How do the traditional Republicans like Trump's first moves?
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said in an interview published Tuesday that it is "entirely inappropriate" for President Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon to be a member of the National Security Council principals' committee.
"I am very surprised, disappointed and very much disagree with the president's decision to restructure that important committee," Collins said in an interview with Maine Public Radio.
She said that Bannon "does not have the expertise that the director of National Intelligence or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have."
"This is entirely inappropriate," Collins said.
Collins co-authored legislation in 2004 along with former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) that established the office of the director of National Intelligence.
That position was affected by steps Trump took on Sunday, apparently to restructure the National Security Council. Besides adding Bannon to the principals committee, the President also specified that his director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would attend NSC meetings specifically "where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed."
Yeah, those Trumpists really know how to get things done.
. . . then there is the palace intrigue, the details of which are leaking like the Titanic to every reporter in Washington. Over the past few days we've been hearing a lot about Sessions and his proteges and about Steve Bannon, Trump's apparent Razputin who has been elevated to an exalted position as adviser on foreign policy. And this raised the question of what happened to the crazed alt-right General, Michael Flynn, who was supposed to be Trump's Patton, MacArthur and Blackjack Pershing all rolled into one. Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman of the "New York Times" got the scoop on that: it looks as though he has seriously lost favor.
While Flynn was a favorite of Trump's when he was heaping contempt upon Hillary Clinton, evidently he hasn't worn well with the boss since they vanquished her. They say he talks too much and his son has been a thorn in their side. There are also whispers about him being too close to certain fringe characters which is true but also self-serving since Bannon and Trump himself are closely tied to the same elements. According to the NY Times' juicy dish, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis and Mike Pompeo all convened a meeting this week and didn't invite poor Flynn because he was the subject of discussion. The claws are definitely out.
This may be the most encouraging bit of news we've had since Trump was inaugurated. Sessions and his crew are scary ideologues. Bannon is a frighteningly adept propagandist with a dangerous worldview. Mike Pence and Paul Ryan are far right conservative movement zealots with a blank check. Trump himself is unfit and over his head. And the whole administration is clearly incompetent on every level. But Michael Flynn seems to be certifiably unhinged even by the standards of this unbalanced crew so if they are looking for ways to ease him out, thank goodness for small favors. One less kook in a White House full of them is a baby step in the right direction. We'll take it.
digby 1/31/2017 09:30:00 AM
It's almost an incredible moment to have citizens of the world calling the U.S. names before a whole week has passed since its new President's inauguration . . . but . . .
Also, Fuckface von Clownstick is no smooth-talking, seductive Mephistopheles, but a psychopathic jerk who couldn't fool anybody unless they'd sold their souls already. You all sold your souls 36 and some years ago to Lee Atwater, when he showed you how to win racist and misogynist and jingoist votes to build an electoral majority for screwing the working class, and you renewed the deal with Karl Rove.
Now's the part where you're in Hell (Priebus and Ryan and the rest of you screaming in terror, though as Jonathan Chait, via Lemieux, says, Ryan isn't "spineless," he's evil), and unfortunately you've managed to work it so that we're there with you, you murderous assholes.
Speaking of which, at the beginning of act 5 of the second part of Goethe's Faust, the hero does something eerily Trumpian.
The bargain in Goethe's version is a bet: Faust claims that whatever pleasures and powers Mephistopheles might supply him with he can never feel enough satisfaction to want to linger in a given moment, and the deal is that if he ever gets to that point the demon can claim his soul.
So, many years later, a powerful old plutocrat, he's annoyed by a cottage and chapel that spoil the views from his property, and asks Mephistopheles to do something about it, apparently thinking of an eminent domain solution, but the demon fixes it by murdering the sweet old couple who live in the cottage. This is where Faust finally begins to realize that he's done something wrong, to acquire a sense of needing to atone, and before you know it he's making these big infrastructure plans to better people's lives, and finds himself in an entirely new psychological situation: his unslakable restlessness and dissatisfaction are eased, he's suffused with a sense of peace, and he asks for this moment to not go away ("Verweile doch, du bist so schön"). But these are the magic words that bring on the dénouement of the drama, which is why the Virgin manages to rescue him: because the moment he decided to linger in was a redemptive one.
And so did men.
But was there redemption?
January 27, 2017
by Myles Hoenig
This past Sunday’s women’s march appeared to be a watershed mark in American activist history. Millions of people all over the world, but especially in the US, marched against the Trump Administration and for women’s equal rights and the rights of all others disenfranchised by the capitalist system: immigrants (documented or not), Palestinians, working poor, etc.____________________________
The list of speakers was impressive and widely divergent. With Linda Sarsour, who on the surface and to those unaware of her history, openly spoke of her Palestinian identity to Scarlett Johannson, spokesperson for Israeli oppression of Palestine; capitalist anti-public education leaders like Randi Winegarten, and a whole slew of the most despicable of Democratic leaders: Corey Booker, who opposes importing cheaper drugs from Canada; Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who perhaps single handedly gave us Donald Trump; Tammy Duckworth and so many others who blame Russia for Clinton’s miserable campaign; etc.
There were a lot of unknown faces on the podium representing a huge array of issues that need to be out front representing the rights of prisoners, domestic workers, sexual assault survivors, Jewish an Muslim activists, etc. Lots of main-stream and NGO people up there on the podium. Didn’t see any Greens, open socialists, or other anti-capitalists. Do we need to wonder why? The planning of the march in DC started out with a layer of militancy, but as more establishment figures got on board, it became co-opted. However, the tone and militancy of marches in other areas were mixed.
The crowds were old and young. I couldn’t get to DC because the lines at Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore were the largest it ever has been. Our ‘socialist’ rail system hit pay dirt! Like many though, I decided to stay in town and take part in the local demo. It looked like DC, except for the numbers, of course. Same crowd, same demographics, same signs, same pussy hats.
To all the young people who attended, many with their grandparents or parents (veterans of previous demos) this will be your first day in hopefully a long life of dissenting. I was at the April 24, 1971 anti-war demo in DC and haven’t stopped. They are the lifeblood of a movement and the vanguard of a revolution.
Listen to your elders in their stories of past glorious fights with the establishment. Listen to how they may have taken over universities for free speech, or stood with the Black Panthers at soup kitchens and day care centers, or broke into military establishments and poured blood on the weapons of mass destruction. Their stories are inspiring. The stories give you hope. The stories tell of a new world that is possible. But don’t take their advice! So many of them are bought into the 2-party system that saw the answer to Trump being Clinton.
I was there to register Greens, having people thank the Democrats for giving us Trump by DemExiting. I was hardly successful. Baltimore is a tough, religiously sycophantic Democratic Party town. Breaking through this blue barrier is tough and takes a lot of work. So many of the older people at the demo were strong Clintonoids. Some even reverted to their past idiotic arguments that the Greens gave us Bush and Trump. Can’t argue with stupid, so better to just move along.
The glimmer of hope is with the young. Keep fighting. Reject the 2-party system that gave us Trump and Hillary. Go Green or start other parties and make them viable. Be loud. Be action oriented. Don’t take patronizing tones from those saying it’s not your turn or not time for you yet. The same said to Greens whenever they want to run people for office that may or may not hurt the chosen party was said to blacks who were too ‘uppity’ and fought for basic human rights, dignity, and the ability to take part in a system designed to keep them down and out.
To many of the old veterans who attended the march this past Sunday I ask, “Where the hell were you for 8 years?” And, “You better get the hell out of the way for this next generation of fighters.”
By Naomi Klein
January 25, 2017
We already know that the Trump administration plans to deregulate markets, wage all-out war on “radical Islamic terrorism,” trash climate science and unleash a fossil-fuel frenzy. It’s a vision that can be counted on to generate a tsunami of crises and shocks: economic shocks, as market bubbles burst; security shocks, as blowback from foreign belligerence comes home; weather shocks, as our climate is further destabilized; and industrial shocks, as oil pipelines spill and rigs collapse, which they tend to do, especially when enjoying light-touch regulation._ _ _ _ _ _ _
All this is dangerous enough. What’s even worse is the way the Trump administration can be counted on to exploit these shocks politically and economically.
Naomi Klein explains how the Trump administration might take advantage of coming crises to Jeremy Scahill at the Women’s March, Jan. 21, 2017.
Speculation is unnecessary. All that’s required is a little knowledge of recent history. Ten years ago, I published “The Shock Doctrine,” a history of the ways in which crises have been systematically exploited over the last half century to further a radical pro-corporate agenda. The book begins and ends with the response to Hurricane Katrina, because it stands as such a harrowing blueprint for disaster capitalism.
That’s relevant because of the central, if little-recalled role played by the man who is now the U.S. vice president, Mike Pence. At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee. On September 13, 2005 — just 14 days after the levees were breached and with parts of New Orleans still underwater — the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
Under Pence’s leadership, the group came up with a list of “Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices” — 32 policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.
To get a sense of how the Trump administration will respond to its first crises, it’s worth reading the list in full (and noting Pence’s name right at the bottom).
What stands out in the package of pseudo “relief” policies is the commitment to wage all-out war on labor standards and on the public sphere — which is ironic because the failure of public infrastructure is what turned Katrina into a human catastrophe. Also notable is the determination to use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry.
The first three items on the RSC list are “automatically suspend Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws in disaster areas,” a reference to the law that required federal contractors to pay a living wage; “make the entire affected area a flat-tax free-enterprise zone”; and “make the entire region an economic competitiveness zone (comprehensive tax incentives and waiving of regulations).”
Another demand called for giving parents vouchers to use at charter schools, a move perfectly in line with the vision held by Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
All these measures were announced by President George W. Bush within the week. Under pressure, Bush was eventually forced to reinstate the labor standards, though they were largely ignored by contractors. There is every reason to believe this will be the model for the multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments Trump is using to court the labor movement. Repealing Davis-Bacon for those projects was reportedly already floated at Monday’s meeting with leaders of construction and buildi trade unions.
Back in 2005, the Republican Study Committee meeting produced more ideas that gained presidential support. Climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures. This connection, however, didn’t stop Pence and the RSC from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf Coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the United States, and to greenlight “drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”
All these measures are a surefire way to drive up greenhouse gas emissions, the major human contributor to climate change, yet they were immediately championed by the president under the guise of responding to a devastating storm.
The oil industry wasn’t the only one to profit from Hurricane Katrina, of course. So did a slew of well-connected contractors, who turned the Gulf Coast into a laboratory for privatized disaster response.
The companies that snatched up the biggest contracts were the familiar gang from the invasion of Iraq: Halliburton’s KBR unit won a $60 million gig to reconstruct military bases along the coast. Blackwater was hired to protect FEMA employees from looters. Parsons, infamous for its sloppy Iraq work, was brought in for a major bridge construction project in Mississippi. Fluor, Shaw, Bechtel, CH2M Hill — all top contractors in Iraq — were hired by the government to provide mobile homes to evacuees just 10 days after the levees broke. Their contracts ended up totaling $3.4 billion, no open bidding required.
And no opportunity for profit was left untapped. Kenyon, a division of the mega funeral conglomerate Service Corporation International (a major Bush campaign donor), was hired to retrieve the dead from homes and streets. The work was extraordinarily slow, and bodies were left in the broiling sun for days. Emergency workers and local volunteer morticians were forbidden to step in to help because handling the bodies impinged on Kenyon’s commercial territory.
And as with so many of Trump’s decisions so far, relevant experience often appeared to have nothing to do with how contracts were allocated. AshBritt, a company paid half a billion dollars to remove debris, reportedly didn’t own a single dump truck and farmed out the entire job to contractors.
Even more striking was the company that FEMA paid $5.2 million to perform the crucial role of building a base camp for emergency workers in St. Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. The camp construction fell behind schedule and was never completed. When the contractor was investigated, it emerged that the company, Lighthouse Disaster Relief, was actually a religious group. “About the closest thing I have done to this is just organize a youth camp with my church,” confessed Lighthouse’s director, Pastor Gary Heldreth.
After all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. For instance, the author Mike Davis tracked the way FEMA paid Shaw $175 a square foot to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 a square foot. “Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung,” Davis wrote, “where the actual work is carried out.”
In Mississippi, a class-action lawsuit forced several companies to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages to immigrant workers. Some were not paid at all. On one Halliburton/KBR job site, undocumented immigrant workers reported being wakened in the middle of the night by their employer (a sub-subcontractor), who allegedly told them that immigration agents were on their way. Most workers fled to avoid arrest.
This corruption and abuse is particularly relevant because of Trump’s stated plan to contract out much of his infrastructure spending to private players in so-called public-private partnerships.
In the Katrina aftermath, the attacks on vulnerable people, carried out in the name of reconstruction and relief, did not stop there. In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40 billion from the federal budget. Among the programs that were slashed were student loans, Medicaid, and food stamps. In other words, the poorest people in the United States subsidized the contractor bonanza twice: first, when Katrina relief morphed into unregulated corporate handouts, providing neither decent jobs nor functional public services; and, second, when the few programs that directly assist the unemployed and working poor nationwide were gutted to pay those bloated bills.
This is the disaster capitalism blueprint, and it aligns with Trump’s own track record as a businessman all too well.
Trump and Pence come to power at a time when these kinds of disasters, like the lethal tornadoes that just struck the southeastern United States, are coming fast and furious. Trump has already declared the U.S. a rolling disaster zone. And the shocks will keep getting bigger, thanks to the reckless policies that have already been promised.
What Katrina tells us is that this administration will attempt to exploit each disaster for maximum gain. We’d better get ready.
Portions of this article were adapted from The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
January 27, 2017
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Apologies in advance for forcing unpleasant thoughts this early in an essay; reflexively, what economic class do the national Democrats’ ‘deplorables’ inhabit? With the persistence of institutional racism (graph below) across both Democrat and Republican administrations, why wouldn’t the answer be the rich who own the corporations that employ people and the professional class that does the hiring? If racism doesn’t motivate institutional racism, what does?
The question is loaded for a reason — the corporate titans and capitalist class that fund the major political Parties have uniformly rejected explicit race and gender bias in hiring through the institutions they own and/or control. As a point of social logic, if economic outcomes differ by race and gender but the entities doing the hiring aren’t racist or sexist, the fault must lie with jobseekers. Enter the bourgeois storyline of racism and sexism as misplaced blame from ‘losers’ for their own failures.
An obvious problem with this explanation is the systemic nature of institutional racism and sexism. The White/Black employment rate (below) is one of many measures that demonstrate systematic differences in economic outcomes by race across time. Unless one wants to posit bottom-up causality, that corporate hiring, compensation and wealth distribution are decided along racial lines by working class ‘deplorables,’ blame belongs with those who control the institutions that produce it.
Graph: Institutional racism has persisted across Democrat and Republican administrations since the onset of neoliberalism despite claims by Democrats and their supporters that they are the Party of racial reconciliation. Economic cycles explain the periodic convergence and divergence of the ratio of White to Black employment. Dean Baker explains the appearance of convergence in 2016 here. Source: St. Louis Federal Reserve.
The practice of blaming down in an increasingly hierarchical and anti-democratic society produces an obvious benefit for the economic powers-that-be and their servants in the political class. It blames the powerless for social dysfunction over which they have little to no control. And the self-serving tautology at work, that social power is distributed through a natural distribution of virtues — qualifications in the language of corporate apologists, provides faux meritocratic cover for the social violence of economic exclusion.
The issue here is not racism per se, but rather the division of the working class along racial and gender lines for the benefit of plutocrats and their servants. In what configuration of the world does it make sense that a working class that has been systematically disempowered for the last half-century is responsible for the social disintegration currently unfolding across the West?
In the case of institutional racism, the savage histories of slavery and genocide are used in the present to misrepresent the current distribution of social power as their artifact to the exclusion of class explanations. To the extent that working class racism does exist, it doesn’t explain the differences in institutional outcomes that have resulted in increasingly widespread economic exclusion. Again, assertion that the poor and working class determine institutional prerogatives is not supported by the evidence.
Put differently, the aspect of existing social divisions that has been carried forward from the pre-modern past is class relations. America was founded as a ‘new world’ plutocracy — there never existed a past where the poor and working classes determined the social policies that explain institutional racism. The idea that the laboring classes and petite bourgeois would create a slave class to lower wages and undercut their capacity for social negotiation is a non-sequitur created by plutocrats as cover for their own crimes.
As slight evidence — readers are invited to read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States for detailed background, the U.S. Constitution counted slaves as 3/5ths a person to accrue political power to the owners of ‘capital,’ not to the laboring classes. And today capital and its servants in the professional class determine who is employed and who isn’t and at what wages. Deference to labor ‘markets’ is misdirection, else systematic race and gender bias wouldn’t exist. (Ask an economist to explain why race and gender bias shouldn’t exist in a market economy).
Where economic power translates to political power, economic power frames the discourse. As the facts have it, this intersection finds the non-racist owners and senior managers of America’s dominant institutions being the major campaign contributors to both political Parties and thereby setting both the political and economic agendas of the nation. From this perspective racism is difficult to resolve because it requires the redistribution of social power. And it is this mal-distribution of social power that is the effective residual of the pre-modern past.
The class dynamic of the national Democrats’ ’deplorables’ comment has been lost on the liberal class for a reason. The corporatist frame that allows institutional rules to obviate factual outcomes under the manufactured logic of individual capacities only makes sense from inside a closed logic. It allows professional-class liberals to congratulate themselves on their social virtue without requiring the distribution/redistribution of social power that would affect the actual outcomes upon which this virtue is claimed.
In a material sense, enlightened liberal Barack Obama oversaw the near total destruction of Black wealth, a foreclosure crisis that continues to eviscerate communities of color and the elevation of the most predatory of capitalist institutions — Wall Street. The liberal chide that Mr. Obama’s (and Hillary Clinton’s) critics are racists posits an ethereal realm where intentions matter and factual outcomes don’t. Self-righteous liberals claim moral superiority based on their outcome-free intentions with social disintegration as their product.
Put differently, the two-Party back-and-forth between explicit and implicit racism since the rise of neoliberalism has had little to no impact on institutional racism. The evidence of difference that has been offered is economic cycles through which both institutional racism and the immiseration/evisceration of the laboring classes have persisted. Donald Trump is the ‘explicit’ variant who used the outcomes of bi-partisan policies as misdirection to win political support. He no more caused institutional race and gender bias than Democrats have resolved it.
The broader social product is a hermetically-sealed (through tautology) apologia for the existing order. It is hardly an accident that the deep-state, the self-perpetuating bureaucracy that supports the financialized death-state (militarism and environmental catastrophe), prefers the predictable ‘liberal’ hard-right to its loose-cannon brethren. The explicit racism and classism of the belligerent hard-right risks exposing the state-of-affairs ‘managed’ into existence by plutocrats and their political servants charged with overseeing the metaphorical plantation.
Graph: ‘Resistance’ to racism and sexism posed in terms of competition between the major political Parties confuses bi-partisan class warfare with product branding. Self-righteous posturing by liberals regarding racism and sexism serves as cover for the institutional perpetuation of both. Divide and conquer to protect ruling class gains is the intended outcome. Source: Cosmopolitan / U.S. Election Project.
Plutocrats and their servants have organized social resources so that ‘qualifications’ fall into their laps through the normal course of existing. This insight was behind the New Deal build-out of public education and Great Society programs of economic inclusion — without public provision of these ‘qualifications’ serve mainly to perpetuate the existing order. And even with these, a parallel private system that provides class distinction serves to undermine the leveling effect of public institutions.
The national Democrats’ con that they oppose racism while they support the institutions that perpetuate it links dog-whistle racial politics like the Clinton’s 1994 crime bill to the national Democrats ‘positive’ support for the capitalist institutions that perpetuate economic exclusion. The Clintons (and Barack Obama) aren’t racists — how could they be? — even though they supported mass incarceration, mass deportation and predatory lending by Wall Street that devastated communities of color.
Graph: Economic inequality is posed as a fact of nature as cover for political capture of the professional class for the benefit of the ruling plutocracy. In this context the liberal charge that social disintegration is being led by working class racists requires near-total ignorance of the mechanisms of economic distribution combined with class-based contempt for the working class and poor. Source: CBO.
The fear-mongering storyline of White backlash used to explain Donald Trump’s election perpetuates the myth of democratic rule in a plutocracy. It assumes that the political class is led from below when all evidence has it that wealth = political power. The political class does the bidding of the rich and the institutions they control. Race and gender bias are evidence of the mal-distribution of social resources, not the cause.
What anti-establishment voters, and those who consciously withheld their votes, got right in the recent election is that the illusion of choice provided by the major Parties is anti-politics. Liberals, as guardians of the status quo, are class warriors on the side of economic mal-distribution and the immiseration of the laboring classes and poor for the benefit of the rich. The ease with which the misdirection of ‘deplorables’ was sold illustrates the conundrum confronting any actual Left political movement.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.
. . . Media shapes our very lives. It tells us what products we need to buy and, by the quantity and nature of coverage, what is “important” and what is “unimportant.” Media informs us as to the scope of what is “realistic” and “possible.”
When we see constant coverage of murders and brutality on television, corporate media is telling us that crime and violence are important issues that we should be concerned about. When there is round-the-clock coverage of the Super Bowl, we are being informed that football and the NFL deserve our rapt attention. When there is very little coverage of the suffering of the 43 million Americans living in poverty, or the thousands of Americans without health insurance who die each year because they can’t get to a doctor when they should, corporately owned media is telling us that these are not issues of major concern. For years, major crises like climate change, the impact of trade agreements on our economy, the role of big money in politics and youth unemployment have received scant media coverage. Trade union leaders, environmentalists, low-income activists, people prepared to challenge the corporate ideology, rarely appear on our TV screens.
_________________________Media is not just about what is covered and how. It is about what is not covered. And those decisions, of what is and is not covered, are not made in the heavens. They are made by human beings who often have major conflicts of interest.
As a general rule of thumb, the more important the issue is to large numbers of working people, the less interesting it is to corporate media. The less significant it is to ordinary people, the more attention the media pays. Further, issues being pushed by the top 1 percent get a lot of attention. Issues advocated by representatives of working families, not so much.
For the corporate media, the real issues facing the American people— poverty, the decline of the middle class, income and wealth inequality, trade, healthcare, climate change, etc.—are fairly irrelevant. For them, politics is largely presented as entertainment. With some notable exceptions, reporters are trained to see a campaign as if it were a game show, a baseball game, a soap opera, or a series of conflicts.
I saw this time and time again.
Turn on CNN or other networks covering politics and what you will find is that the overwhelming amount of coverage is dedicated to personality, gossip, campaign strategy, scandals, conflicts, polls and who appears to be winning or losing, fundraising, the ups and downs of the campaign trail, and the dumb things a candidate may say or do. It has very little to do with the needs of the American people and the ideas or programs a candidate offers to address the problems facing the country.
According to a study of media coverage of the 2016 primaries by the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, only 11 percent of coverage focused on candidates’ policy positions, leadership abilities and professional histories. My personal sense is that number is much too high.
The “politics as entertainment” approach works very well for someone like Donald Trump, an experienced entertainer. That kind of media approach didn’t work so well for a campaign like ours, which was determined to focus on the real problems facing our country and what the solutions might be. For the corporate media, name-calling and personal attacks are easy to cover, and what it prefers to cover.
While I was still considering whether or not to run, I did a long interview with a very prominent national newspaper writer. Over and over I stressed that I wanted to talk about my assessment of the major problems facing the country, and how I proposed to address them. And for 45 minutes, that’s what the discussion was about. The reporter appeared interested in what I had to say, and I thought we had a good conversation. At the very end, as he was leaving, he said: “Oh, by the way, Hillary Clinton said such and such. What’s your comment?” I fell for it. Needless to say, that one-minute response became the major part of his story. And that occurred time after time after time.
On a CNN show, an interviewer became visibly angry because I chose not to respond to her questions with personal attacks against Secretary Clinton. The interviewer opined that I didn’t have “sharp enough elbows” to become a serious candidate, that I wasn’t tough enough. Identifying the major problems facing our country, and providing ideas as to how we could address them, was just not good enough.
In fact, I was gently faulted by some for having excessive “message discipline,” for spending too much time discussing real issues. Boring. The result of all of these factors is that while I was getting coverage, it was far less than what other candidates were getting.
In a Dec. 11, 2015, blog post for Media Matters for America, Eric Boehlert wrote:
ABC World News Tonight has devoted less than one minute to Bernie Sanders’ campaign this year.
In his article, Boehlert also reported that:
Trump has received more network coverage than all the Democratic candidates combined.
Republican Jeb Bush received 56 minutes of coverage.On May 25, 2016, Media Matters for America discussed the coverage of poverty issues on the major television networks for the first quarter of 2016:
During the survey period, Sunday political talk shows on ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox Broadcasting, and MSNBC featured 27 segments focused on economic inequality and nine focused specifically on poverty. Interviews with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) accounted for 16 of the 27 segments focused on economic inequality and six of the nine segments addressing poverty.What does it say about corporate media coverage of the major issues facing our country when my candidacy, alone, accounted for the majority of attention (limited though it may have been) that network Sunday news shows paid to poverty?
On the other hand, from the beginning of the campaign to the end, there were major articles and TV coverage on all kinds of stuff that no normal human being was particularly interested in. When was I going to announce my intention to run? When was I going to announce my intention to drop out? When was I was going to endorse Clinton? Why wasn’t I spending more time shaking hands and kissing babies? Why did certain staff members leave the campaign? Why were the campaign staffing levels reduced? What did I have for breakfast?
I remember cringing when the car I was traveling in was pulled over in Iowa because we were speeding to an event, with a "New York Times" reporter in the back seat. The state trooper was professional and polite and gave us a warning. Not so the reporter, who, it goes without saying, made it a major part of her coverage.
Why is it that the mainstream media sees politics as entertainment, and largely ignores the major crises facing our country? The answer lies in the fact that corporate media is owned by, well, large multinational corporations.
These powerful corporations also have an agenda, and it would be naive not to believe that their views and needs impact coverage of issues important to them. Seen any specials lately as to why we pay the highest prices in the world for our prescription drugs, or why we are the only major country on earth not to have a national health care program? That may have something to do with the hundreds of millions of dollars each year that drug companies and insurance companies spend on advertising.
And let us also not forget that the leading personalities we see on television are themselves, in most cases, multimillionaires with very generous contracts. That does not make them evil or bad people. It just makes them very wealthy, corporate employees who bring to their jobs the perspective that very wealthy corporate employees bring.
Disney, the owner of ABC, has many thousands of employees in China manufacturing their products at very low wages. In the United States, they have utilized guest worker programs to fire Americans and replace them with low-wage foreign workers. Further, despite making huge profits, they pay the people who work at their theme parks here very low wages. I could be wrong, but I don’t expect that you will see programming tonight on ABC discussing the plight of low-wage workers here in the United States or, for that matter, in China.
Let me also give a shout-out to people who, with resources far more limited than their corporate competitors, try to inform the American people about the real issues facing our country. We received very fair coverage from Thom Hartmann, Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks, and Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now!" The folks at "The Nation," "In These Times," "The Progressive," and a number of other smaller publications and blogs also worked extremely hard to allow us to convey our message to the American people. Ed Schultz, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes provided us with the very fair coverage we received on MSNBC. I was also pleased to have been on the Bill Moyers program on PBS on several occasions.
In my campaign for president, I received 46 percent of the pledged delegates, won twenty-two states, and lost some states by a few votes. In other words, we had a significant amount of support from ordinary people. On the other hand, I did not win 46 percent of the endorsements from the print establishment and the leading newspapers in the country. In fact, I won virtually none. In almost every state, the owners of the establishment newspapers supported Secretary Clinton.
I was very proud to have received the endorsement of the "Seattle Times." Among all the major newspapers throughout this country, that was it. We received one major newspaper endorsement.
Who owns the media?
In 1983, the largest 50 corporations controlled 90 percent of the media. Today, as a result of massive mergers and takeovers, six corporations control 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read. Those six corporations are Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS. In 2010, the total revenue of these six corporations was $275 billion. In a recent article in Forbes magazine discussing media ownership, the headline appropriately read: “These 15 Billionaires Own America’s News Media Companies.”
No sane person denies that the media plays an enormously important role in shaping public consciousness and determining political outcomes. The current media situation is a very serious threat to our democracy.
The very first amendment to our Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the right of the people to express their points of view from the rooftops, to allow themselves to be heard. That is something I passionately believe in.
Unfortunately, as A. J. Liebling wrote back in 1960: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” And the people who own the press, radio and television stations, and book publishing and movie companies are becoming fewer and fewer, with more and more power. This is a crisis that can no longer be ignored.
January 26, 2017
The election of Donald Trump has sent millions of people pouring out onto the streets to protest a man they think is a racist, misogynist, xenophobic bully who will destroy US democracy in his quest to establish himself as supreme fascist ruler of the country.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe Trump is a fascist who will destroy America. But where were these people when Obama was bombing wedding parties in Kandahar, or training jihadist militants to fight in Syria, or abetting NATO’s destructive onslaught on Libya, or plunging Ukraine into fratricidal warfare, or collecting the phone records of innocent Americans, or deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers, or force-feeding prisoners at Gitmo, or providing bombs and aircraft to the Saudis to continue their genocidal war against Yemen?
Where were they?
They were asleep, weren’t they? Because liberals always sleep when their man is in office, particularly if their man is a smooth-talking cosmopolitan snake-charmer like Obama who croons about personal freedom and democracy while unleashing the most unspeakable violence on civilians across the Middle East and Central Asia.
The United States has been at war for eight straight years under Obama, and during that time, there hasn’t been one sizable antiwar march, demonstration or protest. Nothing. No one seems to care when an articulate bi-racial mandarin kills mostly people of color, but when a brash and outspoken real estate magnate takes over the reigns of power, then ‘watch out’ because here come the protestors, all three million of them!
Can we agree that there is at least the appearance of hypocrisy here?
Indeed. Analyst Jon Reynolds summed it up perfectly over at the "Black Agenda Report." He said:
“If Hillary had won, the drone strikes would have continued. The wars would have continued. The spying would continue. Whistleblowers would continue being prosecuted and hunted down. And minorities would continue bearing the brunt of these policies, both in the US and across the world. The difference is that in such a scenario, Democrats, if the last eight years are any indication, would remain silent — as they did under Obama — offering bare minimum concern and vilifying anyone attacking their beloved president as some sort of hater. Cities across the US would remain free of protests, and for another 4-8 years, Democrats would continue doing absolutely nothing to end the same horrifying policies now promoted by a Republican.” (“Delusions Shattered“, Jon Reynolds, "The Black Agenda Report")He’s right, isn’t he? How many of the 800,000 protesters who marched on Sunday would have flown to Washington to express their contempt for would-be President Hillary Clinton?
Zero, I’d wager, and yet it’s Hillary who wanted to implement the no-fly zones in Syria that would have put Washington in direct confrontation with Moscow, just like it was Hillary who wanted to teach Putin a-thing-or-two in Ukraine. But is that what the people want? Would people prefer to be led into World War 3 by a bonefide champion of liberal values than concede the post to a brassy billionaire who wants to find common ground on fighting ISIS with his Russian counterpart?
It seems like a no-brainer to me. And it’s not like we don’t know who is responsible for the killing in Syria either. We do.
Barack Obama and his coterie of bloodthirsty friends in the political establishment are entirely responsible. These are the people who funded, armed and trained the Salafist maniacs that have decimated the country and created millions of refugees that are now tearing apart the EU. That’s right, the spillover from America’s not-so-covert operation is ripping the EU to shreds. It’s just another unfortunate side-effect of Obama’s bloody Syrian debacle. As journalist Margaret Kimberly says in a recent post at "The Black Agenda Report:" “All of the casualties, the sieges, the hunger and the frantic search for refuge can be placed at America’s feet.”
Amen, to that. All the violence can be traced back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, home of Barack Hussein Obama, Nobel peace prize winner. What a joke. Here’s how analyst Solomon Comissiong sums it up in another article at the BAR:
“Supporters of Barack Obama, and liberals in general, are disingenuous frauds. They had no issues protesting the likes of the amoral warmongering George W. Bush or the racist xenophobe, Donald J. Trump, however when it comes to Barack Obama they can find no reason to protest his mass murdering escapades. Obama supporters were recently nostalgic and teary eyed after he gave his last major speech as president of the United States, yet can find little reason to shed tears over the masses of civilians who were destroyed directly as a result of Obama’s policies. Where were the emotions and tears when men, women and children were getting blown to bits by USA drone attacks, indiscriminate air strikes and bombs? … Those who protested the racist and xenophobic Trump, but not Obama or Clinton, are nothing more that disingenuous frauds and amoral cowards.” ( "As Obama Exits the White House, Never Forget His Destructive Imperialist Legacy", Solomon Comissiong, "Black Agenda Report")Let’s be honest, Obama got a pass from his supporters strictly because of appearances; because he looked and sounded like a thoroughly reasonable bloke who only acted on the loftiest of principles. Obama was hailed as a moral giant, a political rock star, a leader among leaders. But it was all fake, all make-up and glitz behind which operated the vicious national security state extending its tentacles around the world, toppling regimes wherever it went, and leaving anarchy and destruction in its wake. Isn’t this Obama’s real legacy when you strip away the sweeping hand gestures and pompous rhetoric?
Of course it is. But Trump won’t have that advantage, will he? Trump is not a public relations invention upon which heartsick liberals pin their highest hopes. Trump is Trump, warts and all, the proverbial bull in the china shop. That’s not to say Trump won’t be a lousy president. Judging by the Wall Street cutthroats and hard-edged military men he’s surrounded himself with, he probably will be. But the American people are no longer asleep, so there’s going to be limits to what he can hope to achieve.
So the question is: How should one approach the Trump presidency? Should we denounce him as a fascist before he ever sets foot in the Oval Office? Should we deny his “legitimacy” even though he was elected via a process we have honored for over 200 years? Should we launch impeachment proceedings before he’s done anything that would warrant his removal from office?
Veteran journalist Robert Parry answers this question in a recent piece at "Consortium News." Here’s what he said:
“The current danger for Democrats and progressives is that – by bashing everything that Trump says and does – they will further alienate the white working-class voters who became his base and will push away anti-war activists.Right on, Bob. A very reasonable approach to a very thorny situation.
There is a risk that the Left will trade places with the Right on the question of war and peace, with Democrats and progressives associating themselves with Hillary Clinton’s support for “endless war” in the Middle East, the political machinations of the CIA, and a New Cold War with Russia, essentially moving into an alliance with the Military (and Intelligence) Industrial Complex.
Many populists already view the national Democrats as elitists disdainful of the working class, promoters of harmful “free trade” deals, and internationalists represented by the billionaires at the glitzy annual confab in Davos, Switzerland.
If — in a rush to demonize and impeach President Trump — Democrats and progressives solidify support for wars of choice in the Middle East, a New Cold War with Russia and a Davos-style elitism, they could further alienate many people who might otherwise be their allies.
In other words, selectivity in opposing and criticizing Trump – where he rightly deserves it – rather than opportunism in rejecting everything that Trump says might make more sense. A movement built entirely on destroying Trump could drop Democrats and progressives into some politically destructive traps.” (“Selectivity in Trashing Trump“, Robert Parry, "Consortium News")
January 27, 2017
There is universal agreement that President Donald Trump’s “advertisement for himself” in front of CIA’s memorial wall on Saturday was an unmitigated disaster for both the vainglorious president and the Central Intelligence Agency. But there are always favorable reviews to be found. In this case, there were two: one from the president who told ABC’s David Muir that the presentation was “great;” the other from the "Washington Post"’s long-time apologist-in-chief for the CIA, David Ignatius._______________________
Over the past several decades, Ignatius has defended the CIA’s political assassination program, and argued that no investigation was necessary because “nobody had been killed.” He never condemned the CIA training of death squads in Central America, including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador. He never deplored the CIA’s Phoenix operation during the Vietnam War, when the agency ran a paramilitary campaign of interrogation, torture, and assassination that targeted many innocent victims. And he never favored accountability for agency operatives who manned the secret prisons, and conducted the program of torture and abuse.
Thus, it is no surprise that Ignatius, writing in the "Washington Post" on Monday, welcomed President Trump’s “ingratiating message” after months of attacks on the agency. According to Ignatius, the CIA was tired of having a “kick me” sign on its backside and found it “nice to be massaged.” He made no attempt to assess the danger of trying to co-opt and politicize an intelligence agency that must remain apolitical in order to carry out its mission. And there was no attempt to judge the indignity of CIA officers responding enthusiastically to the president’s harsh political statements, particularly his attacks on the press.
Ignatius even endorsed the self-serving remarks of agency operatives who dismissed the stewardship of former CIA director John Brennan and praised the appointment of CIA director Mike Pompeo. Brennan has never been popular in the directorate of operations because he was an intelligence analyst who received an unusual appointment to be a CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia and, as director, merged the intelligence analysts and clandestine operatives into one bureaucratic organization. He endorsed a paramilitary officer, who stated the visit was “well-received by the worker bees.” He referred to the president’s “rambling braggadocio” as part of his style, but said that “the country (including the CIA) will have to get used to it.”
Although CIA’s unlawful activities during the Iraq War and the Global War on Terror must never be repeated, Ignatius argued in the past that any period of discovery would weaken the CIA and cause serious morale problems. Now that we know that the Trump administration is considering a return to the CIA’s “black site” prisons where suspects were detained and tortured and even re-examining the use of torture, we will need journalists with integrity to keep us informed of the internal political struggle that is already taking place.
The fact that CIA director Pompeo testified he would never carry out an order to conduct torture, but wrote to the committee after the hearing that he wouldn’t rule out reinstating torture “if experts believed current law was an impediment to gathering vital intelligence” is worrisome. We need honest journalists to track such contradictions. Sadly, we cannot count on “journalists” such as Ignatius who apologizes for the CIA in order to gain and protect his access to agency operatives.
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.
January 27, 2017
Four years of Trump? Eight? Could the future be that bleak?
With Trump, all bets are off; probabilities don’t matter anymore, or so it seems.
If they did, George W. Bush could still be confident that his reign as the worst President ever would not be about to end after eight measly years. Having broken a large part of the world and wrecked what we now call “the homeland,” he had every right to expect a longer reign.
What were the chances, after all, that a real estate finagler with political juice who turned the chunk of money his father gave him into a heap of ill-gotten gains, a thin-skinned egotist with the dignity and gravitas of a playground bully, a reality TV star, an ex-casino mogul, a builder of vulgar luxury resorts for the nouveau riche and a peddler of over the top schlock would be elected President of the United States?
He had nearly the entirety of the ruling class against him, along with the leaders and leading figures of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, the military and defense establishments, and the respectable media. Also, the polls left no doubt. Common sense left no doubt. The odds were ridiculous. Nevertheless, Trump won.
Maybe, the stars are still misaligned; maybe, this is the dawn of an Age of Absurdity.
But just in case Reason still has a place, now would be a good time to start worrying about a future with theocrat Mike Pence in the White House.
Pence is a reactionary’s reactionary, a less loathsome, but similarly pernicious, Ted Cruz. However, he is not as alarming as Trump because, having no charisma at all – for that matter, having no personality whatsoever – he is not one to inspire the inner fascist in the worst of the worst among us. If it becomes necessary, he will be harder to organize against.
Pence says that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican in that order.” Trump is none of these. Because it suits his present purpose, he is now in full reactionary mode, but, in his heart of hearts, he has no ideological convictions at all — only wicked instincts, false beliefs, and an appalling demeanor.
Therefore, even Christians, conservatives and Republicans have to struggle to get behind him. As the scales fall from the eyes of all but his most “deplorable” supporters, even some of them will find themselves on the side of the millions who marched against the Donald on his second day in office.
That, such as it is, is the silver lining in Trump’s rise to power: conditions now exist for joining together everyone from the far left to the center right to struggle against the calamities that Trump’s presidency will bring on. There has been nothing like this since the anti-fascist Popular Fronts of the 1930s.
Pence may be as execrable as the Donald in his own way; all the Republicans Trump vanquished were. But with any of them in the White House, it would be harder for progressives and “moderates” to make common cause – even if only to fight back.
So, people get ready! If fortune shines upon us, and Trump is gone in less than four years, Pence will become our problem. First things first, however; Trump is our problem now.
Trump is great for organizing against, and while his petulant bully schtick is getting old, he is still God’s gift to comedians. But all this pales before the plain (not “alternative”) fact that the man is a menace of world-historical importance.
The sooner he is gone, the better.
Trump is now over seventy and even in this brave new post-election world, people get old and die. In Trumpland too, while there is death, there is hope.
Even so, the gods or God are not likely to strike their foul creation down over the next four years. They are not nearly benevolent enough.
And since Trump has not yet been in office long enough to turn the United States into a full-fledged banana republic, it is unlikely that our military will rid us of the Orange Menace. That could change if it becomes clear that there is no other way to stave off a Trump-induced catastrophe. But, even then, with its coffers stuffed as always to the gills, the Pentagon would probably not see fit to bite the hand that feeds it.
A cynic might think that Trump has been appointing lapsed Generals to key positions in order to keep the military on his side. This is unlikely, however, because, in his mind, there is no need: he is invulnerable. Prudence is not among his few virtues.
The generals are there, most likely, for the same reason that Trump sports a super-model trophy bride and cares so much about the size of his hands and crowds. Psychologists have words for it, but it comes down to this: he wants the world to know what a man he is.
In any case, there has never been a coup in the United States because, as wags in Latin America like to point out, there is no American Embassy there. For good or ill, that hasn’t changed.
Assuming, then, that no salvation will come from outside, and that good reasons and common sense still count for something, the question is: will the bastard quit or will he be impeached and run out of town?
Neither one is, of course, a possibility too. For now, it seems the most probable of all. But this can quickly change.
The only way that Trump will be impeached is if Republicans turn against him. Before long, it is bound to dawn on some of them that this would be in their interest.
But, for the time being, they are going along – thinking, not, unreasonably, that they can use Trump more than he can use them. They have an agenda, after all; they want to eradicate a hundred years worth of progress, and they see in Trump their best chance for pulling it off.
In any case, if Trump has any instinct at all for self-preservation, he wouldn’t wait for Republicans to turn against him; he would quite ASAP. But the Donald is a megalomaniac, with less self-awareness than a fly about to be swatted; don’t count on his instincts.
Nevertheless, at least some of the reasons why he should remove himself could find a way into his head – if only because his egotism has not wiped out his business sense.
Trump’s run for the Presidency was motivated, in part, by vanity and justified contempt for the other Republican candidates. But it would be fair to say that the main reason he ran was to boost his brand.
That worked for a while, thanks to the essential truth behind the idea that, for hucksters, even bad publicity is good. And because Trump is, as he boasts, a “ratings machine,” corporate media executives, every bit as venal as he, were more than happy to cooperate with him. Their pundits therefore raged against the Donald, while shamelessly enhancing his fortunes.
After a while, though, even as the campaign wore on, a saturation point was reached and exceeded. The last thing President Trump needs now is more bad publicity.
His disapproval ratings aren’t yet where Richard Nixon’s were when he resigned, but he is already in the George W. Bush range, and it will only get worse.
If and when Trump finally gets a sense that his presidency is putting his brand at risk, he may decide that he needs to spend more time with his family – not the ones allegedly running “the Trump organization” but the ones who, at great expense to taxpayers, clog up Fifth Avenue just by being there.
Don’t count on it, though; blowhards and braggarts are always the last to know.
Consider how oblivious he is to the self-made and very real non-pecuniary dangers Trump is facing.
One would expect a seasoned conspiracy theorist – a birther, no less – to be a little concerned, that “the intelligence community,” the CIA especially, would have him in its crosshairs after he spent the better part of a year dissing them on every media platform in creation. Does he think that they will shrug it off? Surely, he knows that those motherfuckers don’t forget and that they thrive on revenge.
Trump did head first thing to Langley, ostensibly to make amends. To hear the corporate media pundits tell it, he did it because he will need the CIA and the others to govern. That is, or ought to be, the least of his concerns. If he had the sense he was born with, he should have gone there to throw himself at their mercy. Instead, he used the occasion to indulge his obsession with size and to complain about the media.
It seems too that Trump staged his little show against a backdrop that honors CIA agents killed in the line of duty, a wall the spies and assassins there consider sacred. If it were deer season now, would he next strap on a pair of antlers and go out for a walk in the woods?
Trump has been going out of his way too to make a host of other very powerful, though less lethal, enemies: corporate media, for example. Normally servile to power, Trump is forcing media to be at least somewhat adversarial. If they keep at it, not all the tweets in the world will save Trump’s sorry ass. Already, "The New York Times" is calling “alternative facts” outright lies; and where the paper of record goes, so go the others. The Fourth Estate did more than its share to bring Richard Nixon down. It can happen again – yes, it can.
And then there are the government workers Trump villainizes. He will find before long that he needs them more than they need him. And if enough of them “go rogue” — if they impede, sabotage and whistle blow — they can make Trump’s life difficult indeed.
Ronald Reagan put the neoliberal turn in high gear by going after the air traffic controllers’ union, just as Margaret Thatcher had gone after coal miners in the UK. And after the Democrats got shellacked in the 2010 elections, retrograde rightwing governors like Scott Walker – and Mike Pence — went after public employees’ unions in their states. For the most part, they prevailed.
But that was then. If Trump tries to follow their lead by eviscerating union protections for federal workers, or even if he only pecks away at their dignity and wellbeing, he will find himself having hell to pay.
Trump ought to be wary too of the grandees of his own Republican Party, and of all but the most execrable Republican functionaries. They may be slow, but they surely realize that their party’s standard-bearer was on track for decimating their party, and that this would surely have happened, had the Democrats run a less awful candidate.
For now, though, Trump’s fellow Republicans are on board. He needs them to govern, so he is making nice. And they are swallowing their pride and sucking up in order to take advantage of his victory.
But when the time comes, as it surely will, that Trump is political poison even for card-carrying reactionaries in safe gerrymandered districts, they too will seek revenge.
But won’t their paymasters hold them back?
With their class brother in the Oval Office, high-flying capitalists can look forward to tax breaks, watered down regulations, and corporate welfare; Wall Street too can expect the same level of service that it received under the Clintons and Barack Obama.
Nevertheless, Trump needs to watch out for one per-centers too. Some of them will, of course, be blinded by greed, but the vast majority, moved by enlightened self-interest, will prefer the mature capitalism they know to the crony capitalism that Trump seems intent on installing.
For decades now, capitalists have been singing the praises of self-regulating markets, and railing against governments that pick winner and losers. At the same time, though, capitalists are, by nature, “rent-seekers” on the lookout for revenues from sources that governments, not markets, provide.
But having to rely on the good graces of someone as mercurial, irrational, and vengeful as Trump may be too much for many, maybe most, of them. If they turn against him in sufficient numbers, poor Donald’s best, maybe only, recourse would be to duck and run for cover.
Finally, Trump ought to worry too about his many legal problems, especially the ones that he incurred immediately upon taking the oath of office. As everyone who follows the news is aware, Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause and is not honoring the terms of the lease he signed on his Washington hotel. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Trump’s mentor, the iniquitous Roy Cohn, taught the Donald how to turn what is ostensibly a government of laws into a government of men. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appointed centrist judges while Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes turned the federal judicial system into an adjunct of the GOP.
Still, if there is any integrity left there at all, the courts will hold Trump to account. We will soon know how much and what kinds of illegality they will be willing to tolerate in his case.
As a showman, Trump is determined to get a lot done quickly – ideally, in the first hundred days. He is already on it. Before too much voter’s remorse sets in, he wants to show the chumps he got to vote for him, one more time, that he really does mean business; and he wants to throw the vilest among them some red meat.
But because he knows little and cares less about governing, he will run out of steam after issuing all the poorly thought out executive orders he can manage, leaving his appointees will be in charge.
Senate Democrats will make a show of delaying a few confirmations. But, like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, “Little Marco” Rubio and other anti-Trump Republicans, they will eventually cave.
Those Trump appointees, the ones awaiting confirmation and the ones already confirmed, are something else. It is as if he told his head hunters to find him a fox for every henhouse, and to seek out the most villainous, incompetent, and filthy rich reactionaries they could dig up.
Trump’s less noxious voters suffer from a seemingly irrepressible will to believe, but even they are are bound to recoil from much of what Trump’s underlings will do. Therefore, expect that, before long, the Donald’s already prodigious disapproval ratings will climb to prodigious heights.
If that affects his bottom line, Trump will notice and care. If it affects the fortunes of the Republican Party, he will care only insofar as he sees the future of the Republican Party intertwined with his own. Insofar as it reflects anything that could plausibly be construed as the will of the people, he will not care at all.
Trump had not been in office twenty-four hours before several million people across the world took to the streets in protest. There were worldwide marches in 2003 as well – before George W. Bush launched the Iraq War.
Those demonstrations, though not nearly on the same scale, were also impressive in size. They had no effect at all, however, on Bush or his éminence grise, Dick Cheney; Bush wanted a war, and war is what we got.
This time, it could be different. In that massive anti-war march and in countless other demonstrations before and since, when it’s over, it’s over. Then people go back to their lives, wondering “is that all there is?” Not this time.
Most demonstrations, including the ones that tried in vain to block Bush and Cheney’s efforts to invade Iraq, aim to get governments to do or forbear from doing one thing or another. That was never the idea behind the Women’s March. It was about launching a movement to stop Trump in his tracks.
In this respect, it was more like the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations of the late sixties and early seventies than anything since.
Solidarity with the Vietnamese people was a factor in those demonstrations, of course, as was the immorality of American policy. But what made them game-changers was the draft; it brought the war home.
It also helped make the war a problem for economic and political elites, not so much because their sons and grandsons were being put in harm’s way – most of them could find ways out – but because a large part of the opposition was coming from the colleges and universities that trained America’s leaders, raising the concern that the men and women then coming of age, we call them “baby boomers” now, might become a lost generation.
There is little fear of anything like that now. The ruling class of 2017 sees no need to keep American Muslims and undocumented Hispanics on board.
But the anti-war demonstrations of the late sixties and early seventies were about more than just conscription or even the Vietnam War; they were about building counter-systemic social and political movements. That is why social and political elites found them so alarming.
The Women’s March had a similar aspect. It too is part of an on-going process; one that only starts with Trump.
Once circumstances in Vietnam and the United States forced Nixon and Kissinger to end the draft and then to withdraw American troops, the movements that alarmed elites began to wither away or else become absorbed into the Democratic Party.
Something like that could happen with the anti-Trump movement too.
But for as long as Trump is in the White House, there is no danger of the opposition to him withering away; he is that awful.
Democrats in the Nixon era were a lot better than Democrats are now. The party still had a genuinely progressive wing, and its centrists stood far to the left of their counterparts today. Therefore the transition from radical to strictly electoral politics under the aegis of the Democratic Party was not quite as disastrous a turn of events as it would be were today’s Democrats to take over the resistance movement born at the Women’s March.
Along with all the rest, Trump does have an outraged citizenry to face. It is comprised of more than half of the country’s adult population, and it is growing fast. But one thing that he does not have to fear is the Democratic Party.
Unless it changes beyond recognition quickly and radically, it is as useless as it ever was – except, of course, to too-big-to-jail banksters and its corporate paymasters.
Fortunately, the organizers of the Women’s March seemed to realize this, at least enough to keep the event from turning into a Clinton-fest. Along with the vast majority of demonstrators, they kept the spirit of Clintonism at bay, and they kept Hillary revanchists out. Even shameless Hillary supporters like Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Warren got the message.
It was, after all, Clinton-style neoliberalism that made Trump possible — by abandoning the working class, black, white, and brown, the better to serve the interests of finance capitalism.
It is thanks to them that the ninety-nine percent have had to fend for themselves since long before anyone took Trump’s political prospects seriously.
Trump promised to make the situation of the ninety-nine percent better; in all likelihood, he will make it worse. But were it not for the Clintons and others of their ilk, including Barack Obama, he would now still be running Trump University type scams, taping dumb TV shows, and building over-the-top pleasure domes. The only way he could get inside the White House, except as a tourist, would be if the Clintons, always on the lookout for “campaign contributions,” invited him.
Trump won because HRC was such an awful candidate and because she and her people ran an awful campaign. But without Clintonism making rightwing “populism” possible, if not inevitable, Trump would never have stood a chance of running against her, much less of defeating her.
Therefore, in addition to the clear and present dangers posed by Trump and/or Pence, there is the danger that the Clintonized Democratic Party will coopt the movement forming to resist Trump and Pence – turning it into the opposite of what it could become.
How wonderful it would be if the energy on display at the Women’s March could somehow be channeled into an alternative to the Democratic Party. But that isn’t going to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future.
It would be different if the Greens could somehow gain traction. But if they haven’t yet, after so many years of trying, it is unlikely that they ever will. They certainly won’t in time to stop Trump’s first hundred days.
Fortunately, though, there are ways that the resistance movement can work productively with Democrats at local and state levels, where Clintonization is less of a problem. There are, for example, natural tie-ins between movement efforts to stop deportations of undocumented individuals and efforts by municipal governments, led by Democratic mayors and councilmen (and women), to establish sanctuary cities.
Trump and his minions are already targeting sanctuary cities, threatening to cut off federal monies to municipalities that don’t cooperate with his depredations. Needless to say, being the President, he has a strong hand; but he doesn’t hold all the cards. With ingenuity, it should be possible to find ways to fight back.
Along with other estimable traits of mind and character, ingenuity is sorely lacking in the Trump ambit. It abounds in American cities, however; even in their governments. In this respect, Trump has the weaker hand.
In national politics, liberals who vote for Democrats are like the Charlie Brown character in the comic strip “Peanuts”; the Democratic Party is like Lucy. Charlie Brown is always trying to kick the football, and Lucy is always lifting it away. Perhaps at the municipal level, it doesn’t have to be that way; perhaps liberals can force Lucy to be honest and play fair.
If the anti-Trump resistance is to deal at all effectively with the vileness descending upon us, this is our best, perhaps our only, hope.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).
January 27, 2017
Harsh realities have long mocked United States “elites’” ritual description of their nation state as a benevolent beacon and agent of freedom, democracy, and justice at home and abroad. The mythology doesn’t square with stark disparities and oppressions inflicted by the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, class, race, and empire. The many dark truths about America behind the nationally narcissistic fantasy include:
Globally unmatched and hyper-racialized incarceration rates.(This is the short list, taken from the Age of Obama.)
The imposition of poverty or near-poverty on half the U.S. population while the top tenth of the upper U.S. One Percent possesses as much wealth as the nation’s bottom ninety percent.
The U.S. ranks ahead of only Turkey, Chile, and Mexico among thirty-one “advanced industrial nations” belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in measures of economic equality, social mobility, and poverty prevention.
Shocking levels of racial, ethnic, and gender inequality.
+ The hyper-segregation and mass criminalization of the nation’s disproportionately poor Black population.
+ Rampant domestic police-statism and ubiquitous related public and private surveillance.
+ Transparently plutocratic electoral and policymaking systems and outcomes the mark the country as “an oligarchy” and “not a democracy” (mainstream liberal political scientists Martine Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern) regardless of which party or party configuration holds sway in elected offices.
+ The cultural and informational dominance of a corporate- and military-propagandist commercial media owned by a small handful of communications conglomerates.
+ The maintenance of more than 1000 U.S. military installations across more than 100 “sovereign” nations.
+ An empire (“defense”) budget that accounts for nearly half of world military spending and for 54 percent of U.S. federal discretionary spending.
+ The absence of affordable quality health care for tens of millions living in “the world’s richest country.”
+ More than a third of Black and Native American children live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level while parasitic financers and other capitalist overlords enjoy unimaginable hyper-opulence.
+ The loss of 93 American lives to gun violence each day.
+ A recently discovered and unprecedented decline in the life expectancy for American working class whites.
+ A labor market in which 94 percent of jobs created over the last eight years have been temporary, part-time, and contingent, non-life time contract and “gig” jobs.
+ The reliance of 1 in 7 citizens on food banks in “the world’s richest country.”
+ The rampant pollution and poisoning of air, land, water, and food, contributing to sky-high cancer rates.
Still, symbols and marketing matter in selling the American System and U.S. power at home and abroad. And the perceived character of the U.S. president is a big part of that marketing and public relations.
Nothing was better for portraying the United States as something it is not – a wise and benevolent, forward-looking agent and embodiment of freedom and democracy – than the replacement of George W. Bush by the neoliberal Wall Street darling Barack Obama in the White House in 2008-09.
It’s not that U.S. policy changed to any significant degree with the shift from George W. Bush to Obama. It did not. As the former longtime top Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren notes in the fourth chapter – tellingly titled “Do Elections Matter?” – of his important book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (2016):
“In 2008, Barack Obama the change agent ran against the legacy of George W. Bush. But when he assumed office, his policies in the areas of national security and financial regulation were strikingly similar. Even the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans vilify with uncontrollable rage, is hardly different in outline from Bush’s Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (both expand medical coverage by subsidizing corporate interests)…[Obama was] merely an ambitious politician who tested well with focus groups, and who arrived at the right moment, promising hope and change as a pretext to administer an entrenched system…”
Lofgren might have added that the “right moment” included the Deep State establishment’s sense that the American System needed a significant re-branding in the wake of the all-too openly plutocratic, stupid, unhinged, and imperialist Bush’s criminal and bungled occupation of Iraq and the collapse of the economy by the powerful financial institutions that controlled Washington and the White House under Bush43 as under Bill Clinton42. And that that’s one part of why American presidential elections do in fact matter to the nation’s wealth and power elite.
True to the hopes of the ruling class interests who funded (at record-setting levels) and otherwise backed his ascendancy, the “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” Obama44 was much better than Bush43 when it came to selling U.S. and global citizens on the notion that sensible, decent, balanced, and caring people stood atop the American Empire. Bush, Lofgren notes, “was a man out of his depth… a reprise of the hapless James Buchanan on the eve of the American Civil Was…[he] was clueless and never one to read briefing memos of any length.” (Like the figure-head Reagan before him, Dubya was “deliberately kept ‘out of the loop’” of many key elite policy discussions.) Obama, by contrast, was “a far more disciplined student – a constitutional scholar [from Harvard Law – P.S.], no less, and a man capable of penning his own rhetorical flourishes.”
That that was only the beginning of Obama’s marketing value. Additional assets included his telegenic youthfulness and perceived novelty, his status as the nation’s first technically nonwhite and multicultural president, and his thoroughly fake progressive campaign imagery. Obama was The Empire’s New Clothes, the title of my 2010 book on his first year in office. It was a great public relations coup for the American “Democracy, Incorporated” (to use the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin’s phrase for what he called the United States’ “inverted totalitarian” mode of “corporate-managed democracy”). Who better to complete the no strings attached-bailout of the great financial institutions that pushed the economy over the cliff, to re-fashion the imperial project, and to pass a watered-down corporate and finance-friendly version of health insurance reform than a brash, handsome, and seemingly (superficially) left-leaning first Black president endowed even with a “Muslim name,” no small symbolic asset in the wake of Bush’s mass-murderous provocation of the Muslim world?
The great hopey-changey bamboozlement was impressive, aided and abetted by some very silly Scandinavians at the Nobel Peace Prize committee. The antiwar movement, still semi-active in Dubya’s second term, collapsed almost completely under Obama. It stayed mostly somnolent while the nation’s first Black president launched a drone war program that became “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times” (Noam Chomsky) and a catastrophic regime-change in Libya – all this this while dispatching murderous U.S. Special Forces across Africa and to more nations than any U.S. commander in chief before him.
Droves of liberals and even some self-declared leftists (who can ever forget the relentless and nauseating absurdities of Carl Davidson?) had Obama’s back as he dutifully served the aforementioned unelected and deep state dictatorships, helping create the vacuum and set the stage both for the rise of the Tea Party and the ascendancy of Donald Trump.
And now the American System is saddled with the public relations and marketing dilemma that is the openly white-nationalist, nativist, racist, misogynist, eco-cidal, authoritarian, stupid, reckless, thin-skinned, narcissist, and Twitter-addicted Donald. That the Deplorable One is, like Dubya, a “man out of his depth” was suggested by his first full day in the White House. Confronted with massive, historic demonstrations protesting his Inauguration and across the nation, Trump went to the headquarters of the CIA and stood before the hallowed CIA Memorial Wall (engraved with the names of OSS and CIA agents who lost their lives in service to U.S. foreign policy/imperialism) to deliver a childishly petulant and impromptu rant on the “liberal” media’s supposed under-estimation of the number of people who attended his Inauguration speech. Even more strange, Trump told the CIA that the Islamic State arose because the U.S. failed to “keep the oil” when it invaded Iraq and said that “maybe we’ll have another chance” to take Iraq’s oil. CNN anchor and former CIA intern Anderson Cooper reported that “senior CIA officials sat stone-faced” during this bizarre performance.
The Iraqi oil comments must have gone over well in the Middle East and the Muslim world (I was asked to reflect on them by a Middle Eastern television network within five minutes of their utterance).
The elite cringing isn’t about any serious concern for Iraqi sovereignty, of course. For the U.S. establishment, Trump poses a threat to Brand America. It is longstanding bipartisan U.S. ruling class doctrine that the United States is the world’s great beacon and agent of democracy, human rights, justice, and freedom. American Reality has never matched the doctrine, and it didn’t under Obama, of course, but it is especially difficult to credibly align those claims with a candidate and now a president like Trump, who has openly exhibited racist, nativist, sexist, arch-authoritarian, police-statist, Islamophobic, pro-torture, and even neo-fascist sentiments and values. “If our system of government [under Obama as under George W. Bush and under Bill Clinton and their predecessors – P.S.] is an oligarchy with a façade of democratic and constitutional process,” Lofgren wrote in the preface to his book’s paperback edition last summer, “Trump would not only rip that façade away for the entire world to behold; he would take our system’s ugliest features and intensify them.”
Along with real policy differences they have with Trump’s right- “populist,” “isolationist,” and “anti- ‘free trade;” rhetoric, that is why the nation’s overlapping economic and foreign policy “elites” preferred Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio over Trump in the Republican primaries – and Hillary Clinton over Trump in the general election.
And now Donald the Ripper sits with other vicious and all-too transparently sociopathic swamp creatures like the quasi-fascist Steve Bannon atop the visible U.S. state, where marketing and branding matter to those wielding real and continuous behind the “marionette theater” of electoral and parliamentary politics. The Empire, once again, has no clothes.
Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)
Is there a Left anymore in the U.S.?
Most of us who studied political science (seriously) don't see it.
Sure. People are concerned with the welfare of left out and marginalized groups, but who is really working today for the welfare of the lower classes?
January 26, 2017
On several occasions I have asked in my columns the rhetorical question: What became of the left? Today I answer my question.
The answer is that the European and American left, which traditionally stood for the working class and peace (bread and peace) no longer exists. The cause championed by those who pretend to be the “left” of today is identity politics. The “left” no longer champions the working class, which the “left” dismisses as “Trump deplorables,” consisting of “racist, misogynist, homophobic, gun nuts.” Instead,the “left” champions alleged victimized and marginalized groups—blacks, homosexuals, women and the transgendered. Tranny bathrooms, a cause unlikely to mobilize many Americans, are more important to the “left” than the working class
All white-skinned peoples except leftists, including apparently victimized women, are racist by definition. Racism and victimization are the explanations of everything, all of history, all institutions, even the US Constitution. This program of the left cuts the left off from the working class, who have been abandoned by both political parties, and has terminated the left’s connection to the people.
The collapse of the left as an effective and real political force followed the Soviet collapse. The underclass had resisted their exploitation before the publication of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in 1867. But Marx raised the exploitation of labor to a fighting cause on whose side was History. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia seemed to validate Marx with its overthrow of the existing order and proclamation of Soviet Communism.
Soviet practices deflated left-wing hopes and expectations, but nevertheless an alternative system which continued to speak against capitalist exploitation existed. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, neoconservatives and neoliberals declared that History had chosen capitalism over the working class, and Marx’s prediction of the triumph of the working class had been proven wrong.
The Soviet collapse caused communist China and socialist India to change their economic policy and to open their economies to foreign capital. With no rival, capitalism no longer had to restrain itself and allow widespread access to the growth of income and wealth. Capitalists began collecting it all for themselves. Many studies have concluded that the productivity gains which formerly went mainly to the work force are now monopolized by the mega-rich.
So, there's that.
Or most of us do.
But what will do about it?