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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/5/16

Critical National and Global Challenges: Dems in Philly Fail to Confront Corporate Power

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Philly was feisty from 'tude in the street to the battles in the convention arena. Yet while official events highlighted diversity and 2016 platform planks long championed by Sanders, the rhetoric against corporate power -- in the ironically titled Wells Fargo arena -- was often feeble. The Democratic Party and Clinton must convincingly commit to priorities championed by Sanders and the left on the climate, war, agriculture, a living wage, and trade. The time is now.


In Philly, much of the movement I saw on these critical issues was outside. At a steamy climate rally, Green Nobel Prize winner Berta Caceres' daughter Laura Zuniga CÃ ceres stepped in the legacy of her mother with the "It Take Roots to Change the System People's Caravan," seeking to bar police and military aid pending investigations into human rights violations. Musicians, artists, and activists watched Josh Fox's film "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change" on the eve of the Convention. At City Hall, Sanders' delegates delivered a moving presser urging superdelegates to vote for him, citing solid stands on the TPP and health care. Daily marches to FDR Park shut down Broad Street with peaceful Bernie supporters holding signs against fences and chanting to delegates arriving by train (who, after Monday, were inexplicably redirected to not pass protestors). Dr. Jill Stein high-fived me before cheering us on the language of this broader movement, just minutes later we raced for cover in a spirit-salving monsoon. Global Women spoke out at the DNC and moving art included Zoe Leonard's "I want a dyke for president" and RocktheVote's work by Keith Haring, Banksy and Shepard Fairey who reimagined the possible. Yet convention and inside-the-Beltway speakers were less inspiring.

Laura Zuniga Cáceres at the Democratic National Convention
Laura Zuniga Cáceres at the Democratic National Convention
(Image by Veena Trehan)
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Much of what happened inside Wells Fargo played as counterpoint to the Republican National Convention, even as they reprised Sanders' motto "Love Trumps Hate." Many speeches sought to highlight the humanity of the Democratic Party and of Hillary. The religious fundamentalism and xenophobic rhetoric of the RNC certainly deserved an urgent, if loving, counterpunch. But the need by the DNC to humanize a party and candidate also stems from Democratic policies that have, at times, greatly harmed people as they have failed to call out catastrophic global priorities of their corporate backers.

So while we celebrate our strong opposition to a "Christian" anti-poor, anti-woman platform, and laud the critical gains made on college education, health care, and other Sanders' issues, Americans must collectively echo his truth to power. From Pope Francis to anti-austerity movements worldwide to Sanders, citizens seek societies rebuilt on the "common good." Right wing and corporations push back, but instead of ceding, we must continue our progress.

We must recognize our platform and rhetoric is highly regressive. It falls unimaginably short of tackling the unprecedented challenges we face in 2016: circumstances largely there for our unwillingness to prioritize people and the planet above corporate gains. Many positions are particularly horrifying when measured against the yardstick of other developed, more democratic nations. And the events of the past two weeks only amplify worry that Democrats will fail to confront power to radically reshape our world.


Evaluated against the morality of human rights, our inherent call to compassion, and a desire to stem violence, our foreign policy has been catastrophic. The good news is now we are finally admitting it. Sanders -- and ironically Trump -- raised issues of our terrible record abroad during the primaries. It continued during the Convention as chants of "No More War" greeted former CIA Director Leon Panetta and later Convention speakers (the latter were met with shouts, as ordered, of U-S-A which felt as scarily nationalistic as a Trump rally.) Since the Convention's end, we've embarked on a new phase of bombing Libya, citing support for the government (one of three). Yet neither the 2001 Authorization of Military Force nor an immediate threat can be used as justification. And while the initial attacks on Syria featured a three-week, heavily pro-war biased discussion, the time for discussing new wars has apparently shrunk to zero.

It's not like we have a great track record. Our illegal wars have brought unimaginably tragic geopolitical consequences. The Iraq invasion, which resulted in an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians losing their lives in the first 18 months and 650,000 by October 2006, led to the subsequent destabilization of Syria by the flow of regional extremists and American-supplied arms. Then the mass devastation of Syria led to about 10 million Syrians being displaced as part of the largest refugee crisis since World War II. It overwhelmed neighboring and accessible nations, promoted the rise of the right-wing across Europe and contributed to Brexit.

"Bombing People Causes People to Hate You" of course. Strong pushback to "world is our battlefield" policies helped both Sanders and Trump rise as they questioned our endless wars, NATO involvement, potential no-fly zones and Latin American record. It is impossible to justify the current state of drone warfare with no valid domestic authorization or compliance with international law. Yet the Convention and platform was strong on hegemonic bluster (even condemning the free speech of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (?!)), with little to say about drone warfare, mass surveillance, settlements,and casualties (children, civilian, or otherwise). Clinton's hawkish record in Latin America and the Middle East seems to portend greater violence.

In addition to a vigorous debate on foreign policy, this nation needs a mental shift in which we accept the truth about our past and today's realities. We need to accept we've contributed to the deaths of tens of millions abroad, in many cases toppling democratic governments. Ignoring this reality in the name of unquestioning "patriotism" has only spread and intensified violence. Independent investigations should be done on Iraq, torture, and drone warfare. But also we need to change our mindset: we need to eliminate the unreasonable expectation that there will be no attacks in America by anyone who has any sympathy with movements abroad. None of us reasonably expect zero violent deaths a year or no car accidents: we know the price we would pay for destruction of civil liberties and our economy would be too great. The stoicism and perseverance of the "Mothers of the Movement" must be our own. For the enormous misallocation of resources represents the degradation of our dreams: weapons could be traded for school supplies (or plowshares), instead of destabilizing oil-rich countries we could create a sustainable nation, and our government employees could rebuild our infrastructure and health.


Perhaps most broadly called out issue at the DNC was trade with no-TPP signs, pins, and chants over multiple days. Three trade deals -- TISA, TTIP and the TPP -- loom on the horizon. Democratic leaders have offered notably mixed signals on the TPP, with the other two being irrationally ignored. Tim Kaine praised it less than a week before being chosen as Hillary's running mate. He was also one of a small minority of Democrats who voted for fast track authority. Hillary Clinton has also praised the TPP many times, saying it "set a gold standard" with statements by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue saying that she will support it in the White House. Her TPP-related mails are oddly being held til after November. After a bitter fight, language describing terms of good trade made it into the platform. Yet the Democratic Platform does not take a solid stand against any of these agreements or condemn a vote in the lame duck session on the TPP, despite opposition of all three major presidential candidates.

Of the three deals, the TPP has received the most attention, garnering broad opposition from public advocates. More than 450 environmental, landowner, indigenous and other organizations oppose it as it would threaten the climate imperative of keeping the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground. How? Most notably through investor state tribunals by which corporations would be able to sue for lost future profits. TransCanada has sued the US government for $15 billion for nixing the unpopular, climate-destroying Keystone XL Pipeline. Other such cases include corporations bringing over 600 cases against 100 governments. Thus this provision alone would likely chill efforts to pass future labor, environment, climate, labeling, and advertising laws in the public interest. More generally, "NAFTA on steroids" -- written by corporate lobbyists rather than those working in the public interest -- would not increase American jobs, would limit critical access to pharmaceutical drugs, and otherwise expand environmental degradation. Additional fights won democratically or gathering momentum would be crushed also.

These trade deals do not serve mankind. They are not based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or compliant with international labor law. They threaten critical climate and environmental priorities. Indeed our food sovereignty and safety, jobs, and the very ability to govern ourselves -- including ensuring our planet remains viable -- would be traded for a boost in corporate profits. And thus all must continue the fight in the lame duck and beyond against trade deals affecting all aspects of American lives.


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Veena Trehan is a DC-based journalist and activist. She has written for NPR, Reuters, Bloomberg News, and local papers.
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