Category Archives: Republicans

Trump Has Blocked Wage Gains for American Workers

On June 19, 2019, President Donald Trump bragged at his re-election kickoff rally in Orlando that, thanks to his leadership, the wages of American workers “are rising at the fastest rate in many decades.”

The reality, however, is that they are not.  Indeed, wages rose at a faster rate only a few years before, under his predecessor.  And a key reason for the very limited wage increases since Trump entered the White House is his administration’s success in blocking any wage increases for some workers and in reducing wage increases for others.

In fact, Trump has never been enthusiastic about increasing the pay of America’s workers.  “Our wages are too high,” the billionaire businessman complained back in November 2015, during his campaign for the presidency.

Naturally, then, Trump and his fellow Republicans have blocked any increase in the federal minimum wage during his time in office.  In 2016, Trump stated his opposition to setting any federal wage floor and, since then, has never proposed raising it.  As a result of years of Republican resistance in Congress and the White House, the federal minimum wage has remained stuck at a poverty level — $7.25 an hour — for a decade and has lost much of its purchasing power, making it the lowest minimum wage throughout the industrialized world.  The minimum wage for waiters and other workers relying on tips is even lower: $2.13 an hour.

Moreover, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress continue to oppose any minimum wage increase.  In early May 2019, Trump’s Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, testified before two Congressional committees, declaring:  “We do not support a change in the federal minimum wage at this time.”  In response, Senator Patty Murray, alluding to the ten year gap since the last increase, asked:  “If workers do not deserve [a raise] at this time, then when do they?”  But Acosta did not answer her question.

In July 2019, the new, Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation to phase in an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, thereby — as the AFL-CIO noted — giving “40 million Americans a raise.”  But only three House Republicans voted for the measure, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that he would prevent a Senate vote on it.  Although, in mid-June, Trump said he was “looking at” the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage, he quickly countered that by stating, falsely, that he had “already created a minimum wage because wages have gone up more than . . .  in many decades” under his administration.  Since then, nothing about a minimum wage increase has been heard from the president, and the Democratic wage raise legislation remains banned from consideration in the Republican Senate.

Trump has also gone out of his way to undermine the income of public sector workers.  In August 2018, he announced that he would scrap a scheduled 2.1 percent pay raise, plus locality paycheck adjustments, for 2 million federal employees.  “Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” he declared, avoiding any mention of the fact that he had previously secured a sharp reduction in federal income through legislation for a $1.5 trillion tax cut that largely benefited the wealthy and their corporations.  In late December 2018, Trump followed up by issuing an executive order to freeze the pay of federal workers.  But, subsequently, Congress overrode his action and partially restored the pay increase, raising the pay for federal employees by 1.4 percent (two-thirds of the scheduled increase), with additional money factored in for locality pay adjustments.

In the winter of 2018-2019, Trump attacked the livelihoods of public workers once again, when his shutdown of the federal government forced 800,000 federal employees to go on unpaid leave or to work without pay.

One of the factors advancing the income of American workers, as well as helping to safeguard them from excessively-long workweeks, is the provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act that guarantees them time-and-a-half pay for more than 40 hours of work per week.  But coverage is based upon workers remaining under a specific income level and, thanks to inflation over the past few decades, fewer and fewer workers remained below that level.  Recognizing that only 7 percent of American workers were still covered by the law, the Obama administration raised the income level for eligibility substantially. But, upon taking office, the Trump administration severely cut back Obama’s expansion of eligibility, thereby depriving as many as 8.2 million workers of the overtime coverage they had previously been promised.

Despite these actions taken by Trump and his administration to reduce wage gains, what economists call real wages (that is, wages and salaries adjusted for the rising cost of living) have been rising ― in part because many states and localities have passed laws raising their minimum wages far beyond the pathetic $7.25 level set by the federal government.

But, overall, increases in real wages during the Trump presidency have remained minuscule.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, the real average weekly earnings for American workers increased by just 0.2 percent between June 2017 and June 2018.  From June 2018 to June 2019, the increase in their real average weekly earnings was only 1.2 percent.  Consequently, as Senator Bernie Sanders has stated, correctly, the average American worker earns less today than he or she did 45 years ago.

Although the pundits say the U.S. economy is booming — and it certainly is for the country’s billionaires — it’s not doing much for the incomes of American workers.  And much of the responsibility for this situation lies with Republican officeholders, especially Donald Trump.

On Medicare’s 54th Birthday, Another Year Closer To Winning Medicare For All

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare Act. Within a year, and without the aid of computers, the United States provided more than 19 million seniors with health coverage. Before the law existed, over half of the elderly in the United States did not have health insurance. Medicare, which now includes people with disabilities, celebrated its 54th birthday this week.

Today, the US is on the verge of another transformation. Thirty million people do not have health insurance and 30,000 people die annually because of that sad fact. The healthcare crisis is also demonstrated by the separate but unequal reality that wealthy people in the US live 15 years longer than poor people.

Momentum for National Improved Medicare for All is growing. That is being reflected in Congress and the presidential elections. As of last week, more than half the Democrats in the US House of Representatives have signed on to HR 1384, the Medicare for All Act of 2019. Medicare for All was also a major topic in the most recent Democratic Presidential Debates.

Rally for Medicare’s birthday in Oakland, CA, July 2015 (From Happening-Here.Blogspot.com.)

Medicare For All Is Central In The 2020 Elections

National improved Medicare for all (NIMA) has become a litmus test issue in the Democratic Party primary for president. While corporate Democrats funded by Wall Street, the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are trying to stop progress, Democratic Party voters are showing the momentum may not be stoppable.

The two leading Medicare for all candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have received the most donations of all the other candidates. One out of three donors to the Democratic primaries donated to Sanders. This broad base of support is consistent with polls that show Democratic Party voters have reached a consensus: NIMA is essential. Democratic voters have the power to nominate candidates who support Medicare for all if they insist on it. This consensus is the result of years of work by single payer advocates. This is a movement that will not compromise in support of false solutions.

Join our Medicare for all campaign, Health Over Profit for Everyone.

The Medicare for All Act not only expands health coverage to everyone from birth to death, but also improves Medicare for seniors by including more benefits such as dental, vision, hearing and long term care. And, it does this without requiring premiums, co-pays or deductibles, saving people more than $300 billion annually in out-of-pocket costs.

All doctors, hospitals and other providers will be in a Medicare for all system so people will have complete choice of health services. Patients will not be limited by the narrow insurance industry networks, which often exclude cancer and other specialty centers – places people go when they are ill – to avoid paying for health care. Medicare for all means complete coverage, complete choice and freedom to change jobs or quit a job without fear of losing health coverage.

Research shows these changes are affordable because one-third of health-related expenditures are for administrative costs caused by the complex web of insurance plans. In addition to insurance company overhead, which ranges from  12.4 percent to  17.8 percent while Medicare has administrative costs of only 1.4 percent, doctors, hospitals and other providers also have high administrative costs due to interacting with thousands of different insurance plans. Having one-payer dramatically reduces the bureaucracy of healthcare. Research shows there could be $504 billion in yearly administrative savings with a single-payer system.

Improved Medicare for all creates hundreds of billions of savings that more than offset the increased costs of covering everyone and eliminating out-of-pocket expenses. In addition to reducing administrative waste, Medicare for all allows the federal government to negotiate with pharmaceuticals and providers to bring down the prices of care.

There are many ways to pay for Medicare for all. Congress routinely goes into debt to fund wars and militarism, so it is strange that for something as essential as healthcare cost is an issue. If increased taxes are needed, there have been a variety of proposals for progressive taxes. These proposals show that all but the wealthiest will pay less for healthcare under improved Medicare for all. Households earning under $130,000 per year would save the most money.

Currently, the US spends 18 percent of its GDP on healthcare and spending is rising faster than inflation and wages. This is an unsustainable expenditure that will be reduced with an improved Medicare for all system. Other wealthy countries with single payer health systems generally spend less than 11.5 percent of their GDP on healthcare.

Medicare for all is good for businesses because they will no longer be subject to unpredictable increases in insurance costs. It is also good for the economy. Warren Buffett says our current healthcare system is a tapeworm on the US economy and describes health care as a real problem for US businesses.

People Will Not Be Fooled By False Proposals

The strategy of the industries that profit from healthcare is to confuse people with false information and false proposals that sound like Medicare for All. They create front groups to create the illusion of support for their proposals and donate to politicians who advocate for their interests. These false proposals, like the one promoted by the so-called Center for American Progress, are designed to protect the industry, not fix the healthcare crisis. The Democratic leadership is addicted to insurance, pharmaceutical, and healthcare dollars. The people must be organized to defeat the industry and put in place the system we need.

This week, Sen. Kamala Harris put forward a terrible policy proposal, which she called Medicare for all. The proposal has two major flaws. First, it requires a ten-year transition to improved Medicare for all. This is unnecessary as the Medicare system already exists and we are already spending enough on health care to cover everyone. There is no need for long delays. Second, she allows insurance industry theft of the Medicare for all system by including “Medicare Advantage” plans (these are private insurance plans). Medicare Advantage is a heavily marketed scam on the elderly that costs the government more money than traditional Medicare and has the same flaws as private insurance. This proposal is bad policy and bad politics and should result in the defeat of Sen. Harris.

The most common false proposal is some form of a ‘public option.’ Mayor Pete Buttigieg, one of Wall Street’s favorite candidates, calls this Medicare for those who want it. We call it Medicare for some, not Medicare for all.  A public option does not fix the system, it makes it worse by adding another insurance plan to an already too complex system. It foregoes 84 percent of the savings that a single payer system would achieve.

Former Vice President Biden, the biggest recipient of donations from the industry, is another who refuses to advocate for what Democratic voters want. Biden continues to put forward false arguments against Medicare for all. He is stuck in the past and focused on saving the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA is fundamentally flawed because it is based on the corrupt and expensive private insurance system. Biden is fading in the polls for a variety of reasons, but his refusal to support improved Medicare for all should result in the end of his campaign. Democrats must know that the public understands the issue and insists on improved Medicare for all.

Neither Republicans nor Libertarians are putting forward any healthcare plan, which resulted in Republicans losing in 2018. The Green Party has advocated for single payer health care since the start. Ralph Nader ran on a platform that included Medicare for All as early as 2000.

Congress Must Do More

In addition to stopping the false non-solution promoted by corporate Democrats, the movement must push to improve both the House and Senate Medicare for all bills. The Senate bill, SB 1129, sponsored by Sanders and 14 Senators, is flawed in very serious ways. It needs to expand coverage of long term care, provide global budgeting for hospitals and end the massive insurance loopholes of managed care structures like Accountable Care Organizations (ACO’s), which function like insurance plans.

The House bill is better but still needs improvement. Both the House and Senate bills need to end commodification of health care by eliminating for-profit hospitals and other facilities. The for-profits can be purchased by the healthcare system using a Treasury Bill financed over 15 years at a cost of one percent of total health spending. If the for-profits are kept in and regulated, as the House bill does, it is likely the owners will sell them or convert them to profit-making entities like condominiums as is happening in Philadelphia. The House bill needs to shrink the transition from two years to one year, and the Senate Bill needs to shrink the four-year transition currently proposed.

The movement must insist on the best possible improved Medicare for all bill so people get the healthcare they need, businesses can thrive and the economy is not drained by the cost of healthcare. The US cannot afford to continue the insurance-dominated for-profit system it has; we must put in place improved Medicare for all.

On The Precipice Of Winning Improved Medicare for All

There are many signs that we are on the verge of winning the urgent and essential policy change of national improved Medicare for all. The single payer movement has the power to win improved Medicare for all if it doesn’t back down. The closer we get to victory, the more the profiteering industries will fight us. In the Popular Resistance School for Social Transformation, we describe this push back as part of the process of winning, and we teach how movements can defeat the strategies of those who seek to maintain the status quo.

There are still hurdles before us, but if the movement continues to work to educate voters as well as to organize and mobilize, we will create a political environment where politicians across the political spectrum must support health care as a human right as embodied in an improved Medicare for all health system.

Tools to assist advocates of improved Medicare for all:

Medicare for All Facts: This resource provides facts and citations about the critical issues in the Medicare for all debate.

Health Over Profit Tools for Activists: This includes tools to educate people and take action, descriptions of the current bills, how to influence business leaders, conservatives, the public and more.

Survivor 2020, and some Ghosts from Recent Elections Past

Gore Vidal once remarked that the United States has only one political party with two right wings.  At the risk of betraying my own political bias:  I couldn’t agree more!  Still, maybe 2020 will be different?

The ultra-marathon-up to the next election has already begun in the Summer of 2019 with the Democratic Party debates.  MSNBC, a kind of Fox News for liberals network, hosted the first round, fielding twenty candidates, split evenly over two nights.  Most of the presidential contestants in this “high concept game show” format were treated as bunting, or so many doodles in the margins of a Big Pharma script, more to be seen than heard..  As boutique diversity merges into statistical redundancy, the DNC theory seems to be: the more contestants, the more emphatic shall be the “win” of the eventual “winner.”  But, wasn’t that the Republican formula in 2015/16?

No matter how the contest is set up, upsets are always possible–or, even desirable.  For example, witness Hillary Clinton’s nomination over Bernie Sanders — “Oops!” — only four years ago.  Then, lo and beholden to all the bankers who’ve bailed him out, Donald Trump “burned,” so to speak, Clinton in the general election, which he only lost by a whopping 3 million votes — and Clinton wasn’t all that popular to begin with!  Just ask Bernie Sanders, or Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

Indeed, contrary to conventional expectations, upsets were the order of the day during the last quadrennial election cycle.  God forbid that we should be allowed to elect a Socialist-sounding Jew from Vermont! Hillary Clinton, and her big bank backers, certainly did not want that; so, why not hand the country off to a Reality TV show host like the big bank beholden Trump, instead? Was that the sound of our one political party rubbing its two right wings together?

Because American politics have become so like sports by other means, it is worth reiterating that the 2020 DNC strategy has not only copied the 2016 Republican playbook:  they have actually expanded upon it by simply adding more players.  Recall that the Republican side of the post-Obama campaign began with a baker’s dozen of contestants with “unelectability” literally tattooed on their foreheads — including that tweety faux-pachyderm, Trump.  Given the “surprising” results of 2016, it is notable that Team Trump chose not to challenge Barack Obama in 2012, despite Trump’s weirdly well-publicized “birther” campaign against Obama, which foreshadowed both Big Media’s free press pass for all things Trump, as well as the aura of illegitimacy that has framed the Presidency ever since…Trump was “elected“?  One wonders how far an illegitimate fruit can fall from an illegitimate tree?

Indeed, Trump’s strange election eerily echoes the hollow resonance of the most bizarre quadrennial in recent history, when George Bush the Second rode a single Supreme Court vote into the Oval Office, in 2000. However, before delving into that doozy, its follow-up, in 2004, deserves special mention.

There once was an anti-war candidate named Howard Dean (from Vermont, of all places!) whose front-runner status got Debbie Wasserman-Schultzed, as it were, by Presidential campaign veteran Dick Gephardt, in Iowa.  Before the Gephardt take-down, Dean had been riding high on his opposition to the occupation of Iraq, which was clearly going very badly.  Dean’s potential nomination meant that the anarchy in Iraq — a direct result of the illegal American-led invasion — would factor prominently in the general election. In the event, the anti-war buck was preemptively stopped in Iowa, allowing the Iraq war hawk John Kerry a “surprise” win. From Iowa, Kerry cruised to the nomination, only to play second fiddle to his Skull-and-Bones Yale fraternity mate, the incumbent Bush, and a disastrous war policy had been saved.

Later, Howard Dean was given a participation award in the form of the DNC Chairmanship.  Since then, the former anti-war candidate has swiveled full circle to become a cranky Yankee who has vilified 2020’s anti-war star, Tulsi Gabbard.  Put another way:  Howard Dean was eaten by the one party political machine, only to be regurgitated in a more palatable form — if not rocking the War Party’s boat is anyone’s idea of a more palatable form.

Now, back in 2000, nothing very military was going on.  The one party political apparatus had coughed up two equally unappealing Junior fur balls:  Al Gore and George W. Bush.  Incidentally, Bush would have never gotten his day in Supreme Court if Gore had won his home state, Tennessee.  In fact, well before Dan Rather “called” Florida for Gore on election night, “dirty tricks” in South Carolina had pushed Bush — in a tight race — past Senator and Vietnam War veteran John McCain.  McCain was later given a participation trophy for services rendered:  the Republican nomination in 2008, where he was soundly squashed by the relatively unknown upstart Barack Obushma — I mean, Obama — who had himself “upset” Hillary Clinton (of all the usual suspects!) for the Democratic side of the one party nomination in 2008.

Ironically enough, both Obama and Trump have an “upset” of Hillary Clinton in common.  That Obama and Trump share two sides of the same big bank coin:  is this insight becoming increasingly more obvious?  For example, despite 8 years of the “Change”-ling Obama, America is still making Afghanistan a “Great Game” again under Trump, as if Bush the Second’s war-mad regime were still ghosting about in office 18 years later, like it never left.  And the War Party rolls on…

However, before the War Party got really rolling, in 2001, there was Green Party Candidate Ralph Nader, who remains the most interesting figure in the scandalous 2000 election.  In 2000, Nader scooped all mainstream media pundits by correctly identifying his major party opponents as “Tweedledee and Tweedledum.” Nevertheless, unlike our current “Fake News” President, Nader was not granted a free press pass for “bucking the System.”

And not only that.  Nader’s campaign was seen as so threatening to the one-party-with-two-faces that he was physically denied access to the sites of nationally televised debates between TweedleBush and TweedleGore1, for fear of Nader’s potentially “disruptive” influence.  Pointing out the obviousness of duopoly:  how “disruptive,” indeed!

Meanwhile, back in 2019, the “Survivor 2020” program seems hell-bent on appearing to include everyone — even if you’re Andrew Yang and your mic’s not turned on.  “Technical glitches, folks; just technical glitches.  We’ll get everyone a Universal Basic Income right after these words from our sponsors!”  Of course, it’s a game predicated on extinction, the last contestant standing.  No one wants to go home a dinosaur, having voted a dinosaur in office.  Next thing you know, extinction’s your next door neighbor!

Not to beat a dead horse race, but to rest my case, I recall a certain debate between status quo Auntie Hillary and Grandpa Donny-boy Trump, in 2016, at Washington University in St. Louis, where Hillary, wearing an irradiant shade of white, accused an obviously lurching Trump of being a “puppet.”  In true Trump form, the Donald shot back:  “No, you’re the puppet!”  Each political actor then accused the other of being “the puppet” in a seemingly spontaneous exchange of pointless, puppet blows.  Which was an uncanny moment of Truth for both of these foremost Liars vying for the Presidential Throne; each recognized the “Other’s” puppet status, quite equally — and for All to see!

In case there are any questions about the Duopoly:  See Gore Vidal…

  1. See: John Hagelin vs the Federal Election Commission, decided on June 10, 2005.

Trump and Supporters: Paranoiacs Following Lee Atwater’s Racist Strategy

He has been glorified as a hero and obeyed as a ruler, but fundamentally he is always the same. His most fantastic triumphs have taken place in our own time, among people who set great store by the idea of humanity. He is not yet extinct, nor will he ever be until we have the strength to see him clearly, whatever disguise he assumes and whatever his halo of glory. The survivor is mankind’s worst evil, its curse and perhaps its doom. Is it possible to escape him, even now at this last moment?

— Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, April 1 1984

[White] America’s conscience is bankrupt. She lost all conscience a long time ago. Uncle Sam has no conscience. They don’t know what morals are. They don’t try and eliminate an evil because it’s evil, or because it’s illegal, or because it’s immoral; they eliminate it only when it threatens their existence. So you’re wasting your time appealing to the moral conscience of a bankrupt man like Uncle Sam. If he had a conscience, he’d straighten this thing out with no more pressure being put upon him…And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it, and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built, and the only way it’s going to be built—is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”

— Malcolm X, Oxford Union Debate, 1964

Canettii argues in his book that the most dangerous individual holding power is someone who views him/herself as a Survivor, or someone who can survive at the expense of others. Canetti notes that the Survivor, with access to nuclear weapons, can obliterate a hefty chunk of mankind. The President of the United States, as Commander in Chief, has the option to use those weapons presumably only under the most dire of circumstances. President Donald Trump’s proximity to the nuclear weapons trigger has been noted with trepidation by non-military observers from the beginning of his presidency and that matter is always lurking in the background, particularly as the US modernizes its Nuclear Triad. But the checks and balances in the use of the Nuclear Triad can’t be discounted as it is likely that military commanders would refuse to carry out Trump’s orders to use nukes even in spite of revised doctrine appearing to make it easier to do so.

The bigger problem, according to Canetti, is this:

Today, the survivor is himself afraid. He has always been afraid, but with his vast new potentialities his fear has grown too, until it is almost unendurable…The most unquestioned and therefore the most dangerous thing he does is to give commands.

Trump’s world is a paranoid one. His apologists and supporters are loons. How else to describe those that refuse to condemn, even approve, racist presidential behavior. Trump and his disciples act as if they have survived some horrific mentally debilitating event; or indeed, expect one in the form of a color shift in America’s complexion.

They fear the majority of the popular American electorate, they fear immigrants, they fear people of color, they fear LGBT’s, they fear government funded social programs, they fear the questioning of their beliefs, and they fear non-Christians—and that’s just for starters.

Didn’t evolution weed these viruses out decades ago?

Trump and his disciples view themselves as a persecuted minority and that’s dangerous because they really believe they are. The statistics, the demographics, show that Whites make up the largest chunk of the American population with Hispanics second at 18.3 percent and Blacks at 13.4 percent. Trump’s people are horrified at the prospect that America will turn a light tinge of brown, which it inevitably will, by the 2050s and beyond.

Making Amends with Corporation and the Financial Sector

Trump is Canetti’s Survivor, a hustler. He managed to gaming the legal and financial system to stay afloat, always getting rescued/supported by “his kind” for boneheaded business decisions and now for slashing US federal spending and regulations that protect the American public turning the US federal government into a bigger playground for corporations, businesses and interest groups (something corporations welcome with glee).

The Washington Post reported in 2016 that Trump declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy six times; four in the 1990s and two in the 2000s. In 2004, Trump’s Hotel and Casinos Resorts was $1.8 billion in debt and couldn’t meet its obligations.

So why do the corporate powerhouses of America stick with Trump even though he is a real estate swindler, racist and psychopath?

That’s simple.  He is a repaying the corporate/financial world back for robbing them of billions years ago by giving them trillions now. He, and his Republican/Democrat apologists in the US Congress, slashed corporate/business tax rates, and they are now pillaging federal programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) for budget cuts or elimination, ostensibly to save American taxpayers some money. Trump wants to drop 3.1 million people from SNAP.

It is the same story at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the publication Mother Jones:

On Wednesday [July 18], the United States Environmental Protection Agency doubled down on one of the most controversial environmental deregulation moves of the Trump presidency…the EPA reaffirmed its 2017 decision to reject a proposal from the agency’s own scientists to ban an insecticide called chlorpyrifos that farmers use on a wide variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, broccoli, and cauliflower.

And why would Trump be interested in chlorpyrifos that has been shown to be detrimental to children’s brain development? “Dow AgroSciences’ parent company, Dow Chemical, has also been buttering up Trump. The company contributed $1 million to the president’s inaugural committee…the administration has approved the Dow-Dupont merger, and named several former Dow execs to high posts within the US Department of Agriculture,” Mother Jones reported.

Just so.

Trump’s Supporters: Theory of Evolution Apologizes Profusely

Trump lands uppercuts and left hooks to the American body politic and culture by ignorant Tweets that stoke racial tensions and non-partisanship.

Just how does a racist grifter, who tells four democratic congresswomen—Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, Ilhan Omar, D-MN, Ayanna Pressley, D-MA,  and Rashida Tlaib, D-MI, to go back to their “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” manage to win the support of millions of Americans and bump up Trump’s poll numbers? Or why did 187 US House members vote not to condemn Trump’s beliefs?

According to Pew Research, polling results for the 2016 election indicate that “Among the much larger group of white voters who had not completed college (44% of all voters), Trump won by more than two-to-one (64% to 28%)…Trump had an advantage among 50-to 64-year-old voters (51% to 45%) and those 65 and older (53% to 44%).”

And it is not just those who have not completed college or even attended college who are party of Trump’s looney bin. Wealthy “smart” Republicans are part of the evolutionary mishap, as well.  Republican CEOs side with Trump because he is helping them increase profit margins, shareholder dividends, and stock buybacks. What’s all the fuss about a President of the United States who is both a racist and pro-business? It is, after all, just another write-off for the books.

According to a paper titled The Politics of CEO’s:

We use Federal Election Commission (FEC) records to put together a comprehensive database of the political contributions made by over 3,500 individuals who served as CEOs of S&P 1500 companies during the period 2000-2017.We find that these political contributions display substantial partisan preferences in support of Republican candidates.To highlight the significance of CEO’s partisan preferences for some corporate decisions, we show that public companies led by Republican CEOs tend to be less transparent to investors with respect to their political spending.

Senate and House Republicans, morally bankrupt to the core, are marching to the beat of a racist drummer.

Democrats: Remember Your Ugly History

The Democrats don’t get a pass on racial issues. There’s a lot for them to answer for as well.

Writing in The Hill, Burgess Owens notes that:

As a party with a history of pro-slavery, pro-secession, pro-segregation and pro-socialism, the Democratic Party has also been the party that has politically controlled urban black America for over 60 years. Predominantly black communities in many cities today are mired in poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, crime and hopelessness. The Democratic Party has never apologized for its past, nor has it attempted to atone for its present failures.

Instead, it has skillfully used the art of bait-and-switch. Millions of Americans are convinced that somehow in the 1960s there was a wholesale transition of the Democratic Party’s two-centuries-old hatred of black people to the policies of the anti-slavery, anti-secession, anti-segregation and pro-God Republican Party. Only in a vacuum void of common sense, critical-thinking skills and true American history could such logic survive.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater, known for his brutal, but successful, campaigning for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, commented on flipping the Southern United States from racist Dixiecrats (Democrats) to, well, racist Republicans. Gone were the days of vulgar racist comments by Whites, and in came the days of using coded terms for racist policies.

In an interview with Atwater for a book on Southern party politics in 1981, while employed by the Reagan Administration,  Atwater was asked this:

But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the [George] Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?

Atwater responded:

Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying…By 1968 you can’t say…that hurts you. Backfires.  You say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than… So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the backbone.

And the beat goes on 38 years later.

Not All Whites

Many Whites have stood on the ramparts with people of color and other minorities to fight for equal rights and liberties. White judges and politicians have rendered decisions or passed legislation to turn the tide against racism in the USA. I’m not guilty of my Whiteness as I argued in (Dissident Voice, 2015).

I know of no one, young or old, that likes to be pigeon-holed no matter their color, immigrant status, or their ethnic background. No one wins this type of blame game except the racists in Trump’s camp who fan the flames of fear or those who mock the individuality of each human being.

So why are there racists out there in the open, in the White House, Congress, corporations and the voting public? What can be done about it?

I posed that question in 2015.  I mean, should I attribute the sins of the world to Whiteness? Or should I conclude that the Species itself and the dominant economic and ruling methodology of Capitalism combine to make the “demon” that Ta-Nehisi Coates refers to and the “system” that Malcolm X wants us all to change: That American system, born largely of the British, Roman and Greek Systems, that relies on absurd contradictions and irony. A system that makes those from NWA and Straight Out of Compton, with all the female bashing lyrics, now part of the One Percent elite of corporate America; or the principals of the George W. Bush Administration clearly guilty of war crimes still cashing in on public office; or the poor and largely Black people that can’t make $500 bail and waste away in jail; or the White miners in West Virginia killed because the mining company ignored safety rules and is found not guilty of negligence on a legal technicality; or the citizens of Detroit City denied, by a lone judge, the right to clean drinking water.

And what should I make of an American society that does not care about corporate surveillance (for profit) and government monitoring of all forms of communication (to maintain security and stability for the corporations to make profits)? Where were the White Rockers, Black Rappers, and Country Music stars when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on or the beach head for the corporate and government’s invasion of privacy was the home?

They, all of them, were co-opted by a political, economic and cultural system we deny every day but in which we also live, procreate, operate and profit. With all of our complaints, we don’t have a functional alternative to offer. The ballot-box provides no remedy. Presidential and Congressional elections are polluted by money and interests, foreign and domestic, over which voters have no control. Politicians are bought and sold like horses prior to a race.

I don’t think I’m White.  I think I am a human being.  I don’t know what it is like to be rich and in the top 20 percent of money makers in the USA.  I know that I’m color-labeled as White and class-labeled as Middle by the identity and false consciousness hunters that roam the American landscape.

I know I agree with Dave Chappelle, famed comedian with $10 million in the bank, who is labeled as Black and Wealthy. But I’m not a smart guy and I think that he is a human being and really funny guy with great observations of the human condition. I think that way of George Carlin, Chris Rock and the late Robin Williams. According to Chappelle “I support anyone’s right to be who they want to be. My question is: To what extent do I have to participate in your self-image?”

I don’t want to participate in the self-image, the evolutionary mishap, that is President Donald Trump, his apologists and his supporters. I also don’t want to deal with duplicitous Democrats who always seem ready to enable Trump’s foolishness.

It seems to me there is no vocal, turbulent opposition to the madness that permeates the United States of America these days. Who inspires any longer? Who can compromise?

Who will fight?

U.S. 2020 Presidential Election: A Watershed Moment for Humankind and the Planet

The 2020 presidential election in the United States may be the most critical political event in human history. At no time in the history of global civilization have human beings faced existential crises on a global scale. Regional crises of the past 10,000 years reveal that economic regimes have often outstripped local and regional resources, but these crises remained regional in scope. Today, however, the excesses of global capitalism have driven all of humanity to the brink of ecological and civilizational collapse.

Our addiction to fossil fuels has significantly warmed the global atmosphere and accelerated the loss of polar ice caps faster than predicted. Capitalism has fueled industrial activities that have ravaged large portions of the planet, destroying habitats and endangering innumerable animal, plant and insect species worldwide, according to a recent UN report on global biodiversity. Our oceans are contaminated with heavy metals and plastics. Global population pressure, inefficient and wasteful industrial practices combined with climate change have placed enormous pressure on fresh water sources.  Destructive superstorms, wildfires and persistent drought will likely bring profound economic instability and declining food production in coming decades.

Global capitalism has also generated vast disparities in wealth distribution, destabilizing social systems as well as ecosystems. As global and national wealth concentration grows rapidly, the poverty of billions and declining living standards for millions more strain social relations throughout the world. These injustices give rise to disillusionment, desperation, terrorism and mass migration, to epidemics and resistant bacteria and fungi. Armed conflict is endemic in many of the world’s poor regions and wars have brought invasions of poor countries by wealthy countries to stem perceived terrorists’ threats and protect geopolitical interests.

In less than a year and one-half the 2020 U.S. presidential election will occur and the candidate and policies the majority of Americans embrace will help lead the world in one direction or another.  American voters will decide whether the most powerful leader in the world will aggressively tackle the world’s unprecedented and unfolding environmental and social crises or will exacerbate these crises by facilitating unrestrained capitalist exploitation and accumulation. Working Americans are primed for an alternative to global economic system, having recently lost millions of jobs and much of their modest wealth during the Great Recession. Universal healthcare and child care, a higher minimum wage and equal pay, student debt relief, tuition-free higher education, climate change and a green economy as well as a truly progressive tax policy to fund social and environmental initiatives are on the minds of ordinary Americans, if not the majority of them. This is an opportunity for progressive voices across the nation to demonstrate that unregulated capitalism threatens American families and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Certainly, ingrained capitalist ideology and vested institutions present formidable political obstacles leading to the 2020 presidential elections. Donald Trump and the Republican Party actively resist reform of capitalism, rejecting the Paris Accords and enacting severe cuts in domestic regulations restricting corporate activity and protecting the environment. Conservative strategists are clearly framing the 2020 election to protect the advantages in wealth and political power conservatives have gained in the global economy. Trump’s abject disregard for global warming and the failure of Republicans to address it is a clear threat to the future of the planet. His nuclear war-mongering, with the tacit endorsement of the Republican Party, has flirted with planetary annihilation. For these reasons renowned linguist and ferocious political critic Noam Chomsky has stunningly and aptly dubbed the Republican Party “the most dangerous organization in human history”.

While it will likely take decades and even generations to rein in and reform our global economy enough to achieve some practical level of global sustainability, the magnitude and urgency of the challenges we and the world face make the 2020 U.S. presidential elections an extraordinary watershed moment. This is no time for a program of tepid, incrementalist reforms.  If the Democratic Party fails to embrace an agenda of far-reaching regulation of global capitalism that focuses on climate change and wealth disparity, it risks losing the presidency. Should a moderate Democratic candidate lacking the necessary vision and resolve be elected president in 2020, it may prove to be a kind of hollow victory.

The fundamental questions before American citizens could not be more crucial to the future of our nation and the world: Can we afford to ignore the ravages of climate change and the deleterious impact of our unsustainable production and consumption on the planet’s health? Can we fail to confront the concentration of wealth in fewer hands while poverty, lack of opportunity, ill health and violence driven by these realities rob generations of their potential as human beings? Should we discount, or even underplay, the fact that environmental degradation and wealth disparities on a global scale are exacerbated by inadequately regulated global economic regime?

Donald Trump, the Democrat Squad and Failed Impeachment

Twitter has become policy. It is platform, direction and determination.  It has served one particular person well, a hazy mechanism to fog up the lenses of law makers.  When President Donald Trump needs an air-wave filling distraction, a bilious splurge of interest in the blogosphere, he is always happy to lob a grenade of 280 characters or so.  His targets and recipients oblige in an unsettling dance. Speeches are made, press galleries filled and resolutions submitted to Congress.

Trump’s last round of fired remarks found their targets in Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.  They were not mentioned by name, but presumption can be all powerful.  “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.”  Then came his none-too constructive suggestion: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

While his remarks against “The Squad” are in characteristic poor taste, not to mention inaccurate (three of the representatives were born in the United States) they remain characteristic, brutish panto and all part of the boundless show that is Trumpism.  They are not designed to convert the unconverted or convince the unsure with rhetorical sharpness or insight.  Anti-Trump and pro-Trump lines are firmed, concretely paved for the next election.  The issue, till then, is merely to occupy space with venom and fury, to divide and hope that the house will fall when the votes are tallied.

Such space of distraction assumes a few forms, all ultimately lending false credibility to incendiary smatterings.  Words are broken down, assumptions unpacked. Were his words racist?  Yes, claim some.  Did he articulate a substantive vision?  Most certainly, go others.  (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi deemed them “xenophobic”.)  For Omar, Trump’s words are programmatic, “a blatantly racist attack on four duly elected members of the United States House of Representatives, all of whom are women of colour.  This is an agenda of white nationalists.”

President Barack Obama’s chief election strategist David Axelrod, similarly sees a program, albeit encased in a trap, with Trump wanting “to raise the profile of his targets, drive Dems to defend them and make them emblematic of the entire party.  It’s a cold, hard strategy.”  The none-too-implicit suggestion here is that the quartet risk being hung out to dry come 2020 by the party strategists.

In solidarity, the four representatives expressed their marshalled outrage, all the time attempting to give a sense of elevated fury to the garbage gilded twittersphere while denying its enduring relevance.  Omar fell for the laid bait on the issue of impeachment, claiming on Monday that “it is time for us to impeach this president” having “openly” violated his constitutional oath.

The quartet managed to get up a House resolution, passed by 240 to 187 votes, condemning Trump for “racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred of New Americans and people of colour”.  The resolution, for good measure, also praised the value immigrants had brought to the United States.  Trump ventured his own view.  “I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”

The show delighted commentators dazzled by the fireworks.  It was seen as historic, because it was the first time in over a century a President had received such a vote of disapproval.  But it was true polarising fodder for the Trump administration, bound to inflict indigestion for anybody keen to seek a united stance. Division reigned; disorder prevailed and the representatives stuck to firmly etched party lines, with the exception of four Republicans who crossed the floor.

Democrat Representative John Lewis, Democrat from Georgia, spoke of knowing racism when seeing it and feeling it “and at the highest level of government”.  Pelosi claimed that to not condemn Trump’s words “would be a shocking rejection of our values and a shameful abdication of our oath of office to protect the American people.”

Representative Dan Meuser, Republican of Pennsylvania, was ill-tempered in response, insisting that the whole show had been a “ridiculous slander” which did a “disservice to our nation”. “What has really happened here is that the president and his supporters have been forced to endure months of allegations of racism.”

Republicans slanted their attack on procedural improprieties, less on the nature of Trump’s words than the behaviour of their Democrat colleagues, who they regarded as impugning the motives of the President.  A failed effort was made to excise any suggestive words from the House Speaker’s record in accordance with the Jefferson Manual, a text authored by Thomas Jefferson in 1801.  Quaintly if revealingly, the manual states that “references to racial or other discrimination on the part of the President are not in order.”  Appalled by the bickering and disagreement, Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri, banged the gavel and took his leave. “We just want to fight.”

While the president versus squad show was boiling over, an arguably more significant resolution failed to gather the numbers.  Sponsored by Representative Al Green, Democrat from Texas, the measure seeking to impeach Trump in light of his comments on the four representatives, failed by 332 votes to 95.  Bigotry, argued Green, was “a high crime and misdemeanour.”

The president, while publicly condemning the exercise as “time consuming”, would have been heartened: the squabbling Democrats may well have been united in their rebuke of the president’s tweets, but such consensus was momentary.  In Pelosi’s words, “We have six committees working on following the facts in terms of any abuse of power, obstruction of justice and the rest that the president may have engaged in”.  With unwitting comedic effect, the House Speaker found herself claiming that to be “the serious path we’re on – not that Mr Green is not serious, but we’ll deal with that on the floor.”  And dealt with it they did, putting the pro-impeachment Democrats back into their crammed box.

In the U.S. they are never called human rights violations

Trump’s 2020 budget proposal reflects another significant increase in military spending along with corresponding cuts in spending by Federal agencies tasked with the responsibility for providing critical services and income support policies for working class and poor people. Trump’s call for budget cuts by Federal agencies is mirrored by the statutorily imposed austerity policies in most states and many municipalities. Those cuts represent the continuing imposition of neoliberal policies in the U.S. even though the “A” word for austerity is almost never used to describe those policies.

Yet, austerity has been a central component of state policy at every level of government in the U.S. and in Europe for the last four decades. In Europe, as the consequences of neoliberal policies imposed on workers began to be felt and understood, the result was intense opposition.  However, in the U.S. the unevenness of how austerity policies were being applied, in particular the elimination or reduction in social services that were perceived to be primarily directed at racialized workers, political opposition was slow to materialize.

Today, however, relatively privileged workers who were silent as the neoliberal “Washington consensus” was imposed on the laboring classes in the global South — through draconian structural adjustment policies that result in severe cutbacks in state expenditures for education, healthcare, state employment and other vital needs — have now come to understand that the neoliberal program of labor discipline and intensified extraction of value from workers, did not spare them.

The deregulation of capital, privatization of state functions — from road construction to prisons, the dramatic reduction in state spending that results in cuts in state supported social services and goods like housing and access to reproductive services for the poor — represent the politics of austerity and the role of the neoliberal state.

This materialist analysis is vitally important for understanding the dialectical relationship between the general plight of workers in the U.S. and the bipartisan collaboration to raid the Federal budget and to reduce social spending in order to increase spending on the military. This perspective is also important for understanding the imposition of those policies as a violation of the fundamental human rights of workers, the poor and the oppressed.

For the neoliberal state, the concept of human rights does not exist.

As I have called to attention before, a monumental rip-off is about to take place once again. Both the Democrats and Republicans are united in their commitment to continue to feed the U.S. war machine with dollars extracted — to the tune of 750 billion dollars — from the working class and transferred to the pockets of the military/industrial complex.

The only point of debate is now whether or not the Pentagon will get the full 750 billion or around 733 billion. But whether it is 750 billion or 733 billion, the one sector that is not part of this debate is the public. The attention of the public has been adroitly diverted by the absurd reality show that is Russiagate. But this week, even though the budget debate has been disappeared by corporate media, Congress is set to begin debate on aspects of the budget and specifically on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Raising the alarm on this issue is especially critical at this moment. As tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf, the corporate media is once again abdicating its public responsibility to bring unbiased, objective information to the public and instead is helping to generate support for war with Iran.

The Democrats, who have led the way with anti-Iran policies over the last few decades, will be under enormous pressure not to appear to be against enhancing military preparedness and are likely to find a way to give Trump and the Pentagon everything they want.

Support for Human Rights and Support for Empire is an Irreconcilable Contradiction

The assumption of post-war capitalist order was that the state would be an instrument to blunt the more contradictory aspects of capitalism. It would regulate the private sector, provide social welfare support to the most marginal elements of working class, and create conditions for full employment. This was the Keynesian logic and approach that informed liberal state policies beginning in the 1930s.

The idea of reforming human rights fits neatly into that paradigm.

As seen, a state’s legitimacy was based on the extent to which it recognized, protected and fulfilled the human rights of all its citizens and residents. Those rights included not only the right to information, assembly, speech and to participation in the national political life of the nation but also the right to food, water, healthcare, education, employment, substantial social security throughout life, and not just as a senior citizen.

The counterrevolutionary program of the late 60s and 70s, especially the turn to neoliberalism which began in the 70s, would reject this paradigm and redefine the role of the state. The obligation of the state to recognize, protect and fulfill human rights was eliminated from the role of the state under neoliberalism.

Today the consequences of four decades of neoliberalism in the global South and now in the cosmopolitan North have created a crisis of legitimacy that has made state policies more dependent on force and militarism than in any other time, including the civil war and the turmoil of the 1930s.

The ideological glue provided by the ability of capitalism to deliver the goods to enough of the population which guaranteed loyalty and support has been severely weakened by four decades of stagnant wages, increasing debt, a shrinking middle-class, obscene economic inequality and never-ending wars that have been disproportionately shouldered by the working class.

Today, contrary to the claims of capitalism to guarantee the human right to a living wage ensuring “an existence worthy of human dignity,” the average worker is making, adjusted for inflation, less than in 1973; i.e., some 46 years-ago. 140 million are either poor or have low-income; 80% living paycheck to paycheck; 34 million are still without health insurance; 40 million live in “official poverty;” and more in unofficial poverty as measured by alternative supplemental poverty (SPM).  And more than half of those over 55 years-old have no retirement funds other than Social Security.

In a report, Philp Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, points out that: the US is one of the world’s wealthiest countries. It spends more on national defense than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan combined.

However, that choice in public expenditures must be seen in comparison to the other factors he lays out:

  • US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.
  • Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the US and its peer countries continues to grow.
  • US inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries
  • In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.
  • The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.

For African Americans in particular, neoliberalism has meant, jobs lost, hollowed out communities as industries relocated first to the South and then to Mexico and China, the disappearance of affordable housing, schools and hospital closings, infant and maternal mortality at global South levels, and mass incarceration as the unskilled, low-wage Black labor has become economically redundant.

This is the backdrop and context for the budget “debate” and Trump’s call to cut spendings to Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and even the State Department.

The U.S. could find 6 trillion dollars for war since 2003 and 16 trillion to bail out the banks after the financial sector crashed the economy, but it can’t find money to secure the human rights of the people.

This is the one-sided class war that we find ourselves in; a war with real deaths and slower, systematic structural violence. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans can be depended on to secure our rights or protect the world from the U.S. atrocities. That responsibility falls on the people who reside at the center of the Empire to not only struggle for ourselves but to put a brake on the Empire’s ability to spread death and destruction across the planet.

A Wall Street Boost for Social Security

The aging of America is putting the squeeze on Social Security. About 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day and the number is heading even higher. Ready or not, our retirement system faces its first major overhaul in decades.

Lawmakers should listen to Warren Buffett before they settle on any new payroll tax or benefit schedules. “I’m a card-carrying capitalist,” Buffett says, “I believe we wouldn’t be sitting here except for the market system.”

Social Security should become a card-carrying capitalist too. It should invest part of its $2.8 trillion trust fund in the stock market, specifically in broad-based, low-cost index funds.

Call it a Wall Street boost for Social Security. It could make the coming overhaul less costly for workers and employers alike. It would effectively give tens of millions of low- to middle-income workers their first share ever in the market. Lastly, it’s the smart thing to do: research has shown the reward easily justifies the risk.

Trust fund dollars have always been invested in ultra-safe government securities. The idea of seeking higher returns by putting some of the money into stocks has been proposed before, but it’s never gone anywhere.

The coming reform (the first since 1983 and only the second ever) gives Congress a chance to begin making up for lost time.

And for lost opportunities too. By mid-March of 2019, the S&P 500 had risen by more than 300 percent from its financial-crisis low in March 2009. According to Goldman Sachs, the index’s annualized gain of over 15 percent represents one of its best decades ever.

The huge bull run didn’t add a penny to the Social Security trust fund. In fact, the fund’s return over the same decade was lower than usual: many of its holdings were paying (and still are) abnormally low interest rates.

All the more reason to make sure a stock market boost becomes part of the overhaul. Let’s give the trust fund its first chance for substantial gains. Let’s keep pushing back the year the fund runs dry. The program’s trustees now estimate it’ll happen in 2035. If Congress doesn’t act before then, benefits will have to be cut by roughly 25 percent.

Both parties are well aware of the crunch. As usual these days, they’re gridlocked on what to do.

Republicans think the problem can be solved with just two words: stingier and shorter. Their proposals would hit future recipients with the double whammy of lower benefits and a later retirement age (an idea Buffett has also floated).

Democrats have lined up solidly behind a bill that goes in the opposite direction. It increases payouts by two percent and sweetens the formula for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). The money to pay for it would come from higher payroll taxes, especially on the biggest earners.

Payroll taxes are currently not collected on wages greater than $132,900. The Democratic bill would tax all earnings over $400,000. The rate itself (levied on both workers and employers) would rise 0.1 percent per year from 2020 to 2043, going from the current 6.2 percent to 7.4 percent. The system’s actuaries say these changes would keep the fund solvent into the 2090s.

All well and good, but adding a Wall Street boost could make the reform even better. The tax increase could be smaller. The trust fund’s solvency could be extended into the 22nd century. Millions of workers without workplace retirement plans could reap some of the same stock market gains as workers who have them.

Alicia H. Munnell lives and breathes retirement policy. It was her calling card for a top job in the Clinton Administration. Since then she’s been a professor at Boston College, where she founded and directs its Center for Retirement Research. In 2006 she co-authored the definitive book Social Security and the Stock Market.

It’s a probing, scholarly work. It doesn’t minimize the risks, including the political risks of putting the government in charge of investment decisions. It cites hundreds of facts, including these:

After all, stocks yield 7 percent after inflation and bonds only 3 percent.

Two types of government pensions in the United States already invest in equities with no apparent ill effects,” the Thrift Savings Program for federal employees and state and local pension funds.

Adding the Social Security trust fund to the list would make that three. As Warren Buffett knows, it’s really no more than a bet on the future of America. If that’s not a good bet, what is?

• This article first appeared at www.nydailynews.com

The Constitutional Crisis, Impeachment and Russophobia

I think this is what you call a constitutional crisis.

The president says the Mueller Report exonerates him of Russian collusion and obstruction of justice. Democrats in Congress insist it does show evidence for obstruction, that needs further investigation through hearings. Trump has ordered his officials, lawyers and aides to refuse to testify, citing executive privilege, obliging the seven House committees investigating Trump to subpoena witnesses, who may still refuse to appear. Such people, if cited by Congress, with contempt could be forced by courts to pay fines or even be imprisoned. But it is not clear what will happen; hence, a crisis.

Trump now indicates that he will not cooperate with the Democratic majority in the House on key issues such as infrastructure until they conclude their annoying investigations of his alleged obstruction, as well as his finances. His puerile tantrum at the Wednesday White House meeting with the Democratic leadership was occasioned by a remark by the Democratic Speaker of the House that Trump was guilty of a “cover-up.” He essentially told Nancy Pelosi that if she was going to speak rudely of him, he would takes his toys and go home.

One can understand his feelings, of course. Why work with people who are (falsely, in your own mind) accusing you of misbehavior? Pundits are noting that Nixon and Clinton during their impeachment proceedings could stay focused on government business and compartmentalize their minds. But Trump may be unable or unwilling to do that. And it may well be that he is positively courting impeachment, assuming the Republican-dominated Senate would acquit him and that the proceedings might actually consolidate his base for the 2020 election.

The constitutional crisis pits Congressional oversight against executive privilege. The parliament against the king. It’s an exciting spectacle to watch, but there are no heroes in it. The Democrats hoped to bring Trump down (and discredit the result of the 2016 election) by using Cold War-type Russophobia. They are bitterly disappointed they could not wed their effort to drive Trump from office to that Russophobia, and that the Mueller probe found no evidence for Russian collusion with the Trump campaign much less the full-fledged conspiracy imagined by many. Now the goal is to bring him down through the investigation of his finances. (Of course, allegations of a mysteriously cordial relationship between Trump and Putin will also continue, and nascent plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow, where Trump hosted a Miss Universe pageant in 2013, will be adduced as evidence for somehow inappropriate ties with an “adversary” nation.)

Documents subpoenaed by the Congress from Deutsche Bank and Capital One might well show illicit financial transactions. Trump has called the investigation of his finances a red line; in his view they are none of the people’s business. One reason (we now know, thanks to New York Times reporting) Trump lost billions in the 1990s; he is not a very good businessman after all, and it’s embarrassing to him for the world to know it. But soon we know much more about his finances, and may discover scandals sufficient to turn more Republicans against the president and allow for impeachment in both houses. Who knows, we may even discover evidence for illegal Russian loans to Trump, which would make the Democrats’ dream come true.

Pelosi has been cautious about seeking impeachment, pending more investigations that could produce a bipartisan effort. To see that, as many Dems do, as excessively careful would be a mistake, since the move would allow the Democrats to vent but fail in the end. And any move towards impeachment now would dwell on alleged obstruction of a probe into his Russian ties, and necessarily center around the premise that Russia is an adversary with whom all contact is suspicious. More promotion of Russophobia, just as Trump and Putin are finally talking, would be unfortunate.

Now that a federal judge has ruled against Trump’s effort to prevent the Congress from obtaining his bank records, we can expect some details about the two billion loans made to him by Deutsche Bank before the 2016 election. But can he be impeached for white-collar crimes committed before taking office? There are a number of constitutional issues here. But more important than these, and the fate of this particularly odious president, are the problem of corporate control over the political process in this country, and the problem of capitalist imperialism which requires the positing of adversaries, chief among them Russia.

The Quiet Coup

Does William Barr appear to be easily manipulated?  Do you really think he lacks inner strength?  James Comey thinks so (James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr).  How about Mike Pompeo and Stephen Miller?  Does Donald Trump have them acting out of character?  Do you think Lindsey Graham does his bidding out of fear?  Is Mike Pence really cowed into submission, or does Steve Bannon stroke Trump’s ego because he lacks intestinal fortitude?

All of the above have forceful personalities.  They didn’t arrive at their stations through lack of will or low self esteem. To suggest they’re being idealistically manipulated is nearsighted and dangerous.  William Barr, the others, and much of the Republican Congress appear sycophantic not out of fear or lack of self-control; they behave that way because they and Trump are kindred spirits.  They’re not just groveling; they like what Trump likes, they want what Trump wants, and they’re strong and willful enough to go after it, even if it requires a curtsy.

Have you heard about the coup?  There actually was one, but not the coup ballyhooed by Donald Trump.  The real “coup” started long ago in a barely noticed manner; it triggered the quiet rise of authoritarianism which now animates Trump’s presidency.  Amanda Taub laid it out in The Rise of American Authoritarianism.  The 2016 article (prior to Trump’s election) is both prescient and sobering.  It deserves a more thorough reading than what’s summed up in the following quick takeaways:

  • The authoritarian profile is characterized by the desire for order and a fear of outsiders.  It looks for a strong leader who promises necessary action to protect from outsiders and prevent feared changes.
  • Authoritarian personalities are drawn to the clearest and loudest authoritarian voice.
  • Covert authoritarian personalities (latent authoritarians) can be moved to overt authoritarian behavior.
  • The authoritarian personality increasingly sorts into the Republican Party (law and order and traditional values).
  • Authoritarians and latent authoritarians compose a large enough bloc to be politically powerful.
  • The authoritarian personality is not a new or Trump phenomenon; it will endure.

Religious institutions have authoritarian roots and thus provide low hanging fruit for aspiring autocrats (especially when spiritual morality has the depth of a bumper sticker).  Taub’s article provides inference of a religious component, but falls short of citing its paternalistic tradition and devotion to dogma and prophecy as instrumental in forging an authoritarian profile (ex. Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus).  It does go far, though, in explaining and describing what’s seen in American politics today.  It also sheds light elsewhere.  There’s instability and much to fear around the globe: immigration, economic turmoil and disparity, religious/social upheaval, climate change, famine, and the ever present reality of violence and war.  It’s an opportune time for the rise of authoritarian and despotic leadership that we see arising throughout the world.

“The Rise of American Authoritarianism” article shows that authoritarian personalities have slowly sorted into the Republican Party over the last fifty years.  That bloc now seems to have reached a controlling influence: 55% of surveyed Republicans scored high or higher on the article’s authoritarian scale.  In blunt terms, half a century ago the party began the process of culturing authoritarian minded voters that now dominate the Republican electorate (and consequently, its primary elections).  More and more Republican representatives sent to Washington (or elsewhere) are apt to be sympathetic (or owing) to authoritarian values.  The profound result of all this is the election of a president who cultivates authoritarian passion.  Perhaps more ominous, though, is a contingent happening: court appointments.  Court nominations at all levels are ideally chosen as vectors of impartiality.  Everyone knows the opposite is true: candidates are chosen that appear most likely to express perceived bias in future judicial proceedings.  Trump and the Republican Party are shaping the judicial system accordingly: two appointments to the Supreme Court (a third is likely) and record setting confirmations of judges to federal appeals courts.  They won’t all, of course, perform as expected, but a general bias will take place beyond the expected conservative/liberal slant: with or without awareness, throughout the court systems, decisions will be made that reflect sympathy with authoritarian ideals.  The judges will be in place for decades and their decisions much longer.  Each one of those sympathetic decisions will pave the way for future authoritarian inroads.

It doesn’t take all that much representation to determine our country’s direction.  Somewhere between 50% and 60% of eligible voters cast ballots in presidential elections (about 40% for midterms).  Combining the two, perhaps roughly half of all eligible voters are shaping political destiny.  In 1992 Ross Perot, a third party candidate, received nearly 20% of the popular vote.  That was an anomaly; third party votes generally have significance only as spoilers in close races between the two major parties (Republican and Democrat).  Usually the winning presidential candidate receives roughly half of all votes cast.  Because nearly half the country takes a pass on Election Day, the winning candidate receives about half of a half (one quarter) of potential votes.  Within each party are factions vying for political influence.  To gain dominance, a faction need only appear to represent half (or even less) of perceived party supporters.  If that party wins, it means roughly half of a quarter (one eighth) of the eligible voting population may dominate in determining national direction.  That’s all it takes.  A president (and more) can be politically empowered by as little as an eighth (or less) of the voting population.  In the face of voter apathy, an energized eighth of the American electorate can democratically nudge the country down the slippery slope to authoritarianism.

If it’s contended that Trump has neither the time nor the tools to actually push the country into irrevocable authoritarianism, it’s sobering to view what’s transpired in a short amount of time.  To his political base and much of the Republican Party, Trump has quite successfully delegitimized the news media, the Department of Justice, political opposition, and judiciary constraints.  Through all the fiascos of his first two years, Trump still enjoys Republican popularity and support.  It’s not just how much he’s managed to do (or undo) in a short amount of time, but how little he’s had to do it with.  He’s not the most gifted politician, but what if he was?  Trump has demonstrated that an authoritarian base is here and ready to use.  A tainted judicial system is in place; it will progressively soften to autocratic appeals over the coming years.  What if one really gifted comes along: someone cunningly intelligent, someone with a coherent plan and political savvy, someone with charisma and charm?

Donald Trump didn’t create the wave, but he adeptly rides it.  Fifty some years ago the old Republican Party sought to seduce and control the authoritarian personality.  The seduction succeeded, but not the control; the old guard lost it.  The new Republican Party is now home and voice to American authoritarianism.  It won’t be silenced through an impeachment or a single presidential election cycle.  It’s here for the long haul.  Figure heads like James Comey and Morning Joe pundits portray Donald Trump as a larger than life puppet master, a maestro manipulating those around him into groveling postures of obsequiousness.  The conjecture provides nearsighted assurance that Trump has a unique presence and those around him are uniquely weak: all will be better when Trump is gone.  It’s dangerously complacent; it’s not seeing the forest for a tree.

They’re not at the gate.  The authoritarians are in the castle.  There’s no time left for wishful thinking or complacency.