my arms are getting stronger from lifting the things. One point is clear to me: if the media ever wanted to catch up on all the coverage of Bernie’s campaign that it has foregone, it could do it with a minimum-wage staffer reading aloud from books — reducing the need to find corporations opposed to oligarchy to buy the advertisements. The reporting is in books, it’s just not in newspapers or boob tubes.

The latest is Bernie: A Lifelong Crusade Against Wall Street & Wealth by Darcy G. Richardson. Like the last one was, it is now the most substantial reporting I’ve seen on Bernie’s political career. It also does the most to include the voices of Bernie’s critics from the left (see Chapter 1). In addition it, by far, includes the most information on Bernie’s foreign policy actions, good and bad, over the decades. The book is a bit too heavy on horse-race coverage of each of Sanders’ past elections for my taste, but people who like that stuff will eat it up.

Having written elsewhere today about public diplomacy by towns and cities, I was particularly struck by Richardson’s chapter titled “International Diplomacy,” which covers, not Bernie’s career in Washington, but his time as mayor of Burlington, Vt. It is safe to say that when it comes to foreign policy Bernie was better then than he is now, was better then than any current mayor in the United States, and was better then than possibly any other mayor ever. I say that while continuing to condemn the horrible things he did, including arresting peace activists for demanding conversion of weapons jobs to peaceful ones.

Mayor Bernie denounced the Pentagon budget, explained its local relevance, demanded nuclear disarmament, opposed apartheid in South Africa, and sought to improve U.S.-Soviet relations. “We’re spending billions on military,” he said, touching on a theme that today he wouldn’t prod with a $10 billion screw out of an F-35. “Why can’t we take some of that money to pay for thousands of U.S. children to go to the Soviet Union? And, why can’t the Soviets take money they’re spending on arms and use it to send thousands of Russian children to America?”

Mayor Bernie backed a successful ballot initiative telling the U.S. military to get out of El Salvador. He denounced the U.S. attack on Grenada. The Burlington Board of Alderman voted to encourage trade between Burlington and Nicaragua, in defiance of President Ronald Reagan’s embargo. Mayor Bernie accepted an invitation from the Nicaraguan government to visit Nicaragua, where he spoke out against U.S. war mongering, and from which he returned to a speaking tour letting Vermonters know what he’s seen and learned. He had also set up a sister city relationship for Burlington with a city in Nicaragua. He led an effort that provided $100,000 in aid to that city.

Again, articulating basic common sense wisdom that he wouldn’t come near today for love or the presidency, Mayor Bernie Sanders said, “Instead of invading Nicaragua and spending tremendous amounts of tax dollars on a war there, money which could be much better used at home, it seems to me that it would be worthwhile for us to get to know the people of Nicaragua, understand their problems and concerns, and see how we can transform the present tension-filled relationship into a positive one based on mutual respect.” Just try to imagine Senator Sanders saying that about the people of Syria or Iraq.

Richardson’s book is of course largely devoted to the topic of taking on Wall Street greed, on which Sanders has been stellar and consistent for years and years. But we do also catch glimpses of Sanders’ evolving foreign policy from his opposition to the war on Vietnam (which was more serious than other books have suggested) through to his proposal that Saudi Arabia “get its hands dirty” and kill more people. At the time of the Gulf War, Sanders was far more hawkish than a simple look at his No vote on invasion suggests. He supported the troop build up and the deadly embargo. He backed the NATO bombing in Kosovo. He opposed until very late any efforts to impeach Bush or Cheney.

But on the matter of Wall Street, Sanders has been as good in the past as he was in this week’s speech. He warned of the danger of a crash years before it came, and questioned people like Alan Greenspan who brushed all worries aside. He opposed repealing Glass-Steagall. He opposed credit default swap scams. He opposed the appointments of Timothy Geithner and Jack Lew. His “big short” was perhaps to stay in politics until it became clear to all sane people that he’d been right on these matters, as on NAFTA and so much else. His favorite book in college, we learn, was Looking Backward. He found the root of most problems in capitalism. He developed a consistent ideology that makes his growing acceptance of militarism stand out as uniquely opportunistic and false.

By that I most certainly do not mean that he is a candidate for peace strategically pretending to be for war, as many voters told themselves about Barack Obama on even less basis. When Bernie was good on foreign policy he campaigned promising to be good on foreign policy. As his performance worsened, so did his campaign promises. Any elected official can be moved by public pressure, of course, but first he’d have to be elected and then we’d have to move him — something millions of people have taken a principled stand against even trying with President Obama.

One note in Sanders’ defense: Richardson cites a rightwing newspaper article claiming that Bernie and his wife together are in the top 2 percent of income earners. It’s worth noting that were that true it would not put them anywhere at all near the top 2 percent in accumulated wealth. It also seems to be an extreme estimate on behalf of the author of a sloppy article. Another source places the Sanders in the top 5 percent in income, while noting how extremely impoverished that leaves them by the standards of the U.S. Senate.

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  • jadan

    Swanson: the Pentagon and Co are not the lest bit threatened by the statue you have erected to yourself, the bold activist in his super hero outfit on his pedestal, who despises lesser mortals that don’t live up to his standards of outspokenness. They smile and warn new recruits against your delusional thinking. They are much more threatened by Bernie, however, when he declares that he is going to call for a thorough DoD audit. Not some banal anti-war proclamation, just a lil ol audit! Bernie understands militarism a whole lot better than you do….

    • kimyo

      Bernie understands militarism a whole lot better than you do….

      perhaps then he could explain his support for the f-35 program. must be some kind of adroit strategy there that i fail to grok.

      we went thru this with obama. he promised to shut guantanamo. what makes you think sanders is going to be any different? hope? change? please.

      Pentagon’s big budget F-35 fighter ‘can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’

      The U.S. military has grounded all its new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters following an incident on June 23, when one of the high-tech warplanes caught fire on the runway of a Florida air base. The no-fly order — which affects at least 50 F-35s at training and test bases in Florida, Arizona, California and Maryland — began on the evening of July 3 and continued through July 11.But there’s real reason to worry. The June incident might reflect serious design flaws that could render the F-35 unsuitable for combat.

      For starters, the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 — which can avoid sensor detection thanks to its special shape and coating — simply doesn’t work very well. The Pentagon has had to temporarily ground F-35s no fewer than 13 times since 2007, mostly due to problems with the plane’s Pratt & Whitney-made F135 engine, in particular, with the engines’ turbine blades.

      “The F-35 is double-inferior,” John Stillion and Harold Scott Perdue concluded in their written summary of the war game, later leaked to the press. The new plane “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run,” they warned.

      • jadan

        You’ll have to clarify the vote. Was it specifically for funding this useless item or was it some kind of huge bill covering all sorts of things? Do you know that Sanders approves of the F-35, or are you repeating some heresay? How is Sanders different from Obama? He’s had a long career with policies well known and you can read one of these biographies people send to Swanson ( and I don’t know why they do, either, since he doesn’t like Sanders, but only admires hopeless idealists like Jill Stein, MD ). The main difference is that Sanders is not a creature of the CIA. Obama’s mother was an agency asset, as were her parents, and he is himself a well-crafted political creation in an utterly corrupt political culture. Sanders is his own man. If you can’t tell the difference, I don’t give a fuck…you probably won’t vote anyway…

        • kimyo

          the epitome of wasteful, useless military hardware is the f-35. in his own words:

          Bernie Sanders Doubles Down on F-35 Support Days After Runway Explosion

          Bernie Sanders: “No, and I’ll tell you why – it is essentially built. It is the airplane of the United States Air Force, Navy, and of NATO. It was a very controversial issue in Vermont. And my view was that given the fact that the F-35, which, by the way, has been incredibly wasteful, that’s a good question. But for better or worse, that is the plane of record right now, and it is not gonna be discarded. That’s the reality.”

          if he cannot recognize that the f-35 program is a failure, he’s not qualified to be president.

          • jadan

            Sanders does have a point. You think we should invest 1 trillion or more and then just say the hell with it, take it to the scrap heap? That’s the quality you want in a president? But why do you care? You’re a Jill Stein supporter, aren’t you?

          • kimyo

            we didn’t invest $1 trillion. so far, the damages are $400 billion.

            let’s not waste another $600 billion (likely to balloon to more than another cool trillion, n’est-ce pas?)

            the quality i want in a president is common sense. i’d settle for the common sense of a typical 10 year old at this point.

            How This Shitty Jet Could Provide 23 Years of Free College for Everyone

            The F-35 is the epitome of Pentagon waste and cronyism. The US has already spent roughly $400 billion on the jet, made by top defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The Pentagon has already promised to buy 2,443 jets for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines in an effort to “modernize” the current fleet of fighter jets.
            In 2008, the RAND corporation tested the F-35 in a simulated air battle with China, and graded the F-35’s performance as “double-inferior,” warning in its report that the F-35 “can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.”

            On the other hand, the estimated cost of tuition-free college for all US students enrolled in public colleges and universities is approximately $62 billion, when accounting for all tuition dollars paid at those schools. That’s actually $7 billion less than the federal government spent on federal aid programs for college students in 2013. If we were to do away with the F-35 program, completely revamp the way our government funds higher education, and start from scratch, we could allocate $62 billion in funding for tuition-free college every year for the next 23 years.

          • jadan

            CNBC:”But DOD has sunk so much money into the F-35 — which is expected to cost $1.5 trillion over the 55-year life of the program — that the Pentagon deemed it “too big to fail” in 2010.” The damages are closer to 1T as we speak. This boondoggle is typical of DoD programs. Sanders has promised to call for an audit of the DoD. He means what he says. Now enough of this. Apparently you have time to waste….

          • kimyo

            it’s not about me, not about whether or not i have time to waste. it’s not about david swanson’s ego.

            you spend most of your time here discussing our various personality flaws. why are you avoiding a frank discussion of sanders’ positions?

            those of us who suspect he’s PART of the mic, and thus CANNOT be part of the solution would be ecstatic to learn that we were in error.

            deliver the goods! it should be easy enough. i see him as just another chicken hawk, sending young americans off to their deaths in pointless war after war. am i wrong?

            ps: re: having time to waste – yup, just a $1.5 trillion boondoggle which will never fly in combat, ‘nothing to see here, move on’. you lack a sense of perspective.

          • JerseyCynic

            jadan I really wish you would curb the outright attacks (especially on CHS). It’s over the top and very distracting. Why do you devote so much of your time reading blogs and posts by people you don’t agree with? It’s obvious you are very passionate about world affairs – I love you for that. But — I’m beginning to wonder if you’ve got some super duper “nasty phrases” button on your computer? Maybe some quick app “attack mode” plug in? What’s Op? I’m sorry if I’m out of line here but I gotta ask: Did your mom ever mention anything along the lines of……”if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone…….. JUST SHUT THE FRONT DOOR??? or…..

  • Bev

    repeating a link from a comment to your previous article on Bernie Sanders:
    Identity Berned

    On the Issues

    Perhaps you should include Bernie’s site link in your articles on him. Thanks.