Trump and the GOP Fuel Fantasies of White Victimhood

A crowd of Trump supporters in Washington, D.C. (Susan Walsh / AP)

Fifty-five percent of white Americans believe there is discrimination against whites in the U.S., according to a recent NPR poll. But when asked about specific instances in which they personally experienced discrimination, less than 20 percent responded that their whiteness hurt them in job applications, pay equity and promotions and college applications. Reality does not match the perception of the poll respondents, but it does reflect an increasingly common belief—one that Donald Trump has promoted and exploited virulently—that white victimhood is a large-scale problem.

A recent email from a white listener of my radio program offers a perfect example of this type of dissonance. She complained that I focus too much on white supremacy in my news coverage and that in doing so I am “promoting the destruction of the middle class.” She went on to complain that at the McDonald’s she had visited that morning, all 12 employees were Hispanic, and not a single one Caucasian. She lamented the fact that everyone in the computer engineering department of her local university is “mostly Asian or foreign,” and that almost all of her local female leaders are Jewish or have Jewish husbands. She railed about the corporate media and banking industry being mostly run by Jews (“just a fact,” she offered almost apologetically). She also noted that while she is against allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, she does support the Black Lives Matter movement and had voted for Barack Obama. Ultimately, she said, she isn’t seeking privilege or supremacy—she just wants a decent job to pay her bills.

Ignoring the racist themes of her email, I responded to her in the following manner:

What you are describing is what communities of color have suffered for decades while most whites remained silent because it was not impacting them. Now that the horrible state of the economy is spreading its malaise far and wide into white communities, you are feeling the terrible toll of capitalism. No one should have to suffer trying to make ends meet, trying to get a decent job with decent pay. Is your suffering the fault of people of color and Jews or is it the fault of the Donald Trumps and Hillary Clintons, and wealthy elites?

I think we are on the same side. Racism does not need to be the answer to capitalist failings. It’s too easy to scapegoat another person rather than point the finger at the wealthy people and corporations that are laughing all the way to the bank.

After digging into the listener’s background, I realized she is highly educated, with multiple degrees in technical fields. Still, like so many white Americans who are hurting financially, she blames communities of color for her struggles rather than finding common cause with them.

While this woman appeared to be critical of President Trump as well, her frustration with the state of the economy is real, and reminiscent of many voters’ reasons for supporting Trump. Indeed, her assertions about people of color appear to be informed by much of the disinformation and “fake news” that passes as fact these days and fuels Trump’s power. Trump has often promoted easily refutable lies on his Twitter account, feeding such propaganda. In November 2015, a year before his election win, he retweeted an infographic about violence in communities of color that contained not one single truth among its multiple assertions about whites, blacks and violence.

Yet this week, the president accused the press of publishing false stories, citing a Politico poll that found nearly half of all Americans think the media fabricate news about him. (Incidentally, Trump has railed against Politico several times in the past but had no problem promoting the results of its poll.)

Evidence and polls do not seem to alter the perceptions of some white Americans who consider their personal experiences indicative of the norm. This comes as no surprise, given the propaganda being flung around by conservative activists and politicians who want to assure white Americans that their racial resentment is valid, despite evidence to the contrary. Just last week, on his Twitter feed, Trump erroneously attributed Britain’s 13 percent rise in overall crime to “radical Islamic terror,” while staying silent on horrific gun violence in the United States. Sebastian Gorka, who briefly served as a White House adviser, said on a television panel Monday that “our big issue is black African gun crime against black Africans. … Black young men are murdering each other by the bushel.” Setting aside the casual and ignorant racism of the term “black Africans,” Gorka cited the standard right-wing, pro-gun trope about “black-on-black” violence that reinforces racist stereotypes.

Even the government’s specific actions serve to justify the fantasy that people of color are perpetrators and whites are victims: The FBI under Trump is focusing on “black identity extremist” organizations, which experts say is “fiction.”

News headlines are rife with instances of violence that dispute these racist stereotypes. Take one recent example: A white man’s mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, which led to nearly 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries. Or the lynching threat made against Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson after she boldly stood up to Trump and chief of staff John Kelly. There are many other recent examples of violence and threats of violence in our country, and there also are plenty of studies offering irrefutable evidence of systematic racism (a topic I covered in an earlier column).

Author Joan Williams identifies the phenomenon represented by the listener who emailed me, saying in a recent interview with The Washington Post, “White people who are not privileged feel belittled. They feel stereotyped. They feel openly ridiculed and they are really, really angry because of what elite white people are doing to them. … Now, because of this poisonous dynamic among white people, guess who’s paying the price?”

Others have summarized this idea in slightly different ways, but it is important to articulate: To those who have been used to privilege all their lives, equality may feel like oppression. The challenge facing progressive whites and people of color is to identify the mistaken assumptions about who the perpetrators of social and economic violence actually are, and address these perpetrators head on. Along with growing anti-fascist movements nationwide, we need to articulate and promote a vision of economic justice that will benefit the majority of struggling Americans. We need to simultaneously underscore that people of color are here to stay and that wishing them away will not solve anyone’s economic problems. If we don’t meet this challenge, we will find ourselves in the midst of a race war that obscures the class war the rich are waging against us all.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…
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What fueled the inferno?

Ragina Johnson and Nicole Colson describe the man-made backdrop to the deadly fires that caused terrible destruction across wide areas in Northern California.

An entire neighborhood in the city of Santa Rosa was wiped out by the California fires

An entire neighborhood in the city of Santa Rosa was wiped out by the California fires

THE DEADLIEST wildfires in California’s history ripped through large areas in Northern California this month, terrorizing residents, causing mass evacuations, and leaving behind catastrophic destruction.

Described as a “hurricane of fire,” the web of interconnected blazes, centered primarily in Napa and Sonoma Counties, north of the Bay Area, had killed at least 41 people–many of them elderly residents who could not escape–and forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate as this article was being written.

The wildfires have burned more than 220,000 acres across wine country, but what distinguished this disaster from others is that the flames didn’t stay in the “wild.” Hot winds whipped the fires back and forth, sending them a mile or more into urban and suburban areas. At least 6,700 homes and business have been destroyed, with an estimated loss of at least $3 billion.

While the exact causes for the blazes aren’t yet known, and may not be for years, if ever, we do know that the scale of the devastation was unquestionably magnified by man-made factors like climate change and exacerbated by things like poorly maintained infrastructure.

And as is the case with all “natural” disasters–from Hurricane Katrina to the more recent Hurricanes Harvey and Maria–the devastation isn’t hitting everyone equally. Poor and working-class families–especially undocumented immigrant workers who make up a large portion of the agricultural workforce in wine country–will face an uphill battle to rebuild their lives.

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MUCH OF Santa Rosa has been reduced to ash and debris, leaving this city, only 50 miles north of San Francisco, looking like a city flattened by continuous bombardment. News reports have shown cadaver dogs sniffing through the ashes to find human remains, and almost 3,000 buildings are gone. Sheriff Rob Giordano told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t even think I understand what the damage toll is going to be, and I have a better handle on it than most…Santa Rosa will be a different planet.”

According to Cal Fire, full containment of the Northern California blazes was still days away as this article was being written, so a complete tally of the catastrophe is far from known. We do know, however, that thousands of lives have been thrown into crisis, with many families losing everything.

The fires traveled so quickly that many residents had to flee with just the shirts on their backs. In some cases, they were forced to drive down roads with 40-foot walls of flame chasing them.

In several instances, evacuations were made more difficult by roads that were unsafe or made impassable, forcing people to set out on foot and hike through hills. Others had to jump into swimming pools in a desperate attempt to survive as a wall of fire engulfed them. Seventy-six-year-old Armando Berriz and his wife of 55 years Carmen took shelter in a pool; he held her in his arms as she died.

Of the tens of thousands of people who evacuated, large numbers will be homeless, especially if they didn’t own their homes. Even many homeowners, however, won’t have the financial means to help get them through this crisis.

Although the image conjured up in the media of “wine country” is of well-to-do residents, some of the communities hardest hit are primarily working class and immigrant–like Coffee Park, the Santa Rosa neighborhood that sustained some of the worst losses.

According to the New York Times, some one-fifth of Santa Rosa metropolitan residents are foreign-born, and immigrants make up a majority of those employed by the wine industry and the resorts and upscale restaurants that attract tourists. And yet, as the Times noted, “Sonoma County also has some of the highest rents in the country, at par with the San Francisco Bay Area.”

The most vulnerable members of the working class, undocumented immigrants, face an especially tough road ahead. Although these workers make up the backbone of local labor force, they can’t get disaster relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other government agencies–and can’t receive unemployment or welfare benefits.

Manuel Vieyra, an undocumented immigrant who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager, had been paying $1,650 a month to rent a three-bedroom house for his family. Although they narrowly escaped when the house burned, the family lost almost everything–including the cars they depended on to get to their jobs.

They are now finding it difficult to find a place to live. “[Landlords are] asking $2,000, even $2,800 a month,” Vieyra told the Times. “I don’t know what we’ll do.”

Vieyra and his family are currently staying with friends–because they are too scared to stay in one of the shelters, due to Manuel and his wife’s status as undocumented immigrants. While politicians claim that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not going to be conducting raids in areas impacted by the fires, the record of the Trump administration in pursuing the undocumented has made many wary of such promises.

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IN A similar fashion to the recent hurricanes that caused devastation for working people in Houston, Miami and Puerto Rico, the Northern California fires have exposed the reality that, even in the wealthiest state in the U.S., the resources allocated for dealing with such disasters are woefully inadequate.

As of October 14, hundreds of evacuees were still taking refuge in the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, sleeping in a pavilion crowded with cots. “There is no way of knowing where people go,” Rob Brown, a Lake County supervisor, told SFGate.com. “You’d be surprised how self-reliant people become. People appreciate having a place to go, but after two or three weeks sleeping on a cot they will find another alternative.”

But that begs the question: Why, in the richest state in the richest country on the planet, should people who have lost everything be expected to be “self-reliant” or spend weeks sleeping on a cot?

Then there is the outrageous truth about the firefighters who combat California’s seasonal wildfires. Some 40 percent are actually prison inmates who don’t even make the state minimum wage paid to Cal Fire crews. When prisoners fight fires they are working for just $1 an hour.

La’Sonya Edwards, an inmate who fights fires in the Southern part of the state, told the New York Times in August: “The pay is ridiculous. There are some days we are worn down to the core. And this isn’t that different from slave conditions.”

Changes in prison sentencing designed to decrease state prison overcrowding have led, incredibly enough, to the “problem”–as the San Francisco Chronicle described it back in September–of the state “heading into the height of this year’s fire season with a drop in the number of what one official called ‘the Marines’ of wildfire fighters” because “not enough inmates are joining up.”

This lack of public resources to deal with fires–including the absence of an adequate emergency alert system, as well as infrastructure upkeep–is what made the situation that preceded the fires more deadly and destructive.

As officials search for a cause, there is speculation that downed power lines may have sparked the initial blazes. Records show that Sonoma emergency dispatchers sent fire crews to at least 10 reports of downed power lines and exploding transformers at the time the fires were first reported.

The electrical utility PG&E claims these downed lines were the result of “hurricane strength,” 75-mile-per-hour winds. But according to the Mercury News, weather station records show that “wind speeds were only about half that level as the lines started to come down”–suggesting that lack of maintenance was a likelier culprit.

Other human factors–which officials had years of prior warning about–also likely added to the horror.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Napa, Sonoma and Butte Counties–three of those hardest hit–were warned years ago about improperly maintained roads and staffing that could compound such emergency situations. A 2013 civil grand jury report in Sonoma, for example, warned that because of neglect and underfunding, many rural roads had “deteriorated to a crisis condition” and could “hamper emergency response, evacuation, medical care, and fire response efforts.”

Lack of aggressive fire regulations in building construction also added to the destruction. As the Los Angeles Times reported, one of the reasons that the destruction in Santa Rosa’s Coffee Park was so severe was because it was considered outside of the “very severe” fire hazard zone just five miles away–meaning the buildings in the area were exempt from regulations designed to make structures more fire resistant.

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REGARDLESS OF what sparked the fires or created the conditions that made containment harder, at its root, the Northern California disaster is the result of a compounding climate crisis that, unless taken seriously, is going to continue to cause successive “unprecedented catastrophes”.

The fires expose how, despite the end to the state’s prolonged drought, California has not escaped the worst effects of climate change.

Last winter, heavy rains replenished much of the state’s water reserves and caused officials to declare that the drought had ended. But in fact, this contributed to a deadlier fire season–all the greenery produced by the rains dried out during a hot summer and turned into starter fuel for the fires. This, combined with shifting weather patterns and high winds, combined to make the fires harder to contain.

As Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of a report linking global warming to increased wildfires said on Democracy Now!:

The fires are really being driven by a big high-pressure system that is sitting over the coasts of the U.S. and driving winds from the east to the west, bringing very dry, warm air from the deserts of Nevada and Arizona out to the coast. And by the time, the air gets to the coast, it’s compressed down to sea level. It’s very warm and very dry. It pulls the moisture out of vegetation, makes it ready to burn.

Without the kind of controlled burns traditionally practiced by Native American tribes, such fires are inevitable–whether sparked by man-made or natural causes.

Meanwhile, left-wing author Mike Davis noted that the predictable response to such disasters–rebuilding more suburban sprawl without addressing the loss of an agricultural “buffer zone”–will only exacerbate future fires, even in a state whose leaders pride themselves on being environmentally conscious. As Davis wrote:

[California Gov.] Jerry Brown’s California enters this new age with a halo over its head. We “get” climate change and thumb our noses at the mad denialist in the White House. Our governor advocates the Paris [climate] standards with rare passion and sends our anti-carbon missionaries to the far corners of the earth…And we continue to send urban sprawl into our fire-dependent ecosystems with the expectation that firefighters will risk their lives to defend each new McMansion…

This is the deadly conceit behind mainstream environmental politics in California: you say fire, I say climate change, and we both ignore the financial and real-estate juggernaut that drives the suburbanization of our increasingly flammable wildlands.

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AMID THE horror, however, there are also glimpses of decency and hope–in the heroic actions of exhausted and overworked firefighters, community members and other volunteers coming together to care for each other.

Multiple relief funds have been set up for the fire victims, including the “UndocuFund for Fire Relief in Sonoma County,” which was launched by a coalition of immigrant service providers and advocates specifically to “provide direct funding to undocumented immigrants and their families” who will otherwise not qualify for government assistance.

Other labor and community groups are coming together to help organize events to aid those dealing with their grief and loss, like one recently held by the North Bay Organizing Project, in conjunction with the Graton Day Labor Center (Centro Laboral de Graton) and North Bay Jobs With Justice.

As Sonoma County resident and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 member Julia Rapkin described to Socialist Worker, even in the midst of this horrible event, residents reached out to help each other:

People checked on neighbors to see if they needed assistance evacuating, using trailers to even help evacuate farm animals. People knocked on doors. Over the last few days, when you were shopping, cashiers at Trader Joe’s asked if you are okay and are you safe. With everyone you see in the street and in the store, there’s a sense of real solidarity and people caring for each other, which is really beautiful.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/20/what-fueled-the-inferno

Ai Weiwei’s Harrowing Film on the Refugee Crisis Is a Must-See

A still from Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, “Human Flow.” (Screen shot via YouTube)

Once called the “contemporary art world’s most powerful player,” Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei has turned his focus onto the most urgent humanitarian issue of our time: the global refugee crisis. In a new documentary called “Human Flow,” the artist—who has made political statements the core of his art—explores how war, violence and climate change have made refugees of 65 million people.

Ai, who traveled with his camera crew to 23 countries over the course of a year, captured intimate moments of desperation that have driven refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Palestine, Myanmar and elsewhere, risking their lives to escape violence. The film is sweeping and vast, with drone-camera shots utilizing aerial views to showcase the extent of the crisis, combined with intimate iPhone footage taken by Ai.

“Human Flow” is essential viewing for Americans, whose government has not only had a hand in creating many of the crises that drive migration, but is also actively closing the door to refugees. “The U.S. does have a responsibility,” Ai told me in an interview about his film. “Very often people in the United States think that something happening in different continents doesn’t really affect the U.S.” But, he says, “Look at U.S. policy and what’s happening today: the travel ban, or the building of this ‘beautiful’ fence or wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It all shows that the leadership has a very, very questionable position in dealing with migration and refugees.”

Indeed, President Donald Trump—with the help of the Supreme Court—has kept in place a de facto blanket ban on refugees entering the country. It is perhaps easy for most Americans, who live so far from where this misery is unfolding, to ignore the global refugee crisis, especially given the near-daily assaults on the Constitution and good sense emanating from the White House these days.

But by embedding himself for months in the flow of refugee life while making his film, Ai developed an understanding of what it is like to flee violence and danger. Through “Human Flow,” he takes viewers into intimate spaces: the heart-rending decisions as families weigh whether to stay or leave, the pain they feel from losing their loved ones in the choppy seas of the Mediterranean, and the frustration and rage that emerges from being blocked from reaching their destinations by barbed wire and armed police.

One moment in “Human Flow” is seared in my memory—a moment no Hollywood studio could reproduce. Two young brothers are sitting on the muddy ground outside their meager tent in the semi-darkness of a refugee camp. One is crying, promising to follow his brother anywhere, no matter what. Ai added context to that remarkable scene, which he and his crew witnessed. “They had no idea where they would be accepted,” he told me. “They had been refused. They had been stopped at the border and had spent all their money on the dangerous journey to come to a place which will block them and maybe send them back.”

In another harrowing scene, an Afghan woman agrees to speak with Ai, but only if her face is not on screen. She sits with her back to the camera and begins answering questions about her family’s torturous journey from Afghanistan. Minutes later, she loses control and throws up.

One middle-aged man takes the film crew to a makeshift graveyard, where multiple members of his family were buried after they drowned while trying to flee. He breaks down in tears as he sifts through the identity cards of the dead—all he has left of his kin.

At a time when Europe and the U.S. are rewriting their rules for entry in direct response to the massive demand by people looking for safe haven, Ai’s film puts faces to the numbers. “You see people really feel betrayed,” Ai says. “They think [of] Europe as a land that protects basic humanity.” The cruelty of European anti-refugee policies emerges as a central theme, as Ai explores the abandonment of lofty ideals of humanity on a continent that promised never again to turn away refugees after World War II (ironically, tens of thousands of European refugees fled the violence of World War II and found refuge in camps in the Middle East, including in Syria). It was, perhaps, easy to make pronouncements like “Never Again” in hindsight, but when the opportunity arises to prevent another human disaster, all the familiar political reasons re-emerge, like zombies from the grave.

Not content to showcase the fleeing refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea, the film also includes the stories of refugees who are less popular in mainstream media: Palestinians displaced from their homes and languishing under Israeli siege in Gaza, Rohingya Muslims fleeing Buddhist Myanmar’s persecution, climate refugees from various African countries, and even Latin American migrants desperate to enter the United States.

Bizarrely, it is the story of a wild animal that best expresses Europe and America’s abandonment of humans. A tiger, having entered Gaza through an underground tunnel, is housed and fed by a local organization. “Human Flow” shows the extraordinary lengths to which local, regional and state authorities cooperate with one another to ensure the safe passage and relocation of the tiger—a privilege not afforded to the refugees stranded on the same lands. Unlike the “flow” of humans seen throughout the film, Palestinians living in Gaza are “stuck,” according to Ai. “It’s like jail for millions of people living in such unbelievable conditions,” he says of the unending Israeli siege of Gaza.

The artist-turned-filmmaker has broken a number of barriers in his film by focusing on the humanity of tens of millions of people that the world would rather forget about. But he has also broken some rules of filmmaking. There are few talking heads in the film and little discussion of politics and policy. News headlines from media outlets scroll along the bottom of the screen, filling in the blanks in terse text. And really, do we need any more films about the well-documented causes of human suffering in the global refugee crisis?

What Ai’s film offers is what is missing most from our discussions of the refugee crisis: the fact that those who are fleeing are real people who bleed when they are injured, who cry when they are hurt, among whom are innocent children and tired elders, who are all being abandoned in a moment we will collectively look back on in shame.

“Human Flow” opens in theaters nationwide in October. Learn more online at www.humanflow.com.

Sonali Kolhatkar
Columnist
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…

5 of the Most Regressive Laws in Practice in the South

NEWS & POLITICS
In some states, progress is clearly not the most important priority.

Photo Credit: James Scott/Flickr

There are a lot of dumb laws in states throughout the U.S. State constitutions can be centuries old, so silly and archaic laws like those forbidding horses and donkeys from sleeping in bathtubs tend to be disregarded or overwritten by federal laws. But there are plenty of outrageous policies being implemented today, in the name of religious protection, or common decency, or whatever else proponents come up with to justify revoking civil and human rights. Silly laws certainly aren’t limited to the Southern states alone, but the supremacy of Christianity and fear of people of color are culturally pervasive in this region, despite blue cities and liberal pockets that have become havens for more progressive Southerners and out-of-towners.

Today we may view laws like one in Kentucky that forbids attorneys and government workers from dueling, as backwards. But they were taken quite seriously when they were first written. Here’s hoping these five are seen as equally insane one day.

1. Sex toy purchases are illegal in Alabama.

This rule has been embarrassing Alabamians ever since the Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act passed in 1998. You can receive a $10,000 fine and a year in jail if you’re caught buying or selling a vibrator the first time, and up to 10 years for a second offense. The ACLU tried to take the case up with the Supreme Court in 2005, but the court declined to hear the case.

2. Sharia law is officially condemned.

In Texas and Arkansas, where the Muslim population is 1% and 2% respectively, common sense suggests that Christian Southerners are not much in danger of being overtaken by hyper-conservative Islamic law. But both states recently approved legislation against it, and momentum seems to be building in other Southern states for similar policies. The declarations against Sharia law are based solely on fearmongering, meant to bully Muslims living in those states.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center explains, “the mass hysteria surrounding a so-called threat of Sharia law in the United States is largely the work of anti-Muslim groups such as the American Freedom Law Center and ACT for America, an SPLC-designated hate group.”

3. Voter ID laws across the region punish the poor for being poor.

States that require citizens to show ID at the poll station are rolling back the progress made on voting access since the end of Jim Crow. Obtaining an ID card can involve time, money, access, and mobility that many poor people of color lack, especially the elderly. “It’s all about the political will,” Anita Earls of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice told NBC. “If you look at a map where African-American populations are the largest, it’s basically all of the Southern states, and that’s where most of these new voting restrictions have been enacted.”

4. New anti-LGBT laws revoke the rights of gay, bi, trans citizens.

A breathtaking wave of over 100 bills slashing civil rights for gay, bi and trans people have been introduced to state legislatures since 2010 alone, as the Huffington Post rounds up, and many have passed. Here’s a small sample: “Mississippi lets any person or business deny services to same-sex couples because of religious objections. In North Carolina, the governor signed a law banning cities from passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and barring transgender people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity. Tennessee also has a ‘bathroom bill,’ plus a bill that lets mental health professionals refuse to treat LGBT patients.”

There have been many more attempts at these kinds of laws throughout the region, catalogued by the ACLU.

5. Alabama tried to chase out undocumented immigrants.

HB-56, set into motion in September 2011, cracked down on illegal immigration in what many believed at the time was the harshest measure of its kind in any state. It required Alabama schools to track and report the legal status of children enrolled there. As a result, Alabama schools saw a mass exodus of Hispanic students, whose parents in many cases fled to other states in fear that their immigration status would be shared with ICE. And that was largely the point: the law’s chief sponsor, State Rep. Micky Hammon, promised undocumented immigrants in Alabama that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Challenges from Eric Holder’s Justice Department thankfully nullified much of the law by 2013, but if another state tried to pass a similar bill in Trump’s America, Jeff Sessions might not be inclined to fight it.

Liz Posner is an associate editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.

https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/5-most-regressive-and-weird-laws-still-practice-south?akid=16181.265072.U7_1YY&rd=1&src=newsletter1083558&t=6

Trump’s “Mein Kampf” tirade at the United Nations

20 September 2017

The speech delivered Tuesday by Donald Trump to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York was without precedent either for the UN or the American presidency.

Speaking before a world body ostensibly created to spare humanity the “scourge of war” and founded on the principles elaborated at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders, the American president openly embraced a policy of genocide, declaring that he was “ready, willing and able” to “totally destroy” North Korea and its 25 million people.

The fact that nobody in the assembly moved for Trump’s arrest as a war criminal, or even told the fascistic bully to sit down and shut up, is a measure of the bankruptcy of the UN itself.

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump told the meeting. “Rocket Man [Trump’s imbecilic nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able…”

As with his every public utterance, Trump’s megalomaniacal remarks began with the supposed revival of America’s fortunes since his election last November, which has found expression, he argued, in the Wall Street stock market bubble and the passage of a $700 billion military budget.

At the core of Trump’s speech was the promotion of his “America First” ideology. The US president presented the promotion of nationalism as the solution to all the problems of the planet. “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he proclaimed in a speech in which the words “sovereign” or “sovereignty” were repeated 21 times.

While declaring his supposed support for the sovereignty of every nation, Trump made it clear that his administration is prepared to wage war against any nation that fails to bow to Washington’s diktat.

In addition to threatening to incinerate North Korea for testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, he threatened to abrogate the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, describing it as an “embarrassment.’’ He thereby placed the US on the path to war against Iran, whose government he described as a “corrupt dictatorship,” a “rogue state” and a “murderous regime.”

He also singled out Venezuela, declaring that its internal situation “is completely unacceptable, and we cannot stand by and watch.” He added: “The United States has taken important steps to hold the regime accountable. We are prepared to take further action if the government of Venezuela persists on its path to impose authoritarian rule on the Venezuelan people.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded in a tweet, saying that “Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times—not the 21st century UN—unworthy of a reply.”

The foreign minister of Venezuela, Jorge Arreaza, charged Trump with seeking “regime change by force,” adding that he “wants to rule the world when he can’t even rule his own country.”

Trump made no attempt to explain the glaring contradiction between his invocation of universal national sovereignty and his assertion of US imperialism’s “right” to bomb, invade or carry out regime change against any nation it sees fit.

On the eve of the speech, a senior White House official told reporters that the American president had spent a great deal of time pondering the “deeply philosophical” character of his address.

What rubbish! The speech’s “philosophy,” such as it is, is drawn from the ideology of fascism. Indeed, no world leader has delivered the kind of threat uttered by Trump against the people of North Korea since Adolf Hitler took the podium at the Reichstag in 1939 and threatened the annihilation of Europe’s Jews.

The kind of nationalist doctrine put forward by Trump at the UN distinctly echoes the positions of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. As Leon Trotsky wrote in his 1934 article “Nationalism and Economic Life”:

“Italian fascism has proclaimed national ‘sacred egoism’ as the sole creative factor. After reducing the history of humanity to national history, German fascism proceeded to reduce nation to race and race to blood… The enduring value of the nation, discovered by Mussolini and Hitler, is now set off against the false values of the 19th century: democracy and socialism.”

The parallels are not accidental. The text of the speech bears the visible fingerprints of Trump’s fascistic senior policy advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller, who seems to work best with a volume of Hitler’s Mein Kampf close at hand.

Just as this promotion of reactionary nationalism in the 1930s was the ideological expression of world capitalism’s descent into world war, so it is today.

The threats against North Korea and Iran are bound up with far wider geostrategic aims of US imperialism, as Trump indicated in his oblique denunciation of China and Russia for trading with Pyongyang and his reference to the South China Sea and Ukraine. Moreover, the attacks on Iran and threats to tear up the 2015 nuclear accord are aimed not only against the government in Tehran, but also at Washington’s erstwhile allies in Western Europe, which are already seeking new sources of profit based on trade and investment deals with Iran.

The absence from the UN’s opening session of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was significant. No doubt they had a sense of what was coming and feared the domestic political consequences of being seen as giving legitimacy through their presence in the auditorium to Trump’s diatribe.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke shortly after Trump, delivered a right-wing speech promoting the “war on terrorism,” but was forced to directly oppose the US position on North Korea, warning against military escalation and calling for dialogue. In relation to Iran, he opposed any abrogation of the nuclear treaty. The French media compared the split to the tensions that arose during the Bush administration’s drive to war against Iraq.

The threats today, however, are far greater. Trump’s speech has made it unmistakably clear to the world that the government he heads is comprised of criminals. Having drawn multiple lines in the sand, threatening war on virtually every continent, Trump’s own demagogy leads almost inexorably to escalation and military action.

The speech included a passage warning the world that the American military is no longer subordinate to civilian control. “From now on,” Trump declared, “our security interests will dictate the length and scope of military operations, not arbitrary benchmarks and timetables set up by politicians.”

In other words, the military will decide, not elected officials—the fundamental characteristic of a military dictatorship. That this “principle” is accepted by the US Congress, which approved the $700 billion Pentagon budget while voting down an amendment calling on the legislative body to reclaim its constitutional power to declare war, is a measure of the putrefaction of American democracy.

The consolidation of such a government, with the repulsive figure of Donald Trump at its head, is the culmination of a quarter-century of economic and political degeneration, combined with unending wars and military interventions waged with the aim of reversing the erosion of American capitalism’s global hegemony.

Contradicting the vision presented in Trump’s speech of a Hitlerian springtime for nationalism, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres preceded the American president with an address to the General Assembly describing “a world in pieces.”

“People are hurting and angry,” he warned. “They see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing.” He added that “global anxieties about nuclear weapons are at the highest level since the end of the Cold War.”

This undeniable reality found indirect expression in Trump’s own address, with his attempt to exploit the crisis in Venezuela—a country where the dominance of finance capital is today greater than it was three decades ago—to denounce socialism.

“Wherever true socialism or communism has been adopted, it has delivered anguish and devastation and failure,” said Trump. “Those who preach the tenets of these discredited ideologies only contribute to the continued suffering of the people who live under these cruel systems.”

A quarter-century after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the proclamation of the failure of Marxism and triumph of capitalism, the threat of socialism has become a central preoccupation of an American president delivering a reactionary and militarist diatribe before the United Nations.

Trump speaks for a US financial and corporate oligarchy that feels itself under siege. It fears growing popular anger. It has been shaken to the core by the revelation during the 2016 election that a broad social constituency within the working class and among the youth is intensely hostile to the profit system and sympathetic to socialism.

Ultimately, Trump’s belligerent threats of war and nuclear annihilation are the projection onto the world stage of the class policy pursued by the American ruling class at home, and the very advanced state of political and social tensions within the United States itself.

Bill Van Auken

WSWS

 

 

US Census report shows increasing social inequality

Small median income gain offset by debt and living costs

By Eric London
15 September 2017

US Census data from 2016 released on Tuesday shows increasing social inequality amid a small gain in household income that is offset by a massive growth of personal debt and rising living costs.

The data tracks the ongoing redistribution of wealth from the working class to the wealthy as a result of the pro-Wall Street policies of both the Republican and Democratic parties. It substantiates the oligarchic character of the United States.

Social inequality

The Gini index, used to measure social inequality, with higher figures indicating a wider economic divide, rose slightly from 2015 (.479) to 2016 (.481). The 2016 figure, according to rankings in the CIA World Factbook, makes the US slightly more equal than Madagascar and less equal than Mexico.

In terms of aggregate income share, the shift from 2015 to 2016 is as follows:

Income share from 2015-2016. *Census data reported to one significant figure, meaning percent decline is not reflected in 2015 and 2016 share columns.

The growth in inequality is even starker when traced from 2007, the year before the Wall Street crisis.

The data reflects income and not wealth, thereby providing an incomplete and conservative indication of the scale of inequality. Even within the highest quintile, the income share increased only for the top 10 percent, and, in particular, the top 5 percent.

Income share from 2007-2016

Household income

The corporate media has portrayed the report as a sign of positive income growth, since it shows a slight rise in median income of 3.2 percent from 2015 to 2016.

But according to the Census data, the earnings of “full-time, year-round workers” remained stagnant. For men in this category, a total of 63.9 million people, earnings declined by 0.4 percent, from $51,859 in 2015 to $51,640 in 2016. For women in this category, 47.2 million people, there was a minor increase, 0.7 percent, from $41,257 in 2015 to $41,554 in 2016. In other words, families with 2 adults working full-time saw a paltry $78 increase in their yearly earnings from 2015 to 2016.

Claims of rising incomes mask the growth of inequality. The Census data shows that the household income of the 90th percentile (the 100th being the highest) was 12.53 times higher than the household income of the 10th percentile in 2016, up from 12.23 times higher in 2015 and 11.18 times higher in 2007. The degree to which income is concentrated in the richest 10 percent of the population is exemplified by the fact that the 5th percentile boasted a household income 3.82 times higher than the 50th percentile in 2016, up from 3.79 times in 2015 and 3.52 in 2007.

As Bloomberg News reported Wednesday, “Since 2007, average inflation-adjusted income has climbed more than 10 percent for households in the highest fifth of the earnings distribution, and it’s fallen 3.2 percent for the bottom quintile. Incomes of the top 5 percent jumped 12.8 percent over the period.”

For the working class, any income increase was transferred to the corporate elite in the form of rising debt payments and increasing living expenses, especially for health care.

According to figures from eHealth, a large private health exchange, average deductibles for families rose 5 percent from 2016 to 2017 (a year after the period covered by the Census report) and average individual premiums rose 22 percent over the same period.

The rising cost of student debt alone largely erases income increases seen by some young people. According to the Census, those aged 15 to 24 saw an income increase of 13.9 percent, from $36,564 in 2015 to $41,655 in 2016, while incomes for young people aged 25 to 34 rose 4.9 percent, from $58,091 to $60,932, nearly double the percentage increase for older age groups.

However, in 2016, student debt rose to an average of $30,000 per young person, up 4 percent from 2015, eliminating over 80 percent of the income rise for 25-34 year olds. For 15 to 24 year olds, the $4,000 increase in median income would hardly cover one sixth of the average debt payment, let alone make up for the fact that young people face a future in which they are unlikely to receive a pension, Social Security or Medicare.

Rising debt levels are not a phenomenon limited to young people. A Bloomberg report from August 10 notes that credit card defaults increased from the beginning of 2015—when roughly 2.5 percent of debt holders defaulted—to the end of 2016, when the total hit 3 percent. This figure subsequently climbed in 2017 to reach 3.49 percent.

Bloomberg notes: “After deleveraging in the aftermath of the last US recession, Americans have once again taken on record debt loads that risk holding back the world’s largest economy… Household debt outstanding–everything from mortgages to credit cards to car loans–reached $12.7 trillion in the first quarter [2017], surpassing the previous peak in 2008 before the effect of the housing market collapse took its toll, Federal Reserve Bank of New York data show.”

“For most Americans,” the report continues, “whose median household income, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was at its peak in 1999, borrowing has been the answer to maintaining their standard of living. The increase in debt helps explain why the economy’s main source of fuel is providing less of a boost than in the past. Personal spending growth has averaged 2.4 percent since the recession ended in 2009, less than the 3 percent of the previous expansion and 4.3 percent from 1982-90.”

The Bloomberg report explains that income from wages minus household debt trended downward in 2015, meaning that debt is rising faster than wages, causing a loss of roughly $500 billion across the US economy in the space of just one year.

Poverty rate

Though the Census report shows that the poverty rate declined from 13.5 percent of households in 2015 to 12.7 percent in 2016, this figure is substantially higher than the 11.3 percent level that prevailed in 2000. In reality, individuals and families must make 2.5 to 3 times the official poverty rate of $12,000 for an individual, $15,500 for a married couple and $25,000 for a family of four just to make ends meet.

What the data really shows is that the poorest half of the country–over 150 million people–is in a desperate financial position, with the next poorest 40 percent facing constant financial strain and a declining share of the national income. In regard to poverty, the Census Bureau maintains figures that go up only to 200 percent of the official poverty level. The latest report shows that 95 million people—29.8 percent of the population—fall into this category. The share of those under the age of 18 in this category is much higher–39.1 percent.

This is the context for the drive by the Trump administration and both big business parties to slash corporate taxes, impose a health care “reform” that will increase costs for millions of people, and accelerate the transfer of wealth from the working class to the financial aristocracy.

WSWS

 

 

 

Our freedoms—especially the Fourth Amendment—are being choked out.

What Country is This?

Photo by Nathaniel St. Clair

“The Fourth Amendment was designed to stand between us and arbitrary governmental authority. For all practical purposes, that shield has been shattered, leaving our liberty and personal integrity subject to the whim of every cop on the beat, trooper on the highway and jail official.”

—Herman Schwartz, The Nation

Our freedoms—especially the Fourth Amendment—are being choked out by a prevailing view among government bureaucrats that they have the right to search, seize, strip, scan, shoot, spy on, probe, pat down, taser, and arrest any individual at any time and for the slightest provocation.

Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies, forced blood draws, forced breath-alcohol tests, forced DNA extractions, forced eye scans, forced inclusion in biometric databases: these are just a few ways in which Americans are being forced to accept that we have no control over our bodies, our lives and our property, especially when it comes to interactions with the government.

Worse, on a daily basis, Americans are being made to relinquish the most intimate details of who we are—our biological makeup, our genetic blueprints, and our biometrics (facial characteristics and structure, fingerprints, iris scans, etc.)—in order to clear the nearly insurmountable hurdle that increasingly defines life in the United States: we are now guilty until proven innocent.

Such is life in America today that individuals are being threatened with arrest and carted off to jail for the least hint of noncompliance, homes are being raided by police under the slightest pretext, property is being seized on the slightest hint of suspicious activity, and roadside police stops have devolved into government-sanctioned exercises in humiliation and degradation with a complete disregard for privacy and human dignity.

Consider, for example, what happened to Utah nurse Alex Wubbels after a police detective demanded to take blood from a badly injured, unconscious patient without a warrant.

Wubbels refused, citing hospital policy that requires police to either have a warrant or permission from the patient in order to draw blood. The detective had neither. Irate, the detective threatened to have Wubbels arrested if she didn’t comply. Backed up by her supervisors, Wubbels respectfully stood her ground only to be roughly grabbed, shoved out of the hospital, handcuffed and forced into an unmarked car while hospital police looked on and failed to intervene (take a look at the police body camera footage, which has gone viral, and see for yourself).

Michael Chorosky didn’t have an advocate like Wubbels to stand guard over his Fourth Amendment rights. Chorosky was surrounded by police, strapped to a gurney and then had his blood forcibly drawn after refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. “What country is this? What country is this?” cried Chorosky during the forced blood draw.

What country is this indeed?

Unfortunately, forced blood draws are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the indignities and abuses being heaped on Americans in the so-called name of “national security.”

Forced cavity searches, forced colonoscopies and forced roadside strip searches are also becoming par for the course in an age in which police are taught to have no respect for the citizenry’s bodily integrity whether or not a person has done anything wrong.

For example, 21-year-old Charnesia Corley was allegedly being pulled over by Texas police in 2015 for “rolling” through a stop sign. Claiming they smelled marijuana, police handcuffed Corley, placed her in the back of the police cruiser, and then searched her car for almost an hour. No drugs were found in the car.

As the Houston Chronicle reported:

Returning to his car where Corley was held, the deputy again said he smelled marijuana and called in a female deputy to conduct a cavity search. When the female deputy arrived, she told Corley to pull her pants down, but Corley protested because she was cuffed and had no underwear on. The deputy ordered Corley to bend over, pulled down her pants and began to search her. Then…Corley stood up and protested, so the deputy threw her to the ground and restrained her while another female was called in to assist. When backup arrived, each deputy held one of Corley’s legs apart to conduct the probe.

The cavity search lasted 11 minutes. This practice is referred to as “rape by cop.”

Although Corley was charged with resisting arrest and with possession of 0.2 grams of marijuana, those charges were subsequently dropped.

David Eckert was forced to undergo an anal cavity search, three enemas, and a colonoscopy after allegedly failing to yield to a stop sign at a Wal-Mart parking lot. Cops justified the searches on the grounds that they suspected Eckert was carrying drugs because his “posture [was] erect” and “he kept his legs together.” No drugs were found.

During a routine traffic stop, Leila Tarantino was subjected to two roadside strip searches in plain view of passing traffic, while her two children—ages 1 and 4—waited inside her car. During the second strip search, presumably in an effort to ferret out drugs, a female officer “forcibly removed” a tampon from Tarantino. No contraband or anything illegal was found.

Thirty-eight-year-old Angel Dobbs and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley, were pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 13, 2012, allegedly for flicking cigarette butts out of the car window. Insisting that he smelled marijuana, the trooper proceeded to interrogate them and search the car. Despite the fact that both women denied smoking or possessing any marijuana, the police officer then called in a female trooper, who carried out a roadside cavity search, sticking her fingers into the older woman’s anus and vagina, then performing the same procedure on the younger woman, wearing the same pair of gloves. No marijuana was found.

Sixty-nine-year-old Gerald Dickson was handcuffed and taken into custody (although not arrested or charged with any crime) after giving a ride to a neighbor’s son, whom police suspected of being a drug dealer. Despite Dickson’s insistence that the bulge under his shirt was the result of a botched hernia surgery, police ordered Dickson to “strip off his clothes, bend over and expose all of his private parts. No drugs or contraband were found.”

Meanwhile, four Milwaukee police officers were charged with carrying out rectal searches of suspects on the street and in police district stations over the course of several years. One of the officers was accused of conducting searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums and leaving some of his victims with bleeding rectums.

It’s gotten so bad that you don’t even have to be suspected of possessing drugs to be subjected to a strip search.

A North Carolina public school allegedly strip-searched a 10-year-old boy in search of a $20 bill lost by another student, despite the fact that the boy, J.C., twice told school officials he did not have the missing money. The assistant principal reportedly ordered the fifth grader to disrobe down to his underwear and subjected him to an aggressive strip-search that included rimming the edge of his underwear. The missing money was later found in the school cafeteria.

Suspecting that Georgia Tech alum Mary Clayton might have been attempting to smuggle a Chick-Fil-A sandwich into the football stadium, a Georgia Tech police officer allegedly subjected the season ticket-holder to a strip search that included a close examination of her underwear and bra. No contraband chicken was found.

What these incidents show is that while forced searches may span a broad spectrum of methods and scenarios, the common denominator remains the same: a complete disregard for the rights of the citizenry.

In fact, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Florence v. Burlison, any person who is arrested and processed at a jail house, regardless of the severity of his or her offense (i.e., they can be guilty of nothing more than a minor traffic offense), can be subjected to a strip search by police or jail officials without reasonable suspicion that the arrestee is carrying a weapon or contraband.

Examples of minor infractions which have resulted in strip searches include: individuals arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, driving with an inoperable headlight, failing to use a turn signal, riding a bicycle without an audible bell, making an improper left turn, and engaging in an antiwar demonstration (the individual searched was a nun, a Sister of Divine Providence for 50 years).

Police have also carried out strip searches for passing a bad check, dog leash violations, filing a false police report, failing to produce a driver’s license after making an illegal left turn, having outstanding parking tickets, and public intoxication. A failure to pay child support can also result in a strip search.

As technology advances, these searches are becoming more invasive on a cellular level, as well.

For instance, close to 600 motorists leaving Penn State University one Friday night were stopped by police and, without their knowledge or consent, subjected to a breathalyzer test using flashlights that can detect the presence of alcohol on a person’s breath. These passive alcohol sensors are being hailed as a new weapon in the fight against DUIs. (Those who refuse to knowingly submit to a breathalyzer test are being subjected to forced blood draws. Thirty states presently allow police to do forced blood draws on drivers as part of a nationwide “No Refusal” initiative funded by the federal government. Not even court rulings declaring such practices to be unconstitutional in the absence of a warrant have slowed down the process. Now police simply keep a magistrate on call to rubber stamp the procedure over the phone.)

The National Highway Safety Administration, the same government agency that funds the “No Refusal” DUI checkpoints and forcible blood draws, is also funding nationwide roadblocks aimed at getting drivers to “voluntarily” provide police with DNA derived from saliva and blood samples, reportedly to study inebriation patterns. In at least 28 states, there’s nothing voluntary about having one’s DNA collected by police in instances where you’ve been arrested, whether or not you’re actually convicted of a crime. All of this DNA data is being fed to the federal government.

Airline passengers, already subjected to virtual strip searches, are now being scrutinized even more closely, with the Customs and Border Protection agency tasking airport officials with monitoring the bowel movements of passengerssuspected of ingesting drugs. They even have a special hi-tech toilet designed to filter through a person’s fecal waste.

Iris scans, an essential part of the U.S. military’s boots-on-the-ground approach to keeping track of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, are becoming a de facto method of building the government’s already mammoth biometrics database. Funded by the Dept. of Justice, along with other federal agencies, the iris scan technology is being incorporated into police precincts, jails, immigration checkpoints, airports and even schools. School officials—from elementary to college—have begun using iris scans in place of traditional ID cards. In some parts of the country, parents wanting to pick their kids up from school have to first submit to an iris scan.

As for those endless pictures everyone so cheerfully uploads to Facebook (which has the largest facial recognition database in the world) or anywhere else on the internet, they’re all being accessed by the police, filtered with facial recognition software, uploaded into the government’s mammoth biometrics database and cross-checked against its criminal files. With good reason, civil libertarians fear these databases could “someday be used for monitoring political rallies, sporting events or even busy downtown areas.”

While the Fourth Amendment was created to prevent government officials from searching an individual’s person or property without a warrant and probable cause—evidence that some kind of criminal activity was afoot—the founders could scarcely have imagined a world in which we needed protection against widespread government breaches of our privacy, including on a cellular level.

Yet that’s exactly what we are lacking and what we so desperately need.

Unfortunately, the indignities being heaped upon us by the architects and agents of the American police state—whether or not we’ve done anything wrong—are just a foretaste of what is to come.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: the War on the American People, the government doesn’t need to tie you to a gurney and forcibly take your blood or strip you naked by the side of the road in order to render you helpless. It has other methods—less subtle perhaps but equally humiliating, devastating and mind-altering—of stripping you of your independence, robbing you of your dignity, and undermining your rights.

With every court ruling that allows the government to operate above the rule of law, every piece of legislation that limits our freedoms, and every act of government wrongdoing that goes unpunished, we’re slowly being conditioned to a society in which we have little real control over our bodies or our lives.

John W. Whitehead is the president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People.

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/07/what-country-is-this/