If Trump Knew What Was Good for Him, He Would Leave Immigrants Alone and “Expedite” His Own Removal  

Donald Trump calls for the “expedited removal” of undocumented Mexicans and Central Americans from the United States.  This is cruel, stupid, and immoral, but he has the power to make it happen.

Meanwhile, a large and growing number of Americans would do almost anything to assure Trump’s own expedited removal from the White House.   His immigration policies are only one of many reasons why.

Calls for his impeachment are therefore on the rise.  The cause is just, but the power to make it happen is still out of reach.

Some of those calls come from within the ranks of the Democratic Party, the party of pusillanimity, neoliberalism, and liberal imperialism – in a word, the party of Clintonites.

The conventional wisdom has it that the Party is divided between Clintonites, defenders of the Obama-Clinton-Biden establishment, and remnants of the Sanders insurgency.

This seems right, except that it gives leading figures associated with the Sanders insurgency too much credit.  Witness the mediating role Sanders himself is playing.   Along with Elizabeth Warren and other “progressives,” he talks the talk – on some issues, at least.  But, having gone all out for Hillary, they remain effectively ensconced on the Dark Side.

Tom Perez’s narrow victory over Keith Ellison in the election last week for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee reflected the balance of power between the two sides, and also the nature of their differences.  Ellison supported Sanders in the primaries and caucuses; Perez was on Hillary’s side.

Before Trump made the issue moot, Perez was for the Trans-Pacific Partnership while Ellison was against it.  On nearly every other “issue,” however, the positions of the two candidates were essentially indistinguishable.

Evidently, Clintonism runs deep in Democratic circles.  The Party’s progressive wing is more in the mold of New Deal – Great Society liberalism than the Party’s establishment, but it is essentially Clintonite too.

One reason why mainstream Clintonites are able to hold onto power, even if only by the skins of their teeth, is that the wave of Russophobia that the Clinton campaign did so much to invigorate is now in high gear; and, aided by friendly media, they are making the most of it.

Of all the ways to “delegitimize” Trump, they have seized on that one – demonstrating, yet again, that reckless and potentially catastrophic war mongering is in their blood.

However, the Party establishment’s problem with Ellison had little, if anything, to do with matters of war and peace or any other significant political issue.   The problem, for them, was that influential Israel-firsters were opposed to Ellison’s candidacy, notwithstanding his abject efforts to win over their hearts and minds.  They considered him an unreliable supporter of injustice for Palestinians.

Ellison’s Original and inexpungible Sin was that, having convert to Islam, he had, decades ago, defended Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and espoused “radical” views on Israel and Palestine.

For this, Alan Dershowitz threatened to leave the party if Ellison became chair of the DNC.  On that account alone, Ellison’s victory should have been a slam-dunk; opportunities like that don’t come along every day!  Another notorious defender of the ethnocratic settler state, Haim Saban, the Clintons’ primo “donor,” indicated that he too would be displeased by an Ellison victory.  In a better possible world, this would be icing on the cake!

But, the Israel lobby did all it could to assure that Ellison would lose, and so he did – demonstrating, yet again, that the Democratic Party is worse than useless.  Democrats deserved Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; Perez is too good for them.

They deserve Nancy Pelosi too.  In 2006, when Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate could have impeached George W. Bush, she put the kybosh on the effort – in order not to complicate Hillary Clinton’s (and later Barack Obama’s) 2008 campaigns for the White House.

After their latest “shellacking,” however, even she must be thinking that the Party has nothing to lose by letting the handful of Democrats with backbones call for Trump’s impeachment.  She understands that nothing can come of it unless Republicans take the lead, and therefore that nothing Democrats do now will seriously disturb the status quo.

If pressure from the rank-and-file becomes irresistible, all bets are off.   But she and other establishment figures are confident that it will never come to that.

From a legal point of view, the case for Trump’s impeachment is strong.  Informed observers agree that he has violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and it would not take much ingenuity to find additional grounds.

But because Republicans control both the House and the Senate, some significant number of them would have to turn against Trump before he could be removed from office in the Constitutionally prescribed way.

This is not about to happen in the near future; and it won’t happen until Trump’s billionaire cronies, and the Republicans’ evangelical, libertarian, Islamophobic, misogynistic, racist and nativist wings come around to the view that he is no longer useful.  For this to happen, Trump’s poll numbers, already abysmally low, would have to fall farther still.

The true “deplorables,” the miscreants whose baser instincts Trump legitimizes, will never bolt.  But once it becomes clear to the majority of Trump voters that the man they put in office does not, and never did, have their interests at heart — that he was only taking advantage of their disgust with the Clintonite status quo to enrich himself and his class brothers and sisters, and that they are actually worse off with him in charge than they had been before he conned them – his level of support could well drop to untenable levels.

There is every reason why this should happen, but it has not happened yet.  Until it does, impeachment will remain out of the question, no matter how vile Trump’s policies become, and no matter how much of an embarrassment he is to everyone who is not willfully blind.

As long as Republicans think that there is some percentage in staying the course, Trump has the functional equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Calling for his impeachment can nevertheless help expand and intensify resistance to his policies, and force him to mitigate his attacks on vulnerable populations.  It will take a lot more than that, however, to rid the country and the world of the Trumpian menace.

Fortunately, impeachment is not the only way to expedite his removal.

During the 2012 election season, Mitt Romney called on “illegal” immigrants to “self-deport.”  At the time, the idea seemed ludicrous; in retrospect, it seems prescient. Anticipating Trump, Romney was signaling that, if elected, he would make the situation of undocumented immigrants so onerous that many of them would leave of their own accord.

If and when Trump comes to the conclusion that being President isn’t working out for him, it could dawn on him that it would make sense to self-impeach – in other words, to dump himself.

His options are far better than the ones the self-deporters of Romney’s imagination would face.   They would be returning to poverty and violence; he would be returning to the over-the-top pleasure domes he had built to glorify and enrich himself.

Even so, it would take a lot to bring Trump to that point; his egotism is that immense.

On the other hand, though, quitting for profit is in his nature.  As a real estate and casino mogul, he would cut and run whenever the going got tough – stiffing contractors and workers in the process, but also making a lot of money for himself.

As President, Trump is in way over his head, and it is plain that he knows next to nothing about geopolitics or political economy.  But he is a past master at gaming the system and putting political juice to work.  This was, of course, before he became the main juice dispenser, but old ideas die hard.

It helped, back then, that Trump was able to pull off his bankruptcies and tax dodges outside the limelight.  For the Donald, appearance is all.  Therefore when media cannot be satisfactorily managed, the less attention there is to news that is unbecoming, the better.

Not bragging about how much money he was making off the misery of others must have gone against the Trumpian grain; the man is a shameless publicity hound.  But it was his sybaritic pursuits that he wanted the world to know about, not his financial shenanigans.

Trump figured out how to fail in business without losing face.  Failing in the White House is different.  Were he to dump himself, then, like Nixon before him, he would exit in disgrace.

This is probably an even greater obstacle to Trump’s self-impeachment than his delusions about his skills and abilities.  But the more militant the anti-Trump resistance becomes, the more likely it is that reality will break through even so.

***

Meanwhile, everyone should remember that it is wise to beware of what you wish for.

Were Trump to go, the government he put in place would remain; the dismantlement of what Steven Bannon calls “the administrative state” would proceed.

And the Vice President would take Trump’s place.  At a policy level, Mike Pence might actually be worse than Trump.  Trump is an opportunistic reactionary, void of conviction; Pence is the real deal.

Normally, this consideration would matter a lot more than it does in this case.  But, with Trump, nothing is normal.  His expedited removal is urgent and important for a reason that transcends the sheer awfulness of the policies he promotes.

Trump must go, the sooner the better, because he unleashes the furies in a sizeable enough segment of the population to cause great pain and suffering to vulnerable populations everywhere, and to do grave, perhaps even irreversible, harm not just to the body politic, but to the entire world.

This will not change; the harm he does is in his nature.  It is also in his interests – because without his most odious supporters at his back, he would have hardly any popular support at all.

Trump and/or Pence would turn the clock back a hundred or more years if they could – that is, if Democrats let them.  But with Pence in charge, the pride of the nation, one of FDR’s four essential freedoms  – the freedom from fear that Americans enjoy and that the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” yearn for – would remain more or less intact, even as the political compass shifts to the right.  Under Trump, that freedom is already in mortal jeopardy.

Communities of color are already bearing the brunt – Muslims and Hispanic immigrants, most of all.

For decades, anti-Semitism – as distinct from anti-Zionism, which is something else altogether — had seemed a dead letter in the United States and throughout the Western world.  But it turns out that the germ had only been lying dormant.  Trump and his orthodox Jewish and fervently Zionist son-in-law have brought it back to life.

Evidently, it hardly matters what Trump himself thinks; the furies he has unleashed know no bounds.

It is not exactly Trump’s views that bring out the inner fascist in so many people; it is his instincts and attitudes.   He says – and presumably believes, for a while — whatever is on his mind, which is usually a reflection of what he happened to have been paying attention to moments before.  It is therefore no wonder that what comes out of his mouth is distinguished as much for its inconsistency as its vileness and stupidity.

A coherent ideology would at least impose a semblance of order, but Trump has no ideology, just an implacable desire to enrich and glorify himself.

Republicans don’t have much upstairs, but they do know how to make the most of the weaknesses of others.  Trump’s cluelessness about how to govern is a glaring weakness.   And so, Republicans rush in.

Trump needs them; therefore, despite his vanity and sense of self-importance, he welcomes them aboard — so long as they do not cross him.  He finds them useful for his cause, the cause of Trump.  They find him useful, in turn – for getting their agendas enacted.  But the emptiness at the heart of it all remains – because the thinking of Republican ideologues is too shallow conflicted to fill the vacuum.

The GOP is not, and never has been hospitable to the life of the mind; its standards nowadays are especially low.  How else could the likes of Paul Ryan or Newt Gingrich be taken seriously at all?

No wonder therefore that a thinker of Steve Bannon’s caliber has been able, with the Donald’s support, to make over the Republican Party.   It seems that he actually reads books – or at least that he remembers their titles and the names of their authors.

It seems too that he is drawn to nationalistic strains of social and political theory, and to European authors associated with the post-fascist netherworld.  Evidently, though, he is also drawn to classical liberal – rightwing libertarian – economic doctrine.

Unlike people who know what they are talking about, liberal and not-so-liberal pundits are impressed.  This is good enough for the Donald.  In his world, appearance is all; and Bannon can at least pass for smart.

Lucky for him that his reputation rests on hearsay — not on anything he has actually written or publically declared.  The last thing Trump needs is scrutiny from anyone who could see through Bannon’s purported erudition, or who is likely to remind a gullible public how dangerous a little knowledge can be.

Wayne Slater and Jim Moore famously dubbed Karl Rove “Bush’s brain” – a fair description and an insult all in one.  Trump’s own brain may be good enough for the world of real estate moguls and TV executives, but geopolitics and political economy are way beyond its ken.

Enter Bannon, stage right; now Trump has a Karl Rove too.  But all “Trump’s brain” can do is give theoretical expression to Trump’s incoherence.  Like so much else in the Donald’s world, Bannon is all about smoke and mirrors, not substance.

One would suppose, for example, that a dabbler in the literature of the European Right would realize that authoritarian nationalism requires a state that dominates the economy, not the “night watchman state” that the classical liberals venerated.  The “invisible hand” is nationalism’s enemy, not its friend.

And yet Bannon calls for the “deconstruction” of the agencies through which the visible hand of the state intervenes in national economies.

Thoughtful authoritarian nationalists would be baffled; classical fascists would be appalled.  What, after all, does Bannon think “national socialism” was about?

There have been serious social theorists, associated with the historical Left – most prominently, Karl Polanyi (1886 -1964) – who underscored the role of state violence in transforming the “moral economies” that come naturally to persons living in pre-capitalist societies into the kinds of market societies that are indispensible for capitalist development.

But subtle arguments like those of Polanyi and others are not in Bannon’s wheelhouse.  As it becomes clearer where Trump and his team of reactionaries are headed, expect to find that Trump’s brain is as muddled as the Great Man himself.

***

Trump’s effect on his most noxious supporters is the main reason to expedite his removal.  Holding his “brain” in check is a close second.

But how to get from here to there?  As long as Republicans remain unwilling or unable to rise to the occasion, and as long as Democrats remain useless, impeachment is not in the cards.

Tea Party style resistance to the Democratic Party’s leaders from within the Democratic Party itself, and, better yet, efforts to build a political movement outside the purview of the Democratic Party altogether can improve the odds.  But until an organized opposition coalesces, the chances of expediting Trump’s removal from office by impeachment are poor at best.

However, the chances that Trump will see the merits of self-impeachment are better, notwithstanding the humiliation and disgrace.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the greatest political philosopher ever to write in the English language, famously described a “state of nature,” a world void of political authority relations, in which individuals are moved by avarice, fear, and vainglory.

In Hobbes’s view, in their natural condition, people seek more and more of everything, fear everyone, and are obsessed with “…trifles, as a word, a smile, a different opinion, and any other signe of undervalue, either direct in their Persons, or by relexion in their Kindred, their Friends, their Nation, their Profession, or their Name.”

Trump seems never to have emerged from this natural condition.  No wonder troglodytes love him!

Prudence, rational self-interest, is beyond his ken, just as it was for the inhabitants of Hobbes’s state of nature.

Fear of violent death was, according to Hobbes, pervasive in the state of nature.  In that imaginary place, there was no obvious way to diminish the danger.  In Trump’s case there is.  This is why, if he had the sense he was born with, he would self-impeach just as soon as he can — before the intelligence services he goes out of his way to harm and offend have their way with him.

Other, less murderous, but also powerful forces wish him ill too – workers in the non-intelligence sectors of the “deep state,” for example, and in corporate media (save Fox News), and the foreign policy establishment.  Trump has harmed and offended a lot of people promoting himself; they are all waiting to see him fall.

But, of course, he doesn’t have the sense he was born with.  All he has is greed, insecurity, and false pride.

For getting to see the back of him, sooner rather than later, this is key: the royal road back to freedom from fear involves using his greedy, insecure, and vain nature against him – by boycotting all things Trump and shaming everyone who buys anything he or his children peddle.

When, for consumers worldwide, the name “Trump,” formerly an asset (for reasons that elude justification), becomes a serious liability, count on Trump taking notice.

By all means, Democrats, and Republicans too should be persuaded to do all they can to secure Trump’s expedited removal from office.   But don’t count on them to rise to the level of their moral and political responsibilities.

Unless they are mightily compelled, they will stay true to form and remain part of the problem.

There are many reasons to engage with them, and to do battle with them, but, as matters now stand, ridding the world of the Trumpian menace is not among them.

To be rid of Trump, the wisest course is to attack the man himself — by going after his brand!

When popular sovereignty fails, try consumer sovereignty instead.  There would be no way to do anything of the sort under normal circumstances.   But there is with Trump.  How ironic, but also how emblematic of humanity’s fate in an increasingly irrational capitalist order!

Will boycotts and shaming induce the Donald to expedite his own removal?  There is no way to tell.  But with the only significant organized political opposition coming from a Democratic Party that is still wallowing in Clintonism and that is encumbered with an establishment whose power has lately been reinforced, there seems to be no better way.

President Mudslinger: a Strategy of Dirt

It seems we are living in a tit-for-tat world, playing games at all levels, regularly calling out the opposition with bold aplomb. Call it chess if you can see 10 moves ahead or checkers if you like going here and there and getting crowned with occasional local glory. Hopefully it’s not a mutually-assured-destruction game of tic-tac-toe.

I suppose we all act according to a strategy, some of it on purpose: Me first, an eye for an eye, the golden mean, turn the other cheek, neither a lender nor a borrower be (Polonius), the pursuit of happiness (DOI), let’s do it to them before they do it to us (Sgt Stan Jablonski), that’s not a knife… that’s a knife (Paul Hogan), ignore it and hope it goes away (standard government operating procedure), but what to make of “say anything and hope something sticks” (President Mudslinger).

Indeed, is “say anything” just another smokescreen to hide the truth – that the rich do whatever they like with impunity? As the 24/7 rants continue, we see not only the gap between the rich and poor becoming wider, but a Grand Canyon-sized chasm between the politically able and the disenfranchised. As usual based on money. On the bright side – because of the abuses of the over-privileged and the over-reaching, we have laws to deal with those who would do anything.

We used to hope that low-sparking, high-heeled boys didn’t overly impact our lives, pushing softly by us in the invisible streets of everyday life, but with a loose cannon at the helm of USS Madness, no one can be sure anymore. How to pixelate the thoughts of one who rarely means what he says or says what he means (intellectually spliced as literally/seriously)? Has chaos (Chaos) and the forces of badness at last won out against the forces of goodness and niceness (Control) as if in a remodelled Mel Brooks farce? Hollywood couldn’t make this stuff up. But isn’t Mr Big Biz supposed to be an expert on strategy?

There are various ways to rate a strategy, quantifying whether being nice, aggressive, insulting, hard-nosed, or intransigent works, or if “say anything” is just the art of the deal as Bibi Netanyahu recently parroted back to his flip-flopping good friend Donald Trump from the White House logo pulpit. One bona fide way is to exaggerate or disguise one’s interest to ultimately score a better outcome, hoping one doesn’t get gazumped along the way. Hell, changing speeds is the ultimate weapon for today’s MLB pitcher, slotting 92 down the middle and then nibbling the corner at 85. Keep the buggers off guard.

The Art of the Deal, the book that launched Hurricane Donald on his whirlwind odyssey, presumably asks similar questions. Full disclosure, I didn’t read the book, though I did read How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions by Francis Wheen, who noted that even the “gloriously vulgar” Trump was keen to avail of the deluge of self-help books spewing forth old snake oil in the fancy new bottles of a freewheeling ‘80s. Wheen reminds us that power is everyone’s favorite aphrodisiac: “The logic is inescapable: rich people are sexy.”

In The Winner-Take-All Society, Robert Frank and Philip Cook further note the allure of power in today’s culture wars, though cautioned against confusing popularity with quality. After Trump bought thousands of copies of his own book to install his opus on the Best Seller list, they applauded his shrewd business sense in cold financial terms, yet added “as anyone who has read The Art of the Deal, or sat through an episode of Beavis and Butthead can attest, popularity in itself is no guarantee of quality.” Alas, how else to get such great fake news out there if not to create your own great fake list?

Many have questioned the method to the apparent madness. Deutsche Bank called in a 2005 $640-million loan when the repayments on another eponymous high tower failed to appear after the 2008 credit crisis, calmly stating the sober truth: “Trump is no stranger to overdue debt.” The height of chutzpah, Mr Wheeler-Dealer countered with force majeure, citing the “once-in-a-century credit tsunami” that had derailed the whole world, even suing Deutsche Bank for $3 billion as complicit in the crash. You know the one about the schlemiel and the schlimazel? – DT Barnum has been spilling soup over everyone for years.

Of course, the would-be Donaldísimo is a poor little rich kid who just wants his own way, throwing mud at everything and hoping something sticks, followed by “Give as good as you get” sand-box style, blame the other guy (especially Obama and the press), and hope the public doesn’t figure out how hate has become a poker chip. As for those who pass his permanently arched brow, Benjamin Barber aptly noted in Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, “you end up not only as a Trump employee but as a kind of junior Donald Trump sharing in the many celebrity perks of being Trump.” It seems we are all sidekicks now, looking to shine in reflected glory.

The reality of course is very different. Will selective immigration and border taxes make America safer and great again? More like accusing the wrong “bad hombres/dudes” will incite real anger while unilateral border taxes will set off a nasty tit-for-tat trade war, creating a less safe world and border taxes for all. Less taxes for the already under-taxed? Better hope an almost $20-trillion debt doesn’t triple again as when Ronald Reagan pulled that same fast one with his famed Laffer curve. And preferring so-called clean coal over renewables is like backing the horse over the car. Is it time to call out “Honest Donald” (his own tremendous adjectival moniker for himself) as a busted flush?

You can’t play all the hands to claim an occasional victory like that lucky monkey randomly typing Hamlet after an infinity of tries. Such ineptitude causes real pain, though hopefully not as bad as that same lucky monkey randomly typing Revelation. It seems in a land of lies, the half-truth man is king, but we all know an eye for an eye will eventually leave everyone blind, one reason it has been axed in most civilized worlds.

But there must be a strategy – right? It can’t all be bluster. What happened to catching more flies with honey than vinegar, a spoon full of sugar helping the medicine go down, letting sleeping dogs lie? One can’t say anything, justify all actions, and never admit how one won the spoils. If one lies and cheats, not all can be easily forgiven just because you win the gold.

It’s the old means/end conundrum. Ask Lance Armstrong, who cycled his way into fame with a story of pain and determination, overcoming cancer and changing his body type to win the impossible, but in fact lied and cheated and is now a cautionary tale about what not to do. In The Rebel, Albert Camus elegantly skewered the ways of Soviet communism by powerfully showing that you can never win future freedom by enslaving the present. Has anyone tweeted that cold truth to Fibber McDonald?

Tweeter D is clearly a lightning rod for a new kind of angst – not being able to get what one wants whenever one wants it. Instant reality-show gratification. Clickable citizenship. And thus the mud keeps flying. With today’s say-anything strategy, truth has become fiction as clocks around the world strike 13.

Maybe President Mudslinger thinks that being offensive is the strategy of a winning commander – classic ad hominem fallacy plastered all over the Internet. One could call it the Jerry Springer model: He who yells loudest wins the most air time. The truth: if he says something about another, he means himself. Classic projection. And oddly, as the mud flies, everyone else seems to be getting dirty. Of course, there will be no hiding the truth when the ratings don’t jibe after yet another failed top-down house cleaning, CEO style. One need look only to Grandpa Reagan and ask “Are you better off?”

We all know the system doesn’t work, antiquated 2-party madness polarizing positions everywhere, heightening debate as if a negotiating tool. Even the Goldman Sachs riggers know the system is broken, playing the naysayers off against each other in pretend anti-government guise. But aren’t we tired of a world run by those who didn’t receive their privilege by merit or service? How about fairly divvying up the spoils this time?

Happily, no amount of racist, sexist, xenophobic doggerel can change how to better one’s life – in concert with family, friends, and fellow citizens. No amount of extemporaneous black-and-white, say-anything, bigly nonsense from a carnival-hawking mudslinging Maleagant can change that truth, no matter what kind of rich man’s anarchy is coming down the sludge pipe. Let’s hope there is plenty of tat left to follow the tit.

Has Van Jones Lost His Mind, Or Are Sane People Missing the Point?

A rational and moral person might think of the recent U.S. raid in Yemen this way. Here’s one small incident out of a war consisting primarily of a massive bombing campaign that has slaughtered innocents by the thousands and is threatening to lead to the starvation of hundreds of thousands. In this one incident some 30 people were murdered, some 10 of them women and children, one of them the 8-year-old sister of a 16-year-old American boy whom President Obama had earlier murdered just after having murdered his father. There wasn’t some Very Important Thing accomplished, such as learning the cell phone number of someone suspiciously Muslim or whatever, that an immoral hack could try to claim justified this incident. This was mass murder.

In the course of this mass murder, one American taking part in it was killed.

The first paragraph above is of virtually no interest to the U.S. media. The second paragraph above is of intense and passionate interest. But there is a very different point that this interest misses. Much of the media coverage suggests that the One American being killed was a very negative thing for Donald Trump. I’d suggest that it was a very negative thing for the man killed and his family and loved ones, but not necessarily a bad thing for Donald Trump or Lockheed Martin. Here’s why.

When Van Jones appeared to lose his mind and declare Trump some sort of deity because of his Very Solemn treatment of the death of the One Person Who Mattered, Van Jones was following a long tradition of treatment of the sacred sacrificing of lives to the God of War, the feeding of troops to the Holy Flag. Only lives that matter can be used in this ritual. Only lives that have been lost and that mattered can be used to justify hurling more lives after them. President Polk knew this when he got U.S. troops killed in Mexico. So did those war propagandists who remembered the Maine.The mast of the Maine still stands at the Naval Academy in Annapolis as a monument to the fundamental rite of lying about dead people who mattered, in order to remove all constraints on behavior.

As Richard Barnet explains, in the context of Vietnam:

The sacrifice of American lives is a crucial step in the ritual of commitment. Thus William P. Bundy stressed in working papers the importance of spilling American blood not only to whip up the public to support a war that could touch their emotions in no other way, but also to trap the President.

Who was William P. Bundy? He was in the CIA and became an advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He was exactly the kind of bureaucrat who succeeds in Washington, D.C. In fact he was considered a dove by the standards of those in power, people like his brother McGeorge Bundy, National Security Advisor to Kennedy and Johnson, or William Bundys father-in-law Dean Acheson, Secretary of State for Truman. The war makers do what they do, because only aggressive war makers advance through the ranks and keep their jobs as high-level advisors in our government. While resisting militarism is a good way to derail your career, no one seems to have ever heard of a D.C. bureaucrat or CNN news reader being sidelined for excessive warmongering. Pro-war counsel may be rejected, but is always considered respectable and important — even proposals to murder Americans directly, like Operation Northwoods or Dick Cheney’s scheme for Iran.

How can being responsible for getting People Who Matter killed trap a president into killing lots more of them?

This is not about logic. You have to stop thinking, and start observing the behavior of Van Jones’ audience. When People Who Matter have been killed, it becomes important to kill more of the Enemy even — or perhaps necessarily — through means that also kill many more of the People Who Matter. The flag’s appetite has awakened.

This is not the only way in which the U.S. media is treating this Death That Matters. Some commentators are even suggesting that it was a life lost in vain. Not in mass murder, but in vain. We should be aware, however, that the insanity Van Jones is tapping into is a powerful current with a long record of horror and destruction behind it.

Democratic Leaders are a Craven Bunch of Idiots Bent on Self-Destruction

The Democratic Party leadership, both in the Democratic National Committee and in Congress, is full of bad ideas these days, and they’re risking disaster because of it.

After the November election fiasco, you’d think a party that left controlling the governments of just 13 states of the 50 states, compared to 32 for Republicans, and that has just lost every lever of power in Washington — the White House, the Senate, the House and the Supreme Court — would be rethinking its whole approach to reaching American voters and trying to figure out where it went wrong over the last several decades.

Instead we’re hearing a whole lot of the same old bad ideas, and some new ones that are even worse than bad.

Take Nancy Pelosi, the dinosaur representative from San Francisco who once was the House speaker, back when Democrats controlled that lower chamber of Congress. She says Democrats should “just wait” until Trump voters realize that they have been misled by their candidate, on the assumption that they will then flock to the Democratic Party in 2018.

Just wait?  Doesn’t Pelosi get it yet? America’s working class — black, hispanic and white — has for years been “waiting” years in vain for the Democratic Party to come back to its roots and start helping them, instead of helping the toney entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and the toney hedge-fund managers on Wall Street to get richer?  Wait for what? Voters both independent and Democratic abandoned the Democratic Party in droves in November because they finally woke up and realized it had abandoned them, and that “just waiting” for them to come back to a party that betrayed them is not going to work at all.

As I’ve written, plenty of those “deplorables” who voted for Trump in states that used to be reliably Democratic first voted in the Democratic primary for Bernie Sanders, either as Democratic Party registrants or as independents. They only turned to Trump when the choice was Trump or Clinton, whom they recognized as corporatist Democratic party hack. Many have told pollsters and interviewers that they voted for Trump and the Republicans not because they liked them, but to “shake things up” because the Democrats have been ignoring their plight.

And then there’s the corrupt and self-destructive selection of former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez as the Democratic National Committee chair, replacing the corrupt Donna Brazile, who helped screw candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders out of the party’s nomination by, among other things, passing Hillary Clinton tips about questions CNN planned to ask in her primary debate with Sanders, before herself being chosen by the DNC to replace the disgraced prior chair, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (forced to resign at the start of last year’s Democratic Convention because of emails exposing her role in skewing the primaries in Hillary Clinton’s favor). Perez steamrolled Sanders’ popular choice for chair, Rep. Keith Ellison thanks to the votes of big corporate donors who, under a deeply corrupt policy of the DNC, get to be DNC members along with top state party officials and major Democratic elected leaders. The ramming through of the Perez selection as party chairman was a big stick thrust in the eye of the increasingly large progressive wing of the Democratic Party base, and that insult will cost the party incalculable support going forward.

Want more stupid?  Despite talk of “resistance,” and impassioned calls from progressive organizations for Senate Democrats as a bloc to reject Trump’s “deconstruction” cabinet of nominees whose goal is to wreck their government departments and agencies they head, many of the party’s senators have been supporting outrageous Trump nominees for his cabinet. Mike Pompeo, a Tea Party Republican who likes torture and is an outspoken Islamaphobe, got 14 votes from the Senate Democratic Caucus for the post of CIA director. John Kelly, a retired Marine general who has said he’s okay with targeting Muslims for special surveillance, got the support of 36 Democratic Senators for the post of Secretary of Homeland Security. Elaine Chao, George W. Bush’s labor secretary, wife of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and no friend or working people, got 41 Democratic Senators’ votes for Commerce Secretary. And then there’s Nikki Haley, the Russophobic governor of South Carolina, whose nomination received 44 Democratic votes, and the Cold Warrior “Mad Dog” Mattis, the Marine general who picked up a whopping 46 votes for Secretary of Defense. Even the new “Secretary of Exxon” Rex Tillerson, the human incarnation of Big Oil, managed to snag four Democratic votes supporting his nomination.

This is supposed to be an opposition party? A party of “resistance” to Trumpism? It’s sure hard to see it. Especially as it’s clear that Judge Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to replace the mercifully expired Constitutional Luddite Justice Antonin Scalia, and a jurist of at least equally right-wing views, will receive plenty of votes from Democratic Senators, handing back to Republicans a five-vote majority on the High Court after they stonewalled for a year on Obama’s nominee for the vacant seat, not even granting him a hearing by the Senate Judicial Committee.

But surely the stupidest of all the Democratic leadership policies in this year of crisis, as President Trump and the Republicans in Congress seek to undo not just what few significant progressive actions were taken during eight years of the Obama administration, but even what’s left of the New Deal legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, has been the craven, pathetic and self-defeating effort to avoid accepting the blame for Trump’s November victory.

Instead of looking for the real reasons for the Democratic Party’s voter-base collapse, especially in traditionally blue working-class states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the loss of half the white women’s vote, and the tepid support of trade unionists and blacks, instead of acknowledging the smug, shitty campaign run by Hillary Clinton, instead of admitting the damage done by the corrupt sabotage of the Sanders campaign, instead of admitting the role of the party’s failure, through the entire Obama presidency and the Clinton presidency before it, and even during the Bush presidency when Congress was in the hands of the Democrats, to fight for policies that would have combated growing income inequality and fought for working people’s needs, the party leadership has decided to blame it all on Russia.

Russia! A country that is no longer communist, that poses no territorial or military threat to Europe but wants to become an integral part of the European economy, a country that has no foreign bases, except in Syria, and that has no deep water navy patrolling all the seven seas, with drones and special forces bombing and raiding countries around the globe, as does the US.

So we have all kinds of charges being made based upon leaks by Democratic appointees and holdovers in the various intelligence agencies, claiming, without any evidence being shown, that the Russians “hacked” the US election, that Donald Trump and his campaign secretly worked with Russian intelligence, or negotiated secret back-door deals with Russia behind the Obama administration’s back, and that Donald Trump is somehow being blackmailed by Russia. The claims are epic, but they are also unsupported by facts.

Did the Russians try to hack into DNC and RNC computers? No doubt, just as the US surely tries to hack into the computers of the Russian political parties, not to mention the Kremlin itself. But Wikileaks insists that Russia was not the source of the DNC emails it released that proved so damaging to the Clinton campaign, saying those documents were leaked by an insider — apparently Seth Rich, the young DNC staffer who was murdered in July under very suspicious circumstances.

Did the Russians try to influence the US election? Who knows, but let’s be honest at least: Congressionally-funded organizations like USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy helped to fund huge protests in Russia against Putin 2011, and also helped earlier throw a close re-election campaign to Boris Yeltsin. In fact, interfering in the elections of other contries has been a long-time practice by the US government.

In any event, the Democratic Party leadership’s obsessive focus on blaming the Russians for their catastrophic loss to Donald Trump and the Republicans in November is a truly stupid idea. The only people who believe it are hard-core Democrats who are going to vote for Democratic candidates no matter how corrupt and two-faced they are. Nobody else cares these days about Russia. In fact, many independents, and even many Republican voters, openly admire Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Most leftist Democrats and progressives in and outside the party — the people who were the core of the Sanders movement — aren’t buying the DNC’s Russia story either. Meanwhile, most of the party’s base, or its erstwhile base — workers of all races, unemployed or underemployed blacks and hispanics, struggling single mothers, financially strapped college students and the like, could care less about Russia and what it did or didn’t do during the campaign. A common refrain one hears is, “If the Russians exposed Hillary Clinton’s emails and her secret paid speeches to the big Wall Street banks, good for them! Someone had to do it!”

So what is the DNC accomplishing through this silly attempt to revive the kind of Russia-bashing we haven’t seen since the McCarthyism of the ‘50s and early ‘60s? Worse than nothing. The party and its top elected officials look ridiculous, and the people that the party needs so desperately to win back are left wondering why they should care about the Democratic Party at all, since it’s not rallying them with a call to arms for expanding and defending Social Security and establishing Medicare for All, not (except for Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard) standing with the Standing Rock Sioux against a dangerous and craven pipeline, not refusing to accept another Scalia clone as Supreme Court Justice, and not even demanding an end to US military involvement in the Middle East and provocations of Russia along that country’s western border and of China in the South China Sea, and certainly not vowing to sever its corrupt tie to large corporate interests.

A party that is that detached from the wishes and demands of the electorate, and of its own discouraged and angry base, is not a party that’s going to be around much longer.

At least one can hope.

The Age of Schoolyard Politics – Trauma, Individualism and the Hope in Collaboration

Jilly Ballistic and Al Diaz_CP

By Jilly Ballistic and Albert Diaz, Photo by Yoav Litvin

 

America Today

Within the first month of assuming power, Donald Trump and his administration have targeted women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQI people, Indigenous communities, the poor, the elderly, Black and Brown people, scientists and artists. They regularly villainize the media, ridicule the left, marginalize and criminalize dissent and promote an atmosphere of racism, fear and distrust that has epitomized in a spike of vigilante violence against the usual scapegoats of American society.

Donald Trump is a bully and a notorious sexual predator. He roams American society as if it were a schoolyard and picks on the different, the independent, the fearless and the delicate.

Fear empowers and arouses him.

Trump’s beneficiaries are the millionaires and billionaires, the military industrial complex, the police, corporations, the fossil fuel industry, Christian zealots and racists. Trump voters who do not belong to one of these groups fell for his con, from which they will slowly yet surely awaken, enraged and in search of someone to blame.

The diagnosis- textbook fascism. The prognosis- civil and global war, ecocide, raging inequality and gross injustice.

It is clear that America, and with it the world, face a grave threat. To deny the danger out of fear, apathy, or propaganda-induced ignorance, privilege or laziness is to cooperate with these destructive forces.

But resistance is not easy or straightforward and besides bemoaning our collective misfortune, it is important to strategize. As James Baldwin said:

“The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”

In order to gain some insight into effective strategies to combat right-wing hatred, violence and divisiveness, many politicians, academics and historians compare the present with similar historical precedents, such as examples of fascism in Europe during the 20th century, and the long-held practices of colonialism, slavery and White supremacy.

However, we as humans within a civilization also carry in each and every one of our cells a biological history, which is an expression of our evolutionary successes and failures as social animals, i.e. of behavioral strategies that have proved efficient for our survival and procreation as a species. Thus, in order to break the cycle of abuse, violence and inequality, it is important to examine the behaviors that preserve it.

Trauma and affiliation

Being shunned or cast out can lead to profound misery. The structure and function of our brains clearly indicate that humans are social animals, and that isolation has profoundly negative effects on mood and health. Studies on prisoners who were subjected to solitary confinement show severe negative physical and psychological repercussions, which have led the Center for Constitutional Rights and the United Nations to declare it as a human rights abuse that can amount to torture.

Findings in the neurosciences elucidate the effects of trauma on the brain and can guide the discovery of treatments for its victims. Understanding the neural pathways affected by trauma can also reveal novel and creative approaches to effective movement building, justice and reconciliation.

As too many children know, being bullied is a source of despair. A growing body of laboratory work shows that chronic social defeat stress (a scientific model of bullying) can lead to profound changes in brain and behavior and that social affiliation and interaction may reverse these effects. Preclinical as well as clinical work have demonstrated that re-exposure to frightening situations and people under neutral conditions, and an embrace of friendships and loved ones can blunt fear and even heal the negative impacts of bullying.

The cycle of violence and inequality

Though our empathy leads us to focus on the misery of the abused, bullies themselves are more often than not victims too. Studies show that those who engage in abusive behavior were likely abused themselves, probably during early life. Thus, bullies naturally and tragically preserve a cycle of violence. This is applicable for individuals as well as certain societies.

But rage does not necessarily lead down a single path. Victims of abuse can cope with their trauma in two ways. They can either channel their rage toward weaker elements in society and in so doing perpetuate the never ending cycle of division and abuse, or they can stand up to their abusers, who are stronger than them. The first option of picking on the weak is easy and can be a solitary endeavor; victims become abusers and in so doing feel empowered. The second option of fighting one’s oppressors poses a greater challenge and requires courage, resolve and social skills, as abusers are usually stronger and more formidable than their victims. For this purpose, victims must join forces and collaborate with fellow victims so that together they may form a winning strategy to overcome their oppressors. In so doing they would break the cycle of violence by refusing to become bullies themselves.

Individualism as a hoax

Western capitalist society is predicated on the notion of individual mobility within a predetermined hierarchy. Success is measured by the distance one has travelled away from his/her origins, family, community and roots. Capitalism requires individuation and consequent separation and glorifies the reinvented “self-made” man/woman as its hero.

Hailed as a triumph for freedom, individualism is idealized while collaboration within an egalitarian collective is frowned upon. We are told that the pillars of our society were/are “lone geniuses” who beat all the “odds” that were stacked against them. But these notions are not only factually and historically false, as many “lone geniuses” were/are highly dependent on others for financial, emotional and intellectual support, as well as base their own accomplishments on those of others; they also go against the very nature of our humanity as a social species.

In our profit-driven individualistic society, seeking out help and guidance is considered a flaw, while failure is always personal and never systemic. As such, individualism divides people and serves as a tool for supporting a status quo whereby certain classes remain at the top while others linger hopelessly at the bottom. In this environment, the only coping mechanism left for victims of oppression is to repress those who are weaker and more vulnerable, perpetuating a societal cycle of bullying, violence and misery.

The hope of collaboration

A collective, such as a sports team provides a background which not only nurtures genius, but also provides the ‘set’ for exceptional talent to shine, giving each individual a shared channel and joint purpose. Independence within such a collective is meaningless, and therefore the individual prerogatives lost are gained as extended reach. It is only the unifying goal that enables people to achieve their potential and transforms an assortment of individuals into a winning collective.

The human race is in a state of crisis. Inequality is growing, our planet is dying and we are divided, lonely and frightened. Abandoning notions of individualism within a rigid hierarchical system and embracing egalitarian collaboration and movement building can lead to the formation of novel, transformative and sustainable approaches, which can break the cycle of violence and inequality and ward off bullies like Trump who seek to abuse and exploit others. It is past time to embrace our collaborative human nature, and selflessly place our faith in ourselves as a democratic collective with a real hope for a future on this planet.

The Myth of Tax Rates: How the Rich Get Richer

SHARMINI PERIES: Michael, in your new book, J is for Junk Economics,  we are going to talk about Trump’s plan to lower taxes. He has said that he would reduce corporate taxes from 35% to 15%. The 35% itself is a bit of a myth, because I don’t think there are too many corporations out there who do pay the 35%. But he’s going to reduce the number of tax brackets as well, he says, from seven to three.

And your myth number 11, which is progressive income taxes should be abolished in favor of flat tax, is a myth, just one tax rate for everyone. Does this make any sense to you?

MICHAEL HUDSON: It certainly makes sense if you’re a member of the 1%, and you want to avoid paying taxes. You want the taxes to be paid by the 99%. That’s their dream. If you want to see where Trump is moving, look at what the United States neoliberals advised Russia to do after 1991, when they promised to create an ideal economy. Russia was under the impression that the neoliberal advisors were going to make Russia as rich as the United States. What they really did was create a kleptocracy that was virtually tax-free.

On the flat tax, the more you compress the tax rates, the more you untax where the income is really made, at the top of the pyramid. Most income is made by the top 5%, or 10%. If you compress the tax rates, then basically you shift the tax burden more onto the lower earners.

SHARMINI PERIES: How does that happen?

MICHAEL HUDSON: The majority of taxes are paid by the 10 percent. I’ll give you an example. From 2008 to 2016 all the growth in the American economy, all the growth in national income, was earned just by the wealthiest 5% of the population. So they got all the growth. 95% of the population didn’t grow. If you can get a flat tax or other lower tax, as Trump is suggesting, then this richest 5% will be able to keep even more money. That means that the 95% will be even poorer than they were before, relative to the very top.

Trump’s junk economics is the illusion that if we cut the taxes on the wealthiest brackets, it’ll all trickle down. But it doesn’t trickle down. What do the 5%, or the 1% actually use their money for? They lend it back to the economy at large, they load it down with debt. They make their money by lending to the bottom 95%, or the bottom 99%. When you give them more after-tax income, it enables them to buy even more control of government, even more control of election campaigns. They’re not going to spend this money back into the goods-and-services economy.jjunkecon

They’re going to spend the money on buying more corporate shares, more bonds, or spend the money abroad buying foreign bonds and foreign companies. They’re not going to spend it on the domestic economy.

The average wage earner will get a little more break from marginally lower taxes. But the plan to finance these tax cuts is to cut back social services, or privatize the economy and treat it as an offset. So wage-earners are going to have to spend much more of their income on the higher cost of public services, education, healthcare, and everything else. Meanwhile, the economy is to be deregulated, so consumers will pay more to the monopolies, and to the banks. These higher costs will eat up the a little bit of a tax break they get. There will to be a redistribution of wealth upward, not downward.

SHARMINI PERIES: The seven categories of tax brackets we have now haven’t really been progressive, given the loopholes. Even the Warren Buffetts of the world are saying, “You know, I pay less taxes than my secretary.” How does that figure in your book, and related tax mythologies that we are forced to buy into?

MICHAEL HUDSON: One basic myth is that rich people get wealthy by earning income. But that’s not how most get rich. Most of the gains of the rich people since 1945 have been “capital gains”. A large chunk is on the rising price of real estate. The stock market has soared. It has gone up 10% just since Trump was elected, hoping for tax cuts and deregulation. That’s a huge capital gain. Nobody prefers to earn income any more, because that’s taxable. Rich people prefer to make capital gains.

Since 2008 you’ve had the largest bond market rally in history, as the Federal Reserve flooded the economy with quantitative easing to drive down interest rates. Driving down the interest rates creates a boom in the stock market, and also the real estate market. The resulting capital gains not treated as income. In real estate you can avoid ever having to pay a capital gains tax, decade after decade, century after century. When you sell a property and make a capital gain, you simply turn around and buy a new property. The gain is not taxed. It’s called “preserving your capital investment” – which goes up and up in value with each transaction.

If you’re a wealthy heir with a trust fund, and you sell stocks, make your 10% gains since Donald Trump, and then you buy other stocks, you can avoid paying taxes. And if your accountant registers your wealth offshore in a Panamanian fund, like Russian kleptocrats do – and as more and more Americans do – you don’t have to pay any tax at all, because it’s not American income, it’s foreign income in an enclave without an income tax. That’s the “magic” of double-taxation treaties: you can shop around for the lowest taxer.

That’s why Apple, Microsoft and the big information technology companies have kept so much money registered abroad (although in US dollar accounts with a nominal foreign address s owner). They pretend to make their global income in Ireland. They have an office, which could be simply a postal drop box in Ireland, and claim to make all their money there, not in America.

The biggest industrial sector next to real estate is oil, gas and other mineral resources. They don’t report any taxable income, because if you depict yourself as earning a profit, you have to pay a tax on it. So, it’s all about what accountants choose to declare as profit.

Textbooks don’t teach people how to avoid paying any income tax. But that’s what an army of tax lawyers and corporate tax accountants do. Trump’s claims that he’s making taxes more democratic for the people, but it actually is a vast sucking of income and wealth upward.

SHARMINI PERIES: Let’s talk about loopholes. I earlier said that the 35% rate currently in place is hardly paid by the corporations, and you are making reference to that. Give us some examples of these loopholes, and how to address them – and if you have any solutions.

MICHAEL HUDSON: The worst loophole is what Donald Trump has talked about: the tax deductibility of interest. If you let real estate owners or corporate raiders borrow the money to buy a property or company, and then pay interest to the bondholders, you’ll load the company you take over with debt. But you don’t have to pay taxes on the profits that you pay out in this way. You can deduct the interest from your tax liability.

So if you pay interest to bondholders, and the corporate interest rate is, what it was when the process began in the 1980s – about 50% – then you can pay twice as much of your corporate cash flow to bondholders as you could pay to stockholders. But in the process you load down corporations with debt. That’s what’s happened today. It’s called debt leveraging. Trump has said that he wants to remove the tax deductibility of interest. If he can do that, fine.

But I hope that Trump knows that it’s not the President that sets tax policy. It’s Congress. He knows that the last thing the Republicans whom he helped bring into power in Congress and the Senate are going to do is to close the biggest tax loophole in the United States. That is the basis for the corporate raider and takeover movement, for the financialization of industry, for the real estate sector, and for the oil and gas sector. You’re going to have every lobbyist in the country working to water down attempts to close this loophole.

So, Trump is making a promise that sounds absolutely great. But it’s a promise that cannot be done politically, under Congress as it’s now set up. He knows it won’t be done. It’s an easy promise to make, and he can then go to the people and say, “Oh, I wanted to help you folks, but Congress wouldn’t let me.”

Trump Flip-Flops on Bubblemaking

It’s funny how an election can change the way a man sees the world. Before the election, Donald Trump thought that stocks were dangerously inflated.   In an interview on CNBC, he said “I hope I’m wrong, but I think we’re in a big, fat, juicy bubble.”

That was Candidate Trump. President Trump sees things differently. Here’s what he tweeted on Tuesday:

“Since November 8th, Election Day, the Stock Market has posted $3.2 trillion in GAINS and consumer confidence is at a 15 year high.”

See the difference?  So when Trump was running for office, stocks were headed for another thundering crash.  But now that he’s president, Happy Days Are Here Again.  The question is:  Which Trump do we believe? Are stocks in a bubble or not?

Stocks aren’t just in a bubble, they’ve completely detached from reality. According to the Wall Street Journal:

“The stock market’s valuation is now in the 96th percentile of all observations in the past 135 years based on a cyclically adjusted measure used by Yale professor Robert Shiller….

..it is no surprise that most of the S and P 500’s 17.1% annualized price gain since the bottom in 2009 has come as a result of valuation rather than real earnings growth or inflation. Justin Sibears of money manager Newfound Research calculated that a larger portion of the current bull market’s returns have come from valuation gains than any since the 1920s bubble. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Shiller price-to-earnings ratio is at the same level as observed in July 1929.” (“Economy Up, Stocks Down? Don’t Be Surprised”, Wall Street Journal)

Read that clip over again. So not only are stocks inflated to 1929-levels but, also,  the bulk of corporate earnings is currently coming from higher stock prices. In other words,  fatcat CEOs are making more dough jacking their share prices via stock buybacks than they are by selling widgets or providing services. It’s crazy. What was it that John Maynard Keynes said? He said:

“Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation.”

Was Keynes right? Is the Trump Rally a sign that the markets have become a “whirlpool of speculation”?

The Yale economist who predicted the dot.com bust and the 2008 financial crisis seems to think so. Check out this excerpt from an article on CNBC:

“The cyclically adjusted P/E (CAPE), a valuation measure created by economist Robert Shiller now stands over 27 and has been exceeded only in the 1929 mania, the 2000 tech mania and the 2007 housing and stock bubble,” Alan Newman wrote in his Stock Market Crosscurrents letter at the end of November.

Newman said even if the market’s earnings increase by 10 percent under Trump’s policies “we’re still dealing with the same picture, overvaluation on a very grand scale.” (“Market indicator hits extreme levels last seen before plunges in 1929, 2000 and 2008”, CNBC)

It’s worth noting that the article was written in early December. Since then, stocks on the Dow have added another 2,000 points which means that we have definitely entered the Danger Zone.

Of course high stock prices aren’t a problem if they accurately reflect the underlying strength of the economy. But do they?

Look at the economy.  Business investment has been abysmal, wages and incomes have either flatlined or dropped outright, personal consumption has remained weak throughout, bank lending is still well-below 2007 levels, and GDP has been stuck in the 2 percent doldrums for the entire eight years. There are actually fewer people working now than in 2007 and 95% of all new hires are crappy, part-time, service sector jobs that don’t even pay a living wage.

Does that sound like a strong economy to you?

Of course not. The economy is mired is a permanent state of near-Depression. Anyone can see that.  According to CNBC:  “The economy grew 1.6 percent for all of 2016, its worst performance since 2011.”

1.6%! The US economy is on life support and barely breathing. But if the recovery is fake, then why are  stocks in the nosebleed section?

Three reasons:

1/ Cheap money

2/ Financial engineering

3/ “Irrational exuberance” or “animal spirits”.

For eight years, the Fed has kept interest rates below the rate of inflation which means the Fed provides a small subsidy on every dollar that’s borrowed. This ‘underpricing of money’ creates a powerful incentive to borrow, but borrowing is pointless if there are no investment opportunities. And when growth is slow and wages are flat, consumption stays weak which reduces demand. Companies don’t invest in their businesses when demand is weak, because there’s no one to buy their extra widgets. So why borrow more money and pile on more red ink?

Ah, but that’s where the magic of financial engineering comes in, because even if demand is weak, companies can always borrow money at ridiculously cheap rates and repurchase their own shares. That pushes up stock prices, rewards shareholders, and allows cheery CEOs to walk away with a bundle. And the whole shebang can be carried off even when the economy is in the shitter.

It’s magic!

And we’re not talking chump change here either. According to the WSJ:  Companies “have been purchasing their own shares furiously. Companies in the S and P 500 have spent more than $2.5 trillion on share buybacks in the five years through 2016’s third quarter, according to FactSet. In the third quarter of 2016 alone buyback champs Apple Inc. and General Electric Co. repurchased $11.5 billion worth of their shares combined.”(Wall Street Journal)

It’s a buyback feeding frenzy and it’s going to get a lot worse under Trump because now we’re adding irrational exuberance to the mix of cheap money and financial engineering. So now we’re talking about some serious blowoff bubblemaking, the likes of which can take down the entire fragile economy.

Check out this blurb from the PBS News Hour:  The Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen  “from just over 18,000 on Election Day to breaking 21,000 this week. In fact, it jumped by 1,000 points in just 24 days.”

We are experiencing the biggest post-election day rally on record. Stocks are grossly overvalued, traders are euphoric, and Wall Street is in a state of pure rapture.

“Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau,” said the jubilant Yale economist Irving Fisher on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash.

Is that where we’re headed?  It sure looks like it to me.

How do we explain the hysteria that has swept across the country and pushed stocks into the stratosphere?

Two words: Donald Trump.

Trump has promised the investor class unlimited accommodation, more treats and less rules for Wall Street. He’s promised behemoth tax cuts, massive government spending, and fewer regulations. He’s transformed a heady “easy money-poorly regulated” environment into the Wild, Wild West where anything goes and the sky’s the limit.  He’s going to dump $1 trillion into fiscal stimulus to rev up consumer spending and beef up corporate profits.  He’s going to allow tax cheats to bring $2 trillion in corporate profits back into the country to accelerate stock buybacks and stretch prices to the limit.  He’s going to slash corporate tax rates and fatten the bottom line for America’s biggest businesses. And he’s going to gut Dodd-Frank, the “onerous” regulations that were put in place following the 2008 financial implosion, to prevent another economy-decimating cataclysm.

That’s why stocks are on a tear,  it’s because Uncle Sugar is back in town and everyone is going to get well again.

But how does all this square with the astute observations made by Candidate Trump? Is this is the same Donald Trump who, before the election, said that conditions were so perilous that the country was headed for a “very massive recession” and that “it’s a terrible time right now” to invest in the stock market?  Is this the Donald Trump who said “I think we’re in a big, fat, juicy bubble”?   Is this the Donald Trump who said, “if you raise interest rates even a little bit, (everything’s) going to come crashing down?”

It is. It’s the very same person.

Isn’t it amazing how things change when a man becomes president?

The Vision and Legacy of Berta Cáceres: an Interview with Berta Zúñiga Cáceres and Laura Zúñiga Cáceres

Laura and Bertita_Credit_Beverly Bellcc.JPG

Caption: Berta Zuniga Cáceres, Laura Zuniga Cáceres, and Gustavo Castro Soto presenting on “the Revolutions of Berta Cáceres” at the opening session of the international Forum on Emancipatory Paradigms. Havana, January 10, 2017. Credit: Beverly Bell]

One year ago, Berta Cáceres was murdered by the national and local Honduran government and a multinational dam company, with at least the tacit support of the US. Last September, all the evidence Cáceres’ family had collected over many months was stolen, almost certainly by the government. The government has also refused to share information with the family and to allow independent parties like the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to help with the process. 

Please contact your US congressperson to urge him or her to endorse the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, which is being re-introduced today, March 2, 2017. It compels the US government to cut military aid to Honduras until it improves its human rights record. Please spread the call to your networks, too.

The legacy of Cáceres’ vision and work lives on. Here, two of her daughters discuss Cáceres’ political, spiritual, and intellectual heritage.

Beverly Bell: How do you see your mother’s legacy?

Berta Zúñiga Cáceres: It’s a legacy of strong commitment and also many accomplishments. What stands out most is how Berta was able to recover identity, culture, spirituality and cosmovision for indigenous peoples, specifically the Lenca people. This translated into organizing Lenca communities to confront development models that conflict with indigenous ways of understanding the world.

In her 44 years, she achieved so many things – of course, as part of collective work. She didn’t view her role in a top-down way, as in “I’m saving the people,” but rather she recognized the values that were already there but had been made invisible. These related to popular communication, political training, and principles of anti-capitalism, anti-patriarchy, and anti-racism – both within the organization and in society at large. She was always very clear about these principles, above all regarding women.

Laura Zúñiga Cáceres: One of the things my mom leaves behind is the necessity of questioning the status quo, and from there, of using effective actions to confront the status quo. That’s why it’s so important to get organized collectively, to magnify the impact of those actions.

One of the most beautiful things about my mom was her rebelliousness against economic and cultural systems, against imposed social roles. She struggled based on her own way of seeing the world, but was also enriched by dialogue with people who saw things differently than she did. All this work was done starting from the point of view of strengthening the collective, and of bringing out the best in people.

BZC: One thing that’s so important, especially for young people, is to feel that they’re actors in their own history, to see that things don’t just happen but rather they happen because we as human beings construct our own history. Berta never became paralyzed by the world or conformed to it, because she lived by the principle that you have to struggle for the world that you want.

She insisted that all people must take responsibility for this historic moment we find ourselves in. And taking responsibility means acting, it means doing difficult work. Sometimes we might lose our way, but this is the only way to change it.

LZC: Another thing that my mom had was the capacity to be happy, to not let herself be put down by anyone but to be joyful. Sometimes it was hard, but in the middle of any situation, instead of saying, “What’s happening is so terrible,” she would laugh. It was another tool of her rebellion, and was also a way of constructing new ways of living.

BB: Many people see COPINH’s work as defensive: the defense of water, land, indigenous peoples, etc. But we know that there’s a broader vision. I think it’s the depth and integration of this vision that distinguishes COPINH, along with the Zapatistas, Sandinistas, and some other revolutionary movements. What can you say about that alternative vision?

BZC: It’s a very rich vision and one that exists among many indigenous peoples. It has to do with building a logic that’s completely opposed to the hegemonic way of thinking that we’re always taught. The vision and proposals are defiant, totally different than the academic, patriarchal, racist, positivist vision of the world. They include relations between people that are much more communitarian and collective, and that also have a strong relationship to the global commons and to nature, defying the dominant anthropocentric vision. They relate to spirituality and the relationships we have with all living beings – a holistic vision of life.

Indigenous people find themselves battling extractivism, companies, mining, because that’s the battleground where these different ways of knowing, of feeling, of cosmovision play out.

This is the wealth of indigenous peoples. But it also represents a threat for the economic model that’s based on profits and money, and that’s developed through repression and exclusion.

LZC: A system that’s this violent is always going to require a large amount of defensive work, which takes a lot of energy. It’s very hard to create things proactively, because you’re always just struggling to survive. And that’s a big victory for capitalism.

As indigenous people, we have a culture of resistance and rebellion which is what has allowed us to survive. We challenge the system using creativity, a different kind of logic, and the recovery of our history. This goes beyond direct confrontation with the system. Our creativity, our history, and also our struggle are implicit in everything we do.

With COPINH, our ancestral, indigenous cosmovision allows us to imagine another world.

BB: What does democracy mean for you? What vision of democracy does COPINH have?

LZC: The word “democracy” has been distorted. It’s excluded indigenous peoples, negated them.

The depth of real democracy lies in what COPINH does: building indigenous councils and grassroots assemblies from the most local level all the way to the general assembly [where all members discuss and vote on key issues]. The ability to give your opinion, to speak, in all spaces and at all levels, is so important. It’s is an opportunity for all people to participate and be included – and not just as people, but as living beings.

This involves the capacity not only to speak, but to transform your own reality.

BB: Would it make sense to you to take the vision you’re talking about in local and communitarian terms, and extend it to national and transnational political and economic systems? Or would this be contradictory to your vision of building from below?

BZC: Whatever it is we decide to build – including to destroy and reconstruct global structures – if it is to be done in an authentic way, it must begin with a dialogue in the communities, locally, and then move regionally and globally.

BB: Is there something else you’d like to add?

LZC: I want to add that the struggle of indigenous peoples, and also of other sectors, is a struggle for life. We’re protecting the possibility that we may continue living in this world.

We also have to seek happiness, in a collective way. We believe that it’s possible to live differently, to have harmony for all people and not just for a few.

Translated by Tanya Kerssen.

Trump Diaries: Stone Cold Perjury

Entering the sixth week of the Trump presidency it has become clear that we are engaged in a battle to define reality.  It has become clear that the White House has chosen mainstream media as its foil and bogeyman.  If things don’t go as planned, blame the media.  If his indecipherable foreign policy explodes, blame the media.  If his legislative agenda fails to deliver, blame the media. 

Apparently, the Democratic Party does not offer enough resistance to play its traditional role as the party of opposition. 

This is the sixth installment of the Trump Diaries. 

DAY 36:  WHITE HOUSE OBSTRUCTION

February 24, 2017

The Associated Press obtains a Department of Homeland Security draft report that does not support the president’s Muslim travel ban. [1] The finding is not what the White House ordered and is sure to raise the ire of the man at the top.

The Washington Post reports that Chief of Staff Reince Preibus contacted the FBI, other intelligence personnel, reporters and members of congress to orchestrate denials of Trump connections to Russia.  The contacts included Senator Richard Burr, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Representative Devin Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee.  Both complied with the White House request yet deny that their ongoing investigations would be compromised.

Something is rotten in Trumpland.

Representative Darrell Issa of California becomes the first Republican to call for a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection.

DAY 37:  TRUMP CUTS NATIONAL DEBT

February 25, 2017

The president claims to have miraculously cut the national debt by twelve billion dollars in his first month in office.  He is incensed that mainstream media has not reported the miracle.  In Barrack Obama’s first month the debt increased by approximately $200 billion.  Of course, Obama took office with the global economy tottering on the brink of collapse.  The current debt figure is basically unrelated to Trump since he has not yet passed a budget. [2]

There can be no doubt that Wall Street loves Trump as Trump loves Wall Street but the national debt has not yet weighed in.

DAY 38:  RIGGED SYSTEM

February 26, 2017

The president engages in an early morning rant against the Democratic National Committee for electing former Secretary of Labor Tom Perez as chair.  He labels the process “rigged” and claims Representative Keith Ellison never had a chance.

Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders endorsed Ellison while Perez enjoyed the backing of the Clinton-Obama establishment.  Adding fuel to Trump’s fire, Sanders suggested he might not be willing to give his email list of supporters to the DNC.

Why should he?  This high-profile selection of a DNC chair demonstrates that the middling, do-nothing, free trade, neoliberal Wall Street loyalists of the party establishment have learned nothing from a devastating loss in the presidential election.  This party paved the road for a Trump presidency by neglecting the working class, promoting free trade and collecting unconscionable Wall Street contributions while pretending to represent the common people.

Soon enough, the stalwarts of the Republican Party will cut ties with the Donald and the Democrats will revert to identity politics.  If ever there was a time for a third party challenge, the time is now.

Hold on to that mailing list, Bernie, and send a message to the DNC:  Can you hear us now?

DAY 39:  THE NUMBERS DON’T ADD UP

February 27, 2017

The Donald announces his intention to increase military spending by $54 billion and offset the increase with cuts to non-military spending.  The cuts will not include border patrol, ICE or law enforcement.  It will include foreign aid, environmental protection and other “unnecessary” expenditures.

Add the estimated $20 billion to build the wall and we can say goodbye to rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure.  Why build a bridge when we can build a bomb to knock it down?  Gone is any hope that Trump’s version of national health care provides universal coverage at an affordable price.  We all knew that was bullshit anyway.

The president renews his promise to spend big on infrastructure and his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin assures us that Social Security and Medicare are still off the table.  That might give us comfort but the numbers don’t add up.

The first rule of the con:  Never ever believe anyone who says, “Believe me.”

“Mexico will pay for the wall, believe me – 100%.”  NY Times, January 6, 2017.

“We’re going to knock the hell out of ISIS.  Believe me.”  CNN, April 6, 2016.

“I have great respect for women.  Believe me.”  LA Times, May 27, 2016.

“I’m the only who is going to save Social Security.  Believe me.”  National Review, February 13, 2016.

“Believe me, we’re going to protect our Medicare.”  Trump Rally, October 11, 2016.

No, Donald, we do not believe you.  We never have believed you.  Even your followers know better than to believe you.  You’re a con man.  But the key to any successful con is to make a clean escape.  You can’t escape this time, Donald.  There’s nowhere to hide.

DAY 40:  THE EARTH SHIFTED

February 28, 2017

President Donald Trump makes his first address to a joint session of congress.  Like Jack Nicholson reading Walt Whitman, where the words don’t match the speaker, Trump delivers a striking contrast to the daily Donald.  Gone are the vilifications of real and imagined enemies at home and abroad.  Gone is the dark vision of American carnage.  A new and gentler Trump issues a call for unity in “condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”

We can all agree with the president’s declaration that 2016 was the year “the earth shifted beneath our feet.”  Where we disagree is on the results of that quake.

“It’s a total disaster.” [3]

Trump raises hope for comprehensive immigration reform and a trillion dollar infrastructure bill that would rely on public and private funding.  Both initiatives would have to overcome stiff resistance from his own party.  There is a limit to private funding that would place tolls on roads and bridges and congress approved only $787 billion when confronted with economic crisis of 2009. [4] Trying to get a trillion dollars from a Republican controlled congress is like asking Steve Bannon for a contribution to Public Broadcasting.  It ain’t happening.

Trump spells out five criteria for healthcare reform:  First, Americans with pre-existing conditions must have “access” to insurance.  The word “access” is a crack in the dam that brings the whole system crashing down.  Second, provide tax credits and health savings accounts in lieu of direct assistance.  Twenty million people just slipped through the crack.  Third, provide states with resources and flexibility.  Flexibility is the key to cutting Medicaid.  Fourth, limit malpractice damages to bring down the cost.  Republicans hate trial lawyers.  Cost savings would be negligible.  Fifth, enable people to purchase insurance across state lines.  It sounds good but it turns out insurance companies are not interested in selling across state lines.  Insurance coverage is regulated by the states even under Obamacare. [4]

“Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.”  Trump, February 27, 2017.

No, Donald.  Nobody knew – except everyone who has followed the news for the past three decades.  Sad.

Trump embraces free choice to save education.  The right to choose private for profit and religious schools, unburdened by federal mandates, special education and teacher’s unions, is the Republican prescription for eviscerating public education.

We can hardly wait for the next generation of scientists raised on biblical prophecy, alternative facts and the relative value of Moses versus Einstein.

Trump calls for unity in support of our brave men and women in blue.  He has ordered Homeland Security to create a new office to support victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces his department will no longer question police killings of citizens regardless of race, creed or conscience. [5]

Trump continues to believe we are in the midst of a historic crime wave despite all evidence to the contrary.  He is determined to be a law and order president – like Nixon.

The most disturbing theme underlying the president’s address is his overwhelming desire for greatness.

“When we celebrate our 250 years of glorious freedom, we will look back on tonight as when this new chapter of American greatness began.  The time for small thinking is over.  The time for trivial fights is behind us.”

This comes from a man who has spent the last two years in trivial pursuit of the White House.  We can only hope he devotes his time to knocking down windmills, the monsters in his mind, and leaves the rest to individuals of substance.  When presidents start thinking big, the most probable result is war.

DAY 41:  THE DOW SOARS

March 1, 2017

The Dow Jones Industrial Average soars to close above 21,000 for the first time as Trump basks in the glory of positive reviews for his presidential address to congress.

One day after a moving tribute to fallen Navy Seal Ryan Owens, controversy continues over whether the Yemen raid was “highly successful” as the president claims.  While no one doubts the courage of Ryan Owens, a great many doubt the efficacy and “success” of a mission that resulted in dozens of civilian deaths, the destruction of a $70 million helicopter and three wounded American soldiers in addition to Owens’ death. [6]

The president’s statements on the Raid in Yemen have been attempts to deflect blame and responsibility.  He has suggested his predecessor approved the mission when in fact he did not.  He has said that the generals made the decision when in fact the call was his and would not have proceeded without his approval.

If the president had hoped to put the Raid in Yemen behind him, his response all but guarantees an investigation will ensue.

The shadow of Benghazi lives.

DAY 42:  STONE COLD PERJURY

March 2, 2017

This story broke late Wednesday night; on Thursday shit hit the fan:

The Washington Post reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had communications with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak on at least two occasions during the recent presidential campaign.  The revelation stands in stark contrast to Sessions’ testimony in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. [7]

Despite the twisted, mealy-mouthed rationalizations of the Justice Department, the stone cold truth is:  Sessions flat out lied.

The story holds that Sessions met with Kislyak in July and September – a fact not disputed by the Attorney General.  On January 10, in response to questioning by Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, Sessions stated:  “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in [the Trump] campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

You cannot repair shattered glass.  Recusal from the ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia is not enough.  Resignation is not enough.  The nation’s lead law enforcement officer should be prosecuted for perjury.

As then Senator Sessions said in January 1999:  “In America…no one is above the law.”

The matter then was Bill Clinton’s sexual relations with Monica Lewinski.  The matter now is collusion with a foreign agent to defraud an American election.

Notes.

1/ “AP Exclusive:  DHS report disputes threat from banned nations” by Vivian Salama and Alicia A. Caldwell.  Associated Press, February 24, 2017.

2/ “Trump lashes out at media for failing to report debt decrease” by Michael Collins.  USA Today, February 25, 2017.

3/ “Trump says EVERYTHING is broken, awful, a disaster” by Gregory Krieg.  CNN Politics, October 15, 2016.

4/ “Trump’s Address to Joint Session of Congress, Annotated.”  NPR: Capitol Public Radio, February 28, 2017.

5/ “AG Sessions Says DOJ to ‘Pull Back’ on Department Civil Rights Suits” by Pete Williams.  NBC, February 28, 2017.

6/ “What Donald Trump left out about the Yemen raid that killed Navy SEAL Ryan Owens” by Lauren Carroll.  PolitiFact, March 1, 2017.

7/ “Sessions met with Russian envoy twice last year, encounters he later did not disclose” by Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller.  Washington Post, March 1, 2017.

Why We Shouldn’t Feel Too Optimistic If ISIS is Driven From Mosul

After Isis captured Mosul in June 2014, people in Baghdad waited in terror to see if its fighters would go on to storm the capital. There was very little to stop them as the Iraqi army in northern Iraq broke up and fled south. Many government ministers and MPs rushed to the airport and took refuge in Jordan. When an American military delegation arrived to review the defences of Baghdad, they were told by a senior Iraq official “to look to see which ministers had put fresh sandbags around their ministries. Those that have done so like myself will stay and fight; where you see old sandbags it means the minister doesn’t care because he is intending to run.”

Two and a half years later, it is Isis fighters who are battling street-to-street to hold onto west Mosul, their last big stronghold in Iraq, in the face of multiple assaults by a revived Iraqi army backed by US airpower. The last road out of the city to the west was cut by Iraqi government forces on 1 March and they have also captured one of the half-ruined bridges over the Tigris River that bisects Mosul, which they are planning to repair using US-supplied pontoons. Iraqi military units backed by some 50 US airstrikes a day are getting close to the complex of buildings that used to house the government headquarters in the centre of the city.

Iraqi officials and officers announce only advances and victories, reports that often turn out to be premature or untrue. But there is no doubt that the Iraqi security services are winning the struggle for Mosul, though fighting could go on for a long time amid the close-packed buildings and narrow, twisting alleyways. Already shelling and airstrikes are causing heavy casualties among families sheltering in cellars or beneath the stairs in their houses.

The battle will probably continue for a long time, but the capture of Mosul looks inevitable and will be a calamitous defeat for Isis. When its few thousand fighters seized the city and defeated a government garrison of 60,000 in 2014, it portrayed its victory as a sign that God was on its side. But the same logic works in reverse and today all Isis can offer its followers is a series of hard-fought defeats and withdrawals.

The crucial question concerns whether or not the fall of Mosul means the effective end of the caliphate declared by its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The caliphate’s significance was that at one time it ruled territory with a population of five or six million people in Iraq and Syria, where it sought to establish a truly Islamic State. It is this dream – or nightmare – that is now being shattered. Isis may still control some territory in Iraq and more in Syria, but it has nothing like the human and material resources it enjoyed at the height of its power when it controlled territory stretching from the Iranian border almost to the Mediterranean coast.

Isis still has some strengths, including experienced and skilful commanders leading a core of fanatical fighters numbering as many as 4,000 in west Mosul alone. They have already killed 500 and wounded 3,000 of the Iraqi security service’s best soldiers in the struggle for east Mosul, which was meant to last a few weeks and instead took three months. There is a no reason the same thing should not happen in the west of the city where the warren of streets gives the defence an advantage. Foreign fighters know they cannot blend into the population and escape, so they have no choice but to fight to the death.

Other factors work in favour of Isis: it is fighting a vast array of enemies forced into an unwilling coalition against Isis because they fear and hate it just a little bit more than they hate and fear each other. As Isis weakens and becomes less of a threat, the edgy détente between different anti-Isis forces, such as the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Kurds, will begin to fray. People in Baghdad recall that the Kurds took advantage of the defeat of the Iraqi army in 2014 to grab extensive lands long disputed between themselves and the Arabs. Once freed of the menace of Isis, non-Kurdish Iraqis will want these territories back.

In Syria, there is an even more complicated three-cornered fight between the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian Kurds and Turkey for the areas from which Isis is retreating. Turkish troops and their local proxies have just taken al-Bab, northeast of Aleppo, from Isis after a hard fought siege, and have started attacking the town of Manbij nearby, which was taken from Isis after a long battle late last year by the Syrian Kurdish People’s Mobilisation Units (YPG) and its Arab allies. As Isis is driven out, the YPG and Turkish-backed forces are left facing each other in what might be the beginning of a new Kurdish-Turkish war waged across northern Syria.

Even those familiar with the complexities and shifting alliances of the Syrian civil war are baffled by the likely outcome as the different players in Syria position themselves to take advantage of a likely attack on Raqqa, the de facto Syrian capital of Isis. Will the US continue to use the devastating firepower of its air force to support a YPG-led ground offensive? Or could the US administration under Trump take a more pro-Turkish stance and, if it did so, would the Syrian Kurds look for an alternative military alliance with Assad and his Russian backers?

The answers to such questions will decide if we are really getting towards the end of the terrible wars in Iraq and Syria that have ravaged the region since 2003 or if we are only seeing an end to a phase in the conflict. In Iraq, the government has survived the disasters of 2014 and is about to defeat Isis in Mosul, though the Baghdad administration remains spectacularly corrupt, sectarian and dysfunctional. Assad in Syria has already won a crucial victory by capturing east Aleppo, the last big urban stronghold of the armed opposition in Syria, and is evidently intending to win back the whole country.

These successes give an exaggerated idea of the real power of the Iraqi army, which owes the reversal in the military tide to the support of foreign powers and, above all, to US airpower. The same is true of the Syrian army in its reliance on Russia and Russian airstrikes. So far, the mix of cooperation and rivalry between the US and Russia in Syria that developed under President Obama has not changed much under Donald Trump.

Yet the war is not quite over. Isis has a tradition of responding to defeats on the battlefield by carrying out terrorist attacks in the region, Europe, Turkey or other parts of the world. Some spectacular atrocities would enable it once again to dominate the news agenda and show it is not beaten.

Isis may want to test the Trump administration and see if it can provoke it into an overreaction by some act of terror, just as al-Qaeda was able to do at the time of 9/11.