Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarist

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During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump made it clear that he liked the uneducated and that once he assumed the presidency, he would appoint a range of incompetent people to high ranking positions that would insure that many people remain poorly educated, illiterate, and impoverished. A few examples make the point.  Betsy DeVos, the nominee for Secretary of Education is a multi-millionaire, has no experience in higher education, supports for-profit charter schools, and is a strong advocate for private school vouchers. Without irony, she has described her role in education as one way to “advance God’s kingdom.”[1] She is anti-union, and her motto for education affirms Trump’s own educational philosophy to “defund, devalue, and privatize.”[2]

Ben Carson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has never run a federal agency and has no experience in government, policy making, or in public housing and has described housing policy pejoratively as a form of social engineering and a socialist experiment. New York City council member and chair of the city’s Housing and Buildings Committee described Carson’s appointment as “ill-advised, irresponsible and hovers on absurdity.”[3] Carson will run a $48 billion agency that oversees public housing and ensures that low-income families have access to housing that is safe and affordable. He believes people can escape from poverty through hard work alone and has argued that government regulations resemble forms of totalitarian rule comparable to what existed in communist countries.[4]

Andrew F. Puzder, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Labor, has less experience in government “than any secretary since the early 1980s.”[5] He is a critic of worker protections, opposes raising the minimum wage, and appears to share Trump’s disparaging views of women. As the New York Times pointed out, the advertisements that Mr. Pusder’s companies run to “promote its restaurants frequently feature women wearing next to nothing while gesturing suggestively.”[6] When asked about the ads, Mr. Puzder replied “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s is very American.”[7] I am sure Trump, the unchecked misogynist, agrees.

It is hard to believe that this gaggle of religious fundamentalists, conspiracy theory advocates, billionaires, and retrograde anti-communists, who uniformly lack the experience to take on the jobs for which they were nominated, could possibly be viewed as reasonable candidates for top government positions.  As Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) cited in The Hill observed “most of Trump’s appointees are “The greatest collection of stooges and cronies and misfits we have ever seen in a presidential administration….Some of these people’s only qualifications for the jobs they are being appointed for is that they have attempted to dismantle and undermine and destroy the very agencies they are now hoping to run.”[8]

What these appointments suggest is that one element of the new authoritarianism is a deep embrace of ignorance, anti-intellectualism, crony capitalism, and a disdain for the institutions that give legitimacy to the social contract and the welfare state. Most of Trump’s appointees to top cabinet positions are a mix of incompetent and mean spirited billionaires and generals. This alliance of powerful representatives of predatory financial capitalists and right-wing supporters of the immense military-industrial-surveillance complex makes clear Trump’s support of the worst elements of neoliberalism—a war on education, support for austerity policies, and  an attack on social provisions, the poor, workers, unions, and the most vulnerable. As Eric Sommer wrote in CounterPunch, “These ministerial level cabinet selections are a warning that far greater attacks on the social and economic rights of American workers, and greater militarism and military aggression abroad are being prepared.”[9] Trump’s affirmation of an updated version of the Gilded Age and his attempts to accelerate America’s slide into authoritarianism is an assault on reason, compassion, morality, and human dignity. Its underside is a political mix of militarism and rule by the financial elite, both of which are central features of a savage neoliberal assault on democracy. Trump’s government of billionaires and militarists makes clear that the next few years will be governed by ruthless financial elite who will give new meaning to a war culture that will impose forms of domestic terrorism across a wide swath of American society.

Thus far, Trump has appointed three generals to join his cabinet—James Mattis and Michael Flynn for Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor, along with Retired General John Kelly to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly is infamous for defending the force-feeding of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay and wants to expand the prison population there. Retired General Mattis, whose nickname is “Mad Dog,” stated in 2003, the year that Iraq was invaded, that “It’s fun to shoot some people, you know, it’s a hell of a hoot.”[10]  He once told marines under his command “Be polite. Be professional. But have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”[11] As difficult as it is to imagine it gets worse. Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security advisor considers Islam, with its population of 1.3 billion, a terrorist threat. He has also used the social media to spread fake news stories “linking Mrs. Clinton to underage sex rings and other serious crimes [while pushing] unsubstantiated claims about Islamic laws spreading in the United States.”[12]  At work here is an emerging political-social formation in which fake news becomes an accepted mode of shaping public discourse, inexperience and incompetence become revered criteria for holding public office, and social responsibility is removed from any vestige of politics. All of these appointments point to the emergence of a new political order in which the dystopian fears of George Orwell and Aldus Huxley are merged with the comic grotesquery of the tyrannical systems lampooned by the Marx brothers.

Under the reign of right-wing governments and social movements spreading throughout the world, thinking has become dangerous. Increasingly, neoliberal regimes across Europe and North America have waged a major assault on critical education and the public spheres in which they take place. For instance, public and higher education are being defunded, turned into accountability factories, and now largely serve as adjuncts of an instrumental logic that mimics the values of a business culture. But, of course, this is not only true for spaces in which formal schooling takes place, it is also the case for those public spheres and cultural apparatuses producing knowledge, values, subjectivities, and identities through a range of media and sites.  This applies to a range of creative spaces including art galleries, museums, diverse sites that make up screen culture, and various elements of mainstream media.[13]

Such sites have come under increasing fire since the 1970s and the war against dissident journalism, in particular, will intensify under a Trump presidency.  Attacking the media was a central feature of Trump’s presidential campaign speaks to a coming age of repression, posing a dire threat to freedom of speech. As, Christopher Hass, observes “But more importantly, he threatened to ‘open up’ libel laws so that he and others can more easily sue publications that are critical of them. Those kinds of attacks are designed to burn money and hours that independent publications don’t have-and sometimes they can be fatal.”[14]What the apostles of neoliberalism have learned is that alternative media outlets along with diverse forms of cultural production can change how people view the world, and that such forms of public pedagogy can be dangerous because they hold the potential for not only creating critically engaged students, intellectuals, and artists but can strengthen and expand the general publics’ imagination, give them critical tools to enable them to think otherwise in order to act otherwise, and  hold power accountable. Such thinking is also a prerequisite for developing social movements willing to rethink the vision and tactics necessary to fight against an authoritarian state.

In the face of Trump’s draconian assault on democracy, it is crucial to rethink mechanisms of a repressive politics not only by highlighting its multiple registers of economic power, but also through the ideological pedagogical mechanisms at work in creating modes of agency, identities, and values that both mimic and surrender to authoritarian ideologies and social practices. In this instance, education as it works through diverse institutions, cultural apparatuses, and sites is crucial to both understand and appropriate as part of the development of a radical politics. Reclaiming radical pedagogy as a form of educated and militant hope begins with the crucial recognition that education is not solely about job training and the production of ethically challenged entrepreneurial subjects but is primarily about matters of civic literacy, critical thinking, and the capacity for liberatory change. It is also inextricably connected to the related issues of power, inclusion, and social responsibility.[15] If young people, workers, educators, and others are to develop a keen sense of the common good, as well as an informed notion of community engagement, pedagogy must be viewed as a cultural, political, and moral force, if not formative culture, that provides the knowledge, values, and social relations to make such democratic practices possible.

In this instance, pedagogy as a central element of politics needs to be rigorous, self-reflective, and committed not to the dead zone of instrumental rationality but to the practice of freedom and liberation for the most vulnerable and oppressed. It must also cultivate a critical sensibility capable of advancing the parameters of knowledge, stretching the imagination, addressing crucial social issues, and connecting private troubles into public issues. Any viable notion of critical pedagogy must overcome the image of education as purely instrumental, a dead zone of the imagination, and a normalized space of oppressive discipline and imposed conformity.

A neoliberal and anti-democratic pedagogy of management and conformity not only undermines the critical knowledge and analytical skills necessary for students to learn the practice of freedom and assume the role of critical agents, it also reinforces deeply authoritarian practices while reproducing deep inequities in the educational opportunities that different students acquire. Pedagogies of repression and conformity impose punishing forms of discipline not just on students, but on the general public, deadening their ability to think critically; how else to explain the refusal of large segments of the public to think through and challenge the lies, misrepresentations, and contradictions that Trump used during his campaign.  Repressive forms of public pedagogy empty out politics of any substance and further a modern day pandemic of loneliness and alienation. Such pedagogies emphasize aggressive competition, unchecked individualism, and cancel out empathy for an exaggerated notion of self-interest. Solidarity and sharing are the enemy of these pedagogical practices, which are driven by a withdrawal from sustaining public values, trust, and goods and serve largely to cancel out a democratic future for young people. This type of pedagogical tyranny poses a particular challenge for progressives who are willing to acknowledge that the crisis of politics and economics has not been matched by a crisis of ideas, resulting in new age of authoritarianism.

A new age of monstrosities is emerging that necessitates that we rethink the connection between politics and democracy, on the one hand, and education and social change on the other.  More specifically, we might begin with the following questions:  What institutions, agents, and social movements can be developed capable of challenging the dark times ahead?  Moreover, what pedagogical conditions need to be exposed and overcome in order to create the formative culture that would make such a challenge successful?  Even thinking such questions becomes difficult in a time of growing pessimism and despair.

Domination is at its most powerful when its mechanisms of control and subjugation hide in the discourse of common sense, and its elements of power are made to appear invisible. Yet, progressives in a wide variety of sites can take up the challenge of not only relating their specialties and modes of cultural production to the intricacies of everyday life but also to rethink how politics works, and how power is central to such a task. Bruce Robbins articulates the challenge well in both his defense of making the pedagogical more political and his defense of struggles waged on the educational front and his reference to how theorists such as Foucault provide a model for such work. He writes:

But I also thought that intellectuals should be trying, like Foucault, to relate our specialized knowledge to things in general. We could not just become activists focused on particular struggles or editors striving to help little magazines make ends meet. We also had a different kind of role to play: thinking hard, as Foucault did, about how best to understand the ways power worked in our time. Foucault, like Sartre and Sontag and Said, was an intellectual, even at some points despite himself. He helped us understand the world in newly critical and imaginative ways. He offered us new lines of reasoning while also engaging in activism and political position-taking.[16]

Power is fundamental to any discourse about education and raises critical questions about what role education should play in a democracy and what role academics, artists, and other cultural workers might assume in order to address important social issues, in part, through the liberatory functions of education. This would suggest not only a relentless critique of dominant discourses, social practices, and policies, but also the need to engage in collective attempts to invent a new way of doing politics. Those concerned about the future of democracy have to rethink how power informs, shapes, and can be resourceful in both understanding and challenging power under the reign of global neoliberalism. This is especially true at a time in which a full scale attack is being waged by the Trump administration and other neoliberal societies on the public good, social provisions, and the welfare state.

Educators and other cultural workers should consider being more forceful, if not committed, to linking their overall politics to modes of critique and collective action that address the presupposition that democratic societies are never too just or just enough, and such a recognition means that a society must constantly nurture the possibilities for self-critique, collective agency, and forms of citizenship in which people play a fundamental role in critically discussing, administrating and shaping the material relations of power and ideological forces that bear down on their everyday lives. This is particularly important at a time when ignorance provides a sense of community; the brain has migrated to the dark pit of the spectacle and the only discourse that matters is about business. Trump has legitimated a spirit of ignorance, anti-intellectualism, and corruption. Thought now chases after emotions that obliterate it and actions are no longer framed against any viable notion of social responsibility.

At stake here is the task, as Jacques Derrida insists, of viewing the project of democracy as a promise, a possibility rooted in an ongoing struggle for economic, cultural, and social justice.[17] Democracy in this instance is not a sutured or formalistic regime, it is the site of struggle itself. The struggle over creating an inclusive and just democracy can take many forms, offers no political guarantees, and provides an important normative dimension to politics as an ongoing process of democratization that never ends.  Such a project is based on the realization  that a democracy that is open to exchange, question, and self-criticism  never reaches the limits of justice.

Theorists such as Raymond Williams and Cornelius Castoriadis recognized that the crisis of democracy was not only about the crisis of culture but also the crisis agency, values, and education.  Progressives and others who refuse to equate capitalism and democracy would do well to take account of the profound transformations taking place in the public sphere and reclaim pedagogy as a central category of politics itself. Pierre Bourdieu was right when he stated that cultural workers have too often “underestimated the symbolic and pedagogical dimensions of struggle and have not always forged appropriate weapons to fight on this front.”[18] He goes on to say in a later conversation with Gunter Grass that “left intellectuals must recognize that the most important forms of domination are not only economic but also intellectual and pedagogical, and lie on the side of belief and persuasion. Important to recognize that intellectuals bear an enormous responsibility for challenging this form of domination.”[19]These are important pedagogical interventions and imply rightly that pedagogy in the broadest sense is not just about understanding, however critical, but also provides the conditions, ideals, and practices necessary for assuming the responsibilities we have as citizens to expose human misery and to eliminate the conditions that produce it. Matters of responsibility, social action, and political intervention do not simply develop out of the practice of social criticism but also arise through forms of self-critique.  The relationship between knowledge and power, on the one hand, and education and politics, on the other, should always be self-reflexive about its effects, how it relates to the larger world, whether or not it is open to new understandings, and what it might mean pedagogically to take seriously matters of individual and social responsibility. Any viable understanding of the artist and educator as a public intellectual must begin with the recognition that democracy begins to fail and civic life becomes impoverished when power is relegated to the realm of common sense and critical thinking is no longer viewed as central to politics itself. The election of Donald Trump to the presidency is a case study in how politics has been emptied of any substance and civic illiteracy has been normalized. Trump’s claim that he loves the uneducated appears to have paid off for him just as his victory makes clear that ignorance rather than reason, emotion rather than informed judgment, and the threat of violence rather than critical exchange appear to have more currency in the current historical moment.

This political tragedy ushered in with Trump’s election signifies the failure of the American public to recognize the educative nature of how agency is constructed, to address the necessity for moral witnessing, and the need to create a formative culture that produces critically engaged and socially responsible citizens. Realty-TV bombast and celebrity culture confers enormous authority in America and in doing so empties civil society and democracy of any meaning. Neoliberalism’s culture of consumerism, immediate satisfaction, and unchecked individualism both infantilizes and depoliticizes. The election of Donald Trump cannot simply be dismissed as an eccentric and dark moment in the history of American politics. His election proves that collective self-delusion can be dangerous when the spaces for critical learning, dissent, and informed judgment begin to whither or disappear altogether.

As Trump’s presidency gets underway, the neoliberalism’s hired intellectuals and celebrity pundits have already ushered in a discourse that will increasing normalize the regime of a dangerous demagogue, glossing over the ideological, economic, and religious fundamentalists he has chosen to fill top government positions.  Such actions represent more than a flight from political and social responsibility, they also represent a surrender to the dark forces of authoritarianism. Dierdre Fulton, a writer for The Nation, is right in arguing that the process of normalization has already begun since Trump election. She writes:

Oprah Winfrey, in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, said Trump’s recent visit to the White House gave her ‘hope’ and suggested he has been ‘humbled’ by the experience,’ Johnson wrote.  ‘The Guardian’s Simon Jenkins told his readers to ‘calm down’ and that     Trump wasn’t the ‘worst thing.’ His colleague, Nouriel Roubini, insisted the Oval Office      will ‘tame’ Trump. People magazine ran a glowing profile of Trump and his wife Melania   (though a former People writer accused Trump of sexual assault). The New York Times’ Nick Kristof dubiously added that we should ‘Grit our teeth and give Trump a chance.’   The mainstays —Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN—while frequently critical, are covering Trump’s transition as they would any other.[20]

Democracy should be a way of thinking about education in a variety of spheres and practices, one that thrives on connecting equity to excellence, learning to ethics, and agency to the imperatives of the public good.[21] The question regarding what role education should play in democracy becomes all the more urgent at a time when the dark forces of authoritarianism are being normalized in the mainstream media.  Central to such a discourse are hidden structures of critique and power attempting to normalize a full-frontal attack on public values, trust, solidarities, and modes of liberatory education. As such, the discourses of hate, humiliation, rabid self-interest, and greed are exercising a poisonous influence in many Western societies. This is most evident at the present moment in the discourse of the right-wing extremists vying to consolidate their authority within a Trump presidency, all of whom sanction a war on immigrants, women, young people, poor Black youth, and so it goes.  One consequence is that democracy is on life support. This is all the more reason to take the late Edward Said’s call for modes of social criticism designed “to uncover and elucidate the contest, to challenge and defeat both an imposed silence and the normalized quiet  of unseen power, wherever and whenever possible.”  Yet, in spite of the dark forces now threatening many societies around the globe, it is crucial for intellectuals, artists and others to renounce any form of normalization of power, the toxic public pedagogies of neoliberalism, and to take on radical democracy as both a pedagogical project and unfinished ideal. Such a challenge will be all the easier if progressives and others can create the pedagogical conditions that can produce an individual and collective sense of moral and political outrage, a new understanding of politics, and the pedagogical and projects needed to allow democracy to breathe once again.

Trump’s presence in American politics has made visible a plague of deep seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system, and a contempt for reason; it also points to the withering of civic attachments, the collapse of politics into the spectacle of celebrity culture, the decline of public life, the use of violence and fear to numb people into shock, and a willingness to transform politics into a pathology. Trump’s administration will produce a great deal of violence in American society, particularly among the ranks of the most vulnerable: poor children, minorities of color, immigrants, women, climate change advocates, Muslims, and those protesting a Trump presidency.  What must be made clear is that Trump’s election and the damage he will do to American society will stay and fester in American society for quite some time because he is only symptomatic of the darker forces that have been smoldering in American politics for the last 40 years. What cannot be exaggerated or easily dismissed is that Trump is the end result of a long standing series of attacks on democracy and that his presence in the American political landscape has put democracy on trial. While mass civil demonstrations have and continue to erupt over Trump’s election, what is more crucial to understand is that something more serious needs to be addressed. We have to acknowledge that at this particular moment in American history the real issue is not simply about resisting Donald Trump’s insidious values and anti-democratic policies but whether a political system can be reclaimed in which a notion of radical democracy can be deepened, strengthened and sustained. Yet, under a Trump presidency, it will be more difficult to sustain, construct, and nurture those public spheres that sustain critique, informed dialogue, and a work to expand the radical imagination. If democracy is to prevail in and through the threat of “dark times,” it is crucial that the avenues of critique and possibility become central to any new understanding of politics. If the authoritarianism of the Trump era is to be challenged, it must begin with a politics that is comprehensive in its attempts to understand the intersectionality of diverse forces of oppression and resistance.  That is, on the one hand, it must move towards developing analyses that address the existing state of authoritarianism through a totalizing lens that brings together the diverse registers of oppression and how they are both connected and mutually reinforce each other. On the other hand, such a politics must, as Robin D.G. Kelley has noted, “move beyond stopgap alliances”[22] and work to unite single issue movements into a more comprehensive and broad-based social movement that can make a viable claim to a resistance that is as integrated as it is powerful. For too long progressive cultural workers and activists have adhered to a narrative about domination that relies mostly on remaking economic structures and presenting to the public what might be called a barrage of demystifying facts and an aesthetics of transgression. What they have ignored is that people also internalize oppression and that domination is about not only the crisis of economics, images that deaden the imagination, and the misrepresentation of reality, but also about the crisis of agency, identification, meaning, and desire.

The crisis of economics and politics in the Trump era has not been matched by a crisis of consciousness and agency. The failure to develop a crisis of consciousness is deeply rooted in a society that suffers from a plague of atomization, loneliness, and despair. Neoliberalism has undermined any democratic understanding of freedom limiting its meaning to the dictates of consumerism, hatred of government, and a politics where the personal is the only emotional referent that matters. Freedom has collapsed into the dark abyss of a vapid and unchecked individualism and in doing so has cancelled out that capacious notion of freedom rooted in the bonds of solidarity, compassion, social responsibility, and the bonds of social obligations. The toxic neoliberal combination of unchecked economic growth is a discourse that legitimates plundering the earths’ resources and exhibits a pathological disdain for community and public values that has weakened democratic pressures, values, and social relations and opened the door for the dark side of politics under Donald Trump’s Presidency. The rule of the billionaires and militarists threaten not just democracy but the existence of the planet. The stakes for both justice, if not survival, are more important than ever.  There is no room for resignation, internecine squabbles, and despair. Resistance must take on the challenge of creating an informed public, the need to develop new forms of non-violent resistance, and mobilize a collective sense of outrage mixed with a need for disciplined and focus action.

Pressing the claim for social justice and economic equality means working hard to develop alternative modes of consciousness, promote the proliferation of democratic public spheres, create the conditions for modes of mass resistance, and make the development of sustainable social movements central to any viable struggle for economic, political, and social justice. No viable democracy can exist without citizens who value and are willing to work towards the common good.  That is as much a pedagogical question as it is a political challenge.

[1] Yesmin Villarreal, “Betsy DeVos: Education Reform Can ‘Advance God’s Kingdom’”, Advocate (December 3, 2016). Online: http://www.advocate.com/politics/2016/12/03/antigay-betsy-devos-education-reform-can-advance-gods-kingdom

[2] Catherine Brown, “Point: Trump’s Education Plan —Defund, Devalue and Privatize Our School System.” Inside Sources (December 5, 2016). Online: http://www.insidesources.com/point-trumps-education-plan-defund-devalue-privatize-school-system/

[3] Amy Goodman, “Housing Advocate: It’s Scary that Trump HUD Secretary Pick Ben Carson Thinks Poverty is a Choice,” Democracy Now (November 16, 2016). Online: https://www.democracynow.org/2016/12/7/housing_advocate_its_scary_that_trump

[4] Brendan Gauthier, “HUD secretary front-runner Ben Carson recently called fair housing ‘communist,’” Salon (November 28, 2016). http://www.salon.com/2016/11/28/hud-secretary-front-runner-ben-carson-recently-called-fair-housing-communist/

[5] Noam Scheiber and Maggie Haberman, “Trump’s Likely Labor Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Critic of Minimum Wage Increases,” New York Times (December 8, 2017). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/us/politics/andrew-puzder-labor-secretary-trump.html

[6] Ibid., Scheiber and Haberman, “Trump’s Likely Labor Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Critic of Minimum Wage Increases.”

[7] Ibid., Scheiber and Haberman, “Trump’s Likely Labor Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Critic of Minimum Wage Increases.”

[8] Mike Lillis, “Liberal Dems: Trump filling Cabinet with ‘stooges’,” The Hill (December 8, 2016). Online: http://thehill.com/homenews/house/309455-liberal-dems-trump-filling-cabinet-with-stooges

[9] Eric Sommer, “Team Trump: a Government of Generals and Billionaires,” CounterPunch (December 7, 2016). Online: http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/07/team-trump-a-government-of-generals-and-billionaires

[10] Cited in Dahr Jamail, “Trump Nominee for Homeland Security John Kelly Favors Draconian Immigration Policy.” The Real News (December 8, 2016). Online: http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=17874

[11] Ibid., Dahr Jamail.

[12] Mathew Rosenberg, “Trump Adviser Has Pushed Clinton Conspiracy Theories,” New York Times (December 5, 2016). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/05/us/politics/-michael-flynn-trump-fake-news-clinton.html?_r=0

[13] Henry A. Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

[14] Christopher Hass, “This is Serious,” In These Times (December 7, 2016). Online:

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?ui=2&ik=eaf3b5986f&view=pt&search=inbox&th=158daebc10733820&siml=158daebc10733820

[15] On this issue, see Henry A. Giroux, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Chicago: Haymarket Press, 2014);  Susan Searls Giroux, “On the Civic Function of Intellectuals Today,” in Gary Olson and Lynn Worsham, eds. Education as Civic Engagement: Toward a More Democratic Society (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2012), pp. ix-xvii.

[16] Bruce Robbins, “A Starting Point for Politics,” The Nation, (October 22, 2016). Online: https://www.thenation.com/article/the-radical-life-of-stuart-hall

[17]. Jacques Derrida, “Intellectual Courage: An Interview,” trans. Peter Krapp, Culture Machine, Volume 2 (2000), pp. 1-15.

[18] Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of Resistance (New York: Free Press, 1998), p. 11.

[19] Pierre Bourdieu and Gunter Grass, “The ‘Progressive’ Restoration: A Franco-German Dialogue,” New Left Review 14 (March-April, 2002), P. 2

[20] Deirdre Fulton, “There’s No Normalizing President-Elect Trump,” The Nation (November 14, 2016). Online: http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/11/14/theres-no-normalizing-president-elect-trump-or-least-there-shouldnt-be

[21] Henry A. Giroux, Dangerous Thinking in the Age of the New Authoritarianism (New York: Routledge, 2015).

[22] Robin D. G. Kelley, “After Trump,” Boston Review (November 15, 2016). Online: http://bostonreview.net/forum/after-trump/robin-d-g-kelley-trump-says-go-back-we-say-fight-back

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013) and Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014). His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.

COUNTERPUNCH

A Trump junta?

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9 December 2016

The selection Wednesday of Marine Gen. John Kelly, the former head of US Southern Command, to head the Department of Homeland Security brings to three the number of recently retired generals tapped by president-elect Donald Trump for his incoming cabinet.

Before nominating Kelly, Trump named the rabidly anti-Muslim Lieut. Gen. Mike Flynn, the retired former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as his national security adviser.

He has also announced his choice of the former head of US Central Command, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, nicknamed “Mad Dog” for his repeated statements expressing a love for killing, to head the Defense Department. Securing the nomination of Mattis as defense secretary requires congressional approval of a waiver exempting him from a law barring commissioned military officers who have served in uniform over the previous seven years from taking the post. Mattis retired in 2013 and took a seat on the board of directors of major military contractor General Dynamics.

There are other so-called flag officers waiting in the wings. Retired Gen. David Petraeus, also a former US Central Command chief who briefly served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is reportedly under consideration for Secretary of State. He would have to secure permission from his probation officer to work in Washington or travel outside the US. Petraeus was sentenced to two years probation last year after pleading guilty to handing over top secret intelligence documents to his mistress.

Retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, who met with Trump in New York Thursday, is also reportedly being vetted for the post of Secretary of State. Previously, he was considered a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. And Adm. Michael Rogers, currently head of the National Security Agency, is said to be a contender for Director of National Intelligence.

The number of senior military officers being assembled in the Trump cabinet makes the incoming administration resemble more and more a Latin American military junta. The placing of both the Defense Department, overseeing the massive US war machine, and the Department of Homeland Security, which coordinates a ballooning police-state apparatus, in the hands of two recently retired Marine Corps generals is particularly chilling, suggesting a government that aims to seamlessly coordinate war abroad and repression at home under the tight control of a military camarilla.

Trump, the billionaire conman who secured five deferments to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war, appears to revel in surrounding himself with military brass, shouting out idiotically “‘Mad Dog’ Mattis” at rallies, as if association with the architect of the slaughter of Fallujah will somehow strengthen his image. But there is an objective source of the rise of the military into the top positions of the government.

It is now more than 55 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the former senior allied commander in World War II, made a farewell speech in which he cautioned against the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” whose “influence—economic, political, even spiritual—is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.”

Eisenhower warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

It is highly unlikely that Eisenhower could have imagined in his wildest dreams either the scale of the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” expressed in the incoming Trump administration or the vast growth of the US military apparatus.

At $580 billion, the Pentagon’s budget consumes more than half of the discretionary spending of the federal government each year. Adding on the slush fund for unending overseas wars, money spent on atomic weapons and other military expenses, the real cost of Washington’s war machine is more like $1 trillion a year.

Along with the Pentagon budget, the power of the military brass has grown uninterruptedly, particularly over the past quarter century of unending wars. The creation of a professional “all-volunteer” armed forces has increasingly isolated the military from civilian society, creating a distinct social caste that has asserted its independent political interests in the affairs of state ever more aggressively. So-called “unified combatant commanders,” like Mattis, Kelly, Petraeus and Stavridis, exercise vast power over entire regions of the globe, far overshadowing any ambassador or other civilian representative of the US government.

While the rank-and-file of the US military appears to have heavily favored Trump in the election—partly out of the misguided hope that he would halt the unending wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East—Democrat Hillary Clinton was the favorite of the top US military brass, who considered her a veteran supporter of militarism and a more reliable backer of their strategic preparations for war against Russia.

Outside of Flynn, none of the ex-military commanders being nominated or considered for top posts had endorsed Trump. Some of them had clashed with the Obama administration, Mattis over Iran and Kelly over Guantanamo, for example.

As much as Trump is choosing ex-generals, the generals may themselves be choosing to join his administration, confident that they can ultimately dictate policy.

The Obama administration and congressional Democrats signaled Thursday that they will place no obstacles in the path of Mattis’ appointment as defense secretary. A measure has been added to a stopgap spending bill set for approval before Congress adjourns this weekend that will fast-track the waiving of the legal ban on recently serving officers taking the post. Debate on the waiver in the Senate is to be limited to 10 hours, even though this will be the first time such a waiver has been granted in over 60 years.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Trump “should be given wide latitude in assembling his team,” and that Obama “believes this is an important principle.”

More important, apparently, than civilian control of the military. That this bedrock constitutional principle has been transformed into all but a dead letter, supported by no significant section of the political establishment, is among the starkest manifestations of the decay and collapse of bourgeois democratic institutions in the United States, which have found their consummate political expression in the advent of the Trump presidency.

What is being assembled in the ongoing sessions at New York City’s Trump Towers is a government of class war, comprised of billionaires and generals. It is turning to the military as it prepares to implement policies of social reaction at home and war abroad, and to confront the massive popular opposition that these policies will provoke from within the working class and the youth.

Bill Van Auken

WSWS

 

 

Sanders’ Social Democracy vs. Trump’s Authoritarian Doctrine

What Trump’s semi-success at the Carrier plant means for the future.

adult experienced industrial worker during heavy industry machinery assembling on production line manufacturing workshop
Photo Credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky

President-elect Trump scored a remarkable victory by saving 1,000 of the 2,100 jobs that Carrier and its parent company, United Technologies, were outsourcing to Mexico. During the campaign, Trump pledged to stop those jobs from leaving the country and he has come through (much credit should be given to the United Steelworkers for keeping this issue alive).

Trump used the plight of those workers, represented by the United Steelworkers, as a battering ram to pummel Hillary Clinton on trade and the loss of decent paying U.S. manufacturing jobs. Now, his partial success could lead to a mass exodus of working people from Democratic party.

The Myth of the White Working Class

Post-election pundits are propagating the false equation that “industrial workers” equals “white working class,” and that Clinton’s crushing defeat in the Rust Belt was the result of a white worker revolt against political correctness — i.e., they’re racists!

But America’s industrial workforce reflects the future, not the past. The 1,400-person Carrier workforce in Indianapolis, for example, is 50 percent African American. Women make up half of the workers on its assembly lines, and 10 percent of the employees are Burmese immigrants.

This means Donald Trump, bigot in chief, has just saved the decent-paying, unionized jobs of women, African Americans, immigrants and white workers. Look out Democrats.

Benign Neglect at the Democratic Party

Trump’s effort to save these jobs contrasts starkly with the failure of the established Democratic Party to do anything at all about such devastating plant closures. President Obama has never used his bully pulpit to mention even one of the thousands of facilities that shifted abroad under his watch. Similarly, Hillary Clinton remained silent about Carrier during her entire campaign, thereby allowing Trump to morph into the champion of the working class.

But none of that is particularly surprising given how deeply Wall Street/corporate elites are embedded within the Democratic Party. More troubling still is that party elites believe these relocations are economically justifiable.

Neoliberal ideology (the holiness of tax cuts, privatization, deregulation, and the free movement of capital) has become the conventional wisdom of the entire political establishment of both parties. The media in particular echoes the inaccurate notion that these facilities must move so that the parent company can keep up with competition. (Carrier, in fact, is leaving in order to secure more funds for stock-buybacks to enrich hedge funds and top corporate officers.) All of this capital mobility is pictured as result of globalization—a force akin to an act of God.

Virtually every article on Carrier opines that Trump’s quick fix cannot alter the technological march that surely will displace these blue collar workers. What they are really saying is the corporations have the right and obligation to move wherever and whenever they wish in order to boost profits and “shareholder value.” Mainstream economists then assure us that, overall, society is better off due lower-cost imported goods and higher value-added domestic jobs, even if a few workers are sacrificed along the way.

But a “few workers” have turned into millions of family members and members of devastated communities who have seen their lives deteriorate. They are heading Trump’s way.

Sanders to the Rescue?

Bernie Sanders saw all this coming. That’s why he challenged Clinton in the first place, and that’s why he’s now trying to capture the Democratic Party and turn it into the champion of working people against Wall Street and “the billionaire class.”

In the case of Carrier, Sanders is calling on Trump not to accept a compromise that will still allow half of the jobs to be moved to Mexico. Staying true to his radical politics, Sanders also is calling for new “Outsourcing Prevention Act” that would:

  1. Bar companies from receiving future contracts, tax breaks, grants or loans from the federal government if they have announced plans to outsource more than 50 jobs to other countries;

  2. Require all companies to pay back all federal tax breaks, grants and loans they have received from the federal government over the last decade if they outsource more than 50 jobs in a given year;

  3. Impose a tax on all companies that outsource jobs. The tax would be equal to the amount of savings achieved by outsourcing jobs or 35 percent of its profits, whichever is higher.

  4. Prohibit companies that offshore jobs from enriching executives through golden parachutes, stock options, bonuses, or other forms of compensation by imposing stiff tax penalties on this compensation.

Reactionary versus Progressive Populism

The stage is set for an epic struggle between Trump’s right wing populism and Sanders-style social democracy. The corporate-driven Democrats may soon be irrelevant. Either they go along with Sanders and compete for the allegiance with working people, or they get pummeled by more working class defections to Trump’s brand of populism.

Sanders believes that neoliberalism is heart of our problem — that it leads to runaway inequality, a rigged political system, an exploitative Wall Street, and the full-scale assault on the living and working conditions of working people — black, brown, white, gay and straight. That system, he believes, also leads to the dramatic rise of incarceration, urban and rural poverty, and the stalling of real wages for the vast majority of the population.

Sanders understands we only can win significant social democratic reforms if we link together the full set of victims (most of the 99%). He’s talking about the kind of programs that will appreciably improve our lives — free higher education, single-payer health care, a major attack on climate change, massive public job creation, real criminal justice and immigration reform, a Wall Street speculation tax and now the Outsourcing Prevention Act.

Getting it Right

It’s too late to take the Carrier victory away form Trump. It won’t work to belittle Trump by claiming it only covers 1,000 jobs, or that too many public tax breaks were tossed to the corporation, or that globalization will eventually make those jobs go away. One thousand jobs means 1,000 families who will not see their incomes slashed in half, or worse. More importantly it means hope, that maybe outsourcing to low-wage countries can be ameliorated.

As a result, Sanders is making a difficult request both of the Democratic Party, and of progressive activists in general. He is asking us to place working people at the center of our work: “The working class of this country is being decimated — that’s why Donald Trump won,” Sanders said. “And what we need now are candidates who stand with those working people, who understand that real median family income has gone down.”

To get there, Sanders is fanning a contentious debate: He argues that the current practice of identity politics is not a complete political program. As he bluntly stated, “It is not good enough for somebody to say, ‘I’m a woman, vote for me.’ That is not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industries.”

So what does this mean for the efforts of tens of thousands of progressive activists who are deeply engaged in halting climate change, preventing police violence, securing equal rights the LGBTQ community, protecting immigrants, and working on a myriad of other significant causes?

Sanders implies that for any of us to succeed, we all must join the fight to enhance the lives of working people. No matter what our priority issue, we will need to devote time and resources to fight for universal programs that lift us all up. In short, we have to expand our issue silos so that fighting Wall Street and the billionaire class can link us together.Sanders could not be clearer: Either we become a broad-based class movement or we lose. The choice is ours, not Trump’s.

 

Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute in New York, and author of How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning Off America’s Wealth (J. Wiley and Sons, 2013).

 

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/carrier-plant-jobs?akid=14975.265072.Got96S&rd=1&src=newsletter1068440&t=4

One Sociologist’s Compelling Theory for How the U.S. Empire Could Devolve Into Fascism and Then Collapse

ELECTION 2016
Based on a model comparing the rise and fall of 10 historical empires.

Photo Credit: oneinchpunch / Shutterstock

A sociologist who predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 attacks warns that American global power will collapse under Donald Trump.

Johan Galtung, a Norwegian professor at the University of Hawaii and Transcend Peace University, first predicted in 2000 that the “U.S. empire” would wither away within 25 years, but he moved up that forecast by five years with the election of President George W. Bush, reported Motherboard.

Now, nearly 17 years later, Galtung predicts that decline could come even quicker under a Trump administration.

“He blunts contradictions with Russia, possibly with China, and seems to do also with North Korea,” Galtung said. “But he sharpens contradictions inside the USA.”

Galtung’s biographer credits the sociologist and mathematician with correctly predicting the 1978 Iranian revolution; China’s Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989; the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989; the economic crises of 1987, 2008 and 2011; and the 9/11 attacks.

His predictions are based on a model comparing the rise and fall of 10 historical empires, and decades ago Galtung developed a theory of decline based on “synchronizing and mutually reinforcing contradictions.”

For example, Galtung’s model identified five key structural contradictions in Soviet society that he predicted would lead to its fragmentation unless the U.S.S.R. completely transformed itself.

Galtung predicted the tensions between the repressed Soviet working class and the wealthier “bourgeoisie” with nothing to buy would lead to economic stagnation, and those economic forces combined with the push for more freedom of expression, autonomy and freedom of movement would — eventually did — pull down the Soviet Union.

He predicted in his 2009 book, “The Fall of the American Empire — and then What?” that the U.S. was plagued by 15 internal contradictions that would end its global power by 2020, and Galtung warned that phase of the decline would usher in a period of reactionary fascism.

American fascism would spring from its capacity for global violence, a vision of exceptionalism, a belief in an inevitable and final war between good and evil, the cult of a strong state leading that battle, and a cult of the “strong leader.”

Galtung said all of those elements presented themselves during the Bush era, but he fears fascist tendencies could sharpen under Trump as those cultists lash out in disbelief at the loss of American power.

The sociologist identified unsustainable economic, social, military and political contradictions that would eventually topple the U.S. as a world power.

Overproduction relative to demand, unemployment and the increasing costs of climate change would weaken the U.S. economy, according to his model.

Galtung also predicted that rising tensions between the U.S., NATO and its military allies, coupled with the increasing economic costs of war and the political conflicts between the U.S., United Nations and the European Union, would also diminish American power.

“The collapse has two faces,” Galtung said. “Other countries refuse to be ‘good allies: and the USA has to do the killing themselves, by bombing from high altitudes, drones steered by computer from an office, Special Forces killing all over the place. Both are happening today, except for Northern Europe, which supports these wars, for now. That will probably not continue beyond 2020, so I stand by that deadline.”

Rising tensions between America’s Judeo-Christian majority and Islam and other religious minorities created cultural contradictions, which are further sharpened by social contradictions between the so-called American dream and the reality that fewer Americans can achieve prosperity through hard work.

The decline of the U.S. as a global power would probably rip apart its domestic cohesion, Galtung said, which could potentially reshape American borders.

“As a trans-border structure the collapse I am thinking of is global, not domestic,” Galtung said. “But it may have domestic repercussion, like white supremacists or even minorities like Hawaiians, Inuits, indigenous Americans and black Americans doing the same, maybe arguing for the United States as community, confederation rather than a ‘union.’”

That breakup could potentially bring a revitalization of the American republic, Galtung said — if Trump makes a surprising shift in his persona and policies.

“If he manages to apologize deeply to all the groups he has insulted and turn foreign policy from U.S. interventions — soon 250 after Jefferson in Libya 1801 — and not use wars (killing more than 20 million in 37 countries after 1945): A major revitalization!” Galtung said. “Certainly making ‘America Great Again.’ We’ll see.”

Will Trump Start a War on China?

WORLD

More than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships—and nukes.

puzzle with the national flag of united states of america and china .concept
Photo Credit: esfera/Shutterstock

When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past 8 on the morning of August 6, 1945, her silhouette was burned into the granite. I stared at the shadow for an hour or more. When I returned many years later, it was gone: taken away, disappeared, a political embarrassment.

I have spent two years making a documentary film, The Coming War on China, in which the evidence and witnesses warn that nuclear war is no longer a shadow, but a contingency. The greatest build-up of American-led military forces since the Second World War is well under way, in the northern hemisphere, on the western borders of Russia and in Asia and the Pacific, confronting China.

The great danger this beckons is not news, nor it is buried and distorted: a drumbeat of mainstream fake news that echoes the psychopathic fear embedded in public consciousness during much of the 20th century.

Like the renewal of post-Soviet Russia, the rise of China as an economic power is declared an “existential threat” to the divine right of the United States to rule and dominate human affairs.

To counter this, in 2011 President Obama announced a “pivot to Asia,” which meant that almost two-thirds of U.S. naval forces would be transferred to Asia and the Pacific by 2020. Today, more than 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and, above all, nuclear weapons. From Australia north through the Pacific to Japan, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India, the bases form, says one U.S. strategist, “the perfect noose.”

A study by the RAND Corporation (which has planned America’s wars since Vietnam) is titled War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable. Commissioned by the U.S. Army, the authors evoke the Cold War when RAND made notorious the catch cry of its chief strategist, Herman Kahn — “thinking the unthinkable.” Kahn’s book, On Thermonuclear War, elaborated a plan for a “winnable” nuclear war against the Soviet Union. Today, his apocalyptic view is shared by those holding real power in the United States: the militarists and neo-conservatives in the executive, the Pentagon, the intelligence and “national security” establishment and Congress.

The current Secretary of Defense, Ashley Carter, a verbose provocateur, says U.S. policy is to confront those “who see America’s dominance and want to take that away from us.”

For all the attempts to detect a departure in foreign policy, this is almost certainly the view of Donald Trump, whose abuse of China during the election campaign included that of “rapist” of the American economy. On December 2, in a direct provocation of China, President-elect Trump spoke to the president of Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province of the mainland. Armed with American missiles, Taiwan is an enduring flashpoint between Washington and Beijing.

“The United States,” wrote Amitai Etzioni, professor of international affairs at George Washington University, “is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress.”  This war would begin with a “blinding attack against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers … satellite and anti-satellite weapons.”

The incalculable risk is that “deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as pre-emptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into ‘a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma’ [that would] lead to nuclear war.”

In 2015, the Pentagon released its Law of War Manual. “The United States,” it says, “has not accepted a treaty rule that prohibits the use of nuclear weapons per se, and thus nuclear weapons are lawful weapons for the United States.”

In China, a strategist told me, “We are not your enemy, but if you [in the West] decide we are, we must prepare without delay.”  China’s military and arsenal are small compared to America’s. However, “for the first time,” wrote Gregory Kulacki of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “China is discussing putting its nuclear missiles on high alert so that they can be launched quickly on warning of an attack … This would be a significant and dangerous change in Chinese policy … Indeed, the nuclear weapon policies of the United States are the most prominent external factor influencing Chinese advocates for raising the alert level of China’s nuclear forces.”

Professor Ted Postol was scientific adviser to the head of U.S. naval operations. An authority on nuclear weapons, he told me, “Everybody here wants to look like they’re tough. See I got to be tough … I’m not afraid of doing anything military, I’m not afraid of threatening; I’m a hairy-chested gorilla. And we have gotten into a state, the United States has gotten into a situation where there’s a lot of sabre-rattling, and it’s really being orchestrated from the top.”

I said, “This seems incredibly dangerous.”

“That’s an understatement.”

In 2015, in considerable secrecy, the U.S. staged its biggest single military exercise since the Cold War. This was Talisman Sabre; an armada of ships and long-range bombers rehearsed an “Air-Sea Battle Concept for China” – ASB — blocking sea lanes in the Straits of Malacca and cutting off China’s access to oil, gas and other raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.

It is such a provocation, and the fear of a U.S. Navy blockade, that has seen China feverishly building strategic airstrips on disputed reefs and islets in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Last July, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against China’s claim of sovereignty over these islands. Although the action was brought by the Philippines, it was presented by leading American and British lawyers and could be traced to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In 2010, Clinton flew to Manila. She demanded that America’s former colony reopen the U.S. military bases closed in the 1990s following a popular campaign against the violence they generated, especially against Filipino women. She declared China’s claim on the Spratly Islands—which lie more than 7,500 miles from the United States—a threat to U.S. “national security” and to “freedom of navigation.”

Handed millions of dollars in arms and military equipment, the government of President Benigno Aquino broke off bilateral talks with China and signed a secretive Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement with the U.S. This established five rotating U.S. bases and restored a hated colonial provision that American forces and contractors were immune from Philippine law.

The election of Rodrigo Duterte in April has unnerved Washington. Calling himself a socialist, he declared, “In our relations with the world, the Philippines will pursue an independent foreign policy” and noted that the United States had not apologized for its colonial atrocities. “I will break up with America,” he said, and promised to expel U.S. troops. But the U.S. remains in the Philippines, and joint military exercises continue.

In 2014, under the rubric of “information dominance”—the jargon for media manipulation, or fake news, on which the Pentagon spends more than $4 billion—the Obama administration launched a propaganda campaign that cast China, the world’s greatest trading nation, as a threat to “freedom of navigation.”

CNN led the way, its “national security reporter” reporting excitedly from on board a U.S. Navy surveillance flight over the Spratlys. The BBC persuaded frightened Filipino pilots to fly a single-engine Cessna over the disputed islands “to see how the Chinese would react.” None of these reporters questioned why the Chinese were building airstrips off their own coastline, or why American military forces were massing on China’s doorstep.

The designated chief propagandist is Admiral Harry Harris, the US military commander in Asia and the Pacific. “My responsibilities,” he told the New York Times, “cover Bollywood to Hollywood, from polar bears to penguins.” Never was imperial domination described as pithily.

Harris is one of a brace of Pentagon admirals and generals briefing selected, malleable journalists and broadcasters, with the aim of justifying a threat as specious as that with which George W Bush and Tony Blair justified the destruction of Iraq and much of the Middle East. In Los Angeles in September, Harris declared he was “ready to confront a revanchist Russia and an assertive China …If we have to fight tonight, I don’t want it to be a fair fight. If it’s a knife fight, I want to bring a gun. If it’s a gun fight, I want to bring in the artillery … and all our partners with their artillery.”

These “partners” include South Korea, the launch pad for the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system, known as THAAD, ostensibly aimed at North Korea. As Professor Postol points out, it targets China.

In Sydney, Australia, Harris called on China to “tear down its Great Wall in the South China Sea”. The imagery was front page news. Australia is America’s most obsequious “partner”; its political elite, military, intelligence agencies and the media are integrated into what is known as the “alliance”. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the motorcade of a visiting American government “dignitary” is not uncommon.  The war criminal Dick Cheney was afforded this honour.

Although China is Australia’s biggest trader, on which much of the national economy relies, “confronting China” is the diktat from Washington. The few political dissenters in Canberra risk McCarthyite smears in the Murdoch press. “You in Australia are with us come what may,” said one of the architects of the Vietnam war, McGeorge Bundy. One of the most important U.S. bases is Pine Gap near Alice Springs. Founded by the CIA, it spies on China and all of Asia, and is a vital contributor to Washington’s murderous war by drone in the Middle East.

In October, Richard Marles, the defence spokesman of the main Australian opposition party, the Labor Party, demanded that “operational decisions” in provocative acts against China be left to military commanders in the South China Sea. In other words, a decision that could mean war with a nuclear power should not be taken by an elected leader or a parliament but by an admiral or a general.

This is the Pentagon line, a historic departure for any state calling itself a democracy. The ascendancy of the Pentagon in Washington – which Daniel Ellsberg has called a silent coup — is reflected in the record $5 trillion America has spent on aggressive wars since 9/11, according to a study by Brown University. The million dead in Iraq and the flight of 12 million refugees from at least four countries are the consequence.

The Japanese island of Okinawa has 32 military installations, from which Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Iraq have been attacked by the United States. Today, the principal target is China, with whom Okinawans have close cultural and trade ties.

There are military aircraft constantly in the sky over Okinawa; they sometimes crash into homes and schools. People cannot sleep, teachers cannot teach. Wherever they go in their own country, they are fenced in and told to keep out.

A popular Okinawan anti-base movement has been growing since a 12-year-old girl was gang-raped by U.S. troops in 1995. It was one of hundreds of such crimes, many of them never prosecuted. Barely acknowledged in the wider world, the resistance has seen the election of Japan’s first anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga, and presented an unfamiliar hurdle to the Tokyo government and the ultra-nationalist prime minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to repeal Japan’s “peace constitution.”

The resistance includes Fumiko Shimabukuro, aged 87, a survivor of the Second World War when a quarter of Okinawans died in the American invasion. Fumiko and hundreds of others took refuge in beautiful Henoko Bay, which she is now fighting to save. The U.S. wants to destroy the bay in order to extend runways for its bombers. “We have a choice,” she said, “silence or life.” As we gathered peacefully outside the U.S. base, Camp Schwab, giant Sea Stallion helicopters hovered over us for no reason other than to intimidate.

Across the East China Sea lies the Korean island of Jeju, a semi- tropical sanctuary  and World Heritage Site declared “an island of world peace.” On this island of world peace has been built one of the most provocative military bases in the world, less than 400 miles from Shanghai. The fishing village of Gangjeong is dominated by a South Korean naval base purpose-built for U.S. aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile system, aimed at China.

A people’s resistance to these war preparations has been a presence on Jeju for almost a decade. Every day, often twice a day, villagers, Catholic priests and supporters from all over the world stage a religious mass that blocks the gates of the base. In a country where political demonstrations are often banned, unlike powerful religions, the tactic has produced an inspiring spectacle.

One of the leaders, Father Mun Jeong-hyeon, told me, “I sing four songs every day at the base, regardless of the weather. I sing in typhoons, no exception. To build this base, they destroyed the environment, and the life of the villagers, and we should be a witness to that. They want to rule the Pacific. They want to make China isolated in the world. They want to be emperor of the world.”

I flew from Jeju to Shanghai for the first time in more than a generation. When I was last in China, the loudest noise I remember was the tinkling of bicycle bells; Mao Zedong had recently died, and the cities seemed dark places, in which foreboding and expectation competed. Within a few years, Deng Xiopeng, the “man who changed China,” was the “paramount leader.” Nothing prepared me for the astonishing changes today.

China presents exquisite ironies, not least the house in Shanghai where Mao and his comrades secretly founded the Communist Party of China in 1921. Today it stands in the heart of a capitalist shipping district; you walk out of this communist shrine with your Little Red Book and your plastic bust of Mao into the embrace of Starbucks, Apple, Cartier, Prada. Would Mao be shocked? I doubt it. Five years before his great revolution in 1949, he sent this secret message to Washington. “China must industrialise,” he wrote, “This can only be done by free enterprise. Chinese and American interests fit together, economically and politically. America need not fear that we will not be co-operative. We cannot risk any conflict.”

Mao offered to meet Franklin Roosevelt in the White House, and his successor Harry Truman, and his successor Dwight Eisenhower. He was rebuffed, or willfully ignored. The opportunity that might have changed contemporary history, prevented wars in Asia and saved countless lives was lost because the truth of these overtures was denied in 1950s Washington “when the catatonic Cold War trance,” wrote the critic James Naremore, “held our country in its rigid grip.”

The fake mainstream news that once again presents China as a threat is of the same mentality.

The world is inexorably shifting east; but the astonishing vision of Eurasia from China is barely understood in the West. The “New Silk Road” is a ribbon of trade, ports, pipelines and high-speed trains all the way to Europe. The world’s leader in rail technology, China is negotiating with 28 countries for routes on which trains will reach up to 400 kms an hour. This opening to the world has the approval of much of humanity, and along the way is uniting China and Russia.

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being,” said Barack Obama, evoking the fetishism of the 1930s. This modern cult of superiority is Americanism, the world’s dominant predator. Under the liberal Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, nuclear warhead spending has risen higher than under any president since the end of the Cold War. A mini nuclear weapon is planned. Known as the B61 Model 12, it will mean, says General James Cartwright, former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “going smaller [makes its use] more thinkable.”

In September, the Atlantic Council, a mainstream U.S. geopolitical thinktank, published a report that predicted a Hobbesian world “marked by the breakdown of order, violent extremism [and] an era of perpetual war.” The new enemies were a “resurgent” Russia and an “increasingly aggressive” China. Only heroic America can save us. There is a demented quality about this war-mongering. It is as if the “American Century” — proclaimed in 1941 by the American imperialist Henry Luce, owner of Time magazine — has ended without notice and no one has had the courage to tell the emperor to take his guns and go home.

 

John Pilger‘s documentaries have won Academy Awards in both the U.K. and the U.S. 

http://www.alternet.org/world/will-trump-start-war-china

The Oakland fire tragedy and the housing crisis in America

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7 December 2016

The death toll from last Friday’s fire at a warehouse in Oakland, California stands at 36, with 85 percent of the burnt-out structure having been searched. Among the dead, some of whom have yet to be identified, are young people and artists who made their home in the 86-year-old sprawling two-story structure known as the Ghost Ship. The building was leased to an artists’ collective in the Fruitvale district of the city.

It was the deadliest building fire in the US since a Rhode Island nightclub fire in 2003, which claimed 100 lives. The tragedy has horrified the San Francisco Bay Area and the world, leaving many asking how such an event could take place in 21st century America.

It is unclear at this point whether criminal charges will be filed against the owner of the building, Chor Nar Siu Ng, who owns several other blighted properties in Oakland, or against Derick Ion Almena, who leased the property, lived there with his wife and three children, and ran the artists’ collective. Looking for an individual to blame, the media has launched a campaign against Almena in particular, who lost many people he knew in the blaze.

Authorities have pointed to electrical problems and the lack of basic fire safety provisions in the dilapidated structure. At the root of the tragedy, however, lies the dysfunctional character of American capitalism, including a housing crisis born of poverty, social inequality, and years of neglect by government authorities.

The Bay Area, long known as a haven for artists and students, is now largely unaffordable for workers and young people. Along with the tech boom of the last six years, housing prices have skyrocketed. Warehouses and lofts in San Francisco’s former industrial areas have given way to high-end condos and workspaces to house tech start-ups and their employees. More than 2,000 people are evicted annually in the city.

This has pushed artists and others struggling to find affordable housing to Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, and beyond. Now these areas are also increasingly unaffordable, with the median cost of available rentals in Oakland standing at $3,000 a month, far beyond what is affordable for most Americans. People living in buildings such as the Ghost Ship are faced with the choice of living in substandard housing or being homeless.

Speaking to CBS, a city councilor from Fruitvale estimated that there are some 200 warehouses in Oakland “that have no papers, no permit, no fire code, nothing.” If occupied, these structures are disasters waiting to happen. And while building inspectors apparently ignore these deathtraps, no measures are taken to alleviate the growing crisis that leads to their use as housing.

The Bay Area’s economy has spawned a small army of billionaires, with 50 of them making it onto the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans in 2016. Oakland itself is increasingly socially polarized, home to the fifth largest cluster of “elite zip codes” in the US, ranked by a combination of high income and education level attained. At the same time, more than 800,000 people in the region live below the poverty line.

The housing crisis in the Bay Area mirrors that of metropolitan areas across the country. The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 20,000 rent-controlled apartments in LA have been taken off the market since 2011 to make way for pricey homes and condos for the wealthy, leading to hundreds of evictions this year.

Evictions are taking place not only in thriving real estate markets like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, but also in places like Milwaukee and St. Louis, where deindustrialization and unemployment, combined with wages that do not keep pace with the cost of living, are driving people out of their homes.

According to a report released last year by Harvard University titled “Projecting Trends in Severely Cost-Burdened Renters,” by 2025 nearly 15 million US households will devote more than half of their income to rent. Those unable to keep pace with their rent or mortgage payments will find themselves evicted and possibly homeless.

The federal government has long since abandoned any responsibility for the provision of decent housing, leading to disasters like that in Oakland last week. According to the US Fire Administration, an organization that tracks fire deaths based on media reports, there were 2,290 fire deaths in the US in 2015, many of them in mobile homes or other substandard housing.

The first US national housing legislation, passed in 1937, went beyond providing low-cost public housing and was aimed at improving the lagging economy by funding jobs to build affordable housing. Public housing today has largely ceased to exist, with units sold off to developers to turn a quick profit, and those in need of housing waiting years if not decades for openings to use their Section 8 housing vouchers.

The Obama administration, following the Bush and Clinton administrations before it, has made no pretense of establishing a public works program to address the woeful state of infrastructure in the US—whether in housing, roads, bridges, energy grids or in other vital areas.

President-elect Donald Trump has made clear his attitude toward the housing crisis with his nomination of Ben Carson to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon with no professional housing policy experience, has declared his hostility to the entire concept of public housing and social provision in general, stating: “It really is not compassionate to pat people on the head and say, ‘There you poor little thing, I’m going to take care of all your needs, your health care, your food and your housing, don’t you worry about anything’” (Conservative Political Action Conference, February 26, 2015).

The Socialist Equality Party calls for an immediate halt to foreclosures and evictions and for the provision of billions of dollars to provide decent, low-cost housing to those in need. Housing is a social right that can be assured only by placing the home construction and financing industry under public ownership.

For tragedies like that in Oakland to be averted in the future, public funds must be poured into the construction of new homes for working families. Such a project can be undertaken only under a workers government based on a socialist program, which treats affordable housing as a basic human right, not a privilege reserved for the wealthy.

Kate Randall

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/12/07/pers-d07.html

Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could Be Wrong

WORLD
Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism.

Emergency responders following a reported barrel bomb attack by government forces in the Al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 6, 2014

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.

Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different.

In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage.

One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance.

Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

It is inevitable that an opposition movement fighting for its life in wartime will only produce, or allow to be produced by others, information that is essentially propaganda for its own side. The fault lies not with them but a media that allows itself to be spoon-fed with dubious or one-sided stories.

For instance, the film coming out of east Aleppo in recent weeks focuses almost exclusively on heartrending scenes of human tragedy such as the death or maiming of civilians. One seldom sees shots of the 10,000 fighters, whether they are wounded or alive and well.

None of this is new. The present wars in the Middle East started with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was justified by the supposed threat from Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Western journalists largely went along with this thesis, happily citing evidence from the Iraqi opposition who predictably confirmed the existence of WMD.

Some of those who produced these stories later had the gall to criticise the Iraqi opposition for misleading them, as if they had any right to expect unbiased information from people who had dedicated their lives to overthrowing Saddam Hussein or, in this particular case, getting the Americans to do so for them.

Much the same self-serving media credulity was evident in Libya during the 2011 Nato-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

Atrocity stories emanating from the Libyan opposition, many of which were subsequently proved to be baseless by human rights organisations, were rapidly promoted to lead the news, however partial the source.

The Syrian war is especially difficult to report because Isis and various al-Qaeda clones made it too dangerous to report from within opposition-held areas. There is a tremendous hunger for news from just such places, so the temptation is for the media give credence to information they get second hand from people who could in practice only operate if they belong to or are in sympathy with the dominant jihadi opposition groups.

It is always a weakness of journalists that they pretend to excavate the truth when in fact they are the conduit rather than the originator of information produced by others in their own interests. Reporters learn early that people tell them things because they are promoting some cause which might be their own career or related to bureaucratic infighting or, just possibly, hatred of lies and injustice.

A word here in defense of the humble reporter in the field: usually, it is not he or she, but the home office or media herd instinct, that decides the story of the day. Those closest to the action may be dubious about some juicy tale which is heading the news, but there is not much they can do about it.

Thus, in 2002 and 2003, several New York Times journalists wrote stories casting doubt on WMD only to find them buried deep inside the newspaper which was led by articles proving that Saddam had WMD and was a threat to the world.

Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism. They should keep in mind the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria. Speaking after he had resigned in frustration in 2014, he said that “everybody had their agenda and the interests of the Syrian people came second, third or not at all”.

The quote comes from The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Phillips, which is one of the best informed and non-partisan accounts of the Syrian tragedy yet published. He judiciously weighs the evidence for rival explanations for what happened and why. He understands the degree to which the agenda and pace events in Syria were determined externally by the intervention of foreign powers pursuing their own interests.

Overall, government experts did better than journalists, who bought into simple-minded explanations of developments, convinced that Assad was always on the verge of being overthrown.

Phillips records that at a high point of the popular uprising in July 2011, when the media was assuming that Assad was finished, that the long-serving British ambassador in Damascus, Simon Collis, wrote that “Assad can still probably count on the support of 30-40 per cent of the population.”

The French ambassador Eric Chevallier was similarly cautious, only to receive a classic rebuke from his masters in Paris who said: “Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”

Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East Correspondent for the Independent. He has written four books on Iraq’s recent history—The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the Sunni Revolution, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, The Occupation, and Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession (with Andrew Cockburn)—as well as a memoir, The Broken Boy and, with his son, a book on schizophrenia, Henry’s Demons, which was shortlisted for a Costa Award. 

http://www.alternet.org/world/why-everything-youve-read-about-syria-and-iraq-could-be-wrong?akid=14961.265072.IftxtM&rd=1&src=newsletter1068352&t=16