Back in the USSR

 

Imagine having a government that cares about average people, helping keep them safe during an emergency and ensuring that the costs of the crisis fall upon the members of society with the most?

You don’t know how lucky you are.

The Russian government, led by Vladimer Putin is quietly setting the example for competent governance that puts the average Russian citizen first as opposed to ours which serves of the wealthy and powerful.

Of course, you’d be hard pressed to learn of such information if you depend on the corporate media, who’ve spent the last fours years in a nonstop hue and cry about the perfidy of the dastardly Russians and the their evil leader bad-Vlad. In fact they’re still hard at work demonizing the Russians, even in the midst of the pandemic.

What’s amusing is that it doesn’t take Russia or any foreign government to highlight the way in which the Coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that the incompetent sociopaths who rule us are far more concerned about Wall Street profits than the American people, and for all intents and purposes have turned our country into the worlds largest corporate sacrifice zone.

The recent bailout demonstrated the priorities of President Trump and the thoroughly corrupt Congress. Congress just passed a $2 trillion stimulus package for which the American taxpayer will be held entirely responsible. Even worse, the new legislation contains a $500 billion allocation that the Federal Reserve will use as a capital base for borrowing $4.5 trillion. That massive sum of money will be used to buy toxic bonds in the corporate bond market, and fund underwater banks and hedge funds. These financial actors have gorged on the cheap money provided by the Fed for the last 12 years through Quantitative Easing (QE), in the process speculating on numerous socially destructive endeavors. The most pernicious misallocation of capital has been the shale oil boom driven by drillers with access to this unlimited supply of money. In the process they poisoned the water table and despoiled millions of acres, but who’s counting?

The larger problem is that the mis-investment in fracking was magnified by derivatives stacked upon derivatives like a ticking time-bomb.  The virus was merely the proximate cause. The problem had been festering for years and everyone in the financial community (including the Fed, the BIS and the IMF) knew that it was only a matter of time before it would explode.

Hence Trump’s phone call. On Monday Donald Trump called Russian president Vladimir Putin to discuss plunging oil prices that are wreaking havoc on America’s shale oil industry. The two leaders talked briefly about the coronavirus pandemic but quickly switched to Trump’s real concern which is oil production.

The phone call has gotten almost no coverage in the American media, which is to be expected since there’s no way to spin an incident in which an American president is clearly pleading to “evil” Putin for a favor.

While US leaders focus on the plunging stock market and exploding derivatives, back in the USSR, Russia, Putin has settled on a more rational and compassionate plan. He’s going to launch a relief program that actually focuses on the people who need it the most. Then, he’s going to cover the costs by taxing the people who are most capable of shouldering the burden.

Here’s an excerpt of the speech Putin delivered last week. “We also need to take additional steps, primarily to ensure the social protection of our people, their incomes and jobs, as well as support for small and medium-sized businesses, which employ millions of people….

First, all social protection benefits that our citizens are entitled to, should be renewed automatically over the next six months… if a family is entitled to subsidized housing and utility payments, they will not need to regularly confirm their per capita income to continue receiving this state support…all payments to war veterans and home-front workers timed to the 75th anniversary of the Great Victory, 75,000 and 50,000 rubles, respectively, should be made before the May holidays…

Second, it is essential to support families with children……..Third, we need to support those on sick leave and people who have lost their jobs.” 

It’s apparent that Putin understands that the health and welfare of the Russian people has to be put before the stock market, finance capital or sleazy corporate CEO’s. In contrast, Trump wants to put more people at risk of infection by sending them back to work after Easter.

In America, we make labor pay for the excesses of capital, while in Russia, the wealthy are asked to make sacrifices for the sake of the country. Which approach do you think is better?

Americans have been so propagandized in favor of rugged-individualism that they probably would rather die on the sidewalk than accept single-payer health care but the pandemic looks to seriously challenge that notion.

Meanwhile, trust in our feral elite and the corporate media is already waning. The lies about Washington’s wars—“weapons of mass destruction,” “Iranian nukes,” “Assad’s use of chemical weapons”—and the Russia-gate hoax, have seriously undermined the credibility of Washington and the US print and TV media.

However, it’s hard to get an old dog to learn new tricks. Imagine the reaction of the corporate media if Trump emulates Russia’s response in the aftermath of his phone call to Putin?

Jeebus! If you thought Russia-gate was bad, you ain’t seen nothing.

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Financial Feudalism

 

The Wall Street Crash of 2008, the bailout, and the Fed’s Quantitative Easing (QE) intensified inequality in America.

And now they’re getting the band back together.

Behind all the focus on the human toll of the pandemic there are quiet moves being made on Wall Street and corporate boardrooms to effect another bailout of the reckless financial institutions and companies that are underwater due to their risky bets and stock-buybacks.

Corporate and financial lobbyists are hard at work promoting all kinds of bailouts. You might have heard that Uncle Sam is gonna mail you a $1200 check but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Congress is considering a multi-trillion dollar bailout plan, an attempt to calm free falling markets and shape the American economy for the foreseeable future.

That’s right. A bailout is coming and guess who will get the lions share? The same people as last time. Does anyone believe that the government directed bailouts and the credit lines, will not be channelled principally to the political élites and their allies?

What is going down is disturbingly reminiscent of the 2008 bailouts. Twelve years ago, capitalism teetered on the brink of the abyss, its structural flaws exposed for anyone who cared to look. The 2008 crash almost broke the global financial system. It was saved by us, the taxpayers. The government delved deep into the pockets of the American people and transferred our money to the banks. Or rather the banksters.

And now the Fed is already injecting trillions into the financial markets. A trillion here, a couple trillion there, using an alphabet soup of lending facilities to cloak the scope of the bailout to the underwater banks and hedge funds.

I have to ask, how is this money suddenly available–when we have repeatedly been told in the wake of the 2008 crisis that austerity must be the only answer?

These “masters of the universe” should have wound up in prison after the crash of 2008, yet thanks to the Obama Administration the banks were saved by “socialising” their mistakes and losses. These losses transferred to the public balance sheet, and we have paid for those bail outs ever since with pared down health and welfare systems, not to mention the millions of Americans who were turfed-out of their homes. Since then, all of the gains of the re-financialization of our economy have gone to the 1%.

As a country we better wake up fast and ask wether we’re going to allow another bailout of the richest most powerful elite?

If Obama had helped distressed and unemployed people pay their mortgages and rent, it would have kept them in their homes, propped up the underlying mortgages that tanked derivatives and, therefore, saved the banks indirectly. Reducing the number of evictions would have mitigated the real estate crash caused by the deterioration of vacant houses.

Instead, the federal government handed over $7 trillion interest-free, no strings attached, to the big banks in exchange for increasing liquidity in the credit markets — which they never did. It’s still too hard to get a mortgage or other type of loan.

Not only that but it was the Fed’s ultra low rates for the past decade that made the tidal wave of stock buybacks possible, a tidal wave which became a tsunami in 2018 and 2019 after Trump allowed companies to repatriate over a $1 trillion in offshore cash at negligible tax rates, which unleashed a record stock buyback spree that was used to boost executive compensation and reward shareholders.

There’s a simple way to ensure that the banks and corporations can’t loot the republic a second time in 12 years, as economist Thomas Ferguson explains. “Put simply, if the public is to be called upon for the second time in twelve years to bail out banks and businesses, it should get something back for its money. It can’t simply be asked to shoulder losses; it needs to share in any upside.”

This crisis is also a good opportunity to redistribute wealth to create a more equitable world than the one where a plutocratic class can just buy up entire governments and media organizations, and exert their will.

But instead we’re hearing from our ruling sociopaths saying it would be better for a few million older Americans to die than for the financial markets take any losses.

The end game is becoming clear: a corrupt takeover by the financial oligarchy deliberately impoverishing the rest of the population. But most of all, the crisis will give Trump and our corrupt Congress an excuse to give enormous bailouts to banks and companies that already were near insolvency as a result of their own debt problem. They hope to use the crisis not to revive the economy, but to just pound it into debt deflation, leaving the debts in place while bailing out the banks and the landlord class.

So basically the virus crisis is a fundamental restructuring of the US economy designed to strengthen the grip of the corrupt corporate-banking oligarchy while sacrificing the wage-earning population.

Welcome to the new financial feudalism.

Update: The bailout of Wall Street in 2008 resulted in mass outrage and Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. Now the Senate passed a bailout 4 times larger and forever QE. But most of the nation is stuck inside on lockdown and unable to protest.

How convenient.

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A World Turned Upside Down

 

When the British surrendered at Yorktown at the close of the Revolutionary War their commander, General Cornwallis, was so distraught that he feigned illness and instead had his subordinate proffer his sword to General Washington. The tenor of the cataclysmic event was captured by the British bands who played the song “The World Turned Upside Down” as the British and Hessian troops marched out to surrender.

And now the Coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside down. Indeed, in the space of a couple weeks it’s apparent that we live in a completely different place.

Covid-19 is the new “Transformative Event,” in American history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented in peacetime and undermine America’s fundamental sense of security. Like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, the pandemic promises to divide our past and future into a before and an after.

Coronavirus has devastated financial markets, especially Wall Street. We find ourselves at the epicenter of three interconnected shocks: A loss of supply; an oil price shock; and now a financial and liquidity crisis.

It’s more than ironic that here we are entering the second financial crisis of my adult life with pretty much the same feral elite in charge.

However, the pandemic will force our neoliberal policy makers to rethink all of their previous shibboleths. When Mitt–(Makers and Takers)–Romney is offering every American a K-note, you can be sure that something has fundamentally changed.

The pandemic has also exposed our reliance on corporate actors in lieu of a representative democracy. Political analyst, Matt Stoller says that “There’s a good amount of grumbling about the state of American infrastructure—collapsing bridges, high-speed rail, etc. But American infrastructure is not just about public goods, it’s about how the corporations that enforce, inform and organize economic activity are themselves organized. Are they doing productive research? Are they spreading knowledge and know-how to people who will use it responsibly? Are they creating prosperity or extracting wealth using raw power? And most importantly, are they contributing to the robustness of our society, such that we can survive and thrive in the normal course of emergencies? The answer to all of these questions right now is no.”

The Coronavirus has also further exposed the corporate media as shameless propaganda organs. Moreover, it’s becoming obvious that the corporate media propaganda machine will not be able to hide the truth from the American people, and the consequences of this crisis will reverberate. Trump can brag how the US is the “greatest country in the world” but the pandemic is revealing the weakness in our reliance on the private sector to save the day, and moreover just how utterly dysfunctional America has become after 40 odd years of neoliberal ideology. And, no, Walmart and Amazon will not save the day.

The pandemic has changed and promises to continue to change our world. However, Rahm Emmanual’s phrase–Never let a serious crisis go to waste–works both ways. Typically, as Naomi Klein pointed out more than a decade ago, the wealthy and corporations they control have used disasters to advance their agenda of cuts, privatisation and deregulation, securing unpopular policies when people are too overwhelmed by disaster to resist.

However, I believe the pandemic is an opportunity for positive change. It can take down the American empire; it can destroy the ideology of our selfish neoliberal market economy; it can jump-start meaningful community-oriented innovation; and it can fundamentally change the way we organize our lives. This is a potent moment — a creative moment. It’s a great chance, if we can individually and collectively find our hearts again.

As we start to enter periods of quarantine and self-isolation – as nations, communities and individuals, all of this should become apparent. It has taken a virus to remind us of what it really means to be most alive and most human.

Going further, in being stripped of what we need most by the threat of contagion, we are reminded of how much we have taken community for granted, abused it, hollowed it out. Ever since Thatcher and Reagan, we have been told quite literally: “There is no such thing as society.” How will that ideology stand the test of the coming weeks and months? How much can we survive as individuals, even in quarantine, rather than as part of communities that care for all of us?

In the meantime, enjoy all the personal opportunities the pandemic is offering. Like time with your loved ones. Or time away from a tedious bull-shit job. Or the ability to slow down and savor life. So much of our hustle-bustle lives involve a lot of stupid shit and worry about things that, in retrospect, are unimportant.

I’m convinced that this crisis will bring out the best and the worst in people. As we go forward why not bring out your best?

Carpe diem.

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Life During Wartime

 

I feel like I’m an extra in a science fiction movie lately, where every new day brings more crazy news. It’s like we’re all being overtaken by events.

I keep coming back to the old Chinese proverb–May you live in interesting times.

It sounds benign until you experience something like a worldwide pandemic and then suddenly boring doesn’t seem so bad.

Anyway, I’ve come up with a short playlist to try and maintain some sense of sanity in our increasingly chaotic milieu. Feel free to add your own favorites.

Talking Heads–Life During Wartime:

Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons
Packed up and ready to go

Heard of some grave sites, out by the highway
A place where nobody knows

The sound of gunfire, off in the distance
I’m getting used to it now
Lived in a brownstone, lived in the ghetto
I’ve lived all over this town

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
This ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain’t got time for that now…

 

R.E.M. It’s The End Of The World As We Know It

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake
Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes
And Lenny Bruce is not afraid

Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn
World serves its own needs
Don’t mis-serve your own needs
Speed it up a notch, speed, grunt, no, strength
The ladder starts to clatter
With a fear of height, down, height
Wire in a fire, represent the seven games
And a government for hire and a combat site
Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry
With the Furies breathing down your neck

Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh oh, overflow, population, common group
But it’ll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the…

 

And, finally–Doris Day: Que Sera Sera

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be…

 

Be safe out there and love you neighbors.

 

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Katrina Moment

 

The Coronavirus appears to be Trump’s Katrina moment, where the pandemic is exposing the rank incompetence of his administration.

If you’ll recall from the way-back machine, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that the Bush Administration’s neoconservative ideology was a serious problem. Katrina, a Category 3 storm, had smashed into the Gulf South, and people were drowning. Meanwhile, the president of the United States played guitar in San Diego, then flew over the disaster site at 30,000 feet. Even W’s most stalwart supporters cringed at his disconnect from reality.

Republicans have run against government since forever, but when they are in charge this ideology becomes a real problem. It turns out that the American people like competent government, especially when disaster strikes.

Meanwhile, Trump managed to make a bad situation worse with his speech the other night. No serious detail on what to do to save lives, save the lame idea of a travel ban from Europe, which means efectively flights to Europe too.

It appears that the Trump administration only started to care when the Dow Jones plummeted. Don’t expect them to call for a shutdown as that will cost their donor’s some money. It certainly appears that goosing stocks is all that our feral elite really care about despite their arguments otherwise. All the ‘solutions we are seeing from the powers that be are reminiscent of the great financial crisis. Bailing out Wall Street while structural issues surrounding allocation of resources remain. Where are the hospital beds, ICUs, doctors, medical equipment and vaccine R&D?

The American public is starting to notice this indifference. Even Republicans are starting to question the president’s actions in response to the pandemic.

This has been a long time coming. Republicans have had a nice scam going where they could campaign against the incompetence of government, then in power they could work industriously at making it so. I’ve likened them to termites, burrowing away at the foundations of our republic.

But the gig is just about up.

Trump could totally own the neoliberal Democrats if he were to revert to the populist he campaigned as. Imagine if he broke from Republican orthodoxy and offered up a robust fiscal stimulus plan rather than his offer of a payroll tax cut, which is largely a stealth attack on Social Security?

Neoliberal Democrats would shit themselves. Indeed the former party of labor has abandoned any notions of good governance to the alter of the market, where we shouldn’t expect much but economic management from government, and that citizens are meant to be unleashed into unemcumbered markets.

An effective stimulus would have to help the small and medium sized businesses that are sure to suffer from a prolonged economic downturn. This stimulus would also have to aid Americans who don’t work or are part of the gig economy. This would reduce the number of unnecessary personal and corporate bankruptcies, make sure people have money to keep spending even if they are not working. A side benefit of this would be to subsidise the sort of self-quarantine that is needed to help reduce the spread of the virus.

Unfortunately, the probability is that both the neoconservative Republicans and neoliberal Democrats will rally around a stimulus plan that helps their true constituents–the banks and powerful corporations that fund their reelection campaigns. I have a bad feeling that any government largesse will flow to the usual suspects similar to the response to the Wall Street Crash of 2008, where the banksters were bailed out while homeowners were left to twist slowly in the wind.

Despite the corporate media’s focus on primaries, voting and the personalities of the candidates, politics is truly about who gets what and who pays the price for these policies.

I’m afraid the pandemic is going to offer the American people an objective lesson in this fundamental dynamic.

 

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Rotten Arrangements

 

The Coronavirus pandemic is calling into question all of the rotten arrangements that have brought us to this point in American history. Indeed, the virus is remorselessly exposing every weakness in the political and economic ideologies it touches.

Especially the ideology of neoliberalism that has resulted in the rampant financialization of our economy. The scope of the pandemic makes it apparent that we desperately require a financial system that underwrites productive economic activity. Unfortunately, the financial system we have finances greedy hedge funds to go and loot factories and fire workers.

This not a bug but a feature. The Fed and all other Central Banks favours capital over labour and assets over wages. Capital is not just accrued from saving and bank loans are not just made from deposits. Instead we allow banks to create money via debt with new loans, which then create deposits, even though the US governments can always create it at will. As we witnessed in 2008, this money creation has been reserved solely for Wall Street, instead of for policies that benefit the vast majority of Americans, like Medicare for All or spending on crucial infrastructure. Since then Central Banks have engaged in an 11-year orgy of debt-fueled spending that has sent stock prices through the roof even while workers wages have remained flat and standards of living have continued to slip.

The Coronavirus is also exposing the bankruptcy of the ideology of globalization, where in recent decades, America’s economic and political elites of both parties surrendered America’s economic independence for globalism, a new interdependence of nations, where we Americans no longer rely on ourselves alone for the vital necessities of our national life.  The spread of coronavirus is revealing basic flaws with globalization, particularly extended supply chains, just in time production, and a host of other neoliberal business practices.

As a result of globalism factories in the US were abandoned and communities destroyed leaving former middle-class workers divorced from the community itself. As a result, these important structures of community have largely been discredited and delegitimised. And with the loosening of ties to community individuals inevitably lose their moral and spiritual compass in life. I believe this was deliberate. Neoliberalism is predicated on a selfish, narcissistic populace, where there is no community, only self.

The pandemic is also demonstrating the utter bankruptcy of our for-profit healthcare system. U.S. health care is not only by far the worst system among rich countries, it is much worse than that of many middle-income or poorer countries when it comes to confronting a fast-moving epidemic. Under the U.S. medical system testing will be expensive for the patients. Insurances may not pay for it. Many people will be unable or unwilling to spend money on it. Care and medicines for serious cases will also be limited by high prices. The public is already being conditioned to expect that any coronavirus test and vaccine won’t be free and they will have to negotiate with health insurance companies for payment or reimbursement. So many won’t seek care unless and until they become desperately ill. The failure to get a diagnosis and isolate early will increase Coronavirus spread.

In a scenario worthy of the Onion, Trump announced that Vice-President Pence, a man who does not believe in science, will lead the Coronavirus response. Pence, who believes the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs co-existed with humans, is the final arbiter on what medical information about the coronavirus reaches the public. Pence understands his marching orders. Coronavirus news must all be “good news” and not affect the already-collapsing stock market and U.S. economy.

The other ideology that should take a big hit is the culture of greed, that of Ayn Rand, where the rich can retreat to their gated communities and let the rest of the population rot. What happens when a rich matron’s nanny comes down with the virus, but can’t afford to go to the hospital because she has shit health insurance, yet can’t afford to miss work, and comes to take care of the matron’s precious little children?

Decades of rancid ideologies, short term thinking, insane levels of debt, and being deluded by the powers that be, has created a culture of alienation, greed, violence and materialism. The list of ways in which a pandemic exposes the hollowness of the ideology of neoliberalism goes to infinity but you get the picture.

I am afraid that we have let our society crumble in so many ways that it is going to take a punch in the face to get our attention. The Coronavirus may very well be the fist.

 

Update: Could the coronavirus be a bio-warfare agent developed to attack China and Iran?

According to Phillip Giraldi, former counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer of the CIA, “there has been some speculation that as the Trump Administration has been constantly raising the issue of growing Chinese global competitiveness as a direct threat to American national security and economic dominance, it must might be possible that Washington has created and unleashed the virus in a bid to bring Beijing’s growing economy and military might down a few notches.”

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Existential Threat

 

Every economy is planned. The essential political question is who gets to do the planning.

Likewise, every economy is a mix between state and private actors.

After 40 plus years of neoliberal “reforms”, the dominant actors in the US are financial. They’ve accomplished this through a takeover of government leading to a privatization of essential services while cutting back Social Security, Medicare and infrastructure spending to pay for America’s increasing militarization, subsidies and tax cuts for the 1%. The usual word for this is oligarchy.

Presently, the Democratic primary offers an fascinating window into the political question of who will get to plan our economy–Wall Street or “we the people”. Unfortunately the Democratic National Committee (DNC), an entity that currently serves entrenched financial power while pretending to represent “we the people”, is invested in obscuring the crucial question of power with their obsessive focus on the horse-race aspect of the election.

There’s a reason for this obfuscation. Financial power’s main concern is the ability to remain opaque. Exposure weakens it, by definition. Once exposed, this financial power faces questions about its legitimacy, its methods, its purposes. Thus Wall Street does not want to be seen as the key funder of the Democrats. The neoliberal DNC and the Democratic party has had a good long run where they’ve been able to fool the average Democratic voter into believing that they represent them instead of Wall Street but the 2020 primary seriously threatens that arrangement.

The Democratic party is one of the two national parties whose role, like the corporate media, is to conceal the financial power of our oligarchy. Its function is to create the illusion of choice, and thereby keep the viewing public engrossed in the kayfabe our political process has become. That does not mean that there are no differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. There are, and for some people they are meaningful and can be vitally important. But those differences are minor from the perspective of financial power.

Understanding this dynamic helps explain the corporate media’s extreme hostility towards the Sanders campaign. The corporate media has been crucial in maintaining the pretense that the Democrats represents average Americans instead of Wall Street. Going further, the corporate the media exists in its present form precisely to uphold financial power, rationalise it, propagandize for it, and refine it so as to better conceal it.

Sanders rise is an existential threat to this arrangement.

The problem for our elite is that financial capitalism is in a crisis of legitimacy. American voters of all ages, but especially young people, don’t believe in it anymore. Similarly to the 2016 election they see no future for themselves in this system, and are explicitly rejecting it. Polls show about half of young people have a favorable view of socialism, or consider themselves socialists. They may have a muddled understanding of socialism but they do know that they hate the present system of financial capitalism that they live under. It’s also becoming more and more apparent that they don’t think that these oligarchs have a right to rule over them and to determine what kind of lives they will lead.

Going forward, Bernie’s success or lack there of will determine just how obstructionist the DNC and their ultimate funder–Wall Street–will be. We are already seeing the outlines of the attacks to come with the unnamed intelligence sources claiming that the Russians are planning on aiding the Sanders campaign. According to the Times article headlined Same Goal, Different Playbook: Why Russia Would Support Trump and Sanders: Bernie has been “warned… of evidence that he is the Russian president’s favorite Democrat.”

Our feral elite are clearly losing it. They can’t even come up with any new material and are just recycling 2016’s Russia-gate attacks against Trump.

Sanders continued ascendance will make the choice stark: either to accept who the voters choose–namely, Bernie Sanders– or try to muscle in the odious Bloomberg, who is acceptable to their Wall Street funders, and is certain to lose to Donald Trump in November.

It’s become obvious that for the DNC and their Wall Street backers, this outcome would be preferable to a Sanders win. The neoliberal elite that control the DNC are absolutely terrified of actually winning under Sanders and having to enact policies that impair their Wall Street patrons. They’d much rather have a good showing then lose and be able to maintain their jobs and positions of power within the party than be faced with the daunting prospect of winning and governing with Bernie.

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