McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 

The war party is back in power and the odds of normal relations with Russia have dropped to zero.

The appointment of Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster to the position of national security adviser indicates that Trump has done an about-face on his most critical foreign policy issue, normalizing relations with Russia. General Michael Flynn– who recently stepped down from the post following allegations of lying to Vice President Mike Pence –was the main proponent of easing tensions with Moscow which is a position that had been enthusiastically embraced by President Donald Trump. But McMaster does not support normalizing relations with Russia, in fact,  McMaster sees Russia as a “hostile revisionist power” that “annex(es) territory, intimidates our allies, develops nuclear weapons, and uses proxies under the cover of modernized conventional militaries.” So, what’s going on? Why has Trump put a Moscow-hating hawk like McMaster in a position where he’ll be able to intensify the pressure on Russia, increase the provocations and, very likely, trigger a conflagration between the two nuclear-armed superpowers?

The appointment of McMaster is an attempt by Trump to placate his enemies in the Intel agencies and foreign policy establishment. Trump is signaling to his adversaries that he will cooperate in carrying out their strategic agenda provided they allow him to finish his term. Trump doesn’t want to end up like Flynn nor does he want to do battle with the all-powerful deep state operatives who can launch one demeaning propaganda blitz after the other followed by years of excruciating investigations leading inevitably to a lengthy and humiliating impeachment that leaves Trump a broken, discredited shambles. That’s not how Trump wants to end his career in politics. He wants to end it on a high note, riding a wave of burgeoning affection and love.

That’s why he picked McMaster. The neocons love him, the liberal interventionists love him, the media loves him and the entire political establishment loves him.  Everyone loves him. He’s the “warrior-scholar” who ‘speaks truth to power’ and writes futuristic books on ‘generation warfare’, ‘information superiority’ and ‘predictive battlespace awareness’ all of which delight his devoted admirers. The downside of McMaster is that he is a hard-boiled militarist with a driving animus towards Russia. Judging by his writing on the topic, I would expect a broader and more lethal conflict to flare up in either Syria or Ukraine as soon as he gets settled in his new job.

Bottom line: The removal of Flynn has convinced Trump that powerful elements within the national security state have him in their crosshairs. As a result, Trump has relinquished control of foreign policy and handed the whole mess over to gladiator McMaster who will coordinate with Sec-Def General James Mattis on a new strategy to deploy US troops to East Syria and West Iraq to establish a permanent military presence in “occupied” Sunnistan. (The area will also be used for natural gas pipeline corridors connecting Qatar to the EU) The strategy in Ukraine will focus primarily on luring Russia into a long and resource-draining war that will further depress the ailing Russian economy precipitating political instability, social unrest and regime change. That is the hope at least, that Russia’s wars abroad will lead to the ousting of Vladimir Putin.

Here’s a few clips from a presentation McMaster gave at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on May 4, 2016. They help to clarify the man’s ominous world view:

“…what I’d really like to talk to you about is (the) period we’re in right now, a period of increasing risks…risks to our nation, to our allies, and really all of humanity……….

globally – the situation in connection with U.S. vital interests and security – .. is changing really in a direction that’s going to raise additional challenges to the U.S. and U.S. national security…. what we’re seeing is a shift in geopolitics in a way that imposes great dangers and has elevated the risk of a major international military crisis to the highest level in the last 70 years. A number of scholars are writing about this – Jakub Grygiel and Wess Mitchell in particular in their great recent book “Unquiet Frontier,” where they describe revisionist powers, Russia and China in particular on the Eurasian landmass, that are surrounded by weak states which are now becoming battlegrounds, areas of competition at the far reaches of American power.” (“Harbingers of Future War: Implications for the Army with Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster”, The Center for Strategic and International Studies)

We have discussed the “pivot to Asia” ad nauseam in this column. McMaster’s comments help to underscore the fact that the struggle to control the “Eurasian landmass”, the center of economic growth for the next century, is at the heart of the US imperial crusade which is now entering a new and more dangerous phase.

McMaster: “I also think Margaret MacMillan’s great essay written in 2014 making the analogy between 2014 and 1914, and really making the point that geopolitics is back; maybe our – what we might call our holiday from history in the post-Cold War period is over.”

So in McMaster’s mind, another global conflagration on a par with World War 1 is now in the making. Unlike most people, he sees this as a challenge rather than an apocalyptic event that should be avoided at all cost.

McMaster:  “I think what might have punctuated the end of the post-Cold War period is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Now, this was – this was not really a new development in terms of Russian aggression. I think you can go back to the denial-of-service attacks on the Baltic states in 2007, certainly the invasion of Georgia in 2008.”

McMaster is extremely well read and follows the news closely. He knows that Georgia attacked South Ossetia and that Putin –who was at the Olympics at the time– merely responded. Why is McMaster deliberately misleading his audience about the details? And why doesn’t he explain how the elected government of Ukraine was toppled in a CIA-State Department coup? Those facts are readily available to anyone who has seriously researched the incident.

It seems obvious that McMaster is twisting the truth to make his case against Russia.

McMaster:

“…even though it may have been apparent at least since 2008 that Russia was changing its geostrategic behavior … what we’re seeing now is we’ve awakened to, obviously, this threat from Russia, who is waging limited war for limited objectives – annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine – at zero cost, consolidating gains over that territory, and portraying the reaction by us and allies and partners as escalatory.”

The “threat from Russia”? In other words, NATO is not responsible for its relentless push eastward expanding its grip on all the former Soviet satellites in east Europe, deploying its tanks, heavy artillery, troops and missile systems right onto Russia’s doorstep. No. Instead, Russia should be blamed for its fictitious invasion of Crimea.

McMaster is basing his argument on fake facts and a convoluted interpretation of events that doesn’t square with reality. Russia is the victim of US-NATO aggression not the perpetrator.

McMaster then offers a remedy for so called ‘Russian aggression’: “…what is required to deter a strong nation that is waging limited war for limited objectives on battlegrounds involving weaker states … is forward deterrence, to be able to ratchet up the cost at the frontier, and to take an approach to deterrence that is consistent with deterrence by denial, convincing your enemy that your enemy is unable to accomplish his objectives at a reasonable cost rather than sort of an offshore balancing approach and the threat of punitive action at long distance later, which we know obviously from – recent experience confirms that that is inadequate.”

“Forward deterrence”? This needs to be clarified.

What McMaster is saying, is that, instead of threatening to retaliate at some time in the future,  the US should use ‘deterrence by denial’, that is, make it as hard and as costly as possible for Russia to achieve its strategic objectives. By defeating ISIS in Eastern Syria and establishing permanent US military bases, McMaster intends to prevent Russia from restoring Syria’s sovereign borders which is one of the primary goals of the mission.  The “safe zones” that Trump has talked about recently, fit perfectly with this same strategy as they undermine Moscow’s efforts to reunify the state and bring the conflict to an end.

This appears to be the plan that McMaster will pursue as national security adviser.  Expect US ground troops to be deployed to Syria as soon as the details are worked out.

More from McMaster:

“… what Russia is employing…is a sophisticated strategy…that combines conventional forces as cover for unconventional action, but a much more sophisticated campaign involving the use of criminality and organized crime, and really operating effectively on this battleground of perception and information, and in particular part of a broader effort to sow doubt and conspiracy theories across our alliance. And this effort, I believe, is aimed really not at defensive objectives, but at offensive objectives – to collapse the post-World War II, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe, and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”

The Russian strategy employs “criminality and organized crime” to effect “perception and information”?

This is just more demonization of Russia intended to make the case for war. Putin does not want a war with the US nor does he want to “collapse the post-World War II order… and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.”

Putin is a firm believer in capitalism and still participates in the G-20 and WTO. What Putin objects to is the US using its extraordinary power to topple regimes it doesn’t like spreading death and instability across the planet. That’s what he opposes, the persistent meddling that undermines global security. Is that so unreasonable?

McMaster:

“So what do all these conflicts have in common is they’re about the control of territory, people and resources. ….what we need is that synergy between the joint force, where our forces have the capability and the capacity to deter conflict and, if that fails, to resolve conflict in our interest – to protect our security and our vital interests. And that may entail imposing outcomes without the cooperation of the enemy, and that has significant implications for the Army in particular.”

In other words, we are going to continue to fight for oil and markets (our “vital interests”), we’re going to go it alone if necessary,  and if somebody tries to stop us, we’re going to annihilate them.

Isn’t that what he’s saying?

You know it is. There’s not going to be normal relations between Russia and the US on McMaster’s watch. The man believes we are in a life or death struggle with an evil enemy that wants to do us harm. That’s not the basis for building peaceful relations. It’s a justification for war.

Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump

“An Arrogant Clod” Harkening the “Downfall of Our Nation”

Three weeks ago, two longtime campus-town Democrats published a commentary in the Iowa City Press-Citizen condemning Donald Trump and his right-wing billionaire nominee (since confirmed) for United States Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.  It was a bitter assault, combining standard liberal denunciations of for-profit charter schools and educational privatization (DeVos champions both) with attacks on Trump as “an arrogant, ignorant, narcissistic clod leading us into a New Dark Age.” The two virulent liberals who penned the column wrote that Trump “does not do much reading” and “may well be responsible for the ultimate downfall of our nation” (emphasis added). They also denounced DeVos for having attended private schools and sending her children to private schools.

I hold no brief for the vicious and idiotic Donald Trump, his terrible Education Secretary, corporate “school reform,” or the charter school crowd, God knows.  At the same time, however, I have no love for Democrats who work themselves into a lather about right-wing neoliberal policy when such policy is advocated and conducted by Republicans but who remain creepily silent when it is carried out by their own preferred major capitalist party.

“Presiding Over a Further Dismantling of Public Education”

The Press-Citizen column sparked my curiosity.  Did the authors dash off a similarly angry and personal assault on the “vacuous to repressive neoliberal” Barack Obama’s appointment of the militant charter school advocate and corporate schools hero Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education in early 2009?  Duncan’s record as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS)  from 2001 to 2009 as a chilling reminder that the neoliberal era Democrats have not very far behind Republicans when it came to assaulting public education in alliance with corporate interests. As Henry Giroux and Kenneth Saltman reflected,  Duncan “presided over the implementation and expansion of an agenda that militarized and corporatized the third largest school system in the nation, one that is about 90 percent nonwhite. Under Duncan, Chicago took the lead in creating public schools run as military academies, vastly expanded draconian student expulsions, instituted sweeping surveillance practices, advocated a growing police presence in the schools, arbitrarily shut down entire schools, and fired entire school staffs.”  The blog Schooling in Capitalist America provided a useful take on Obama’s hoops buddy Arne Duncan’s Big Business ties and service in Chicago:

“Prior to his role as Chicago schools chief, Duncan has been the education program coordinator at Ariel Capital Management, sponsor of a Chicago charter school that boasted of its desire to ‘make the stock market a topic of dinner table conversation.’ Duncan headed the infamous Chicago ‘Renaissance 2010’ plan. Established by the  Commercial Club, a century-old Chicago institution comprised of the largest and most powerful corporations in the city. With the help of the corporate consulting firm A.T. Kearny, the Commercial Club unleashed one of the most ambitious school privatization schemes since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Renaissance 2010 called for the closing of one hundred public schools and reopening them as privatized charter schools. It was a page taken directly out of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) playbook. NCLB, passed in 2001, created a host of unattainable achievement goals measured through massive amounts of high-stakes standardized tests. Under these new unachievable targets, schools are set up to fail and when they do the federal government swoops in and ‘restructures’ them. Like NCLB, Renaissance 2010 targeted schools that have ‘failed’ to meet Chicago’s accountability standards as defined by high-stakes standardized tests and turned them over to non-profit and often for-profit charters.”

“Another integral part of the plan is to hand control over schools away from teachers, their unions, and community residents and into the hands of the business sector. At least two-thirds of the newly opened schools will be nonunion. The Commercial Club raised $25 million from the corporate sector to close public schools and reopen them under the governance of an unelected board called the New Schools for Chicago organization. The NSC is appointed by the Commercial Club and composed of leading corporate representatives and Chicago Public Schools executives. The ‘civic leaders” on what the Chicago Sun-Times dubbed a ‘shadow cabinet’ include the chairs of McDonald’s Corporation and Northern Trust Bank, the retired chair of the Tribune Corporation, and the CEO of the Chicago Community Trust—a major corporate foundation…Before he became the [U.S.] education secretary, Arne Duncan was an enthusiastic advocate for the Commercial Club’s scheme, privatizing Chicago public schools at a rate of about twenty schools per year. Revealing his corporate-minded orientation to schooling, Duncan told a room full of businessmen at the Commercial Club’s ‘Free to Choose, Free to Succeed: The New Market in Public Education’ symposium in May of 2008, ‘I am not a manager of 600 schools. I’m a portfolio manager of 600 schools and I’m trying to improve my portfolio.’”

Consistent with his earlier history and with his boss’s militantly neoliberal world view , Duncan’s six- year reign atop the Department of Education was marked by consistent support of charter schools, a relentless obsession with standardized testing, and endless arguments with teacher unions. The Chicago-based education professor Pauline Lipman summarized Duncan’s federal legacy on the Real News Network in the fall of 2015:

It’s really the Chicago model that Duncan has expanded as a national education agenda…the main features of that are…Increased testing, expansion of charter schools through the Race To The Top initiative, paying teachers based on student test scores. And in general shifting education more and more towards business methods, business people in charge of education, creating more influence for corporate think tanks, neoliberal think tanks, venture philanthropies like the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation in the national education agenda. And shifting public education increasingly toward preparing students for corporate workforce needs rather than a broad public education….So really, if we look at Duncan’s legacy, we can see that he has presided over a further dismantling of public education in the U.S.

Private School Histories

Since the Press-Citizen commentators condemn prospective public school authorities for having private school histories and loyalties, I will add for what it’s worth that both Duncan and Obama are products of elite private schools. They are also both parents of students sent to such schools.  Duncan attended the prestigious and expensive University of Chicago Laboratory School (UC Lab) from kindergarten through twelfth grade and finished his schooling with a bachelor’s degree at Harvard College. With his “school reform” work done in Washington, Duncan returned to Chicago, where he has joined the board of Aerial Capital Management and enrolled both of his children in UC Lab, where high school tuition is $33,558.

Obama attended the elite private Punahou Academy in Honolulu.  He went on to complete his formal education at two top private institutions: Columbia University, and Harvard Law. Before he moved into the White House in 2009, Obama’s two daughters attended UC Lab.  During his presidency, the Obama girls attended the expensive and private Sidwell Friends School ($39,360 per student each year including hot lunch for middle and high school). Maybe Barack’s new kite-surfing buddy, billionaire playboy Richard Branson, will help the Obamas send their daughters to Oxford.

(Full disclosure: I am a product of UC Lab from kindergarten through sixth grade.  My parents paid $800 a year to send me there during the second half of the Nineteen Sixties – that scary decade the deeply conservative presidential candidate Obama made sure to distance himself from while praising Ronald Reagan. It was all public schools after that, replete with a descent into Marxism.)

Now You’re Mad? This Ain’t “Late-Shaming”

I searched the archives of the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the local University of Iowa’s Daily Iowan to see if either of the anti-Trump/anti-Devos commentary authors (locally prolific editorial and letter-to-the-editor writers for many years) published any comparably critical commentaries either when Duncan was appointed or afterwards in relation to Obama and Duncan’s neoliberal education policies. No such commentaries by either of the local “left” Op Ed writers could be found. This is consistent with the fact that one of authors could be seen driving around Iowa City in a pickup truck bearing an Obama bumper sticker as recently as 2014.  It is consistent also with the other writer’s response when a local antiwar leftist asked her what she thought about Obama’s relentless  child-killing drone attacks across the Muslim world (what Noam Chomsky has rightly called “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern time”): “if Obama hadn’t done it, a Republican president would have.”

On “social media,” I have been admonished not to “late-shame” young left-leaning liberals who have come to oppose policies advanced by Trump that liberals did not oppose under Obama.  It’s sound advice, I think, but this isn’t about late-shaming.  It’s about double-standards and hypocrisy. I’m not talking about folks in their late teens and early twenties here. What, really, are we on the actual Left supposed to say to senior liberals and progressives who have shown again and again that they simply won’t get serious about criticizing and opposing a corporatist, Wall Street-captive, neoliberal, militarist, and imperial presidency unless that presidency is headed by a Republican like George W. Bush or Donald Trump?   The partisan double-standard they have demonstrated again and again makes them dubious allies in the struggle for peace, justice, democracy, and environmental sanity. As I recently wrote in an online note to such older and situationally selective, morally suspect “progressives”:

Don’t like war? Why did you keep your mouth shut when Obama plunged Libya into chaos, when he bombed Bola Boluk, and as he conducted the arch-terrorist targeted-assassination drone campaign?

Don’t like high financial corporatism and economic inequality? Why didn’t you hit the streets against Obama’s epic bailout of the reckless Wall Street parasites in 2009? Why didn’t you fight at least for a financial transaction tax or for the nationalization of the leading financial institutions? Why didn’t you denounce the fake-progressive neoliberal corporatist so-called Affordable Care Act and struggle on behalf of single-payer national health insurance, or at least a public option? Why didn’t you join the Occupy Movement, the great populist anti-Wall Street uprising that Obama helped crush in the fall and winter of 2011, even as he stole some of its rhetoric for the 2012 presidential campaign…this even while economic disparity climbed during to the absurd point where the top tenth of the upper U.S. 1 Percent has a much wealth as the bottom U.S. 90 percent? (In Obama-mad Iowa City, middle-class liberal Democrats responded to the local Occupy chapter with arrogant disdain.)  Where were you when we learned that 95 percent of the nation’s new income went to the top 1 percent during his first term?

Want to defend workers? Great, but why didn’t you do anything to press Obama to honor his campaign pledge to push for the re-legalization of union organizing through card-check authorization (the rapidly abandoned and forgotten Employee Free Choice Act)? Why didn’t you demand progressive action when we learned that 94 percent of the jobs created during Obama’s presidency were part time and/or temporary contract positions (“McJobs”)?

Excited against Trump’s assault on immigrants? You said little about Obama’s status as a stealth record-setting Deporter-in-Chief.

Don’t like border walls built to keep out Mexican immigrants? Then why didn’t you push Obama to tear down the extensive walls that already exist on the U.S. southern border – walls that have channeled untold thousands of desperate migrants into hazardous and often fatal desert treks? (As Tod Miller reported on TomDipatch and AlterNet last August, “one of the  greatest ‘secrets’ of the 2016 election campaign [though it should be common knowledge] is that the border wall already exists. It has for years and the fingerprints all over it aren’t Donald Trump’s but the Clintons’, both Bill’s and Hillary’s.” The neoliberal Democrat Bill Clinton and his Republican allies in Congress initiated southern border wall construction in 1994 to contain migration sparked by their North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which displaced millions of Mexican farmers with federally subsidized U.S. agricultural exports. U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton voted along with Republicans for the 2006 Safe Fence Act.  Many hundreds of miles of border wall have gone up since then, with construction continuing through the Obama years).

Do you seriously believe Barack ‘All of the Above’ Obama was some kind of great leader on the climate issue?…what, because he acknowledged the validity of climate science?  Did you take to the streets against his pro-drilling and pro-fracking policies as the planet got dangerously warmer during each of his years in office? No, liberals, you did not, for the most part. On this and so many other issues, the very great majority of just sat and clucked about what a great victory it was in and of itself to have a smooth-talking, silver-tongued, outwardly sophisticated, Harvard Law-minted first half- white president and you moaned about the “obstructionist” Republicans who supposedly prevented (the arch-neoliberal and deeply conservative) Obama from being the true progressive he (you  foolishly insisted) really wanted to be (this even though Obama tacked to the corporate and imperial right from the beginning of his presidency, when he had Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress).

Blame Russia, Avoid Self-Criticism

Arrogant liberals’ partisan hypocrisy, overlaid with heavy doses of bourgeois identity politics and professional-class contempt for working class whites, is no tiny part of how and why the Democrats have handed all three branches of the federal government along with most state governments and the white working class vote to the ever more radically reactionary, white-nationalist Republican Party. Ordinary people can small the rank two-facedness of it all, believe it or not. They want nothing to do with snotty know-it-all liberals who give dismal dollar Dems a pass on policies liberals only seem capable of denouncing when they are enacted by nasty Republicans.

Contrary to my online rant, much of the liberal Democratic campus-town crowd seems to feel if anything validated – yes, validated. of all things – by the awfulness of Herr Trump. It exhibits no capacity for shame or self-criticism, even in the wake of their politics having collapsed at the presidential, Congressional, and state levels.

It is being assisted in that egregious failure by a media-fed mania for citing dubious reports from the “intelligence community” to blame Trump’s victory on alleged Russian interference in “our [purported great] democracy.”  Screaming “Russia did it” while citing the CIA (of all sources) is apparently liberals’ favorite new way of avoiding any serious confrontation with how their corporate and imperial party of choice (the dismal demobilizing dollar Democrats) opened the barn door to Trump and the GOP. The formula is this: say “Russia elected Trump” along with racism, sexism and “stupid uneducated white people” and feel both confirmed and superior. Resume your privileged life as usual, protesting on occasion in pink pussy hates and hoping for presumed friends of democracy in the arch-authoritarian Deep State to unseat Trump from above.

Along the way, liberals are aiding and abetting an authoritarian threat even worse than the quasi-fascistic (though thankfully incompetent) and orange-haired beast and his band of slimy billionaires and white-nationalist swamp creatures.  I do not share Glenn Greenwald’s hope that the Democratic Party will restore itself as an “effective political force,” or his sense that that such restoration would be the most important way to resist Trump, or even his belief that Trump was “democratically elected.” Still, even with those significant qualifications, I must for the most part heartily endorse his following  recent comments on Democracy Now!:

“…the Trump presidency is extremely dangerous. They want to dismantle the environment. They want to eliminate the safety net. They want to empower billionaires. They want to enact bigoted policies against Muslims and immigrants and so many others. And it is important to resist them. And there are lots of really great ways to resist them, such as getting courts to restrain them, citizen activism and, most important of all, having the Democratic Party engage in self-critique to ask itself how it can be a more effective political force in the United States after it has collapsed on all levels. That isn’t what this resistance is now doing. What they’re doing instead is trying to take maybe the only faction worse than Donald Trump, which is the deep state, the CIA, with its histories of atrocities, and say they ought to almost engage in like a soft coup, where they take the elected president and prevent him from enacting his policies. And I think it is extremely dangerous to do that. Even if you’re somebody who believes that both the CIA and the deep state, on the one hand, and the Trump presidency, on the other, are extremely dangerous, as I do, there’s a huge difference between the two, which is that Trump was democratically elected and is subject to democratic controls, as these courts just demonstrated and as the media is showing, as citizens are proving. But on the other hand, the CIA was elected by nobody. They’re barely subject to democratic controls at all. And so, to urge that the CIA and the intelligence community empower itself to undermine the elected branches of government is insanity. That is a prescription for destroying democracy overnight in the name of saving it. And yet that’s what so many, not just neocons, but the neocons’ allies in the Democratic Party, are now urging and cheering. And it’s incredibly warped and dangerous to watch them do that (emphasis added).”

“Who’s in a Position to Execute” the World

A final quibble with the Iowa City Press-Citizen column quoted and cited at the beginning of this essay: what would be so bad about “the ultimate downfall of our nation” (were the “narcissistic clod” Trump able to bring that about)? Most of the world would be happy to see that collapse – with good reason. The United States has been a rapacious, mass-murderous, and expanding empire from its birth as a nation.  Responsible for the death of many millions the world over and the overthrow of dozens of governments since 1945, the U.S. has long and quite properly been understood by a plurality of politically and morally cognizant humanity as the top threat to peace and stability on Earth.  Since well before Trumpenstein walked into the White House (on a path greased by the dollar Democrats’ relentless neoliberal demobilization of their onetime popular New Deal and Great Society base), it has been leading the world over the ecological cliff with its relentless advance of global fossil-fuel addicted and wastefully, environmentally and spiritually disastrous mass-consumerist capitalism.

I sometimes can’t help but think that a lot of the complaining you hear from liberals when Republicans hold the White House comes down to a belief that the wrong party and the wrong type of people are in nominal charge of an American System that is “leading us into a New Dark Age.” Liberals just want us to descend into Hell under the visible state leadership of slick and sophisticated, Ivy League law school graduate Democrats like Obama and the Clintons, not “ignorant, narcissistic clod” Republicans like George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

Which reminds me of what then state senator Barack Obama said to the Chicago Tribune regarding the Bush administration’s arch-criminal and mass-murderous invasion and occupation of Iraq during the 2004 Democratic Party National Convention.  “There’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage,” Obama told the Tribune, adding that “The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.”

A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism

Just before he was inaugurated as the U.S. President, Donald Trump laid out some principles of what appeared to be his non-interventionist foreign policy. “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with,” he said in North Carolina. “Instead our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying ISIS, and we will.” What Mr. Trump implied is that his administration would not conduct regime-change operations — such as against Iraq in 2003 during the George W. Bush administration — and certainly not indulge in nation-building outside the United States. He promised nation-building within the United States and to enhance the military “not as an act of aggression, but as an act of prevention”.

The tenor of Mr. Trump’s statements suggested that the United States would have a much less interventionist foreign policy. It would not be overthrowing governments or struggling to rebuild them into a liberal, market-friendly paradise. The concepts of regime change and nation-building — so fundamental to the consensus within the U.S. since the 1990s — now seem to be in retirement. Mr. Trump’s main concept — America First — suggests that he would take the country into an isolationist period, with foreign adventures off the table and with the United States gradually pulling out of alliances such as NATO.

Misplaced targets

The U.S. President’s agenda is part of the emergence of a cruel populism that has emerged across the West, inaugurated by the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. The heart of this cruel populism is that the people of the West have been ignored by their ‘globalist’ leaders, who care more for free trade deals than for the haemorrhaging of jobs in their own homelands. In this they are correct. What makes them cruel is that rather than actually get to the heart of joblessness — which is partly due to unshared productivity gains through mechanisation — they offer a harsh cultural agenda to solve an economic problem. It is hatred of Muslims and other religious, sexual and ethnic minorities that focus the attention of Mr. Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen, Holland’s Geert Wilders and Germany’s Frauke Petry. They want to do such things as ‘de-Islamise’ their countries, ban minarets and secure their borders against refugees.

Building walls against migrants — simple campaign fodder — will not address the economies of the West, which are fundamentally integrated with the rest of the world. The global commodity chain has enabled Western corporations to enjoy large profits as countries in the chain struggle to underbid each other on wages and regulations.

To secure and control this global commodity chain, the West has used its vast military footprint — from bases to aircraft carriers — and it has used its military and political power to pressure countries to honour intellectual property rights and to fix currencies to advantage the global elites. No wonder, then, that the eight richest persons have as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. This global 1%, with a majority in the West, has truly benefited from globalisation.

Isolation from this global commodity chain would seriously threaten the reproduction of wealth for this small minority. It is unlikely that the cruel populists — for all their ranting against free trade regimes — would be able to move an agenda that undermines this global footprint. Their isolationism is more rhetoric than policy. Economic sovereignty is not possible for their states, which is why they strive for cultural sovereignty. Demagogy is the prize for this kind of populism. ‘Keep out the Muslims’ stands in for economic policymaking.

Inhumane intervention

We have not entered into a period of isolation. Nor is the old doctrine of humanitarian intervention alive and well. It has certainly been set aside. Our new period, with the cruel populists in power, is defined by ruthless inhumane intervention. Bombs will fall, no doubt, but these will not be dropped to draw countries into the global order. Their purpose will be to encage areas seen to be lesser and inherently dangerous.

The doctrine of humanitarian intervention came into its own in the 1990s, when the United States began to justify its military operations based on the idea of ‘human rights’. Wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia as well as designations of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya and Syria as ‘rogue states’ set the terms for humanitarian or liberal interventionism. The general idea was that these states were holdouts against globalisation and that pressure against them — sanctions or armed force — was utterly justified. A notion of universal humanity guided this theory, since it was assumed that violence would tutor lesser societies into the global commodity chain. The idea of ‘regime change’ required the idea of ‘nation-building’ to complete its task. Not only would governments be overthrown, but they would be replaced by regimes that acceded to the neo-liberal policy slate and to the institutions of globalisation.

The cruel populists do not accept the theory of universal humanity. For them, the world’s people are divided along the axis of culture — Christendom, on one side, against Islam, on the other. Mr. Trump has vowed to rebuild the U.S. military so that “no one will ever mess with us”. What is this military to be used for? “I would bomb those s******,” Mr. Trump said of the Islamic State and its oil infrastructure. “I’d blow up every single inch,” he said, so that “there would be nothing left”. But the use of force does not end there. “And you know what, you’ll get Exxon to come in there, and in two months — you ever see these guys? How good they are, the great oil companies. They’ll rebuild it brand new.” It is suggestive that Mr. Trump’s Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson, who ran ExxonMobil for 10 years. Would ExxonMobil re-build the oil infrastructure for Iraq? No. “I’ll take the oil,” Mr. Trump said brashly and against international law.

The U.S. President’s instinctual militarism is evident with his appointment of Generals to his cabinet and his habit of continuing to call them by their military rank. These are not ordinary Generals. They have demonstrated a virulent anti-Muslim streak, which is in keeping with the cruel populism of the Trump agenda. Such prejudice blinds them from reality. Against all logic, Defence Secretary James Mattis said, “I consider ISIS nothing more than an excuse for Iran to continue its mischief.” That Iran and the Islamic State are fierce adversaries is of no consequence. For this General, they are both in the camp of Islam. War against them is instinctual. It will not be to draw the people in their societies into the global order. Inhumane intervention serves as a prophylaxis against the fantasy of cultural sovereignty.

This article originally appeared on The Hindu.

Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?

Israel has created a terrible problem which it is incapable of solving. That is why it has always been the case that the United States must pretty much dictate a solution, but it is unable to do so, paralyzed as it is by the heavy influence of Israel and America’s own apologists and lobbyists.

Trump’s suggestion of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is welcomed by some because Israel’s settler policy is said to have made two states impossible, as it was most certainly intended to do. However, a little reflection on hard facts makes it clear that a one-state solution is just as impossible.

A single-state solution would be acceptable to all reasonable minds, but you only have to follow the news to know that Israel contains a good many unreasonable minds. Its early advocates and founders were, quite simply, fanatics, and its policies and attitudes were shaped by that fanaticism.

The Israeli establishment could simply not accept a Palestinian population with equal rights and the franchise as part of Israel. They could not do so because they have embraced an almost mystical concept of Israel as “the Jewish state.” Of course, the de facto reality of today’s combined population of Israel and its occupied territories is that Palestinians, who importantly include not just Muslims but many Christians, are already about half of the total.

And there are physical realities forming huge barriers against a single state, things of which many people are not aware. Very importantly, fertility rates in Arab populations are considerably higher than in the European Ashkenazi population which forms Israel’s elite. That has nothing to do with ethnic characteristics. It is a result of much lower levels of affluence influencing the behavior of people having children. It is a universal reality we see.

That’s why Arabic populations are such relatively young populations with a high proportion of children. When Israel bombs a place like Gaza or Lebanon, as it does periodically, it always kills many hundreds of children because they make a big share of the population. An advanced country like Japan has low fertility and traditionally is averse to much migration. It faces a future with an aging and declining population.

All older European and North American countries have fertility rates too low to replace their otherwise declining populations. America or France or Israel or similar states simply do not have enough babies to replace their populations. That’s a fundamental reality of advanced, affluent society. People with rich, demanding lives do not have large numbers of children, anywhere, knowing, as they do, that the few they do have will almost certainly survive and will better thrive with more concentrated resources.

That’s the real reason behind most countries’ immigration policies, not generosity or kindness. But, of course, Israel has a serious problem with immigration, too. As the “Jewish state” it is open to only one category of migrant, and that category of people makes a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Further, most of that tiny fraction live in comfortable, affluent places, far more desirable to live in than Israel – places like America, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, etc.

A single-state Israel would combine low fertility Europeans with higher fertility Arabic people, thus creating a long-term trajectory for a minority-Jewish state, a reality which would be repellent to all conservative Jews and many others, in light of the founding notion of Israel as a refuge from believed widespread anti-Semitism, plus the vaguely-defined but emotionally-loaded notion of a “Jewish state,” and, still further, the biblical myths of God’s having given the land exclusively to Jews.

You simply cannot make rational sense out of that bundle of attitudes and prejudices, yet you cannot get a rational solution to a massive problem otherwise, a problem, it should be noted, of Israel’s own deliberate making in the Six Day War. Likely, when Israel’s leadership started that war, they calculated that Palestinians would come to feel so miserable under occupation that they’d just pick up and leave over time. Moshe Dayan, one of the architects of the war, actually spoke along those very lines of keeping the Palestinians miserable so they would leave. But their calculations were wrong. Most people, anywhere, do not pick-up and leave their native place. Otherwise the world would a constant whirlwind of migrations.

Although Israel does not discuss the relative population growth rate situation in public, authorities and experts there are keenly aware of the reality. It is difficult to imagine them ever embracing a single state for this reason. When you found a state on ideology and myths, as Israel was founded, you very soon bump up against some unhappy realities.

So, if there is not to be a Palestinian state, what are Israel’s other options? There seem to be only two.

One is to deport all or most Palestinians, an ugly idea which is probably also unworkable, although it has very much seriously been discussed among educated Israelis periodically. Apart from the Nazi-like connotations around such an act, who, on earth, is going to take literally millions of people from Israel? In the past, Israeli ideologues have seriously suggested both the country of Jordan and parts of Egypt contiguous with Israel as possibilities.

Can any realistic person believe those states stand ready to take millions of people in? No, of course not, but that hasn’t stopped the ideologues of Israel from going back to the idea again and again. Of course, there is the pure ethical problem of moving millions against their wills and seizing all their property, but ethics have not never featured large in Israel’s policies from the beginning.

The other solution is to re-create apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans, little enclaves of land with often undesirable characteristics into which you crowd all the people that you don’t want and declare that these are their new countries. We see this already in Israel, notably in Gaza, which really is a giant refugee camp much resembling a concentration camp with high fences and automated machine-gun towers surrounding it, the residents being permitted almost no freedom of movement or even economic activity, as for example Gaza’s fishermen being fired on by Israeli gunboats if they stray even slightly beyond tight boundaries in the sea.

The world would not long tolerate that approach no matter how much influence the United States might unfairly exert. After all, for a long time, the United States protected and cooperated with apartheid South Africa, always regarding it as an important bulwark against communism, anti-communism being the fervent secular religion of the day in America. This was so much the case that it even overlooked what it absolutely had to know about, apartheid South Africa’s acquisition of a small arsenal of nuclear weapons with the assistance of Israel, Israel always being keen to keep good access to South Africa’s mineral wealth.

Clearly, those two options are not solutions. Realities absolutely demand either a legitimate two-state solution – which Israel’s leaders have never truly accepted while giving it time-buying lip-service – or a one-state solution which is probably even more unacceptable to Israel’s leaders and much of its population, guaranteeing, as it does, the eventual minority status of Jews.

Israel has itself created a terrible problem which it is incapable of solving. That is why it has always been the case that the United States must pretty much dictate a solution, but it is unable to do so, paralyzed as it is by the heavy influence of Israel and America’s own apologists and lobbyists.

So, in effect, the world just goes around and around on this terrible problem, never doing anything decisive. The macabre dance of Israel and the United States we’ve had for decades yields today’s de facto reality of Israel as nothing more but nothing less than a protected American colony in the Middle East, one in which all kinds of international norms and laws are completely suspended, one where millions live with nor rights and no citizenship. But, after all, colonies have never been places where the rule of law and human rights prevail, have they? Never.

The Parallax View of Donald Trump

Thanks to the president’s press conference last week—broadcast live from the bridge of USS Caine (“Ahh, but the strawberries that’s… that’s where I had them…”)—the only political topic of conversation that matters is when and how President Donald Trump will leave office.

Conventional thinking has the Republican majority in Congress rising up in indignation, pouring over purloined tax returns for princely emoluments from some suspect foreign power, and then joining the Democrats to remove Trump from the highest office.

Those who like their morning coffee with some conspiracy have Trump going down as a Manchurian president, done in by the revelation not just that Putin tilted the electoral wheels with the connivance of the disgraced General Michael Flynn, but that Trump’s entourage is a cell of fellow travellers, in office to pay off the venture capital that Putin spread around Trump Inc. when Donald had to turn to the Russian mob for a payday loan.

The problem with both paths from power is that they assume an orderly transition, based on precedent and succession clauses in the Constitution, not an assassination worthy of Cesarian Rome (“Et tu, Mitch?”) or some of the slow poisons mixed into the sacraments that have been known to speed change among the popes.

Alas, palace intrigue in Washington is as American as the Bill of Rights, which may explain why so many plotters come as if a well-armed militia.

* * *

According to the storyboards used in most high schools (not to mention by cable commentators), American democracy is the last, best-hope on earth—the munificent bequest of the founding fathers—and a paradise exempt from palace revolutions, coups, putsches, cabals, nights of the long knives, and seizures of the radio station. After all, we’re not Guatemala or Sierra Leone.

Consistent with the brochures passed out at Independence Hall, the United States only replaces its leaders after sober deliberations and presidential debates—with Wolf Blitzer moderating.

If Trump is to leave office before his term expires, it should only be according to the rules established in the Constitution, which has two sections dealing with the removal of the president from office. Article Two states:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Then there is the 25th Amendment, which, in part, reads:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Since 1789, when the Constitution was ratified, no president has been convicted of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Nor since 1967, when the 25th Amendment passed, has a president been deemed incompetent and removed by a cabinet camarilla (plus a doctor’s note).

That said, the United States has turned palace revolutions into a political art, so that many presidencies have been swept away, as if by Medici daggers. In the last 238 years, presidents—many as incompetent as Donald Trump, if not worse—have been shot, blackmailed, threatened, and bullied until they left office.

One in three presidencies have ended before their time, which explains how and why many of those who have risen to the highest office have done so on the back of illness, assassination, black ops, and other instruments of the putsch.

I know, I know, you want to believe that American democracy is among the oldest on the planet, and that our leaders are descended from Athenian idealism, not Bohemian defenestration.

The norm for much of American history, however, is that when some elements of the republic don’t like the choice made at the ballot box, they overthrow the president—by fair means or murder most foul.

By Trump’s reasoning, he’s serving on a four-year contract, as called for in the Constitution. In truth, he has the job security of an NFL cornerback, who can be cut anytime “to clear cap space” for the ruling class.

* * *

For those who don’t buy the theory that the United States is a gated, banana republic, let’s have a review of a few presidencies, starting with Abraham Lincoln’s, that came to premature endings:

—As everyone knows, Lincoln was assassinated, and the co-conspirators of gunman John Wilkes Booth could well have filled another Ford Theater, as they included not just fellow assassins (who also shot William Seward), but horse handlers, doctors, and proprietors of safe houses in rural Maryland and Virginia.

—Andrew Johnson, after Lincoln, served out his term, although he was impeached and only survived because his supporters set up a slush fund of $150,000 to buy swing votes at theSenate impeachment trial. (Not something you read about in Profiles in Courage.)

—The presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes was over almost as it began, as true ballot fraud (not those mythical buses rolling into New Hampshire) put him in office.

—James Garfield, who succeeded Hayes, was shot early in his term by Charles Guiteau, who (at least in his deranged fantasies) was closely allied with Vice-President Chester Arthur’s patronage party.

When he pulled the trigger at the Baltimore and Potomac railroad station in Washington, D.C., Guiteau shouted: “I am a Stalwart, and Arthur will be President!” And he was, to the delight of fix-it man Roscoe Conkling.

—An anarchist from the Midwest, Leon Czolgosz, murdered President William McKinley in 1901, allowing—in the words of political boss Mark Hanna—“that damned cowboy” (Teddy Roosevelt) to become president.

—Roosevelt, himself, while campaigning in 1912 against William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, was shot but not killed.

—Warren Harding died in office in summer 1923, while barnstorming the country. His quackish doctor, Charles “Doc” Sawyer, at first thought he had eaten bad shellfish in Alaska. Others thought maybe he was poisoned, although later it became evident that Harding suffered from heart disease.

Conspiracists, however, do wonder why the ailing U.S. president got so little professional care in the last days of his life (he died in a San Francisco hotel suite), as was the case in 1945 when President Franklin Roosevelt became ill and died in Warm Springs.

—President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963. Even though his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, had connections to the FBI, CIA, Russia, and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (if not Ted Cruz’s father), he was consigned to the dustbin of history as a “lone gunman,” a species of agitation unique to American politics.

—In summer 1974, Richard Nixon resigned during his second term, the victim of his own paranoia and Watergate-related crimes, but with a shove out the door from unelected co-conspirators in the FBI (see Throat, Deep), CIA, the Washington Post, and other stalwarts in the capital.

—The Iranian hostage crisis cost Jimmy Carter his presidency, and in 1981 another assassin (also of the lone gunman persuasion) shot and seriously wounded President Ronald Reagan, although he survived and stayed in office.

—Technically a cabal did not remove President George W. Bush but lifted him to power, thanks to the good offices of a compliant Supreme Court, which did not trust Floridians to recount the contested ballots in the 2000 presidential election.

My point with all these examples is that, for a country that prides itself on the so-called “democratic process” and all that Inauguration Day, CNN hogwash about “the peaceful transfer of power,” many presidencies have begun or ended because of assassins, conspirators, plotters, stalwarts, witch doctors, or bureaucratic coups d’état, all of which ought to give Trump pause whenever bad shellfish are on the menu at Mar-a-Lago or an anarchist heads his way.

* * *

What are the chances that someone will shoot Trump? Let’s hope they are poor. In the bloodstream of democracy, assassinations are a toxin, more fit for Czarist Russia or some African country with a near-endless supply of ambitious colonels.

What is remarkable in American history is that the republic has survived so many gun attacks on its highest elected officials. Overall, there have been more than twenty attempts on the lives of American presidents.

The hope is that the president travels safely in the bubble of Secret Service protection. That said, I am sure Trump’s erratic behavior, in his first month of office, has given pause to his protectors, who no doubt have had to scramble whenever he decides to dump his press pool and, say, play golf or head to a local restaurant.

Nor can I imagine that the Secret Service is happy that his weekend residences are a Florida beach club (still raffling membership to anyone with two-hundred grand) and a New York apartment building, where it must be difficult to endlessly check visitors and their guests (as opposed, say, to Camp David on its own military reservation).

I could well imagine that a growing preoccupation among Trump’s security detail is how to keep him safe from armed drones, which presumably can find U.S. officials as easily as they can the ISIS or Taliban leadership. If Amazon or UPS can send a drone to your front door, so, too, presumably, can other retailers of anarchy.

* * *

More likely than a physical attack is that Trump will find himself at the sharp end of a silent coup, the kind of sting that the FBI and others in Washington ran against Richard Nixon. In that case, an embarrassing series of leaks were orchestrated to agitate the press and Congress to remove the President from office.

Who might organize such a plot against Donald Trump?

At the moment high on the list of potential conspirators would be the so-called Deep State of the intelligence agencies and corporate black holes around Washington that have a variety of grievances against Trump.

For starters, both the NSA and the CIA are now subject to criminal investigations over leaks that revealed compromising phones calls between General Flynn and the Russians.

Someone in one of the agencies leaked the contents of a phone call between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to Washington, revealing that the general had, in fact, discussed sanctions against Russia that the Obama administration had imposed after election tampering was confirmed in an FBI investigation.

I assume that nearly all of the intelligence agencies around Washington (there are some seventeen) are tapping the phone of the Russian ambassador (why else have bugs?), so that the search for the leaker will not be easy.

But when the usual suspects are rounded up and paraded to the stockade, you can be sure that the conflict will draw even sharper battle lines between Trump and the Parallax Corporation, the deadly front company at the center of the 1974 Alan Pakula political thriller.

More accomplices to the intrigue? Democrats in opposition—despairing that they don’t have the votes in the House to impeach (i.e., indict) or the votes in the Senate to convict—will no doubt turn to far-flung sources to find a “throw-down gun,” that is, “supplied” evidence that would make a conflict-of-interest conviction a lot easier.

For some conspirators the lowest-hanging dirt is probably the dealings of the Trump campaign in Russia, which is already the subject of an FBI investigation and various headline-chasing congressional committees. FBI Director Comey’s limousine, parked ominously in front of the capitol, cannot have been reassuring to the administration.

Some cabalists are hopeful that, by forcing the release of Trump’s taxes, other smoking guns might be found. Personally, I doubt anything in his taxes will bring down his presidency. Embarrass him? Sure, especially if he is not as rich as he boasted to those eager apprentices or if his taxes are a mountain of losses carried forward, from those moments when the “art of the deal” was to con shareholders, hedge funds, banks, et al. into paying for his many blunders.

The release of his tax forms would, however, give Trump’s opponents a road map to his fortune or to favors outstanding, especially if any foreign governments view the president as an in-the-money option.

More likely, there is be found among his many partners (his business model is to franchise the Trump brand name for a 30 percent stake in large projects) quasi-governmental pools of money from the Persian Gulf and Asia, so-called “sovereign” funds, which is how many emerging nations stash their money along Fifth Avenue.

What better place to hide money than in New York real estate, and who better to front the transaction than cable’s-own Donald Trump?

The emoluments clause in the Constitution, drafted in 1789, did not understand the essence of Russian flight capital in 2017 or how a New York real estate empire could be built on hot money from around world. But James Madison was well acquainted with earlier Donald Trumps, as when he wrote:

The stockjobbers will become the pretorian band of the Government, at once its tool and its tyrant; bribed by its largesses, and overawing it, by clamours and combinations.

Madison might have the explanation why the speculator is now betting on politics.

* * *

How does Trump go down?

For starters, expect to see street demonstrations continue to flourish (some may be spontaneous, others may have sponsors) and that many will target members of the House and Senate in vulnerable constituencies.

At the same time articles will circulate, mostly on the Internet, about Trump’s mental incapacities—his narcissism, fragmented speech patterns, paranoia, and detachment from reality. Get ready for a parade of online medical experts testifying about his dictatorial fantasies.

Aides will do their best to keep him from looking like Charles Foster (aka Citizen) Kane (“There’s only one person in the world who’s going to decide what I’m going to do and that’s me…”) or Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle (“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets”), but the real Trump will never be offline for long.

Meanwhile, the White House will increasingly come to resemble Fort Apache or Little Bighorn, a lonely redoubt in Indian country. By that point, all those corporate CEOs in the cabinet will be taking long lunches and gossiping with their staff, while the government becomes a subsidiary of Trump, his immediate family, Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and the Steve Miller band of one true believer.

Every day in the press will come various leaks and documents all of which will be designed to make Trump look like a Russian dupe, swindler, inside trader, riverboat gambler, or confidence man.

Some of the leaks will become subject to congressional investigation at which point the many officials that Trump has fired (Flynn et al.) will take to the microphones with primetime anecdotes about his vanity, use of the Oval Office to peddle influence and condos, or sweethearts.

Just so the storyline is clear to a majority of Americans, Ben Affleck will direct a blockbuster movie about a president gone mad in office (Original Intent), and the country saved only by a crusading CIA agent (Ben Affleck), who has orders from shadowy bosses to take down the tyrant (Michael Douglas) and his mole of a Russian wife (Angelina Jolie, but without all the tatts).

Lacking a smoking gun indicating that the President actively conspired with Russia during the election or that he was personally aware of a Putin shell company with investments in a Trump development, Congress will cite numerous presidential aides for contempt of Congress until an independent prosecutor, Benjamin Civiletti, of Watergate fame, is appointed. (The revenge of the Democrats for Whitewater and Monica’s dress.)

On slow days for news, tearful women with Flashdance hairdos who now work as “personal trainers” will parade before the cameras and tell how Trump tried to entice them into the steam room at Mar-a-Lago.

Fed by every Trump-hating agency in Washington, the special prosecutor will have a field day picking apart the offal of Trump’s real estate speculations, not to mention the public company that fleeced investors of almost $1 billion.

Trump will refuse to allow either his family or senior staff to testify before Congress or the special prosecutor, citing executive privilege and even Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus to justify his refusal to cooperate, in what he deems to be “wartime”. To emphasize the point he will start wearing a uniform.

Although Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be long gone, the Bannon praetorian guard will announce that Iran has concrete plans to attack Israel with long-range missiles, some of which—no one is quite sure—might be tipped with tactical nuclear weapons.

Several U.S. Navy fleets will be dispatched to the Persian Gulf while a Marine Corps brigade is flown into western Pakistan, between Quetta and the Iranian border. At the same time the CIA and several other intelligence agencies will leak to the press that the Trump administration has fabricated the readiness of Iranian missiles or that government’s rumors of war.

With the Supreme Court hearing evidence in the case Trump v. United States of America about the extent of executive privilege and how it applies to members of a president’s immediate family, the swing vote in the case will belong to the newest Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, who has made it known to his clerks that James Madison thought presidents “ought to be accountable” to the people (original intent?), through the Congress.

Before the Supreme Court gives its opinion, Trump will resign, blaming the Clintons, Barack Obama, CNN, the “failing” New York Times, the Washington Post, the CIA and NSA, the FBI, the Democratic leadership in Congress, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, “overrated actress” Meryl Streep, Jake Tapper, Oprah Winfrey, Paul Krugman, mullahs in Iran, and the Russians. It’s the mother of all rants.

In the last scene of the movie, after Ben Affleck has brought down the president (although for whom and why he’s unsure), the camera focuses on two men talking quietly about Trump at the bar of the Cosmos Club in Washington.

“You know,” one of them is heard to say, “he’s right.”

Matthew Stevenson, a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine, is the author of many books including, most recently, Reading the Rails.

Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.

Donald Trump plans to dismantle America’s already weak climate policy, potentially dooming not only this country but the entire world to runaway greenhouse warming. The day after Election Day 2016, star climate scientist Michael Mann was already saying he feared that it was “game over” for the Earth’s climate.

But at the same time Trump is taking a blowtorch to climate action, he and his allies are taking a sledgehammer to our democracy. So what do we do when we face two simultaneous emergencies: a slide toward fascism and a descent into a greenhouse climate gone haywire?

Writing recently in Monthly Review, John Bellamy Foster argued that given the threat we face, the necessary ecological-social revolution will have to be carried out in two stages, and that “The first would involve the formation of a broad alliance, modeled after the Popular Front against fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. Today’s Popular Front would need to be aimed principally at confronting the fossil-fuel-financial complex and its avid right-wing supporters.” But then, “the ecological revolution will have to extend eventually to the roots of production itself, and will have to assume the form of a system of substantive equality for all . . .”

The struggle must be taken to every front. Many continue to see the immediate struggle for civil and human rights and against fascism, racism, and economic exploitation as having top priority, given the all-out assault coming down from Washington, many state capitals, and law enforcement. Others continue to argue that we have to lead with an all-consuming effort to eliminate greenhouse emissions and ecosystem destruction if we are even to have a chance at keeping the Earth livable.

Then there are those, including those of us at Green Social Thought, who have long insisted that the two struggles be given joint top priority, because if we succeed in either one but not the other, catastrophe is unavoidable. And importantly, there is no contradiction between the two struggles; in fact, they energize each other.

Capitalism: can’t live with it, might live without it

The dramatic swerve down the road to fascism in the United States, Europe, and Russia has further hobbled our chances of prevailing in today’s struggle for democracy, humanity, and the Earth. I say “further” because the odds were stacked against us long before 2016. The chief threat was then, and still is, capitalism. A well-functioning capitalist economy depends on maintaining large, competing pools of vulnerable labor and on the continuously increasing throughput of energy and resources that feeds the climate emergency.

A few months before America’s political sinkhole opened up, Paul Cox and I put it this way in our book How the World Breaks: “From the point of view of those with vast wealth at stake, the cure for climate catastrophe—deep, ongoing restraint in production and consumption to limit greenhouse gas emissions—would be far more devastating than the worst earthquake, flood, or hurricane.” The same applies to a realignment of economic power in favor of today’s beleaguered majority.

In an article published by Nature Climate Change just fifty days after the US presidential election, two scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that if America does nothing to cut greenhouse emissions for the next four years, it is still possible that the Earth can avoid runaway warming, but only if we do launch drastic actions immediately after that hiatus, and only if the rest of the world ignores our slacker example and starts meeting its climate obligations immediately. That means our chances of maintaining a livable planet are clearly very slim. But they’re not zero.

Also in December, Yale economist William Nordhaus published a paper in which he metamorphoses before our eyes from one of the world’s foremost climate optimists into a deep pessimist. Having updated his world economy/climate model with assumptions reflecting the new climatic reality, Nordhaus found that an “optimized” economy (one that, through cost-benefit analysis, carefully balances greenhouse emissions cuts with the need for economic growth) can now be expected to blow through the much-discussed 1.5-degree rise in world temperatures (a widely accepted threshold for global disaster) by 2030 and hit a cataclysmic 3.5 degrees by 2100. (Mann says we have already hit 1.5 degrees.)

More aggressive climate mitigation scenarios that could eliminate net greenhouse emissions by 2040 and keep the temperature rise down to a still-dangerous 2.5 degrees were characterized as “unrealistic” by Nordhaus. So in an eminent economist’s view, capitalism is incompatible even with climate strategies that would reduce emissions but still usher in runaway warming. (Economists would presumably view as worse than unrealistic a detailed, highly practical plan to keep the rise below 1.5 degrees that was modeled on the U.S. mobilization for World War II and published by The Climate Mobilization.)

Nordhaus’s conclusion is not the kind of thing climate optimists like to hear, especially now that they are under assault from retrograde climate deniers at the very top of the power structure. Back when technocrats were still in power, Paul and I characterized what we saw as optimists’ unrealistic view of climate catastrophe this way: “Disaster could be domesticated, soaked up by the economy, so we the people could all experience the event as something distant and manageable, canceled out on future balance sheets by its silver linings. . . . This type of optimism is, we believe, what we will have to worry about when we don’t have to worry about climate change denial anymore.”

What we didn’t know back then was that from 2017 onward, we’re still going to have to worry about climate denial and many more dangers all at once. For years to come, as seas rise and landscapes shrivel, America could remain immobilized within the iron triangle of climate denial, climate optimism, and economic “realism.”

Democracy: might not live with it, can’t live without it

It has been obvious for more than four decades that we can have either capitalism or a livable planet but not both. We’ve known even longer that we can have either capitalism or economic and social justice but not both. For most of us, there’s no dilemma there; only for capitalists themselves does the need to preserve capitalism warrant ruining the Earth for human habitation or having the majority of our fellow human beings live in misery. But in coming years we will have to face a question that should terrify us all: have we reached the point at which we can we have either effective climate action or representative democracy but not both?

With every updated run of global climate models, it becomes clearer that only an immediate, steep decline in greenhouse emissions can give us even a fighting chance to avoid catastrophic warming. That will require a hard ceiling on fossil-fuel burning and other emission-generating activities, a ceiling that must be ratcheted down year by year. In a further tightening of the belt, a big slice of that declining resource budget will have to be set aside for building renewable energy generation capacity and other emission-reducing infrastructure. These moves will constitute a rationing of production.

Struck by this one-two punch—the ceiling on resource use and the diversion of much of what’s left into green conversion—the economy will see an inevitable decline in production of consumer goods and services.

Most of the past year’s proposals for a World War II-style climate mobilization are based on a comparison involving only the second punch, that is, a parallel between the walling-off of resources and human power for war production in the 1940s and the necessary walling-off of resources for renewable energy development now. The consequences of that wartime mobilization—most prominently, conversion from civilian to military production and rationing of consumer goods—were broadly accepted by an electorate that was facing an existential threat. American democracy rose to the occasion. Presumably, we could handle a green conversion of similar scale today, were it to be attempted.

The parallel between climate and World War II mobilizations breaks down, however, back on the first punch, with the immediate, steep decline in fossil-fuel use that is necessary to prevent climatic calamity. In the 1940s, by contrast, America had enough resources and pent-up industrial capacity to boost total production and achieve full employment and higher wages. For the sake of fairness, civilian consumption had to be limited by rationing, and there were shortages of some imported items, but people knew that those conditions were temporary, and consumption soared once the war ended.

Now imagine an America of the 2020s that is weighing whether, better late than never, to declare a climate emergency that includes the necessary steep decline in emissions, production, and material consumption. If that succeeds, it will mean that (1) a majority of politicians have turned their backs on Big Business and have committed to severe limits on resource use and (2) American voters are willing to support them in that effort.

But in a society designed so that its basic working parts are individuals, each acting to their personal benefit, a candidate doesn’t get into office by telling voters what is essential for the common good. You get in by promising voters that they will be harmed personally if your opponent wins but that each voter will benefit personally if you are elected.

So if you’re a candidate wanting effective climate action, you might declare in a stump speech, “If you folks elect my opponent, the consequences will be terrible. Within a couple of decades, millions of people around the world will have lost their homes to flooding, and others will be going hungry because of crop failures.” So far, so good. Voters may think to themselves, “Oh, we wouldn’t want to see that.”

But then you continue: “On the other hand, if you elect me, there will be a much narrower range of goods available to you, and you will be buying a lot less. You will have a smaller house and will be tightly limited in how much you can drive and fly, and you can forget about that new boat. Don’t worry; the government will ensure that you have access to sufficient food, basic goods, a cleaner, healthier world, and your Constitutional rights, but a large share of the nation’s resources will have to go toward building up our renewable energy capacity and reworking our infrastructure—not into the consumer economy. And we’ll never go back to today’s levels of production and consumption.” At that point, you might as well step from behind the lectern, turn around, bend over, and moon the audience. You’re sunk.

Given that, given our history, and especially considering our recent experience, getting American voters to approve sweeping climate policies is a hard thing to imagine. That has led some (including me at times) to wonder if saving the climate is even possible in our electoral system. But we simply cannot afford to indulge in that sort of speculation. We have no choice but to reject and condemn any calls to jettison our democratic institutions, however inadequate they are. On the contrary; we must first defend democracy against the current authoritarian onslaught and then set about transfoming it.

Both our form of government and our economic system are throwing hurdles up between us and climate action, but while we can work to improve and transform politics, there is no possibility that capitalism can be made compatible with global climate mitigation and justice. We have to use what’s left of our democracy (inside and especially outside of electoral politics) to simultaneously fight the fascism that threatens humanity and the capitalism that threatens the Earth as a whole.

Stan Cox (@CoxStan) is an editor of Green Social Thought, where this article was first published, and author of Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing. Write to him at cox(at)howtheworldbreaks.com

The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself

The President of the United States can hardly be taken seriously, saying much but doing little. His words, often offensive, carry no substance, and it is impossible to summarize his complex political outlook about important issues.

This is precisely the type of American presidency that Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, prefers.

However, Donald Trump is not just a raving man, but a dangerous one as well. His unpredictability must worry Israel, which expects from its American benefactors complete clarity and consistency in terms of its political support.

At the age of 70, Trump is incapable of being the stalwart, pro-Zionist ideologue in a way that suits Israeli interests well.

Take, for example, the White House press conference following the much anticipated visit by Netanyahu to Washington on February 15.

The visit was scheduled immediately after Trump’s inauguration on January 20, and is considered the Trump Presidency’s answer to what Israel wrongly perceives as a hostile US administration under former President Barack Obama.

However, Obama has granted Israel 38 billion dollars over the course of ten years, estimated to be the most generous aid package in US history. He has supported all Israeli wars against Palestinians throughout his presidency, and unfailingly defended Israel before the international community, at the United Nations and every global forum in which Israel was justifiably criticized.

But Israel expects blind support. It needs a US administration that is as loyal as the US Congress, always praising Israel, degrading Palestinians, dismissing international law, calling to stop funding the UN for daring to demand accountability from Israel, feeding Israeli ‘security’ phobias with monetary and absolute political backing, demonizing Iran, undermining the Arabs and repeating all Israeli talking points fed to them by Tel Aviv and by the fifth column lobbyists in Washington.

Trump is striving to be that person, the messiah that Israel’s army of right-wing, ultranationalists and religious zealots have been calling for. But this appears beyond the man’s control, no matter how hard he tries.

“Looking at two-state or one-state, I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said in answer to a journalist’s question, implying to Israel that the US will no longer impose solutions; instead, Trump pushed the ‘one-state solution’ idea to the very top of the discussion. It is not what Israel wanted – or expected.

In Washington, Netanyahu, with unmistakable pomposity, stood before the media and simply lied. He painted Israel as vulnerable, a prey for dark ‘radical Islam’ forces, ready to strike from every corner.

He presented Iran’s nuclear capabilities as if it is lined up to incinerate Israel, itself built atop the graves and villages of dispossessed Palestinians. No journalist had the courage to quiz the Israeli leader about his own country’s massive nuclear arsenal and other weapons of mass destruction. Listening to him preach fabricated history to the incurious American media, one would think that militarily powerful Israel is occupied by hostile Palestinian foreigners, and not vice versa.

Netanyahu claimed his people belonged to Palestine as the French belonged to France and the Chinese to China. But if European Jewish immigrants are the natives of Palestine, then what is one to make of Palestinians? How is one to explain their existence on land that has carried their collective name for millennia?

This is inconsequential to the US government and mainstream media. US media is as uninformed about the realities of the Middle East as Trump, who seems to have only two main talking points about the whole issue, both embarrassingly bizarre:

Israel has been treated ‘very, very badly’ by the US, and he has a ‘really great peace deal’ in store.

On the contrary, Palestinians have been treated ‘very, very badly’ by the US, the most generous supporter of Israel. Israel has used mostly American weapons in its wars against Palestinians and other Arab nations, with thousands of Palestinians losing their lives because of this blind American patronage.

As for his ‘really great peace deal,’ Trump has nothing. ‘Really great’ seems to be his answer to everything, to the point that his words are becoming ineffectual clichés, suitable for twitter jokes and comedy.

Furthermore, Netanyahu, urged on by – to quote former Secretary of State, John Kerry – the ‘most right-wing coalition in Israeli history’ – wants the US to unconditionally support Israel as the latter is finalizing its future ‘vision’.

Now, it seems that Israel is concluding that territorial quest. The ‘Regularization Law’ passed recently in Israel’s parliament – Knesset – will retroactively validate all Israeli illegal settlers’ claims over Palestinian land. Top Israel officials now openly speak of annexation of the West Bank, using language that was formerly reserved for Jewish extremists.

Israel’s president believes annexation is the answer. “I, Rubi Rivlin, believe that Zion is entirely ours. I believe the sovereignty of the State of Israel must be in all the blocs,” Rivlin said, emphasizing that he was referring to the entire West Bank, as quoted by the ‘Times of Israel’.

The consensus among Israel’s ruling class is that a Palestinian state should never be established. Trump, although incoherent, granted them just that.

So what does Netanyahu want? We know he does not want a Palestinian state and plans to annex all Jewish colonies, while continuing to expand over stolen Palestinian land. He wants Palestinians to exist, but without political will of their own, without sovereignty, forced to accept that Israel is a Jewish state (thus signing off on their historic right to their own land); to remain subdued, passive, disarmed, dehumanized.

Netanyahu’s end game is Apartheid, racist segregation where one party, Israeli Jews, dominates and exploits the other – Palestinian Arabs: Muslims and Christians.

But human dignity is not open for negotiation, no matter how a ‘good negotiator’ Netanyahu is – according to Trump’s assertion.

Palestinians have resisted Israel for nearly seventy years because they challenge their servitude. They will continue to resist.

Israel has the military means to punish Palestinians for their resistance, to push them behind military checkpoints and trap them behind walls. Yet, it is not a matter of firepower, and no wall can be high enough to stymie the echoes of oppressed people striving for freedom, human rights, equality and solidarity.

Netanyahu must feel triumphant because of Trump’s assuring words. The Israeli leader wants any victory, however illusive, to buy time and the allegiance of his camp of extremists, especially now that he is being investigated for fraud and is likely to be indicted.

He may even initiate a war against Gaza to create further distraction, and will readily spin facts so that his country is presented as a victim, to test American support and to ‘downgrade’ Hamas’ and other Palestinian groups’ defences.

However, none of this will change the reality that Netanyahu has unwisely constructed. His vision for Israel is the perpetual subjugation of Palestinians through a system of racial discrimination that will continue until the world unravels the lies and the propaganda.

Having Trump by his side, Netanyahu will work diligently to perfect the Palestinian prison in the name of Israel’s security.

Palestinians must now respond, without the irrelevant rhetoric of a ‘two-state solution’, but with a unified universal message to the rest of the world: expecting – in fact, demanding – freedom, equality, full rights in a society that is not predicated on racial order, but on equal citizenship.

Israel has laid out its dark vision. Palestinians must present the antithesis to that destructive vision: a road map towards justice, equality and peace for all.

Wall Street Hopes You’ve Forgotten the Crash Already

Remember October 2008 — the bank bailouts, the spiking unemployment rate, the stock market free fall?

Maybe you lost a job, got a pay cut, or saw your retirement savings or home value evaporate. Maybe you even lost your home altogether, or saw your small business wither and die.

It’s a hard thing to let go. But Wall Street is hoping you’ve already forgotten it.

That’s because their allies in Congress and the Trump administration are poised to scrap the reforms that lawmakers put in place to prevent another meltdown.

For starters, they’re trying to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the first independent agency with the sole mandate of protecting consumers against scam artists, predatory lenders, and bad actors in the financial sector.

The agency proved its mettle last year, when it caught Wells Fargo — the second biggest bank in the country — creating millions of bogus accounts without their customers’ permission. The bureau exposed that cheating and put an end to it.

Dodd-Frank, the law that created the bureau, also made rules to keep banks from making risky bets with your money.

For instance, it requires banks to keep some skin in the game by maintaining a 5 percent stake in loans they originate, so they have a stake in the success of the borrower and the loan. It also encourages banks to keep some cash on hand in case of emergencies, just like the rest of us try to do at home.

Yet lately, bankers have been complaining that financial regulation is hurting the economy. Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president — and now a Trump economic adviser — whined recently that banks are being forced to “hoard capital.”

If maintaining a prudent reserve is hoarding, then yes. And that’s a good thing.

Bankers like Cohn say abolishing these rules will help ordinary consumers. When you hear things like that, hold tight to your wallets and purses.

The truth is, cheap credit is abundant. The commercial and industrial business industries are booming. Credit card and auto lending are at record highs, and mortgage loans are almost back to their pre-2008 crisis high.

If that’s not enough for Wall Street lenders who want to gamble, they should go to the casino. And if venture capitalists want to take great risks in search of great rewards, blessings upon them. But they shouldn’t expect the rest of us to bail them out after their next binge.

What about Donald Trump? Will he protect us?

Trump campaigned as a champion for the “little guy,” beholden to no one because of his independent wealth. He smeared opponents like Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for being “puppets” of big banks like Goldman Sachs.

My advice? Watch what Trump does, not what he says.

After all, Trump just installed the most pro-Wall Street team our nation has ever seen. Three of his senior advisers — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin — have a combined 40 years at Goldman Sachs.

Now they’d like to remove the sheriff from the financial sector. If they get their way, I’ll give you better odds than Vegas that they’ll crash the economy again — and stick you and me with the bill.

Lock up your treasure. Call your lawmaker. Don’t go back to sleep.

Distributed by OtherWords.

The United States of Permanent War

As the foreign policy establishment continues to grapple with the consequences of Trump’s election, U.S. officials can still agree on one thing. The United States is a nation that is waging a permanent war.

In December 2016, President Obama reflected on the development in a speech that he delivered to U.S. soldiers at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. “By the time I took office, the United States had been at war for seven years,” Obama said. By continuing that war, “I will become the first president of the United States to serve two full terms during a time of war.”

Notably, Obama did not issue his remarks to criticize the United States. He only made his point to note that Congress had never provided him with authority to perpetuate the wars of the Bush administration. “Right now, we are waging war under authorities provided by Congress over 15 years ago—15 years ago,” Obama said. Consequently, he wanted Congress to craft new legislation that made it appear as if it had not permitted the United States to remain at war forever. “Democracies should not operate in a state of permanently authorized war,” Obama said.

The Bush Plan

Regardless of what Obama really felt about the matter, the Bush administration had always intended for the United States to wage a permanent war. In the days after 9/11, President Bush provided the guiding vision when he announced in a speech to the nation that the United States would be fighting an indefinite global war on terror. “Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes,” Bush explained. “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.”

The following year, Director of Policy Planning Richard Haass provided additional confirmation of the administration’s intentions. “There can be no exit strategy in the war against terrorism,” Haass declared. “It is a war that will persist.” In other words, Haass announced that the United States would remain at war against terrorism forever. “There is unlikely to be an Antietam, a decisive battle in this war,” Haass stated. “An exit strategy, therefore, will do us no good. What we need is an endurance strategy.”

As U.S. officials developed their endurance strategy, they also settled on a few guiding principles. For starters, U.S. officials determined that they would have to maintain some kind of permanent presence in Afghanistan. “We’re not leaving Afghanistan prematurely,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates remarked during the early years of the Obama administration. “In fact, we’re not ever leaving at all.”

More recently, a number of officials in the Obama administration articulated a similar principle for the Middle East. In October 2016, for example, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted that the United States would remain in the region well into the future. Even if the Islamic State is defeated, “it is probably not going to go away, and it’ll morph into something else or other similar extremist groups will be spawned,” Clapper said. “And I believe we’re going to be in the business of suppressing these extremist movements for a long time to come.”

This past December, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made a similar point, arguing that coalition forces “must be ready for anything” and “must remain engaged militarily even after the inevitable expulsion of ISIL from Mosul and Raqqa.”

In essence, U.S. officials agree that the war against terrorism must remain permanent.

The Trump Turn

Officials in the Trump administration, who are now taking over the endurance strategy, have also remained determined to keep the nation at war. Although Trump promised during his campaign that “war and aggression will not be my first instinct,” both he and his cabinet members have displayed a clear preference for war.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who is perhaps most well known for once commenting that it was “a hell of a hoot” and “a hell of a lot of fun” to shoot enemy forces in Afghanistan, argued during his confirmation hearing that the United States should take advantage of its “power of intimidation.” In fact, Mattis pledged to increase the lethality of U.S. military forces. “Our armed forces in this world must remain the best led, the best equipped, and the most lethal in the world,” Mattis insisted.

Furthermore, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has positioned himself as an even stronger advocate of war. For example, Tillerson insisted during his confirmation hearing that the Obama administration should have helped Ukrainian military forces fight Russia after Putin had seized Crimea in early 2014. “My opinion is there should have been a show of force, a military response, in defensive posture,” Tillerson said. In addition, Tillerson insisted that the Trump administration will not permit China to continue building islands in the South China Sea. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island-building stops, and second, your access to those islands also not going to be allowed,” Tillerson said.

Altogether, Tillerson argued that the United States must display a greater willingness to go to war. In the years ahead, the United States will follow “the old tenet of Teddy Roosevelt, walk softly and carry a big stick,” he promised.

Finally, Trump has displayed an even stronger preference for war. In his many public statements, Trump has essentially branded himself as the new face of the permanent war against terrorism. “Radical Islamic terrorism” is something that “we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth,” Trump promised during his inaugural address.

In short, officials in Washington are committed to perpetual war. Although they regularly promise to end war and support peace, they have spent the past 16 years transforming the United States into a nation that is permanently at war.

In fact, “the fighting is wonderful,” Trump has said.

This column originally appeared on Lobelog.org.

The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships

This being the age of public relations, the genteel term “public-private partnership” is used instead of corporate plunder. A “partnership” such deals may be, but it isn’t the public who gets the benefits.

We’ll be hearing more about so-called “public-private partnerships” in coming weeks because the new U.S. president, Donald Trump, is promoting these as the basis for a promised $1 trillion in new infrastructure investments. But the new administration has also promised cuts to public spending. How to square this circle? It’s not difficult to discern when we recall the main policy of the Trump administration is to hand out massive tax cuts to big business and the wealthy, and provide them with subsidies.

Public-private partnerships are one of the surest ways of shoveling money into the gaping maws of corporate wallets, used, with varying names, by neoliberal governments around the world, particularly in Europe and North America. The result has been disastrous — public services and infrastructure maintenance is consistently more expensive after privatization. Cuts to wages for workers who remain on the job and increased use of low-wage subcontractors are additional features of these privatizations.

The rationale for these partnerships is, similar to other neoliberal prescriptions, ideological — the private sector is supposedly always more efficient than government. A private company’s profit incentive will supposedly see to it that costs are kept under control, thereby saving money for taxpayers and transferring risk to the contractor. In the real world, however, this works much differently. A government signs a long-term contract with a private enterprise to build and/or maintain infrastructure, under which the costs are borne by the contractor but the revenue goes to the contractor as well.

The contractor, of course, expects a profit from the arrangement. The government doesn’t — and thus corporate expectation of profits requires that revenues be increased and expenses must be cut. Less services and fewer employees means more profit for the contractor, and because the contractor is a private enterprise there’s no longer public accountability.

Public-private partnerships are nothing more than a variation on straightforward schemes to sell off public assets below cost, with working people having to pay more for reduced quality of service. A survey of these partnerships across Europe and North America will demonstrate this clearly, but first a quick look at the Trump administration’s plans.

Corporate subsidies, not $1 trillion in new spending

The use of the word “plans” is rather loose here. No more than the barest outline of a plan has been articulated. The only direct mention of his intentions to jump-start investment in infrastructure is found in President Trump’s campaign web site. In full, it states the plan “Leverages public-private partnerships, and private investments through tax incentives, to spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over ten years. It is revenue neutral.” The administration’s official White House web site’s sole mention of infrastructure is an announcement approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines without environmental reviews, and an intention to expedite environmental reviews for “high priority infrastructure projects.”

Wilbur Ross, an investment banker who buys companies and then takes away pensions and medical benefits so he can flip his companies for a big short-term profit, and who is President Trump’s pick for commerce secretary, along with a conservative economics professor, Peter Navarro, have recommended the Trump administration allocate $137 billion in tax credits for private investors who underwrite infrastructure projects. The two estimate that over 10 years the credits could spur $1 trillion in investment. So the new administration won’t actually spend $1 trillion to fix the country’s badly decaying infrastructure; it hopes to encourage private capital to do so through tax cuts.

There is a catch here — private capital is only going to invest if a steady profit can be extracted. Writing in the New Republic, David Dayen put this plainly:

“Private operators will only undertake projects if they promise a revenue stream. You may end up with another bridge in New York City or another road in Los Angeles, which can be monetized. But someplace that actually needs infrastructure investment is more dicey without user fees. So the only way to entice private-sector actors into rebuilding Flint, Michigan’s water system, for example, is to give them a cut of the profits in perpetuity. That’s what Chicago did when it sold off 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-led investor group. Users now pay exorbitant fees to park in Chicago, and city government is helpless to alter the rates.”

The Trump plan appears to go beyond even the ordinary terms of public-private partnerships because it would transfer money to developers with no guarantee at all that net new investments are made, according to an Economic Policy Institute analysis. The EPI report asks several questions:

“[I]t appears to be a plan to give tax credits to private financiers and developers, period. The lack of details here are daunting and incredibly important. For starters, we don’t know if the tax credit would be restricted to new investment, or if investors in already existing [public-private partnerships] are eligible for the credit. If private investors in already existing PPP arrangements are eligible, how do we ensure these tax credits actually induce net new investments rather than just transferring taxpayer largesse on operators of already-existing projects? Who decides which projects need to be built? How will the Trump administration provide needed infrastructure investments that are unlikely to be profitable for private providers (such as building lead-free water pipes in Flint, MI)? If we assume tax credits will be restricted (on paper, anyhow) to just new investment, how do we know the money is not just providing a windfall to already planned projects rather than inducing a net increase in how much infrastructure investment occurs?”

Critiques of this scheme can readily be found on the Right as well. For example, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former head of the Congressional Budget Office and economic adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, told The Associated Press, “I don’t think that is a model that is going be viewed as successful or that you can use it for all of the infrastructure needs that the U.S. has.”

Corporations plunder, people pay in Britain

Britain’s version of public-private partnerships are called “private finance initiatives.” A scheme concocted by the Conservative Party and enthusiastically adopted by the New Labour of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the results are disastrous. A 2015 report in The Independent reveals that the British government owes more than £222 billion to banks and businesses as a result of private finance initiatives. Jonathan Owen reports:

“The startling figure – described by experts as a ‘financial disaster’ – has been calculated as part of an Independent on Sunday analysis of Treasury data on more than 720 PFIs. The analysis has been verified by the National Audit Office. The headline debt is based on ‘unitary charges’ which start this month and will continue for 35 years. They include fees for services rendered, such as maintenance and cleaning, as well as the repayment of loans underwritten by banks and investment companies.

Responding to the findings, [British Trades Union Congress] General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Crippling PFI debts are exacerbating the funding crisis across our public services, most obviously in our National Health Service.’ ”

Under private finance initiatives, a consortium of private-sector banks and construction firms finance, own, operate and leasethe formerly public property back to the U.K. taxpayer over a period of 30 to 35 years. By no means do taxpayers receive value for these deals — and the total cost will likely rise far above the initial £222 billion cost. According to The Independent:

“The system has yielded assets valued at £56.5bn. But Britain will pay more than five times that amount under the terms of the PFIs used to create them, and in some cases be left with nothing to show for it, because the PFI agreed to is effectively a leasing agreement. Some £88bn has already been spent, and even if the projected cost between now and 2049/50 does not change, the total PFI bill will be in excess of £310bn. This is more than four times the budget deficit used to justify austerity cuts to government budgets and local services.”

The private firms can even flip their contracts for a faster payday. Four companies given 25-year contracts to build and maintain schools doubled their money by selling their shares in the schemes less than five years into the deals for a composite profit of £300 million. Clearly, these contracts were given at well below reasonable cost.

One of the most prominent privatization disasters was a £30 billion deal for Metronet to upgrade and maintain London’s subway system. The company failed, leaving taxpayers with a £2 billion bill because Transport for London, the government entity responsible for overseeing the subway, guaranteed 95 percent of the debt the private companies had taken out. Then there is the example of England’s water systems, directly sold off. The largest, Thames Water, was acquired by a consortium led by the Australian bank Macquarie Group. This has been disastrous for rate payers but most profitable to the bank. An Open University study found that, in four of the five years studied, the consortium took out more money from the company than it made in post-tax profits, while fees increased and service declined.

As for the original sale itself, the water companies were sold on the cheap. Although details of the business can be discussed by “stakeholders,” the authors conclude, the privatization itself remains outside political debate, placing a “ring-fence” around the issues surrounding the privatization, such as the “politics of packaging and selling households as a captive revenue stream.” The public has no choice when the water provider is a monopoly and thus no say in rates.

Incredibly, Prime Minister Theresa May and the Tories intend to sell off more public services to Macquarie-led consortiums.

Corporations plunder, people pay across Europe

Privatization of water systems has not gone better in continental Europe. Cities in Germany and France, including Paris, have taken back their water after selling systems to corporations. The city of Paris’ contracts with Veolia Environment and Suez Environment, expired in 2010; during the preceding 25 years water prices there had doubled, after accounting for inflation, according to a paper prepared by David Hall, a University of Greenwich researcher. Despite the costs of taking back the water system, the city saved €35 million in the first year and was able to reduce water charges by eight percent. Higher prices and reduced services have been the norm for privatized systems across France, according to Professor Hall’s study.

German cities have also “re-municipalized” basic utilities. One example is the German city of Bergkamen (population about 50,000), which reversed its privatization of energy, water and other services. As a result of returning those to the public sector, the city now earns €3 million a year from the municipal companies set up to provide services, while reducing costs by as much as 30 percent.

Water is big business. Suez and Veolia both reported profits of more than €400 million for 2015. Not unrelated to this is the increasing prominence of bottled water. Bottled water is dominated by three of the world’s biggest companies: Coca-Cola (Dasani), PepsiCo (Aquafina) and Nestlé (Poland Springs, Deer Park, Arrowhead and others). So it’s perhaps not surprising that Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe infamously issued a video in which he declared the idea that water is a human right “extreme” and that water should instead have a “market value.”

One privatization that has not been reversed, however, is Goldman Sachs’ takeover of Denmark’s state-owned energy company Dong Energy. Despite strong popular opposition, the Danish government sold an 18 percent share in Dong Energy to Goldman Sachs in 2014 while giving the investment bank a veto over strategic decisions, essentially handing it control. The bank was also given the right to sell back its shares for a guaranteed profit. Goldman Sachs has turned a huge profit already — two years after buying its share, Dong began selling shares on the stock market, and initial trading established a value for the company twice as high as it was valued for purposes of selling the shares to Goldman. In other words, Goldman’s shares doubled in value in just two years — a $1.7 billion gain.

Danes have paid for this partial privatization in other ways as well. Taking advantage of the control granted it, Goldman demanded lower payments to Danish subcontractors and replaced some subcontractors who refused to use lower-paid workers.

Corporations plunder, people pay in Canada

Canada’s version of public-private partnerships has followed the same script. A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives flatly declared that

“In every single project approved so far as a P3 in Ontario, the costs would have been lower through traditional procurement if they had not inflated by these calculations of the value of ‘risk.’ The calculations of risk could just as well have been pulled out of thin air — and they are not small amounts.”

Not that Ontario is alone here. Among the examples the Centre provides are a hospital, Brampton Civic, that cost the public $200 million more than if it had been publicly financed and built directly by Ontario; the Sea-to-Sky Highway in British Columbia that will cost taxpayers $220 million more than if it had been financed and operated publicly; bailouts of the companies operating the city of Ottawa’s recreational arenas; and a Université de Québec à Montréal project that doubled the cost to $400 million.

A separate study by University of Toronto researchers of 28 Ontario public-private partnerships found they cost an average of 16 percent more than conventional contracts.

Corporations plunder, people pay in the United States

In the United States, a long-time goal of the Republican Party has been to privatize the Postal Service. To facilitate this, a congressional bill signed into law in 2006 required the Postal Service to pre-fund its pension costs for the next 75 years in only 10 years. This is unheard of; certainly no private business would or could do such a thing. This preposterous requirement saddled the Postal Service with a $16 billion deficit. The goal here is to weaken the post office in order to manufacture a case that the government is incapable of running it.

The city of Chicago has found that there are many bad consequences of public-private partnerships beyond the monetary. In 2008, Chicago gave a 75-year lease on its parking meters to Morgan Stanley for $1 billion. Shortly afterward, the city’s inspector general concluded the value of the meter lease was $2 billion. Parking rates skyrocketed, and the terms of the lease protecting Morgan Stanley’s investment created new annual costs for the city, according to a Next City report.

That report noted that plans for express bus lanes, protected bike lanes and street changes to enhance pedestrian safety are complicated by the fact that each of these projects requires removing metered parking spaces. Removing meters requires the city to make penalty payments to Morgan Stanley. Even removals for street repairs requires compensation; the Next City report notes that the city lost a $61 million lawsuit filed by the investment bank because of street closures.

Nor have water systems been exempt from privatization schemes. A study by Food & Water Watch found that:

*Investor-owned utilities typically charge 33 percent more for water and 63 percent more for sewer service than local government utilities.

*After privatization, water rates increase at about three times the rate of inflation, with an average increase of 18 percent every other year.

*Corporate profits, dividends and income taxes can add 20 to 30 percent to operation and maintenance costs.

Pure ideology drives these privatization schemes. The Federal Reserve poured $4.1 trillion into buying bonds, which did little more than inflate a stock-market bubble, while the investment needs to rebuild U.S. water systems, schools and dams, plus cleaning up Superfund sites and eliminating student debt, are less at a combined $3.4 trillion. What if that Federal Reserve money had gone to those instead?

“Public investment to create private profit”

Given its billionaire leadership, the Trump administration’s plans for public-private partnerships will not lead to better results, and may well be even worse. Michael Hudson recently summarized what is likely coming in this way:

“Mr. Trump wants to turn the U.S. economy into the kind of real estate development that has made him so rich in New York. It will make his fellow developers rich, and it will make the banks that finance this infrastructure rich, but the people are going to have to pay for it in a much higher cost for transportation, much higher cost for all the infrastructure that he’s proposing. So I think you could call Trump’s plan ‘public investment to create private profit.’ That’s really his plan in a summary, it looks to me.”

This makes no sense as public policy. But it is consistent with the desire of capitalists to continually extract higher profits from any and all human activity. Similar to governments handing over their sovereignty to multi-national corporations in so-called “free trade” deals that facilitate the movement of production to locales with ever lower wages and weaker laws, public-private partnerships represent a plundering of the public sector for private profit, and government surrender of public goods. All this is a reflection of the imbalance of power in capitalist countries.

This is “the market” in action — and the market is nothing more than the aggregate interests of the most powerful industrialists and financiers. It also reflects that as capitalist markets mature and capital runs out of places into which to expand, ongoing competitive pressures will drive corporate leaderships to reduce expenses (particularly wages) and move into new lines of business. Taking over what had been the public sector is one way of achieving this, especially if public goods can be bought below fair market value and guarantees of profits extracted.

The ruthless logic of capitalism is that a commodity goes to those who can pay the most, regardless of whether it is something essential to human life.