Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States

Let Us Finish What FDR and MLK Started

‘The bottom line is that today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality,’ said Sanders on Thursday, ‘but a power structure which protects that inequality.’ (Image: Screenshot/Common Dreams)

The following are the prepared remarks for a speech given by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at Georgetown University on Thursday, November 19th, 2015.

In his inaugural remarks in January 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt looked out at the nation and this is what he saw.

He saw tens of millions of its citizens denied the basic necessities of life.

He saw millions of families trying to live on incomes so meager that the pall of family disaster hung over them day by day.

He saw millions denied education, recreation, and the opportunity to better their lot and the lot of their children.

He saw millions lacking the means to buy the products they needed and by their poverty and lack of disposable income denying employment to many other millions.

He saw one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.

And he acted. Against the ferocious opposition of the ruling class of his day, people he called economic royalists, Roosevelt implemented a series of programs that put millions of people back to work, took them out of poverty and restored their faith in government. He redefined the relationship of the federal government to the people of our country. He combatted cynicism, fear and despair. He reinvigorated democracy. He transformed the country.

And that is what we have to do today.

And, by the way, almost everything he proposed was called “socialist.” Social Security, which transformed life for the elderly in this country was “socialist.” The concept of the “minimum wage” was seen as a radical intrusion into the marketplace and was described as “socialist.” Unemployment insurance, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour work week, collective bargaining, strong banking regulations, deposit insurance, and job programs that put millions of people to work were all described, in one way or another, as “socialist.” Yet, these programs have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.

Thirty years later, in the 1960s, President Johnson passed Medicare and Medicaid to provide health care to millions of senior citizens and families with children, persons with disabilities and some of the most vulnerable people in this county. Once again these vitally important programs were derided by the right wing as socialist programs that were a threat to our American way of life.

That was then. Now is now.

Today, in 2015, despite the Wall Street crash of 2008, which drove this country into the worst economic downturn since the Depression, the American people are clearly better off economically than we were in 1937.

But, here is a very hard truth that we must acknowledge and address. Despite a huge increase in technology and productivity, despite major growth in the U.S. and global economy, tens of millions of American families continue to lack the basic necessities of life, while millions more struggle every day to provide a minimal standard of living for their families. The reality is that for the last 40 years the great middle class of this country has been in decline and faith in our political system is now extremely low.

The rich get much richer. Almost everyone else gets poorer. Super PACs funded by billionaires buy elections. Ordinary people don’t vote. We have an economic and political crisis in this country and the same old, same old establishment politics and economics will not effectively address it.

If we are serious about transforming our country, if we are serious about rebuilding the middle class, if we are serious about reinvigorating our democracy, we need to develop a political movement which, once again, is prepared to take on and defeat a ruling class whose greed is destroying our nation. The billionaire class cannot have it all. Our government belongs to all of us, and not just the one percent.

We need to create a culture which, as Pope Francis reminds us, cannot just be based on the worship of money. We must not accept a nation in which billionaires compete as to the size of their super-yachts, while children in America go hungry and veterans sleep out on the streets.

Today, in America, we are the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, but few Americans know that because so much of the new income and wealth goes to the people on top. In fact, over the last 30 years, there has been a massive transfer of wealth – trillions of wealth – going from the middle class to the top one-tenth of 1 percent – a handful of people who have seen a doubling of the percentage of the wealth they own over that period.

Unbelievably, and grotesquely, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

Today, in America, millions of our people are working two or three jobs just to survive. In fact, Americans work longer hours than do the people of any industrialized country. Despite the incredibly hard work and long hours of the American middle class, 58 percent of all new income generated today is going to the top one percent.

Today, in America, as the middle class continues to disappear, median family income, is $4,100 less than it was in 1999. The median male worker made over $700 less than he did 42 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. Last year, the median female worker earned more than $1,000 less than she did in 2007.

Today, in America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, more than half of older workers have no retirement savings – zero – while millions of elderly and people with disabilities are trying to survive on $12,000 or $13,000 a year. From Vermont to California, older workers are scared to death. “How will I retire with dignity?,” they ask?

Today, in America, nearly 47 million Americans are living in poverty and over 20 percent of our children, including 36 percent of African American children, are living in poverty — the highest rate of childhood poverty of nearly any major country on earth.

Today, in America, 29 million Americans have no health insurance and even more are underinsured with outrageously high co-payments and deductibles. Further, with the United States paying the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, 1 out of 5 patients cannot afford to fill the prescriptions their doctors write.

Today, in America, youth unemployment and underemployment is over 35 percent. Meanwhile, we have more people in jail than any other country and countless lives are being destroyed as we spend $80 billion a year locking up fellow Americans.

The bottom line is that today in America we not only have massive wealth and income inequality, but a power structure which protects that inequality. A handful of super-wealthy campaign contributors have enormous influence over the political process, while their lobbyists determine much of what goes on in Congress.

In 1944, in his State of the Union speech, President Roosevelt outlined what he called a second Bill of Rights. This is one of the most important speeches ever made by a president but, unfortunately, it has not gotten the attention that it deserves.

In that remarkable speech this is what Roosevelt stated, and I quote: “We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men.” End of quote. In other words, real freedom must include economic security. That was Roosevelt’s vision 70 years ago. It is my vision today. It is a vision that we have not yet achieved. It is time that we did.

In that speech, Roosevelt described the economic rights that he believed every American was entitled to: The right to a decent job at decent pay, the right to adequate food, clothing, and time off from work, the right for every business, large and small, to function in an atmosphere free from unfair competition and domination by monopolies. The right of all Americans to have a decent home and decent health care.

What Roosevelt was stating in 1944, what Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in similar terms 20 years later and what I believe today, is that true freedom does not occur without economic security.

People are not truly free when they are unable to feed their family. People are not truly free when they are unable to retire with dignity. People are not truly free when they are unemployed or underpaid or when they are exhausted by working long hours. People are not truly free when they have no health care.

So let me define for you, simply and straightforwardly, what democratic socialism means to me. It builds on what Franklin Delano Roosevelt said when he fought for guaranteed economic rights for all Americans. And it builds on what Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1968 when he stated that; “This country has socialism for the rich, and rugged individualism for the poor.” It builds on the success of many other countries around the world that have done a far better job than we have in protecting the needs of their working families, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor.

Democratic socialism means that we must create an economy that works for all, not just the very wealthy.

Democratic socialism means that we must reform a political system in America today which is not only grossly unfair but, in many respects, corrupt.

It is a system, for example, which during the 1990s allowed Wall Street to spend $5 billion in lobbying and campaign contributions to get deregulated. Then, ten years later, after the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior of Wall Street led to their collapse, it is a system which provided trillions in government aid to bail them out. Wall Street used their wealth and power to get Congress to do their bidding for deregulation and then, when their greed caused their collapse, they used their wealth and power to get Congress to bail them out. Quite a system!

And, then, to add insult to injury, we were told that not only were the banks too big to fail, the bankers were too big to jail. Kids who get caught possessing marijuana get police records. Wall Street CEOs who help destroy the economy get raises in their salaries. This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant by socialism for the rich and rugged individualism for everyone else.

In my view, it’s time we had democratic socialism for working families, not just Wall Street, billionaires and large corporations. It means that we should not be providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs. It means that we create a government that works for works for all of us, not just powerful special interests. It means that economic rights must be an essential part of what America stands for.

It means that health care should be a right of all people, not a privilege. This is not a radical idea. It exists in every other major country on earth. Not just Denmark, Sweden or Finland. It exists in Canada, France, Germany and Taiwan. That is why I believe in a Medicare-for-all single payer health care system. Yes. The Affordable Care Act, which I helped write and voted for, is a step forward for this country. But we must build on it and go further.

Medicare for all would not only guarantee health care for all people, not only save middle class families and our entire nation significant sums of money, it would radically improve the lives of all Americans and bring about significant improvements in our economy.

People who get sick will not have to worry about paying a deductible or making a co-payment. They could go to the doctor when they should, and not end up in the emergency room. Business owners will not have to spend enormous amounts of time worrying about how they are going to provide health care for their employees. Workers will not have to be trapped in jobs they do not like simply because their employers are offering them decent health insurance plans. Instead, they will be able to pursue the jobs and work they love, which could be an enormous boon for the economy. And by the way, moving to a Medicare for all program will end the disgrace of Americans paying, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

Democratic socialism means that, in the year 2015, a college degree is equivalent to what a high school degree was 50 years ago – and that public education must allow every person in this country, who has the ability, the qualifications and the desire, the right to go to a public colleges or university tuition free. This is also not a radical idea. It exists today in many countries around the world. In fact, it used to exist in the United States.

Democratic socialism means that our government does everything it can to create a full employment economy. It makes far more sense to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, than to have a real unemployment rate of almost 10%. It is far smarter to invest in jobs and educational opportunities for unemployed young people, than to lock them up and spend $80 billion a year through mass incarceration.

Democratic socialism means that if someone works forty hours a week, that person should not be living in poverty: that we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage – $15 an hour over the next few years. It means that we join the rest of the world and pass the very strong Paid Family and Medical Leave legislation now in Congress. How can it possibly be that the United States, today, is virtually the only nation on earth, large or small, which does not guarantee that a working class woman can stay home for a reasonable period of time with her new-born baby? How absurd is that?

Democratic socialism means that we have government policy which does not allow the greed and profiteering of the fossil fuel industry to destroy our environment and our planet, and that we have a moral responsibility to combat climate change and leave this planet healthy and inhabitable for our kids and grandchildren.

Democratic socialism means, that in a democratic, civilized society the wealthiest people and the largest corporations must pay their fair share of taxes. Yes. Innovation, entrepreneurship and business success should be rewarded. But greed for the sake of greed is not something that public policy should support. It is not acceptable that in a rigged economy in the last two years the wealthiest 15 Americans saw their wealth increase by $170 billion, more wealth than is owned by the bottom 130 million Americans. Let us not forget what Pope Francis has so elegantly stated; “We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

It is not acceptable that major corporations stash their profits in the Cayman Islands and other offshore tax havens to avoid paying $100 billion in taxes each and every year. It is not acceptable that hedge fund managers pay a lower effective tax rate than nurses or truck drivers. It is not acceptable that billionaire families are able to leave virtually all of their wealth to their families without paying a reasonable estate tax. It is not acceptable that Wall Street speculators are able to gamble trillions of dollars in the derivatives market without paying a nickel in taxes on those transactions.

Democratic socialism, to me, does not just mean that we must create a nation of economic and social justice. It also means that we must create a vibrant democracy based on the principle of one person one vote. It is extremely sad that the United States, one of the oldest democracies on earth, has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any major country, and that millions of young and working class people have given up on our political system entirely. Every American should be embarrassed that in our last national election 63% of the American people, and 80% of young people, did not vote. Clearly, despite the efforts of many Republican governors to suppress the vote, we must make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder. It is not too much to demand that everyone 18 years of age is registered to vote – end of discussion.

Further, it is unacceptable that we have a corrupt campaign finance system which allows millionaires, billionaires and large corporations to contribute as much as they want to Super Pacs to elect candidates who will represent their special interests. We must overturn Citizens United and move to public funding of elections.

So the next time you hear me attacked as a socialist, remember this:

I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal.

I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.

I believe that most Americans can pay lower taxes – if hedge fund managers who make billions manipulating the marketplace finally pay the taxes they should.

I don’t believe in special treatment for the top 1%, but I do believe in equal treatment for African-Americans who are right to proclaim the moral principle that Black Lives Matter.

I despise appeals to nativism and prejudice, and I do believe in immigration reform that gives Hispanics and others a pathway to citizenship and a better life.

I don’t believe in some foreign “ism”, but I believe deeply in American idealism.

I’m not running for president because it’s my turn, but because it’s the turn of all of us to live in a nation of hope and opportunity not for some, not for the few, but for all.

No one understood better than FDR the connection between American strength at home and our ability to defend America at home and across the world. That is why he proposed a second Bill of Rights in 1944, and said in that State of the Union:

“America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

I’m not running to pursue reckless adventures abroad, but to rebuild America’s strength at home. I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will never send our sons and daughters to war under false pretense or pretenses or into dubious battles with no end in sight.

And when we discuss foreign policy, let me join the people of Paris in mourning their loss, and pray that those who have been wounded will enjoy a full recovery. Our hearts also go out to the families of the hundreds of Russians apparently killed by an ISIS bomb on their flight, and those who lost their lives to terrorist attacks in Lebanon and elsewhere.

To my mind, it is clear that the United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime, and to create conditions that prevent fanatical extremist ideologies from flourishing. But we cannot – and should not – do it alone.

Our response must begin with an understanding of past mistakes and missteps in our previous approaches to foreign policy. It begins with the acknowledgment that unilateral military action should be a last resort, not a first resort, and that ill-conceived military decisions, such as the invasion of Iraq, can wreak far-reaching devastation and destabilize entire regions for decades. It begins with the reflection that the failed policy decisions of the past – rushing to war, regime change in Iraq, or toppling Mossadegh in Iran in 1953, or Guatemalan President Árbenz in 1954, Brazilian President Goulart in 1964, Chilean President Allende in 1973. These are the sorts of policies do not work, do not make us safer, and must not be repeated.

After World War II, in response to the fear of Soviet aggression, European nations and the United States established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – an organization based on shared interests and goals and the notion of a collective defense against a common enemy. It is my belief that we must expand on these ideals and solidify our commitments to work together to combat the global threat of terror.

We must create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century – an organization that emphasizes cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and importantly to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts. We must work with our NATO partners, and expand our coalition to include Russia and members of the Arab League.

But let’s be very clear. While the U.S. and other western nations have the strength of our militaries and political systems, the fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations – with the strong support of their global partners.

These same sentiments have been echoed by those in the region. Jordan’s King Abdallah II said in a speech on Sunday that terrorism is the “greatest threat to our region” and that Muslims must lead the fight against it. He noted that confronting extremism is both a regional and international responsibility, and that it is incumbent on Muslim nations and communities to confront those who seek to hijack their societies and generations with intolerance and violent ideology.

And let me congratulate King Abdallah not only for his wise remarks, but also for the role that his small country is playing in attempting to address the horrific refugee crisis in the region.

A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies.

What does all of this mean? Well, it means that, in many cases, we must ask more from those in the region. While Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, and Lebanon have accepted their responsibilities for taking in Syrian refugees, other countries in the region have done nothing or very little.

Equally important, and this is a point that must be made – countries in the region like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE – countries of enormous wealth and resources – have contributed far too little in the fight against ISIS. That must change. King Abdallah is absolutely right when he says that that the Muslim nations must lead the fight against ISIS, and that includes some of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the region, who, up to this point have done far too little.

Saudi Arabia has the 3rd largest defense budget in the world, yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Kuwait, a country whose ruling family was restored to power by U.S. troops after the first Gulf War, has been a well-known source of financing for ISIS and other violent extremists. It has been reported that Qatar will spend $200 billion on the 2022 World Cup, including the construction of an enormous number of facilities to host that event – $200 billion on hosting a soccer event, yet very little to fight against ISIS. Worse still, it has been widely reported that the government has not been vigilant in stemming the flow of terrorist financing, and that Qatari individuals and organizations funnel money to some of the most extreme terrorist groups, including al Nusra and ISIS.

All of this has got to change. Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need.

Further, we all understand that Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator who has slaughtered many of his own people. I am pleased that we saw last weekend diplomats from all over world, known as the International Syria Support Group, set a timetable for a Syrian-led political transition with open and fair elections. These are the promising beginnings of a collective effort to end the bloodshed and to move to political transition.

The diplomatic plan for Assad’s transition from power is a good step in a united front. But our priority must be to defeat ISIS. Nations all over the world, who share a common interest in protecting themselves against international terrorist, must make the destruction of ISIS the highest priority. Nations in the region must commit – that instead of turning a blind eye — they will commit their resources to preventing the free flow of terrorist finances and fighters to Syria and Iraq. We need a commitment that they will counter the violent rhetoric that fuels terrorism – rhetoric that often occurs within their very borders.

This is the model in which we must pursue solutions to the sorts of global threats we face.

While individual nations indeed have historic disputes – the U.S. and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – the time is now to put aside those differences to work towards a common purpose of destroying ISIS. Sadly, as we have seen recently, no country is immune from attacks by the violent organization or those whom they have radicalized.

Thus, we must work with our partners in Europe, the Gulf states, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all along the way asking the hard questions whether their actions are serving our unified purpose.

The bottom line is that ISIS must be destroyed, but it cannot be defeated by the United States alone. A new and effective coalition must be formed with the Muslim nations leading the effort on the ground, while the United States and other major forces provide the support they need.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), currently a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont’s at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders or @BernieSanders

GOP voters want an apocalypse

The truth about Trump & Carson’s success

We’ve long since passed the time when Trump & Carson could be written off. Something’s different this election

GOP voters want an apocalypse: The truth about Trump & Carson's success
(Credit: AP/Mark J. Terrill)

For the last couple of years, the conventional wisdom has been that the Republican Party potential presidential field was an embarrassment of riches. Their “bench” was so chock full of executive talent, they barely had room for them all. This was always discussed in the context of the Democratic Party’s sad little group of ancient mariners who might well have already been set on the ice floe in an earlier time.

It’s interesting how that’s unfolding. None of the governors are panning out. Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose record running one of the biggest state’s successfully on a Republican platform was no help, dropped out first; followed by the union slaying Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Both had been highly touted as excellent presidential material based on their records. None of the current and former governors, from Bush to Kasich, Christie, Huckabee, Jindal and Pataki, have caught fire either. Between them, they have decades of executive experience and yet they can’t get any momentum. This flies in the face of everything we’ve ever heard about the Republican reverence for state government, for executive experience and the ability to get results from Republican policies.

For a long time it was assumed that Senators were unsuited for the task of the presidency, what with their lack experience “running things.” Not that this stopped them from running for president, but it hadn’t escaped anyone’s notice that until 2008 the last Senator to become president had been elected in 1960. Barack Obama broke that long streak and the Republicans have a handful of Senators to choose from in 2016. Two of the four in the race, Rubio and Cruz, seem to be doing slightly better than the governors, and are at this point seen as “establishment” alternatives, even though neither of them are polling at more than 11 percent. The third, Rand Paul, once touted as the leader of a new libertarian, isolationist Republican Party, has turned out to be irrelevant. The fourth, Senator Lindsay Graham, is a joke.

There you have the vaunted GOP bench — the well-prepared, highly qualified, totally experienced group of veterans, any one of whom the country was supposed to be able to see as president. And Republican primary voters can’t stand any of them. They are, instead, enthralled with two men who have never held public office, and seem not to even understand our system of government or care how it works.

The Hill asked some Republican strategists to explain this phenomenon:

“It’s a different test this time around,” said GOP strategist David Payne. “Experience, executive experience, these aren’t the tests. It’s about the right ideas and the right temperament and coming off as tough. You see how important the debates have been. Style and presentation matter more than ever, more even than if you were a great leader in the past.” […]

“Republicans this year don’t want managers, they want transformers,” conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace, a Cruz supporter, told The Hill. “They don’t want reform, they want revolution. They don’t want a better government, they want a new government. The ground has shifted and the grassroots conservatives have taken the establishment’s preeminence away.”

Say what you will about Trump and Carson, they are both entertaining. But it’s the revolutionary aspect of their candidacies that’s interesting.

It’s not exactly a surprise that Republican voters hate government. It’s been their number one organizing principle for years. In fact, the Sainted Ronald Reagan himself was known for his saying “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” And we know they hate liberals. They have spent decades denigrating the philosophy,the ideology and even the word itself. But until now they haven’t hated the Republican Party. And boy do they hate it.

What seems to have happened is that GOP base voters feel betrayed and disillusioned because they voted for a Republican Congress and that Congress has failed to deliver the agenda on which they ran. First of all, they failed to remove President Obama from office, either through impeachment or at the ballot box in 2012. They also failed to repeal Obamacare,”close the borders,” ban abortion, stop gay marriage, or end political correctness, just for starters.

Someone forgot to tell Republican voters that there are three branches of government regulated by checks and balances, and other people in their own party, as well as the opposition party, who have different agendas competing with their own. If you listen to right-wing media and follow what’s being said in the conservative bubble, it’s understandable. They were told that they won a huge mandate, and now they quite logically blame the people who have been making promises they don’t keep.

When they listen to these professional politicians running for their party’s nomination, they just hear more of the same — and they don’t want to hear it anymore. They want someone who will assure them that this creaky government system with all those checks and balances, and all the resultant gridlock, will not be a hinderance to achievement of their agenda. They are tired of waiting. And right now they have two presidential candidates who are promising a different way of doing things.

Donald Trump is running to be a strongman. It’s all about him “getting the job done” because he’s smarter and tougher than everyone else. (This is a familiar archetype and Trump’s specific relationship to it is fascinatingly explored in this piece by Rick Perlstein, called “Donald Trump and the F-word.”) Ben Carson is a little bit more complicated. He’s running as a quasi-religious leader who will be able to overcome all these obstacles through the same miraculous process that has characterized his life story. (The recent questions about some details of that very famous life story have only resulted in adding martyrdom to his mystique.) In both cases, the people who like them are not merely attracted to the fact that these men are outsiders, but also by qualities that will ostensibly allow them to transcend the normal process of democratic government. Despite their professions of love for the constitution, these voters no longer believe in the system of government that constitution sets forth.

It’s still possible that these voters are simply “sending a message” to the powers that be, telling them that they are at the ends of their ropes. That’s certainly what the establishment hopes is happening:

Republicans like Cullen, who says he cannot support Trump, Carson or Cruz, say it’s still early, and the party will rally behind they types of candidates it’s nominated in the past.

“Some of these guys still look like summer love affairs to me, even if we’re well into the fall now,” he said. “I still think voters will want look to take the polished young man home that they can show off to mom and dad.”

That courtly tone sounds as out of place in the Trump era as if he were speaking Elizabethan english. These Republican voters have been listening to talk radio and watching Fox news and reading thousands of Tea Party emails for years and they want a man of action. When they talk about revolution it’s not the white wigged American style. They’re thinking of something much more “top-down.”


Heather Digby Parton, also known as “Digby,” is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

COP 21: movements rally to Paris for climate justice

By Skye Bougsty-Marshall On November 8, 2015

Post image for COP 21: movements rally to Paris for climate justiceThe COP 21 summit in Paris is approaching, but while the situation is grim the planned social movement mobilizations offer hope and opportunities.

Photo by Alberto Ñiquén.

We know how it all started — colonialism was the original metabolic rift in our history, which has been profoundly extended and deepened by industrial capitalism. Yet as we enter the 6th mass extinction, there is an ambient sense that there is no alternative to this way of life.

We collectively hallucinate that the present order of things will persist indefinitely, silently abiding the comfort and enslavement this disposition provides, all the while waiting for the apocalypse we are living through to blossom fully.

Many have been waiting for the totalizing revolution that appears as a vanishing point on a receding horizon, a perpetually deferred future. The intersecting ecological and climate crises stand as a refutation of more than a hundred years of left-wing teleology that ‘in the end we will win.’ Instead they reinforce the need for constant molecular struggles to open and expand cracks for resistance and new forms of life to flourish.

World governments acknowledge that catastrophic climate change is the defining crisis of our times, and simultaneously  continue to benefit from subsidies of $5.3 trillion in 2015, according to the IMF. This is more than all governments spend on health care combined and amounts to an astonishing $10 million every minute.

We have reached a point where we need to keep 80% of fossil fuels in the ground, which would require emission reductions of at least 10% per year by 2025, even as Lord Stern counsels us that a mere 1% emissions reductions rate each year would be associated with economic recession and upheaval.

This requires radical global degrowth, which understandably is unacceptable to billions of people trying to lift themselves out of poverty wrought by colonial and neocolonial depredation and the enforced inequality of smoothly operating capitalism. Yet the overdeveloped states deny their historic responsibility, disregarding principles of equity by refusing to recognize their immeasurable ecological and social debts accrued through their ruinous development processes.

The landmark COP21 provides ecological justice struggles with an unparalleled opportunity to come together as a global movement to put into sharp relief the echoless chasm separating the minimal conditions for a just and livable planet and the political order’s capacity to secure these.

The system is exhausted. The UN COP process merely simulates its continued viability, thus performing the regeneration of its legitimacy. Its collapse is inevitable, in its orbit looms only the question whether it will take civilization with it in its violent, implosive heat death. Futurity dangles ridiculous.

Social Movements

Given the planetary scope of the climate crisis, climate justice is not an ‘issue’ amongst others, but a global frame that permeates the struggle for all forms of social justice. The call for ‘climate justice’ has become the rallying cry of the global movements connecting local struggles for survival across the world in blocking the extraction and flows of carbon and capital. It foregrounds those in the global South who bear virtually no responsibility for the crisis but disproportionately suffer its effects. This demands a forceful response, one cutting across movements in consonance with their interlinked nature.

Imagine the predicted 200 million climate refugees by 2050 as Europe’s Fortress walls (or common border) buckle under the weight of 600,000 refugees arrivingacross the Mediterranean so far this year. Austerity operates to socialize the risks and privatize the costs of the ‘natural’ disasters that will accelerate in magnitude and scale due to climate change. TPP and TTIP will eviscerate the already meager environmental regulations that could begin to rein in emissions because they also generate friction for accumulation.

The industrial food system is responsible for 44-57% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, making the fight for food sovereignty coextensive with the fight for climate justice. The destabilization and social upheaval attendant with climate disruptions and increasingly scarce resources will be met with merciless state violence that disparately impacts vulnerable and marginalized populations. Although necessary, a mere (just) transition to 100% renewable energy only partially responds to the radical transformations across interconnected dimensions social justice requires.

To maximize its effectiveness, the climate justice movement can endeavor to maintain a capillary nature circulating through the streams of other movements, overflowing the banks of their tributaries and connecting with them on the basis of their existing campaigns to become a roaring confluence of movement flows. Ecology and climate are the molecular integrals across these movements, a shared thread to link them that can be mutually and reflexively incorporated as common terrains for struggle.

The climate movement has matured and changed complexion dramatically since the debilitating failure of Copenhagen. The rhetoric from the movement’s center of gravity has begun to shift away from delegating its power to politicians to calling for system change.

Increasingly, the climate justice wing of the movement has assimilated the radical tactics and tools of movement building mainstreamed through the movements of the squares. It has learned from the experiences of the last six years, as the irruptions of Occupy and the Arab Spring show the potential for explosive social situations in the current context of the dissolution of the political order.

This is why the time is ripe and the climate movement is unique and crucial in its capacity to shine a particularly penetrating light, joining with those of other movements, to show the abyssal depth of these interrelated crises.

Welcome to Disneyland

Against this backdrop, the liberal democratic order holds out the UN COP process as the ideal framework for global governance of a global commons issue par excellence — climate. It is the prevailing order’s mechanism for addressing the existential crisis the climate catastrophe uniquely constitutes. However, the discourse and purported solutions have virtually no relationship to the reality of unraveling planetary ecosystems.

The COP and the political system do not even pretend to countenance the science. The UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christina Figueres confirmed that the Paris agreement is not expected to meet the 2°C target necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change, disavowing the authoritative conclusions of the (conservative) IPCC reports. The negotiations focus endlessly and exclusively on emissions reductions and degrees, never questioning the fundamentals of unending productivism and consumption underpinning the rapacity of the system.

As such, the COP process functions principally through simulating the system’s capacity to resolve the climate crisis with voluntary pledges and intended nationally determined contributions, ‘net zero’ or ‘negative’ emissions relying on geo-engineering, carbon capture and storage and other undeveloped technologies. These blend with the barrage of scientific warnings and swirling quotidian apocalyptic images breeding the sense that we are all in this together and that we can continue our lifestyles uninterrupted via green capitalism.

All these signs become detached from the underlying reality of disintegrating ecosystems all around us and simply exchange for one another in a vertigo-inducing vortex of self-referentiality. It becomes a Baudrillardian simulation, wherein signs (that is, images, symbols, anything interpreted as having meaning) efface the distinction between the imaginary and the real.

These signs do not refer to or represent anything real or authentic, but themselves precede and engender reality and refer to themselves as evidence of this reality: “Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer itself anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but a simulacrum, that is to say never exchanged for the real, but exchanged for itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.”

To further illustrate: The complete set of 400 IPCC scenarios for a 50% or better chance of staying under 2°C assume either a global emissions peak around 2010 (i.e., time travel) or the successful and widespread adoption of speculative geo-engineering technologies to guarantee negative emissions — a substantial proportion of the scenarios rely on both “time travel and geo-engineering.”

Thus the IPCC’s emissions scenarios depend either on non-existent technology and/or the ability to go back in time to 2010 and make global emissions actually peak that year. By rendering indistinguishable the imaginary and the real, the IPCC’s scientific models weave flawlessly in to the simulation as the models themselves produce a real without origin or reality that forms the floating circuit in which the negotiations are conducted.

In this way, the scenario of the COP does not primarily function to falsely represent political reality (ideology) but to conceal that the real of the political has disappeared. The COP is a tool for the metastabilization of a fundamentally destabilized and unsustainable system. It functions to perform the “vitality and viability of politics itself,” the continued reality of the political in the face of the exhaustion of its capacity to resolve the civilizational catastrophe we are living.

Like Disneyland, the COP is neither true nor false; it is a deterrence machine set up to maintain the fiction of the real of the outside, of the extant political order.

We are, thus, no longer primarily in the domain of the ideological. This is a crucial distinction because critiquing the system as ideologically obfuscating is itself ideological, holding out hope for an authentic politics behind it if only we removed the corporate influence from the UN, from politics.

Ideology is a false representation of reality by signs, while simulation is a short circuit of the real and its doubling by signs. Ideological analysis always attempts to resurrect the objective, true underlying process; whereas “it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.” The COP is an instrument and vehicle of global capital, a key tool in maintaining its endemic unsustainability and enabling it to continue increasing emissions for 20 years of COPs.

Resistance in Paris

Hence, COP21 offers an exceptional global platform for movements, not to restore an illusory political process behind the simulation, but instead to pierce its fascinating surface to reveal the vacuum behind it. Power in the era of simulation does not operate primarily through ideology, but through producing desires and modulating affects. Our political challenge is to disabuse ourselves of viewing the world through an ideological lens, assuming that the provision of information to the masses will dissolve the supposed ideological grip of power.

Resistance needs to touch people at the level of affect and desire, through aesthetic, theatrical, performative actions that are effective and empowering. These can operate to intensify life by opening up micro-spaces to access more potentials, making one incrementally less enslaved to situations, less determined by accumulated tendencies and habits. The major actions planned for COP21 can be seen as responding to this challenge in varying ways, while integrating the ecological justice perspective as indispensable for social justice across struggles.

As those most vulnerable and affected by the already accumulating effects of the wrecked climate, communities at the frontlines of the interlocked struggle against ecological degradation and capitalism will descend on the COP. The summit will be ushered in by the convoys of the French ZADs (zones à défendre) and other territorial struggles converging on Paris on 27-28 November.

Even as this is being written, numerous autonomous spaces are in the process of being opened, drawing on lessons from the ZADs, to organically fertilize resistance and nurture new forms of life that will carry forward beyond the COP.

Then as the latest iteration of the simulation officially begins, Climate Gameswill launch its opening round on 30 November lasting through 12 December. It is a trans-media platform that merges online disobedience and street action to create a global framework for direct action against the root causes of climate change. It aims to provide a new tool for grassroots autonomous affinity groups to take action through creating a crowd-sourced cartography of creative resistance in real time and real space.

In addition to facilitating effective disruptions of carbon and capital, it works on an affective level to tap the fount of playfulness and imagination. This opens opportunities to augment capacities and enhance degrees of freedom to respond to the apparently irresolvable circumstances in new ways beyond rote mass mobilizations and leftist rhetoric.

Meanwhile, Solutions COP21 begins on 4 December and is the quintessential greenwashing event, where corporations’ relentless efforts to commodify the entire earth and atmosphere will overflow from the Grand Palais. It blends seamlessly into the mise en scène of the COP’s simulation sowing the conditions for the smooth march of green capitalism — a response to climate change ensuring the materialization of the shadows of geo-engineering, resource wars, genocide gathering on the horizon. It will be prevented from opening and perfecting the swirling sea of signs constituting the COP.

Finally, as the COP finalizes its genocidal deal, the “Red Lines” mass action has been called for December 12th (D12) to encircle the conference center. It is considered to be the first time such a wide coalition — over 150 organizations ranging from big NGOs to trade unions, faith groups to radical collectives — has supported a day of disobedience for climate justice.

As such, the action is patterned off the success of Ende Gelände (where more than 1000 people took direct action to shut down an open-pit lignite coal mine in Northern Germany this summer) in endeavoring to normalize direct action across a range of diverse actors, many of whom may not have done disobedient actions before.

The Red Lines will have aesthetic and performative dimensions seeking to fray the COP’s simulation, in part by creating a dilemma moment with the police, wherein they will have to decide whether to allow the disobedient action to flaunt their capacity for control or to brutalize peaceful protesters.

The action strives to seize this opportunity to maximally delegitimize the COP and its performance of the system’s continued legitimacy. It will launch the movement beyond the COP, leaving behind the discursive terrain to reengage in relations of forces through the continued cultivation of a culture of resistance in which direct action is a daily activity fully integrated into our lives. Our collective future demands this.

Last Word, First Steps

The effects of climate change have entered the mainstream psyche, prompting calls of alarm to ring out from liberal institutions like the Pope, the Guardian, and Dutch courts, all highlighting the gravity of the problem and the incapacity of the system to offer any meaningful response.

With the COP’s demonstrated inability to take action in accordance with even the clear dictates of science — the apotheosis of modern rationality — it signals the deeper and more profound malaise of liberal democratic late capitalism, the growing social recognition of an acute systemic impasse, the decomposition of a paradigm that has provided our cognitive coordinates for centuries.

This crisis of legitimacy can be seized transversally by movements. Although the system appears completely entrenched and intractable, its polymorphous crises attest to its precarious ephemerality as a surface without depth. The exhaustion of the Habermasian project of modernity is an index of the times, not just another critique of state and capitalism. The climate and ecological justice lens is the clearest issue to show how incapable the socio-political-economic order is of resolving this existential crisis.

Armed with the weapons and tactics newly generalized across movements from the experiences of Occupy, the Arab Spring, and their mutant offspring, the ecological justice movement can wage this transversal social war to accelerate the implosion of the state-capitalist machine. December in Paris can be a critical waypoint in the global struggle of nature defending itself.

Acknowledgments: The author would like to thank Selj for his invaluable comments and feedback on earlier drafts.

Skye Bougsty-Marshall is a researcher, writer and activist working on mobilizations around COP21.

New York attorney general to investigate ExxonMobil over climate change falsifications


By Nick Barrickman
9 November 2015

The New York Times reported Thursday that the New York attorney general’s office has sent subpoenas to executives at the energy giant ExxonMobil. The attorney general’s office is seeking access to financial records, emails and other information relating to a period of several decades in which the company may have misled corporate investors about the effects of climate change on the oil giant’s bottom line.

The investigation, for which documentation has not been made public, was spurred by the office of New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman after a series of investigative news reports published in October in the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate Change. The reports established that from the 1970s until the late 1980s, ExxonMobil had promoted research and findings that demonstrated the impact climate change would have on the planet.

“Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation,” stated Exxon’s then-carbon dioxide specialist Henry Shaw in an internal memo in 1978, according to Inside Climate Change. The position taken by ExxonMobil’s leading scientists would diametrically contradict the company’s later public posture denying the veracity of global warming.

The reports establish that as early as 1977, scientists employed at ExxonMobil were raising warnings about the implications of global warming on the company’s bottom line. “Certainly any major development with a lifespan of say 30-40 years will need to assess the impacts of potential global warming,” stated Ken Croasdale, senior ice researcher at Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary to a conference in 1991, the Times reports.

According to Inside Climate Change, Exxon executives in this earlier period sought to establish their scientific credibility on the subject in order to better influence their hand “at the policymaking table,” before later abandoning such postures in the late 1980s and early 1990s in order to promote bogus scientific research seeking to invalidate their own previous findings.

The revelation of ExxonMobil’s blatantly contradictory positions prompted Schneiderman to inquire into the company’s business practices. According to the New York Times, the inquiry sought to determine “whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.”

In pursuing the investigation, Schneiderman has invoked the 1921 Martin Act, which gives his office power to prosecute “all deceitful practices contrary to the plain rules of common honesty,” Reuters reports. The law invests the attorney general with sweeping power to bring both civil and criminal charges against the company.

In addition, New York attorney general’s office has launched a parallel investigation into Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal producer, for similar activities. The Times reported Friday that a source from within the attorney general’s office may seek to expand the investigation and potential lawsuit to other energy companies. “There was a concerted effort by multiple American oil companies to obscure the emerging climate science consensus throughout the 1990s. … This group may be vulnerable to legal challenge,” the Timesquoted Paul Bledsoe, former White House aide to Bill Clinton on climate issues.

In 1989, Exxon, along with British Petroleum, Shell Oil and Texaco (now Chevron) and other energy giants, formed the Global Climate Coalition, an organization dedicated to the dispersing of false information pertaining to global warming. In addition, the company is a listed supporter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a pro-business lobbying group that promotes research skeptical of the effects of global warming.

A number of media commentators have compared the inquiry to a 2006 lawsuit that found that the tobacco industry for decades systematically sought to suppress studies finding that cigarette smoking posed massive health risks for consumers.

It is unclear if Schneiderman’s investigation will result in a lawsuit, however, as it is limited only to determining whether the company sought to defraud its investors. Unlike the previous charges brought against Big Tobacco, there is no clear proof that ExxonMobil sought to suppress studies detailing the effects of global warming when such studies were beneficial to the corporation’s bottom line.

Contrasting such differences between the lawsuits brought against the two industries, Reuters quotes Daniel Riesel, defense attorney at Sive, Paget & Riesel, as stating: “The tobacco companies knew they were selling a product that was killing people and they failed to disclose that. … Here it’s not as stark. You’d have to be able to show that Exxon had knowledge—knowledge that couldn’t be questioned—that their activity was going to contribute to global warming in a way that would materially hurt the company.”

Chris Hedges: TPP Is the Most Brazen Corporate Power Grab in American History

It’s worse than any of us feared.

The release Thursday of the 5,544-page text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a trade and investment agreement involving 12 countries comprising nearly 40 percent of global output—confirms what even its most apocalyptic critics feared.

“The TPP, along with the WTO [World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history,” Ralph Nader told me when I reached him by phone in Washington, D.C. “It allows corporations to bypass our three branches of government to impose enforceable sanctions by secret tribunals. These tribunals can declare our labor, consumer and environmental protections [to be] unlawful, non-tariff barriers subject to fines for noncompliance. The TPP establishes a transnational, autocratic system of enforceable governance in defiance of our domestic laws.”

The TPP is part of a triad of trade agreements that includes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). TiSA, by calling for the privatization of all public services, is a mortal threat to the viability of the U.S. Postal Service, public education and other government-run enterprises and utilities; together these operations make up 80 percent of the U.S. economy. The TTIP and TiSA are still in the negotiation phase. They will follow on the heels of the TPP and are likely to go before Congress in 2017.

These three agreements solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement.

The TPP removes legislative authority from Congress and the White House on a range of issues. Judicial power is often surrendered to three-person trade tribunals in which only corporations are permitted to sue. Workers, environmental and advocacy groups and labor unions are blocked from seeking redress in the proposed tribunals. The rights of corporations become sacrosanct. The rights of citizens are abolished.

The Sierra Club issued a statement after the release of the TPP text saying that the “deal is rife with polluter giveaways that would undermine decades of environmental progress, threaten our climate, and fail to adequately protect wildlife because big polluters helped write the deal.”

If there is no sustained popular uprising to prevent the passage of the TPP in Congress this spring we will be shackled by corporate power. Wages will decline. Working conditions will deteriorate. Unemployment will rise. Our few remaining rights will be revoked. The assault on the ecosystem will be accelerated. Banks and global speculation will be beyond oversight or control. Food safety standards and regulations will be jettisoned. Public services ranging from Medicare and Medicaid to the post office and public education will be abolished or dramatically slashed and taken over by for-profit corporations. Prices for basic commodities, including pharmaceuticals, will skyrocket. Social assistance programs will be drastically scaled back or terminated. And countries that have public health care systems, such as Canada and Australia, that are in the agreement will probably see their public health systems collapse under corporate assault. Corporations will be empowered to hold a wide variety of patents, including over plants and animals, turning basic necessities and the natural world into marketable products. And, just to make sure corporations extract every pound of flesh, any public law interpreted by corporations as impeding projected profit, even a law designed to protect the environment or consumers, will be subject to challenge in an entity called the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) section. The ISDS, bolstered and expanded under the TPP, will see corporations paid massive sums in compensation from offending governments for impeding their “right” to further swell their bank accounts. Corporate profit effectively will replace the common good.

Given the bankruptcy of our political class—including amoral politicians such as Hillary Clinton, who is denouncing the TPP during the presidential campaign but whose unwavering service to corporate capitalism assures her fealty to her corporate backers—the trade agreement has a good chance of becoming law. And because the Obama administration won fast-track authority, a tactic designed by the Nixon administration to subvert democratic debate, President Obama will be able to sign the agreement before it goes to Congress.

The TPP, because of fast track, bypasses the normal legislative process of public discussion and consideration by congressional committees. The House and the Senate, which have to vote on the TPP bill within 90 days of when it is sent to Congress, are prohibited by the fast-track provision from adding floor amendments or holding more than 20 hours of floor debate. Congress cannot raise concerns about the effects of the TPP on the environment. It can only vote yes or no. It is powerless to modify or change one word.

There will be a mass mobilization Nov. 14 through 18 in Washington to begin the push to block the TPP. Rising up to stop the TPP is a far, far better investment of our time and energy than engaging in the empty political theater that passes for a presidential campaign.

“The TPP creates a web of corporate laws that will dominate the global economy,” attorney Kevin Zeese of the group Popular Resistance, which has mounted a long fight against the trade agreement, told me from Baltimore by telephone. “It is a global corporate coup d’état. Corporations will become more powerful than countries. Corporations will force democratic systems to serve their interests. Civil courts around the world will be replaced with corporate courts or so-called trade tribunals. This is a massive expansion that builds on the worst of NAFTA rather than what Barack Obama promised, which was to get rid of the worst aspects of NAFTA.”

The agreement is the product of six years of work by global capitalists from banks, insurance companies, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto and other corporations.

“It was written by them [the corporations], it is for them and it will serve them,” Zeese said of the TPP. “It will hurt domestic businesses and small businesses. The buy-American provisions will disappear. Local communities will not be allowed to build buy-local campaigns. The thrust of the agreement is the privatization and commodification of everything. The agreement has built within it a deep antipathy to state-supported or state-owned enterprises. It gives away what is left of our democracy to the World Trade Organization.”

The economist David Rosnick, in a report on the TPP by the Center for Economic and Policy Research(CEPR), estimated that under the trade agreement only the top 10 percent of U.S. workers would see their wages increase. Rosnick wrote that the real wages of middle-income U.S. workers (from the 35th percentile to the 80th percentile) would decline under the TPP. NAFTA, contributing to a decline in manufacturing jobs (now only 9 percent of the economy), has forced workers into lower-paying service jobs and resulted in a decline in real wages of between 12 and 17 percent. The TPP would only accelerate this process, Rosnick concluded.

“This is a continuation of the global race to the bottom,” Dr. Margaret Flowers, also from Popular Resistance and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, said from Baltimore in a telephone conversation with me. “Corporations are free to move to countries that have the lowest labor standards. This drives down high labor standards here. It means a decimation of industries and unions. It means an accelerated race to the bottom, which we must rise up to stop.”

“In Malaysia one-third of tech workers are essentially slaves,” Zeese said. “In Vietnam the minimum wage is 35 cents an hour. Once these countries are part of the trade agreement U.S. workers are put in a very difficult position.”

Fifty-one percent of working Americans now make less than $30,000 a year, a new study by the Social Security Administration reported. Forty percent are making less than $20,000 a year. The federal government considers a family of four living on an income of less than $24,250 to be in poverty.

“Half of American workers earn essentially the poverty level,” Zeese said. “This agreement only accelerates this trend. I don’t see how American workers are going to cope.”

The assault on the American workforce by NAFTA—which was established under the Clinton administration in 1994 and which at the time promised creation of 200,000 net jobs a year in the United States—has been devastating. NAFTA has led to a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada and the loss of at least 1 million U.S. jobs, according to a report by Public Citizen. The flooding of the Mexican market with cheap corn by U.S. agro-businesses drove down the price of Mexican corn and saw 1 million to 3 million poor Mexican farmers go bankrupt and lose their small farms. Many of them crossed the border into the United States in a desperate effort to find work.

“Obama has misled the public throughout this process,” Dr. Flowers said. “He claimed that environmental groups were supportive of the agreement because it provided environmental protections, and this has now been proven false. He told us that it would create 650,000 jobs, and this has now been proven false. He calls this a 21st century trade agreement, but it actually rolls back progress made in Bush-era trade agreements. The most recent model of a 21st century trade agreement is the Korean free trade agreement. That was supposed to create 140,000 U.S. jobs. But what we saw within a couple years was a loss of about 70,000 jobs and a larger trade deficit with Korea. This agreement [the TPP] is sold to us with the same deceits that were used to sell us NAFTA and other trade agreements.”

The agreement, in essence, becomes global law. Any agreements over carbon emissions by countries made through the United Nations are effectively rendered null and void by the TPP.

“Trade agreements are binding,” Flowers said. “They supersede any of the nonbinding agreements made by the United Nations Climate Change Conference that might come out of Paris.”

There is more than enough evidence from past trade agreements to indicate where the TPP—often called “NAFTA on steroids”—will lead. It is part of the inexorable march by corporations to wrest from us the ability to use government to defend the public and to build social and political organizations that promote the common good. Our corporate masters seek to turn the natural world and human beings into malleable commodities that will be used and exploited until exhaustion or collapse. Trade agreements are the tools being used to achieve this subjugation. The only response left is open, sustained and defiant popular revolt.

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, writes a regular column forTruthdig every Monday. Hedges’ most recent book is “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.”

The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge

This post was first published at Consortium News.

In the realm of physics, the opposite of matter is not nothingness, but antimatter. In the realm of practical epistemology, the opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but anti-knowledge. This seldom recognized fact is one of the prime forces behind the decay of political and civic culture in America.

Some common-sense philosophers have observed this point over the years. “Genuine ignorance is . . . profitable because it is likely to be accompanied by humility, curiosity, and open mindedness; whereas ability to repeat catch-phrases, cant terms, familiar propositions, gives the conceit of learning and coats the mind with varnish waterproof to new ideas,” observed psychologist John Dewey.

Or, as humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”

Ben Carson, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who opposed a Muslim being elected president. (Credit: Marc Nozell / Flickr CC 2.0)

[Ben Carson] is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades.

Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex.There were exceptions, like the Birchers’ theory that fluoridation was a monstrous communist conspiracy, but they were mostly confined to the fringes. Certainly, political candidates with national aspirations steered clear of such balderdash.

At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author’s note: they obtained at least some weaponsduring the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn’t). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.

It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid Iowa burghers liked Carson all the more for such moronic utterances. And sure enough, the New York Times tells usthat Carson has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters. Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes.

Why the Ignorance?

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism.

Journalist Michael Tomasky has attempted to answer the question as to what Ben Carson’s popularity tells us about the American people after making a detour into asking a question about the man himself: why is an accomplished neurosurgeon such a nincompoop in another field? “Because usually, if a man (or woman) is a good and knowledgeable and sure-footed doctor, or lawyer or department chair or any other position that could have been attained only through repeated displays of excellence and probity, then that person will also be a pretty solid human being across the board.”Well, not necessarily. English unfortunately doesn’t have a precise word for the German “Fachidiot,” a narrowly specialized person accomplished in his own field but a blithering idiot outside it. In any case, a surgeon is basically a skilled auto mechanic who is not bothered by the sight of blood and palpitating organs (and an owner of a high-dollar ride like a Porsche knows that a specialized mechanic commands labor rates roughly comparable to a doctor).

We need the surgeon’s skills on pain of agonizing death, and reward him commensurately, but that does not make him a Voltaire. Still, it makes one wonder: if Carson the surgeon believes evolution is a hoax, where does he think the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that plague hospitals come from?

Tomasky expresses astonishment that Carson’s jaw-dropping comments make him more popular among Republican voters, but he concludes without fully answering the question he posed. It is an important question: what has happened to the American people, or at least a significant portion of them?

Anti-knowledge is a subset of anti-intellectualism, and as Richard Hofstadter has pointed out, anti-intellectualism has been a recurrent feature in American life, generally rising and receding in synchronism with fundamentalist revivalism.

The current wave, which now threatens to swamp our political culture, began in a similar fashion with the rise to prominence in the 1970s of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But to a far greater degree than previous outbreaks, fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans.

An Infrastructure of Know-Nothing-ism

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact.

Buttressing this merger is a vast support structure of media, foundations, pressure groups and even a thriving cottage industry of fake historians and phony scientists. From Fox News to the Discovery Institute (which exists solely to “disprove” evolution), and from the Heritage Foundation (which propagandizes that tax cuts increase revenuedespite massive empirical evidence to the contrary) to bogus “historians” like David Barton (who confected a fraudulent biography of a piously devout Thomas Jefferson that had to be withdrawn by the publisher), the anti-knowledge crowd has created an immense ecosystem of political disinformation.Thanks to publishing houses like Regnery and the conservative boutique imprints of more respectable houses like Simon & Schuster (a division of CBS), America has been flooded with cut-and-paste rants by Michelle Malkin and Mark Levin, Parson Weems-style ghosted biographies allegedly by Bill O’Reilly, and the inimitable stream of consciousness hallucinating of Glenn Beck.

Whether retail customers actually buy all these screeds, or whether foundations and rich conservative donors buy them in bulk and give them out as door prizes at right-wing clambakes, anti-knowledge infects the political bloodstream in the United States.

Thanks to these overlapping and mutually reinforcing segments of the right-wing media-entertainment-“educational” complex, it is now possible for the true believer to sail on an ocean of political, historical, and scientific disinformation without ever sighting the dry land of empirical fact. This effect is fortified by thesubstantial overlap between conservative Republicans and fundamentalist Christians.

The latter group begins with the core belief that truth is revealed in a subjective process involving the will to believe (“faith”) rather than discovered by objectively corroberable means. Likewise, there is a baseline opposition to the prevailing secular culture, and adherents are frequently warned by church authority figures against succumbing to the snares and temptations of “the world.” Consequently, they retreat into the echo chamber of their own counterculture: if they didn’t hear it on Fox News or from a televangelist, it never happened.

For these culture warriors, belief in demonstrably false propositions is no longer a stigma of ignorance, but a defiantly worn badge of political resistance.

We saw this mindset on display during the Republican debate in Boulder, Colorado, on Wednesday night. Even though it was moderated by Wall Street-friendly CNBC, which exists solely to talk up the stock market, the candidates were uniformly upset that the moderators would presume to ask difficult questions of people aspiring to be president. They were clearly outside their comfort zone of the Fox News studio.

The candidates drew cheers from the hard-core believers in the audience, however, by attacking the media, as if moderators Lawrence Kudlow and Rick Santelli, both notorious shills for Wall Street, were I.F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebusnearly had an aneurismover the candidates’ alleged harsh treatment.

State-Sponsored Stupidity

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done.

It is when these forces of anti-knowledge seize the power of government that the real damage gets done. Under Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Virginia government harassed with subpoenas a University of Virginia professor whose academic views contradicted Cuccinelli’s political agenda.Numerous states like Louisiana now mandate that public schools teach the wholly imaginary “controversy” about evolution. A school textbook in Texas, whose state school board has long been infested with reactionary kooks, referred to chattel slaves as “workers”  (the implication was obvious: neo-Confederate elements in the South have been trying to minimize slavery for a century and a half, to the point of insinuating it had nothing to do with the Civil War).

This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who say something he doesn’t agree with. The mechanism to bring these heretics to the government’s attention should bedenunciations from students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.

It is not surprising that Carson, himself a Seventh Day Adventist, should receive his core support from Republicans who identify as fundamentalists. Among the rest of the GOP pack, it is noteworthy that it is precisely those seeking the fundamentalist vote, like Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, who are also notorious for making inflammatory and unhinged comments that sound like little more than deliberate trolling to those who haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid (Donald Trump is sui generis).

In all probability, Carson will flame out like Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and all the other former panjandrums of a theological movement conservatism that revels in anti-knowledge. But he will have left his mark, as they did, on a Republican Party that inexorably moves further to the right, and the eventual nominee will have to tailor his campaign to a base that gets ever more intransigent as each new messiah of the month promises to lead them into a New Jerusalem unmoored to a stubborn and profane thing called facts.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His book about Congress, The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, was published in paperback in 2013. His new book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, will be published in January 2016.

Obama reaches right-wing budget, debt deal with Republicans


By Patrick Martin
28 October 2015

The White House and Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress announced late Monday a deal setting budget figures through the end of the Obama administration. The complex, 144-page agreement contains dozens of significant changes in social and fiscal policy, but its major purpose is simple: to remove any possibility of budget and financial shocks that might disrupt global financial markets and threaten the interests of Wall Street.

The most important provision from that standpoint is to suspend the borrowing limit for the Treasury until March 2017, two months after President Obama’s successor is sworn into office. Treasury officials had warned that they would reach the current debt ceiling of $18.1 trillion November 3, threatening federal payments to subcontractors, federal workers’ salaries, and benefit checks issued under programs like Social Security. Most importantly, a halt to federal borrowing would disrupt the operation of the financial markets, where trading in US government debt is a major activity, and the rates paid for Treasury bills are a benchmark for all financial transactions.

The Obama White House has refused to make concessions in return for previous debt ceiling increases, given that such actions have long been formalities and don’t authorize new spending, only borrowing to pay obligations already incurred. Congressional Republicans, with right-wing groupings in the House of Representatives leading the way, were using the threat of a debt default to demand changes in social policy, ranging from cutoff of funds for Planned Parenthood to repeal of Obamacare.

Folding the debt ceiling increase into a larger deal on military and domestic spending was a maneuver to avoid default, while also creating the political conditions for enacting a series of budgetary and policy measures, largely of a right-wing character. The deal remains precarious, since it faces substantial opposition in the House, where it would pass with only a few dozen Republicans joining a unanimous Democratic caucus. Congress must also enact legislation to authorize spending at the levels set in the deal, with a deadline of December 11, when a continuing resolution on federal funding expires.

The deal increases spending levels above those set in a 2011 budget-cutting measure known as the sequester, adding $50 billion for the current fiscal year, which began October 1, and $30 billion for Fiscal Year 2017, which concludes on September 30, 2017, eight months after Obama leaves office.

While the White House claimed it had won equal increases in military and domestic spending, $40 billion apiece over two years, there is an additional $32 billion in spending for “Overseas Contingency Operations,” as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are called, bringing the overall increase in military spending to $72 billion, 65 percent of the total.

The $40 billion in new domestic spending amounts to only a small fraction of the cuts imposed under a series of bipartisan deals since 2011. Some of this “new” money only offsets impending cuts, such as the projected 59 percent rise in Medicare Part B premiums due to be imposed on 9 million recipients, and a 20 percent cut in Social Security disability benefits, scheduled to take effect at the end of 2016, now canceled.

These short-term fixes come at the price of long-term policy changes that will dramatically affect these basic social safety-net programs. New eligibility procedures will be phased in for disability benefits, which Republicans boasted would save $168 billion long-term—money to be gouged out of the incomes of those who are too sick or injured to continue working. Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and other health care providers will be cut by another 2 percent across-the-board, increasing the likelihood that providers will refuse to accept Medicare patients, thus shrinking the availability of critical services.

The deal also provides for a rollback of a significant provision in Obamacare, the requirement that employers with more than 200 workers automatically enroll them in health insurance. This provision has not yet been enforced, and it will now be eliminated. Workers will have to take action themselves to enroll, rather than being enrolled, unless they take action to opt out. Business groups have been pressing for such a change for years.

It is politically revealing that both the White House and congressional Democrats hailed the deal, while most House Republicans denounced it. The White House looked at a deal raising military spending,

, and assuring the steady operation of the debt markets for financial speculation, and declared that it “reflects our values.” Indeed it does.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issued a statement declaring, “The bipartisan budget package unveiled last night represents real progress for hard-working families across the country. I look forward to working toward House passage of this proposal this week. Next, we must move forward to complete the appropriations for FY2016 and keep government open.”

The real priority of House Democrats, however, was revealed in another action taken by the House on Monday. In an unusual parliamentary move, the Democratic minority, joined by more than 40 Republicans, revived legislation to keep open the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency used almost entirely by a few large exporters, most notably Boeing, to assist its overseas transactions. The bank is opposed by most right-wing Republicans as an interference with the “free market,” but backed by those that have businesses in their districts that make use of the bank’s lending facilities.

House Republicans, for the most part, balked both at specific provisions stepping up enforcement of tax collection from hedge funds as well as some government fees, and at the overall structure of the agreement. Only a faction of House Republicans with the closest ties to the Pentagon gave half-hearted backing to the agreement. One of this group, Representative Michael Turner of Ohio, said, “There is tremendous value in a two-year deal, as it provides the Department of Defense with the certainty it needs to plan for and execute various missions around the world.”

Senate Republicans are expected to approve the deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed the cuts in Social Security disability payments as “the first significant reform to Social Security since 1983.” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the defense number is still $5 billion less than he had sought, “But I’m largely satisfied. I think it’s the best deal we can probably get. It’s bipartisan, and it prevents a government shutdown.”

While the deal is being characterized in the corporate-controlled media as a compromise between the White House and congressional Republicans, Obama has previously supported many of the right-wing measures incorporated into it, including cuts in both Social Security and Medicare. One former White House aide, Jared Bernstein, told the New York Times, “There’s a lot in here the White House likes and not much they don’t.” He added, “Most importantly, if the deal prevails, they won’t have to deal with budget nonsense for the rest of the term, which has got to look pretty sweet.”

The Obama administration is clearing the decks, not only removing obstacles to the functioning of the financial markets, but removing potential distractions as Obama focuses his final year in office on the escalation of military provocations in the Middle East, against China, and throughout the world.