Democrats Trade Places on War and McCarthyism

Exclusive: The anti-Russia hysteria gripping the Democratic Party marks a “trading places” moment as the Democrats embrace the New Cold War and the New McCarthyism, flipping the script on Republicans, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Caught up in the frenzy to delegitimize Donald Trump by blaming his victory on Russian meddling, national Democrats are finishing the transformation of their party from one that was relatively supportive of peace to one pushing for war, including a confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

This “trading places” moment was obvious in watching the belligerent tone of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee on Monday as they impugned the patriotism of any Trump adviser who may have communicated with anyone connected to Russia.

Ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, acknowledged that there was no hard evidence of any Trump-Russia cabal, but he pressed ahead with what he called “circumstantial evidence of collusion,” a kind of guilt-by-association conspiracy theory that made him look like a mild-mannered version of Joe McCarthy.

Schiff cited by name a number of Trump’s aides and associates who – as The New York Times reported – were “believed to have some kind of contact or communications with Russians.” These Americans, whose patriotism was being questioned, included foreign policy adviser Carter Page, Trump’s second campaign manager Paul Manafort, political adviser Roger Stone and Trump’s first national security adviser retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

In a 15-minute opening statement, Schiff summed up his circumstantial case by asking: “Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated.”

As an investigative journalist who has covered (and uncovered) national security scandals for several decades, I would never accuse people of something as serious as betraying their country based on nothing more than coincidences that, who knows, might not be coincidental.

Before we published anything on such topics, the news organizations that I worked for required multiple layers of information from a variety of sources including insiders who could describe what had happened and why. Such stories included Nicaraguan Contra cocaine smuggling, Oliver North’s secret Contra supply operation, and the Reagan campaign’s undermining of President Carter’s Iran-hostage negotiations in 1980.

For breaking those stories, we still took enormous heat from Republicans, some Democrats who wanted to show how bipartisan they were, and many establishment-protecting journalists, but the stories contained strong evidence that misconduct occurred – and we were highly circumspect in how the allegations were framed.

Going Whole-Hog

By contrast, national Democrats, some super-hawk Republicans and the establishment media are going whole-hog on these vague suspicions of contacts between some Russians and some Americans who have provided some help or advice to Trump.

Given the paucity of evidence – both regarding the claims that Russia hacked Democratic emails and slipped them to WikiLeaks, and the allegations that somehow Trump’s advisers colluded in that process – it would appear that what is happening is a political maneuver to damage Trump politically and possibly remove him from office.

But those machinations require the Democratic Party’s continued demonization of Russia and implicitly put the Democrats on the side of escalating New Cold War tensions, such as military support for the  fiercely anti-Russian regime in Ukraine which seized power in a 2014 U.S.-backed putsch overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych.

One of the attack lines that Democrats have used against Trump is that his people toned down language in the Republican platform about shipping arms to the Ukrainian military, which includes battalions of neo-Nazi fighters and has killed thousands of ethnic Russian Ukrainians in the east in what is officially called an Anti-Terrorism Operation (or ATO).

The Democratic Party leaders have fully bought into the slanted Western narrative justifying the violent overthrow of Yanukovych. They also have ignored the human rights of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minorities, which voted overwhelmingly in Crimea and the Donbass to secede from post-coup Ukraine. The more complex reality is simply summed up as a “Russian invasion.”

Key Democrats also have pressed for escalation of the U.S. military attacks inside Syria to force “regime change” on Bashar al-Assad’s secular government even if that risks another military confrontation with Russia and a victory by Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists.

In short, the national Democratic Party is turning itself into the more extreme war party. It’s not that the Republicans have become all that dovish; it’s just that the Democrats have become all that hawkish. The significance of this change can hardly be overstated.

Questioning War

Since late in the Vietnam War, the Democrats have acted as the more restrained of the two major parties on issues of war, with the Republicans associated with tough-guy rhetoric and higher military spending. By contrast, Democrats generally were more hesitant to rush into foreign wars and confrontations (although they were far from pacifists).

Especially after the revelations of the Pentagon Papers in the 1971 revealing the government deceptions used to pull the American people into the Vietnam War, Democrats questioned shady rationalizations for other wars.

Some Democratic skepticism continued into the 1980s as President Ronald Reagan was modernizing U.S. propaganda techniques to whitewash the gross human rights crimes of right-wing regimes in Central America and to blacken the reputations of Nicaragua’s Sandinistas and other leftists.

The Democratic resolve against war propaganda began to crack by the mid-to-late 1980s – around Reagan’s Grenada invasion and George H.W. Bush’s attack on Panama. By then, the Republicans had enjoyed nearly two decades of bashing the Democrats as “weak on defense” – from George McGovern to Jimmy Carter to Walter Mondale to Michael Dukakis.

But the Democratic Party’s resistance to dubious war rationalizations collapsed in 1991 over George H.W. Bush’s Persian Gulf War, in which the President rebuffed less violent solutions (even ones favored by the U.S. military) to assure a dramatic ground-war victory after which Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”

Fearful of being labeled disloyal to “the troops” and “weak,” national Democrats scrambled to show their readiness to kill. In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton left the campaign trail to return to Arkansas to oversee the execution of the mentally impaired Ricky Ray Rector.

During his presidency, Clinton deployed so-called “smart power” aggressively, including maintaining harsh sanctions on Iraq even as they led to the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. He also intervened in the Yugoslavian civil war by bombing civilian targets in Belgrade including the lethal destruction of the Serb TV station for the supposed offense of broadcasting “propaganda.”

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, many leading congressional Democrats – including presidential hopefuls John Kerry, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton – voted to authorize President George W. Bush to invade Iraq. Though they offered various excuses (especially after the Iraq War went badly), the obvious real reason was their fear of being labeled “soft” in Republican attack ads.

The American public’s revulsion over the Iraq War and the resulting casualties contributed to Barack Obama’s election. But he, too, moved to protect his political flanks by staffing his young administration with hawks, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. (and later CIA Director) David Petraeus. Despite receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama also became comfortable with continuing Bush’s wars and starting some of his own, such as the bombing war against Libya and the violent subversion of Syria.

By nominating Hillary Clinton in 2016, the Democratic Party completed its transformation into the Party of War. Clinton not only ran as an unapologetic hawk in the Democratic primaries against Sen. Bernie Sanders – urging, for instance, a direct U.S. military invasion of Syria to create “no fly zones” – but positioned herself as a harsh critic of Trump’s hopes to reduce hostilities with Russia, deeming the Republican nominee Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.”

Ironically, Trump’s shocking victory served to solidify the Democratic Party’s interest in pushing for a military confrontation with Russia over Ukraine. After all, baiting Trump over his alleged “softness” toward Russia has become the centerpiece of Democratic hopes for somehow ousting Trump or at least crippling his presidency. Any efforts by Trump to ease those tensions will be cited as prima facie evidence that he is Putin’s “Manchurian candidate.”

Being Joe McCarthy

National Democrats and their media supporters don’t even seem troubled by the parallels between their smears of Americans for alleged contacts with Russians and Sen. Joe McCarthy’s guilt-by-association hearings of the early Cold War. Every link to Russia – no matter how tenuous or disconnected from Trump’s election – is trumpeted by Democrats and across the mainstream news media.

But it’s not even clear that this promotion of the New Cold War and the New McCarthyism will redound to the Democrats’ political advantage. Clinton apparently thought that her embrace of a neoconservative foreign policy would bring in many “moderate” Republicans opposed to Trump’s criticism of the Bush-Obama wars, but exit polls showed Republicans largely rallying to their party’s nominee.

Meanwhile, there were many anti-war Democrats who have become deeply uncomfortable with the party’s new hawkish persona. In the 2016 election, some peace Democrats voted for third parties or didn’t vote at all for president, although it’s difficult to assess how instrumental those defections were in costing Clinton the key states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

More broadly, the Democratic obsession with Russia and the hopes for somehow exploiting those investigations in order to oust Trump have distracted the party from a necessary autopsy into why the Democrats have lost so much ground over the past decade.

While many Democratic leaders and activists are sliding into full-scale conspiracy-mode over the Russia-Trump story, they are not looking at the party’s many mistakes and failings, such as:

–Why did party leaders push so hard to run an unpopular establishment candidate in a strongly anti-establishment year? Was it the fact that many are beholden to the Clinton cash machine?

–How can Democrats justify the undemocratic use of “super-delegates” to make many rank-and-file voters feel that the process is rigged in favor of the establishment’s choice?

–What can the Democratic Party do to reengage with many working-class voters, especially downwardly mobile whites, to stop the defection of this former Democratic base to Trump’s populism?

–Do national Democrats understand how out of touch they are with the future as they insist that the United States must remain the sole military superpower in a uni-polar world when the world is rapidly shifting toward a multi-polar reality?

Yet, rather than come up with new strategies to address the future, Democratic leaders would rather pretend that Putin is at fault for the Trump presidency and hope that the U.S. intelligence community – with its fearsome surveillance powers – can come up with enough evidence to justify Trump’s impeachment.

Then, of course, the Democrats would be stuck with President Mike Pence, a more traditional Religious Right Republican whose first step on foreign policy would be to turn it over to neocon Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, a move that would likely mean a new wave of “regime change” wars.

At such a point, that might put the Democrats and Republicans in sync as two equally warmongering parties, but what good that would do for the American people and the world is hard to fathom.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Yes, Hillary Clinton Is a Neocon” and “Democrats Are Now the Aggressive War Party.]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Resisting the Trump/Ryan Health Plan

The complex Obamacare system struggled to gain popularity, but now that Republicans are moving to replace it with a less generous program, many medical professionals are irate, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan are twisting congressional arms to get enough votes to push through repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a scheme that relies heavily on tax credits and would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, leave 24 million more uninsured Americans in 10 years. But there is also an army of activists and progressive healthcare workers who are opposing repeal without a real plan for providing broad-based health insurance.

On the front lines of this information battle is Dr. Carol Paris, president of Physicians for a National Health Program and a member of the steering committee for Health Over Profit for Everyone. She confronted Trump in Nashville, at a recent campaign style rally for “Repeal and Replace.”

“I meant no disrespect to the President or his supporters,” said Dr. Paris, after she was “rather roughly” taken out of the mostly pro-Trump gathering. “I simply did what I felt I had to do as a physician and American. Tens of thousands of people are dying needlessly due to lack of health insurance, and millions are suffering with financial burdens due to unaffordable health insurance and unaffordable health care. I know that a simple solution has already been introduced into the House of Representatives called H.R. 676 — Expanded and Improved Medicare for All.”

I spoke with Dr. Paris about her actions at the Trump rally and her concerns about what is in store for the 24 million additional people who will end up outside the America’s profit-oriented heath insurance system.

Dennis Bernstein: You’re from Nashville, tell us why you decided to go there and actually make a scene in public.

Carol Paris: Well, I want to acknowledge first that there were 2,500, approximately, 2,500 protesters outside of the rally. And these are hard working people who stood out in the cold, and took time at the end of their day to protest. I happen to be 64 and retired, so I have the freedom to get in line at 9:30 in the morning, and stand in the cold all day to make sure that I get a seat upfront. And I made that decision partly because I have the freedom to do that, and mostly because I really felt from a strategic standpoint, that this was the time to take a direct action.

DB: And, you were definitely a strong critic of Obamacare. And you were vocal with the groups that you work with, in terms of the failures of Obamacare. And so this is just a continuum, a resistance to, I guess, Obamacare on steroids. But, tell us about the confrontation. What exactly happened, and how did it feel to stand up? Were you afraid? Tell us about that.

CP: Well, of course, I was afraid. I wasn’t raised to be confrontational, and so standing up to the President of the United States, and interrupting him was frankly, terrifying. But, it also was overshadowed, that fear was overshadowed by just an abiding conviction, we have people dying in this country because they can’t get health insurance, and health care. I’m a physician, and I can’t abide that. I really felt compelled to do this.

DB: And what did you do?

CP: Well, I knew that I was not going to be able to say very much, because I was really just waiting for him to take a breather, and find a quiet, relatively quiet moment in-between people cheering for every other word he said. So, when I thought that that moment had arrived I just stood up, held my sign as high as I could, and what I said was “Put your name on a plan that works, Medicare for all.” And I just kept chanting that. There was so much more I would have liked to have said. But I knew that I wasn’t going to get the opportunity at that point.

DB: I watched the video. … You repeated it a number of times and then you were approached by security. How did they treat you?

CP: The police officers were polite. One of them kind of pushed me a bit, because I was trying to exit past the press table, and he was not inclined to allow me to do that. So, he did sort of forcibly move me into an exit aisle. But, beyond that it was fine.

DB: And what did the people around you… did they start… they started to boo right? There was a lot of discontent with your expression. And how did the President react?

CP: Well, at that point I was distracted, and didn’t actually… had stopped looking at the President. When I began, I looked right at him. He wasn’t looking at me at that point. And, then I really just focused on saying what I was saying, as loudly as I could, and was more interested in trying to direct some attention to the press table because I wanted the press to see that I was protesting. So, I don’t really know, it’s only in watching the video afterwards that I see that he actually acknowledged that someone was protesting, and made a comment, I guess.

DB: I think he said that that will be the lead on the 6… he was probably right too. And that’s, of course, your point. And we want to speak a lot more with you about your experience, your background, and your response to Trumpcare. Take us… you’re somebody who’s paid a lot of attention to all these plans, and been in the struggle for quite a bit. So, take us through what you see now in terms of where we are right now, this so-called transformation we’re hearing about. What do you see the dangers? Will we go from bad to worse? We saw the report coming out of the Congressional Budget Office investigation. Give us a sense of what you think will happen here if Trump has his way?

CP: I think that if Paul Ryan and Tom Price have their way, because frankly, Donald Trump, I don’t think, based on what he said … when I reviewed it, he really didn’t elaborate much on what the American Health Care Act would actually entail. He just talked about stage one, stage two, and stage three. So, I think he is just sort of telling thing, what he’s able to understand. This is really Ryan and Price’s…

DB: Right. So what do you think the implications are here, the break down?

CP: I think that they have, from the day that Obamacare was passed, they have had both Obamacare, and Medicaid and Medicare on the chopping block, and to privatize Medicare as much as possible. So, they now have the opportunity to do that. And that’s what they’re doing. But they’re not changing… to call Trumpcare anything other than just Obamacare made leaner and meaner, is to elevate it beyond what it deserves. It really is just Obamacare, only made even more skimpy and lean. And giving even more money, our tax dollars, to the wealthy. It’s another gift to the rich, and… at the expense of poor, working class people, and especially the 50 – 64 year old age group. They’re really going to suffer financially from this piece of legislation.

DB: And, could you talk a little bit about what the possibilities are here. People say this is impossible. We hear about socialized medicine, but we have sort of one of the worst systems in the modern world. How possible is it for us… how affordable is it, for us to move into a system where everybody really is cared for in a way that’s respectful and guarantees the fact that it is a human right?

CP: I won’t argue that point with you. But I don’t have to argue that point with you, if I can argue the point from a strictly cost effective, fiscal responsibility framework. We already spend in this country more per capita for health care than any other country in the world. And we’re not getting the health care we’re paying for.

We still have 28 million people uninsured, in spite of the fact that even just in our public dollars, we’re spending more than any other country in the world, not to mention the private money on top of that. So, we’re spending the money we’re just not getting our money’s worth. And, if we were to eliminate the profit and the bureaucratic waste, in the for-profit insurance industry… the most recent study that came out estimates somewhere around $506 billion a year would be saved and could be used to actually provide health care.

So, it is feasible to do this. This is not an outrageous idea. However, I think expecting that either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party are going to champion this and take it forward is unlikely. I mean, we had a Democratic president with a majority in both houses of Congress in 2009, and he wouldn’t even let single-payer have a seat at the table. It wasn’t even allowed to be discussed.

So, I don’t have big hopes that the Democratic Party is going to champion this, in the future, unless we make it toxic for them not to. And we can do the same thing with the Republicans. Make it toxic for them not to support the national health program.

DB: Dr. Carol Paris … is the current president of the national organization, Physicians for a National Health Program. She’s on the steering committee of Health over Profit for Everyone. Interesting name for a group, Health over Profit for Everyone. That really is at the heart of the matter, whether the profit motive or humanity is going to motivate us as we go forward and try and express a real care for our people, for our children, for the future that way, right? This is the big one.

CP: This is the big one. And what the Health over Profit campaign is, is it’s a grassroots based, building movement to… because we know that it’s going… to build a movement takes time. And we’re looking at as much as 3 – 5 years, but that’s what it’s going to take to make this issue such common place knowledge for everyday Americans, and to make it toxic for their legislators not to support it. That’s what it’s going to take. So, that’s what the Health over Profit campaign is all about. It’s a grassroots movement. And right now it is base building and educating.

We know that any active, and the active, sustained support of only 3.5% of the population is always successful, in a campaign. There’s research that shows… we don’t need 51% of the American people to support this. Even though polls show that the vast majority of Americans do support it. What we do need is 3.5% of the population to make an active, sustained effort to influence their members of Congress, and make it toxic for them not to do the right thing. If we don’t do that then our members of Congress will continue to do what their donors tell them to do. And their lobbyists and donors are the very wealthy insurance industry, and pharmaceutical industry.

DB: How would you characterize the situation now? It’s sort of deeply confusing for anybody trying to follow it. People are still signing up on the registries but everything is going towards a closing. Are people signing up in vain? This is serious confusion that’s being created by this process that’s going on in Washington.

CP: It’s serious confusion, and it started when Barack Obama refused to allow a national health program to be considered in 2009. Because it just created more opportunity for the for-profit insurance industry to profit from the suffering of the American people. So I don’t think this is just the fault of the Republicans, they’re just who happen to be in charge right now.

DB: You’ve been protesting on this one for quite a while, haven’t you?

CP: Yes. I have. I joined Physicians for a National Health Program in 2009, when I really became convinced that it was impossible to try to legislate the insurance industry to behave in an ethical way. And so I gave up on that, and said “We really just need to have a national health program.

DB: So, you know the system. You have an idea of the suffering to come. What’s it going to look like? Are we going to have crowded emergency rooms? Are we going to have people out in the street? What’s medical going to look like if they go… if they’re hell-bent on going forward, without anything as a replacement? You know just to get that squeeze, move the money up again, another shift of what’s left, of the wealth, of the working class, and the middle class. You know, take their houses, take their medical plans now. But this is profound. This is where we see the implications of the mass, unequal distribution of wealth.

CP: And that’s what we’re going to see more of. The estimate from the CBO is that beginning in 2018, 14 million more people will be uninsured. And that’s mostly due to removing the mandate. So, young people, for the most part, will just stop purchasing insurance. And then over 5 years it will go to 21 million, and over 10 years to 24 million. So… and add that to the 28 million that are already uninsured, we’ll have 52 million uninsured people, in this country. And the way that that’s going to translate is that even with the tax credit, that is a much skimpier credit than the subsidies. And while they… the Republican plan may be to in phase 2 or phase 3, create the mechanism for insurance companies to write policies to have lower premiums, the only way you can reduce the cost of a premium, is to reduce what it actually covers. And so, right now Obamacare has certain regulations, that you can’t call this insurance if it doesn’t have an actuarial value of at least 60%. Which means that 60% of the cost is paid by the insurance company, and 40% is paid by the enrollee.

What we’re going to see are plans that have an actuarial value as low as 50%, and that barely even qualifies to be called insurance. So, that may be what they’re selling. And that may be affordable for younger people, but for people who are older, and are only getting until they’re 60, I think what is it… $2,000.00 tax credit? And, we’ve now given the insurance companies the permission to do age rating up to 5 times the cost that a young person would be charged. They can now increase it 5 times for an older person.

That’s going to create a premium that’s unaffordable, even with the tax credits that they’re offering. I saw one estimate that said a person making $26,000 a year at age 64 would have a premium… that would have insurance that would be costing them over $13,000 a year, just about half of their income. That’s if we pass the American Health Care Act as it is written today.

DB: Well, as you say there is a bit of resistance. It’s coming from all sides, I guess. But it’s certainly not heading in the direction that you believe is correct, and that you’ve been fighting for, doctor, for so many years. But it does, in a strange way it seems inevitable. And it may be this, as people organize, this will burst through the other side of this… what’s really heading towards a massive failure and a great deal of suffering. I guess as a medical doctor, this is in a way very personal, you see this up close.

CP: I did. I’m retired now, but I certainly did see it up close for many, many years. And it’s a tragedy, and people have to decide whether to purchase their medication, or pay their rent, or buy food. No one should have to make that kind of a decision, in a country where we’re… as I said before, we’re already spending more money per capita than any other country, in the world that’s providing universal health care for their citizens. So, no, this is not something that I find acceptable.

DB: And, it’s dramatic in the sense that those most deeply affected are children. Children, and then what goes along with that. The inability to participate in a full way in school, because the health is not there. So, this is… this reverberates, doesn’t it?

CP: It reverberates. Racial disparities certainly play into this. There’s so many aspects of social justice that play into this problem that could be improved if we simply did what we have the ability to do. But there is not the political will to do that, yet. And that’s what we will continue to work on.

DB: Well, it’s shocking. I travel on public transportation, take the underground. There are a lot of people who are out on the street, who are wandering around , who deserve to be cared for. So many veterans, so many people who have done so much in their own lives, seeing more and more families out on the street. So, this is a reflection of the health of the society. And we appreciate all the time that you have taken onto this. If people want to learn more about your work, or want to be a part of this movement, this vision towards a health care system that is humane and treats us all the same, how do people follow your work, or what do you recommend?

CP: I would recommend two websites, pnhp.org which stands for Physicians for a National Health Program. I would also recommend healthoverprofit.org. For people who would like to become active or to learn more about this. And I really especially encourage people who have questions, who aren’t sure that they understand what this is, or would like to know more… Dr. Flowers and I will be doing a webinar on March 27th on the healthoverprofit.org web site. You can sign up for the webinar. And it’s going to be a call in. People who have questions can just call us and we’ll do the best we can to answer their questions.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Fear Spreads in Immigrant Communities

President Trump’s roundup of undocumented workers has spread fear though immigrant communities unsure what to expect as federal agents coordinate with local police to hunt people down, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

There is “widespread fear” in the undocumented community, says Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), whose work in the first two months of the Trump administration has focused on keeping people from panicking while informing them of their rights and how to defend themselves if U.S. immigration agents show up at their workplace or home or intercept them on their way to work or while taking their children to school.

Alvarado is often compared to Cesar Chavez in terms of his leadership and organizing power in the undocumented community. NDLON represents tens of thousands of day-laborers. I spoke to Alvarado on March 10.

Dennis Bernstein: Help us put a face on what it looks like now at ground level. What are the discussions like in the community? Give us a sense of how people are responding to this first salvo, or series of salvos from this anti-immigrant administration.

Pablo Alvarado: Yes, well, there is widespread fear. And, because of the aggressiveness nature of the Trump’s immigration policies, the bans, the executive decisions that he’s made. And the fact that ICE agents are going all over the country picking people up. They claim that they were going to go after people who have had previous criminal convictions, and violent criminals. That’s what they said, but it’s not true.

A lot of people who don’t have any convictions have been detained. And some people who have had previous convictions like DUIs, dating 15 – 20 years ago are coming back. These folks don’t represent a threat to public safety, but yet they’re being targeted. They are being separated from their loved ones.

DB: Just to keep the human face on it, in that regard. There was, in fact, a dad who was here 20 – 22 years who was taking, I guess, his kid… he had three or four kids, but he was taking his kid to school, he was separated from his kid, on the way to school?

PA: Correct. It’s one of the cases that our organization is assisting with. Romulo [Avelica-Gozalez] essentially was taking his kids to the school when he was actually followed by ICE agents. Who, by the way, were not wearing their uniform. Their jackets said that they were police. So, anyway, this type of situations is sending a wave of fear in our community. So, oftentimes, people see white vans driving in the neighborhoods and everyone freaks out. And they start posting on social media. “We saw ICE agents, the vans, ICE vans in such and such location.”

And all of us feel this widespread fear. And people are staying inside. So, the good thing is that a lot of allies, immigrants’ rights organizations, churches understand that there is this fear. So there is an effort to suppress that fear, and ensure that whatever notification goes out of ICE presence in the neighborhoods, that it’s real. That it’s not based on the fear.

So, there is no way, absolutely no way, that our community can defend without removing that fear. You cannot fight back when you’re fearful, or when you hate somebody, when you’re angry. So, our defense has to be very rational, and well thought out. And there is no way we can fight back effectively from a perspective of anger, hatred or fear. And that’s why it’s essential that we remove that fear.

DB: Alright, and last we spoke you were beginning to set up structures, networks that people could communicate across states, across the country. And so, really I guess, the way to counteract fear is with knowledge and with an approach that’s methodical. So, how is that going? How is the community organizing? How is that coming together? If it is.

PA: Yeah. Well, let me elaborate more about the fear, the strategy of fear. Because it’s important that Americans understand what this is about. So, it’s important to recognize this small segment of nativism, xenophobes, that are promoting this fear, and, who, by the way, are now in power. Who have the power of the federal government, at their hands. We’re talking about Steven Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Kris Kobach. These are the main advisors of President Trump. And these folks have been the leaders of these efforts to create that fear. Because they have never been interested in fixing the so-called broken immigration system. They’ve never been interested, in that.

What they want to do is bring down the non-white, foreign-born population. It’s been very clear. They know that realistically speaking, logistically speaking they cannot deport 11 – 12 million people. They’re not interested in that. What they want is they want to create so much misery that people will pack their bags, and leave on their own. This is the idea, attrition through enforcement strategy.

And they’ve never forgotten that strategy. And the main proponents of that strategy are now in power. So that’s what it comes from. And obviously creating that fear is not just directed towards immigrants.

So, obviously what they want is they want to create this state of fear so that people do not fight back for their rights, that we give up our rights. And we say “Okay, Mr. Trump we’re going to deport ourselves. Because the circumstances of living in the United States are unbearable. So I’m going to pack my bags and leave on my own.” This has always been their strategy. And that’s precisely what they want to create, the wave of fear through this new enforcement policies that Mr. Trump is implementing aggressively.

They also want to tell localities “If you support immigrants, if you have layers of protection for immigrants, we’re going to take away your funding.” That’s again playing with fear, creating fear. And now he’s telling significant segments of Americans who believe in his facts, his alternative facts, he’s telling them “You have to be fearful of the immigrants because they are dangerous, they are criminals.”

They have created an office, a special office now for victims of undocumented people that kill Americans. So, precisely with that purpose of sending, of creating that fear of immigrants. So, everything is about fear. This man… I mean that’s how fascism operates, creating that fear.

So, in order for us to fight back we need to remove that fear and we need to tap into the power that people have. Remember that immigrants… we are courageous people. We come from places where we have faced dictators, drug cartels, gang members, extreme poverty, political persecution. Then we cross borders, deserts, and some of us rode the train. We’ve crossed deserts, etc., etc. We’re powerful people. We need to tap into that sense of courage to overcome the fear. And the first step towards overcoming that fear is essentially knowing your rights and, more importantly, how to exercise those rights, in different scenarios. And this is precisely the first step that we are taking with the day labor community, and beyond.

We plan to visit – there are 700 day labor corners in this country – we are going to visit them all in the next four years. And everyone, every worker out there will have the information that they need to protect themselves. And the training that they need to talk to other day laborers and begin organizing themselves to defend each other. That’s the first step.

The second is that we’re looking for friends of the day laborers, so if there are some listeners who might live close to a day labor location and they want to volunteer, they want to monitor what happens in that corner and they want to come help day laborers understand, and know their rights, please get in touch with us. Because across the country we are going to be recruiting people that are going to be monitoring the activities that take place at that corner, including hate crimes and incidents. Including violations of wage and hours laws, like wage theft, injuries at the work place, including coming to the corner, or the center, and teaching people about their rights.

So if there are folks who are listening who live nearby a day labor corner, please call us. And we’ll train you on how to approach the workers and train them. We want to make sure that every corner across the country has the basic layers of community protection. There are so many friends of day laborers who will want to participate in these efforts.

DB: I just want you to say a little bit more about the infrastructure of NDLON so people understand what your work has been, since 2002 – 2003, when you became executive director. So, you said there are over 700 corners that you represent. And that’s the way in which you can create a network of pro-active, defense and fight back. Explain the infrastructure a little bit.

PA: Alright. Well, NDLON was established to address issues that workers face every single day when they look for work, either at day laborer corners or day laborer centers. And throughout our work, we believe that setting up places, that are safe and dignified for workers to get together and meet their employers, not only helps workers and employers and communities, but it improves public safety. It improves community relations, so that’s why we’ve built 70 day labor centers across the country. These are places that people go every single day to find a day of work. There is staff in those places, and essentially to make sure that the transactions between employer and worker are clear, and transparent. But there are only 70 of those job centers across the country.

More day laborers are in the streets. And, of course, when you are in the streets you are subjected to many indignities. And NDLON was built to address many of these indignities. But our infrastructure is not enough, because the need is big. That’s why we are recruiting volunteers to join our forces, to join our efforts, to make sure that people’s rights are respected.

So we do have a basic infrastructure, and we do have centers across the country. And these centers will be working together with whomever volunteers to make sure that day laborers are well protected. But, again, we’re also looking for resources.

For example, in order to bring the Know Your Rights training to every corner, we’re going to need a lot of printing and duplications. So, we’re going to be asking folks to donate to make sure that every single day laborer out there knows about his rights and how to exercise them. And at the very least, if there is a basic infrastructure, to at least for people to know what their rights are. So that campaign is on its way. So, if there are folks that want to participate, please get in touch with us.

DB: And, again, there’s some very interesting information coming out of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. You can go to their web site. I want to ask you, have you been in any way monitoring, or just noticing how to evaluate sort of the upsurge in the sense of white people now being freed by these white supremacists, these nationalists in power now, is there an upsurge? Are people being attacked more, being threatened more? How do you read that?

PA: There is. There is more… now that an employer who has stolen workers’ wages is a precedent, of course, you know, other employers who believe the same as Mr. Trump, are going to feel emboldened. And as a consequence are going to hire people and refuse to pay their wages. So there has been an increase in the number of people who are getting hired and not being paid for the work that they performed. So we have that. We have… there’s been a series of incidents of violence against day laborers.

I’ve seen it here in Los Angeles, in five places, of people being harassed, and chased. And one of the workers was actually beaten here in downtown Los Angeles. So, we’ve seen an increase on people passing by at day laborer corners and yelling racial epitaphs to the workers. So, yes, there is this increase and I only expect to see more, unfortunately.

The number of hate crimes in our country has increased, not just against Muslims, and against the Jewish community, but against Mexican and Central American immigrants. And I think the increase in the incidents, the hate crimes and incidents has been proportional to the attacks on Muslims and Jewish communities. And that is something that is happening nation-wide.

And, obviously, one of the things that… part of the campaign that we are implementing right now of adopting a corner and asking for volunteers… it’s insuring that every time someone goes by and screams a racial epitaph at workers, that’s a hate incident. These are not getting reported. and it’s important that we create a data base, and description of these kinds of incidents because unless people speak out, we won’t be able to show America its ugly side. Because people need to see … what’s happening. So part of what volunteers are going to be doing is training workers how to document these types of hate incidents. Where, and how to report them. That’s going to be part of this campaign.

DB: And, I know you’re very busy and you have to go soon. Just two more quick questions. It sort of looks like Trump’s jobs program is like… they are already hiring in Stars and Stripes and all these military magazines to come and get a good job working at the border. Trump has already referred… he was corrected by surrogates, but he’s already referred to what’s going on at the border, the hiring of 10 and then 5,000 more folks, as a military operation. Your thoughts about what’s happening on that front.

PA: Well, you know, people who believe that Trump’s promises, and the total campaign was just electoral politics and rhetoric were, essentially, wrong. Now, is not hypotheticals anymore. People are getting rounded up and ICE is being more aggressive.

ICE has always been a rogue agency, no oversight. They don’t have to follow the same rules of respecting the constitution that police officers are supposed to follow. And, essentially, there’s no oversight. At a given point, ICE even disobeyed the orders of President Obama when he told us “Hey, these are the priorities, that you may want to follow them”… as a matter of fact the ICE union, the border patrol union even filed a lawsuit against President Obama.

So, this is a rogue agency, that’s been beefed up. But it’s been strengthened and there is no doubt in my mind that when President Trump said “I will build a deportation force”… that that’s exactly what he plans to do, so, 5,000 original border patrol agents with no oversight. Imagine the kind of human rights’ crisis that’s going to be caused at the U.S./Mexico border. And internally they’re planning to hire 10,000 additional ICE agents. Meaning that more places… places where people gather would not be safe for migrants, across this country. So, his deportation force is being built up.

Now, in order for him to deport the 2 – 3 million people that he said that he would deport during the first years, he has to enlist local police. So the dilemma that is being presented here is not just for immigrants, it’s also for elected officials, who have to determine how far they’re going to go in terms of collaborating with ICE. And where they’re going to be complicit in the mass deportation policies of this administration. In the near future, our country will be viewing this moment as one of the most shameful period in the history of our country. And localities of police departments will have to give testimonies on which side they stood.

And I think that’s why there are so many elected leaders, both at the local and state level, who are taking a stronger stand against President Trump because they understand what is the right side of history, they understand that participating in this immigration force will be devastating not just to migrant families, but the people that they work for. And it will be devastating for the same concept of public safety. And that percent of people who fear police will not report crimes, when they are victims or witnesses. And this is only detrimental to communities, actually to public safety.

And I think like some police officers understand that. And this is a dilemma that this administration is putting every single police department and every single city council in this country. And local governments have to make the right choice. And they are. A significant number of them are saying “We’re not going to collaborate in the construction of this deportation force. We want to make sure that there’s a bright line between what we do and what the federal agents do.”

So, obviously, this militarization is not just detrimental to migrants, who are going to be persecuted even more, with more officers. But is detrimental to what localities can do, to protect everyone, every resident within their boundaries.

DB: And, just in the final minute that we have. The other side of that dad getting arrested on the way… after 22 years… taking his kids to school, is the family, the mom and her kids being placed in a private prison. There’s now a private prison boom, the private prison industry, they’re all getting ready for a siege in business.

PA: They’re salivating, right now, they’re salivating. They see Mr. Trump, that Mr. Trump is going to be kind of like the oppression that’s going to make their growth possible. And it’s grotesque, when private corporations make money out of the suffering of people. But it doesn’t suppress me because this has been the framework of our adversaries. This is the framework that Trump has brought into the debate.

In order to make America great you need to make some people suffer. And it’s idiotic, because you don’t have to make people suffer. In order to make America great you don’t have to divide people into good and bad immigrants. In order to make America great you don’t have to be a deportation force that is going to undermine what I believe is the heart of this country. Talking about fear… I think that President Trump is fearful of the courage that immigrants demonstrate, every single day.

I strongly believe that the president and his closest advisers are a bunch of scared people. They’re scared of the fact that whether they like it or not this is a country of migrants. And in every generation, migrants have been the beating heart of this country. Migrants live the idea of the American dream with more intensity than anybody else, precisely because of the circumstances of where they come from. And that is what Mr. Trump and his advisers are fearful of, that courage, and the ability to push forward in this country.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




Embattled Trump Reneges on Health Vow

President Trump promised health insurance for all, but – now dependent on the political protection of House Speaker Paul Ryan – he is supporting a plan that will push millions outside the system, writes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Donald Trump still insists he’s going to Make America Great Again! Mind you, it won’t be a healthy or vigorous America — in fact, it will be coughing and wheezing to the grave, but boy, will it be great!

If you ever needed further evidence that Trump doesn’t give a single good goddamn about the people who elected him, just look at his treacherous turnabout on health care. This Republican “repeal and replace” bill stinks on so many levels I’m tempted to say it should be taken far out to sea and dumped into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench but I have too much regard for marine life, even the kind with the big googly eyes and the really scary teeth.

Remember that Trump was the carnival barker who declared during the campaign, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” And right before his inauguration he told The Washington Post, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

Then along comes the proposed Republican bill, which over a decade, according to the now-famous report from the Congressional Budget Office, would see 24 million fewer Americans with coverage, doubling the number of uninsured. Trump’s own supporters would take it on the chin for what he tweeted is “our wonderful new health care bill.”

According to John McCormick at Bloomberg News: “Counties that backed him would get less than a third of the relief that would go to counties where Hillary Clinton won. The two individual tax cuts contained in the Republican plan to replace Obamacare apply only to high-earning workers and investors, roughly those with incomes of at least $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples.”

And remember all that nonsense about Obamacare’s “death panels,” a falsehood so rotten to the core it was declared PolitiFact’s 2009 Lie of the Year? Well, this Republican bill actually would kill people. Those older would pay more than the young, it would strip Planned Parenthood of funding and Medicaid programs would be slashed. It would eliminate money for the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides epidemiology, immunization and health-screening programs. And there would be no mandate that employers with 50 employees or more provide coverage.

Julia Belluz at Vox reports on:“[V]ery high-quality studies on the impacts of health insurance on mortality, which come to some pretty clear estimates. This research suggests that we would see more than 24,000 extra deaths per year in the US if 20 million people lost their coverage. Again, 20 million is less than the 24 million the CBO thinks will lose insurance by 2026. So the death toll from an Obamacare repeal and replacement could be even higher.”

Ignoring the Needy

Notice that Trump has barely lifted a finger to assist those who need genuine reform that would bring quality care to all, the kind of help he promised as a candidate. Instead, he has directed his energies at helping Speaker Paul Ryan win over right-wing House members by promising to make the bill even crueler to those who need health care the most.

Take a look at this statement issued by tea partier and Alabama Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt after meeting with Trump on Friday, a statement so mind-boggling it’s worth quoting in full:

“President Trump called me to the Oval Office this morning to discuss the American Healthcare Act, because of his understanding that I could not support the current language of the bill. I expressed to the president my concern around the treatment of older, poorer Americans in states like Alabama. I reminded him that he received overwhelming support from Alabama’s voters.

“The president listened to the fact that a 64-year-old person living near the poverty line was going to see their insurance premiums go up from $1,700 to $14,600 per year. The president looked me in the eye and said, ‘These are my people and I will not let them down. We will fix this for them.’

“I also asked the president point blank if this House bill was the one that he supported. He told me he supports it ‘1,000 percent.’ After receiving the president’s word that these concerns will be addressed, I changed my vote to yes.”

Can you believe it? Trump’s behind the bill 1,000 percent, the President claims, but don’t worry, we’ll fix it. It’s hard to decide which of the two men is behaving more hypocritically: Trump saying he won’t let the people down or Aderholt claiming to believe the President actually will keep his word. Each is endorsing a cutthroat scheme that will bring nothing but grief to the people but hundreds of billions in tax breaks to the wealthy and vast profits to the insurance industry.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: “The top 400 highest-income taxpayers — whose annual incomes average more than $300 million apiece — each would receive an average annual tax cut of about $7 million, we estimate from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) data.”

Andy Slavitt, who was President Obama’s acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told The Washington Post, “This is a massive tax cut for unpopular industries and wealthy individuals. It is about cutting care for lower-income people, seniors, people with disabilities and kids to pay for the tax cut.”

This is, in the words of Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, “a dumpster fire of a bill that was written on the back of a napkin behind closed doors because Republicans know this is a disaster.” But thanks to ineptitude and an inchoate, ill-planned rush to pass the legislation, it looks as if the current Republican bill may be on its way to failure, if not in the House then in the Senate.

Lucky us — for now. But if the GOP and Trump White House do manage to force on us anything short of what’s really needed – single-payer, universal health care — we’re doomed to live in a nation the motto of which may no longer be “In God We Trust” but instead, “Die young and leave a good-looking corpse.”

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. [This article first appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/trump-gop-prescription-america-dont-get-sick/]




Another GOP President Balloons the Deficit

Facing the Democratic “#Resistance,” President Trump has jumped into the arms of congressional Republicans and is following the old GOP pattern of tax cuts, military hikes and ballooning deficits, as Ivan Eland explains.

By Ivan Eland

The White House is now planning a humongous ten percent hike in defense spending, while making comparable deep cuts in domestic government programs—excluding big entitlement programs, such and Medicare and Social Security, which President Trump has promised not to touch.

During his campaign, the president also talked about a massive $1 trillion infrastructure program and just recently pledged again to spend “big” on it. Finally, he plans to slash taxes significantly. Those who have been paying attention for a while could be excused for having a sense of Republican deja vu—expanding government deficits leading to rapidly expanding national debt.

When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, his plan included the contradictory goals of massively increasing the Pentagon’s budget, cutting  income taxes substantially, and balancing the budget. However, his defense budget hikes and initial tax reductions ballooned the federal budget deficit so much, especially since proposed domestic spending cuts didn’t work out so well, that he had to raise taxes six out of eight years as president.

Thus, contrary to popular belief, Reagan had the smallest net tax reduction during his presidency of any post-World War II Republican. In the end, despite his reputation as an advocate for small government, his splurge in government spending increased the size of the federal government as a portion of GDP, and he was first among post-World War II presidents in debt accumulation as a percentage of GDP.

Similarly, George W. Bush racked up huge deficits and debt by following the Reagan precedent of instituting “fake tax cuts”–that is, tax cuts while increasing government spending, which leave budget deficits and debt for future generations to pay off with interest and may even require the inflationary printing of money to finance them.

Bush spent heavily by prosecuting two wars in the greater Middle East (Trump recently estimated the total money wasted so far in those long wars at $6 trillion) and expanding the benefits of an already financially rickety Medicare program.

Ignoring the Deficit

When Bush’s powerful vice president, Dick Cheney, famously said “deficits don’t matter,” he must have meant politically — voters like their taxes reduced but not the government programs on which they have become dependent — rather than economically. Federal budget deficits and resulting expanding government debt can strangle economic growth by “crowding out private borrowing” and increasing inflation.

The only difference between President Trump and those other two big-spending Republican chief executives is that Trump hasn’t even really bothered to mouth the rhetoric of “small government.”

His massive infrastructure spending scheme and his promise not to cut politically popular mandatory spending programs (entitlements), which are projected by the conservative Heritage Foundation to represent 64 percent of the federal budget by the year 2020, are evidence of his profligate tendencies. Tax cuts are also always popular, especially with the Republican political base, and are fine if spending is cut first—so deficits and debt don’t rise.

If history is any guide (and it is), politicians likely will prove successful at cutting taxes and raising defense, law enforcement, and veterans spending, but will not be very adept at cutting other domestic spending (under Reagan and Bush it expanded substantially). Many of these programs have politically powerful constituencies, some of which are Republican, who will push back.

The area most puzzling is Trump’s dramatic proposal to increase the defense budget by a whopping 10 percent. Where’s the increase in foreign threat to justify such spending? The United States has been successful in constricting ISIS in Iraq and Syria by cheaply funding and supporting local forces battling the group.

If, as Trump alleges, the most capable military in human history is “depleted,” which is seriously doubtful, it is because of long, costly, and futile wars in the greater Middle East that, during the campaign, he implied that he wanted to avoid in the future. If the military gets even more money from the president, there will be even more impetus to send it abroad to fight such counterproductive wars that generate more blowback terrorism at home — thereby lessening U.S. security.

The United States already spends more on defense than it did on average during the bad old days of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union could have plausibly posed an existential threat to the country. ISIS pales in comparison and certainly doesn’t pose such a potent threat. As for potentially hostile nations, the United States already spends on defense what the next seven countries do combined, including China and Russia.

Thus, if Trump’s huge increase in defense spending is combined with a massive hike in infrastructure spending, no reduction in entitlement programs, likely disappointing spending cuts in non-entitlement domestic programs, and a substantial tax cuts, then federal budget deficits and the resulting national debt will again balloon—likely leading to a considerable drag on the economic growth that Trump has promised.

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute. [This article first appeared as a blog post at The Hill, http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-budget/322596-here-we-go-again-yet-another-debt-expanding-republican .]




Trumping Trump and Howling at the Moonves

Donald Trump and the U.S. news media have an incestuous but symbiotic love-hate relationship. Trump rails against the media and the media rails against Trump, while both sides profit, says JP Sottile.

By JP Sottile

Les Moonves cannot lose … and he knows it. The all-too-well compensated CEO of CBS said as much back in late February of 2016. The Bataan Death March of presidential campaigns had finally kicked into high gear and a month-long barrage of primaries, caucuses and televised debates portended just the sort of never-ending story-line that makes a media mogul’s dreams come true.

The man at the center of that long, pitched battle for the hearts and mindlessness of the American people was none other than future Reality-Star-in-Chief and all-around good for business-man President Donald J. Trump. His starring role in the daily melodrama also known as “The race for the White House” had Les leaping over the moon with financial excitement.

Moonves was so effusive that, in a fit of gleeful honesty, the titular head of America’s number one network told the denizens of a Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco that Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

At the time, Moonves was just pondering all the advertising dollars that would inevitably pile up on the way to a profitable political train-wreck. And Les was right. Train-wrecks may make for bad politics and even worse policy, but boy-oh-boy … do they ever make for great television!

In fact, televising train-wrecks, car crashes or any kind of contentious conflict is a sure-fire way to goad world-weary audiences into rubbernecking. In this age of low-overhead/high-drama reality programming, it’s also the cheapest and easiest way to pile up cash on a corporate media balance sheet.

And no doubt, Moonves could see early on that Trump would pile it higher and deeper than anyone who’d come before him. As the Hollywood Reporter detailed, Les wanted a lot more. He hoped the “circus” full of “bomb throwing” would continue all the way through the campaign. And why not?

In 2012, the Obama vs. Romney match-up generated nearly $900 million on television ads. With the Clintons’ infamous fundraising machine kicking into high gear and a billionaire businessman crashing the other party, Les was understandably forecasting a contest that would make it rain like never before.

As Moonves noted, “The money’s rolling in and this is fun.” He went on to say, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

That’s exactly what Donald did. He kept it going all the way to the White House. And the ever-prescient Moonves — who retroactively dismissed his gleeful honesty as a “joke” shortly after video emerged of Trump touting his penchant for grabbing a woman’s genitals — would not be disappointed by the reality star’s hit political psychodrama.

But really, Les was only halfway right. Although Trump’s GOP opponents would spend millions on their way to ignominious defeat, Les hadn’t foreseen the bigger picture that came into focus when Trump squared off with Hillary. Ironically, Les and the media he so fully embodies were about to be recast in a whole new reality show.

Reality Bites

What Les didn’t yet know back in February of 2016 was that the profligate trend-line of recent campaigns was about to be broken. Political ad spending would not be the full story … or even the main story … of 2016.

Actually, combined spending by the two campaigns was down. According to a post-mortem by Reuters, Trump dished out a mere “$107 million on advertising, including television ads.” A report by analytics firm Borrell Associates found that the overall Trump campaign “spent around 34% less” than Mitt Romney did in 2012. That year, Romney dropped a cool $1 billion, which nearly matched the $1.1 billion spent by President Barack Obama. But in 2016, Trump and pro-Trump groups raised about $600 million and he was almost as likely to use that money to reimburse his own companies as he was to buy advertising.

Although Hillary Clinton spent nearly as much as the Obama campaign did in 2012, many broadcasters found that early predictions of “the most expensive race ever” kinda fell flat. And that drop — which has been attributed in no small part to Trump’s “unconventional campaign” — turned into a significant financial pinch for smaller networks of local stations that rely on revenue from political ads every two and four years. The bottom line is that the well-heeled half of the Two-Party system simply didn’t deliver on broadcasters’ champagne wishes or their caviar dreams.

On the other hand, analytics firm mediaQuaint found that Trump scored a staggering $4.96 billion worth of “free” media. That’s all the non-stop coverage, the constant kibitzing of the blatherati, the hours upon hours of live rallies, the one-on-one interviews, the Sunday show call-ins and everything else that transformed the campaign into a 24-hour version of TrumpTV.

Hillary Clinton got her share of freebies, too. But her $3.24 billion worth of gifted gab could not compete with the trump card Donald played in the middle of nearly every news cycle. Trump’s tendentiousness, his relentless tweeting and his campaign’s increasingly pugilistic attitude toward the press recast the contest.

Throughout a nearly 18 month-long process, the media and Trump switched back and forth between playing the role of bête noir and conquering hero. It was pure television gold that literally programmed itself.

And that’s where Trump truly flipped the script … not just on the political establishment, but on the way the media would interact with and cover both his campaign and, sadly, cover his nascent presidency.

Flipping Out

Until the 2016 election, the media business (local stations, regional networks, medium-sized station groups, cable news channels and the big four broadcasters) reliably reaped a bi-annual windfall from the hundreds of millions of dollars in political advertising they packed into the commercial breaks in-between their programming. The two-year election cycle was good. The presidential cycle was way better. But Trump changed the paradigm.

This time, the coverage became the political commercial and the political commercial became the programming. Simply put, Trump’s bloviating, bombastic style translated into ratings. And those ratings translated into dollars that could be earned by charging more for the ads in-between the coverage.

So, while Hillary and anti-Trump groups were flooding the commercial breaks with hundreds of millions of dollars in ad buys, Trump’s freebie coverage was raising the price of all advertising by keeping eyeballs glued to the boob tube. Perhaps even more importantly, the same free media that both served Trump’s political campaign and, thanks to his power to hold audiences, the value of ad time … also essentially rescued the cable news industry’s flaccid business model.

Quite frankly, the cable news business was on the rocks before Trump. But Pew Research noted that 2015 (the start of Trump’s long march) was the first time the industry saw primetime viewer growth after three years of decline. Daytime viewership grew, too.  Pew also found that ad revenue grew a bit for the major networks, but cable news saw a much-needed 10 percent increase in both ad and subscriber revenue.

So, just imagine the revenue that poured in during 2016 when FOX News topped ESPN as the most watched basic cable network. The Trump effect produced a 36 percent spike that gave FOX News an “average of 2,475,000 viewers in primetime.” It also sparked CNN’s 77 percent rise in viewership (from 732,000 to 1,298,000) and MSNBC’s audience grew by 87% (from 596,000 to 1,113,000),” according to year-end numbers reported by IndieWire.

Amazingly enough, CNN didn’t even rank in the top ten of all cable networks in 2015. But thanks to Trump’s eye-grabbing impact, CNN went from the 24th to the 10th most-viewed network and MSNBC went from 29th to 12th on Deadline’s cable ranking list.

And all of those numbers can ultimately be attributed to Trump. He turned boring political coverage into an egg-laying golden goose. And the unctuous media’s substantial investment in “free” time paid some big dividends.

As Adweek reported, “the election resulted in big ad revenue bumps” with CNN notching a 57.8 percent jump, MSBNC an increase of 47.9 percent and Fox News bringing up the rear with a respectable 25.7 percent rise in ad income.

Overall, political advertising in 2016 reached a record high of $9.8 billion spent on everything from local races for dog catcher all the way up to the Presidency. It was a respectable rise of 4.6 percent from 2012, but rise in digital media spending meant “broadcast television turned out to be the big loser of the cycle,” according to Mashable.

Broadcasting’s “commanding 58-percent market share in 2012” slipped by 13 percentage points in 2016. And in spite of Moonves’s early optimism, CBS saw a 6 percent drop in viewership. Still, they led all comers with an average 8.8 million viewers. Yet, for some reason Les is still bullish on Trump.

Why? Well, Moonves once again let the proverbial cat out of his cash-filled bag. And he did it at yet another bank-hosted media confab. This time, Les opined at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom Conference.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Moonves is comforted by strong advertising and a strong balance sheet, but it’s Trump’s presidency that has him thinking even bigger.  At a conference ironically hosted by one of Trump’s biggest creditors, Moonves “signaled his approval of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda, which could allow the network to buy up more TV stations and get more revenue from retransmission consent fees.”

That’s right. The guy at the center of the monomaniacal coverage Moonves touted during the campaign is the selfsame guy Moonves is now banking on to deliver yet more media deregulation.

If nothing else, it is newsworthy to note that more media deregulation is even possible after the one-two punch delivered by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Apparently, there is still more to monopolize, which is why Les is willing to put aside Trump’s supposed war with the media to make peace with Trump’s deconstructive agenda.

As he said, “Obviously, there is a lot of information coming out of Washington and although we are not the enemy of the people, we welcome the deregulations that are going on there.”

So Les’s golden opportunism — which got him into a bit of hot water after his “bad for America means good for CBS” quip — is about to pay even more dividends. And that’s despite the fact that more isn’t exactly what Les … or the media … really needs.

Bark at the Moonves

Moonves was recently named “the most overpaid CEO on the S&P 500”… and for good reason. As the head of CBS, Moonves enjoys one of corporate America’s best compensation packages. According to the last SEC filing, CBS lavished Les with a staggering pay package totaling $56.8 million for the 2015. That was actually down a little bit from 2014. As Variety duly noted, that year he brought home a cool “$57.2 million, including a $25 million bonus and $25 million in stock awards and options.”

By comparison, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase garnered a “paltry” $27 million for 2015 … and, as the New York Times explained, that was a 35 percent increase over the previous year’s sum. Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs came in just below Dimon with $23 million in 2015. And then there’s Bank of America CEO Brian T. Moynihan. He “earned” $16 million for his role atop one of the nation’s biggest banks.

Sure, that’s a lot of coin for running a bank. But it doesn’t quite compare to Moonves or the pharaoh-like compensation packages given to the small group of people who sit atop the media pyramid. Deadline noted that in 2015, the top seven “chiefs collectively made $283.8 million” and they followed Moonves all the way to the bank.

Here they are in descending order: Philippe Dauman of Viacom ($54.2 million), Bob Iger of Disney ($44.9 million), Brian Roberts of Comcast ($36.2 million), David Zaslav of Discovery Communications ($32.4 million), Jeffrey Bewkes of Time Warner, ($31.5 million) and last, but in many ways the least of all, Rupert Murdoch of Fox ($27.9 million).

So, the takeaway here is that the lowest paid of the top media dogs (Murdoch) actually made more than one of banking’s biggest wigs (Dimon). In other words, the banksters who are so widely regarded as the poster boys for America’s ever-widening wealth and income gaps actually pale in comparison to the television titans who lord over the vast majority of the Fourth Estate. But that’s not the whole picture.

Some of the “news” media’s biggest on-air talents garner salaries that approach the territory of the banksters so many Americans love to hate. Business Insider tallied the totals and Matt Lauer of NBC makes $20 million, Bill O’Reilly of FOX News makes $18 million to $20 million, Shepard Smith pulls $10 million, boyish George Stephanopoulos tallies $10 million, Anderson Cooper “earns” somewhere between $9 million to $11 million and former Fox star and Trump antagonist Megyn Kelly is going to take home between $15 million and $20 million from her new gig with NBC, according to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

So, what does any of this have to do with the price of tea in China?

It’s a good question. The problem is that we’ll never find out the price of tea in China … or anything else, for that matter … by turning on what now passes for “the news” on television. That’s because the television news media — which has long since seen its coverage whittled down as investigative units were culled, international bureaus where shuttered and even regional bureaus were amalgamated into ever-more sparsely populated offices housed in four or five of the biggest media markets — just got it’s great programming chief of all time. They essentially “hired” President Donald J. Trump to run their shops.

Just think of the $4.96 billion in free media that helped Trump get elected as an industry-wide investment in a four-year long reality show. It was non-stop Trump during the campaign. It was non-stop Trump during the transition. It’s been non-stop Trump since the inauguration.

And the permanent campaign Steve “Apocalypse Soon” Bannon obviously wants to run is made sustainable by the self-reinforcing feedback loop Trump and the media first created during the campaign. Basically, the permanent campaign is here and it is far too juicy of a role for the media to turn it down.

Television News Made Easy

Remember when Trump was down in the polls and speculation about his post-election play had him starting his own network? The popular rumor was that he was positioning himself to start a venture with former FOX News Svengali and fellow sexual predator Roger Ailes. Oddly enough, Trump didn’t lose nor did he have to start his own network. Instead, he just took over the entire news media by lassoing them into the ultimate feedback loop.

We know that Trump is a voracious consumer of the media. And we know that Trump’s number one priority is to see himself being covered by the media. He’s also a disciple of professional wrestling. And as a reality showman, he knows exactly how to drum up ratings and interest with conflict.

Remember the rubbernecking power of train-wrecks that had Moonves so happy during the campaign? Well, Trump has slammed that train into the White House. He’s made the media his villain and since they oblige by covering him at nearly the exclusion of all else, Trump keeps on having good reasons to respond to the media’s relentless coverage. And then they lavish coverage on his response to their coverage … and so the next cycle begins. Basically, the news cycle gets a ready-made story each time he peddles his irresistible brand of reality showmanship.

In other words, Trump isn’t just good for ratings … he’s television news made easy. He makes morning editorial meetings easy. He makes allocating resources — like reporters and camera crews and field producers — easy. Sometimes he even gets up in the wee hours to tweet out the forthcoming day’s agenda.

And he doesn’t just like to talk, but he almost always says something. Heck, he’ll literally say anything. Each of the somethings and anythings he says are instantly news, even if they eventually turn out to be nothing. In fact, if something turns out to be nothing … that’s almost the biggest news of all.

And Trump’s willingness to turning the news into a dumpster fire also makes life atop a television network very, very easy. Whether you run a cable news channel or one of the big four behemoths, Trump has injected a level of cost certainty into the surprisingly profitable news business. They know exactly what the primary focus of their incessant coverage will be … so long as Trump keeps on shuttling between the White House and his golf course at Mar-a-Lago.

So long as Sean Spicer takes the podium. So long as Congress has to respond to the latest dust-up. Whatever comes up inside the bubble, they’ve got it covered. They’ve got the infrastructure in place. Their DC bureaus are, unlike almost everywhere else in America and the world, well-stocked with producers, reporters, photographers and editors. And New York can still be the center of their universe … one that turns on the axis of the Acela corridor.

Opportunity Costs

With TrumpTV pre-programming almost every single minute of every day’s coverage, there’s no need to worry about sending reporters around the world or around America to cover expensive stories that require hiring people and buying satellite time and booking travel and paying for insurance.

There’s no need to go to Afghanistan to report on America’s longest war (newsflash for the media: It’s still going). There’s no need to go to Yemen to chronicle America’s escalating involvement. No need to trace the impact of bombs that America sold the Saudis that the Saudis, in turn, dropped on a funeral. Let the BBC do that. They’ve got reporters who do that sorta thing, anyway. And why bother following-up on the story of the women and children who saw other women and children killed in Trump’s first military misadventure?

Why go there … when they’ve got Trump right here, right now. And why send a reporter to Baghdad when she can just go check Twitter?

Instead, they can ignore the crisis at Fukushima. They can ignore the tragic plight of the Rohingya who are being brutally “ethnically cleansed” by Chevron’s partners in the government of Myanmar. They can ignore a looming famine around the Horn of Africa. They can ignore the cycle of massacre and exhumation that bedevils the Mexican people just across the border. And they can incessantly talk about Russia without ever spending a dime to send reporters to Moscow or St. Petersburg or Crimea to actually do some actual interviews with actual Russians and find out what it is actually like to live in Putin’s Russia.

Instead, the media has turned over the programming of news to Trump. It’s just too cheap and too easy. That’s why Fox Business channel basically converted to TrumpTV. Why not? Business news is probably all about the “Trump Rally” or his faux jobs deals, anyway. And despite a recent suggestion by NBC’s Chuck Todd that his network reopen a bureau in Denver so they might better cover those parts of America outside the Acela Corridor, the media has a huge financial incentive to stay in TrumpTV’s low overhead lane.

But what if NBC heeded Chuck’s call and took $5 million off Matt Lauer’s salary and $5 million of Megyn Kelly’s salary and hired ten reporters to crisscross America in search of stories that have nothing to do with Trump? Or what if they spent the combined ten million bucks to produce daily reports from one of America’s wars? Does anyone think any of those high-priced on-air presenters would walk away from television if they only made $5 million per year? Or $2 million per year?

And what if Les Moonves could get by on $25 million per year? Heck, the extra $31.8 million bucks could probably open ten new bureaus here and around the world. And how many reporters, producers and camera crews could be deployed with just half of the $283.8 million made by the top seven media moguls?

Alas, unlike the Moonves’ dream of a perpetually contentious campaign, that just ain’t gonna happen. Not when the real masters of the universe — the obscenely compensated captains of the media industry — can get it coming and going.

To wit, the Hollywood Reporter noted, “Moonves … said Trump’s ubiquity during his early days in the White House was giving a ratings bump to late night CBS shows like Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.” Yup, not only is TrumpTV programming the news division, but it’s also helping stoke the entertainment division.

Les went on to say without a hint of irony, “Obviously Stephen is a big social commentator and the things that are going on in the country with the president … people want to see social commentary, they don’t want to see fun and games.”

And maybe that’s all the people can expect — a little biting social commentary to help us laugh at the absurdity they’ve helped create. The people certainly shouldn’t expect Les or his profiteering peers to invest much in actual news … not when the fun and games of TrumpTV means everyone in the media can be a winner no matter the outcome of Trump’s presidency.

Really, if the bottom line is their only bottom line … they literally cannot lose.

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, radio co-host, documentary filmmaker and former broadcast news producer in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Newsvandal.com or you can follow him on Twitter, http://twitter/newsvandal.




Greens’ Stein Faults Two-Party System

Some Democrats blame Jill Stein for “siphoning off” crucial votes from Hillary Clinton and thus helping to elect Donald Trump, but Stein insists that the two-party straitjacket is the real enemy of democracy, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

Former Green Party presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, remains undaunted in her belief that the only real and significant change in U.S. politics will come through a third party that can finally break the headlock that the Democrats and Republicans hold on the electoral system.

Stein, who has been running for state and federal office since her unsuccessful run for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002, has yet to win an election and received about 1.4 million votes (or about 1 percent of the total) in the presidential election of 2016.

I spoke with her on March 10 about what comes next for her and the Green Party, as well as her thoughts on the policies of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Dennis Bernstein: You are here in San Francisco, doing a bunch of things. But you’re going to be participating a little bit later in an action in support of Standing Rock and indigenous rights. And I want to ask you for your gut reaction to seeing that almost the first thing that Donald Trump did was go after the indigenous communities, and get those pipelines pumping heavy crude.

Jill Stein: It’s a sign of what we’re up against: this incredibly authoritarian, neo-fascist, anti-human rights predator, and who has pretended to be a friend of the working people, and who has really been revealed in all of his glory with his billionaire cabinet composed of people who are attacking the very cabinet departments that they are said to be head of. Who is enlarging the military, expediting the pipelines, expediting all sorts of destructive fossil fuel projects, attacking immigrants. It’s really reigning down on all sides.

The issue of indigenous rights, and pipelines and Standing Rock, brings so many of these issues together. With incredible courage, and vision, and passion, that so engaged the hearts and minds all across America, that we all saw that we are all Standing Rock. That this is where democracy… our rights to protest, indigenous rights, human rights, and our right to air, and water, and the climate that we can live in. They all converge.

And, it’s like the match here that lit the fire is just the passion of our indigenous brothers and sisters who are ready to stand up. Not just for them: they’re standing up for us all. And that passion is not going away. They may be evicted for now, but the fight is going on. It’s continuing in court. It’s continuing in the local struggles against, I guess, what’s called the Klamath River Pipeline [Pacific Connector Pipeline], and LNG [liquid natural gas] Pipeline, that’s going to go under the Klamath River, and put it at great risk.

The important thing here is that we’ve been successful in stopping fossil fuel projects over the past two years. That has really put the fear of God into this industry. They are in the process of becoming stranded assets. They’re trying to hurry up and get them built before they are no longer financially viable.

DB: The price is so low, they can’t even sell the stuff.

JS: And so, the important thing here is for us to just… to double down. And to be strengthened, to be encouraged, to get past their propaganda of powerlessness, and to know that we still have the numbers, in spite of the election of Donald Trump, which was an obvious distortion of the system.

But even more than that, it’s a system that’s become so toxic, so predominated by big money, corporate money, and corporate media, that it’s become unhinged. We have an unhinged, toxic political system. Donald Trump represents, really, the breakdown of this bi-partisan system that people have lost faith in.

Polls last year, well, early on in the election, showed 90% of Americans have lost confidence in our political institutions, in the bi-partisan system in Congress, the Executive, and the Judiciary. You can’t get more explicit than that, 90%.

At the other end, at the very end of the election, it was 80% of the people who described their feelings towards the election as one of disgust. And the American people are ready to move on. Had we… we were like one open debate from totally throwing out the bums, and moving forward to the future we deserve.

And everything that we’re hearing now, both in what the extraordinarily destructive actions of Donald Trump, but it’s like the neoliberal runway that he launched from, the deportation of three million immigrants, the meltdown of the climate, where the White House was signing an end to the export ban of fossil fuel. They were actually signing the dotted line to end that ban. In other words, to enable the export of fossil fuels again, while the Paris Accords were being signed. So, with one hand they’re claiming this great environmental world, with the other they’re just massively increasing.

So, the point here is we need to move forward. We need to break up with this abusive political relationship. We need to go forward with the future we deserve, because we’re out of time, and it’s on us. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. We have the power, people are standing up, joining in. Follow the example of Standing Rock. We can fix these problems.

DB: I love that poem by June Jordan, put to music by Sweet Honey in the Rock […] and I notice that that was sort of the anthem that played in the beginning of the Women’s March, in Washington, D.C. June Jordan is of this community, contributed to this show. So, we’re happy that she is still being evoked.

Well, let’s talk about what’s happening today. You have some expertise. We all saw the dangerous possibilities of the ObamaCare program. We’re seeing something else go on now. You have some knowledge here, you want to talk about this?

JS: Sure. So, ObamaCare was a very mixed bag. We should have had Medicare For All, a single-payer system. Healthcare is a human right. ObamaCare was basically RomneyCare, writ large. It was essentially a national roll out of what we did in Massachusetts, under Mitt Romney, who launched that RomneyCare movement in order to stop single-payer. That’s really where all of this originated, because single-payer was going like gangbusters in Massachusetts. We very nearly won a referendum that was only beat back by about two percentage points, having been outspent by 30 – 1 or 50 – 1, whatever it was, by the industry.

DB: It got really close.

JS: It was, and that’s why they came up with this diversionary measure. So, it expanded Medicaid, that was great. It did some other things, no pre-existing conditions, etc. It made care affordable for people who were poor.

But for working people it created this mandate. You shouldn’t be funding health care for some people on the backs of other people. We should be funding health care through the incredible abundance of this country. We are not a country of scarcity. We are not a country of austerity.

We are a country that is being bankrupted by a military budget that has just gone hog-wild, which Donald Trump wants to further expand. But it’s pretty toxic to start with. It’s over 50% of our discretionary dollars. It’s almost half of your income taxes going for what? For wars, and regime change that has created failed states, mass refugee migrations, and worse terrorist’s threats.

So, this doesn’t fix the problem. More of a catastrophic policy of militarism – we’re about to go into Syria now, with ground troops – that’s not going to make it better. This, again, is yet another reason why this is a Hail Mary moment [a desperate effort with little chance of success].

And it’s not only that our water is at risk, our climate is melting down, and in fact, that melt down is accelerating. An entire generation of young people are locked in debt, jobs are just not sustainable when average wages for workers are barely at the poverty level. We’re not going to get out of here alive.

DB: […] What do you think is going to happen here? What’s your best assessment of… we know where the Republicans are going with this. They’re hell-bent on passing this stuff. There’s going to be some resistance but essentially they’re going to be able to get whatever they want. What are the implications?

JS: Well, it’s not clear that they will. And back to the subject on the table about TrumpCare. There’s not agreement about this, at all. It may not pass either House. And Trump is not a uniter, in spite of what he says. It’s very clear he’s not a uniter. He doesn’t bring people together, doesn’t have, kind of, higher order passions and visions.

DB: I haven’t seen him smile once since he’s been elected.

JS: I know.

DB: You notice that? God, they’re disappointed they won.

JS: Not him, and not his wife either, who really looks miserable. The two of them on Election Day… [and] … on Inauguration Day it looked like they were at a funeral. They did not expect this. Now, he’s being progressively cornered. He’s had to lose some of his key advisors, he’s lost some key cabinet positions, his ratings continue to plummet. They were rock bottom to start with. He is a land mine of liabilities: legal, constitutional and ethical liabilities. There’s just case after case, lawsuits against him. His immigrant policy is about to be stopped again, for the second time. So, this is a guy who should not be in office. He’s being stopped.

I think it’s important for us to remember Richard Nixon, one of the most corrupt and authoritarian presidents in our history. What did we do under the rule of Richard Nixon? We brought the troops home from Vietnam. We established women’s right to choose, from a very conservative Supreme Court. We got the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, OSHA, protecting workers’ health and safety. How did we do that? We did it because we were out in the streets with a passion knowing that our lives were on the line, because our brothers were being sent to die, to Vietnam.

Well, guess what? Now, we’ve woken up to find our lives are on the line again, whether it’s from poverty and homelessness; a generation locked into unpayable student debt; from the expanding war which is blowing back at us with a vengeance; from the climate [warming] which is now accelerating, given the news last week that the meltdown of permafrost is well established, and is moving forward at horrific speed. And all the dire predictions from Jim Hansen, that we could see 10 or 20 feet of sea level rise, as soon as 2060. That’s not far away.

Well, guess what? Those predictions are coming far closer now, because those models did not include the impact of methane. We didn’t know when this was going to hit. The meltdown of the permafrost, for those who aren’t familiar, it’s basically frozen, organic debris, like dinosaur flesh, and plant matter, and stuff like that. It’s just…  the organic matter, the living creatures and plant life, of the ages, that’s been frozen. It’s becoming unfrozen. That means it turns into methane, which is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. This is a major accelerator of climate change.

So, it means that it’s time to stand up. It means that we are out of time. It means it’s time to take action, now. So, people are getting out, knowing that our lives are on the line, for all these issues. On account of immigrant deportations, and the attack on women, and all the rest.

DB: Let me just stop you there, because that’s the other issue I want to hit. I’m referring to it [the bulk-up of US Border and ICE agents] as Trump’s jobs program for ex-military. And I was joking when I said to the audience the other day that, I swear, I know I’m going to open Stars and Stripes, the U.S. Army newspaper, and see major ads.

So I got a call right after the show, from a listener who said, “Are you kidding me? Look at page 9, Stars and Stripes, huge, double page ads, $10,000 and $9,000, special courts and expanded private prisons.” This is really the cutting edge of, if you will, the new civil rights movement.

If we have a responsibility, it is in terms of the incredible attack on brown people in this country. Undocumented workers who do the hardest work, and, of course, the whole Middle East. Anything darker than John Wayne, and you’re in trouble. And we’re seeing Sikh, the other day, a Sikh man was assassinated, because he was like Osama Bin Laden, or something.

JS: Yes, you’re right. And this is where immigrant rights come together with unbridled militarism. Because this refugee crisis… it’s a refugee crisis, it’s not an immigration crisis, it’s a refugee crisis. We create that crisis through our military policies, not only in the Middle East, but also [by] overturning democracies: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. Where we, […] through our U.S. trained death squads, or through the outright overturning of democracies, we’ve created this culture of violence that forces people to flee over the border. So militarism, economic exploitation, and the role of NAFTA, which was awful for workers here, as well as farmers south of the border.

These are fixable problems. They can only be fixed together. To my mind, that’s what a political party is. A political party is a coalition that’s going to work together around an explicit agenda for people, planet and peace, over profit. The time has come. We have to stand up, like our lives depend on it, because they do.

And, now, this is sort of the silver lining behind this awful scary thunder cloud here that has just descended all over us: That our lives are on the line, so we gotta stand up and do it, in the way that we did under Richard Nixon. And then we impeached him. Trump’s days are numbered.

We just saw the president of South Korea impeached, today, upheld by the courts. Why did this happen? In part it was millions of people getting out into the street. It happened in Guatemala, two years ago. In East Germany, Chris Hedges tells the story, he was there as an investigative reporter. And the democracy advocates were meeting and saying “How are we going to get rid of this awful, authoritarian government?” And they said “Maybe in ten years.” The next week the wall came down, because people came out.

We’ve just… we’re at the breaking point, and we’re also at the wake up point, right now. And so, this is going to accelerate resistance. We’re not only creating sanctuary communities, but we’re actually now building sanctuary institutions, where people will be kept safe, where the ICE agents can’t even go. And, there are other plans that may be in the works with some indigenous tribes, and the role that they can play. Because they are essentially independent nations.

So, there are very exciting things here. In the same way that the Muslim community stood up for the Jewish community and raised money in the face of these anti-Semitic attacks, and all the bomb threats that are going on. We’re seeing these wonderful, just life-affirming, humanity-affirming alliances. And, as we wake up to the fact that our days are numbered right now, and that it is in our hands. It’s only us, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. The time has come, enough of the lesser evil. It’s time to stand up, and fight for the greater good.

And even this issue of spoiling elections, and splitting the votes. Well, hello, there’s a system called ranked-choice voting which Greens have been promoting forever. The state of Maine just passed it by voter referendum.

[California Governor] Jerry Brown just vetoed it [in California]. There was enabling legislation that was passed by the Legislature and Jerry Brown vetoed it because Democrats are at war with the liberation of our votes. They rely on extortion. They rely on intimidation, and fear, in order to hold people back. Why do they do that? Because they know that they can’t earn your vote.

Ranked-choice voting calls their bluff. It allows you to actually rank your choices. If your first choice loses, your vote is automatically reassigned to your second choice. That’s a win-win on our democracy. There are win-wins for every issue that faces us.

Right now we’re looking at a lose-lose [situation], with this corporate-sponsored duopoly. The Democrats might give us ten more years than the Republicans would, of survival, under Democratic policies. But it’s a sinking ship, with the duopoly. It’s time to get off the ship. Our lives depend on getting off that ship and launching the lifeboat. We’ve got it, let’s make it happen.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

 




The Democrats’ Dangerous Diversion

Exclusive: The Democrats won’t admit that they lost to Donald Trump because they ran a deeply flawed, corporate-oriented candidate, so they blame Russia instead, a very dangerous diversion, says Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

The current debate over “fake news” has reminded me of a conversation I had several years ago with a former citizen of East Germany, now living in the United States. He explained that, in East Germany, everybody knew that what the media told them about their own country was a bunch of lies and propaganda. So they assumed that what the media told them about the West was just propaganda, too.

Now living in the U.S., he had come to realize that a lot of what the East German media said about life in the U.S. was actually true. There really are people living on the street, people with no access to healthcare, widespread poverty, a lack of social welfare and public services, and many other problems, as the East German media accurately reported, and as the Chinese government also noted in its latest report on human rights in the U.S.

My friend wished he and his countrymen had understood the difference between what their media told them about their country and what they reported about the West. Then they could have made more intelligent choices about which aspects of life in the West to adopt, instead of allowing Western experts to come in and impose the entire neoliberal model on their country.

In the West, of course, the state media of East Germany and other Communist countries were held up to ridicule. I remember hearing that people in the U.S.S.R. would open their newspapers in the morning and have a good laugh at the latest “fake news” in Pravda. But, as my German friend eventually understood, there was some truth amongst the propaganda, and the hidden danger of such a corrupted media system is that people end up not knowing what to believe, making informed democratic choices almost impossible.

In the end, people all over Eastern Europe were cornered into a false choice between two ideological systems that both came as top-down package deals, instead of being able to take charge of their own societies and democratically decide their own future.

In the U.S., we live under a two-party political system, not a one-party system as in East Germany, and our media reflect that. As each of our two main political parties and our media have fallen more totally under the sway of unbridled plutocratic interests, our mass media has devolved into a bifurcated version of what my friend observed in East Germany, triply corrupted by commercial interests, partisan bias and ideological and nationalist propaganda.

Down the Rabbit Hole 

Since the 2016 election campaign, our political system seems to have devolved into something like the nonsense world of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, with Donald Trump as the Queen of Hearts, Hillary Clinton as Humpty Dumpty, the Republicans and Democrats as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the election as the Caucus Race (which Lewis Carroll based on U.S. political caucuses) and the whipsawed American public as the permanently baffled Alice.

In Lewis Carroll’s Caucus Race, an assortment of creatures ran randomly around a racetrack with no start or finish line, until the Dodo called the race over, declared them all winners and told Alice (the public?) she had to give them all prizes.

In similar fashion, the 2016 election between two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in U.S. history seems to have no finish line, but to live on in round-the-clock campaigns to corral the public into one of its two camps. The artificial, top-down nature of both these campaigns should be a warning that, like the election campaigns they grew out of, they are designed to corral, control and direct masses of people, not to offer real solutions to any of the serious problems facing our country and the world.

On one hand, we have President Trump, Republican Congressional leaders, Breitbart, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, spouting nonsense worthy of Lewis Carroll, even in major presidential speeches, while dismissing criticism as “fake news.”

The Trump camp will never acknowledge that only a quarter of voting-age Americans voted for him, nor that even less of us share his views or the interests he represents. In this corrupt two-party system, no effort or expense is spared to persuade the public that we must vote for one of the two major party presidential candidates, whether we agree with either of them or not. But that cuts both ways, leaving most of the public unrepresented no matter who wins, and depriving any new government of a genuine popular mandate.

But Republican leaders play a more straightforward winner-take-all game than the Democrats. So they will try to ride Trump’s victory and their Congressional majorities as far as they will take them on all fronts: more tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations; more draconian cuts in social spending; more privatization of healthcare, education and other public services; more detention and deportation of immigrants; a more aggressive police response to social problems and public protest; more destruction of the natural world and the climate; and more increases in a military budget that already broke post-WWII records under Bush and Obama, to fuel a more openly aggressive and dangerous war policy – in other words, more of all the things that most Americans would agree we have already had too much of.

On the other side, Democratic Party leaders and the CIA, supported by the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC, have conjured up unproven charges that Russia stole the election for Trump as the heart of their campaign against him. In Trump, history has handed them a political opponent with a piñata of vulnerabilities, from unprecedented conflicts of interest to policies that benefit only his own wealthy class to willful ignorance of how almost everything he is responsible for as president really works.

And yet the cabal formerly known as the Clinton campaign shows little interest in pointing out that our new Emperor has no clothes on, let alone in seriously resisting his repressive, plutocratic policies, and is instead obsessed with convincing the public that a birthmark on his naked bum looks like a hammer and sickle.

A Saving Grace?

Paradoxically, if Trump really reduced tensions between the U.S. and Russia, as his hawkish Democratic opponents fear, that could be the saving grace of his entire presidency. George W. Bush’s and Barack Obama’s regime change wars, NATO expansion and the U.S.-backed coup in Ukraine have ignited a new Cold War that many respected scientists believe has raised the risk of human mass extinction to its highest level since the 1950s.

In the pursuit of false security based on post-Cold War triumphalism and a fleeting mirage of military supremacy, our corrupt leaders have jeopardized not just our security but our very existence, leaving us at two and a half minutes to midnight on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS)Doomsday Clock.

As Jonathan Marshall at Consortiumnews.com reported on March 10, experts from the Federation of American Scientists, the Natural Resources Defense Council and MIT wrote in a recent BAS article that new “super-fuzes” installed on U.S. nuclear warheads since 2009 have significantly increased the danger of nuclear war by giving the U.S. the ability to destroy all Russia’s fixed land-based nuclear missiles with only a fraction of U.S. own weapons.

Coupled with President Obama’s deployment of a formerly illegal ABM (anti-ballistic missile) system on Aegis missile destroyers and at bases in Eastern Europe, the authors wrote that this upgrade to U.S. nuclear warheads is “exactly what one would expect to see if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” They concluded that “Russian planners will almost surely see the advance in fuzing capability as empowering an increasingly feasible U.S. preemptive nuclear strike capability.”

In the case of a suspected Russian nuclear missile launch, the U.S. satellite-based early warning system can give President Trump 30 minutes to judge whether we are really facing a nuclear attack or not. But Russia’s land-based early warning system is not so generous. In the case of a suspected U.S. nuclear launch targeting Russia, President Putin would have as little as 7 to 13 minutes to decide whether Russia was really under nuclear attack and whether to retaliate.

In the midst of escalating tensions over Syria, Ukraine, Iran or some other new crisis, a realistic fear of a U.S. first strike could force a hasty decision by Russian officials and seal the fate of humanity. The BAS authors believe that this predicament leaves Russia little choice but to pre-delegate its nuclear launch authority to lower levels of command, increasing the risk of an accidental or mistaken launch of nuclear weapons.

In an epitome of understatement, they point out that, “Forcing this situation upon the Russian government seems likely to be detrimental to the security interests of the United States and its Western allies.”

While U.S. officials are largely silent about the dangers of these developments in U.S. nuclear weapons policy, President Putin has spoken frankly about them and expressed dismay that the U.S. has rejected every Russian offer of cooperation to reduce these risks. Talking to a group of journalists at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016, he concluded, “I don’t know how this is all going to end. … What I do know is that we will need to defend ourselves.”

But despite the existential dangers of deteriorating relations with Russia, Democratic Party leaders have grasped the CIA’s unproven “assessments” that Russia may have tried to influence the outcome of the U.S. election as a lifeline by which to salvage their positions of power after their party’s electoral implosion.

Since the leadership of the Democratic Party was taken over by the corporate-backed Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) a generation ago, it has followed an unwritten rule that it must never accept responsibility for losing an election, nor respond to signs of public disaffection with any weakening of its commitment to pro-corporate, neoliberal policies. In its desperation to prevent the democratic reform of the Democratic Party, it is aggressively tarring nuclear-armed Russia with the same brush it used to tar and feather Ralph Nader after the 2000 election.

The mortal aversion of Democratic Party leaders to progressive reform suggests that they prize their own control of the party even above winning elections, the rational purpose of any political party. Their ugly smear campaign against Keith Ellison, the progressive candidate for Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair, mirrored the DNC’s corrupt campaign to undermine Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and the DLC cabal’s bare-knuckles response to progressive challengers for the past 30 years.

For the DLC Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of the long-term victory that the country’s shifting demographics seem to guarantee their party requires a truly historic level of corruption.

Their unshakable commitment to fight tooth and nail for the interests of their wealthy campaign contributors over those of poorer, younger and darker-skinned voters in every election, every national, state and local party committee and on every issue, even as they pretend they are doing the exact opposite, could only be a viable political strategy in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. In the real world, their demonstrated disdain for the people from whose votes they derive their power is a strategy for political suicide.

Different Kind of Politics

These corrupt party leaders and their corporate media cheerleaders dare not remind us that Bernie Sanders’s candidacy for president inspired more enthusiasm and drew bigger crowds than Trump’s or Clinton’s, despite one eightieth of the early media promotion lavished on Trump by some corporate media and the fact that almost the entire Democratic Party establishment lined up against him.

For decades, DLC Democrats have run on vague messages about “values” to avoid being cornered into explicit progressive policy positions that might alienate their wealthy patrons. Sanders was greeted with open arms by younger voters ready for a renaissance of real politics based on actual policies that solve real problems, like universal healthcare, free college tuition, progressive taxation to pay for it all and a more cautious approach to U.S.-backed “regime change” in other countries.

By contrast, an analysis of campaign messaging by the Wesleyan Media Project found that “Clinton’s message was devoid of policy discussions” when compared to other recent presidential campaigns, including even Trump’s, and that this was a critical factor in her failure.

According to opinion polls, Bernie Sanders may now be the most popular politician in America. Polls consistently showed that Sanders was likely to beat Trump in the general election if the Democratic Party allowed him to get that far, but the DNC fundraising machine pulled out every trick in the book to make sure that didn’t happen. If truth be told, Sanders’s success was probably a more accurate reflection of the evolving political views of a majority of Americans in 2016 than the billion-dollar auction of the presidency between the Game Show King and the Queen of Chaos.

These two camps represent factions of the powerful interests that have controlled American politics for decades, from the military-industrial complex and the CIA to the dirty energy and for-profit “healthcare” industries, to say nothing of the commercial media industry itself, which covered this election all the way to the bank and for whom the show must go on and on and on … and on.

Lies of Both Sides.

Like the people of East Germany in the 1980s, we now face the challenge of a society in crisis, compounded by a treacherous media environment, with not just one, but two competing camps presenting us with false, self-serving interpretations of the multi-faceted crisis their corruption has spawned. While they compete for our trust, they share a common interest in insisting that one of the two mythological worldviews they have staked out must be right.

But as Cornel West recently told the students at my local high school in Miami in a Black History Month speech, “You don’t have to choose between the lies on one side and the lies on the other side.” So the question becomes where to turn for something other than lies, and how to recognize the truth when we stumble across it.

The paradox of our Internet age is that we nearly all have access to a wider range of media than ever before, yet we are still exposed and susceptible to corporate, partisan and ideological propaganda. In theory, we no longer have to be victims of for-profit media whose business models prioritize their profits over their duty to inform the public. But in reality, we do not form our views of the world as independently as we think we do.

This is easier to grasp in the case of commercial advertising than in the arena of political or ideological indoctrination. There is a well-known dictum in the business world that goes, “I know that half the money we spend on advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” The flip-side of this is that the other half is not wasted.

So the advertising industry in the United States spends $220 billion per year, $700 for each man, woman and child in the country, to sell us products and services. And yet we still like to think that we make independent, rational choices about our spending, based on enlightened self-interest and cultivated tastes, not on the work of copywriters churning out pitches, images and jingles in ad agency cubicles.

One of the by-products of the mass monetization of American politics since the 1980s is that politics has become a profitable new arena for advertising, marketing and public relations firms. Its practitioners apply the techniques and experience they’ve developed in other areas to the world of politics, helping politicians and parties to convert the money they raise from wealthy campaign contributors into votes, and ultimately into power over all our lives. So we should be just as wary of political marketing and advertising as of the commercial variety. We should also be more humble in recognizing our own vulnerability to these profitable forms of persuasion and deception.

My copy of Alice in Wonderland has a quotation from James Joyce in the front of the book: “Wipe your glasses with what you know.” What we know is often our best protection against being misled by advertisers, politicians and pundits, if we will only remember what we know and trust it over the misinformation that surrounds us.

“Wiping our glasses with what we know” can provide a reality check on the current Russophobia campaign. We know very well that the U.S. and Russia possess the bulk of the world’s nuclear weapons, and that war between our two countries would likely mean death for ourselves and our families and the end of life as we know it for people everywhere.

We also know that it is our country and its allies, not Russia, that have launched invasions, military occupations, bombing campaigns, coups and drone wars against at least ten countries in the past 20 years, while Russia only recently become engaged in two of these conflict zones when its interests were directly impacted by our actions.

So we can see that the greatest danger in this relationship is not the threat of some unprovoked and unprecedented act of Russian aggression. The more real and serious danger is that a confrontation with Russia over one of the hot spots we have ignited will lead to an escalation of tensions in which a mistake, a misunderstanding, a miscalculation, a bluff called, a “red line” crossed or some other kind of failed brinksmanship will trigger a war that will escalate to the use of nuclear weapons, and from there to Armageddon.

Even with the lines of communication set up after the Cuban missile crisis and the stabilization of the Cold War balance of terror by the principle of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), we now know that we came very close to Armageddon many times, including simply by accident.

Instead of being corralled by either side in the “Russia did it” campaign, we should be urging our leaders to sit down and talk seriously with Russia’s leaders, to stop taking dangerous actions that exacerbate tensions, uncertainties and mutual isolation, and to return to serious negotiations to leave our children and grandchildren a peaceful world, free of nuclear weapons, where these dangers will no longer threaten them.

Amid lies and distortions on all sides, the corruption of politics and media by commercial interests and the billion dollars per year our government spends directly on public relations and propaganda, James Joyce’s advice can still serve us well. Make sure to wipe your glasses with what you know as you read or watch “news” from any source or listen to politicians of any party, and we may just find a way out of this rabbit hole before the roof crashes in on us.

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.




Restoring a Responsible ‘Conservatism’

As much as “liberal” has become a dirty word in U.S. politics, the word “conservative” has been ripped from all its honorable traditions and redefined as a dangerous form of radicalism, says ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

What is it about the U.S. that makes it virtually the only country in the world where a political Left scarcely exists? We have a center Right — the Democratic Party. And we have a far Right — the Republican Party. In fact, just invoking the L-word “Liberal” can inflict quick political death. Yes, we’re safe from the Left here in America.

Having such a stunted political spectrum is bad enough in itself. Still worse is the utter corruption of the word conservative. U.S. society has allowed the Republican Party to hijack the word, distort it and redefine it to its own ends, against its real meaning.

Isn’t it time for progressives to stop bashing their heads against the “liberalism” wall? Even the Democratic Party machine itself has barred the gates against progressive Democratic candidates. At this point, we need a rethink.

Wouldn’t it make more sense simply to yield up the term Liberal to all its many enemies? Put it in the cold freeze? In a doggedly right-of-center country, it might instead be smarter to seize back the term conservatism out of Republican hands, re-own it, and restore it to its true meaning.

Conservatism has a venerable history. The very word says a lot. It seeks to preserve and conserve fundamental human institutions, values, and lives in a precarious world.

Such as, for example, conserving the planet we live on, its forests, its water, its creatures, its bounty. It’s our only home. In fact, preserving and conserving the earth really is the ultimate conservative agenda. We have been given a stewardship over this unique and precious blue orb in the cosmos upon which all life depends.

Indeed, it’s the Republicans who are False Conservatives. They place the interests of the corporate world, profit and the welfare of a minority above all else. Their agenda is clear: generating ever more corporate business, clearing more land for “development,” installing more robots to make production more efficient — this is a conservative agenda?

Actually it sounds like a very aggressive revolutionary approach to reshaping our entire earthly domicile in economic terms. It risks all in the name of production and profit. What true conservative could buy into that?

What of the preservation of life? Wouldn’t prioritizing the preservation of human life over death represent a true conservative agenda as well? How much good does war do for people actually living it on the ground? Nobody is saying that one should never fight in true self-defense, but in the end, it’s hard to make the case that war has done a lot of good for most human beings involved.

Can Peace Be ‘Conservative’?

Might one even say that almost any peace that spares human lives is better than almost any war? Might not that be a conservative value? In the U.S. we’re used to thinking about fighting wars over there. We are spared the need to conceive of war at home. So who among us actually ends up better off as a result of war? Our families? Our streets, our infrastructure, our loyalties, our institutions, our civilities, in the violence and anarchy of war? Yet our nation has been at almost non-stop war since the collapse of the USSR — following “conservative” values.

Republicans tend to believe that war is heroic, glorious, “our finest fighting men,” pride of the nation, anything to keep our nation safe, huge budget expenditures at the cost of almost everything else. Here’s what founding father James Madison had to say about it:

“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

So is it a “conservative value” to arm the nation to the teeth and lead the world in arms sales to others? “Conservatives” want to “protect freedom” by advocating the greatest and most intrusive national security surveillance state in history?

When it comes to “national security,” how much do our own communities genuinely benefit from U.S. military encirclement of China and Russia — an incredibly costly, provocative, never-ending undertaking that gins up increased international tensions? For that matter, would the U.S. ever tolerate for one second efforts by Russia or China to “encircle the U.S.” militarily? Is it “”conservative”” to “go abroad to seek monsters to slay,” as John Quincy Adams warned?

And what of the civilian sciences and exploration of space? NASA and non-military scientific research have grown impoverished. Education, surely a prime conservative value, languishes underfunded.

And then there’s the economy. Republicans generally believe that the number one policy goal of the nation is first and foremost the health of the economy — read the health of our corporations.

President Calvin Coolidge before the Great Depression famously said, “The chief business of the American people is business.” Republicans have even since managed to persuade faux Democrats to adopt this position. (Remember Bill Clinton — it’s the economy stupid!) But prioritizing the health of the economy gets the priorities wrong: for a genuine conservative the first priority is the health and welfare of our communities and our people.

Now, there is undeniably a relationship between the health of the economy and the general welfare, but they are not one and the same thing at all. Human welfare must be the end goal; a healthy economy, however interpreted, represents the means and says nothing of equitable distribution.) This is another issue that should be denied to the False Conservatism of the Republicans.

Making Progress Work

Preserving our communities should be among the highest conservative priorities. But it’s going to be increasingly hard to preserve jobs at home. Robotics above all is seeing to that. And it is more efficient to ship most jobs off to China, Vietnam or Bangladesh.

That’s why many creative Western thinkers are now seriously examining the concept of a guaranteed national income for all. Once a wildly radical idea maybe, but it’s time is coming. Because capitalism by definition sends jobs to where they can be most cheaply performed — and it’s not in the USA. Sending jobs abroad is not “conservatism.”

Keeping people alive, healthy, and engaged — not alienated or resentful — is the most important social task we face.

Remember, that while capitalism is a powerful productive engine it has no direct interest in community welfare. It’s not that capitalism is immoral; morality is just outside capitalism’s functional purview. Capitalism by definition is about maximizing profit; that’s what capitalism does. Yet today most Republicans enshrine free-market capitalism as the Holy Grail over the welfare of the community. They don’t worry about poverty and domestic despair. Or even the need to spread profits if society is to function.

Nor is efficiency a prime conservative value. Human welfare is. If we pay a dollar more for a loaf of bread that is largely locally produced, don’t we all gain in the community?

France, for example, has always sought to keep some elements of small-scale domestic agriculture alive rather than yielding it all to agro-business. They perceive some absolute social good in preserving this way of life, even if it raises costs. Japan does the same thing on growing (expensive) domestic rice that most Japanese support on social grounds. It’s kind of a tax for local benefit and welfare, to conserve the community.

Yes, the benefits of globalization can be real, but they need to be viewed in terms of the welfare of all, and not as an absolute ideological good. What good is a cheaper I-Phone when the rest of our standards of human welfare are dropping?

But where do our budget priorities now lie with most members of both parties in the U.S.? Cutting taxes. Yet what of the huge tax levied upon our families by a U.S. defense budget that is greater than the next seven most powerful nations put together? And going up. Have we become safer in a more stable world as a result?

Healthy communities also reflect a pride and exercise of artistic accomplishment. Is it conservative to dismiss cultural resources such as the Public Broadcasting System or the National Endowment for the Arts as economically without value? Or local arts?

Do you think the French or the Russians or Canadians don’t place high community and national value on preservation of their national arts — which is unprofitable from a business perspective but central to national pride and cohesiveness?

And what of privatization of public lands? How do Republicans get away with calling that “conservative?” Doesn’t “public” mean for the community? Is there no longer such a thing as the “public good?”

So let’s maybe give up the “L-word” as a hopeless cause and instead work to restore the real meaning of what conservatism should be. This has been the colossal hoax the Republican Party (and some faux Democrats) have perpetrated upon this nation — utterly twisting and redefining conservatism to their own ends. We must take the word back.

It is unconscionable — and incomprehensible — that conservatism today has come to stand for profit, the welfare of the military-security-industrial complex, and the massive corruption of our political order through their “political contributions.” Or that Republicanism should celebrate conservatism by throwing away social safety nets and sowing religious and ethnic fears.

And in the end there just might be some gain for the embattled progressive community in reclaiming the word: it could do better at the polls.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com




America’s Anti-Immigrant ‘Atmosphere’

A hostile U.S. “atmosphere” toward a wide range of immigrants, not just Muslims, has followed President Trump’s travel ban aimed at six mostly Muslim countries, reports Dennis J Bernstein.
Dennis J Bernstein

Beyond the specific language of President Trump’s revised travel ban aimed at six predominantly Muslim countries, the executive order creates a climate of hostility toward a much larger number of immigrants, says Indian historian Vijay Prashad.

Following the roll-out of Trump’s executive order, I spoke with Professor Prashad, author of more than 15 books and nine anthologies, including most recently The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.

We also spoke about allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. elections, and what a Trump presidency might mean for US-Israeli-Palestinian policies.

Dennis Bernstein: Let’s talk about some of Trump’s opening salvos and let’s come in through the travel door. You’ve been doing a lot of traveling lately.

Vijay Prashad: Well, you know, the new travel ban is out and I suppose narrower in its scope than the January 27th order. But it’s nonetheless quite significant, in that he has, President Trump has, decided that six countries, not seven–he’s removed Iraq from the list–must have its citizens be under further scrutiny if they want to come to the United States. And I think what people need to understand is that the actual letter of the travel ban, of the executive order, is less important than the atmosphere that such executive orders create.

The atmosphere of this executive order, for instance, has already created a great deal of sensitivity…shall I put it like that? Sensitivity among people who work for the Customs and Border service, at the border. And we’ve had, already, dozens of stories of people who come from none of these countries, none of these six named countries, people who are in fact nationals of countries such as Canada, being not only stopped at the border, but turned away.

So, I think it’s important to see the language of this particular executive order, not for itself–it shouldn’t be studied just for itself–but also the kind of atmosphere created. It’s almost anti… not only immigrant but xenophobic atmosphere. Hatred of strangers, hatred of different people, that seems to have entered quite publicly into American political discussion.

DB: And, we are, of course, now seeing some of the things that many of us feared in terms of the expanding sweeps, by the Department of Homeland Security, what’s taking place at the border. This is something that has changed, if you will, the character, the intensity, of life now at a certain point, in a certain way.

VP: Yes, and you are in California, where there is a preponderance of people who will easily be mistaken, let us say, by federal officials for being immigrants. An attitude has returned to the United States that there is something called “an American.” Somebody who is white, somebody who is perhaps, let’s even put it in a more narrow way, Dennis, somebody who is Anglo-Saxon, somebody who is, perhaps even narrower, Protestant. And this person has once again emerged as the actual, kind of, muscle of what it means to be an American. And everybody else is, in a sense, has to be considered outside that definition. I think this is very disturbing.

This is after a generation and a half of what was known as multiculturalism, an attempt to expand the concept of “American,” to be more inclusive. To allow, for instance, one’s imagination to accept that people who migrate to this country have title to it, they’re likely to feel comfortable in it. And, I think that the Trump movement, the very cruel populism of the Trump movement, has once more suffocated the idea of “American.”

It’s taken the idea of “American” by the throat and it has garroted it. And it’s said that only a very narrow interpretation should be allowed. So, when one sees pictures of ICE agents at the jet-way as people are getting off domestic planes, asking to check out identification. This smells like this suffocated idea of “American.”

And I’m afraid the price for this is on the one side going to be paid, of course, by those who don’t look like “Americans,” but really the price for this is going to be paid by the United States in general, as people from around the world decide that they are not really looking forward to a holiday in the United States, and as people outside the country think, “I don’t want to go study there.”

And it’s almost as if Donald Trump has had kind of a syllable error. And rather than conducted a war against terrorism, he has decided to conduct a war against tourism. And the effects of that are going to be quite catastrophic.

DB: Let’s go to “the Russians are coming” again. Now … if you read it from the sort of corporate press and the Washington elite, and the intelligence community, it’s “Donald Trump is on the strings of Vladimir Putin.” In fact, through Donald Trump, Putin crashed the U.S. elections and made it possible for him to be the president. Do you buy that scenario?

VP: Well, let’s first say that if you were asleep for the last 40 years–[if] you were the 20th century Rip Van Winkle, and you woke up yesterday, or this month–you’d think that the Soviet Union had won the Cold War, and that the United States had been defeated. It’s extraordinary that there is this kind of paranoia about the reach of Russian power. It tells you a great deal, in a sense, about the anxiety inside the American ruling elites, that they believe that the Russians have such immense capacity, and that their capacity, therefore, is not as immense.

This is something that people should consider, particularly when you look, for instance, at the defense budget of the United States, now with a $54 billion increase by Donald Trump. Most likely the defense budget will go up to about $700 billion a year. By the way, that $54 billion increase of the U.S. budget, it’s the increase of the budget, that’s almost the total annual Russian military budget.

So Russia is actually a fragment, has a fragment of the power of the United States. And yet, the United States is somehow hyperventilating about Russia’s influence inside the United States. I think people really need to take a step back and consider this. Now, whether the Russians actually influenced the elections, that’s a separate matter. And, of course, that will require perhaps some kind of investigation of e-mail servers and things that are beyond my capacity.

But, clearly, there are some problems in American elections. And those problems may not have everything to do with the Russians. They may have to do with the desiccated nature of American politics in the first place.

Look at what the American electorate was offered. On the one side Hillary Clinton, who was carrying the flag of the status quo, and on the other side Donald Trump, with incredibly dangerous words coming out of his lips. That was hardly a choice for people. So there is a kind of very desiccated political environment. I think that’s one of the things that people need to take seriously about this election.

The second thing they need to take seriously is this is the first presidential election after the withdrawal of the Voting Rights Act. So a very large numbers of people around the country were disenfranchised from the ballot box. I think that–the removal of the Voting Rights Act–is probably more consequential for the election results than any Russian meddling.

DB: And, of course, you have, added on to that, the elevation of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to be the attorney general, who has spent a lifetime trying to disenfranchise black people from voting, if not actually supporting terrorism against them. It doesn’t look good at that level.

VP: Well, it’s an incredible moment, that he actually gave us. First, his entire name, a confederate name, if there ever was one. Jeff Sessions has, as you said rightly, spent his life suppressing not only the black vote, but the black imagination. At least trying to suppress the black imagination. And being largely unsuccessful because of the push back of the forces of black liberation movements, civil rights groups, etc.

But now, as those groups also have been largely atomized, broken up, or have become incorporated into the ruling structure, the power of those groups has been weakened. And it has allowed this kind of “revenge politics” of Mr. Session to be an important part of the coalition of Donald Trump.

Who would have imagined from, let’s say, the 1990’s that the American fascist movement, the Ku Klux Klan and others, would have representatives inside the White House? It was thought in the 1990’s that that kind of neoliberal[ism] didn’t require that kind of constituency to maintain their policy in this country. But, of course, now they are back in the guise of people like Steve Bannon.

And, by the way, these killings, and this is me just speaking personally now, these killings of South Asians, whether in Kansas or in South Carolina, people might say, “Well, these are just one-off incidents.” It’s very important to remember that Bannon has a very special antipathy to Asian workers in the high tech industry. And people in your listening area who work in the high tech industry should pay attention to this. In 2015 he wanted to scrap the H-1B visa. This is a visa for high tech workers.

And in an interview with then-candidate Donald Trump, when Bannon said this, Trump cautioned him and said “No, no, we want talented people inside the United States.” But it was Bannon’s views which prevailed. And then during the election campaign Trump campaigned repeatedly for the withdrawal of H1B, that is, for allowing high tech workers to enter the country. And it was Bannon who, in another interview in 2016, in talking about migration, said that these migrants shouldn’t be allowed in because, as he put it, “Jeffersonian democracy is not in their DNA.” This is very harsh language against sections of the population, very racialized language. And this is, of course, front and center now, in the White House.

DB: And, do you want to just say a word or two about this idea of putting in charge of each agency somebody who is there to dismantle the agency, and … that’s the structural program that’s being unfolded under Steve Bannon and Trump, right? This is to dismantle any attempt at regulation of corporate power.

VP: One of the interesting features of this Trump movement from what you’re bringing up in terms of deregulation, is that there is an internal problem in this movement. This movement has promised people economic sovereignty. In other words, it said that we’ll put America first. Americans should get jobs first, etc…. and by the way, again, that word “American” as the modifier is very important. It refers back to what I said earlier. What do they mean by American?

So, at any rate, this idea of economic sovereignty has been the main plank. They’ve been banging on this plank saying they’re going to make sure Americans get jobs, etc. But they’re banking on the fact that if they both cut tax rates and they allow for massive deregulation this will somehow spur on American capitalists to invest money inside the United States.

There’s no evidence, in the last twenty years, that this sector of the American population is interested in massive investment inside the United States. In fact, I would argue that this section of the population has essentially gone on tax strike, and has withdrawn this massive amount of capital either overseas, or into Wall Street. It’s not been interested in making the kind of investments that create jobs.

But because, I think, Bannon and Trump recognize–they’re not stupid people–I think they recognize that the demand for economic sovereignty is not going to be met. In other words, they’re not going to be able to create the millions of jobs necessary to counter what they call “American carnage,” the destruction of the jobs in America. Because they won’t be able to do that, then they argue very quickly, from economic sovereignty, they argue for cultural sovereignty.

And that is why issues such as build a wall against Mexico, get Mexico to pay for it, stop the Muslims from coming into the country, stop H1B workers from coming in. These elements of so-called cultural sovereignty become more important for them. And these are going to create massive social strife in the country that is along so-called race lines.

What we’re going to get, instead of a class war to create economic sovereignty in the country, is a race war. It is going to target certain minorities for punishment. Whether it’s going to be people who look like Mexicans, who’ll be targeted by ICE agents, or it will be vigilante groups out there shooting Indians, going after Muslims, etc. I think we are on the precipice of some kind of race war. And I’m not sure the great resistance that is building up in the country recognizes this fully, and confronts it fully. I think this could be a very dangerous period for the United States.

DB: Let me focus you a bit on the Middle East, just two more areas there. Let’s start with, I guess you could call it, Trump’s new peace team for Israel. He’s got his son-in-law, who is a real Jew, we’ve been told that, excuse me. And we’ve got, well, the implications of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Your thoughts on this?

VP: Well, look, Dennis, this is an interesting moment. On the one side you have Trump moving with his very harsh, well-known position, “let’s go in and move the embassy, the U.S. embassy, to Jerusalem, and let’s … stick our finger in the face of the international consensus.” You have that on the one side.

On the other side, you have a very curious moment when Benjamin Netanyahu came to the United States. When Trump, in his very casual, folksy way… and I think he disarmed Netanyahu in this, [when he] said “You know, I don’t care what you do, one state, two state, as long as everybody is agreed, we’re behind it.” I mean, this is a curious moment. And Netanyahu sort of giggled his way out of it. I think he was really quite surprised to hear that.

DB: Yeah!

VP: And this idea of walking away from the two-state solution, which he proposed, within twelve hours his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, had to quickly say that “No, no we’re still committed to the two-state solution.”

I think there is a great deal of incoherence and chaos in the Trump White House as far as foreign policy is concerned. I honestly don’t think they know what they are doing when they make some of their pronouncements. They’ve had to pull back on a number of them, including Trump’s statement about “Let’s go in there and take the oil,” as he was talking about Iraq. Then, quickly, his defense secretary had to come in and say “No, no he didn’t mean that.” So, I think there’s a great deal of incoherence in terms of world affairs. I really don’t think they know what they’re talking about.

I think that Trump’s statement that the United States needs to build twelve aircraft carriers… these are kind of the ramblings of somebody who doesn’t understand how the world works. At this point the United States has about one hundred times greater military power than any other country in the world. Russia barely has one aircraft carrier, China has one aircraft carrier, the United States has several. Why build six more aircraft carriers? [It would be an] enormous waste of the public resources that could be used towards schools, parks, etc. So, I think there’s a great deal of incoherence.

I think Trump likes an attitude of belligerence around foreign policy. But I think here the establishment that surrounds him is going to coax him through the consensus. This, of course, doesn’t mean, Dennis, that the consensus is good. The consensus is often terrible. So it’s not clear that this is a good thing.

For instance, the one area where I think some modulation is necessary as far as U.S. policy is concerned, is with regard to the great hostility against Russia. The attempt to engage Russia and China is not going to produce good dividends for the United States.

And you don’t have to take it from me. People can go and read Henry Kissinger, who, as you well know, is still alive. Henry Kissinger has been saying the same thing, that this kind of intensified rhetoric against China and Russia is really not productive. And even this strategy, of trying to separate out China and Russia, is not going to work. For in this one small area where Trump was saying a few interesting things, he was immediately closed down. So, I think that the establishment is going to prevail on foreign policy. And I think, of course, that is never a good idea.

DB: And, just to be clear, the point is that the bit of light coming through Trump policies was that, unlike Clinton, he wasn’t convinced that we needed a no-fly zone, all-out war [in Syria], we needed to push NATO onto the border of Russia, and that there might be another way. This is really what got him into trouble, right? Taking this on, and the sort of the… the permanent state, the neocons, and the new, hawk liberals just couldn’t put up with this.

VP: Well, exactly. Look, what did Obama’s policy of trying to isolate Russia… if you extrapolate from the elements of Obama’s Eurasia policy… the policy regarding Russia, Europe and China, what you can assume is Mr. Obama was attempting to isolate Russia, and somehow break its ties to China. You can extrapolate that from the kinds of things that they were doing. The Ukraine policy, the Syria policy to some extent, mainly the Ukraine policy.

So, if that was the case, it didn’t work. Because over the course of the Obama presidency, as Russia was further isolated out of Europe, it strengthened its ties with China. And, for instance, the Russians decided to pivot the economic, kind of, relationship, from trying to sell their natural gas and oil to Europe, to doing so with China. So, military ties increased between China and Russia, strategic ties increased, and economic ties increased.

So here comes Mr. Trump, and perhaps he was trying a newer strategy: befriend Russia and try to attack China. Once again, to break the link between the two. But if that was the game he was playing, it would not necessarily have worked. Because, by now, the Russians and the Chinese are quite integrated, in at least the strategic and military aspects, if not also the economic aspects.

But still, the kind of dialing down of the tension around Eurasia would have helped everybody, including the Europeans. But I think there is a sort of an old Cold War mentality that still strikes at the heart of the American establishment which is why it was so easy to conjure it up, around this thing that Russians are interfering in the United States.

It’s old Cold War feuds that have emerged in a new generation, not just in people who experienced and grew up in that era. So, yes, I think that there would have been something quite refreshing … with a rethinking about Russia-China-United States relations. It would have been good for the world to have had a dialing down of tensions. But, of course, that was not to be.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.