Sick Bern: Bernie Sanders’ tweet cost Ariad Pharmaceuticals $387 million

Published: Salon (October 17, 2016)

With a single tweet, Sen. Bernie Sanders has cost Ariad Pharmaceuticals $387 million.

The article retweeted by Sanders was from Stat, a publication that specializes in covering health and medical news. It reported that, since the beginning of the year, Ariad has raised the price of its Iclusig chronic myeloid leukemia treatment by 27 percent. The drug now has a pre-rebate list price of $16,560 a month, or almost $199,000 a year. Even worse for Ariad’s image (to say nothing of consumers), this isn’t the first time they raised the price on that drug, having done so twice last year.

As a result of Sanders’ tweet, Ariad stock ended the day down by 14.8 percent, falling to $11.14 a share. In a statement, Ariad argued that “our pricing reflects our significant investment in R&D, our commitment to the very small, ultra orphan cancer patient populations that we serve and the associated risk with research and development.”

This isn’t the first time a Democratic presidential hopeful has hurt Big Pharma’s bottom line by criticizing unfair practices. In August, Hillary Clinton caused Mylan NV’s shares to fall by 6.2 percent within minutes of calling for them to lower their prices for EpiPens. Then in September, she drove down the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index by tweeting: “Price gouging like this in the specialty drug market is outrageous. Tomorrow I’ll lay out a plan to take it on.” It has also been reported that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has negatively impacted biotech stocks, as his perceived weaknesses as a candidate makes more likely that Clinton will be elected and implement reforms on the industry. Her plan for lowering drug costs includes allowing Medicare to negotiate them down and not allowing pharmaceutical companies to spend government grants on advertising.

How the “Sausage Party” gets made: Why Seth Rogen’s talking-food cartoon’s labor controversy matters

Published: Salon (September 2, 2016)

“Sausage Party” is a surprisingly smart, visually creative comedy that has been rightfully praised for its satirical take on organized religion. This makes it all the more unfortunate that the movie is currently wrapped up in a labor controversy that, if it is grounded in fact, could convince potential viewers to pause before spending their money on the film.

“Sausage Party” currently finds itself in an unflattering light because of online reports that Vancouver-based Nitrogen Studios, which produced the movie’s animation, did not pay its employees for overtime hours and created a hostile working environment in which employers could threaten crew with termination if they didn’t meet excessive demands. Because British Columbia’s Employment Standards Act has an exemption for “high technology professionals,” companies like Nitrogen may be claiming that animators are high-tech professionals to justify not paying them overtime. (High-technology professionals are defined as individuals who use specialized knowledge and professional judgment on tech-related issues for at least 75 percent of their work time, so that could apply to animators, although it depends on where the line is drawn between strictly tech-related work and activities that are more artistic and creative in nature.)

The studio denies the claims. “Nitrogen Studios followed all employment regulations, so the claims being made against Greg as well as the studio are unfounded. Nitrogen also fulfilled all of its contractual obligations with its employees,” said Nitrogen President and CEO Nicole Stinn in a response to Salon. “These allegations are without merit and Greg has had an overwhelming amount of support from current and past employees in the last few weeks.”

Nitrogen’s claim that Tiernan has employee support is difficult to dispute, as it’s hard to put real names and faces on the workers’ allegations. According to Jennifer Moreau, vice president of Unifor Local 2000 (which has offered to help the “Sausage Party” animators), “People in this industry are very nervous about speaking out. They don’t want to be blacklisted, they don’t want to be denied a job on the next contract.”

Moreau points to how the animation, visual effects, and video game industries are structured to explain the reticence, and why she thinks the issue goes beyond claims made about one animated film.

“What we’ve heard is that people do a lot of overtime unpaid. There’s a sort of emotional blackmail or intimidation factor at play in some cases, where the employer will pressure people to do the unpaid overtime when crunch time for a project hits,” said Moreau. “The message they get is, if you don’t do this, you’re not getting hired on the next contract.”

The video game industry is particularly notorious for exploiting its animators and other low-ranking employees. “Video game development is an artistic passion, and as such, those who engage in game development have an unstoppable drive to design, create, and build interactive experiences — much in the same way that writers write, painters paint, filmmakers perfect their films and so on,” said Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association. “Historically, many companies in the game industry have been known to take advantage of that passion, and expect a certain ‘above and beyond’ level of employee engagement for long periods.”

Like Moreau, Edwards identified the concept of “crunch time” as a tool used by employers to pressure

But cinematic animation studios and video game developers aren’t the only parts of the industry affected by labor issues. “Where I see abuses is more in the television area, not so much in the theatrical area,” said Steve Hulett of the Animation Guild, which represented the animators for the TV show “Rick and Morty” when they staged a walk-off in 2014. “They were not paying overtime to crew and the crew went and organized with us and we threatened a job action and we were actually able to get a contract pretty quickly.”

Indeed, even though “Rick and Morty” co-creator Justin Roiland initially made headlines for denouncing the union (albeit based on how they handled their grievances rather than the actual grievances themselves), Roiland has made it clear that he sympathizes with his industry’s behind-the-scenes workers. “I believe that artists who work tirelessly to bring animation to life should not have anything to worry about financially or medically,” he wrote to Salon. “They are the unsung heroes of the industry and I can honestly say that I would go to battle to protect my crew.”

Roiland’s sentiments are laudable, but more importantly, his assessment of animators’ importance is absolutely right. Animators and other crew members may not be the main creative forces developing video games or movies like “Sausage Party” or TV shows like “Rick and Morty.” They may not appear before the cameras or develop separate careers as celebrities. But they are as essential to the process of creating our popular entertainments as the directors, writers, and actors. Without their skill and ingenuity, we’d be missing out on a lot more than the opportunity to see Seth Rogen voice a talking hot dog.

Socially-conscious consumers should take behind-the-scenes labor conditions into consideration when deciding which projects to support. While we may not know all of the details surrounding “Sausage Party” specifically, there is good reason to believe that labor exploitation is an industry-wide problem among animators and visual effects artists in film, TV, and video games. This presents audiences with a critically important question: To what extent are fans responsible for allowing these kinds of adverse labor conditions to flourish? Consumers who care about economic justice have a responsibility to pay attention to the conversation around how their entertainment properties are produced.

Most importantly, though, consumers need to recognize that the passion which inspires creative and tech savvy individuals to work in animation or visual effects warrants respect. It appears that in these industries, animators are concerned that they can be treated like disposable cogs in a machine rather than full participants in the creative process. Just as advocates of social justice would rightly refuse to see a movie or play a video game that worked behind the scenes to marginalize women or people of color, so too must advocates of economic justice consider whether to support products that are revealed to have not treated their workforces fairly. While the full story isn’t yet known about “Sausage Party,” it has opened a door for on-going conversation about labor practices in the industry. If evidence points to worker mistreatment in this case or in others, consumers will be ethically responsible, too, if they continue to reward the companies and the entertainers who allow it to happen.

Jews have a special responsibility to fight Donald Trump

United against hate. (Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

Published: Quartz (July 9, 2016)

Donald Trump’s anti-Semitic tweet—I’m sorry, his allegedly anti-Semitic tweet—is still in the news in the US, and with good reason. The presumptive Republican nominee has repeatedly refused to apologize for linking Hillary Clinton, corruption and Judaism all in one ill-advised meme. Meanwhile, his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner is being publicly pressured by one of his employees at the New York Observer (which he owns) to denounce Trump’s actions.

Which brings us to one of the most popular defenses of Trump–namely, that he can’t possibly be anti-Semitic because of his Jewish family. Trump does indeed have a Jewish son-in-law, a Jewish daughter (Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism upon marrying Kushner), and a Jewish grandchild. And it’s totally irrelevant. This argument is not only specious, it elides the great moral question presented by this election: Will America’s legacy be one of peaceful diversity or hate?

“How can the guy hate Jews when he has Jews in his own family?”

Before answering that question, we need to dispatch with one of Trump’s most popular defenses, particularly among his Jewish supporters. As a friend of mine told me when I mentioned I was writing this article: “How can the guy hate Jews when he has Jews in his own family? Do you think he’d be okay with Nazis supporting him when they’d send his own flesh-and-blood to concentration camps?”

But it is very possible to make generalizations about an entire group of people while believing certain individuals within that group are “exceptions.” If this is starting to sound familiar, it’s because racists often use similar reasoning—I’m not racist, I have black friends. Similarly, one can support Israel’s sovereignty for reasons that have nothing to do with respecting Jews as a whole. As Trump has accurately pointed out, Israel has been America’s sole staunch ally in a region that is overwhelmingly hostile to the West. But considering Trump’s well-known animus toward Muslims, such sentiments could just as easily be a Trumpian version of realpolitik. Or, in light of the controversy over US president Barack Obama’s Iran deal, simply a calculated attempt to sway Jewish voters.

Even if Trump’s periodic dabbling in anti-Jewish iconography and stereotypes (which I’ve discussed before) is purely coincidental, Jews and other members of persecuted groups have to make an important decision. Will we only call out prejudice when it’s directed against our own community? Or will we recognize that this type of collectivist thinking is immoral, regardless of its target?

Jews have to make an important decision. Will we only call out prejudice when it’s directed against our own?

More than any other single theme, Trump’s presidential campaign has been defined by his prejudiced thinking. He refers to minorities in monolithic terms (“the Hispanics,” “the blacks,” “the Muslims”), issues policy proposals based on bigoted assumptions (banning all Muslim travel to the United States, deporting all undocumented Mexican immigrants en masse), and drops sexist comments on a regular basis (a comprehensive compilation can be found here). Along the way, he has unsurprisingly garnered praise from the white supremacist community. Such sentiments have become a central aspect of his campaign, and will send a very clear message if he is elected in November.
Today, I am ostensibly addressing my fellow Jews. But I am also writing to anyone who has faced discrimination because of their race, religion, or gender. As I’ve discussed in the past, I was myself the victim of an anti-Semitic hate crime when I was 12. The attack nearly cost me my life. No matter what your ideology, we need to stand united as Americans first, partisans second.

When a candidate tries to dehumanize an entire group of people, every human being has a moral responsibility to fight back.

Even political conservatives don’t have an excuse for pulling the Trump lever. Looking for a non-racist alternative? Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is at least as conservative as Trump (if not more so, at least on economic issues).
The lesson that Jews must take from this election is that, when a political candidate tries to dehumanize an entire group of people, every single human being has a moral responsibility to fight back. When Trump attacks Mexican immigrants, he attacks Jews; when he threatens Muslims with persecution, he threatens Jews with persecution (a point many right-wing Israelis have lamentably failed to grasp). Jews have faced persecution ourselves, and thus should be particularly empathetic to the suffering of others.
Because I am a Jew, this issue is a particularly poignant one for me. But the stakes in this election would impact me even if I was a Buddhist or an atheist. That said, because I am incapable of distancing myself from my Jewish vantage point, I’d like to conclude with my favorite quote from one of my favorite artists. Diego Rivera was, appropriately enough, both Mexican and Jewish, and he spoke openly about the way his background affected his life. As he once put it: “My Jewishness is the dominant element in my life. From this has come my sympathy with the downtrodden masses which motivates all my work.”

Sanders voters should learn from Brexit: Don’t make the same mistake as Brits and support right-wing populism

Published: Salon (July 3, 2016)

If Bernie Sanders supporters can learn anything from Brexit, it is that the English-speaking world is in the mood for a certain type of right-wing populism. On one side of the pond, the anti-immigrant and anti-free trade sentiment that swept the United Kingdom prompted that nation to vote for a historic exit from the European Union. In the United States, this phenomenon has manifested itself in the historic presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, who as I’ve explained before is the most anti-free trade major party candidate since Herbert Hoover.

It’s easy to see how, being swept up in all this sentiment, we can forget the core difference between presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart. While Trump may be effective at using a certain type of populist rhetoric, his economic plans would ultimately favor the wealthy. Clinton, though not as far to the left as Sanders, is pushing for policies that would benefit ordinary Americans.

Before delving into these differences, though, it is important to first explain where Clinton and Trump are the same. When the 2016 campaign started, Clinton had not taken a firm stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but since then she has made it clear that she will oppose the agreement and would bar low-priced imports by creating a chief trade prosecutor and increasing the number of trade enforcement officers. While Trump has tried to claim that she initially supported the deal and only switched positions because of him, Clinton’s position is actually consistent with what she wrote in her memoir “Hard Choices,” where she explained that because TPP was still under negotiation “it makes sense to reserve judgment until we can evaluate the final proposed agreement.”

Now that the TPP has been finalized, both of the major presidential candidates have gone on record opposing it – which, as Sanders supporters should already know, is the same position taken by the Vermont Senator. So where do Clinton and Trump differ?

We can start with their tax proposals. As Fortune Magazine explains, the centerpiece of Trump’s tax plan is to replace America’s seven tax rates with three: A top rate of 25 percent (down from 39.6 percent) and two additional rates of 20 percent and 10 percent. In addition to this, Trump would eliminate the tax on large estates and cap dividends and capital gains taxes at 20 percent. All of these policies would benefit wealthier Americans and would most likely force the government to take money away from programs which help the working class – in effect, redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich. Clinton, on the other hand, would increase taxes on wealthier Americans, including increasing the top bracket to 43.6 percent by adding a 4 percent tax surcharge on incomes in excess of $5 million, establishing a minimum 30 percent income tax on individuals earning in excess of $1 million, closing tax loopholes frequently exploited by the wealthy, and increasing the estate tax.

Clinton and Trump also differ on the minimum wage — in large part because Trump, not Clinton, has flip-flopped on this issue. Although Trump used to insist that wages in America were “too high” compared to other countries (!!!), he now says he is “open”to doing something about the hourly rate, although he has failed to specify what. While Clinton’s support for a $12 minimum wage may not go as far as Sanders’ $15 proposal, it is certainly a vast improvement from Trump’s ambiguousness here. What’s more, unlike Trump, Clinton has offered specific proposals to guarantee family leave (12 weeks of paid family leave and 12 weeks of medical leave), break up the big Wall Street banks, and put an “end to the era of mass incarceration” — all economic issues that directly harm low-income Americans, and which Trump has either barely addressed or not at all.

The point here isn’t that Clinton is an ideal candidate; as Sanders demonstrated with his campaign, the Democratic Party establishment is deeply flawed, so naturally any politician produced by that system will share its weaknesses. Nevertheless, there is a clear and undeniable difference between Clinton and Trump on the major economic issues facing this country. Each and every time the two candidates part ways, it is because Trump has aligned his policies with those of the wealthy classes of which he is such a conspicuous part. Clinton, for all of her faults, has offered proposals that would demonstrably improve the lives of working class Americans. These are important differences – so much so that, if Sanders supporters are smart, they’ll make sure they define this election.

This doesn’t mean that they will, though. As the Brexit vote revealed, many on the left are allowing themselves to be co-opted by right-wing populists’ use of issues like immigration (where Clinton doesn’t support bigotry and Trump does) and free trade (where the two candidates are the same). If we don’t learn from the mistakes of our British counterparts, the consequences of this oversight may be dire.

It’s time for Democrats to unify: Why even the most idealistic Sanders voter should support Clinton

Published: Salon (June 16, 2016)

We don’t know what Bernie Sanders discussed with Hillary Clinton when the two of them met Tuesday night, but it’s fair to assume that the conversation revolved around Clinton’s new status as the presumptive Democratic nominee. As the burgeoning Bernie or Bust movement clearly demonstrates, a lot of Sanders supporters are unhappy with the prospect of backing Clinton. Of course, because Green Party candidate Jill Stein has offered to run on a joint ticket with Sanders, they may not actually have to do so.

And so we find ourselves at a crucial junction in American political history. If Sanders and his supporters swallow their pride and acknowledge that, despite her flaws, Clinton offers them their best chance of achieving progressive policy changes, they will use their newfound leverage to push her to the left and then elect her president. On the other hand, if they place ideological pride over doing the right thing, they can contest Clinton’s nomination up to the Democratic convention or join Jill Stein on a third-party ticket… and their legacy might wind up being the election of President Donald Trump.

Before I encourage both Sanders and the Bernie or Bust movement to support Clinton, it is first necessary to dispense with the popular arguments used against doing so. The most common refrain that I hear from those in the Sanders camp is that Clinton somehow “stole” the nomination. Although she undeniably had far more support from the party establishment, this in its own right doesn’t constitute stealing (after all, Trump was also overwhelmingly opposed by his party establishment, with well-known results). Yes, Clinton has 581 superdelegates to Sanders’ 49… but she also won 2,219 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 1,832. More importantly, she won 15.8 million popular votes to Sanders’ 12 million, making her without question the preferred choice of a majority of Democratic primary voters.

This leaves the policy differences between Clinton and Sanders, which though meaningful are hardly prohibitive. Sure, Stein has opportunistically claimed that Clinton might be worse than Trump, but if you share Sanders’ values that assertion simply doesn’t hold up. As I’ve explained in the past, Clinton wants to invest $275 million in job-creating infrastructure spending (compared to $1 trillion for Sanders), raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour (compared to $15 for Sanders), maintain Obamacare (compared to Sanders’ support for a fully socialized health care system), and establish debt-free college tuition for low-income families (compared to free college for all public university students under Sanders). On every major issue in this election, Clinton’s stances are moderate versions of those taken by Sanders. Trump, on the other hand, favors economic policies that blatantly favor the wealthy… and, unlike both Clinton and Sanders, has focused his campaign on pandering to bigotry against Hispanics and Muslims instead of addressing the real economic problems facing ordinary Americans.

In short, anyone who shares the ideals professed by Sanders during this campaign (including Sanders himself) is morally compelled to see that while Clinton may profess a watered down version of those values, Trump embodies their direct antithesis. As a consequence, it is unconscionable to risk a repeat of the 1968 presidential election, in which a liberal insurgent (Eugene McCarthy) took his protest candidacy to the Democratic Convention and thus weakened nominee Hubert Humphrey in his unsuccessful campaign against Richard Nixon. Similarly, if Sanders accepts Stein’s offer and runs as the Green Party nominee, he risks repeating the role played by Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, when his third-party candidacy siphoned enough votes away from Democrat Al Gore to throw the election to Republican George W. Bush.

That said, it’s not enough to simply point out the overlap between Sanders’ message and Clinton’s campaign platform, though. If we’re going to be ideologically honest in this election, we must remember that the Democratic Party has a long history of delivering on its promises. Franklin Roosevelt spent the 1930s passing economic and social reforms that relieved the rampant misery of the Great Depression and provided a safety net for working class Americans; Lyndon Johnson’s administration spent the 1960s passing civil rights legislation, creating Medicaid and Medicare, and waging a successful war on poverty; and Barack Obama, despite the ferocious opposition of a Do-Nothing Congress, managed to end the war in Iraq and pass comprehensive health care reform.

This is why, when a progressive like me urges Sanders and his backers to rally behind Clinton, we are the ones being principled — not the intransigents who would throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Democratic Party, for all of its flaws, is the only institution within our existing political system that could realistically achieve the objectives laid out by the Sanders campaign. Because Sanders has put in such a strong showing against Clinton, he is in a position to demand that she spend her presidency addressing the problems of income inequality and plutocracy to which he has so eloquently drawn attention. To throw all of this away in a fit of pique, or because our backers cling to the fanciful idea that a miraculous Green Party revolution might occur (despite the lack of any statistical evidence that it would win in the general election), is worse than quixotic. It is downright foolish.

If Sanders wants to make a point, he will force a contested convention and/or run as a third-party candidate. On the other hand, if we want history to remember the Bernie Sanders campaign as one that made a real difference, we will demand that he instruct his supporters to do the right thing and vote for Hillary Clinton.

Sanders supporters pushed Clinton to the left—now they have to keep her there

Published: Quartz (June 7, 2016)

Heading into California primary today, Donald Trump is catching up toHillary Clinton in the general election polls. According to political analysis from statisticians like Nate Silver, the reluctance of some Bernie Sanders supporters to back an alternate Democratic candidate is part of the reason for Trump’s boost. Sanders’ backers tend to identify as progressive, according to Silver, but not necessarily as Democrats. “If Clinton wins over those voters, she’ll gain a few percentage points on Trump in national and swing state polls,” Silver explains. “If not, the general election could come down to the wire.”

If Democrats are going to sway disaffected Sanders fans, they will need to remind voters that the Democratic Party is not the enemy, even if it is “the establishment.” Clinton is very much a traditional Democratic presidential candidate. As a result, she is institutionally beholden to a set of policies that, while perhaps falling short of the democratic socialist ideal, still achieve much of what Sanders aspires to do.

A short history lesson is in order here. Although the Democratic Party has been around since 1828 (making in the oldest continuously active democratic political party in the world), it didn’t become a definitively left-wing organization until Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency in the 1930s. During his 12-year-long administration, Roosevelt’s New Deal provided economic relief to millions of poor Americans struggling during the Great Depression, as well as took measures to prevent any future crashes.

The New Deal programs laid the foundation for the constructive programs pursued by other progressive Democrats, particularly Lyndon Johnson, whose Great Society included the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, the creation of Medicaid and Medicare, and the War on Poverty; and Barack Obama, who provided widespread relief after the economic crash of 2008 and passed comprehensive health care reform. Even less accomplished Democratic presidents managed to prevent major rollbacks on social welfare policy by compromising with their Republican adversaries, particularly Harry Truman (who worked with the infamous “Do Nothing” Congress) and Bill Clinton (who saved Medicare from a Republican-controlled Congress even after they forced a government shutdown.)

As the presumptive Democratic nominee, Clinton will be bound by historical precedent and party leadership to continue in this tradition if elected to the presidency.  Sanders supporters need to ask themselves what policies are most important to them. Certainly there is little question that she would have to spend much of her administration thwarting a Republican-held Congress. Beyond that, Sanders supporters need to ask themselves what policies are most important to them, and to what extent these policies overlap with Clinton’s stated goals.

In general, Clinton’s economic policies are watered-down versions of what Sanders is proposing. To reduce unemployment and income inequality, Clinton proposes spending $275 billion on job-creating infrastructure and raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour. Similarly, to make education more affordable, Clinton has prioritized making community college free and public four-year colleges debt free, as well as providing universal preschool to all four-year-olds. While once an avid proponent of free trade and deregulation, Clinton is now committed to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and increasing regulations on Wall Street.

The difference between the two candidates is perhaps best captured by their respective stances on health care reform. Sanders wants a socialized single-payer system, while Clinton supports tweaking and modifying the existing reforms passed by Obama under the Affordable Care Act. It’s reasonable for Sanders supporters to argue that their candidate’s proposals are better. It is patently unreasonable, however, to ignore the large overlap between the Sanders and Clinton agendas.

As others have already argued, Sanders supporters are actually in a position of power here. If Clinton wins a tight election without the support of Bernie fans, she may not feel particularly sympathetic or beholden to their concerns. If she wins as a direct result of their backing, however, it will certainly push her to focus on the economic policies the Sanders campaign has focused on for the past 12 months.

And of course, if Clinton actually loses in part because Sanders supporters stayed home, the next president will be Trump, whose economic plan is designed to benefit the rich through strategic tax reductions. There will not be a $15 minimum wage under a president Trump.

Some independent-leaning progressives may not like the influence wielded by the Democratic establishment. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t back the party’s candidate—with conditions.

If Clinton reneges on her progressive economic proposals, Sanders supporters should absolutely hold her accountable in 2020. Unless and until that happens, however, it’s important to remember that she represents a political party that has a long history of fighting for liberal causes—and just as importantly, against conservative ones. For better or worse, being a good progressive this year requires being a good Democrat, at least at the ballot box.

Martin Luther King and the Panama Papers

Published: Salon (April 9, 2016), The Good Men Project (April 7, 2016)

When Martin Luther King Jr. is brought up in a political conversation, it is usually in reference to his work for civil rights…. and if you’re a member of the proverbial one percent, this is definitely for the best. Considering the reverence with which King is held today, it would ill-serve them if the general public remembered him for quotes like this one:

“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.”

This brings me to the Panama Papers. They have been covered in such great detail that there isn’t much new analysis that I can provide here. Suffice to say that they demonstrate, with irrefutable evidence, what the vast majority of leftists have known for decades – that the forces of globalization have allowed the super-wealthy to hide their money from the public. They create fake companies, squirrel away their assets in offshore accounts, and in general show brazen contempt for the rest of us by refusing – absolutely refusing – to pay their fair share in taxes.

For the most part, Americans have been spared from humiliation in the Panama Papers leaks, but this is only because our own tax laws are so rigged that the plutocracy here doesn’t need the assistance of shady Central American law firms. This brings us to the body of economic thought which King left behind, brought to fruition in the last year of his life as the Poor People’s Campaign. Starting in 1967, King pivoted away from his focus on racial inequality, instead arguing that poverty and other forms of economic injustice required more immediate attention. Had he not been assassinated in the spring of 1968, he would have led a massive march on Washington in order to enact his agenda, the “Economic and Social Bill of Rights for the Poor.” These included:

1. A meaningful job “at a living wage” for every employable citizen.

2. A secure and adequate income for all who cannot find jobs, or for whom employment is inappropriate.

3. Access to land as a means to income and livelihood.

4. Access to Capital as a means of full participation in the economic life of America.

5. Recognition by law of the rights of people affected by government programs to play a truly significant role in determining how they are designed and carried out.

6. Recommit the Federal Government to the “Full Employment Act of 1946” and legislate the immediate creation of at least one million socially useful career jobs in public service.

7. Adopt the pending “House and Urban Development Act of 1968.”

8. Repeal the 90th Congress’s punitive welfare restrictions in the “1967 Social Security Act.”

9. Extend to all farm workers the right guaranteed under the “National Labor Relations Act” – to organize agriculture labor unions.

10. Restore budget cuts for bilingual education, Head Start, summer jobs, “Economic Opportunity Act,” and “Elementary and Secondary Education Acts.”

While the details are a bit technical for review in a single op-ed, the underlying principle here was simple and powerful. King understood that any society which permitted vast numbers of people to languish in poverty would, by default, elevate the wealthy to a level of privilege that put them above the law. If money is power, then the only way to prevent the tyranny of wealth is to make sure that no one is so lacking in money as to be disempowered. When that lesson is forgotten, law firms like Mossack Fonseca in Panama are able to thrive.

If history serves as any reliable precedent, the release of the Panama Papers is unlikely to change anything. Outside of that small collection of individuals who dutifully follow politics, the world either won’t notice or won’t care, and anyone not directly implicated in the documents will go on as before. Indeed, even those of us who are familiar with the Panama Papers’ contents won’t make the necessary connections between how the world’s financial elite rigged the system on this occasion and the more systemic injustices identified by King almost half a century ago. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the various scandals that keep popping up, and to thus overlook how they’re all connected.

Nevertheless, we on the left still need to try. Until the presence of poverty is lumped in the same category as the persistence of racism and sexism – that is, until economic inequality is viewed not as an ineffable reality, but as a profound moral flaw that humanity must collectively address – we will continue to watch as the privileged benefit from a special set of rules that they created for themselves. All of these problems are linked, and if we’re going to unravel the straitjacket of economic oppression, the Panama Papers are as good a thread as any on which to start tugging.

This, I strongly suspect, is how Martin Luther King would have viewed the situation. It’s a shame that so few of us are around to remember his words.

Bernie Sanders is a compassionate, intelligent man who has no clue how to run a country

Published: Quartz (April 6, 2016)

If Bernie Sanders wants to be president, he’ll need to do better than this.

The Democratic senator is doubtless feeling pretty optimistic today, fresh off a primary victory in Wisconsin. And yet a much more telling measure of the candidate’s presidential chances happened earlier this week, during an interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News.

Reading the interview is a thoroughly disheartening affair. As editors plied Sanders with questions about how he would implement his radical agenda, it became abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton’s chief rival doesn’t have many answers.

Take his response to questions about his highly touted plan to break up America’s big banks. After reassuring the board that “the idea of breaking up these banks is not an original idea. It’s an idea that some conservatives have also agreed to,” Sanders was asked how he would go about such an impressive task. Sanders’ subsequent waffling should give even the stoutest Sanders supporter pause.

 As editors plied Sanders with questions, it became abundantly clear he didn’t have many answers. First, he suggested legislation (somehow pushed through a presumably Republican Congress) would do the bank-busting. Then he claimed that his administration would have the authority to force through changes on its own, before quickly contradicting himself and reassuring his interviewers that “the president is not a dictator.” When the Daily News pointed out that a federal court had recently overturned an attempt to regulate America’s biggest life insurer Metropolitan Life, and asked how this precedent might impact his own efforts as president, Sanders conceded: “It’s something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.”

Sanders was similarly evasive when asked how his “political revolution” might be affected by the realities of a GOP-held legislature. After spending most of his time talking about the revolution already wrought by his campaign, Sanders argued that his presence in the presidential race would result in a voter turnout large enough to retake the Senate for liberals and make gains in the House. (This would still result in a divided Congress, but okay.) He also claimed that a win would “mean that millions of people now want to be involved in the political process in a way that has not previously existed,” somehow compelling Congress to act in accordance with their newly expressed wishes.

Sanders’ worst moments, though, came when he was asked to discuss foreign policy. Because the wording of these exchanges is so important, it’s better to just quote directly from the transcript. Here’s Sanders talking about Israel and Palestine:

Daily News: Do you support the Palestinian leadership’s attempt to use the International Criminal Court to litigate some of these issues to establish that, in their view, Israel had committed essentially war crimes?

Sanders: No.

Daily News: Why not?

Sanders: Why not?

Daily News: Why not, why it…

Sanders: Look, why don’t I support a million things in the world?

And here he is on drone strikes:

Daily News: President Obama has taken the authority for drone attacks away from the CIA and given it to the US military. Some say that that has caused difficulties in zeroing in on terrorists, their ISIS leaders. Do you believe that he’s got the right policy there?

Sanders: I don’t know the answer to that.

And terrorist interrogations:

Daily News: What would you do with a captured ISIS commander?

Sanders: Imprison him.

Daily News: Where?

Sanders: And try to get as much information out of him. If the question leads us to Guantanamo…

Daily News: Well, no, separate and apart from Guantanamo, it could be there, it could be anywhere. Where would a President Sanders imprison, interrogate? What would you do?

Sanders: Actually I haven’t thought about it a whole lot.

Just to be clear, Sanders’ character is not in question here. Sanders is an incredibly compassionate man, one driven by a deep desire to help the disadvantaged and correct injustice. His campaign has created an incredibly opportunity for liberal Americans to push their party to do better on the kinds of issues frequently regarded as taboo in the past, from destigmatizing the word “socialist” to boldly pushing for a national minimum wage of $15 per hour. An American president has to do more than simply raise awareness about important issues. 

At the same time, an American president has to do more than simply raise awareness about important issues. A qualified candidate must be able to realistically assess how he or she would implement the policies that they believe to be most important. Sanders was unable to do this during his interview. And his answers revealed a rather shocking lack of knowledge about the many aspects of being president unrelated to his stump speeches, most notably foreign policy. In the process, he raised serious doubts about whether his bid for the White House can, or should, be viewed as anything more than a single-issue campaign.

This brings us to the deeper lesson we can learn from the 2016 presidential election. The presidency isn’t a symbolic title. It is a job,and in order to fill it one must demonstrate a breadth of understanding as well as a depth of conviction. Sanders has copious quantities of the latter. But in the context of this incredibly vital election, that’s simply not good enough.